This photo (by Ivan Corsa) shows the graffiti icon, “Claw”, in downtown New York. Sometimes the claw is blue-white, red-white or other color-white. The one on 2nd Avenue in the East Village reads “cookie.” Note the Yellow Rat Bastard promo sticker in the lower left corner.
I visited NYC in March, not to work, just to hobnob with some family and music friends. So good. I lived there decades ago, and as usual, odd memories surfaced and bobbed in my brain over the week. Specifically a word I hadn’t thought about in years: “Cookie Puss”.
Cookie Puss was (and is apparently still is) an ice-cream cake made by Carvel, an East Coast institution. There was a Carvel ice-cream store around 1st or 2nd Ave and the upper East 80s in the early 1990s, that I’d pass by on foot or by bus. The store was already underpopulated, not able to compete with fancy-pants downtown Haagen Daz. It seemed particularly bleak in the flat grey yellow light of a more sterile part of town.
I never ate a Cookie Puss. Mostly I was amused and creeped out by the name, with its ice-cream cake siblings, Fudgie the Whale and Hug-Me The Bear. Cookie Puss was later immortalized by the Beastie Boys. But mostly I remember the lo-tech ads featuring Mr Carvel himself on the TV and Radio, clunky in a mud-gravel voice. This was the same era as ads by Crazy Eddie, the electronics chain kingpin whose arms would fling out out towards you as if he were totally irresistible (and whose business was a hotbed of crookery). Fresh from New Zealand as a recent migrant, I thought NY men were particularly full of themselves, man-splainers par excellence. I was riding the subway once and a man once told me that the apple I was eating “IS A COOKING APPLE” – (because shouting is a NY past-time) – and “IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU?”
This visit to NYC really brought home how sanitized it has become. Less affordable than ever, its under- and middle-classes (the soul of the city, hello!) are shunted away to make way for bespoke temples to capitalism. While the skyline screams “lookit-mee”, the bowels of the city groan. The pipes, waterways, subways are old, making its citizens do wild daily calculations about which transit won’t fail. And let’s not talking about rising water levels shall we?
We walked the recently renovated Highline freight rail line which feeds right into the new Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District. The Highline is fine. It’s pleasant. But this feels like one more curated experience (and just watch the real estate go up around it).
Even the Whitney Museum’s actual curations that week seemed perfunctory, as if they were for visitors who were not terribly demanding. I would have missed an important, cunning feminist work by Cheryl Dunye (part of the exhibition starring Zoe Leonard who was her collaborator) if it were not for my step-daughter’s discerning eye.
What I miss about my old stomping grounds of Cookie Puss, NY is how uncurated it felt. That you could find endless shabby nooks and crannies, surviving on fumes, that told a million stories, intimate and transitory. Thinking about Carvel made me remember Mamoun’s Falafels (still going!), a name that you would say with a certain moan and swoon it was so good. I’d get a $3 falafel at St Mark’s Place and walk around Alphabet City, just thinking. The city had corralled you into its hive, and if you followed your nose, your future self emerged from chance encounters you could not have scripted.
Thankfully Cookie Puss, NY still exists within the people I know, who manoeuvre around the city’s confinements with character, humor, grace, and above all, awareness of others.
Treasuring memories is one of the beauties of aging (and look, you’ve made so many of them). You can finally make peace with, and take pleasure in, how each project takes a ridiculous amount of time, at least when weighed against the number of minutes you create. A trilogy of films by Stacey Steers, for which Terry Longshore and I have composed music and will perform live at the Ashland Independent Film Festival on April 14th, took years to create. Steers has rebuilt memory from other memory rooms, including vintage film footage of silent movie actresses and Victorian scientific studies, creating multiple, modern narratives. My solo concert “When Flutes Spoke Words”, coming up on April 27th was formed over months of sweaty creation and collaboration in 2017, and I’m pretty sure I won’t get my time back…
When you have time – when you take it – and you can feel it in your hands – you have made room for the untethered, the bizarre, and the fresh.