My first winter in New York was hard for reasons far greater than the polar vortex. Come January, I was ready to pack my bags and call it. That was until I saw a job posting for a publicity consultant at the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. The job description sounded a lot like my first publicity consulting job I had post grad school–a few months working on one book, balancing writing press releases with scheduling book launch events and creating a social media campaign. In this case, the book was Greenwich Village Stories.
When I picked up a copy of the book for the first time, it felt a little like holding a treasure. Sixty-six contributors shared their stories of living in the Village: Lou Reed, Donna Karan, Malcolm Gladwell, Graydon Carter, and so many more. Sometimes you can tell a thing will be special just by holding it. This book felt heavy with importance. It had to be; you can’t be a book about Greenwich Village and not burst at the seams with stories, poetry, art, and memories like a pledge to preserve the neighborhood’s spirit even as it physically changes around you.
At the end of April, my consulting job will end. I’ve spent three and a half months living in memory, working with the rememberers. You want to know a city, spend time with those that have seen it change more times than you’ve got years. People adore the Village. They territorialize it. They’ve staked claims and lamented the changes and said, “I remember when.”
I remember when I laughed my way through an interview with comedian Dave Hill. I remember when Matt Umanov told me about the time Johnny Cash walked into his guitar shop. I remember when I met Film Forum’s director Karen Cooper and thought her frame was so much smaller than her personality and contributions to the neighborhood. I remember chatting with actress Patricia Clarkson about her dog. I remember sitting next to John Leguizamo’s family at the GVS launch reading at the Strand. I remember seeing performance artist Penny Arcade’s bright pink hair for the first time. I remember standing in a darkened room pre-show at Symphony Space and listening to Isaac Mizrahi rehearse before reading at Selected Shorts.
Everyone who has encountered the Village, as tourist or as resident, is shaped by this neighborhood. I consider myself one of the lucky ones. At this job, I had a guidebook that did more than tell me what coffee shop to drink at or where to see the building where they filmed Sex and the City. I had a guidebook that told me about all the people who have come here before me, about their struggles and their unique paths. I had a guidebook into memory. I had a collection of memories by people who blazed the trail for the next group of dreamers.