Showing posts with label Out and About in the East Village. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Out and About in the East Village. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Out and About in the East Village 2017 recap and news about 2018

On Aug. 1, 2012, we introduced a new feature by East Village-based photographer James Maher called Out and About in The East Village. The feature, which provided a snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village, is going on hiatus. Here's more from James:

Thanks everyone for helping create this nearly five-and-a-half-year Out and About project. I'm going to have to step back from it for awhile as my wife is due soon with our first child, which we're really excited about.

It's been an incredible experience that has taught me so much more about the spirit of this neighborhood. I can't imagine there are many other places where I could run outside for 30 minutes or an hour and come across such inspiring and interesting people, week in and week out, so willing and enthusiastic to stop and chat about their lives and the neighborhood.

There were many weeks where I was overworked or tired and not feeling like standing on a street corner, and those were always the times where I came back having shared a small moment with the most incredible people. I would often walk back feeling so much more inspired and energetic than when I had walked out the door.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped for an interview and opened up to a complete stranger. I hope I did you all justice — I definitely tried my best. Thanks to everyone's comments each week, of which I read every one of them. And thanks to Grieve for the sharp editing and advice. It's been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

And now, here's the 2017 recap...



Jan. 11 — Ali Sahin

Jan. 18 — Eric Rignall

Feb. 1 — Lola Sáenz

Feb. 8 — Lola Sáenz, Part 2

Feb. 15 — Delphine Blue

Feb. 22 — Delphine Blue, Part 2

March 1 — Mark Seamon

March 8 — Merle Ratner

March 22 — Jennifer Brodsky

April 5 — Terry and Harmony

April 12 — Elizabeth Atnafu

April 19 — James, the Leather Man

May 3 — anonymous

May 18 — Gustavo Roldan

May 24 — Jerry Shea

June 1 — Roberta Bayley (and Stella)

June 14 and June 21 — Miss Joan Marie Moossy

June 28 — Sierra Gilboe Zamarripa (and Cecilia)

July 12 — Grace Kang

July 19 — Brian Breger (and Molly)

Aug. 9 — Puma Perl

Aug. 16 — Heidi

Aug. 23 — Felix Velazquez

Aug. 30 — David Anderson

Sept. 20 — Pepe Flores

Sept. 27 and Oct. 4 — Nancy Blum

Oct. 18 — Jay Yang

Oct. 25 and Nov. 2 — Siobhan Meow

Nov. 8 — Margie Segal

Nov. 15 — Ronald Rayford

Dec. 6 — Holly DeRito and Tulip

And previous recaps by year:

• 2012 here

• 2013 here

• 2014 here

• 2015 here

• 2016 here

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Holly DeRito and Tulip
Occupation: Owner, Waggytail Rescue
Location: Avenue B between 10th and 11th
Date: Tuesday, Nov. 28

I’m originally from the sticks of Pennsylvania. I grew up with horses on a small farm next to Allentown. I came here for the music scene. One of my friends was a roadie for a band, and I started seeing shows. I just became addicted to New York. I’ve been here for 24 years. I was into hardcore punk, alternative. The first show that I drove up to myself was Bad Brains at the Wetlands.

I was bold but I probably should have been more scared than I was. I was always a little bit fearless. I’ve always been a little bit shy but then I’ve been bold. I like challenges — so one of my friends dared me to go into one of those S&M places and try out to be a dominatrix.

I was going to school and working two jobs. I just did it for shits and giggles, and they were like, ‘Oh, you’re blond, you’re hired.’ So I ended up doing that and that’s how I put myself through college with no debt. And then I did a dominatrix workout program that was on HBO and VH1 Real Sex — it was called Slaversize.

I got really sick with Lyme disease, so I didn’t start that again, but I adopted my dog Taco, and he was just magical. The day that I adopted him, two of my friends died in a murder-suicide, and I just remember he was so scared and I just clung to him. He was my soulmate dog.

Then I fostered a dog for another group, and the second that dog was adopted, Taco just looked so sad. So I road my bike up to the city pound to jailbreak him a friend. There I ran into a girl I had worked with as a dominatrix. She was running a pug rescue.

She pulled me into the back to where all of the dogs were on death row that the public didn’t see. She was like, ‘These are the ones that aren’t going to get out, who can you take? Can you help me?’ And I went home with seven dogs that night. I couldn’t leave any of them. So I went home and called my friends and said, ‘Hey can you watch a dog for a few days?

I had no idea what I was doing — and that’s kind of how I started. It became like — I can save more. I was so passionate, and it was a challenge. I officially formed a rescue in 2004 and it’s just grown from there. The city has changed a lot in that there are almost no small dogs or family friendly dogs in the city shelters, which is great because people have started spaying and neutering. They have started taking better care of their pets. The city has become really pro-dog and dog friendly in comparison to what it used to be. Here for dogs to breed and have puppies, you almost have to make a conscious effort. They have to be in heat and find each other down the hallway and down the stairs. In Los Angeles, Dallas, and elsewhere in the south, they don’t spay/neuter and the dogs are just running in yards. They’re just completely overwhelmed with dogs.

We had a waiting list of people who wanted to adopt dogs. I went to Los Angeles to dogsit for one of my friends and saw the shelters there. I decided to form a program called One-by-One. We supply the carriers, we pay for the ticket for the dog as well as the leashes, the harnesses — everything. We drop off the dog at the airport, pick it up on the other side and a person just flies with the dog. Everybody said it couldn’t be done, and it seemed like it was impossible, but people love it. Everybody who’s done it has done it again. We’ve gotten about 500 dogs that way — one by one.

I have a little bit more faith in humanity. We get adoption donations. The dogs that are coming in tonight on American Airlines are from the highest kill shelter in Dallas, and then all the fosters are going to pick them up. I’m going to microchip them myself. I have my own little branch in Los Angeles with my system and my setup with the shelters and the veterinarians and we also partner up with a few groups. We take in dogs about every two weeks. I formed a buddy system where people who have fostered help the new [dog owners].

I really like anything hands-on. My mom was a nurse and my grandmother was a lab tech. I grew up going into the lab, visiting my grandmother and being fascinated by tumors when I was 6 years old. That stuff is kind of normal to me. I grew up next to a wildlife sanctuary, and because my mom is a nurse, we used to take in all types of orphaned animals and birds with broken wings. It’s an addiction, and it’s also a little bit of a gamble because I agree to a certain amount of dogs. If I don’t find fosters, then I’m out on the street with the dog. Hasn’t happened yet but I’m at the max amount allowed in my building – so yeah, I’d be sleeping at Remedy diner.

If people want to help we have a little fostering section on Waggytailrescue.org. For support we have trainers who we work with. A lot of the fosters end up adopting. A lot of people are considering adopting a dog and they’re not sure it’s the right time, so they’ll foster for a week or two and see if they’re ready for the commitment. If they’re not ready, they’ll maybe foster again until the right time or the right dog, so it’s a good system.

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Ronald Rayford
Occupation: Actor, Writer
Location: 4th Street and Avenue A
Time: Monday, Nov. 13

I’m from Buffalo. I was living in Chicago when I was 23. I didn’t like it right then, so I said, hey, I’m looking for a job, I can find a job in New York. I started out in Brooklyn, around Nostrand Avenue, but I knew somebody in the neighborhood, and eventually I got an apartment on Avenue C and 10th Street. That was about 1967.

I got a job at a haberdashery, a tailor shop on 125th Street. I worked for him for awhile and I was going back and forth from there to the Lower East Side, down to Orchard Street to pick up the fabric. It was bigger then, much more stuff was going on back then.

There were some good spots and some bad spots, but as I look back on it there were a lot of bad spots. The area on Seventh Street was kind of rundown but so was 10th Street. My friend who encouraged me to come to New York died on 10th Street. Aww man, it was a bad scene.

Truth be told, I got into some drug situations for a time back then — I’ve got to tell the truth. Eventually I got busted with some drugs on me. I was in the Tombs — they were overcrowded. They were putting so many people in there. There was a riot while I was in there in 1969. They were rioting against the way they were treated. I was in there for about 90 days but then I got sentenced and they sent me up to Dannemora from there.

After that I got out. My mind was clear of the drugs. I started acting with Woodie King down here at the Henry Street Settlement, and they gave me a little money too. That was part of some program in the neighborhood.

Then I had a woman that I knew, she came down here to be with me and we had a child. From there, I started acting seriously in plays and stuff like that. I got into a play that Woodie and Joe Papp produced at Lincoln Center, so I got a break there. It was called "What the Wine-Sellers Buy." Then another break came in "Saturday Night Live," and I was on there for a little while. I was studying with the Strasberg institute, studying acting

Then I broke up with the wife and I went back to the drug thing like a fool. I stayed in that drug thing for a couple of decades. Then from there I had another son and that cleared my mind up even more. Since then, I’ve been pretty much on the straight and narrow.

People get a bad deal with the issue on drugs. In Norway, Denmark, and other countries, they stopped their war on drugs because war on drugs translates to a war on Black folks. Because of this war on drugs, people are incarcerated at a massive rate — it’s incredible. They are not helping the people at all, but now seeing that it’s moved into other communities other than this particular community, now it ain’t just junkies, dope dealers – they are opiate addicted. They put a whole new name on it, you dig? They knew that in the 1970s, Oliver North and others were bringing that stuff into communities all over this country, and they incarcerated all these people. How they could not see this stuff is insane? This is not a policy to help the people. It’s a genocidal policy on the people.

And now with the aid of Mr. Sessions and Mr. Trump, they want to reinstitute this policy that the previous president had tried to break down a little bit. It’s just another name for slavery, because it’s free labor, and it goes deeper than that, because with unpaid internships, that’s another form of slavery. Anytime you’re talking about free labor, you’re talking about slavery. It’s basically because the working class has collapsed, so something’s got to change.

These days I’m doing very little acting. I would like to do it when I can. I did a few things, something I started over at the Theatre for New City. And I’m doing a little writing now too. But now I would say my focus is on activism. I met some very interesting people, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Amy Goodman, Van Jones, and Jacqui Lewis, who is head pastor of the Middle Collegiate Church on Seventh Street and Second Avenue.

Right now, what I’m doing is I am part of this group in the church called the Butterflies. They carry the food, and sometimes I help them make the food, put them in sandwich bags and lunch bags, and take them out to Tompkins Square Park and to Sara Roosevelt Park. That’s activism.

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Margie Segal
Occupation: Teacher, Retired
Location: 4th Street between Avenue A and First Avenue
Date: Monday, Nov. 6

I’m a retired New York City school teacher. I came to college here from New Jersey many, many years ago. I came in the late 1960s. I was in NYU. That wasn’t this neighborhood then, now it is.

As a college kid it was fabulous — fun things happening all around, but the city itself was in pretty bad shape. It was crime ridden over here. But when you’re that age it doesn’t seem to bother you. There were neighborhoods you just didn’t want to go into and this was one of them. I stayed out of Tompkins Square Park. I didn’t really have any trouble, but as a woman I was on guard a lot, especially going near the park, the subways — just being out at night alone was not something you wanted to do, not that I didn’t do it.

My best and favorite memories are going to the Fillmore East every weekend and seeing all those bands — the Grateful Dead, the Allman Brothers, Jefferson Airplane. That was always a fun time. It was a lot of fun staying up and listening to music all night long. It was very cheap. The club scene wasn’t for me. We were just more out and about ... being out and being with friends. Basically it was just being out of the streets.

This neighborhood to me represents everything that New York was and should be. The diversity, and a place for people of all incomes and all walks of life. I hate to see that disappear. I do see that it’s changing. My friends and neighbors are affected by it and that bothers me. I like to live by all kinds of people.

Back then there was just a feeling of freedom and possibility. That’s what this was all about. Maybe if you talk to 18 year olds now they might feel the same way I felt then. You know, it was a horrible world. The Vietnam War was going on, we were protesting, but there was always a feeling of hope that we were going to change things and it would be a better place. We always just felt very free. We had nothing, like Janis Joplin said, ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.’ We had nothing to lose, so we felt free.

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

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Siobhan Meow
Occupation: Anything I could get
Location: Avenue C and Second Street
Date: Friday, Oct 20

In Part 1 last week, Siobhan, a Brooklyn native, discussed how she and several others opened a squat on Avenue C that they called opened a squat called Umbrella House.

We started out with three people, which became six, and then grew quickly once we hooked into the squatter circuit. We had people from all over the world coming and working. At one point it was like the United Nations.

And we were always kind of strict about it — paying dues, whatever you could afford to kick in for materials and stuff, also work days were very important, and then we were pretty tough on no serious drug addictions or anything like that, because that’s a good way to have the building burn down. Now we have two storefronts that pay the going rate and that help us.

I ended up going to Europe for a summer. I was able to because we were so hooked up into the international squat community. I could stay at squats everywhere, and that was really interesting. In Berlin, they actually offered me a space at Köpenicker Squat, which is right over the East German wall. I was there when they had just made the holes in the walls, and we were actually crawling across. It was amazing. I really mourned that culture that survived because I knew what was coming behind it, the American shit capitalism, which ruined it. It was a little time machine back to the 1960s in Eastern Europe. I then ended up on Lake Balaton in Hungary, and that was just beautiful.

I came back and things were starting to really settle in, but like I said it was 17 years before we got heat, we got the boiler in and everything, and didn’t have to rely on stolen electricity anymore. But the neighborhood was beautiful. God I miss it. No cabs would come down here, no tourists, no drunks, only junkies.

The community was really tight. Everybody knew each other, there were lots of really good shops. There were tons of artists here, people of all stripes. Everybody was making art, and there were clubs where you could go to see really good bands. It was more peaceful back them. It was quiet. I can barely walk down the sidewalks anymore, it’s so crowded. They keep building shit buildings here and packing more people in and they do nothing about the infrastructure.

I miss the freedom. I could climb the tower of the Williamsburg Bridge. A friend was making a movie and we threw an effigy of me off the tower, to film someone jumping off the tower, and I walked down the stairs and off the bridge. Even though traffic was stopped nothing happened to me.

I did anything I could get. Since we were working on the house, I was able to get jobs in New Jersey at the scenic design places, which would be preparing the sets, loading them in, loading them out. I was doing fashion shows, movie sets— all kinds of stuff.

Also, I’m very into other species rights as well. I care for a little feral cat who lives in a garden, and I work with city critters helping place cats. I’ve been doing so for awhile. And I have 18 cats. Feeding the cats isn’t a problem, feeding myself is another story.

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Siobhan Meow
Occupation: Anything I could get
Location: Avenue C and Second Street
Date: Friday, Oct 20

I’m from Brooklyn. Coming here was a matter of my becoming homeless. I was living in Avenue U in Brooklyn, and I used take the train into the city all the time.

I decided to live in the city, and when I got here I got an SRO, but I couldn’t afford the rent. I went through a period of unemployment, I ended up homeless, and I came down here in 1988 because I met some people at ABC No Rio. They let me sleep in the basement, and that’s how I met Geerta Franken because we were both modeling for drawing classes. We went to Seventh Street and met Michael Shanker, who is a wild pirate electrician who hooked us up, and I picked a building because it was around the corner from my best friend’s house.

We opened a squat called Umbrella House. It was an absolute ruin. There were holes in the roof, holes in the floors, all the way down to the first floor, except for the main hallway. The two storefronts were filled to within two feet of the ceiling with old appliances and rubble and stuff, and this is a 12-foot ceiling. We had to dig it out.

We called it Umbrella House because when it rained or snowed, and it was a six-story building, it would go all the way down to the first floor. It was not so dangerous, more like kind of fun. The three flights of stairs in the middle of the building were out so we had to use the fire escapes to go to the top floors.

And of course there was no heat. Winter we spent in a very small room in sleeping bags to stay warm until we hooked up a hot electrical wire that Con Ed didn’t turn off, and then we had minimal electric where we could run heat for free and also power tools. We actually went 17 years without heat, which fortunately for me I was into cat rescues, so I had cat heat. They kept me warm, and also a big Carharrt suit, which is like a sleeping bag you walk around in.

We had to put in our own sewer line. We weren’t legally allowed to do it even though we got a permit for it. We got the permit and we had a licensed plumber overseeing the job, but as soon as we started digging down into the sidewalk, somebody who didn’t like us called up the city and they shut it down.

Fortunately we had started this on a Friday and so we covered the hole with boards and made like we weren’t working on it, but we went into the basement and broke through the wall and literally tunneled under to the sewer main. We had to put boards up because every time a truck or bus went over it, it would cause rocks to fall. That was dangerous and we’re lucky no one got killed, because we did it 24 hours straight for like four days with a chain of people with buckets. Once we got that it was easy to hook up the water

In the first year they tried to evict us and the whole block was closed off with cops. We had a three-day siege, where we stood in the windows to prevent them from knocking our building down. The guy who was working the wrecking ball, he saw us in the window and he got out of the wrecker. He didn’t want to be responsible.

But the more we got things legal, the harder it became for them to evict us. We did most of the repair work by scrounging and pilfering construction sites because there was a lot of construction going on at the time. This was mostly for cement, old joists, and steel beams that they would throw out. And over a period of 20 years we brought it up to where it’s now a legal low-income co-op that we own shares in.

Find Part 2 with Siobhan Meow next week...

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

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Jay Yang
Occupation: Owner, The China Star
Location: 1st Avenue between St. Mark's Place and 9th Street
Time: Monday, Oct. 17

I’m originally from the Fujian province in southeast China, very close to Hong Kong. I came here in 1996, when I was eight. My sister was the one who took care of everything for the most part since she was older and my parents were working. Later on my father started working with one of my relatives in the original China Star, around 1998 or 1999. He was helping out there.

Starting around 2000, in middle school, my uncle offered for me to help out during the weekends, so I worked Saturday and Sunday as a delivery boy. We saw all kind of crazy stuff. I have one delivery guy, he delivered the food somewhere on 20th Street. The customer opened the door butt naked, and then he offered my delivery guy to come in. My guy was freaked out, so he just dropped off the food and ran.

There were a few times we would deliver food and people were so wasted, they were like, ‘Take my wallet, take whatever and give me the food.’ Other times, we call up and no one answers. We ring the bell, no one answers. We leave a voicemail, no one answers. We usually tell the delivery guy to wait outside for five minutes to give them time to check their phone — nothing happens. They call me the next day, ‘I didn’t get my food.’ I’m like, ‘You do know it’s already been like 9 or 10 hours?’ Especially during weekends, this always happens. I think it happens about six times a month.

In 2005, my family took over the restaurant from my uncle, and I was working most of the time. We were pretty much working seven days a week at that time. It was really tough, and I was kind of miserable — pretty much work and home, work and home. I just worked seven days a week for a good seven or eight years.

It’s long hours and very hard work. I didn’t see myself working in the restaurant, but I promised my dad I would work. I thought I was just going to work for two years and then move on, and somehow I’m still here. I took over completely in 2012 from my parents.

It’s getting easier because after I married my wife, and we have a kid, I hired my brother-in-law to help me out, so I have some time for the family. Life is getting a little better. Running your own business is never easy, especially with what my parents expect for me. They always want you to do what they do, or even better.

It’s changed. We used to have a lot of customers on Ninth Street, all the way from Avenue A to Second Avenue — all these small shops. All the regular customers have either moved out, went out of business or passed away. You don’t have a regular customer anymore. Every once in awhile you will see a regular, but we lost a lot of customers due to moving out because everything got so expensive in the neighborhood. A lot of my customers, they move into the East Village for a short time and they realize that it’s too expensive to live in the neighborhood, then they either move to Queens or Brooklyn.

I realized that I enjoyed learning about business, how you build your business, how you market it. I learned a lot online. Even though the rent is kind of high these days — I just had my rent increased about 40 percent in March. We also use all these major mobile websites, and the commission is very high. It does bring business but at the same time you have too much overhead — but so far we are still doing alright, and I want to expand and open a different type of restaurant in a new location in the future.

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

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 cliché, 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.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Seventh Street
Time: 4 p.m. on Sept. 24

I’ve been here 30 fucking years. I’m from an area called Mainline, Philadelphia. I went to college in Amherst, and I graduated early, specifically to come to New York because I’m an artist. In the 1970s, New York was it – it’s self-explanatory.

I babysat in Tribeca for many years for very wealthy people – loved that. My first job in New York was as an au pair — you’re not paid, but you live in the apartment, and I took care of two little girls. The youngest one, who was three at the time, [later became] the chief curator at the Guggenheim Museum a few years back.

I moved to the East Village in 1988 because I got a job with Irving Penn. His photography studio was on 16th and 5th, and I used to bike to work. It was unbelievable, and I think of him every day. He was extremely important in my life. He was a genius. He rarely spoke. He was extremely intense. He only thought about work, and he was a very civilized man, a real gentleman. In all the years I worked for him, I never once heard him raise his voice or get short tempered, even though we were under a lot of pressure.

Mr. Penn’s studio was very bare. His philosophy was if we can make it out of cardboard, we make it out of cardboard. It was old-school, old world, to the bone. We always stopped work at 5, and we always started at 9. It was a small studio with very few of us, and you could never make a mistake. I knew a girl who worked there — she misspelled one name wrong and she was fired that day. You could not make a mistake – just absolute precision. I adored him, I don’t know what else to say. He was unlike anybody I had ever known.

I was relatively young when I worked for Penn. I met a lot of famous people, and most of them were really unimpressive. I’m going to be honest, there were some who were fantastic, brilliant, but a lot of celebrities were real morons and just shockingly so. They were uninformed, very narcissistic, very superficial. I could say that because I spent time with them – they came to the studio for a couple hours and sat for Penn. Most of his portrait work was for Vogue. He rarely did any private work. He didn’t like to be paid by the sitter, because then you’re in a way obligated to flatter the sitter.

I was a portrait photographer for many years. I was mostly a child photographer. I turned down the Trumps. When I worked for Penn once, New York magazine called, this is 1989, and Donald Trump was going to be on the cover with his wife, and they wanted Penn to shoot the cover. He said no, and they asked if he knew anyone. I was standing right there in the office, so he put them on hold and said, ‘Nancy would you like to photograph the Trumps?’ And I said, ‘No thank you.’ And I was broke. That one picture could have paid my rent for a year, no question. I was really particular.

Eventually ... I gave up the money from the photography, and I said, no, I’ll just starve, and I starved. The reason I stopped was I went to photograph Robert Rauschenberg in 1992 for an art critic named Henry Geldzahler, the curator of 20th Century Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

After I took the picture, Bob said, "I don’t know why you’re doing this Nancy. This is not who you are." I just met the man. He said, "You’re an artist, go home and make some art." So I went home and I made Bob a drawing, stayed up all night, walked over at six the next morning and put it through his mail slot. He loved it. He sent it to where he lives in Florida and put it on his wall in his bedroom. And this man didn’t like anything. So that’s when I knew I was on the right road.

He then gave me a great job. It was unbelievable. He gave me a job to go into his personal closet and archive and organize all his private possessions that he had since the 1940s — his private shit — letters from Cy Twombly, hot dog wrappers, really expensive little Etruscan sculptures. I remember thinking it was unreal.

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.

We'll have Part 2 with Nancy next week: "I’m passionate about the East Village, and I find that I have neighbors who feel the same way."

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

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Pepe Flores (who was a little camera shy)
Occupation: Retired, Daycare Teacher
Location: Avenue C and 4th Street
Time: 3:30 pm on Friday, Sept 15

I was born in Puerto Rico in 1951 in public housing near the docks in Old San Juan, but then we moved to the countryside when I was 4 years old. I was raised on the sugar cane plantation.

I went to college at the University of Puerto Rico. I got involved in the left [political movement], and I had to leave because my life was in danger. There is political persecution in Puerto Rico — it’s been going on since 1898, the minute that we were invaded. Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States, so anybody who looks for the independence for Puerto Rico, in a pacific way or in a violent way, is a threat. So I moved to this neighborhood 45 years ago when I was 20 years old.

There was a two-bedroom apartment for $90 on 3rd Street between C and D. In those days, New York was affordable, you know what I mean? There was a big Puerto Rican population when I got here. There was a barrio uptown, one in the Bronx, then one in the Lower East Side. There was a big community, working class. We don’t consider ourselves immigrants because we are American citizens. I have an American passport.

I didn’t plan to live here — it was just that I was working in a bilingual program on 4th Street and all of a sudden I found myself in this community. I met somebody who was part of the adopt-a-building program, to adopt buildings that landlords had abandoned. So I got involved with the organization and I got an apartment in there. From there I moved to 11th Street. That’s where I got involved with the homesteading, with the renovation on the building. And now I’ve been in the same apartment on Avenue C for 35 years.

This is the first place where I saw performance art, the mix between dance, music, video, and all kinds of styles of creativity. One of the famous places for that was out on the corner on 2nd Street and Avenue B where the gas station used to be. The Gas Station was the abandoned gas station. These people took over and that’s where they had their performances.

And then you had the Nuyorican Poets Café that started on 6th Street between A and B and then they moved to 3rd Street. There was another place also that I collaborated with, it was called the Nuyorican Village. It was where the Jazz Boat used to be. The Jazz Boat was a jazz club on Avenue A between 6th and 7th Street, and when it was abandoned this guy Eddie Figueroa took it over. His approach was that, because the term Nuyorican can be a little bit of a put down, he believed that it was the “New Rican,” it was a new kind of Puerto Rican — we were vegetarian, macrobiotic. It was a very vibrant cultural community here.

People tend to treat this area as a drug haven, but it wasn’t like that. There was a working-class community. The people portrayed us as living on welfare, but you know what? In my building, out of 16 units, 14 people were working people, and I don’t know anybody who used to live on welfare. We were all working-class people, and most of the people in this neighborhood, or a lot of people that I know, they used to work in the Garment District, because the Garment District had steady jobs. It was close to the people, and it had pretty good paying jobs – enough to pay rent and live a decent life.

I would associate the decay to the disappearance of the Garment Center as a place for jobs. All these people lost their jobs. All these people that come from Puerto Rico, most of the people were people who came from the countryside. Once we lost jobs, then drugs came in, heavy drugs, heroin, cocaine. Those are hard, and it turned around the neighborhood. And then AIDS — I buried so many people here who died of AIDS, young people, adolescents, children, and they didn’t care.

They knew what was going on over here. They knew. I mean, if you see at 6 in the morning on 5th Street, 80 people lining up, you’re a cop, you say coño. They’re not going to church. They were there to score, at 6 in the morning. [The city] knew the whole thing about the drug trade that was going on here. They didn’t do nothing because that was a way to gentrify the neighborhood. That was a way to get people out of here. It’s a way that the system, the powers that be use to oppressed people. When you’re doing drugs, you don’t care about housing, education. You just care about your habit and that’s it.

And then with the economic depression that turned out, the landlords, they couldn’t collect the rents, and the easy way was to burn the buildings. They would pay somebody to go and burn a building with people in it. The building that I lived in, and all the buildings, we had to have volunteers to be security at night, especially at night because that’s when people came to burn out the buildings. They wanted to get the insurance money.

Besides that, I was a daycare teacher for 30 years of my life. It used to be on First Avenue and 9th Street, where P.S. 122 is. I took care of the children of Philip Glass, Ornette Coleman. After 30 years I left, but I’m still involved in the community. The things that you have to provide for the community are housing, education and health services. I consider myself a community activist. I’ve been involved with the gardens. There is a center on 9th Street between C and D called Loisaida Center, and I’m volunteering with them. My motto is, I’m not a volunteer, I donate my time. That’s another way to look at it.

I’m still here, I have two children even though they’re grown ups now, They’re doing great. I love this neighborhood. I want to give you an example – I used to walk out of the door and before you got to the corner you say, ‘hello’ to 5 or 10 people. It’s the community, the sense of community, the sense of caring about each other. You care about the old, the young, the adolescents. There are parks, youth centers. This is my neighborhood; this is my barrio. I think that concept comes from agrarian societies – that concept of barrio, of community. For some reason, the people who moved here had that spirit of community. The gardens are an example of that. People get together — the old, the young — and plant. There are more gardens between Houston and 14th, from A to D, than in any other neighborhood in New York City – and great, incredible gardens. I don’t play favorites – I love all of them.

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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.



By James Maher
Name: David Anderson
Occupation: Events Planner
Location: Tompkins Square Park
Time: 1 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 28

I’m originally from Chicago. My father worked for the post office. He was a systems person, and he brought me to New York for the first time when I was 9 years old. In the course of my high school and college years, I would come back and forth and back and forth. I got the opportunity to finish school in 2004 in New York and I never looked back – I just never moved. My degree is from the Art Institute of Chicago, and I did a teaching internship at Pratt for two years.

It’s changed so much. This Park was always really special, because there was a little bit of everything going on down here. This area here in general used to be overgrown. This was like a jungle and no one ever went in that way. It was just sort of an unwritten rule. There was like an open market. You would bring things here, people would sell marijuana here — it was just one of the places to be. It wasn’t quite as civil as the West Village. It was a little naughtier, but it’s amazing to me what they’ve done to it. You wouldn’t recognize it. They cleared out all of it.

I always liked just wandering around here. This is one of the last neighborhoods in Manhattan. This kind of movement, this kind of energy is kind of common in Brooklyn right now, but [not as much] in Manhattan.I’ve lived in two or three places in Manhattan, and then I moved to Brooklyn before moving here a few years ago. It was just so funny when I moved to Brooklyn — I was just like, ‘Okay, yeah, this is it.’ I never ever thought I was going to move back to Manhattan, but now Brooklyn is more expensive than Manhattan.

It’s a homey, family-oriented place. I mean, I bring people here and they’re just like who knew? You go to Midtown, even Harlem now, and it’s just so ridiculously commodified that it’s just not the same space that it once was, but this just holds on and maintains.

But I can’t get over how pricey it is. When I moved, I actually hired a broker and was curious. I said, ‘I want to see something on the Lower East Side, East Village,’ and what is amazing is that a lot of the old railroad apartments, they’re exactly the same. I actually saw a building, up on the second floor, in the center was a bathroom area and the apartments were around it. And now, people are paying like $2,000 for one of those things. It’s like, are you crazy? This used to be the cheapest type of apartment you could find in Manhattan.

I like Crif Dogs, but they’re so expensive now, what are they $5.50? It’s a goddamn hot dog, but it is where it is. It’s really wild, real estate — real estate governs everything. Even in this rag-tag, wild kind of neighborhood, places still have to make the rent.

When I first moved to Brooklyn, I remember sending emails back to Chicago and saying, ‘You know, the most fascinating thing about Brooklyn is that these are people that shouldn’t get along — culturally, historically, they shouldn’t get along, but they’re jammed into this landmass.’ To me, that’s what the city is about — all kinds of demographics coming together. It’s about the people who are here, that are co-existing, that are all in the struggle. It’s the Big Apple — gotta get a bite.

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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.



By James Maher
Name: Felix Velazquez
Occupation: Social Worker
Location: 6th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A
Time: 3:50 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 21

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I came here when I was 13 years old — I’m going to be 70. I came to this neighborhood right after I got out of the Navy. I’d been in Vietnam and I came back to this neighborhood around 1969 or 1970. This was free love, drop out, lots of upheaval throughout the United States against the Vietnam War.

This was a neighborhood where my first rent was $73 a month. Basically when I came here, this was a slum. The demarcation line was Avenue A. There was a lot of abandonment in the early 1970s. The other side of First Avenue was, not very expensive, but the difference was major. Even the other side of First Avenue on St. Mark's was pretty much abandoned. Second Avenue was blithe.

This was a marginal community, but there was also a community of immigrants. You had a lot of Polish, Russian, Latinos, Puerto Ricans. There were hardly any Dominicans at that time – they came later. Since it was an immigrant neighborhood, you had lots and lots of churches, and you still have a lot of churches. The city was pretty rough, and I think the only places that didn’t change were probably Park Avenue, 5th Avenue, but most of the other neighborhoods went through some heavy-duty stuff.

I’ve been working in the neighborhood for a long time. I graduated from social work school in 1979, and most of my social work has been in this neighborhood. There was a lot of organizing in this neighborhood. I did some organizing for housing, because of the gentrification going on. I became a member of the Community Board for awhile – I was vice chairman and I was chairman of the Housing Committee for Community Board 3 for a long time. This was a fighting community; it still is a fighting community, but it had been slowly changing with gentrification. Organizing is still going on. There are still a lot of people doing it. It’s always been kind of a leftist community.

On a day-to-day basis, I lived in the neighborhood and I survived. It was fun, and it’s always been a neighborhood where you have lots of live music, art, poetry. The Nuyorican Poets Café was formed at that time in the 1970s. In the Latino community, in the Puerto Rican community, you had El Teatro, El CoCo que Habla, which was a group of young kids who were involved in theater, and Miguel Piñero came out of there. So there was a lot of activity and a lot of fun. You were young.

And there were a lot of drugs — a lot of easy access to just about any kind of drug you wanted, so it was always a struggle to not get caught up in that kind of thing. As a social worker I helped a lot of people get out of drugs. I worked for St. Mark's Place Institute for Metal Health for many years.

I love New York and I love this neighborhood. It’s a 24-hour neighborhood — 24-hour supermarkets, delis. If you like witchcraft, you can find it down here. If you like stand-up comedy, you find it down here ... live music, rock and roll, salsa, whatever you like, you got it. You’ve got lots and lots of clubs with live music. If you’re into music, this is the place – outdoor concerts, jazz festivals. It’s a great neighborhood – I love it.

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Heidi (who declined to have her photo taken)
Occupation: Retired Teacher
Location: Tompkins Square Park
Time: 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 11

I grew up in Puerto Rico, but I came here when I was 22, and I’ve been here 50 years in this area. I worked as a teacher in Queens. I retired about three years ago.

The best thing is when I was dancing on 14th Street. They had a Spanish, Latin club with the music from Puerto Rico. I had a good time and danced — I used to go club by club. Oh my God, there were a lot of Latin clubs here. You would get dressed and walk around and you could dance. Special people and more community.

And I liked the time with the hippies. The hippies was a beautiful time, I loved it. But there were drugs. But you know what? They weren’t dangerous. The drug people, the addicts, they only robbed. But now, this is a scary time now. Scary. They have changed the buildings, the population, the Latin flavor is not here no more. Alphabet City used to have Latin flavor — now they have a different kind of people. It’s because of the rent.

I love St. Mark's. And 8th Street was beautiful. When 6 p.m. came, everybody would go to St. Mark's, the stores. They stopped that. They’re different. You can’t go there no more — it’s very sad. Manhattan is changing a lot. The people were gentle, more considerate about where they were walking. Now you have to be alert when you walk.

I’m the third generation here, the senior, and I said to my nephews, my son — prepare and have an education, because when my generation disappears, things are going to be different. You know what they’re doing now with the projects? Before, if you’re my son, you can keep the apartment. Not now. They give you a hard time now for the family. You have to be sick, older. You have to say you’re taking care of someone. If you don’t, you lose your apartment. When my generation disappears, they’re going to fix the building and they’re going to sell the apartments.

They aren’t building for people. They’re making restaurants, restaurants, restaurants. There’s no place to live. I live by myself and I go to shop for my food, and I say how can people afford this? I don’t know how. It’s expensive.

Now everybody’s leaving, and I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. It’s tough. My nephews, they move. They have condos in the Bronx because of the rent. I don’t regret coming here. I worked, I enjoyed, I had my time, and I had a beautiful time but you know, everybody’s leaving now. I don’t know what’s going to happen. A lot of people are moving back to Puerto Rico. How are they going to live here? It’s crazy.

We’ll see what happens in the future. I’m living day by day. I’m going to Puerto Rico now for the winter because I’m retired, and I said to people, don’t come here, why for what? I remember Frank Sinatra, "New York, New York — if I can make it there." That song is no more, that song is not for now. It’s true. I remember the beautiful time when Frank Sinatra sang that song — it was true.

And now, nobody can dance to Spanish music here – they close everything. There is no more flavor. The Alphabet City flavor, the Latin flavor went, left, bye.

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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Puma Perl
Occupation: Writer/Poet/Performer/Former Social Worker
Location: Avenue A between 4th and 5th Street
Date: 2:30 pm on Aug. 3

I’m from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. One of the things that drew me here, which drew a lot of kids, was the cheap rent. The bottom line is that I just needed somewhere to be and it seemed possible. It had nothing to with wanting to meet artists or making any kind of scene. It was more like Gravesend was death and the Lower East Side was life.

But I also remember when I was in high school, and this is probably something that drew me here, somebody took me to what turned out to be the Electric Circus and the Velvet Underground were playing. I always say that changed my life forever.

You just did not know what you were walking into. One time the super of my building on 10th Street said to me, ‘Walk me to Club 82. I gotta do a pickup,’ and I walked in and there were the New York Dolls. I was like 'What the Fuck?' You could walk into the New York Dolls, into a whole new culture that was starting, but then you’d walk the other way and Tito Puente was playing in what’s now La Plaza Cultural. There was this feeling of community. You could feel like you had everything you needed here, on every level.

My son’s father, Jon Grell, and some of my still surviving friends were in the Motherfuckers. Before I met him, he was in prison, because the Motherfuckers used to do a lot of brilliant things like load firearms into a car on Houston Street... He was a kid and he was very enamored by Sam Melville, who was a brilliant radical guy. [Melville was from another collective and not affiliated with the Motherfuckers.] But the bottom line was that there was a provocateur that nobody should have believed and somehow he got in with these guys, and there were some bombings. Jon had nothing to do with it, but they figured that he was a loudmouthed kid, we’ll turn him, so he did a couple years for basically being a young asshole. That’s his story.

Eventually I went upstate for a year because things got really hard down here. I used to get picked up for being a runaway all the time even though I wasn’t. Jon got out and his probation didn’t allow him below 96th Street. So a mutual friend brought him to outside Ithaca where I was living and that’s how I met him. Then we came back down to the city in the 1970s when his parole ended.

First I lived on this 5th-floor walkup in the back, bathtub in the kitchen, police lock. The building caught fire. My apartment was actually untouched, and I can remember there was a woman next door with two kids and it was four in the morning and I took one kid and she took the other kid and we ran through the flames down five floors. I moved next door to the 6th floor and there were adjoining roofs, so I threw my furniture over the roof.

We moved to 10th and B, and at that time we used to call Avenue B the DMZ, but it was just innate — you just did it. You walked down the middle of the street. You know, you didn’t stop doing anything. I loved 10th Street. It was this Puerto Rican neighborhood. It was this family neighborhood where if your kid fell down someone was going to pick him up – kids on the street all the time, block parties, the social club was down there. I have a million poems about 10th Street.

[Later on], I was living on 7th Street between A and B when the Nuyurican Poets Café opened, which I credit with anything I do, because it was so inclusive that even someone like me from Brooklyn, not an artist — where I grew up in Bensonhurst, it wasn’t even like you were going to the city, you were going to NEEW YOORK — so it wasn’t something that I thought was accessible to me. Everybody was going to this place for poetry - totally incredible.

It came a little later, my being able to conceive of myself as an artist, but that was the start. I mean one of the things that I did there was have a baby with the bartender a couple years later, Eddie Gomez — they knew him as Eddie Piñero, and his brother was one of the three who started the café.

My daughter read her first poem in the café when she was 4 — it was about hot dogs. Growing up with that gives you a place where you know you can go somewhere. I didn’t grow up knowing I could go somewhere. I really credit the Lower East Side, the arts, and the café [to her development]. By that time I was a single mother and I didn’t have the wherewithal to send her to college, but she came into her own.

I have a history of addiction, so when I got clean it was basically about putting a life together. I moved to Brooklyn at that time, so I wasn’t around here a lot during a certain period. I raised my kids, I went to school, and I was so amazed that I tested HIV negative that I wound up becoming a social worker. I had no education when I started, doing outreach for like $2 an hour, going into shooting galleries before this was legal, doing harm reduction.

Then I went to college, and then I became the director of social work organization for people with HIV. People I supervised were asking me for letters of recommendations so they could become social workers. So then I became a social worker — I said well I may as well do it, and I did that for 20 years.

During that time I got back, so I started putting my name on every possible list and I wound up getting Mitchell-Lama Housing on Water Street. During that time is when I really started believing in myself. I started writing. I have four solo collections of poetry, and my first book, "Belinda and Her Friends" was published in 2008 about 10th Street.

Then I wound up becoming a poetry performer with a band, Puma Perl and Friends. We have a regular show at the Bowery Electric called Puma Perl’s Pandemonium. The next show is Sept 15, the day before my birthday. It will be my five-year anniversary.

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

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

5 years of Out and About in the East Village

[2012]

On Aug. 1, 2012, we introduced a new weekly feature by East Village-based photographer James Maher called Out and About in The East Village. The ongoing feature takes a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village.

Anyway, here we are five years (and a day) later. The first subject worked for Mama's Food Shop on Third Street at Avenue B. (Before our interview was published, Mama's announced its closure. That seems like a lot longer than five years ago.) Other Year One alum included Derek Berg, today a valued EVG contributor.

Many thanks to James for continuing to provide us with these features. And thank you to everyone who has shared their stories. You can find them all at the links below...

Recaps by year:

• 2012 here

• 2013 here

• 2014 here

• 2015 here

• 2016 here

• 2017 here

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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.



By James Maher
Name: Brian Breger (and Molly)
Occupation: Writer/TV Producer
Location: 3rd Street between 1st and A
Date: 3:45 pm on Sunday, July 16

I’m originally from Brooklyn. I moved to the neighborhood when I was in college. It was a place where I could get a cheap apartment, and they weren’t very particular about who rented ... I don’t know if it was actually the worst neighborhood in New York in terms of the crime, but it was one of the few.

So I moved here in 1970, and I lived on 3rd Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue right near the Hells Angels. The buildings on either side of me were abandoned. One of the things we did that first summer was rush out of the building when the fire engines came because there were inevitably fires there. A lot of homeless people lived in the buildings – we didn’t call them homeless people then, we called them street people.

I was a college student and a young writer, and there were lots of other young writers, painters, dancers, and theater people. As students we had no money, and as bohemians we continued to have no money. It was filled with people who wanted to have the opportunity to make art and live cheaply.

I graduated from City College, and many of us stayed in the neighborhood because we could live here and work a couple days a week and make art. A friend of mine ... had a tiny gallery on 5th Street, and then more and more galleries started to come – and there was a very active scene in the 1980s into the 1990s.

But at the same time also things like the Nuyorican Poets Café first opened in the 1970s, so it wasn’t just a white scene, it was a multicultural scene. There was a genuine mix of people. I used to say that everybody in the neighborhood hated each other, but everybody got along because they had to. I’m not saying that the Latin families in my building across from me were particularly friendly to me, but they weren’t unfriendly. There was no hostility. Everybody was basically poor – so that was a great leveler.

I was primarily a poet. I ran readings in various places with a couple of friends, Chuck Wachtel and Harry Lewis, also poets. Chuck is a distinguished novelist as well. I eventually started to work in documentary and was a screenwriter, and then I came back to documentary. It was independent, it still is, but I also make films for places like National Geographic, Discovery, A&E — all sorts of documentary channels. So that’s what I’m doing now.

There was a great energy here. There had been people here in the mid and late 1960s before us who had been the original bohemians in this neighborhood, and that just grew, and it continued to grow through the 1970s. There was a very active jazz scene in this neighborhood. I was a bartender at a jazz club called the Tin Palace, which was a central place where young musicians came and played, and I also ran a reading series there.

The Tin Palace was on the Bowery and 2nd Street, so it was bad outside. That was when the Bowery was a place that you wouldn’t go to after dark unless you had a place to go to. This was an extremely dangerous neighborhood. There were places that you wouldn’t walk at night. You wouldn’t even go to Avenue A unless you were going to a specific spot, but you wouldn’t be strolling along Avenue A.

There were two blocks in the neighborhood that were actually safe – one was 5th Street between 1st and 2nd because of the police precinct, and the other was 3rd Street between 1st and 2nd because it was the Hells Angels block, and the Hells Angels would actually ask people if they lived on the block if they were strangers.

The thing that has always made it special is the remarkable mix of people that live here, and still live here despite the gentrification. I raised two daughters here, and I chose to raise two daughters here along with my wife because it was a place where you had every imaginable kind of person, every income, from people with fancy apartments to people who could barely meet their rent. There were people who were interested in everything — in art, in politics, in every imaginable activity that the city had. They congregated here, and not to the same degree as they did, but they still do.

I think the fact that this neighborhood always had that incredible mix of artists and real people, and people from different backgrounds and different cultures – it’s always been a very alive neighborhood — and that’s what I wanted my children to experience, and I think it made them good people. They accept difference in every aspect of things.

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

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Grace Kang
Occupation: Owner, Pink Olive, 9th Street between 1st and A
Photo Location: 8th Street
Date: Wednesday, June 21

I was born in Korea and we emigrated when I was 7 to Las Vegas. We later moved to California, then my father got a job for the City of New York. So we moved to New Jersey when I was in 7th grade. I grew up there and New York was the place where I came to start my adult life.

I was always in retail. I was a buyer for Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York. I was in the fashion space, which was competitive and fast-paced. I always said that if you can survive fashion in New York, you can survive anything.

The East Village has a very special place in my heart since it was [the location of] the first Pink Olive store. The East Village is where I feel like I grew up and found my home when we moved to the city. It was one of those places where I just felt comfortable. The city can be very overwhelming for a lot of people and the East Village is very neighborhoody.

I remember the East Village being a place where I could discover new things, whether it would be new inspirations or ideas. Especially Ninth Street, when it was starting to come into its own. Usually side streets are not the best location for commercial spots, it’s usually all about the avenues, but there was something about Ninth Street that felt like there was something happening. I wanted to be part of that, so when I found the space it was kind of a no-brainer to open my first shop. That was 2007. I just celebrated 10 years. We’re a whimsical gift and lifestyle boutique. We carry an eclectic mix of a lot of creative gifting ideas for little ones to loved ones.

I always thought I would open up a clothing store because that was my background, but looking back, I think I didn’t because that space is not only competitive, which I don’t mind, but it was also a different world back then from where it is now. To be honest, I’m not sure I would have survived that world, because it’s even hard for the big companies, not to mention the little ones. I managed to luck out with the landlords that I ended up meeting. That’s half the battle with any retail business.

There are still some good landlords out there, and when you find one of them, you have to jump on [the opportunity]. I’ve heard the opposite side of that — so many scenarios. I have friends with retail businesses and heard stories of going to court with landlords or getting booted out. It happened on Ninth Street near us. All of those businesses had to leave when Icon bought the building [at 441-445 E. Ninth St.]. It’s sad when that happens. Those were my neighbors, my friends — they really completed that Ninth Street experience.

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

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Sierra Gilboe Zamarripa (and Cecilia)
Occupation: Owner, Lovewild Design
Location: La Plaza Cultural, 9th Street and Avenue C
Time: Tuesday, June 13 at 4 p.m.

I’m from 10th and A. In high school my dad bought a house in the South Bronx, and we ended up leaving because when I was a baby we were stuck in a drive-by. So we moved to the East Village to be safe, and it was still scary then, but it was better than the South Bronx.

My parents had a store on 10th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A called Wandering Dragon — it was an antiques and oddities store. There was lots of taxidermy, two-headed calves, weird medical instruments, general antiques, wax heads — just every weird thing. The store was a constant array of characters wandering in and out, street people, artists, writers, occasional celebrities and celebrities to be. A lot of weirdos! Although rarely open, it was never dull. There was also a Times article that profiles our house and all the crazy taxidermy and stuff in it. The kids on the block called it the voodoo house and it wouldn’t get robbed because they were so scared of it — it looked insane.

After my father passed away last year, our friend David Wolen articulated our lives at the shop better than I ever could:

"The Wandering Dragon Trading Company was an amazingly strange and impossibly tiny store in the East Village. It was NEVER open but we would walk by all the time and stare in the windows at the weird antiques, taxidermy, wax mannequin heads, glass eyeballs, and skulls. One night we were coming home from a bar at 3 o’clock in the morning and the door was open and 1920s jazz was playing inside. We went in and entered the magical world of Adrian Gilboe."

This was when the neighborhood was a lot more colorful. As a kid, I would play junkie and try to gnaw off the neighbors’ kids ears. Now I look back and I’m like, ‘Oh my god.’ I had a lot of unconventional babysitters as a kid on the block. Jay Yuenger and the other guys of White Zombie were some. There were always amazing people around us — my baby photos were taken by Spencer Tunick.

On 10th between 1st and A was Chester — he had a string of storefronts, and he had like a smoothie bar but really he just sold pot, and I was probably the only kid that went in and ordered smoothies. It just seemed normal.

I met my husband Mike in the Tompkins dog run after each of us had just adopted dogs. My dog Lucy was adopted from the short-lived rescue on 10th Street, which coincidentally was one of the storefronts I grew up in. Our story makes for a good East Village meet-cute. He was a squatter and he’s also in a New York punk band from high school called Thusla Doom. He got the apartment because the city sold it to the people who were squatting in there for like $250 as long as we did all the work ourselves. There is some taxidermy in our apartment – there is a two-headed calf and then some birds, which were all inherited.

I opened a business on June 24 called Lovewild Design in South Williamsburg [at 348 S. 4th St.]. I started doing custom invitations and letterheads in May of 2014 and I made a little line of products for markets for Hester Street Fair and people actually liked the products that I made, so it just sort of snowballed. And now my mom works for me full time and Cecilia works with me all the time, which is really nice, sometimes. Cecilia will grow up in the shop like I did, but it won’t be at all the same.

We do custom graphic design, but we also have a line of stationery that is plantable, so it’ll grow flowers. We have a line of teas, various home goods, screen printed totes and towels, and then recently we came up with a line of active gifts, where a percentage goes to Planned Parenthood or the ACLU.

The store is in South Williamsburg, which is a lot like Avenue C and Avenue D like 5 to 10 years ago, with the Hispanics mixing with younger white kids. My dream would have definitely been to open my shop up over here but that wasn’t possible due to the rents. It just seemed like an inevitable path. I grew up as an entrepreneur, and my parents and my grandmother were entrepreneurs. I used to take things, just find random things outside or in the shop, and I would fix them up and sell them right outside the shop, and then I had a shoeshine business, and then I sold milkshakes, and this was all before the age of 6.

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

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Miss Joan Marie Moossy
Occupation: Performer
Location: Clinton Street
Date: Monday, June 12 at noon

Read part 1 of this interview here.

I’ve had a lot of jobs in New York. I worked at the Limelight in the art department. I worked at the Puck building as a party manager. I worked as a casting assistant. I worked for Stripe First Generators, working on a generator on movie sets and street fairs. I’ve had a lot of interesting jobs here. I’ve been lucky in terms of hitting jobs where it was at the high point of the place. I used to do a show on WBAI and then MNN called "Let Them Talk" with a boyfriend Paul DeRienzo. I’m also now doing a detective series set on the Lower East Side on YouTube called "Miss Moossy's Neighborhood Mysteries."

I worked at the Limelight in its heyday. I was there from 1984 to 1988. And at that time I had a boyfriend who worked at the Pyramid as the lighting guy, so we had the club scene down. In the beginning, we did major installations, like every day at the Limelight. We had a big budget, and the Pyramid was more low budget. The Limelight had the celebrity scene. The Pyramid had the experimental, avant-garde scene. I knew all these people who worked at the Pyramid, so I danced on the bar sometimes. And that’s how I met Ethyl Eichelberger, who was a playwright and performer, and I worked for him for the last four years of his life. He died in 1990.

I started as his stage manager, and then he wrote parts for me in his plays. He showed me I could talk on stage, because when you dance you don’t really say anything. I sang in his plays — things I thought I could never do, but he pushed me and I did it, and it was life changing, really.

He committed suicide in 1990. He had AIDS, and I think he feared the loss of intellect, because he was a very bright individual. I’ve been working on perpetuating his legacy. And it’s not just me, it’s definitely a group effort, and we’ve been successful at it — he certainly deserves it. Twenty-seven years later his legacy is still going, and I’m proud of that because it’s a commitment of gratitude for me. He did so much for me and taught me so much. You know, I had been a dancer, which in the 1970s was not quite the same thing as being a dancer now – we were kind of scumbags. I don’t know how else to put it. We were not considered respectable members of society.

New York’s a tough town. You can’t really get around that for all the joy and inspiration it provides to people — it can be difficult. My life has the balance, and I’m incredibly grateful to have the youth I had here in this neighborhood, but yeah there were hard times. There were the things that really impacted, I don’t think just me, I think I’m talking for a generation of people. There were things that happened that deeply affected all of us, that colored our lives.

AIDS decimated this neighborhood, and it decimated my friends. It caused a portion of our youth to be spent nursing people to their death, which is a unique experience for young people. I mean unless there’s a war, most young people go through life without a lot of deaths. There’s always going to be death, but death in that magnitude and concentration, that happened here too. When you have multiple friends sick, and you’re running from apartment to apartment trying to help, this is your life. It’s a big part of it. It certainly wasn’t just me. It was a lot of people.

I never imagined I’d get old and it would be like this. When you’re young, you don’t realize, you think it’s all going to stay the same forever, you’re never going to get old. But here you are this many years later. I didn’t think I’d live, because when you watch all your friends die, you think, ‘Well, I’m going to die too.’ I’ve been taking care of these guys, they’ve thrown up on me, everything’s happened that would put you at risk, so you figure, yeah, I’ll die too. So I never envisioned myself in my 60s.

Those were the things on the hard side, and obviously on the pleasant side I’m a happy person by nature. I loved it and I still love it — I adore New York. There are a lot of things that I like about living here. I love to walk around the neighborhood. Freedom is one of my highest ideals — the freedom to be who you are and do what you want to do. There is a certain amount of anonymity compared to a smaller arena, where everybody watches everybody. You know, for a weird person it’s nice to just be able to walk the streets and people aren’t judging everything.

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

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

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: Miss Joan Marie Moossy
Occupation: Performer
Location: Clinton Street
Date: Monday, June 12 at noon

I’m from New Orleans originally. As a child, our family moved all over the place. My dad was a doctor and academic physician, so he taught in medical schools, and we lived in Europe because daddy was the head of a cerebral vascular study, an international study. During his career, he was instrumental in separating psychiatry from neurology, because in 1950 when he graduated, it was all one big department.

I was coming here in the 1970s — I was a dancer in Washington D.C., and then I went to Pittsburgh for Law School. I was coming to New York all the time, and that’s when I got the apartment and moved here. I was a go-go dancer. I did it for six years in my 20s. I never worked as a lawyer. I have covered court cases for magazine articles, that kind of stuff, but I never worked as a lawyer.

The first time I ever walked up to this building, there was a guy throwing up on the stoop and two little girls walking by all dressed up like they were having a birthday party, and I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to live here forever.’ For some reason that was the first thought that crossed my mind.

It was really different then. I guess you could say it was more dangerous, but I think New York is always dangerous. I don’t think you’re wise to let your guard down ever in New York. But it was an exciting youth. There was a lot going on in terms of nightclubs and performance and so many opportunities to participate in that – it was a very open scene in terms of diversity of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, everything. You could meet somebody of every stripe at any party or nightclub, so that was wonderful. So you had friends that were every age, from every country, every color.

All these buildings that you see across from us on Clinton Street were boarded up, and there was a big heroin trade up the street. That moved up and down the street. Across the street, they had put concrete blocks in all the doorways and windows, and I guess the heroin business had dug out a hole and somebody would be sitting inside the building. The junkies would line up, they’d put their money in, and they’d get the heroin out. And you want to talk diversity, I’m telling you, junkies come in every stripe. When you’d sit here and look out the window and watch an entire line of them, it was the stereotypical junkies, it was the guys in suits, it was the women in nice shoes.

You couldn’t get a taxi to bring you down here. The furthest place you could get a taxi was First and First. There was a restaurant there called the Baltic, which was open 24 hours a day. They would drop you there and you’d walk the rest of the way, so frequently you’d run. Somebody’s chasing you, you run.

I’ve had some experience in the housing movement – we were almost illegally evicted from this building. They would say that your building was about to collapse, then everybody would run out and they would tear the building down. That’s what they did on Stanton Street, on Fifth Street. So that’s what happened here too, and we didn’t leave, obviously.

As a result, I got involved in activism. I talk to other tenant groups when they’re at risk and that type of thing. I learned a lot about the neighborhood and the people who live here. There’s nothing like talking to people. You can sit in your house all day and look on the Internet and watch the news on TV, and it’s really not quite the same thing as going and talking to the people that are affected by it. That’s been an invaluable lesson.

We'll have more from this interview with Joan next week, including her time working at the Limelight in the 1980s and continuing to love NYC today.

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