Writer and Gays Against Guns organizer Tim Murphy on the joys of alternate side parking, an East Village devoid of drunk bros, and more
To say that Tim Murphy is having a busy 2016 would be a bit of an understatement. In recent weeks, the journalist and author has been spending his days as an organizer of Gays Against Guns, an NYC-based organization that formed after the Pulse nightclub massacre to fight for gun control. (More information about the organization can be found here.) He has also been prepping for the release of a new book, Christodora, in August, which Publishers Weekly dubbed "The Bonfire of the Vanities for the age of AIDS."
We caught up with the longtime New Yorker about escaping to the Hudson Valley, "sketchy" roommate situations of yore, and why transplants should avoid the dreaded "Netflix and Seamless" vortex:
1. What neighborhood do you live in?
Clinton Hill right now, which I love, but working backward in time over 25 years in NYC, I've lived in East Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, East Village, Chelsea, Morningside Heights, Chelsea, and Windsor Terrace. I've also done stints in Boston (snooze), Paris (beautiful but gray and mean-spirited), Lyon (beautiful and sweet-natured), and Beirut (I'd be there right now if I could). I've definitely sampled the city and a few others!
2. Is this your dream neighborhood or is there someplace else in NYC you’d prefer to settle in?
NYC right now is all about what I can afford. Right now, I'm in a dream neighborhood absolutely but not a dream apartment. The charm stops at my door!
3. Do you own or rent?
Rent. I own a tiny little house upstate in Columbia County, so that is my "house" with nice things, outdoor space. The way I see it is, getting there is just two hours, which is the equivalent of only four subway rides from Clinton Hill to Union Square! I would love to be able to buy a place somewhere in NYC in coming years but I don't know if that'll happen. I hope so. At least find a nice rent-stabilized place so I can have a smidge of NYC security.
4. How’d you find it?
The place I'm in now, I put out a call over Facebook among friends saying I was looking for a share because I was planning to be out of the city a lot and really just needed a room to work and sleep in when I'm here. And a friend of a friend got back to me who is a really nice guy. He's a Radical Faerie, which is a subset in the gay world of sort of like gay hippies who wear glitter and go away to secret gay farm communes in various states. I think we see each other on Scruff more than in person, lol.
5. What’s the one thing you love most about it?
The neighborhood. Clinton Hill just feels like classic beautiful brownstone Brooklyn to me, much more than East Williamsburg, which is also beautiful to me, but in an ugly, vinyl-siding-meets-hideous-glass-condos way. What the French would call jolie-laide, haha, or "pretty-ugly"...not "pretty ugly"...though it is! There is also a beautiful mix in Clinton Hill of old and new folks, which is basically seeing high-speed gentrification in action, but on a daily basis it at least makes for a nice mix on the street and in cafés and stores. There is a café and prepared food place called Choice on Lafayette I go to almost every day and I love the vibe there.
6. If there’s one thing you could change about your apartment, what would it be?
Our kitchen would actually have a window. That is the kind of place I'm talking about. If there's one thing I'd change, I'd move into my own place and finally exhale and say, "This is where I'm staying til the end of this show!"
7. In three words, describe the first apartment you've ever lived in.
Cheap. Multi-bedroomed. And fun.
8. Do you prefer old NYC or this NYC?
I guess I'd say old NYC because I have such nostalgic memories about the nineties, which in retrospect felt like the sweet spot of post-bankruptcy but pre-hyperwealth. But it didn't feel old to me at the time, so perhaps we'll look back on 2016 as "old NYC" in 10 or 15 years. Christodora to me is all about different periods of NYC from the 1980s into the near future bleeding into each other in a kind of palimpsest of memory. That's what NYC feels like to me after living here 25 years. Actually, my roommate and I moved to Chelsea in 1992 because it felt to us like "Gotham," which was our term for a city that felt like it hadn't been touched since the 1940s, all old Cuban-Chinese diners and shoe repair shops and Italian restaurants. Like in the old Julius Knipl cartoon by Ben Katchor that used to run in New York Press. We loved that. The last time I felt that Gotham feel was staying at a friend's in the West 100s below Columbia. It just felt like the 21st century hadn't hit there yet, which was wonderful, but it'll probably change.
9. Tell us about your favorite apartment you’ve ever had.
It was probably the studio I had on the Lower East Side from 2009 to 2013. One of my best friends, Maria Striar, who runs the Clubbed Thumb theater company, got our friend Pam MacKinnon, who is a Tony-winning director, to get her lease handed off to me when she left after a decade for a bigger place. So it always had an association with two people I love after I was coming off a painful breakup of a six-year relationship. And it was just super-cozy on a quiet block below Houston where everyone kind of knew each other and it was really where I got my life together entering my forties and it's where I wrote Christodora on weekend mornings for three years, so it will always have those happy connotations for me.
10. And the worst?
That would probably be a dump I lived in in Morningside Heights after coming back from a year in rehab in Boston after 9/11. Unbeknownst to me, my roommate whom I moved in with was buying his own place, which is why he told me he had zero interest in asking management to fix anything, even a sink or a toilet that didn't work, and I had to reach out myself to a basically non-existent super and management. And no sooner had I moved in than I started dating someone way downtown so I was never there anyway. I let a homeless friend stay there for a few nights, then when I went into the apartment one night a month later, I found him there, all snug in my bed watching TV. He knew I was never there so he just kept the key and kept on bunking there without letting me know. It was just a sketchy time.
11. Name one NYC service you couldn’t live without.
I'm embarrassed to admit that now that I have a car, I love the alternate-side parking calendar with its generous array of suspensions for all sorts of religious holidays I've never even heard of. I always check the calendar before looking for a parking space, and then I'm like, "Yay, it's Solemnity of the Ascension! It's Shavuot! It's Shimini Atzereth!" I don't have to get up at 8am tomorrow to move the car!" (I'm a late to rise, late to bed type).
12. What's your favorite spot in the city?
In recent years I've really gotten into the idea of New York as a water-bound city with a maritime history and its own beaches within city boundaries. I love the part of the Upper West Side bike trail that is literally feet away from the Hudson River and I love going over the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge to the Rockaways and really feeling that whole outer-Brooklyn and outer-Queens semi-rural beachiness kick in. I grew up in New England only about 20-30 minutes from the beach and the older I get the more I want to be close to that. I have grown to hate Manhattan. It feels like living inside a giant heat exhaust system that's about to overheat and blow up. Anything in the city now that feels a bit beachy or smalltown or rural, I vibe on. Having said that, a lazy or semi-lazy weekday morning or afternoon in the East Village, close to Tompkins Square Park, without drunk douchebag bros and screeching basic girls, is still my idea of perfection. Get me a coffee and bagel with cream cheese and lox and, then a haircut and shave at Neighborhood Barbers on East 9th, and I'm happy.
13. Which would you rather: Brooklyn brownstone or a penthouse in a shiny, new condo?
Brooklyn brownstone. I like old shit—period. The shiny new condos just remind me of people who consume rather than produce culture and of Patrick Bateman and his chainsaw.
14. If you could live elsewhere, where would it be?
Thankfully, I have an elsewhere in the form of the Hudson Valley which puts me in touch with my New England childhood of ruralness and of cranky, indifferently friendly people who don't care about being on-trend. I was a very bullied, lonely kid until I was about 16 or 17 when I found other arty freaks, so prior to that I spent entire days biking and hiking alone in the woods and by lakes, usually with a book, and being back in touch with that puts me back in touch with being a kid in a way that is bittersweet and also reminds me that the forest or a lake was a sort of gentle friend, as corny as that sounds. People spend so much money in NYC just to have like 3x3 feet of outdoor space or a washer/dryer, but in recent years it feels to me like the most luxurious thing in the world is regularly being able to look up at a skyful of stars. Yuck, I almost want to vomit while writing that, but it's true!
15. Any advice for a recent New York transplant?
Try to embrace this city with gusto and to give back to it, to the bigger city beyond your own ambitions or fun, however you see fit, whether that's tutoring kids or taking to the street when you feel justice has not been served in the place where you live. Don't just come home from your social media job and go into your Seamless and Netflix bubble. You have the privilege of living here in the most luxurious, expensive time since the 1920s probably, so don't just think about the city as a plaything of yours until you move in 10 years but as an organism of many parts that you are a part of. I know that sounds self-righteous and "when we were kids, we walked to school in the snow until our feet were bloody stumps," but it just feels like so many people are moving here now because it's so "safe" and vibrant and not really thinking about NYC as an organism of 8 million people. Is it safe and vibrant for everyone? It's not all about your rustic $18 lunch bowl of organic farm products.
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