I’ve been living in the East Village now for the better part of my life. And yet I know very few people by name from this neighborhood. Still, I do … know them. Here, I have seen teenagers grow up into adults and then disappear; businesses that were around from the turn of the century fold, and newer ones open and close – some after decades, some within a year. I have seen normal-looking young men from seemingly good families, mostly Italian or Eastern European, go from step to step with each passing year; from soft white complexion to bristle and shadow, from Coca Cola to beer and sometimes from there, tragically, to serious drug addiction. Some get through it and some die. In most cases I wouldn’t know that they died of course, but it’s not hard to believe the worst once you you’ve heard a couple of horror tales through the pipeline. And if you see them flopping around for a few years, then disappearing for good, they’ve gone somewhere! I can’t imagine it’s to an aunt in Montana somehow.
Just the other day I held the door open for the daughter of an elderly Italian lady that lives upstairs. We had a short discussion about her mother “how old is she now?” (thinking she was ancient) “Actually she’ll be 82 next month” she declared with a ‘how about that’ smile (I thought she was about ten years north of that). I had seen the daughter pretty much grow up in this building, raised by her single mother (I had never been aware of a father figure). They were always a quiet family, and lived here through all the changes from a half-empty building looking for tenants, to that vacuum being filled by dodgy drug dealers, to Yuppie political types instigating rent strikes – to where it is today, part of the N.Y. University rent boom, which has driven the rent of these tenements up beyond all reasonable value. She and I had never really spoken to each other, other than to say a neighborly hi on the landing. Then one summer evening back in the 80s, she was at the Schaeffer Music Festival in Central Park to see Cyndi Lauper when she noticed Larry Kirwan and I in the opening band The Major Thinkers (Larry and I had shared this apartment at the time) – she was there with her husband-to-be. The next day she stopped me to share her surprise as I descended the stairs with the garbage. After that I got to know them better. Her slightly older brother Sandy stopped me one day too “Hey my Sis saw you guys at the Schaeffer Music Festival, how about that, so you’se guys musicians?”. He had a Saturday Night Fever wardrobe and hairstyle, and it turned out that he had a small speaking part in the movie too – “How’ye doon Tony”. I presume that was why I never saw much of Sandy in the building – he was going out to Brooklyn to dance.
So I got a little piece of them that day, and they of me. We have not gone much further than that after all these years, it’s willful of course, we prefer to keep it down to a rhetorical “Hello how are you?”. It could be fear – or laziness – not sure. I left behind a small town in Ireland where it felt like I knew everyone. Before going on to the Main Street one always had to do a full self inspection: hair, clothes, demeanor – otherwise you risk a scathing review right to your face. Here I have no such concern, and if I see one of the faces that I know – know as well as any family member to see – looking rough, or drugged or having a spat in public, it won’t matter: I don’t KNOW them, don’t know their name and they are none of my business.
I suppose we will go on like this forever, guessing how each other is doing, based on a handful of small clues. We will all go away one day and never come back, and someone else will take our apartments. The double-decker buses will continue to look into my 2nd floor window and, instead of seeing me in my underpants, they will see someone else. But before that, I have things to do and places to go. And you and I should see each other as much as we can before then, at a safe enough distance, through the window. Time flies when you don’t know what you’re doing.
Every week from now on till the day I die, I will do a blog about my life in the East Village, it will be delivered to you like the Monday Morning Milk -it’s a colourful existence, come in to my crazy world, it might lighten your load or something. This is one hell of a spot. Love p