Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Touch so brutal and illuminated

I was asked to write a very short (300-500 word) piece about gentrification/displacement/housing/public space in NYC, here's what I've come up with so far:

I don't remember how I first discovered Stuyvesant Park, maybe it was some guy who brought me there from the porn shop on 3rd Avenue. It was one of those frigid nights when you think the rain should be snow but it's not, it's rain and somehow that makes it colder. The park was dark or as dark as downtown gets the gates were closed, they looked closed but they weren't and when we got inside there was someone waiting in the rain and I thought oh, this is the place.

But also David Wojnarowicz wrote about Stuyvesant Park, I remember he’d found shelter there but that was long before, by the time I moved to New York he'd already been dead five years, shelter was harder to inhabit. So much longer ago it seemed when I'd discovered David in an obituary, can I even call him by his first name? Stuyvesant Park is a strange corner of downtown, without the grandeur of Union Square or the counterculture allure of Tompkins Square Park but it was a corner where I found touch so brutal and illuminated, gentle too but this also was disappearing thanks to Giuliani and gentrification, surveillance and chain stores, NYU dorms and other crackdowns on public sensibility.

When they started locking the gates it didn't really matter, everyone moved to the steps of the church where people were also sleeping, sometimes there was overlap and sometimes the adventure winded down steps, into below-ground alcoves dead-ending into doors. I'm not sure what these spaces were designed for, probably not the shivering embrace of hands and mouths and eyes and cocks, bodies grasping yes. In these makeshift rooms or thrusting right up against the gates of the park like that was some kind of shelter just desire, maybe someone would look out that was enough and sometimes the cops were there too but then everyone would walk around the block, a good way to discover other not-quite-hiding places, you could memorize landmarks for next time then return with more information, people always returned that's what I counted on.

Now the gates are always locked, after polite hours when everything used to start. No one even walks around the perimeter, searching. Maybe it's not as blatant as a gleaming white tower on Rivington, but gazing in sometimes it's hard just to remember, the way gentrification even robs you of imagination.


saltyfemme said...

Great piece, Mattilda. Is this for the JFREJ benefit in November, by any chance? Just curious.

mattilda a.k.a. matt bernstein sycamore said...

Salty, I'm so glad you enjoyed the piece! It is, indeed, for the JFREJ Marshall Meyer Risk-Taker Awards (I'm assuming this is the same benefit you mention, although I don't know the date). Thanks for asking!

Love --

gina said...

i wanted to read this since you said it was here on your blog even though i'm supposed to be cooking and then unpacking the kitchen all night. it's only 1am i've got time. mattilda i love your writing. i miss it. (and you.) can't wait for your novel! no sleep til 2008! i love how you describe the cold of the rain and the shelter being harder to inhabit right after mentioning DW being dead 5 yrs and saying later can you even call him by his first name. and i appreciate that shelter/desire are in the same context as both similar and different displacement, homes, sex. and the ending is beautiful. you are.

mattilda a.k.a. matt bernstein sycamore said...

Gina, thanks so much for the beautiful analysis and understanding -- I'm completely dehydrated at the moment, just got back from dinner and why am I checking my blog before drinking water?

And I miss you, so far away under all that heat!

Love --