By Michael D. Minichiello
It was in the October 2008 issue of WestView that George kindly published my first West Village Original article. Since then, I’ve written 90 such profiles of long-time West Village residents and George has published every one. The time seems right to now bring the series to a close. As such, my last West Village Original is an opportunity to reflect on these past twelve years and my journey both with the paper and as a West Village original myself. This doesn’t mean I won’t continue writing for the paper, though, and in the meantime, every West Village Original interview can be found at www.westvillageoriginals.com.
I joined the WestView community in early 2008. I’m a graphic designer who called George in response to an ad he placed in his paper looking for someone to perform that function. However, when George found out that I had an MFA in film, he suggested I review movies for the paper. So, I did. But I soon discovered I enjoyed writing about other subjects even more, and before long I had the idea for West Village Originals. It occurred to me that there had to be many long-time West Village residents with interesting things to say about their lives, their careers, and the vast changes that have taken place in the area.
It turns out they did. They shared insights into times now past, amusing anecdotes of people and places that no longer exist, and poignant tales of what makes the Village such an inspiration to this day. They certainly reflected on the changes that have occurred through the years, but even this wasn’t necessarily with regret. Instead, there was an overwhelming theme that spending so many years—oftentimes 40, 50, and 60—in the West Village had given them a quality of life they felt certain they never would have found anywhere else. This neighborhood has variously welcomed them, nurtured them, inspired them and, ultimately, made diehard fans of them all.
The funny thing is that I’ve never actually met most of the people I’ve profiled in person; every interview was done over the telephone. Interestingly, this created an atmosphere where my focus was on every word, without the distractions of in-person conversations. When each call ended, I felt I had truly taken an intimate journey through someone’s life. Among the list of questions I would ask, my favorite turned out to be, “Tell me about your parents.” Invariably, this elicited touching and revealing responses, confirming that what their parents did for a living or enjoyed as hobbies had profound influences on their child’s choice of a career.
At the end of each interview I had up to three pages of single-spaced copy that needed to be honed into an 800-word article. The challenge was to find the “hook” that introduced a defining theme and to present each person to be as interesting as they are: in other words, to do them justice. My greatest satisfaction is that most of those I interviewed expressed their sincere pleasure in being presented just as they might have hoped.
And yet, times change. In the last twelve years, I’ve been privileged to interview so many icons and long-term residents who made the West Village their home. I was delighted how people like Calvin Trillin, Susan Brownmiller, or Joel Meyerowitz would so affably agree to talk to—and trust—someone who wrote for a local paper. I suppose that’s what makes the West Village the special place it is—a sense of community that connects us regardless of one’s position and celebrity. But the Village is again in the midst of what has been an ongoing change. As such, it seems a good time to put this column to rest, at least for now.
These days I qualify as a West Village Original myself. Born in Nyack, NY to parents in the arts, I moved into the neighborhood in October 1974 while still a teenager. I always knew that one day I would live here. As with so many people I interviewed, my parents played a key role in that. When we were children they regularly introduced us to the joys of New York and later, as teenagers, my twin brother John and I spent many a night here. I was probably the last generation that could move into the Village—albeit in a studio—and still manage it on my own. I always had a job and happily worked my way through college, first getting a BFA from Hunter and then an MFA in film from Columbia’s School of the Arts.
I know people like to talk of the horrible, crime-ridden days of the ’70s and ’80s in New York, but I had a wonderful time. There’s nothing like being young for blithely plowing through the difficulties of life or finding what’s exciting about your surroundings. There was a lot happening in the West Village. I loved Boots & Saddle on Christopher Street for its eclectic clientele, the Five Oaks on Grove Street where the great Marie Blake pounded the keys every night, and the Actors’ Playhouse on Seventh Avenue South where I co-produced my first Off-Broadway play. But I’m glad that the City became so livable as I got older and settled down. And so full of trees! That I’ve also spent the last thirty years with my spouse, Bill, on Horatio Street has added to the charm. I’m still loving my work as a graphic designer and have my own business now. We’ve been through a wonderful period of both relative peace and prosperity in New York. This makes me worry about the future as we emerge from the pandemic. Where we end up as a city and as neighbors is anybody’s guess, but I’m counting on our inherent resilience to pull us through.
What is the biggest change for me? The West Village was always a desirable part of town but the amount of money here now is staggering! My hope is that the next generation of residents will develop the same sense of allegiance to the neighborhood that defines those West Village Originals who came before them. They were—and continue to be—very special people and I’m happy to be among them. You have my sincerest thanks for trusting me to tell your stories. They’re now forever recorded as part of the history of our beloved West Village.