My LES: Penny Arcade

The artist "Penny Arcade" at The Clemente on Suffolk Street. Photo by Alex M. Smith.

The artist Penny Arcade at The Clemente on Suffolk Street. Photo by Alex M. Smith.

For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with avant-garde performance artist, documentarian and playwright Penny Arcade (aka Susana Ventura).

How long have you lived on the Lower East Side?

I arrived in October 1967 at 17. In early 1971, I left New York for Europe with the Playhouse of the Ridiculous, protesting the police state and Vietnam War. I lived in Amsterdam and then the Spanish island of Formentera and Palma de Mallorca for four years. Then, after living in rural Maine for another six years, I returned to New York at Ellen Stewart’s invitation to do a play we had done in 1970 Night Club by Ken Bernard for La MaMa’s 20th anniversary. I have been here ever since, except when I tour.

Why did you move here?

I turned 17 in the Summer of Love 1967 in Provincetown. I met two East Village drag queens that hated P-Town and they gave me their number, saying, “You belong in New York.”

After six weeks in Boston I took a $25 shuttle to New York with a 17-year-old boy named Mark McCarthy and called them from Bleecker and Thompson. They said, “No, all wrong. Come to East 7th St and Avenue C.” He stayed one night and went back to Boston the next day, saying, “This place is too crazy and too scary.” I stayed.

What do you do?

I am a poet and writer of experimental theater and essays, and a performance artist. I co-helm the Lower East Side Biography Project: Stemming the Tide of Cultural Amnesia with my longtime collaborator of 22 years, Steve Zehentner. [It’s] a video project that has broadcast and cybercast weekly since 1999 that seeks to document and preserve the secret history of New York and the iconoclastic people who created the rich tapestry of art, politics and criminality that defined the LES for over 100 years.

Tell us about your apartment — the good, the bad and the ugly.

I have lived in one of the LES’s oldest buildings, on Stanton Street, since 1981. When people asked me where I lived in the ’80s and ’90s, I used to say, “There’s Soho, there’s Noho, and I live in Uh Oh!’ I live on the top floor of the quiet back building, an old loft, manufacturing building built in 1829. It had 14 windows and front and back doors. There were only one-story mechanic shops behind it all the way to East Houston Street, so you heard only the wind and saw nothing but sky.

In 1995 the old landlord bricked up five windows because he didn’t want to replace them. Now all you hear are the building sites drilling; soon those new tall buildings will block out the sky.

What’s your favorite spot on the LES and why?

Clinton Street in the ’80s used to be a street of party favor stores and bridal shops with the most garish dresses. I called it “Rue Des Reves,” the street of dreams. The section from Stanton to Rivington is one story and has a corner garden where Dominicans play loud salsa music and dominoes long into the night. The trees that border it bend over onto the sidewalk, creating a feral overhang, a magical tunnel. Now they clip those trees, but they grow back and hang! This year those buildings will be torn down and built up. We will lose the sky and a great deal of charm.

Favorite cheap eats?

Cornerstone  $4 breakfast with organic eggs. Gaia Café for lunch, $5 panini, my favorite: the Deliziano with anchovies.  Pause Cafe on Clinton Street for juices, bagel and lox, soups. Takahashi on Avenue A for sushi. Ray’s on A for egg creams.

Favorite place for a special night?

Angelica’s for haute macrobiotic food. Angelina’s for steak au poivre. Ghost, the Woodward Gallery’s bar with paintings by the great LES artist Richard Hambleton.  Drinks from master mixologist Ektoras Binikos courtesy of Art and Spirit at [Tony Powe’s] Second Floor on Clinton Street.

How have you seen the neighborhood change?

You are kidding, right? (Do you) like some place? It will be gone in two years. There used to be a real difference between uptown and downtown. People used to come to New York to be part of it all, to reinvent themselves in the face of New York’s magnetic energy. Now they think they are fine just as they are and want New York to be like the suburbs where they’re from.

What do you miss from the old LES?

The intact bohemia that had a lineage, made up of all ages and backgrounds. People chose to live here because of the shared countercultural values that were prized and valued; art, iconoclasm and resistance and opposition to the middle-class values of status, not rocking the boat and fitting in, and they measured their growth and success by standards outside of the mainstream.

Is there a new arrival you love?

I love Gaia Café because Gaia, the chef owner, actually stands for the kind of values the LES has always represented. She has a real political and social conscience actualized through both her excellent food and non-elitist prices, proving that the LES still attracts highly creative individualists who seek to become part of the community and to serve it.

What drives you crazy about the neighborhood?

The princess plague and frat boy invasion most nights of the week and the people who think the virtue of renting an overpriced apartment here makes them cool, without having any respect or even awareness of the living history both past and present that gives the EV/LES that reputation. They resent those values because they mistake being cool with being elitist.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on the LES?

Hard question! Three yuppie hipster girls getting angry when I asked them to stop yakking on their cellphones while we got pedicures in a 15 x 20 salon on East Houston Street, who responded, “This is a public place.” And I replied, “No, this is a semi-public place, I have to PAY to be here and don’t want my peace of mind badgered by your inane conversations.”

This definitely competes in my mind with the guy who shot up heroin at a red light on Houston and Ave A  and then nodded out when the light turned green. The latter is preferable.

Who’s the best neighborhood character you’ve met and why?

The EV/LES was made up of characters. Peter Missing of Missing Foundation in the 1980s  used to stencil an upside-down martini glass with three strikes on it and the words “Party’s Over,” and other anti-gentfication, anti-police brutality, anti-corporation, pro-environmental slogans. Obviously he was a prophet and a visionary.

Tell us your best LES memory.

1982: The artist Jack Smith invited drag superstar playwright Jackie Curtis for a wedding shower at his house on 1st Ave. We rang the buzzer and Jackie stepped back to look up at Jack’s 7th story windows and Jack emptied a kitty litter box on her head. That was Jack’s idea of a wedding shower!

My LES: Victor Fung

 

Victor Fung photo by Traven RiceMy LES

For our regular feature spotlighting the people who live and work on the Lower East Side, we talked with gallery owner and muralist Victor Fung.

 

My LES: Michael Kelly (of House of Cards)

Michael Kelly of "House of Cards." Photo by Alex M. Smith.

Michael Kelly of “House of Cards.” Photo by Alex M. Smith.

My LES

 

Tomorrow, Valentine’s Day, Netflix debuts the second season of “House of Cards,” the dark and twisted political drama. We thought it would be a good time to revisit Michael Kelly, a Lower East Side resident who plays Doug Stamper, Francis Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey’s) chief of staff.  This feature was first published in September.

My LES: Carlina Rivera

This feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. This month, we are featuring Carlina Rivera, a community activist and lifelong LES resident.  This story originally appeared in the March 2013 version of our print magazine.

 

What do you do?

I manage programming at Good Old Lower East Side, serving and organizing seniors around the issues affecting their quality of life everyday. GOLES is an amazing nonprofit that does a little bit of everything in the name of social justice. I’m also a member of the community board.  

My LES: Roni-Sue Kave

This feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. This month, we are featuring Roni-Sue Kave, a very familiar face in the Essex Street Market.  This story originally appeared in the February 2013 version of our print magazine.

 

What do you do?

I own and operate Roni-Sue’s Chocolates in the historic Essex Street Market — i.e., I make candy for a living. Woo-hoo!

How long have you lived on the LES?

I opened Roni-Sue’s in October 2007, so I’ve been working down here for over five years. I just finally moved from East Harlem to the East Village in June, though, so at last I can walk to work.

My LES: Wilson Tang

This feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. This week, we are featuring Wilson Tang of the Nom Wah Tea Parlor, who was appointed to Community Board 3 this spring. (Wilson was also featured in our print magazine this month). 

What do you do?

I run one of the oldest and coolest restaurants in Chinatown, Nom Wah Tea Parlor on Doyers Street, aka “The Bloody Angle.” The street where gang violence was huge and now, not so much. It’s just a rad street with awesome dim sum and a post office.

How long have you lived on the LES?

I’ve lived on Allen Street between Canal and Hester since my childhood days [except for when] my folks moved me out of the neighborhood and into Queens. It had something to do with the gang violence back in the day, but I was back on Allen through college, when I attended Pace University for my undergrad. My ’rents still live there, but I live in FiDi now with my wife.

My LES: Chiun Ng

Chiun Ng. Photo by thelodownny.com.

This weekly feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

What do you do?

I’m an architect. The firm I work at (Holzman Moss Bottino) does cultural and civic types of buildings. One of the first projects I worked on was Brooklyn Academy of Music. I loved it. I just completed a new theater in Ohio last year. Right now I’m working on a library renovation in Delaware. I am also a member of Community Board 3.

How long have you lived on the LES?

Eight-plus years. In 2003 I saw a listing in the paper and then I hiked to Avenue C to see it. I called my brother Chihou in Seattle right afterward. I told him that I fell in love with the neighborhood and I wanted to move here. He said to me, “Just do it!”  Here I am – I’ve been living in the LES ever since.

My LES: Marijke Briggs

Marijke Briggs, in East River Park, near the Williamsburg Bridge.

 

This weekly feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

 

What do you do?
I am a full time art educator in a Southern Westchester K-12 public school.  I also work with local non-profits and charitable organizations through my company, Marijke Briggs Consulting. These organizations include: Little Missionary’s Day Nursery (the oldest continuously running non-sectarian nursery school in NY), The Lily Fund, Inc. (Dedicated to Bringing Hope and Happiness to Children with Brain Tumors), and CF on the LES (a Great Strides team raising money to fund medical research for Cystic Fibrosis).

My LES – Andrea DiFiore

Andrea DiFiore - photo by Tobi Elkin

 

This weekly feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side.  If you would like to participate in “My LES,” please email us here.


What do you do?

I’m a visual artist. I recently exhibited my artwork and sold 10 prints from my series, “Drowned Flowers” to the United Nations FCU.  My work will be on display as part of their permanent collection. I’ve also donated artworks to charity fundraisers for organizations  including God’s Love We deliver, The Kilimanjaro Initiative, TimeIn Kids and PS11.

My LES – Tommy Ho

Tommy Ho

This popular feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.


What do you do?

I’m an actor and an aquatic director. I am the founder of Seahorse Swim Club in Masaryk Towers.  I was working at a pool in Chinatown before that.  Once I found the pool at Masaryk (which hadn’t been open to the public in over 30 years) I had to wait and wait and kept bothering them to let me use it (and start teaching classes there).  I had to keep waiting to talk to the super, I had to get permission from the Board Director, he had to get permission from everyone else (this was about seven years ago) but finally I got permission.  And now, it’s doing great.  I teach the Chinese community, all the parents on Grand Street send there kids here, I teach the Jews from Williamsburg, everyone.  And now I’m hoping to find a second location.

My LES – Otis Kriegel

This feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

What do you do?

I live two lives:  Educator and Artist.

Educator:  I teach 5th grade at PS 3 in the West Village.  I am also adjunct faculty at the Steinhardt School at NYU, teaching graduate and undergraduate courses in education.  I also have a blog called The K5, aimed to provide parents of elementary school age children with tricks and tips. The bulk of the info is communicated via videos I created, but there are written posts as well.

My LES – Suhyun Pak

This weekly feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.

 

What do you do?

I help run the Hester Street Fair with my 3 other lovely partners. We started the fair in April 2010.  I think we saw a need for something fun and outdoors in the neighborhood, some place to gather with friends and family and spend a nice Saturday afternoon.  We looked for spaces for a while but couldn’t find anything that worked and kind of shelved the idea until we fell into the Hester space.   When we realized that Hester Street had a wonderful history and was once home to one of the largest outdoor pushcart markets, we knew we were in the right place.  I feel like the Hester Street Fair really is the modern day pushcart market.

How long have you lived on the LES?

6 years.

Favorite block in the hood?

Broome between Orchard and Ludlow.  It has beautiful tenements, nice small shops, and is never crowded.

My LES – Joseph Meloy

This weekly feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side. If you know someone you would like to suggest be featured in “My LES,” please email us here.


What do you do?

I am an artist and an exotic dancer.  Actually I am not an exotic dancer, but I am an artist.  Really!  (Joseph currently has his first collection of work showing at Le Salon D’Art on Stanton Street – make sure to go by and check it out.)

How long have you lived on the LES?

I was born and raised in the LES (4th generation LES, no less!).  In recent years, I have split my residency between the LES and Downtown Brooklyn.

My L.E.S. – Brian Crowley

Brian Crowley in Gulick Park

This weekly feature spotlights a wide variety of people who live and work on the Lower East Side.  If you would like to participate in “My LES,” please email us here.

 

What do you do?

Currently, I’m a stay-at-home dad with my 7-month-old son; he came along at the right time, just as I was opting out of a philosophy doctoral program and academic life. So I do funny faces, funny sounds, and more generally help him explore his place in the world. To keep busy with ‘more adult’ things, I’ve been volunteering with The Friends of Gulick Park and with the core-group developing The Lower East Side Food Co-op.