Back to finding an apartment downtown. That rat-infested hellhole on the 4th floor on Mott Street was history. Keep in mind, at that point in NYC real estate, there really were enough cheap places on the market to keep starving artists – painters, writers, musicians, etc. – living in the city, especially downtown. Gentrification was just a gleam in its daddy’s eye, and neighborhoods were kind of dirty and needed repair, quite often.
Still, it was nice to be able to live cheaply and locally. And if an article paid me $75, and I worked a job that paid me $100 per week, I was doing well enough to pay rent and eat. Clothes I’d find in thrift stores or in my mom’s closet, at home (she had cool ‘50’s dresses and stuff – but I couldn’t wear her shoes, as she had large, size 11, feet).
Very luckily, I found one quickly, on St. Mark’s Place, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Manic Panic was across the street, which was a cool place to visit & hang. Tish and Snooky became friends; they were very sweet, open, fun-loving and just cool. The apartment at 26 St. Mark’s was on the second floor, in the back. It was a long, rectangular-shaped studio that was in constant disrepair; water damage by the rear window caused the plaster to bulge and bubble out, comically. I think the rent was around $200 a month?
That’s when we were all pretty darn broke -- in ’78 -- and people like the waitress at Dojo’s took pity. We also ate at Kiev, mostly – also Veselka and Odessa and all kinds of Russian/Eastern European type places that served generous portions of delicious soup with buttered Challah bread, and great pierogis, fried or boiled.
Shawn said, “(Kiev) had the best pierogis with caramelized onions ever. And remember the bread? I always told people to order the ‘Buddy Holly’ bread and they tentatively would and then it would arrive - buttered challah bread but, with the Ukranian accent, it always sounded like they were asking if you wanted ‘Buddy Holly bread?’” Nice.
What we would have done without such places I don’t even know. . . but good food when you’re hungry is always great, and affordable good food, greater still.
But I digress – so my last apartment, and the best, was 131 Thompson Street -- kind of Soho, kind of South Village. I wound up there because my former SUNY Purch roommate, Jane, wanted to sublet it out and I thought it was too cool to pass up. I found an old friends, James, who needed a new place so I sublet to him with the condition he could take over lease when the time came. He and his cat, Gully, moved in and lived there in decrepit boho digs for a few years, I think.
In Soho, Jane charged me $225 a month (when I took over the lease, it was less). Apartment 5E was a typical tenement five-floor walkup, lots of light in the front room, eastern exposure, front-facing railroad flat.
I took it, and stayed there for almost 30 years, rent stabilized, small, old, but cozy. An elevator was installed after ten years, which I tried to not use much (stairs are great exercise!). I just hoped I wouldn’t grow old and die in that apartment. . . that became a motivating force in my life, to figure out how to escape from New York.
. . . Still, I love New York – just not to live in the belly of the beast.