Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Out and About in the East Village (part 2)

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

By James Maher
Name: Nancy Blum
Occupation: Artist
Location: Tompkins Square Park
Time: 4 pm on Sept. 24

Read part 1 with Blum right here. Picking up with the last paragraph from last week's interview.

So I’ve been really lucky, but you have to take risks in life. I was really destitute for many years. You had to live by your wits, but I wasn’t the only one. It’s a very hard life. I paid my rent. You could do it then, you could get it together. You could come up with the $300 for rent. I feel very sorry for young people today – you have to work your fucking ass off.

If you want to be a creative person and live in an expensive city, you have to reduce your existence to the minimum. That’s it, just the minimum, pizza and beer. I spent four years living off of getting cans out of the garbage ... until the Chinese ladies started beating me too it. Those are vicious women. I couldn’t compete with them, but that’s being an artist in New York. That’s just the way it is.

Misery loves company and so my friends were artists. My brother-in-law and I used to go to the Odessa and you’d get free coffee refills. We’d get together $1.50 and we could share a breakfast and sit there for two hours and drink coffee. So that’s what it was like and that’s what the old timers miss about the East Village – it was fucking fabulous. We shared everything. It was so beautifully funky, and we were all in the same boat. It was very street. It was more street, that’s the word I use, but it was also much more dangerous, and there were a lot of junkies.

When I moved into my gangster landlord building, because he was a gangster. He would only take cash. Fred was his name, but I loved him. All the tenants paid cash, and I said, ‘Fred no can do. I’m not moving in here without a lease, and I’m giving you a check,’ and he said OK! First of the month, I could hear him knocking. Everyone knew to be home by six. And he would start at the top and work his way down. I would hear the door open, the cash would stick out, and the door would close. And then of course the IRS got involved.

He was a creative landlord, and I remember when I was very sick, he didn’t raise my rent for five years because he felt sorry for me. He was fabulous. His wife gave me clothes. He let me owe him eight months rent because I couldn’t work. And I was paying a low rent to begin with. So that’s the old East Village.

This is my home, I love the East Village. The older I get, the more I love the East Village. There’s no place like New York. I have nothing bad to say about this neighborhood, except it is getting expensive and that’s a shame. Ninth Street, my block, just gets better and better and better. We have the most beautiful trees – I steward two of the trees, I plant bulbs.

I’m retired now besides my art – an artist never retires. Right now I’m doing collage. It’s sort of hard to explain, and I’ve been doing it for about 17 years. Fortunately, I don’t have to sell my artwork to live, so I like to keep it. I don’t like to sell it, I like to look at it. I make it, fuck, I like to look at it.

I go around mostly at night, because I’m kind of embarrassed, but I pick up trash. I do it about an hour every day. I get exercise and I clean up the neighborhood. There’s too much litter. I’ve always done this. Whenever I’ve had a little money, I’ve volunteered.

Me and my girlfriends, we’re mostly retired. We hate how the world's going — we’re old hippies. They’re from Vermont, Maine, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Florida — a string of high school friends, and over the years we found that we had so much in common and we were doing a lot of rescues. So I decided to go into rescue. Me and my girlfriend, Kathy Rothschild, we just got together a bunch of people and raised enough money to get a plane to lift 300 animals off of St. Martin since the hurricane.

I’ve been volunteering since 1995. I worked in soup kitchens. I used to volunteer at the Boys' Club, which was really fabulous. I learned more from those boys than they ever learned from me. They had very difficult lives, a lot of them. This was during the AIDS epidemic and some of their parents were incarcerated, some had died from AIDS. We would walk them home. It just tore my heart out. You name it, I’ve done it — anything that can benefit my neighborhood.

I’m passionate about the East Village, and I find that I have neighbors who feel the same way. This is my advice to anybody who lives in New York. I know it sounds trite, I know it sounds clichĂ©, but if you want to feel great, volunteer. Clean up the park, help the Boys' Club, foster pets — do something.

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


Anonymous said...

What a fantastic lady!

afbp said...

would be wonderful if we all (i've been doing it since i was 7 living on 84th street) would gather a bit of litter.......

Anonymous said...

Now THAT is an East Villager! I tip my hat to you, Ms. Blum, for being YOU: for your energy, your art, your determination to do what you can do make the neighborhood better, and your ability to articulate it all!

You also show that it doesn't take money to do good in this world; rather it takes giving of oneself via both time & involvement.

Just reading this made my day better.

Anonymous said...

This woman is the real deal. I would like her to run for Mayor of NYC.

Donnie Moder said...

OMG, what am I doing with my life? Also, love the positivity. Love the Irving Penn and Rauschenerg stuff, too.

Goggla said...

What a wonderful neighbor!

Anonymous said...

You are amazing!

Gojira said...

I would happily donate to her animal rescue efforts, perhaps she can tell us how those who wanted to could do so?

People like her - and many of the commenters on this site - are why I still cling to living here. As ever, Mr. Maher and Grieve, and of course Ms. Blum, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Another great installment and overjoyed to learn of this fabulous neighbor. Makes me proud to be a part of this community.

Nancy Blum said...

Gojira, SXM Paws on St.Maarten could really use the help now after the hurricane. There are so many. I give to Goats of Anarchy in NJ & Turtle Rescue of the Hamptons is wonderful too. I use Paypal. Thanks for asking!

Scuba Diva said...

@Nancy: Goats of Anarchy rocks! I first learned about them when I ate pancakes for them at Champs Diner in Brooklyn—a portion of the proceeds were donated—and now I'm a monthly donor!

Anonymous said...

Ms. Blum should write a book. I am volunteering my editorial services.