Padded closets, Emma Goldman, and reading closely

Last night I dreamed that I was looking for the perfect place to write and I decided to go back to my old apartment in the East Village. My sister’s friend Amy was living there now, and she had offered it as a quiet place to work. In reality, the apartment had never been a quiet place; stickball games in the street at night, women screaming at each other and brandishing broken bottles, upstairs neighbors in wooden clogs, and a couple from the Big Apple Circus (she, a fire eater and he, a sword-swallower) either fighting or fucking loudly 23 hours of the day.

In the dream, the place had been turned into a carpeted oasis with padded closets and secret rooms with hardwood floors. I crept around peeking through doorways, marveling at the silence. There were no bars on the windows, no giant cockroaches, no dirty diapers in the hallway. And definitely no circus people shouting at the top of their lungs. It was just quiet. And sunny. And I felt like a total interloper. Writing would not be taking place there.

I woke up with a strong urge to see my old neighborhood. To lay eyes on the brick facade of 208-210 E7th Street. The last time I’d been in there was late in the fall of 2001. I’d already moved at that point, but since the place was rent-controlled, I’d held onto the lease so my friends could continue to stay there. A 3-bedroom in the East Village for under $2000 was something to be pried from your cold dead hands, after all. When I went to visit there that November, there was a fine layer of gray residue coating everything. The place had been within one of the evacuation zones after 9/11, and who knows what was in that ashy layer that made the light coming through the windows look weird and gray. At any rate, I didn’t stay long enough to find out. The place wasn’t charming anymore, even in that broke-down tenement way. It felt like a sad, crumbling anachronism that even the ghosts of history no longer wished to haunt. 

So imagine my excitement when, upon waking from my dream this morning, I googled “208-210 East 7th Street” and found a blog post titled, East Village Tenement Housed “the Most Dangerous Woman in America. As it turns out, Emma Goldman lived in the building from 1903-1913. A few years later, she went to prison for founding the No-Conscription League in protest against the draft. A few years after that, she was deported to Russia. Why had I never known this great fact of my building’s past when I’d lived there?

All morning, I drank coffee and imagined history being made in my very living room nearly 100 years before I lived there. My excitement about the East Village–and New York City in general–returned for a fleeting moment. Maybe all of the overpriced boutiques, chrome-and-glass condos, and gourmet hot dog shops that now populated the East Village were just another passing era. Maybe some interesting ghosts still remained on 7th St. between B and C.

As it turns out…

In the chaos that appears on a computer screen during a Google search, my eyes had melded together 2 blog posts, and I had the facts wrong. Emma Goldman’s real residence had been on 208-210 East 12th street. My old block was now “A Foodie’s Paradise,” which you can read about here, if you are so inclined. Personally, I have seen enough gourmet cupcakes to last a lifetime, and if I ever go back to that neighborhood, I’ll go hunting for the ghosts of rebel women instead.


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