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My last-ever New Year’s Eve in Soho

BY HARRY PINCUS | This will be my last New Year’s Eve in Soho. A federal judge has ordered us to sell our loft on Spring Street, and as the last certified artist in my Joint Living Work Quarters for Artists building, I have begun packing my drawings, paintings, etchings and newspaper illustrations, in preparation for an ignominious exile to the hinterlands.

Looking back over all of the ephemera that I generated in nearly 50 years has provided some good laughs, though, and a few tears. My younger self usually began New Year’s Eve with a call to John Wilcock. John is gone now, but he was a “pioneer of the underground press,” according to The New York Times. He began as a Fleet Street journalist and went on to the East Village Other, as well as his own “Other Scenes.” Along the way, John was a cofounder of the Village Voice and Interview.

The aftermath of a Soho New Year’s Eve Party circa 1979. (Photo by Harry Pincus)

His book “The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol” might explain why Andy seemed so uncomfortable around Wilcock. Yet John could always be counted on to provide an utterly droll recitation of the best party addresses every New Year’s Eve: “Larry Rivers is having something on Fourteenth Street tonight, and then there’s always Two Bond…etc., etc.”

The two of us would concoct a list of more than 30 parties to crash, after I had done my research at Fanelli’s, as well as any art opening I could find. Soho was full of artists in open circumstances back then, and a wrinkled bag with a quart of Miller High Life or a roach would usually suffice as
the price of admission.

The writer, at age 30, in a photo taken across the street from his building. The date on the cornerstone of the former Library For The Blind, which is now God’s Love We Deliver, is the year he was born. (Courtesy Harry Pincus)

This Downtown tradition went back to the artists who ascended the Washington Square Arch and declared a Republic of Greenwich Village back in 1917, and reminded me of the rent parties that my friend Ted Joans used to run out of his flat beneath the clock on Astor Place. Weegee was there to document it all, including a morose James Dean, who had come to the Village for his “Ted-ucation” at the old Cafe Bizarre.

I don’t recall getting kicked out of a party until a few weeks after the election of Ronald Reagan, when a bouncer informed me that being an artist wasn’t good enough for admission to the cotillion of preppies in tuxes and pink ball gowns who were performing some sort of ritual beneath black and white balloons. It looked like the Republican National Convention in there, and my, how Soho had changed!

Baby Jery offering solace outside his stable on W. 44th St. circa 1983. (Photo by Harry Pincus)
Baby Jery, who also patented an early version of the Pride flag, wearing a Brooklyn Bridge T-shirt he designed. (Photo by Harry Pincus)

I was often accompanied on my New Year’s Eve ramblings by B J Perichon, an inspired soul who called himself Baby Jery, and lived in a stable at 44th Street and Tenth Avenue with six parrots and a cockatoo. Jery went down to Washington on his own dime to patent what could have been the first version of the the Rainbow Tribe flag, which represented the unity of humanity. He had a magical hand, and could accomplish any measure of draftsmanship with his brush, as long as a stern art director was there to keep him in tow.

“Leave him to his own devices,” said another illustrator, “and Jery will always draw naked Indians with peace signs.”

A party — maybe not New Year’s — at the Yippies club (Studio 10), at 10 Bleecker St., circa 1979. (Photo by Harry Pincus)

Sure enough, the art director of the Week In Review at the Times dispatched me, posthaste, over to the stable to see about Baby Jery, who was late for the deadline with an assignment called “The Blind Leading the Blind.” I rang and rang on the bell and bashed on the old blue door across the street from the Hess gas station, but no Jery. I finally had to give up, and sadly trudge back to The New York Times, where my friend was holding court in the art director’s office, with his last minute rendition of “The Blind Leading the Blind.” All of the staff and all of the illustrators were assembled before Jery’s masterpiece, and their jaws were hanging open. He had drawn a line of naked Indians with peace signs — and their eyes plucked out!

Jery was a driving force on New Year’s Eve, though, and even the dregs of the evening didn’t stifle his ardor for yet another party. I recall standing on Canal Street with Jery, as the sun was beginning to come up, and one more address was left on our list. I couldn’t imagine a party that might still be going on, but Jery decided to climb up the building’s fire escape, and break in through the window. After a few tense moments, he emerged triumphant at the front door, jubilantly waving us in.

Harry Pincus, right, with B J Perichon a.k.a. Baby Jery at a High Times magazine Christmas party circa 1980. (Courtesy Harry Pincus)

On another such occasion, there were perhaps a half dozen of us with just one more address, in the early hours of the morning. I thought it was far too late to invade the old factory building on forlorn Duane Street, in the new neighborhood called Tribeca, but Jery insisted that he heard the beat of a distant drummer, and proceeded to lead an exploratory expedition up the old staircase. With each groaning landing, the music grew louder, and we became bolder. Finally, on the top floor, the music was blaring, and our tiny expeditionary force felt emboldened to pull open the factory door. Indeed, the party was still going on, to an extent, though the massive loft was mostly vacant, save for what looked like hundreds of empty beer cans. There was a bed in the middle of the room, and no one to greet us, as the only remaining guests were avidly fornicating on the bed.

Baby Jery passed away this year, at a good old age. He had lost his studio, and experienced long-term homelessness, but kept on for more than 40 years with a graphic novel that he called “A Patriot’s Guide to Silence.” His struggles are perhaps fitting for an artist as, after all, we are not intended to be wealthy owners of anything, other than our ideas, and our passions.

Jery was not the only friend I lost this year. Our son Isaac walked in as I was reacting to the news of the sudden death of another dear friend, an attorney in London. My son had never seen his father cry, but tears flow freely with the loss of true friendship, and I suppose that’s to be expected when one reaches the advanced age of 70.

All of those parties were the yin to the the yang of hard work. We came to Soho to do Art, not real estate, but that’s all changed now. After years of litigation, a federal judge has ordered me to sell our legal apartment, so that the absentee owners next door can sell theirs for an immense profit.

“Things change,” said a judge in State Supreme Court, and I suppose the federal judge who ruled that we must sell reckoned that the two apartments will be combined into something splendid, for some fortunate soul.

A portrait of the artist’s son, Isaac, as a young child, as Baby New Year. (Illustration by Harry Pincus)

I don’t know where we will go, but memories are easy enough to pack, and this will be our last New Year’s Eve in Soho.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
We’ll drink a cup of kindness, yet,
For the sake of auld lang syne.

20 Comments

  1. Z. Wirtschafter Z. Wirtschafter January 1, 2023

    Good luck to you, Harry Pincus!
    As one of the early loft family residents on Spring St before Soho became “SOHO,” I hope the gods that be put a curse on your greedy neighbors, Margaret Chin and all those now making millions on the sweat labor of working artists who came before them!!

  2. Harry Pincus Harry Pincus January 1, 2023

    Thank you!

    As you know, these old factory buildings offered no comforts, and required tremendous sacrifce and hard labor, if they were going to be converted into living spaces. I hesitated to include the photo of my young self in a large empty room, but I had already spent years scraping, sanding and painting every square inch of it.

    I wrote this piece because I wanted to go out with my head held high, and becaue I want current residents of $oho to get some idea of how joyous life was — before the primary goals were wealth, contempt and domination. I pulled all-night deadlines as an illustrator and etcher for decades, earning a meager liiving, but I am thankful that I never had to lie, commit fraud or harm anyone. I could never live with myself if I had done what my wealthy, absentee neighbors are doing to me.

    My family and I are being swindled out of a home that I have spent 48 years working on, and fighting for. The Dept. of Buildings has determined that our apartment is legal, and yet a federal judge has ordered us to sell and leave, so that the absentee owners of the illegal apartment next door can sell for an obscene profit. My 1975 lease and stock certificate indicate that I own my aprtment, but the son of the next door owner, a Harvard/Columbia Law School graduate, has claimed that the two apartments are a “tenants in common.”

    I never shared in their illegal sublet profits, which run to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I have had to go through my life’s savings in legal fees.

    Ironically, the owners of the next-door apartment are the widow and son of Tuli Kupferberg, a Downtown legend who still appears on MNN cable television, ranting against “Soho real estate killings.”

  3. Jeffrey Eric Jenkins Jeffrey Eric Jenkins January 1, 2023

    Hang in there, Harry. Wishing you and your family all the best.

  4. Harry Pincus Harry Pincus January 1, 2023

    Thank you, Jeffrey.

  5. DuchessofNYC DuchessofNYC January 2, 2023

    Disgusting

  6. Harry Pincus Harry Pincus January 2, 2023

    Revolting might describe things even better than disgusting.

    “The Revolting Theatre” was the name of the theater troupe I used to perform in with Tuli Kupferberg. The theme song was “The things you are about to see, you cannot conceive them…they are too real and ugly for an author to conceive them…” I’ll say!

    Little did I imagine that Tuli’s son, who I taught to catch a ball and sketched at my kitchen table, would grow up to sue me in a contrived Partition case, in the Southern District of New York, where he had clerked. Nor did I consider the possibility that the Certificate of Occupancy filed by my friends while I was in Paris, in 1976, would result in my eviction as a seventy-year-old. I trusted my friends.

    I should also note that I am due back in Supreme Court in a few weeks, as the small co-op board here has refused to drop a Notice to Cure that they served me with, holding me responsible for the 15 open violations in the next-door apartment. I could not even gain access to that illegally sublet apartment, let alone cure the violations.

    The co-op board is largely composed of people who are so wealthy that they don’t even need to live here, and several of them claim to be artists. I have asked them to just let us leave in peace, and we shall see what they are up to, when we return to court.

    Happy New Year. I still believe that there is Good in this world.

  7. Donna in Brooklyn Donna in Brooklyn January 2, 2023

    Wow, horrifying. The more people like you who leave the worse New York becomes. I would leave too if there was anywhere to go. Its all been ravaged. Take care if yourself.

  8. Harriet Harriet January 3, 2023

    I hope you can appeal the decision. This is horrendous. I’m so sorry.

  9. Harry Pincus Harry Pincus January 3, 2023

    Thank you, Harriet.

    We feel that the Judge’s ruling is a travesty, and I hope I don’t get thrown in jail for saying so. Unfortunately, in order to appeal a ruling in the Southern District of New York, I would have to hire an attorney who can argue the case in that venue, which, I was advised, would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Beyond that, the case would likely revert the original judge, whom, I assume, would be loathe to overturn her own ruling.

    I have done everything necessary to legalize our JLWQA home, and the DOB has determined that we are legal, and that the apartment next door was “created and added on 5th floor contrary to certificate of occupancy.”

    I am the only certified Artist living in this building, as is required by the C of O, and have stamped and approved Work Permits, which the next door apartment does not. The judge is demanding that we sell our only home, which is legal, so that the absentee owners of an illegally sublet unit can reap an exorbitant profit.

    When Tuli Kupferberg, a former member of the Fugs, died in 2010, Sylvia Topp, the owner of the next door apartment, and her son, Noah Kupferberg, markerted their illegal apartment with Sotheby’s for $2.4 milllion, “cash only,” but were unable to sell an illegal unit that they had depicted as an Artist’s Studio/No Sleeping on the building’s C of O. They have been subletting their illegal unit for nine years, and ultimately came up with a successful scheme to claim half-ownership of our home.

    In declaring that the defective, or fraudulent, C of O is the dispositive document over my original 1975 stock certificate and lease, the judge has conferred unusual powers upon a C of O, which is merely a regulartory document, issued by a local agency to determine how a building is to be used.

    It appears to us that this is without precedent, and it is clearly wrong.

  10. Stephen DiLauro Stephen DiLauro January 3, 2023

    This is so disappointing to read because it’s happening to you, Harry. Yet, it speaks to the times in which we live. Horrible, just horrible and despicable behavior on the part of so many. Best of luck to you, Harry. Look into Portugal or like that. Have an adventure! You deserve better than what this society offers to it’s genuine contributors

  11. Harry Pincus Harry Pincus January 3, 2023

    Hi Stephen…..Thank you! and here’s to hoping for new adventures!

    XXXH

  12. Gary Gary January 4, 2023

    Hey Harry, It is so wrong what is being done to you and your Family. I want to wish you all my best on whatever the outcome will be. But I do Hope it goes in your favor. Be safe be well,its been a long time.
    All my best,
    Gary from Mott St.

  13. Gary Gary January 4, 2023

    Hey Harry, It is so wrong what is being done to you and your Family. I want to wish you all my best on whatever the outcome will be. But I do Hope it goes in your favor. Be safe be well,its been a long time.
    All my best,
    Gary from Mott St

  14. Harry Pincus Harry Pincus January 4, 2023

    Hi Gary….Thank you! You truly understand how important a neighborhood, a commmunity, and a sense of place are. I have been Harry from Spring Street for so long that I can’t imagine moving on to any place else, but alas, Avanti Pincus beckons.
    Hope to see you again before we go….

    All the best to your beautiful family! XXXH

  15. Jackie Liotto Jackie Liotto January 4, 2023

    Harry, wishing you success in this fight. Maybe we can meet up for dinner one day soon. We have the same cell numbers. Reach out when the time is good for you.
    Again, best of luck. The neighborhood would miss Harry from Spring Street — hoping you stay put!

    Best,
    Jackie from Mott St.

  16. Harry Pincus Harry Pincus January 6, 2023

    Thank you, Jackie. Will do! XXXH

  17. Ronnie Wolf Ronnie Wolf January 7, 2023

    Harry your talent and wit will always be yours but the neighborhood lost a really great guy. What was done to you and your family over the years was despicable. I hope wherever you land it will bring you peace and happiness. Maybe we all should move there!!! I wish you all the best.

  18. Harry Pincus Harry Pincus January 8, 2023

    Thank you, Ronnie.

    I’ve occasionally run into artists who were walking down the dark and narrow streets, mumbling, “Where do you go after Soho?” and no one seems to know the answer. I certainly don’t, but I’ve spent much of the past year writing a memoir, and living in the past. Of course living in the past is not the answer, and we’ll soon move on to some other place.

    I was the son of a Brooklyn subway conductor, and was living in a car when I got here, and yet I had the opportunity to become a “Soho artist.”

    I hope that the City I love the most will not limit its opportunities to those who are already fortunate, and that the city which promised refuge to our grandparents will never close its doors, or its heart.

    • Mary Jane Mary Jane January 13, 2023

      Hi Harry, wonderful story. So sorry about your leaving and being cheated out of your home, disgusting behavior. It is hard to believe this can happen, what has become of our City. I miss the old neighborhood and all the wonderful characters we knew and loved. Hang in there, keep the faith. Mary Jane from Canal Street.

  19. Harry Pincus Harry Pincus January 14, 2023

    Hi Mary Jane…Wow! Good to hear from you!

    XXXH

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