Photo-Illustration: by Curbed; Photo Andriy Popov / Alamy
For Craig Taylor’s latest book New Yorker (modeled after 2011’s Londoners), the author spent over six years interviewing 180 of us, 75 of whom were part of this little volume: private tutor, cop, doctor, lice consultant, injury lawyer , a gay rights activist, a Salvation Army bell rings among them. During these 400 hours of interviews, writes Taylor in the introduction, New Yorkers “did their self-mythology on the go… They looked at their lives, told their lives, made sure that it was. already a story, almost before the moment has passed. “Throughout the week, we’ll be highlighting some particularly interesting characters he’s met. The first one standing: an elevator repairer who has… seen (and felt) certain things. “One evening I sat down next to David Freeman * in her local in Queens for a few hours as the volume of the music on the home stereo increased, song after song, ”recalls Taylor. “Freeman is also a painter and often contemplates the subjects of his work – Lincoln, the legacy of slavery, the state of the nation – while testing heavy machinery in elevator shafts.
New York City can be divided between people who pee in their elevators and those who don’t. Every housing project in New York, people pee in the elevator. Piss is like salt water in the ocean, so it rots on door locks because door locks are made with copper wire or wires that have copper contacts. It rots the lock on the door. It’s steel. So even if you paint tar on it, that piss ends up finding a pinhole and starts rotting on the door lock, unless it’s stainless steel. NYCHA uses a lot of stainless steel.
We’re on top of these cars, cutting up these piss drenched cars. I remember asking this guy, “Why are you pissing in the elevators here in the projects?” He lives there and he says, “I don’t know. I guess the kids are tired. I think sometimes it’s the kids, sometimes it’s someone who takes drugs and they just pee in the elevator.
Man, that destroys the elevator and every 20 years they have to build new elevators in NYCHA. I tell you the truth.
Once I hit the roof of the car and it was covered in dead mice. It was in the projects and it was as if the mice were going to die there. Every mouse in this project fell on this fucking car and just went to hell. Right there, on the spot, like, I surrender to the will of God, I’m a dead mouse. And they’re withered, they’re like mummies.
So I went up there with a broom and tore the car up. I looked at the mice, and the guy I’m with is an ex-con – because the elevator industry is one of the few that hire an ex-con – and he said, “I can’t. deal with that. It sucks. I take a broom, start sweeping shit because I’m just a hillbilly, right? I’m a fucking black mountaineer.
I grew up in Indiana, but I’m half black. My black parents were all from Tennessee and Kentucky. And Mississippi, originally. And all of my English parents are from Newcastle on Tyne. They are fucking Geordies. I’m a fucking Afro Geordie. That is true.
Swipe all the mice. Okay. So now we’re ready to start wrecking the car. So we hang it.
I have to hang the counterweights here because you reuse them, land the car, and start cutting all the dome bolts. Then I got up there and cut that tie down and we started tearing it down.
We went down into the pit. What we hit was an inch of mud, because the car had shoes, not rollers. Good shoes mean that the oil has been running on the rails for 20 years and is flowing there. But because people got mad at it, it kind of turned into linoleum. So I had to take the scraper, like an ice scraper, and physically scrape this shit. Big curls every time you’ve done it. You get a blast of piss gas right in your face.
Uric acid turned the oil into what looked like linoleum. And it was golden and it smelled of piss when you cut it. And I’m not lying to you, you could stand on it and it was like a sheet of ice. You scrape the shit down into the steel so you can clean up that area and build a new elevator.
There’s the type of person I’ve worked with directly who has an absolutely analytical understanding of an elevator, while mine is emotional and always based on hunches.
People want what I have. The children will ask you if you are an elevator man. They will ask you for the keys. They offer you money. All kinds of children. Old ladies. That old white lady from the Upper East Side said, “I know you have some keys to putting this on ‘independent’.” She told me she was going to give me $ 200 for the key. It’s a $ 5 key. But I was like, “No, I can’t do that. I could be in trouble if they found out I gave you a key.
She was an old patrician white lady. A war bonnet like Dan Quayle’s wife. I have this war bonnet hairstyle that talks about giving me $ 200 for my key. She’s the kind of woman who has dogs and they’re like little baby dogs. So she wants them upstairs and in their dog box very quickly.
I work with all kinds of people, from Soviet conscripts to bikers, racists, lesbians, you name it, all kinds of weird people work with me. And I have to get along with the sons of bitches.
You usually find that most people, at some level, have some kind of inner life, they have a place where they find joy. And even the people whose beliefs you insult, they actually have saving graces that you don’t fully understand at first but you see… It’s like, it’s strange to say, but what it is… kind of. forgiveness, where it really matters.
You’re in a situation where you have a lot of desperate people doing dangerous fucking work and after awhile you like them. Even if you don’t agree with them.
Do you know how many empty spaces there are in the city? There are entire floors of buildings. You could actually house, very inexpensively, all of New York’s homeless people. There is sufficient building space. There are beautiful spaces. Anyone could have a $ 1,000 apartment. They are empty. They don’t give a fuck.
There is a building that has the best room I have ever seen in my life and it has been empty for 25 years. It would be the most bulging studio you could have. I can’t give you more address than Jerry Seinfeld’s. (What I visited.) Curves in the wall, early 20th century, tall windows, spectacular light. Lower Manhattan, see the world, see the harbor. Look through the window. No one will rent this space. It has access by a lift. Nice little space. It’s wild too, because nothing has been touched. All you have are sockets and sewing lights. You go there and you can paint like a bastard for 50 years. It is the most beautiful place that I know. Did I feel hateful for not being able to get in? Yeah, I was angry. I looked at that empty space and said, “Shit, this is how it should be.”
There are whole floors like this all over town, empty and wasted spaces that no one uses and people restrict access. They are not going to rent it for less. So there is all this inert space in all of Manhattan.
There is no need for a homeless person in New York.
* David’s name has been changed.
Extract of New Yorkers: a city and its people in our time by Craig Taylor. Copyright © 2021 by Craig Taylor. With the permission of the publisher, WW Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form whatsoever by any means whatsoever without the prior written permission of the publisher.