Life Cafe Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Lower East Side’

Full Moon Life Café Poetry Readings and Zombies in Tompkins Square Park in the 1980s

This is an excerpt from the up-coming memoir by Kathy Life, “How Life Began: A Story of Hope, Love and Huevos Rancheros at Life Café in the East Village of New York City”

David Life used the Café as a stage to present his ideas, which were taking on a bizarre ilk. On to the walls in eccentric and fantastical combinations, he installed discarded objects from the streets: toys, wooden masks and broken trophies. It was like the street was coming inside. One item was a WWII bomb to which he screwed a wooden laughing Buddha on the end. He began showing art by the locals, good and be locals, and created his own art, oftentimes painting right onto the building. His mythic cartoon-like animals stared down at you with lashing tongues and bulging eyes daring you to come in.

Founds Objects turned to Art Installation on Walls of Life Cafe East Village NYC

Founds Objects turned to Art Installation on Walls of Life Cafe East Village NYC

In 1982, the SSI guys living off of disability were the first to hang out like semi-permanent human fixtures. Ira Bruckner, a poet who lived a couple of doors down, occasionally came in for coffee.

He was an argumentative bugger, a rude hot wire, and a loose nut. One quiet afternoon when the usual guys were inside with their coffees and chess boards he walked in front of the Café, peered through the open arched window from where we sold ice cream, yelled some obscenities, then hurled the table fan sitting on the windowsill into the middle of the Café, supposedly at someone, who, no one knew. As tolerant as David was, that was the last straw. David banned Ira from Life for life.Life Cafe circa 1985

I thought Ira wasn’t really crazy, because he had these long moods of intelligence and empathy. For instance, before the fan incident, he did something constructive. In a challenging tone he said, “David, why don’t you have poetry readings here?” “Okay, Ira. Why don’t you organize them?” He set up the Life Cafe Tuesday Night Poetry Readings.

Writers came to read and vent their considerable angst. But Ira was too unpredictable and then there was the fan-throwing incident. So Dave took a chance and invited John Farris to take over, a good friend but another loose canon. Fortunately, he very ably steered his anger and intolerances toward society organizing the readings and reading his own work. He was good for Life. He knew everyone who was anyone in the literary world in and around the neighborhood.

The readings were free and open. All you had to do was sign up (this was before “open mike” got the name) and, unfortunately, anyone did. Before each reading, people gathered around the tables decorated with collages from our vintage Life Magazine collection and ordered coffees and something cheap to nibble on, much to my chagrin. I was always trying to figure out how to get them to spend more money so I could pay the rent and utility bills. To those we knew we sold shots of Puerto Rica rum in their coffee for an extra buck. 2539

Thick cigarette smoke accented with marijuana hung in the room like smoke before the fire. Life Cafe readings were wild. There was often a heckler in the audience, and one, a woman with wild hair, was potentially dangerous. When she yelled, everyone in the house shifted nervously. Occasionally a brave poet would rant back if that night’s heckler wasn’t too threatening; it was a cacophony of verbal anarchy, a word dart competition and the poet was the dartboard.

During full moons the streets tended to be more rowdy than usual and the lunacy spilled off the street and into the Café.

Those were the toughest nights. I had to work the floor during those readings because the Café was packed and we needed to keep a closer watch over the crowd, which couldn’t be done from behind the counter where Dave was. He was too busy making espressos and small change.

Tune in for more Zombies and Poets of the 1980s Lower East Side, coming soon.



November 6, 2012

U.S. Presidential Election Day

There have been showers off and on all day today here in “sunny” Spain and the temperature has dropped 10 degrees from the balmy 76 Fahrenheit it was a few days ago. I’m told it does that this time of year. The semi-desert landscape that surrounds us is turning deep green. This is good. The rains, carefully managed in reservoirs and irrigated in this area, cause a bounty of produce to flourish in the mineral-rich campo soil in this, Europe’s garden.

On the campo, in an almond grove

Little did I know, as my husband and I sailed on calm waters away from New York City on August 28th bound, eventually, for Spain, that after a few shorts weeks a ferocious lady called Sandy would pay the City a fearsome call.

I remember how frightening the warnings about Hurricane Irene were only a year ago. I recalled that in the film “An Inconvenient Truth” there was a warning that the Lower East Side would someday be under water, a reminder that the East Village is only a few feet above sea level. After seeing the film, a friend quickly sold her house on 11th Street near Avenue C and moved her entire family safely into a new house in  Midwood on the far northwest end of Manhattan.

I was so alarmed at the potential damage of Irene in 2011 that I moved equipment from the basement of Life Café upstairs to the dining room. Being on the corner of 10th Street and Avenue B, I expected flooding up to the basement ceiling. At home we plastered big ‘X’s” on our south-facing windows with duct tape. Instead, we were spared.

This time, watching on the Internet and TV from Spain, we were awe struck and horrified at what was happening with a strange mixture of fascination and a sense of guilt that we weren’t sharing the worst of times and keeping Life Café open. But it was a relief not to be in the East Village where the sea came up out of the East River and finally overcame the streets and filled the basements of the Lower East Side.

The night Sandy began to batter the mid-Atlantic region, I took a break from watching the awful news unfold on TV and walked outside onto our porch. A blazing full moon glared down as I looked up into the still clear night and realized it was the same moon that was causing the horrific storm surge to rage into the Northeast coast. Mother Nature has no conscience…

We hear another storm is threatening to assault the East coast very soon, a cold one. We hope you will all fare through it safely.

And we hope all America fares safely through the election and the results as well. Take care, our friends. Our thoughts are with you.