Photos by Clayton Patterson
Taylor Mead, 87, displaying one of his paintings, hung above his bathtub in his cluttered Ludlow St. apartment.
Mead pointing to a hole that construction workers punched through one of his walls.
BY CLAYTON PATTERSON | The old Lower East Side produced a long list of creative individuals whose output and contributions were instrumental in altering the consciousness of America and the world, in so many fields: music, art, poetry, writing, theater, film, photography and video, political thought, religious philosophy and on and on.
If I had to give a quick answer as to what was the most important ingredient which made all of this genius possible, it would be cheap rent and the possibility of living an inexpensive lifestyle. To create, one must be able to eat, live and have the time to work at one’s obsessions and passions.
Gentrification has changed the possibilities. I believe the muse has left the building. I’m not saying nothing can be produced here again. But what was before will never be again. Most of the players of change had what it took, just not the money. For most of the new power players money is the new G-d. Greed is the new passion.
I have slowly come to accept the change. What is — is. It is do or die. I, along with a solid core of radical, hard-core, street-fighting activists, put in our years fighting against gentrification. We lost and gentrification won. What depresses me is the continual purging of the longtime community residents and creative souls. Over the years, I have witnessed many different tactics to evict people. Fires, hired thugs, moving in criminal activity, damaging the structural stability of a building’s foundation, cutting off heat and power, noise, using the police and courts, lies, money, eliminating building security, and so on.
Recently Lincoln Anderson wrote about the stressful and precarious situation MM Serra, Taylor Mead and what is left of the remaining tenants in their separate buildings are dealing with. Same landlord, different buildings. Both on Ludlow St. Tenants in both having to deal with a landlord famous for being a by-any-means-possible evictor.
Lincoln covered some of what the tenants have had to endure, but the situation has gotten worse. MM Serra’s building recently had a nonsuspicious, electrical fire. Mostly smoke damage and an increase in psychological warfare. In Taylor’s building, Harry Antonopoulos is being forced out by some strange change in tenant law. Harry, like MM and Taylor, is a much-loved and respected, active, creative member of our community. Harry is a fireman stationed at “Fort Pitt.”
MM Serra, a filmmaker, runs the Film Makers’ Co-op. Taylor is 87 and lives on the fifth floor. As often as possible, Harry carries Taylor’s groceries and packages up the five flights. Besides, the neighborhood loves having a friendly fireman living among us.
Over the years I have helped Taylor deal with eviction and other problems. He has lived through and survived multiple brutal eviction campaigns. This time it is different.
Again, Taylor is 87 years old. He is a living legend with a long list of creative achievements. No question he is still an active, vital, contributing, creative artist. Until the Bowery Poetry Cafe closed, he performed onstage his weekly Taylor Mead multimedia extravaganza. He has been shown in the Whitney Biennial. Documentaries have been made on his life and struggle. He has acted in movies and onstage. Been written about in the Paris Review. In public he is treated with love and respect, and given the celebrity status he has earned.
He is one of the few remaining tenants in his building. The whole place is a construction site with all the expected noise, dust, obstacles, worker traffic, open doors, coldness and activities that come with construction. There is pounding on his walls, floors and hallways from early morning till late Saturday evening. Then there is the intrusion of the holes drilled through his walls. The dust. To have to live with this would be enough to send a young person over the edge. His home life has become unbearable. But what can he do?
It’s true his apartment is a mess. A real mess. At his age, he can hardly bend over. He needs a cleaning person to come in weekly. Lucien, the proprietor of Lucien’s restaurant and the Pink Pony, provides Taylor’s meals. He does not want to live in an assisted-living space, because he could not have cats. Besides, by nature he is an independent, make-it-on-his-own, kind of guy. To stuff him in a sanitized box, with dying people, would kill him. It is not like the landlord, Ben Shaoul of Magnum Real Estate, is broke. He just paid millions of dollars for a number of properties on Ludlow St.
Yes, I have to adapt to this Bloomberg New World Order where money, the bottom line and political power are what determine a citizen’s worth and value. But have we completely lost all of our humanity, sense of decency, respect for one another, appreciation and compassion for the elderly and those who have less or are sick?
It is not just guns that kill people.
Can’t we find a way for Taylor to live out his “golden years” with some kind of respect, love, appreciation and sense of peace and security? Is that really asking too much?