Tracy's New York Life | A Blog About Life in New York City: Homeless in Times Square in 1987 --- Part 2 of 2

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Homeless in Times Square in 1987 --- Part 2 of 2

by Joann Jovinelly


A simpler, less neon Times Square Circa 1990

This is part two of "Homeless in Times Square." Read part one here.


Bewilderingly, Manhattan wakes up immediately as if a switch is flicked. One moment I can’t quite make out the features of an exhausted coffee cart vendor--- and the next--- I notice everyone trotting off to the office. 

I decided to head back to the sloping side of the Grace Building off Sixth Avenue, to its confined public seating area. I needed a change in venue and the plaza was a quiet place of normality away from the never-ending hypnotic draw of Times Square. Of all the neighborhoods, I thought, why am I trying to land a job here? But the circumstances were out of my hands. It was all I could do but hope that I would pass muster to an artful couple and their 18-month old. All they knew was that I was a student, a transplant, fresh meat off the bus from New Jersey and still green to NYC’s veritable red-light district. 

The time of my meeting was approaching, so I returned to the Port Authority washrooms for some last minute grooming. One last look at the wrinkled instructions: 10AM, sixth floor. I dashed back to the building, finally buzzing the bell this time around when a person exiting shouts out, “It doesn’t work, honey” with a loud and dismissive laugh. Another drag queen owns the avenue. I hit the pay phone. Three rings later and the story is the same: yes, the buzzer is broken. I’ll meet you downstairs. Never was the phrase more welcoming.

A few minutes later I was greeted by Charlie, a smallish, sort of demure man with a day’s worth of facial hair and messy strands creeping from under a beat-up fedora. We shook hands and he guided me upstairs. Barely a word was exchanged in the elevator, which spilled out into the sixth-floor apartment without warning. “It’s a converted doctor’s office,” he said.

Indeed it was. A long narrow hallway connected two enormous rooms…one obviously a former waiting room and the other, perhaps it was a lab at some point. In between, there were at least four other micro “exam” rooms, each complete with a working sink, and each now a bedroom. “This will be your room,” Charlie said.

The space was as small as a dorm with one large window that looked directly across the street into the New York Times. The floor was cold, bare linoleum. Two drawers lined the bottom of a single platform twin-sized bed with a fabric print of a set of ribs tacked to the wall that read: “Void, Of Course.”  Little did I know it then, but the sentiment was courtesy of artist Kiki Smith, a close friend of my new employers.

To my surprise and relief, I got the job --- a live-in position as a nanny for the most adorable and well-behaved child Times Square has likely ever reared. Today that 18-month-old is all grown up--- a dashing party promoter, DJ, artist, and Jack-of-all-trades.

I saw his photo in New York Magazine a few years ago and was immediately taken aback. All the years that I cared for him came washing over me, and then I remembered the two days I was homeless, the two days before I became an ad-hoc parent in the most unexpected place in New York: the dirty, sleepless monster then known as a non-stop party playground for nude show revues, pornographic movie houses, and what seemed to be an endless stream of drag queens and unclassified weirdness. 

Funny, it all seemed incredibly normal at the time.            

Drag Queens take a load off--credit
                                   

1 comment:

Phil Holtberg said...

Yup, I remember the old Times Square and NYC you speak of. Good post!

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