Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen

Fun City

In memoir, Prose, Uncategorized, where on April 25, 2017 at 2:12 pm

NY Street scene

NYC is a wretchedly wondrous place that can abrade the human spirit leaving nothing more than rue, misery, and existential scar tissue. You find yourself surrounded by tons of people but somehow an inveterate member of the lonely crowd.

My neighborhood changes yet retains its soiled, somewhat cosmopolitan essence. Back in the 70’s when I first entered this then-tattered urban wonderland of seemingly infinite and accessible possibility, my block and the nearby area was pretty much all mom and pop stores with the exception of a few places like Barney’s. The towers of the World Trade Center were also in pristine evidence. You could find an occasional vendor who sold hot dogs, falafel, or rice and beans. There was a pizza parlor on 8th Ave, owned and operated by a Puerto Rican family. At one point in the nineties, the laundromat below me had an actual variety show on Wednesday nights. You could see a comedian or catch a local band. There was also an occasional puppeteer or juggler. This diversity of people, activity, and optics is an example of the sort of thing that compels me to live in Manhattan despite attendant forms of adversity.

Nowadays it’s all Rite Aid, Subway, Walgreens, and Duane Reade. Back in the late 70’s an elderly gentleman dressed in cowboy drag sat on the corner of 7th Ave and 23rd Street while playing Western swing on his pedal stool guitar. Somebody told me he lived in the Chelsea Hotel, that redoubtable stronghold of bohemianism and artistic exploration.

Over the years, I’ve surveyed numerous other sights as I made my way through the neighborhood.

I saw Herbert Huncke, another Chelsea Hotel resident, on a corner near my residence. He was engaged in a heated conversation with a young woman. Despite his dissolute lifestyle he was an aging pretty boy with a wrinkled baby face.

I saw Art Pepper walking along 7th Ave. He was playing at the Vanguard that week. I noticed his paunch. I knew it was a hernia simply because I had recently read his book, Straight Life, a tragic, somewhat lurid tale about a musical career and life thwarted by the ravages of drug addiction.

Then there was Dr. John. I merely watched as he strolled by on a pleasant warm weather day with a child who was most likely his daughter. I read somewhere that he actually lived nearby. NYC makes you jaded about that sort of thing.

What about Nico sitting in the lobby of the Chelsea Hotel? Like Pepper and the good Doctor she was a member of the Thomas DeQuincy fan club, a lotus eater who had difficulty foregoing her treacherous appetites.

No, I’m not judgmental; just commenting on what I see and know about what I know and see in this crepuscular nightmare we blithely refer to as life – an out-of-control chimera that initiates and then destroys hope and dreams in a painfully capricious, inexplicable manner.

Sonny was a painter who lived a few blocks down from me. He started painting after a serious motorcycle accident. Sonny was a somber yet affable working-class artist who smoked True cigarettes. I sat for Sonny in order to supplement my meager income derived from playing and teaching music. He talked incessantly while painting. Once he told me he would never allow his children to wear jeans. That sort of thing just didn’t make sense to him.

He talked about the time he visited Mexico. I did play in San Diego on a couple of occasions. On my second trip the other band members went to Tijuana while I spent the day in bed. Touring can take a lot out of you.

Joe, my next door neighbor, lost his right leg due to diabetes exacerbated by the copious, unrelenting consumption of Heaven Hill whiskey. Sometimes he would put on his artificial leg and try to walk down to the O&B on 23rd Street in order to place a bet or two. Judging from what he told me he once had a fling with one of the ladies who worked there.

There was a guy named Dennis. He was courtly, quite pleasant with everyone; when I first met him he was a handsome young man with a neatly trimmed moustache. He always said hello. I would reply in kind. Where did he live? As far as I could tell he was homeless. Often I would see him bob in and out of the liquor store on the corner.

Sleery was a tall, slender, black guy who lived across the hall from me. His girlfriend Linda was white, southern, and danced in little more than a wig and a Band-Aid in a bar on 8th Ave. Once or twice he stopped me on the street in order to converse. He knew I was a musician. He went on and on about his fondness for jazz. Once he even broke into Dizzy Gilespie’s vehicle and stole some of his wardrobe – the hallmark of a true fan.

I found myself stumbling over his unconscious body as I made my way to my room after a gig that had gone on for too long for far too little pay. Who knows? Perhaps he was his own best customer. From time to time he volunteered to provide me with samples of various substances to which he seemingly had easy access. I always declined in the most gracious manner possible.

One Sunday while I sat in my room going through my practice routine the building shook. There was a loud noise. I ran downstairs and discovered a car that had jumped the curb and gone through the front window of the hardware store beneath my apartment.

Years ago the 10th precinct station on 20th Street made a cameo appearance in a film called “Naked City.” How fitting that such an accident took place on a nearby corner.

-Bern Nix

 

Leucio’s Story

In Uncategorized on March 28, 2017 at 9:42 am

Leucio soup kitchen stories

Leucio’s sense of humor is as bright as the orange dress shirt he wore the day he stopped by to tell his story. At 61, he’s been coming to the soup kitchen for almost twenty years. He first came for lunch in 1998, when he was referred by a nearby support program for adults with disabilities that no longer had funding to serve food.

“I thought a soup kitchen was something from the 1800s, where they just hand out soup,” says Leucio. “I didn’t realize you could get a full meal.”

Leucio has Cerebral Palsy and now relies on Social Security Disability payments to make ends meet. He used to work part-time at Bronx State Hospital, where he taught a cooking class to patients, but his social security checks are now his sole source of income. He has a studio apartment through the Section 8 program – “I live with three people, he jokes, “me, myself, and I.” Coming to the soup kitchen is an opportunity to socialize with fellow guests, and the meals helps him survive on a very limited income. “I just don’t have enough money to buy food,” he says.

In addition to the soup kitchen’s healthy lunches, Leucio has found nourishment of a different kind through the Writers’ Workshop and still takes pride in the story he wrote that was published in one of the workshop anthologies. Having struggled with a learning disability and graduating high school reading at a fourth-grade level, Leucio says that encouragement from the workshop instructors gave him confidence he never had in school.

“I never wrote before the Writers’ Workshop,” he says. “It never went through my mind that I was good. Today my therapist read my story and she told me it was brilliant!”

You can read a poem by Leucio in Food for the Soul: Selections from the Holy Apostles Writers Workshop (available on Amazon) as well as several pieces on our blog.

Grace

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2017 at 3:05 pm

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The first time grace was visited upon me was in mid-November. I actually had a paying gig. All the elements came together in a highly congenial and efficacious manner that can be described as grace. These fleeting moments of grace are perhaps the primary factor in sustaining my haphazard career in music. That frisson, that narcotic-like blast of euphoria that comes from playing an instrument in what could be considered a musical manner is what compels the foolhardy among us to become professional musicians. The band was amenable to my wishes and played well despite a short time for rehearsal. I knew the keyboard player and drummer. We’ve played together on previous occasions and share the same musical philosophy; you create music in the moment.

The whole thing is an existential tightrope walk. Think about the Flying Wallendas or Evil Knievel trying to traverse the canyon on his motorcycle.

The audience was fairly large and responsive to our musical endeavors. I think this positive response provided the creative stimulus needed to give a good performance. A good performance should provide a sense of communion. The audience and a performer merge. There is something seemingly mystical about it. Maybe this is a form of spirituality that is inherent in artistic activity no matter how base or magnanimous. Of course, this is my take on the evening’s events. In any event, that feeling, that grace or whatever it is provides me with something that makes music and music-making the paramount concern in my rather tatterdemalion life. Of course, writing is a fugitive enterprise and number two concern. Despite these two realms of grace, the pressure continues unabated. The mundane terror of daily life always reasserts itself when the gig is over. Bills must be paid; relationships have to be tended to; laundry must be done.

-Bern Nix