Work in This House:
Column Inches #11 in Harlem
by Tony Phillips
“Bless the hands that work in this house,” the chic woman in the black sleeveless dress intones while leaning against wallpaper depicting tiny blue Smurfs hard at work in their village. Her wardrobe is somewhere between mid-century Chanel and Blonde Ambition dancer — there’s even a clerical collar thrown in for some funky, downtown flavor — and she’s got a good read going.
No, this isn’t some holdover from Harlem drag balls of yore, nor a scene from some depraved, early-morning after-hours. This is Mother Broderick. And she’s come to bless this house.
She doesn’t bat an eye as she makes her way past Warhol’s outsized black drag queen hanging in the foyer or Hugh Steers’ drawing of a male foot teetering in a high heel crushing a rose. Venice Biennale alum Dana Shea’s dancing penises and the simple painting above the marigold-trimmed bed that reads “faggy faggy boom boom” are just background, as are the sweeping views of City College. Mother Broderick’s got work to do. She’s about to turn this house into a home.
“Am I on the will to inherit this apartment?” she asks before tossing out a ditty about three angels popping off at Abraham’s pad before pressing it to Sodom and Gomorrah.
“I’ve been given instructions,” the Reverend Doctor Broderick y Guerra jokes during her spiritual tour of the newly decorated apartment, pulled together in record time by Architectual Digest regular Cary Leibowitz, also moonlighting as the artist who signed the piece above the bed “Candy Ass of Brooklyn.”
Mother is making her way around a brand-spanking-new high rise on Harlem’s legendary Strivers’ Row — ground zero of the new Harlem Renaissance — blessing everything in her wake. She takes a beat before adding, “Imagine getting direction in a house that’s been completely decorated in four weeks.”
She’s having some fun with our host, Harlem’s own art impresario Tod Roulette, who shares this fine abode with Connecticut state senator Chuck Allen. The couple made the Out 100 last year for being marrying-kind pioneers in the second oldest black Episcopal Church in the United States. Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Thurgood Marshall all kicked it at Saint Philip’s and Chuck and Tod’s will be the first-ever, same-sex vows exchanged there.
But the art doesn’t stop on Striver’s. After the house-warming, I visit Harlem’s Studio Museum, where the stunning photography survey hrlm: pictures runs through October 23. The exhibition captures everything from pricey uptown spreads overlaid with dollar amounts ranging up to three and a half million entitled “I Can’t Afford to Live in Harlem” to thirty-something Harlemite Donald Andrew Agarrat’s large-format LaChapellesque “Biker Gyrlz” portraying banjee realness atop pink and purple Suzukis with matching fly leather biker gear. And at an admission cost of only $7, The Studio Museum makes MoMA’s Andrew Jackson tariff seem like utter piracy.
Just across the Harlem River, at the tad steeper ticket price of 45 clams, everyone’s favorite Scotch Pirate Jenny, Shirley Manson of Garbage, is gearing up to take Randall’s Island stage for Saturday’s Heineken AmsterJam. Still, this day-long bill, featuring everyone from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Snoop Dog and the sure to be infamous mash-up between Manson and Peaches, promises to kick out the jams. And you know what? With two stages and more than a twelve-pack of bands, this gig still makes the MoMA seem like pirates.
So what’s with all the uptown, girl? Well, I’ve been shacked up in a week-long Spanish Harlem house-sit. It’s only been a couple days, but already it feels like home. It’s less than a hundred blocks from my apartment, yet it also feels like another continent. It reminds me of the gritty New York I moved to before we were Bed, Bathed and Bombarded.
Transgender warrior Kate Bornstein and her red-hot, tantra-mama Barbara Carrelles — whose ark-like menagerie of pets I’m sitting (big ups to Frances!) — dubbed this neighborhood SpaHa from their backyard many Fourth’s ago: tongues popsicle blue blasting off firecrackers.
The things still blowing me up in this hood might be cliched caves du capitalism — fast food drive-thrus, the florescent, artic chill of the block-long PathMark with its jaw-locked carts circling while Whitney Houston pipes in over the P.A. and, for the love of God, there’s an IHOP! — but I’m a desperate housewife at heart.
And sure, there are things less corpo-cult we also don’t have in the Chelsea like stickball and open fire hydrants, graffiti and cuchifritos. The delis light up like Las Vegas and there are more churches than air conditioners, but while they may be paving paradise up here, at least they’ve put up a White Castle in the parking lot.