Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Out and About in the East Village

In this weekly feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village.

By James Maher
Name: Elinor Nauen
Occupation: Poet, Writer
Location: 5th Street between 1st and 2nd Ave
Time: 2 pm on Saturday, Nov. 15

I’ve been here since January 1977. I’m original from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Between graduation from high school in Sioux Falls and moving to New York six years later, I lived in Michigan, Colorado, Maryland, South Carolina and North Carolina briefly, and Maine. I also lived in a bus for a year just driving around. I got out of high school and said, ‘Oh good, nobody can tell me what to do ever again. Now I’m just going to smoke pot and do what I want.’ The most glamorous thing was driving around the country. I wanted to see America. I’ve been to 49 states.

I’m a poet. Why do people come to New York except to be an artist? I was living in the woods in Maine. I was a hippie. I didn’t quite know that the poets were here, but when I was living in Maine I met Joel Oppenheimer. He was a poet who wrote for the Voice, so somebody connected us because he didn’t drive and I was a big driver. Looking back, I realize I was sort of amusing to him, this wide-eyed, completely uneducated, eager young person. He said, ‘You should be a poet and if you’re going to be a poet you have to move to New York.’

So I took the advice. That was combined with somebody giving me a ride here spur of the moment. I had never been in a city, so I was nervous about what it was going to be like. I was here for 10 minutes and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m a New Yorker now, I live here,’ and I went back to Maine and I got all my stuff. I came with my belonging in two paper bags and $100 in my pocket. I was 24.

I lived on Thompson Street for six weeks and then I came home one day and it was the last day of the month and my belongings were in two paper bags outside of the door. I had been evicted. It was very informal. So I went to the Voice and I saw these ads for students and transients up on 39th Street. I didn’t even know it was Times Square. I had only been here a few weeks. So I went up, this little girl from South Dakota, and there was this long hallway of plexiglass and it said, ‘Short stays. Up to 1-hour: $4. 1 to 4 hours: $6. Up to $24 hours…’

I didn’t know what else to do so I stayed there. They put me in this room that didn’t have a lock and there was a used condom on the mantle. I just sort of sat on the edge of the bed and said, ‘Oh no, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now.’ Then the guy came up a few minutes later, really embarrassed, and he said, ‘I think you’ll be more comfortable here’ and he took me to a room that was more like a room for students. But that didn’t deter me at all. Nothing deterred me.

I loved this neighborhood since the first day I moved in. I found cheap rent [in the building above Gringer and Sons]. When I moved into that building half the apartments were vacant. The guy showed me the first one that had the toilet still in the hall. The second one had a slate tub with a flat bottom, and then he showed me the third one and he said, ‘Well there’s nothing wrong with this one.’ So I moved in and I’ve been there ever since.

My first job in New York was as a messenger, and the first day I went to a type shop for desktop publishing, everything had to be typeset, and I ended up going there practically every day until they said, ‘Oh you seem smart, now you can be our proofreader.’ All of a sudden I was a proofreader and then somebody who knew me was like, ‘We need a copy editor for two weeks for two days a week while somebody was on jury duty.’ So then I had this job and on the second week, one of the days I wasn’t there, everybody quit, so they said, ‘Do you want to be a full-time copy editor?’ So then I had a full-time job as a copy editor, which was great because I didn’t really go to college, but once you have a job nobody cares about your credentials.

I started going to St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery, which was the home of the Poetry Project. That is how I started meeting people and then I got involved in readings and workshops. I’m still very involved. I’ve been there for almost 40 years now. I love seeing the people coming up and still being excited about art and poetry. But it’s so different [now] because you can’t come to New York with a $100 in your pocket anymore. I feel a tight community of the poetry project people. We’re about to have our 50th anniversary in two years.

Galway Kinnel just died and [I remember] the first thing I did the first day I came to New York was walk on Avenue C because of his famous poem, The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World. I remember the fruits and vegetables for sale on the street. I was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m seeing this.’ Avenue C in those days was probably a block you did not want to walk on. I always felt like I had the protection of the innocence around me.

James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.


Bill Gerstel said...

Thanks, James. I used to live in the Ezra Pound; acting Super for several years (which meant I swept the floors and waited impatiently for oil deliveries). Elinor was a great asset to my life back then. Still is, though I don't see enough of her.

Lally said...

Elinor is not just a Lower East Side treasure, she's a national treasure, no, a world treasure.

Anonymous said...

Great story :)

Anonymous said...

The last line is quite poetic -- "the protection of the innocence around me." One feels that sometimes in life. It's a beautiful thing.

Anonymous said...

What a cool lady.

DrBOP said...

Sometimes.....even now....

.....there's magic in the air.

Keep on chooglin', sister.

Anonymous said...

I love this, would gladly read about her adventures for days.

Anonymous said...

i love the mystery pipes that just appear in her walls and then disappear. what are they, what do they carry, where they come from where do they go?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the piece, James, & these lovely comments, everyone. To the last poster, I have to say, I had never given much, if any, thought, to all those pipes till you pointed them out. So I called my landlord, who came over & said they're steam pipes; we disagreed on whether they are functional. This is my studio/office, in a basement, & used to be the super's apartment, although there's no shower, just a sink in back & a toilet in the hall. There's a capped oil pipe in back where the stove used to be & even a disabled gas fixture for lighting from way back when. —Elinor