Saturday, September 8, 2007

Emily Carter

This past week brought a visit from another old friend from Minneapolis, Emily Carter, the author of Glory Goes and Gets Some, a collection of autobiographical short stories based her experiences with addiction, recovery and searching for love. Shortly after I moved to Minnesota in the winter of 2001, I heard Emily give a reading of one of these stories at the Barnes and Nobles on the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. This scrawny little Jewish writer with watery green pit bull eyes who looked something like a cross between a hooker and a grandmother stood in front of a room of quiet and much less colorful Minnesotans, and then hobbled off afterwards with a dark-haired boyfriend wearing a black leather jacket.

I felt an pang of longing to trail after them, but instead, bought a copy of her book and took the bus back to the room I was renting in a ranch house in St. Louis Park and read it cover to cover. Reading Emily's stories brought on such an overwhelming set of emotions and an uncanny process of identification with her experiences, I scrawled several drafts until I arrived at an emphatic fan letter replete with my own stories which I addressed to Emily at The Loft, a writing center where she taught classes.

When I encountered Emily again two years later, we quickly became friends. I asked if she had ever received my gushing and delirious letter, which she hadn't, and we laughed at the idea of whose hands it might have ended up in.

Emily is as much of a story-teller in person as she is in her writing, and walking through the streets of New York triggers an endless stream of memories and associations. Witty, sardonic and affectionate, her presence and narrative voice makes the world come alive for me. I think of her almost as the big sister I never had - cooler, wiser, tougher - she reads my thoughts and offers some sisterly advice. This time around, she left me with a piece of advice about romance. She said if I want to make someone like and respect me, I need to stop acting like a shy, sweet puppy-dog and learn to be more of a bitch. Hmmm.

The timing of Emily's visit coincided with the opening of an exhibition of autobiographical photographs by Mark Morrisroe and Friends from the Boston School at Clamp Art, an artist who also lived on the edge in the eighties and died at the age of thirty from AIDS related complications. Morrisroe has been described as a kind of dark luminary of a circle of artists which included Nan Goldin, David Armstrong and Jack Pierson, whose his teenage prostitution contributed to the lore surrounding his persona.

Emily told me a story once about how Nan Goldin tried to photograph her in the eighties in New York and how she refused to participate. She said she was scared of this creepy lady with a camera who was trying to take pictures of all the junkie kids. I guess I feel pretty darn lucky to have had the chance to snap some shots of Emily on a late afternoon in McKarren Park in Brooklyn.


evilyngarnett said...

Tema Stauffer is the only photographer I've met that I really respect--saucer eyed voyeuristic creeps, was my original impression of the breed in general, vampires, the lot of them, from Arbus to the the thirty eight year old, Chelsea dwelling, coke sniffing creature who was "dating" my best friend Michelle when she was seventeen--Tema's gaze has nothing like that in it, I always love her work, and I was looking forward to seeing her. I wanted to connect with a friend from my present while I was there.
When I go home to N.Y. I am usually a little off kilter; born and bred, everything I ever lost is still there, waiting to be picked up and examined. Nostalgia, bittersweet, youth is fleeting, and in the end we all die--that kind of autumnal shit infuses everything when I visit.
To get to Williamsburg or Greenpoint, I have to take the 2 or 3 down and walk through the Tunnell of Urine from seventh to sixth to get the L. I've taken almost every train in the city, but I think that particular tunnell's the worst and if anyone has a worse one, I'd love to hear it.
Tema lived two stops out from where I used to get off on Bedford. At the time, 1986, it was like emerging into an abandoned mining town. There were no stores, one bar, which was full of cops, and the only people I ever saw on the streets after dark were little, Polish-American crack whores, stumbling out from the windy loading docks where they met up with their truck drivers. There were already a couple of lofts and artists, but to socialize, drink, or find a sex partner, white bohemians had to take the L back into Manhattan. Heroin was available, of course, but you risked the unknown in Brooklyn, if you were white, far more than you did in the East Village. By unknown, I mean not knowing if someone would rob you of either your drug money or your drugs, and why shouldn't they? Idiot white hipster, glowing like an eager light bulb...
At night you could hear nothing but the wind from the East River, and the Domino sugar plant would occasionally infuse the neighborhood with a smell of burning rubber and sickly sweet decay, which to the present day, I associate with the beginning of opiate withdrawal.
When I look back on myself and my circle of friends at the time, and remember the voracious old chicken hawk that was the 1980's art market, I can't help but feel bitter. It was as if we were a tribe of juggling, tumbling exterior decorators, who, for free, passed through, made the area colorful, and left without any fuss upon the arrival of the big money. The day of the Thompkin's Square Riots I was being shipped to Minnesota by my concerned and prosperous parents. My choices were to go live in a luxurious rehabilition facility, paid for by them, or to actually try to live in Thompkin's Square Park or it's surrounding environs, because at that point no one would let me in their apartment. Here's the difference between me and all the addicts with brown skin and no money: I had that choice.
On my visit to Tema, I could see that dilemma persisting. The graphic artists, writers and the eternal boy reading Henry Miller on the subway, still seem to be trying to look like some kind of idealized Tom Waits album cover idea of the lumpen prole and criminal classes. Meanwhile, the Dominicans, West Indians, and other actual working class immigrants shop at the 99cents stores for cheap imitations of suburban prosperity, never let their kids leave the house without washed white sneakers, work two jobs to send their kids to Catholic schools where the education is at least reasonable, and dream and dream and dream of moving to Long Island. The lumpen prole and criminal classes, on the other hand, "are always with us" as Jesus Christ said when someone called him out on using expensive bath products.
Meanwhile, these towers are rising everywhere. In Greenpoint, where Tema lives I looked over on small building that still bore the legend John Ottoni, 1900. A little to the left was a Northern European influenced condominium, soaring upward with pastel blue windows and a round,two story atrium blinking vaguely, like a sixteen year old danish model, out into the Delft colored evening air. It wasn't bad architechture, but I wondered at the number of young, wealthy people who could afford to live there. "Yuppies who want to live like hipsters" was how Tema described it's future occupants. There must be millions of them, I thought. How did I manage to avoid the money that seems to be falling everywhere, as if from giant, invisible, Plane trees.
We took a walk to a nearby park and I sat, breathing in the humid, riverine air and looking at my favorite Onion domed greek Orthodox church, chattering while Tema snapped. Her dog Paris, who was slightly overweight and sluggish when I'd met him in Minneapolis, curled at her feet, mellow as a cushion, but looking thinner and kind of buff for an older dog. Everyone who comes to New York loses weight; it's the only city where you have to walk and millions of Urban Planners have only recently come to realize that this is important, although the late Jane Jacobs, a little self educated lady who actually defeated the Power Broker, Robert Moses, knew it all along, forty, fifty years ago. Tema and her dog looked both present and oddly lambent, the ethereal effect of the evening light in what was once, after all, a river town.
I kept wondering however, how long the whole thing could hold, how long will New York City be able to attract young, creative people from all over the world. How long before it becomes a gated community with the outlying metro areas nothing more than a kind of coastline servants quarters? Personally, I think Tema is one in a million, but let's face it, she's also one of millions. That's why people like her come here, to test their mettle, to see if they are part of the cream that rises to the top, to use the very energy of the craziest, greediest, dirtiest tramp of a city in the world and see if it will bouy them up or distract them to pieces.
In a way, I'm not even qualified to speak to the question. I'm one of the losers who fled. That's one way to look at it; another is that I grew up here and New York is in some ways like any small town that thinks it's the world; in order to be myself, I had to leave. In either case, it's no longer neccessary that history always be written by the winners. Us bitter old losers have just as much right as anyone to avoid our version of our events, so get the hell out of my yard you little brats.
After saying goodbye to Tema I got back on the L at around ten o'clock. Excellent line for hipster hating and playing the game of "who on this car would you least mind (not most want, least mind) having sex with?" Another good game is to have a small notebook and ask people questions. You can tell them you are working for bum-fuck weekly, it doesn't matter, a little notebook and a pen in your hand people will talk to you. I asked several people about their tatoos and body mods. How much did their ink cost. Got generally the same answer I always get, which is "nothing, I have a friend who is a tatoo artist." Statistically this indicates one of two things: 1)tatoo artists have hundreds of friends for whom they don't mind spending hours working for free,
2)People are embarassed to admit that they maxed out their or their parent's credit cards so that they could dress up as Pirates. I'm jealous, of course. How do I afford my rock and roll lifestyle, I don't.
Before I got off at sixth I bent down to touch the head of a seeing eye yellow lab, even though I know you are not supposed to distract them while you were working. It's expression caught my eye, watchful, focused, without anxiety or attitude, just watching. Nothing at all like a puppy dog, or a voyeur, their was something friendly but permanent in the way the dog sat there, it's mouth open and relaxed, just watching, watching, watching, like sphynx, without the hauteur, an honest, almost happy gaze.

myanthony said...

Emily thank you for transporting me to the B&B community of NYC.I share many of your perceptions. As I read your entry i am on the corner of Franklin and Nicollet in Mpls. Across the street is a a generic upcoming condo building and I have the same argument about the money, the
"kids",the planet. I recall a favorite song of mine first heard sung by Roberta Flack. it starts "sing a song for sad young men, slowly dies the heart..."
I vividly recall a moment when i was at the transecting of Broadway and 44th at rush hour while back for a visit thinking of my life in NY "how the Fuck did I manage to live here?!"Like much of my blessed life the answer- But for the grace of God.
I sure hope to run into you Emily Carter you are a beautiful import.