One day I sat on the subway enjoying a crunchy and cold Granny Smith apple. An old man sat opposite me who had the skinniest crossed legs and a fedora pulled down over his eyes. I presumed he was asleep but then he said, “That’s a nice looking apple”.
“I should eat more apples” he continued. I said he should try for one a day. He laughed. A guy walking down the carriage hands us flyers for a ‘fortune teller/guidance specialist’ “she’d tell me to eat more apples” he joked. We talked for around 30 minutes on the subway and covered topics including, architecture, modern technology and his latest ‘rock opera’ he was performing in the West Village. He was fascinating, (if a little crazy). It turned out he had been in a punk band in New York in the seventies, had once swapped houses with a guy he met on the subway and had spent some time in jail. He looked in his seventies now, but had lost none of his punk spirit. I wrote down his story just because it interested me. I don’t know what the point of it is but just becuase I want to remember it. Although I’m sure it would a lot more entertaining in a rock opera format.
Chris Santana was born in upstate New York. He grew up in a town near Sing-Sing prison along the Hudson river. When somebody was ‘getting fried’ the lights in their house would dim or go out. He started going to the city to party when he was 15 – 16. He moved to the city when he was 17, ‘like everybody else did’.
He moved to the East village in an apartment block on Second Avenue and B. He lived with kids from all around New York, New Jersey, Connecticut… ‘if you had anything about yourself, you went to New York…’ They had a stove in their apartment but no bathtub. The bathtub was on a different floor in another apartment. In order to take a bath he had to boil water on the stove to fill up the tub. The apartment was a maze of wires and fittings. There was one wire which plugged everything into the mains switch. Sounds horrendous, but he was smiling and laughing the whole time he talked about it.
His first job was at the Seventh avenue jazz bar. The Brecker brothers played there. It was good spot for music, drinks and a bite to eat. He was a porter and worked the day shifts. He got there at nine, made his eggs in the kitchen, cleaned up and prepared for the next night. ‘it was a great gig!’. As he cleaned he would find what the punters had left from the night before, money, wallets, jewelry, drugs..
He lived in his East village apartment for two years renting from a ‘Slum lord”, a ‘prissy guy’ who charged them $175 a month: ‘175 dollars a month!’ After a couple of years they figured that even when they didn’t pay their bills the gas and water were never turned off. So they stopped paying the bills.
The East Village was full of artists back then. The bars were cheap and the scene was lively, ‘Everyone was out and everyone was getting laid’. When AIDS hit, the neighbor changed. The art scene died. People were scared, ‘everyone was dying and no-one knew why’. Crack dealers moved in the apartment downstairs and bought trouble with them. The building he lived in was destroyed for him, and lost the enjoyment it held when he first arrived.
Chris met his wife on the street one day in the East village. They crossed paths, walked three paces past one another and then both stopped turned and started talking –so he tells its. They had a kid and she got a job in LA. His punk band had split up by then, so they moved, to ‘a dump on Venice Beach’. He looked after the kid while she worked and ‘it was good for a while’.
It didn’t last though and after going back and forth from New York for a time, after a couple of years he moved back. On hid first day back, he met a guy on the subway who had an apartment in Brooklyn. This guy from Brooklyn just happened to be wanting to move to LA. They got on the same carriage and when they got off, they had agreed to swap apartments.
Chris lives in New York because you can ‘always bum a cigarette from someone even though cigarettes are more expensive here than most places’. He lived in Jersey for a while but never liked LA because there was ‘too much of a sense of entitlement’ Giuliani was the worst thing to happen to New York he says. He gave the East Village to NYU and with it a sense of ‘appropriateness’ of ‘protocol’. He dislikes the appropriateness and protocol which the NYU students have bought to his beloved East village.
He will never live anywhere else though, as ‘New York will never change because New York is always changing…you will always find one person in the bunch that is acting like a real human being… Among the top ten things that keeps it so happening is simply the Turnover.’