When I first moved to New York, it was to 200 Bowery, a tiny two-bedroom at the crux of the Lower East Side, Chinatown and Soho. My fashion-forward roommate found the apartment, and the first time I saw it I was unloading my books and records there. Little did I know our humble pad was sandwiched between two of New York’s most prolific, successful photographers: At 190 spring is the historic, graffiti-ed home of Jay Maisel, and at 212 Bowery is the second-floor studio loft of the infamous Terry Richardson.
When I first showed up in Manhattan, I barely knew who Terry was. A perpetual thumbs up and a timeless photo of the plaid-clad photog with a youthful Barack Obama were all that stuck in my head. My incredulous roommate really let me have it after I admitted some amount of ignorance to who the man was—but I was soon filled in with his legacy of pseudo-pornographic art and photos that Richardson “makes” not “takes.” So as I spent more and more time on the Bowery, Terry’s mustachioed, spectacled presence and bad-boy legacy became hard to ignore. I saw him leaning against Maisel’s building. I saw him snapping pictures with soho illuminati. I saw him just chillin’, being a regular dude in Chucks and out-of-season flannels. I saw him riding a cruiser bike south across Houston (a moment that caused me to stand directly in front of him until one of us screeched with apparent horror; the next moment is a blur).
It became a strange running joke between my roommate and me to attribute everything to Terry’s Bowery omnipresence—new graffiti, unfamiliar vendors, beautiful women, trash. One particular night, we were ambling along with a pint each of Wild Turkey in our back pockets, headed down to grab some dumplings, when, at the corner of Bowery and Spring, we came across a quality-looking suitcase lodged between a trash bin and a light pole. “It’s Terry’s!” Corwin joked. (Caveat: we had a previously unmentioned preoccupation with finding and keeping shit off the street.) We rushed toward the navy-blue denim beauty, with, lo and behold, a luggage ID tag still attached. To our buzzed elation, the name, address and phone number were all of the very person we pretended they would be: Terry Richardson. Corwin and I fought over the empty suitcase in a drunken 50-foot ramble back to our apartment. Later, when he moved out, I won custody of the luggage in what I thought was a sly trade. He got a vintage letter sweater, I got the suitcase. Leg up Eisinger, right?
For weeks I stared at that luggage tag, vowing to myself that I would call, that I would make a connection, and somehow that would help me “break through” wherever the fuck I was trying to break through to. But something always stopped me. So then I put the thing up for sale as authentic New York memorabilia. I didn’t do a very good job, because no one, save my now-ex roommate, responded to any of my ads.
Six months on in my Bowery apartment, I watched terry go from venerable fashion-photo superstar to semi-ostracized, aging perv. When, back in late March, allegations came out—thanks in part to a New York Press writer—that Terry was somehow doing something dirty with his unabashedly graphic photos (although his models had consented, albeit somewhat not willing) there was a definite change to the aura of the suitcase. Stickers started appearing on light poles around the neighborhood reading, “I Miss the Old Terry.” And I did too. The glassed-goof was cursed with a black cloud. Suddenly, he was a tragic figure, a man too forward with his work and art to be safe from public scrutiny for too long.
One stupid, snowy night, as I walked home from the F train, I saw Terry, sitting alone in the window of his loft, a Gimme! Coffee cup resting solitary on a windowsill. He sat on a stool, staring into the cold darkness of a late March Rivington Street night. I must have stood for 20 minutes looking up at him. There was an apparent sadness in his nonmovement, in the way the coffee was sitting untouched and cooling. That was the last time I saw him.
I finally had the courage to call Terry’s number late one drunken night not too long ago, with the notion that I would do a dawntime interview with the hipster archetype about his suitcase preferences and exactly why he had thrown out this particular Jordache beauty. Come 2 a.m. on a solitary Thursday, I dialed. With conviction. But of course, it went straight to his studio answering machine with a recorded voice that I immediately decided couldn’t be that of the captain of Leica flash pics.
Now, my time has come to leave the Bowery. It’s been a full year of noise and filth and Eurotrash beauties and bummed cigarettes. And now packing. And you know what? Without Terry’s trashed suitcase, in which I’ve already stuffed all my winter clothes, things would be a lot more complicated.