Northwest corner of Cortland Alley and White Street, in back of 380 Broadway, SoHo, Manhattan

November 2000

If you’ve ever seen a movie about New York City where the hero walks down a scary alley, this is probably the alley they used. It’s always being filmed.

Because the alley was quite close to my studio at the Clocktower, I spent a long time on this painting. Somehow, though, it never quite worked. It’s based on a painting by Carl Rottman, but I changed it a great deal and painted all these dubious little trees into it. Part of the problem may have been that it started getting very cold, and I found it difficult to paint while wearing gloves. Later, I started using those chemical handwarmers, which helped a lot.

This was a popular streetcorner. A group of homeless men hung out opposite; there was also a steady stream of teenage boys with gold teeth – the kind where the spaces between the teeth are filled, not the teeth themselves.

On the second day, a car full of cops drove down the alley very, very slowly. They rolled down their window, and I turned around and smiled as broadly as I could and waved enthusiastically, and then they rolled up their window and drove on. All the boys with the gold teeth had suddenly disappeared.

On the third day, a man came by because his truck had broken down and he was waiting for it to be towed. He asked me to do a painting on his truck, but I explained that I wasn’t doing commissions. He then said that if I didn’t paint his truck, he’d come back and blowtorch my painting off the wall. So I told him that I could tell that he was far too nice a person to do any such thing. He looked surprised and then asked me if I knew what he did for a living. It turned out that his job was to evict people who were behind on their rent. I said that had to be a tough job, and he said, “Yeah, I’ve got bad karma. Nothing ever goes right for me.” It took a long time for the tow truck to arrive, and the man stayed around for several hours, during which he kept grabbing passersby and pulling them into the alley to see me and my painting. Since he was quite a frightening man, most of the passersby were rather alarmed and kept trying to escape. They looked relieved when they realized that they were only the victims of forcible art appreciation. The painting was still there the last time I looked.