Popular Creeps: Alive in New York


A few times a year I take a trip to NYC, my home away from home. Absorbing everything and everyone. Finding inspiration is easy. I don’t go to live shows and rarely meet up with friends. You say Christopher, I say Walken. My standard answer to anyone’s inquiry of “How far is that?” I say it’s all within walking distance.

Years ago, I was interviewing Margaret Glaspy, who had recently moved to New York City. I had to restrain myself from kicking her in the shin when she complained about lack of inspiration in her new chosen city. Say what now? That response was inconceivable to me, and personally insulting, but I’ll chalk it up to her having an off day. Or maybe she’s never once left her apartment.

In contrast, my most recent pilgrimage was filled with mind-blowing adventure. I saw the Jean Michel Basquiat King Pleasure exhibit, which is his family’s personal collection. Unseen paintings, drawings, his Charlie Parker records, his trench coat, video installations, his bike—and an invitation to Andy Warhol’s funeral.

I saw four new velvet paintings by Julian Schnabel at his son Vito’s gallery. If I were a different kind of person, I could’ve boosted one. Also, in Chelsea, was a complete retrospective of Diane Arbus photographs; pictures I have been staring at since I was a kid. I’ve read the Patricia Bosworth biography a bazillion times, and you should, too.

Lou Reed’s Caught Between the Twisted Stars exhibition at the New York Public Library for Performing Arts was goosebumpy, and included set lists and receipts for stage attire, including one dog collar purchased from a pet store in the East Village. His freaking record collection! Valentines from Mo Tucker, in which she refers to him as Honeybun. Unheard demos. Prophecy of the Century: Lou’s words after seeing Iggy Pop for the first time were something to the effect that Iggy was the most rock ’n’ roll performer he’d ever seen. He marveled at how fit his body was, and predicted Iggy would still look this good when he is 80. Staggering. Feeling overwhelmed, I wanted to throw myself on the floor like a child at Target and be carried out.

Also noteworthy was an accidental lunch at an empty restaurant in Soho. First question: Why is this joint empty at peak brunch time? I think I now know the answer. The place had an Italian name and fake flowers glued to the walls. Our server seemed to be unfamiliar with the menu. We ordered the pizza. I swear to Rod Stewart, she brought a plate of cabbage, two fried eggs, and what looked like an old Hot Pocket with simulated artichoke-like filling. I laughed so hard I actually peed my pants. Had to throw my drawers in the ladies’ room garbage and go commando. I know, gross. But so worth it.

One warm sunny September afternoon in Nolita, I passed a dapper gentleman who looked like he beamed in from another age, casually standing on a street corner cradling an old Speed Graphic camera.

I walked past him, stopped in my tracks, and had to go back to talk to him. There was an aura about this cat that said, “You don’t ignore this man.”  I told him that I thought someone needed to take his photo. He obliged, then offered to return the favor for $20. Curses! I had no cash.

Walking away I just knew there was a story and a major missed opportunity. While later texting a photographer pal, I described the scene. Without hesitation, he replied, “That’s Louis Mendes. If he offers to take your photo, it’s worth paying him anything he asks.” Great. Now I really felt like an idiot.

Of course I started to dig around online. I found very little information about him other than he was 82 years old, born in Queens, worked at Macy’s, and then became a street photographer. In my mind I had blown a chance to have a photo taken by Gordon Parks or Diane Arbus, all because I couldn’t find an ATM machine.

For the rest of the week, I circled back to the corner where I had seen him. He wasn’t there. Was he a ghost? Had I actually seen him and taken his photo? Asking the NYC cops surrounding Little Italy’s San Gennaro festival if they knew of or had seen a dressed-to-the-teeth street photographer named Louis yielded the expected results. The most I got was, “Is he an old black guy?” Never mind, Krupke.

This gnawed at me all week. I wanted so much to find him, buy him a coffee, and ask him to tell me his story. Best I could do was stand in the spot he had stood and dream that I’ll catch him on the flip side, next visit.

Looch’s Playlist 
Mind Eraser, No Chaser; Them Crooked Vultures 
Pink Funeral, Beach House 
I’ll Be Here Awake, Arthur Yoria 
Frog Went A-Courtin’, Flat Duo Jets
Don’t Be A Drag, Alex Chilton 
Rainbow, Robert Plant 
Nutbush City Limits, Ike and Tina Turner 
Yeh, Yeh; Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames 
Ode to Billie Joe, Bobbie Gentry 
Mansize Rooster, Supergrass
Some Strange Reaction, Firewater 
Valerie, The Zutons

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