An Unconventional Remembrance of Things Past in Greenwich Village
Walking the streets of Greenwich Village, my New York-bred companions, all of whom are all looking for new homes, always inquire about where the “Movie Stars” live in the area. In order to be helpful and polite, I’ll point to a townhouse on Charles Street, stating rather blandly, “Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick live there.” As we continue to walk, I’m usually feeling like a tour guide, working for gratis, and then, all of a sudden an excitement washes over me when I see 75 ½ Bedford Street. “Edna St. Vincent Millay lived there!” I’ll inform, enthusiastically. Upon which, I’m asked, “Who’s she?” I hold on to that fleeting excitement, hoping when I answer, “The Pulitzer Prize winning poet,” their brains will be jolted with a remembrance for her—the famous quatrain that includes, “My candle burns at both ends…” But no Edison-light bulb switches “on” in their minds. Nothing, not even a spark. So, I add, “John Barrymore and Cary Grant lived there, too,” which seems to strike a match with them.
But that nothing makes me wonder: Why? Why don’t you know who these old-timers are? Why don’t you care? Who do you think inspired all of those Movie Stars? Is it reality television that makes us forget? Or not want to know? Is it our public schools? I just don’t know, and I’m frustrated by it, to say the least.
Now, I should probably disclose: I’m not a New Yorker by birth; I’m not a scholar; I don’t have an Ivy League degree; I’m just a regular person, who was educated in a public school system in Ohio, where I had a few Amish and Mennonite schoolmates until the eighth-grade. And yet, these things, like not knowing of these writers, musicians, painters and such—of a much earlier time, who also once lived in Greenwich—a century or two ago, bothers me.
I know part of this disturbance—my neurosis is Proustian—and by all accounts supplies pages to the scrap-book of my common life, as I walk the streets of New York.
My Madeleine Episodes
Flash to 12 years old: In my hometown of Wooster, Ohio I was singing a piece of music, “Still on this Shining Night” by Samuel Barber. The lyrics of the piece haunted me, and so, I decided to find out more about the man, James Agee, who inked them. With a hunger to understand more, I studied Agee’s “Descriptions of Elysium” and other parts of Permit Me Voyage. I became slightly enamored by Agee from that age of twelve, and because of my obsession with his writings, he introduced me, via Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, to the photographer Walker Evans. Both Agee & Evans were residents of Greenwich Village.
Reflection to Teen Years: Still in Wooster, I would take escape from the mundane—rural life and visit my public library. I would sit for hours, devouring huge art books, working my way up to 20th century masters such as: Winslow Homer, Diego Rivera and John LaFarge. All of whom, at one time in their lives, resided in the Village. Not knowing then, that other residents like Man Ray would peak my interests so many years later. Also learning, that abstract expressionism, which found its tone in Greenwich Village, would be a style that I would want to learn more about in my twenties.
Spell of Early Adulthood: Now in Cleveland, I found myself massively in-love for the first time. My first love introduced me to the works of Jackson Pollock, who lived at 46 Carmine, 47 Horatio, and 46 East 8th Street. I in turn, introduced my first love to my fascination with the writings of Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin (215 West 13th Street).
And then, heart-break entered my world. During the laments of such agony with my once betrothed, I read Kahlil Gibran’s, The Prophet, in order to heal my heart. Today, I am reminded of my first engagement with heart-break every time I pass 51 West 10th Street, where Gibran lived and wrote.
Of course there are so many “Great Minds of the Village” who’ve influenced me over the years, including important social movements, and it’s for all of them wrapped together—as the main reason I moved from Ohio to work in Manhattan, when I was thirty-five years old. Knowing that John Lennon once lived at 105 Bank Street, Janis Joplin lived at 139 West 10th Street, Henry James resided at 18 Washington Square North, Mark Twain lived at 14 West 10th Street and 21 Fifth Avenue, Eleanor Roosevelt lived at 20 East 11th Street and 29 Washington Square West, and Martha Graham’s studio was at 66 Fifth Avenue—all of this matters to me, even though it’s not important to others, anymore.
Still, today, I keep downloading more of this seemingly useless information, hoping one day, I will be walking in Greenwich Village with someone, who also finds some comfort in knowing, where all of the old-timers lived and worked.
I’ve come to see that I’m brokering real estate, while brokering the history of The Village Voice(s).