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Viewfinder | Down the Aisles of the St. Mark’s Bookshop

Last night, politicians and neighbors gathered at the St. Mark’s Bookshop to celebrate the lowering of its rent. So the bookstore survives, but for how long? Will it still be on the corner of Ninth Street and Third Avenue in a couple of years? Or will there be a giant bubble tea shop there instead? It seems like a good time to document an institution of a kind that’s vanishing from the East Village.

St. Mark's Pipes

As a physical space, St. Mark’s Bookshop is sort of retro-futuristic, and more theatrical than relaxing. There is a big-city sense of being on stage. No attempt is made to foster the kind of somnolent, wood-paneled cubbyhole atmosphere so beloved of the stereotypical independent book store. Anyway, it would be a difficult trick to pull off, what with those HVAC pipes slithering around above the customers’ heads like giant, interstellar worms. Read more…

‘In the Time of Decadence’ (Thomas Nashe, but With Trash)

A familiar sight inspires some to make art, and others to wax poetic.

In Time of DecadenceBrendan Bernhard

Garbage is but a flower
Which garbage trucks devour;
Darkness falls from the air,
Stars have died young and fair,
Dust hath closed Amy’s eye.
We are sick, we must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Saturday Night Stiles


Who’s this walking south on First Avenue, just one face among thousands enjoying the East Village on a crisp fall evening? Here’s a hint: The native New Yorker (recently seen at Café Orlin) got her start as an actress at La MaMa before going on to achieve global fame alongside Matt Damon in the Bourne trilogy. Global fame or not, Julia Stiles went largely unnoticed as she waited at a traffic light on 12th Street and First Avenue at about 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night.

The East Village: A City of Touch

Okay, so we were a little surprised to hear that Beyoncé gets her nails done in the East Village, but Brendan Bernhard might not have been. In his latest essay, he points out that ours is a neighborhood that caters to the body.

 touch - Susan Nail Ave ASusan Keyloun The nail paint at Susan Nail & Spa at 149 Avenue A.

It’s one of the things I love about the East Village (and miss when I’m gone): the amount of attention to which your body can be paid (if you’re willing to pay for it) on almost any street.

Take the venerable Russian & Turkish Baths on East Tenth Street between First Avenue and Avenue A (forever and ever the hottest place in the neighborhood in the literal sense), where in under twenty minutes, a lifetime’s worth of clogged pores can be brutalized into unleashing rivers of salt.

touch - baths IMG_0511Susan Keyloun

On weekdays after work the place can be as packed as a subway car, filled with the Ordinary and the Beautiful. You see boxers and dancers and models and performance artists and India-rubber yogis and other aristocrats of the physique, not excluding exhibitionists, dowsing themselves with ice-cold water in rooms ramped up to temperatures Satan would balk at. There are people who spend hours there almost every day of the year; after a decade or so, they start to look like steamed fish. In the afternoon it can be quite empty: I once shared the “Turkish Room” with a heat-loving rat. Read more…

And Now, A Message From Your Local Pharmacist

Death and MedicineBrendan Bernhard

From all of us here at CVS,
Welcome to Death.
Please pay for your medications
underneath the skeletons.

Whether a foot from the grave,
or a perky teen,
God Speed! God Save!
There’s nothing like Halloween!

Weldon Kees, The Elusive Bard of East Tenth Street

Screen shot 2011-10-20 at 11.09.34 AM

A cultural oddity of the East Village is that it has more often been a home to poets than novelists. Some of the poets (Allen Ginsberg, W.H. Auden) are about as famous as poets get. Others (Edwin Denby, Bernadette Mayer) are known to only a few. The vast majority, as you would expect, are almost completely unknown.

Weldon Kees, who lived at 129 E. 10th Street (the apartment building directly next to St. Mark’s Church) from October 1943 until November 1945, and later rented a loft at 179 Stanton Street in the Lower East Side, is an exception. As a cult figure with an ardent following, he’s certainly known to some people –  but his connection to the East Village has been all but forgotten. Perhaps that’s appropriate: An absence as much as a presence, a shadow where a human should be, Kees is the Harry Lime of modern American poetry, as in the character played by Orson Welles in “The Third Man”: Now you see him, now you don’t. Read more…

James Wolcott’s Memoir, ‘Lucking Out,’ Gets Down and Semi-Dirty in the East Village

lucking outCourtesy of Doubleday

Luckily for East Villagers, James Wolcott’s memoir of his days as a young culture critic in a now nearly vanished city, “Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York,” places much of its meat and potatoes (along with plenty of gravy) right here in our very own backyard. Steering a middle course between the sometimes overly concentrated, every-word-counts prose of his Vanity Fair columns, and the more loosey-goosey style he deploys in his blog at the same publication, Mr. Wolcott reconfirms his position as New York’s wittiest critic.

Despite its pleasing portability (the book, out later this month, comes in at about 270 pages), “Lucking Out” covers plenty of ground, bopping from Mr. Wolcott’s mice-ridden “man-cave” on East 12th Street, down to CBGB, and back up to the Village Voice, where he made his name. It slides west for a gawk at the gay heyday of the West Village, then uptown for some quality time among the balletomanes of Lincoln Center (with a pause for skuzzy “Taxi Driver”-era Times Square porn along the way), and includes countless screening room séances with his mentor and muse, the late New Yorker film critic, Pauline Kael, to whom large portions of the book can be seen as an extended and touching valentine. Read more…

Between September 1 and 9/11; W.H. Auden, East Villager

audenWikiCommons The poet in 1939.

So let’s hear it for the greatest writer ever to live in the East Village. What’s that, you say? James Fenimore Cooper? Leon Trotsky? William S. Burroughs? Allen Ginsberg?

Hmm. No offense to the above authors, but surely you jest. The greatest writer ever to settle in the East Village, a transatlantic literary god whose appearance was as unexpected as that hawk showing up in Tompkins Square Park, was the English-born poet, W.H. Auden, who lived at 77 St. Marks Place from 1953 to 1972. In 1917, Trotsky had edited a dissident newspaper in the same building. The painter Larry Rivers was already living there when Auden and his lover, Chester Kallman, moved in. And the man who had previously occupied their railroad apartment was an abortionist. For neighborhood “color,” you can’t top that.

The coming month is a big one in Auden’s posthumous career. (He died in Vienna on September 29, 1973.) And this fortnight, in which we will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, will also be a 10th anniversary of sorts for him. Seventy-two years ago today, he began writing his aphoristic, agonized, and intensely lyrical meditation on the outbreak of World War II, “September 1, 1939.” It was composed shortly after he moved to New York with his pal Christopher Isherwood (“Berlin Stories,” “A Single Man”), and 62 years later, a few days after Mohammed Atta & co. brought down the Twin Towers, the poem took on a second life among the smart set on both sides of the Atlantic. Read more…

In Search of Marcel Proust, Finding Tom Verlaine

Tom Verlaine(c)2011 Nanci Ezzo, All rights reserved.

According to the weather prophets it should have been raining but it wasn’t raining so I went to the Tompkins Square Library to see if I could get Vol. 1 of Proust, but they didn’t have any Proust, and probably never do have any Proust (“Who’s Proust?”), so I decided to take out another novel instead, only to realize I didn’t have a library card, a wallet, or any form of ID, unless you count a cell phone, which I don’t. I did have cash, though.

On to Mast Books, five blocks down Avenue A, but first I encountered… The Racist. A drably turned-out white woman in her thirties, looking like a hipster gone to seed, possibly a junkie. In fact I’d already passed her a few minutes earlier on the way to the library, where I heard her shout racial slurs at more darkly hued people than herself outside the deli on 10th Street, but I wasn’t really paying attention, and frankly it just seemed weird. She looked like a dyed-in-the-wool East Villager. Down on her luck, maybe, but a characteristic member of the neighborhood nonetheless. It was almost unthinkable. Read more…

Waiting for the Bed Bugs

Bug close upBrendan Bernhard

It is said, on one of the many Web sites dealing with the subject, that bed bugs, when they attack their sleeping victims, leave a trail of “dark fecal spots (which are partly digested blood) on their host, mattresses, clothes, bedding, walls, ceiling, and every place you can imagine in a room.”

Except, it seems, when they don’t. Except when you are preyed upon by bed bugs who come equipped with their own federally funded clean-up crew — bugs which don’t feed but tidy up after the other bugs — ensuring that the dawn will reveal absolutely no sign of their vampiric brethren except for the clusters of hideous, madly itching welts on your legs and arms and torso.

This is the situation as I lie awake in bed at three in the morning, a copy of George Eliot’s “Middlemarch” propped up on a small cushion in front of me. I’m about 420 pages in, with about 420 pages to go, but it’s a challenge to concentrate. I keep swiveling around thinking I’ll catch a bug scooting purposefully toward me on the pristine sheet. I turn a flashlight on the curls of peeling paint behind the heating pipe and under the window sill, looking for anything that scurries…. Surely there must be something moving somewhere. After all, it’s feeding time.
Read more…

The East Village’s Missing Name

Four More Years?Susan Keyloun

What is it? The name that’s missing from the East Village?

Think. It’s a name you would expect to hear, but don’t. A name you would expect to encounter in cafes and bars, on street corners and buses, in parks and in shops, in the lobbies of movie theaters and the changing rooms of gyms, on subway platforms and in supermarket lines, and wherever else East Villagers congregate.

The name, still so visible on the Web and audible on TV and radio, has vanished from the neighborhood. Yet it is (surely) the most famous name in the world. It begins with an “o,” and it ends with an “a”: OBAMA! Once it was on everyone’s tongue. Now, it seems, tongues would rather utter any name but that one. The name has been replaced by silence, by the absence of a name. It is a void people no longer know what to do with except to circle around it cautiously while naming other names — Palin, Beck, Murdoch, Cantor, Tea Partiers — as if warding off an evil spell.

There are other people besides Obama you rarely hear discussed these days. For instance, Clinton, Geithner, Bernanke, Biden, Pelosi. The names of those who hold the highest offices in the land are spoken aloud almost as rarely as those of Party officials in a Communist dictatorship. It’s as if merely whispering their names were a crime. It isn’t, of course, but somehow it feels inappropriate.
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East Village Tweets | July 18

TextingScott Lynch

Would-be messages from the East Village, in 140 characters or less.

Out of Office Tweet (Automated Response)

Obviously we am very concerning among the flowers.
Ditto says ‘Go Home Now’ but what about the hours?
 212-555-4444 but it’s déclassé to phone

or text weekends, and dubious at best Mon. & Fri. & as
 for Tues.-Thur. why it’s impossibly busy here at our loft
 on Lafayette I really

don’t know what you should do my advice is buy a fat
 novel for a couple of bucks from one of those Avenue A
 vendors and get on a bus

and stay on it until you finish it could be weeks if it’s
 Proust have you read Proust I haven’t but they say he’s
 good & takes a lot of

Time you seem to have a lot of Time that’s your
 problem you see we’re all tremendously busy I mean we
just don’t have Time so do read Proust
Read more…

‘The City is a Cage’

billboard through fenceMichelle Rick

Cities are unforgiving places, and New York perhaps the least forgiving of all.

One of its less attractive traits has always been its self-mythologizing triumphalism and I ♥ NY campaigns, a localized form of the nationalism it derides in the rest of the country. “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,” Frank Sinatra sang in what has become Manhattan’s unofficial national anthem and New Year’s rallying cry. It’s a sentiment to which countless scrambling citizens still subscribe. If they can just work hard enough, be ingenious and ruthless enough, they too will be “king of the hill / Top of the heap,” because this is the place. Or so we like to think.

Is it, though? Just over a century ago, C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933), an enduringly popular Greek poet who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, wrote a 16-line poem called “The City” which immortalizes a peculiarly urban dilemma whose outlines disenchanted New Yorkers will readily recognize. Those who have just moved here should read the poem, memorize it, print it out, and stick it on the fridge door.
Read more…

A Big Day For East Village Soccer Fans

NevSmith 1Grace Maalouf Tomorrow’s UEFA Champion’s League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United is certain to intensify the rivalries among the East Village’s European soccer fans. Above, Manchester United fans take in a match at Nevada Smith’s earlier this year. Below: Barcelona memorabilia at Nevada’s.
Neveda Smith'sKenan Christiansen

Saturday will be a big day in the East Village, which, as you may have noticed, has a lot of Europeans living in it, visiting it, and — East Village merchants say Thank You! — spending a lot of much-needed money in it.

Tomorrow afternoon, however, many of those Europeans will be passionately engaged in watching the UEFA Champion’s League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United, which starts at 2:45 p.m. and is being shown live on Fox. (Not Fox’s soccer channel, but its main channel — i.e., the one that shows “American Idol.”) However, expect many of them to be watching in bars and restaurants around the East Village and Lower East Side, including Nevada Smith’s, The Central Bar, etc. As will be plenty of other New Yorkers from around the world, including a healthy dose of native New Yorkers.

Now for the match itself. What have we got?
Read more…

An East Village Twitpic | May 27

A would-be message from the East Village, in 140 characters or less and inspired by photography.

Pansies at Night (East Village).Brendan Bernhard
Pansies at Night (E. 9th St.)

Angry old men is what they look like, with eyes
like eyebrows and in-your-face mustaches. Purple
quiffs! Yellow noses! From drinking what?

East Village Tweets | May 24

remembrance at St. Vincent'sMichelle Rick

Would-be messages from the East Village in 140 characters or less.

Divine Retribution

Clouds, rain, ice, wind or lung-stopping heat pursue
him, in any country, on almost any day. God’s
punishment for spending ten years in L.A.

Global Transport Provider

The taxi driver from Senegal has lived in Dijon, NY,
Barcelona, and Kansas. He speaks three languages. Just
another working stiff, y’all


‘The debris of laptops’ (Colin Firth) on silvery display.
Everyone mit coffee & Mac. We all changed so quickly.
Can we please change back?

East Village Grunge

Writers mythologized it, residents boasted of it, tourists
ate it up. Now landlords happily serve it to us, in a
grimy, $2,000 plastic cup

Read more…

I ♥ Bicycles

blue bike brown paper bagMario Ramirez

The bicycle is such a decorous, ingenious, quiet machine, it’s a shame it has become a politicized one as well. But when you see somebody on a bike with a placard attached to it which reads A QUIET PROTEST AGAINST OIL, you know Politicization has arrived. (On First Avenue, in this case.)

Beautiful and ingenious as the bicycle may be, the human body is even more beautiful and ingenious, at least until the age of 60, and especially below the age of 30. And let’s not forget one important thing. As a pedestrian, I also fall into the category of partaking in A QUIET PROTEST AGAINST OIL, unless I’m in a cab. I just don’t have a sign, or a T-shirt, with which to make this fact plain. But I’m going to get one. It’s going to be a quiet protest against other, equally quiet protests.
Read more…

Your Voices | East Village Tweets

PinksTim Schreier

We at The Local try to provide a rich pastiche of news, commentary and creativity. The work of one of our community contributors, Brendan Bernhard, the author of “East Village Tweets”, has quickly gained a wide following.

Readers have found Mr. Bernhard’s work humorous, evocative, poetic, and quintessentially of the East Village.

In an e-mail exchange with The Local, Mr. Bernhard shared some insights about how he works and what moves him to write (he also passed along a photo of the dog that inspired one of his most popular “tweets,” “A Serious Mutt“):

“I am a journalist but poetry has always been my first love. I started these ‘tweets’ – they’re not real tweets, of course – because I had begun writing for this blog and wondered if I could come up with something a different which would allow me to express my feelings about the East Village. As it turns out, I have ranged from the fantastical to the concrete and various shades in between. It’s been great fun for me, it has made me look at my neighborhood in a different way (I’m practically thinking in tweets) and I hope at least a few of them have resonated with readers.”

If your comments are any indication, they have:

Leslie Monsour wrote:

“These are a new kind of super contemporary baroque haiku. Very amusing. I could go on reading.”

Marilyn Widrow said:

“Brendan has captured the essence of the East Village through imagery, poetry and sheer beauty. I feel its pulse beat.”

Janet offered:

“I don’t live in the East Village or even in Manhattan, but it’s a treat to read such elegant, evocative poesy. Please, may we have more?”

brenda cullerton asked:

“who is this furtive genius roaming around my favorite streets? The David Markson of Tweets, that’s who he is.”

“West of Broadway” said:

“These are lovely, smart, funny, delightfully observant and far more intelligent than one has a right to expect from the form. Call it poetweetery.”

Join the conversation: Have you seen other attempts at a similar form? What about the East Village does Mr. Bernhard’s poetweetery evoke for you?