Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Why the East Village Matters to Me

I may live in Nolita now (and have lived there for the last 28 years), but it was my first seven years in New York City, living in the East Village, that formed my identity as a New Yorker.
Between 1980 and 1987, I lived in eight different apartments in the East Village and Lower East Side. (Yes, I had to move, on average, once a year. Which is why I’ve been in my current apartment for 28 years. That and the fact that it’s rent stabilized.)
My first apartment in the summer of 1980 was on 14th Street between Second and Third Avenue, next to the Metropolitan, a notorious porno theater. At that time 14th Street was so dangerous, I used to take the subway to Astor Place and walk to 14th Street.
Then I lived on East 4th Street between First and Second Avenue, directly across from the basketball court (where I used to watch John Lurie play basketball) and the Ninth Precinct (as seen on Kojak).
Next up was East 10th Street (between First and A). I lived in Steve Buscemi’s old apartment (I used to get his mail) next to the Fun Gallery. I wound up subletting that apartment to finance a trip to London (I was young and stupid) and was never able to move back in.
Hence my brief stays on 13th Street (between First and A), where I was mugged for the first time, and East Third Street (between B and C), where I was followed down the street by a drug dealer who tried to start a fight with me. Let’s just say I didn’t stick around long enough for him to succeed!
Fourteenth Street (between Second and Third, again!) was next. I lived in an abandoned building that was turned into an artists’ squat. One day I came down the stairs to see that my landlord had decided to renovate. I could see the first floor storefront through the floorboards of my living room!
That led to East Seventh Street (between B and C), where I lived in a de facto sex club and didn’t come out of my room for an entire year. (I used to eat all my meals at 7A.)
Last, but not least, was Norfolk Street (between Houston and Stanton) where my upstairs neighbor used to blast his stereo and have orgasms that sounded like he was laughing. (I could hear him through the vents in my bathroom.)
But there were good times, too!
The East Village is where I went to my first gay bar (The Bar, on Second Avenue and East Fourth Street).
The East Village is where I had enough Polish food to last a lifetime. Kiev, Veselka, Odessa, Leshko, Christina, Teresa, Lillian (the three sisters!), Orchidia, Baltyk, I went to them all. I ate at the Kiev so often when I first moved here (particularly their challah French toast), I once got a phone call there. (Their cashier at the time, who now lives in my neighborhood, is one of my oldest acquaintances.)
The East Village is where I went to the Pyramid and saw RuPaul before he became “RuPaul.”
It was where I went to Wigstock every Labor Day until it got too big for Tompkins Square Park (and eventually too big for New York City).
It was where I went to LaMama and Theater for the New City and P.S. 122.
So it should come as no surprise that when I heard there was a fire in the East Village that took two lives, injured 22, and destroyed three buildings, I was devastated.
Unlike those selfie-taking idiots on the front page of the New York Post, I studiously avoided going to Second Avenue and Seventh Street, not only because I didn’t want to get in the way of emergency responders, but because I was afraid of how emotional I might get.
Nowadways, my connection to the East Village is as a comedian doing open mics at places like Klimat, the Phoenix, and Otto’s Shrunken Head.
You can take the boy out of the East Village, but you can’t take the East Village out of the boy.

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