Discover more from New York Cartoons
The Canary in the Coalmine of Loisaida
Curlie wears a different suit for each day of the week.
September 3th, 2015
New York, NY
I step outside my front door, hungover after a long night of consecutive bombs, and shuffle West along East Third. I speed-dial Muhammad at my regular coffee shop, Native Bean.1 They have my number stored on their phone, so whoever picks up always says, “Hallo, Miiiiiis-ter Chatfield!”
I say, “Can I get a double espresso, I’ll be there in 5 minutes?”
That’s if I can get the whole sentence out before I get cut off with—“You goddtit buddy!” [click.]
Mahammad always hands the cup over the counter to me with a big smile while everyone else is lined up out the door.
I hand him three wrinkly dollar bills and throw back the whole thing in one gulp. On the way back, I play my morning game of “Where is Curlie perched today?”
Curlie is my canary in the coal mine for Alphabet City; If he vanishes, you know something is seriously wrong. Curlie holds court more often than not at Hartman Square, a narrow strip between Houston and e2nd on Avenue C. Some mornings he’s on the NorthEast corner of C/e3rd, some days it’s somewhere else. Depends on the sun. The wind. The vibe.
He sits in his walker, dressed immaculately in a different-colored suit each day.
He wears two gold watches, three bracelets, and a fedora. Sometimes in the colder months, he rocks a giant fur shawl. He has a ring on every finger: everything from a giant opal to a yin-yang symbol, to the head of a Native American. His longtime girlfriend, Poo, sports a similar fistful of bling whenever she leaves the house to sit with him. On his lap sit two small miniature Yorkies. I’ve never asked their names.
The game of Where is Curlie perched today? is easy
—not because of his colorful duds— but because you can hear him three blocks before you spot him. He plays Latin music and old-school Doo-wop hits of the 50s and 60s on his boombox. All day. He knows everyone in the neighborhood. As people walk past to check in with him, he collects all kinds of information about the goings-on around Loisaida.2
If you’re lucky, you can spot one of his friends dancing to his endless playlist.
Native Bean on Avenue A closed after 20 years during the pandemic because they couldn’t pay the rent. Most places I loved in the neighbourhood also met the same fate.
Loisada is a term derived from the Spanish (and especially Nuyorican) pronunciation of "Lower East Side". Originally coined by poet/activist Bittman "Bimbo" Rivas in his 1974 poem "Loisaida", it now refers to Avenue C in Alphabet City, whose population has largely been Hispanic (mainly Nuyorican) since the 1960s.