“There are 8 million stories in the naked city” and the same could be said for “histories.” Most are lost, untold and probably uninteresting. But in a city for which change is the only constant, stories from neighborhoods that are no longer can be precious indeed.
In 2012, I had the good fortune to walk down memory lane with a new friend living in a building then called C-Squat on the Lower East Side. It is not the C-Squat I knew as a kid, but it had the same name and was about to ‘go legal’ — in other words, the tenants had started a conversation about being allowed to buy their apartments and create a co-op, in one of many attempts by the city to regulate the last of the re-claimed buildings in the neighborhood.
Most recently I was gifted a limited edition ‘zine’ that has been almost 2-years in the making, about the history of the building at 155 Avenue C, called Homeo-Empathy, 9th and C. My own history crossed with its author’s a few years ago and I am now forever connected to him; and grateful to be.
Homeo-Empathy is less about one particular history or identity the building has claimed (or succumb to), but rather a ‘real-time’ urban history; told with the edge of a ‘fanzine,’ rather than the faux authenticity of a book or article. And with only 155 copies printed (mine is 112 of 155), it seems another story in the naked city will vanish like the neighborhood it chronicles.
The history of 155 Avenue C is a cultural history of time and talent and turmoil. It’s one of those narratives that asks “what happens to places or things over time/” There’s nothing ‘fancy’ or ‘hip’ in this story of a pickle factory, a salsa club, and a late-era Punk Rock squat. Instead, there is an honest story (in form and substance) or a small history in the midst of a big city that is bound to forget all of its participants as it perpetually recreates itself.
Homeo-Empathy is self-referential and self-conscious as it tells its story amidst complaints and nay-sayers, and those who worry that what they know as the ‘truth’ of this or that is not fairly represented. You can never please everybody — especially in this town.
But what I love about this ‘zine’ and its mysterious creator Wilhelm D. Bickernocker — this small intervention into the juggernaut of New York life and culture — is its refusal to take itself too seriously, and its belief that one collection of the facts is an important history of a place; not the definitive one, or even one that is the most important. It asks, “isn’t one history in a place like NYC, as vast as imaginable and as provincial as the smallest town, as important as any other?”
Its idealism is oozing from every page, and as a jaded and embittered a New York Native as I am, I love him for every page of it.
If you would like your very own, going-fast-copy of Homeo-Empathy, 9th and C, you will soon be able to find it at www.justseeds.com. The ground floor of the building also hosts MORUS (Museum of Reclaimed Urban Spaces) — and they will be carrying it as well.