Thursday, May 19, 2005

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Well, they would if they lived in the EV

The other evening I was channel surfing and came across one of my favorite movies, Blade Runner. In particular I love that scene near the end where Rutger Hauer tells Harrison Ford or rather Roy Batty tells Deckard that "I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams ... glitter in the dark near Tanhauser Gate. All those ... moments will be lost ... in time, like tears ... in rain. Time ... to die"

That line got me thinking about the EV, how the face and character of it has changed, how the fresh-faced transplants will never see what I've seen there, and ultimately how disappointing and sad that is to me. A cab driver once said to me there are 3 different kinds of people who live in NYC - the ones who live on the Upper East Side and treat the City like a suitcase town; gone every weekend; the ones who live on the Upper West Side who have babies and bigger apartments and then the ones who live in the EV where a bathtub in the kitchen was not unheard of and living in squalor was almost de rigueur. This cabbie said that the people who lived in the EV were the ones who truly loved New York because they would withstand anything, any living condition just to be here. This was 1995. This cabbie also let me smoke in his cab because he said, and I quote "smokers are better tippers". Since 1995, and before, really, the EV has seen the construction of a number of lookalike buildings with large, overpriced apartments housing students with parents who seem to have large pockets and girls who aspire to be Carrie Bradshaw, or at least to have her wardrobe. Everything is starting to look the same just with slightly different menu items.

Leg McNeil once said that Joey Ramone with his wall eye and receding chin, all lanky gawkishness and skinny legs, was able to take everything about himself that made him different and the potential object of ridicule, that on the surface was a deficit and celebrate it. And that was Punk. Take the shittiness and swim in it. Embrace it. Celebrate it. That's what the EV WAS like. Now it just seems to be a strip mall for former suburbanites.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Landmarks, Icons, Heroes and Other Things That Fall

I was talking to a friend of mine over the weekend about how much the East Village has changed and how art and individuality and no money fun have given way to a glut of overpriced apartments, chic restaurants with snooty staffs and a welcome mat thrown out to every progressive fuckstick from every end of the earth who, 5-6 years ago would never have thought of the East Village, much less moved there. It was "too dirty" and it "wasn't safe". His comment was that the difference between the East Village nearly 30 years ago when the nascent Punk scene was taking off and Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring were scrawling on buildings was the rent prices. His point was if you could live on the cheap, then you could afford to make art and music. Well, that's true.

However, you could still live cheaply in the EV even 10 years ago, but that was the point at which things began to shift and a slow chipping away at non-conformist ideals and the buildings and happenings that represented that sensibility began to fade. The advent of Rudy Guiliani, and believe me, I realize what an unpopular statement I'm making when I say this, but his war on crime, his bull in a china shop desire to clean up Times Square, rid the East Village of drugs, drive homesteaders out of buildings they'd occupied for 20 years and more by driving army tanks down 13th Street, succeeded in ripping out the heart and guts of the EV. What was unique about the EV suddenly gave way to a Potamkin Village filled with cookie cutter buildings and chic, trendy bistros. The days of the 2B Art Yard were over. In its place was erected an eye sore of a doorman building with purple and orange trim. Save the Robots, a great little dirty dance club on Avenue B where you could still smoke pot in the basement and sweat to the oldies, was gutted and renovated to a shiny new patina and renamed Guernica - a trendoid haven with a velvet rope, and oddly, the same place outside of which a man was stabbed because he wasn't allowed to smoke.

Regentrification and its resultant skyrocketing rent prices have also succeeded in driving out the characters from the EV. The Bubbleman is gone. This guy used to walk around with a pickle bucket filled with dishwashing detergent and a big, multi-holed bubble wand and walk around waving a cataract of bubbles behind him. Who thinks to do that any more?!? Then there was the fella who used to squat in the doorway of Alcatraz bar (now the pseudo-Southern, of the Coyote Ugly ilk, Doc Hollidays) holding a sign that read "Trying to raise a million dollars for wine research" where the hell is he? And Rodney "It's a bird. It's a plane. It's HOMELESS MAN!", gone too. How 'bout Gene Pool? Does anyone remember Gene Pool? He had an entire suit, fitted head to toe and covered in tin cans. He used to ride around on a unicycle. You could hear him from a mile away, literally. He used to take pictures of himself and make postcards out of them and sell them in the delis and Little Ricky's. Little Ricky's too is gone. The best toy store for adults. A little overpriced but the only place you could find a Cajun in Yer Pocket or a Yes Man doll or an Edvard Munch's Scream Punching Bag. It also had a great photo booth where Iggy Pop was known to wander in and take a pic or two. Susan Sarrandon and Tim Robbins collected the folk art they sold there. Little Ricky's became a Belgian waffle place and is now some Coffee Bean & Leaf wanna be establishment.

All these things to my mind were what made the EV a great place to live. Where you could walk around and be inspired. Where you could live in squalor and still be happy because there was energy, innovation and no money fun.

I hope those days return. I miss 'em. They died.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The East Village and Other Shadows of Their Former Selves

So as I mentioned before I moved to this City 13 years ago. Well, almost 13 years ago, actually. I moved here on November 15, 1992. I stayed in NC to vote in the '92 election, and in case you're wondering, yep! my guy won!

So nearly 13 years ago I moved to the Rotten Apple (as my Father actually quite lovingly refers to it). I landed on the edge of SoHo in a loft that was occupied by two friends and a cat. I lived in this set-up for about 6 months when my friend (and I use the term loosely), we'll call her Francis, announced she wanted to live alone. Well, fair enough. I had gotten over my initial agoraphobia and had long since abandoned searching faces on the street for one that looked familiar. I was ready to take the training wheels off. And besides, her hard-assed notions of "friend as sycophant suck up" were starting to chap my ass.

So I packed my shit and moved to the East Village. I found myself in an apartment on 9th Street and Avenue A living with two incredibly messy and slightly unhinged boys. But I was out of my previous situation and in a new neighborhood that seemed edgy and a little dangerous and I started to fall in love. This was May of '93, and back then Avenue A was sketchy. The saying went: Avenue A is awful, Avenue B is Bad, C is Crazy and D you're dead. But I felt vey "City" living in the East Village. The shittiness and squalor with dignity vibe around it made me truly feel that I had triumphed over bad circumstances. I could pull this off. I could live in NYC and run with scissors. I had not lost the will to fuck shit up and the EV fueled that sensibility. And that is why when I take a look around my nabe now I am sorely disappointed.

Cool buildings have been razed. Clubs that played great music where you could dance through a nicotine and pot-smoke filled haze are gone, replaced by trendy overpriced restaurants. Squatters and homesteaders and the crusties from Tompkins Square Park have been overrun with Toms, Dicks and Sallies from Sheboygan littering the streets and driving up rent prices. The EV is no longer apartments with bathtubs in the kitchen and artists who live there because it's the only place they can afford. It's hip and trendy and gulp...SAFE. It's so enamored with its own trendiness that landmark places like CBGBs are in danger of losing their lease. Mom and Pop shops with interesting and individual aesthetics have been run out of the neighborhood on a rail by the KMarts, Gaps and Quiznos. And this is progress?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

The Divinie Miss M moves to the EV

So everyone I know who's actually read this thing has been pestering me to post something else. Well, I am flattered and flustered. I've been giving some thought as to what this blog would be about and settled on a couple of subjects that are near and dear to my heart - the South and NYC - and in particular what's been happening to my adopted neighborhood since I moved here thirteen years ago. A year and change after I graduated from a small liberal arts college in the South, I chucked my aspirations of a career in Academia and traded it all for a life in NYC. Under the aupices of staying here for 3 months, making money and paying down debts, I decided after a month to stay in NYC when I realized it didn't matter that I was still waiting tables and I recognized almost no-one on the street. My anonymity at that time meant everything and the palpable sense that I could do ANYTHING was intoxicating - I could survive without recognition and familiarity. Anything was possible and a sense of lawlessness appealed.

Since that time the East Village has undergone some troubling changes - an onslaught of "clean up" and "regentrification". Two words that on the surface seem harmless but in actuality are serving to achieve the systematic denudification of a neighborhood that once fostered a D.I.Y. attitude (and if you don't know what that is you shouldn't be reading this blog). The character that this City embraced is a shadow of its former self.

Wanna know more?...well, hang on, 'cause it's coming...

Thursday, May 05, 2005

My First Blog by the Divine Miss M

Although I am new to this whole blogging business I am by no means a techno peasant. Blogging was recommended to me by one of my dearest friends here in NYC as a means of keeping my writing chops sharp. Unfortunately I am already feeling the pressure not to have this devolve into a total snoozefest.

I suppose I should start by telling a little about myself, which may, in turn hopefully explain why I've embarked on this mentally masturbatory exercise. I was born in Winston-Salem, NC, aka Withered-Salami, North Cackalacky (this should somewhat explain the URL). And while I'm a big fan of North Cackalack, I am, by no means, a fan of Winston-Salem. It is a pretty town, but it is truly the land that time forgot. People leave town to go to college and return having married their high school or college sweetheart, they start squeezing out a few puppies who will attend the same schools their parents did and the whole cycle starts ALL over again. It is endless, it is mind-numbingly dull and provincial and it is Winston-Salem. I am a product of this private school vicious cycle but have chosen to move to NYC, remain childless and rather unfortunately, single, but I have managed to escape perpetuating a legacy of sameness. Whew! Yeah me! I will, at a later date, however, regale you with stories of my 20th high school reunion. It was truly as though everyone had swelled.

Ok, back to work now. I'm having entirely too much fun and must justify my overly inflated hourly rate. More later...Ciao for now!