#3: Curlie & Poo
The Canary in the Coal Mine of Loisaida.
3rd September, 2014
I stepped outside my front door, hungover after a long night of terrible gigs, and shuffled West along 3rd street. I called Mahammad at my regular Avenue A coffee shop, Native Bean.He has my number stored on their phone, so whomever pick ups 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 thing out before I get cut off with—“You gottit 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 2nd St on Avenue C. Some mornings he’s on the NorthEast corner of C/3rd, 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 colourful 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 neighbourhood. As people walk past to check in with him, he collects all kinds of information about the goings-on around Loisaida.
If you’re lucky, you can spot one of his friends dancing to his endless playlist.
Native Bean 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.