Magazine article Artforum International

Guy's in the Hood

Magazine article Artforum International

Guy's in the Hood

Article excerpt

WITH ITS PERFECTLY FUSED connotations of fabulousness and flux, the title of this collection of newspaper columns, written for The Village Voice between 1981 and 1993, magnanimously invokes New York City, worms and all. The reportorial stance here is one of relaxed, often seemingly egoless suavity, sanguine and judiciously observant, yet full of the raking angles and astringent detail that bespeak a flaneur engage. Guy Trebay's interests run along ecumenical, eclectically inclusive lines, with high regard given to the particulars of age, sex, national origin, social background, financial status, and race. Animals and plants feature prominently, as well. His credo, expressed in the introduction, is a quote from the critic Wolfgang Binder, to "pay homage to those who run the risk of leaving this earth unrecorded." And indeed, we find ourselves at the ASPCA in time for Friday morning euthanasia, as well as at Madison Square Garden for the horse show; the common ailanthus has its moment in the sun along with the roses; and if a well-publicized name turns up on a page, it is most likely as a figure of urbane speech.

"The young man produces a date book busier than Nan Kempner's" - this from Come Here Often?," a cheerfully mordant sketch composed of conversational snatches overheard on a Monday morning at the VD clinic." Dated January 13, 1982, it is of course a period piece, one of several scattered about for punctuation and scale. It is perhaps a measure of our times, as well as of Guy Trebay's subversive subtlety as a moralist, that he is able to provoke a pang of shock at the current state by eliciting something like nostalgia for traditional venereal diseases.

Although arranged thematically rather than chronologically, the book's diverse and often highly entertaining aspects nevertheless conspire to reflect a single, terrible arc in the city,s recent history, beginning some 15 years ago and progressing inexorably, formed by the graduating effects of AIDS and crack. Trebay's approach is typically oblique. In "Mixed Greens" (dated June 22, 1993), we are treated to a peripatetic, almost aerial overview of in-town gardening, eccentric as well as communitarian, wherein we meet a "big, bosomy" honeysuckle vine on Sixth Street between Avenues B and C, a "leggy" Golden Shower on the Upper East Side, and "a rare Zepherine Drouhin" by a Chelsea stoop, among other botanical specimens, before landing on the roof garden of Bailey House, a care residence for people with AIDS on Christopher Street, where we are at last invited to close our eyes and see: "Occasionally," Trebay tells us, "Bailey House clients lose their sight, and for that reason the gardeners have filled several planters with tall ornamental reeds." "It's about texture and sound," explains one "Green Guerrilla" gardener. "Every time I go up there," says another, "I find that someone has pushed a chair between the boxes to listen to the wind in the grass."

Many of the stories take place around the Mott Haven section of the Bronx and the similarly drug-besieged, if more elaborately tilled, Loisaida. …

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