By James Maher
Name: Margery Teplitz
Occupation: Massage Therapist
Location: Avenue A, Between 4th and 5th Street
Time: 4:30 on Weds, March 12
I was born in Chicago. I was around 30 when I moved here. I was living in San Francisco and needed a change and always wanted to live in New York. I used to work in restaurants in those days but I’ve been a licensed massage therapist since 1992.
I have been on the Lower East Side since 1989. I lived on Rivington Street for a couple years when it was the wild wild east and I moved to Ludlow Street, just south of Houston in 1991. It was rough and ready — a lot of fun, dangerous, very old New York. Everything was negotiable with landlords and things like that. You didn’t need to prove that you made $80,000 a year in order to move into an apartment. Even though it had its dangers, it was much more fun.
My favorite aspect of the neighborhood was that anything goes. This was the land of the freaks. There used to be anarchists all over the neighborhood, but most of them have died off. One of my favorite moments was [going to] Wigstock. It was a Labor Day event that used to start in Tompkins Square Park. It was a family event believe it or not but it was all drag queens. I remember seeing RuPaul and Debbie Harry and everybody wearing wigs with their kids on their shoulders.
The past 10 years we’ve had around five construction sites on one block. I have giant holes and cracks all over the inside of my apartment — over every part of my building. All the artwork is out of their frames and the landlord keeps saying, ‘Oh we’re going to come and do it,’ but it never quite happens. It’s been that way for two or three years.
I’m very political and I like that about this neighborhood — that people seem to give a shit. Right now we’re battling this restaurant that they are trying to open in my building called Sweet Chick. They have not been able to get their liquor license but they’re building it up anyway. I met the owner at the Community Board 3 meeting and he seemed like a normal person, but he’s hired one of the biggest shark lawyers in the city, Helbraun Levey & O’Donoghue.
From the look of their plans, they want to put the exhaust system in the airshaft, which goes right next to my bedroom as well as a bunch of others. They also want to remain open 17 hours a day cooking fried food in a 120-year-old building that’s basically like a sieve. My neighbor upstairs makes chili a couple times a week and you can smell it for seven hours, so you can imagine fried chicken.
We’re trying to get pro-bono legal representation, which the state bar refused to help us with. They said they don’t do those type of things, but who needs help more than us? I volunteered for Bill de Blasio and this is his kind of issue and I emailed him. They said, ‘oh yes,’ and nothing, and I emailed the governor and they said, ‘oh yes,’ and nothing. We still hope we can turn it around.
I’m not against gentrification — gentrification is a fact of life, but if you look at cities like London and Paris they manage to gentrify and change while maintaining the architectural integrity of the city. We’re supposed to have a reasonable quality of life, which does not include a blaring exhaust system 17 hours a day and the smell of fried chicken.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.