Monday, February 05, 2007

SoHo

I grew up in a loft in SoHo.

People ask me about my upbringing a lot. I have nothing to compare it to, but I loved growing up in New York. SoHo was once the domain of cool artists and young families. When we moved in nobody had lived there prior to us: there was minimal plumbing and three inches of dirt on the floor. There were no walls and rats came up through the pipes. I remember sleeping on the floor on a mattress in a sleeping bag and getting dressed under the covers because we didn't have heat. We were living there illegally and the city turned the heat off (they finally had to relent because it was freezing and the pipes would burst, which would have pretty much destroyed the building). We would boil water on the stove and then pour it into the bathtub in order to bathe. It was a pretty crazy existence.

My dad was a carpenter and he built up our whole loft himself. For the first few years he built two bedrooms right next to each other, but the walls didn't go all the way to the ceiling. Eventually he tore that down and built us a new set of bedrooms, with real walls. You could see on the floor the remnants of the old floor plan, which I always thought was funny. My dad had a huge workshop in the back where he made stained glass and furniture. Besides the bedrooms and the workshop the rest of the house was just a huge open space. I rollerskated and rode my Big Wheel through it all the time.

The weird thing about SoHo buildings is they were all factories at one point and many of the buildings interconnect in strange ways. Our building shared a staircase with the building next to ours. So my neighbors, who lived on the same floor, technicaly were stepping into another building once they left the landing and went into their loft. My friend's loft around the corner had a huge metal sliding door that led into another loft in another building next door. (The people in that loft had a kid our age, so we would open the doors and run around in both lofts during playtime).

The other big part of growing up in SoHo was the art galleries and the avant garde theater scene. Back then SoHo was the art capital of the city, the way Chelsea is today. There were a ton of art galleries and I spent much of my youth wandering aroung various exhibits eating cheese cubes and drinking wine or soda. The Performing Garage, home of the Wooster Group, was across the street from my house. Spalding Gray, Willem Dafoe, and Liz LeCompte all lived on my block. Everyone in our building was an artist (except for the Chens who lived next door and owned Pearl River, the best Chinese department store ever.) As a result it seemed that we had a never-ending array of parties and performance art events to go to. I have seen my fair share of sculptures made of dirt, people being body painted, and video installations.

I am sure that there is more to say on this subject, but I am losing my voice and need to try to warm up my house, the temperature of which is currently hovering around 30 degrees. If you need me I will be buried under 5 blankets.

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