Monday, April 27, 2009

To Albany and Back: Josh Cotrona's Albany Adventure

Josh Cotrona, rocking a Baroness t-shirt.

The first time that I moved to Albany, I was only about nineteen years old. I never really went out or anything at that time. I guess I wasn't smart enough to get an ID back then. I would go to shows a lot, though. And Valentines sometimes.

I did enjoy going to Tulip Fest at Washington Park. And since I lived downtown on Lark Street, there was really no way for me to avoid Lark Fest. I think that one of the stages was like right across from my apartment, so I was kind of forced to listen to that.

Nothing too crazy happened then. I guess the only thing would be that at that time when I lived downtown, sometimes I would find drunk people passed out by our entry way. Some would ask for money. But it wasn't often. It wasn't too bad.

I left, though, and went on a road trip to California. I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving. I didn't even tell my mom that I wasn't living around here anymore until I had been living out there for a month. She freaked out a little, but I kind of expected that.

The friend I was with was from Colorado, so we stopped there on our way to California. When we were visiting his hometown, that's when I met my wife, Betsy. She was actually from Maryland and just happened to move out there. It was pretty random. We were both just in the right place.

I lived in Carlsbad, California for a while. When I was there she came out to visit me. I also went back to Colorado to visit her. And that was kind of how we started dating. We decided to move back east together. We moved to Newport, Massachusetts. About a year later we got married.

We decided to move back to Albany because I grew up here and all of my family is here. It is also a lot cheaper to live in Albany than it is to live in Newport. Since we were trying to save a little money. Moving back was a good idea.

So now I live back downtown off Lark Street on Chestnut. Overall, I like living downtown. I still don't really go out that much. Sometimes I'll go to Bombers. I used to go a lot when they had Win, Lose or Draw. That was fun. But now it’s a little too crowded for me.

I do go to the Lark Tavern sometimes. And I like going to the Spectrum for movies. I’m not that raw. I guess what I do here isn’t that raw, either.

It's fun to people-watch in Albany. I try never to talk to anyone when I do. But, sometimes someone will make eye contact and I can’t avoid it. I'll do it anywhere: a coffee shop, the laundromat, that sort of thing.

I work as a freelance carpenter: remodeling, construction, painting. It's not hard to find work or anything, though. I just do it on my own. Sometimes I get work through somebody else, but mostly on my own.

I have thought about moving out of this area. As far as living somewhere else in Albany, I would live over by St. Peter's Hospital. I would move there if I was ready to have a home and settle down, if I wanted to have children and start a family. I'm not ready for that yet.

Realistically, when we are ready for that, we probably won’t stay in this area at all. I would most likely move back to Massachusetts. It's a nice place to have a family and raise children.--as told to Katie Serfilippi

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

'Not Everybody Bleeds': An Evening With G. Jinx Masilotti, BodyMod Artist

Jinx, after the piercing.

I’m here in Dead President’s Lounge on Madison Avenue in Albany about to get my navel pierced. Can you tell me your name?
My middle name’s Jinx. That’s what everyone calls me.

Okay Jinx. Is this navel piercing going to hurt a lot?
No. On a scale of one to ten, I’d say it’s a four. At most.

I’m tough. I think I can handle it.
If you’re tough, then I’d say three.

People like you and I who deal with the public on a daily basis – I work at a McDonald’s – all find customers annoying sometimes. Do you have any specific pet peeves about things that customers do or say?
My biggest pet peeve is when people say, “I want to gauge my ears.” There’s no such thing! A gauge is a unit of measurement! So that would be like saying “I want to inch, or centimeter my ears.” You know? [Laughter] It drives me fucking crazy when they call the jewelry “gauges.” It’s like, no, that’s the unit of measurement! That drives me nuts. And it’s only been in the last three or four years people started doing that. I have to tell somebody every day, “It’s not gauging your ears! It’s stretching!”

This is a very unique profession. What inspired you to be a BodyMod Artist?
I found a book when I was 16 called Modern Primitives, and it was when the modern primitives movement was just starting. It showed me a whole different world of stuff that I’d never seen before. This book had scarification, branding, and suspensions. I got into it immediately when I was 18, right out of high school. I found a guy who owned a studio who would teach me.

I lucked out, because I ended up getting two mentors: the shop owner mentored me, and a guy named Jack Yount who was mentoring the owner also mentored me. Jack was one of the first piercers in the U.S. He opened one of the first shops here. He died in 1997 at the age of 75 after 40 years as a piercer.

But things have changed a lot. It’s completely different now. It’s super commercial now. You can buy body jewelry anywhere. It’s just different.

So how many piercings do you have?
I don’t wear jewelry in many of them anymore, but let’s see… [Counting on his fingers] Fifteen?

Fifteen! What was the one that hurt the most?
Nipples. It hurts men a lot more because we have the same amount of nerves in a smaller surface area. Most women say it’s nothing!

What was the first piercing you ever did and what was it like?
A tongue and it was terrible. We used to have a release form that asked if you had any disorders. The girl was epileptic and didn’t tell us. I pierced her tongue and she had a seizure and I freaked out.

Did you cry?

Oh, I would’ve!
Well, I had EMT training. So that popped in and I did everything I needed to do.

What’s the craziest piercing you’ve ever done?
Trans mandible. Through the jaw. It comes out underneath the tongue.

Ow! Would you ever get that one done?
[Chuckles] No. I don’t really wear a lot of jewelry any more. I get tattoos now. I don’t get pierced anymore. I have my micro dermals [on each cheek bone] but that’s it. I screw things onto them once in awhile.

Isn’t it awkward when you have to pierce nipples or genitals?
Not at all. It’s all the same.

It’s all the same!

I don’t believe you! I think that would be so awkward!

After 15 years, it’s all the same. I’m pretty desensitized to everything. But right now you’re gonna feel me drawing on you, I swear it’s not a needle yet.

Oh my God, so this is the moment of truth? I won’t be able to watch this. I can’t. I hate stabbing. [Chuckles] That’s fine. Stand up. I’m just gonna mark you a little more right now.

I seriously have a phobia though. That’s why I had to bring my roommate with me, just in case I pass out so she can drive me home!
I’m sure you’ll be fine! I’m gonna have you look in the mirror okay? I need you to stand perfectly straight, put your hands to your sides, and keep your head straight. When you move so does the center of your body. We want to get a nice perfect center, since I guarantee everything I do. All right, take a look!

Beautiful. I’m so scared!
Just lay on the table. Don’t be scared. I’ll do it really quick, I promise.

Do people scream a lot?
Nah. I don’t think you’ll scream.

I’ll probably just be like ah! [I make a crazy face.]
You might say ouch really loud. That’s common.

Okay. [Nervous giggles]

I’m just darkening your marks right now. [Holds up metal clamps] I’m gonna put these on. They’re gonna pinch a little bit.
[I gasp] Told ya!

It feels so weird! [A noise of terror escapes my lips as he moves toward my belly button.]
Okay, take a deep breath in. Let it out. Take a breath in. Let it out. Last one. In. And let it out, and…

AH! Ah ah ah ahhh!!
That’s the worst of it.

That hurt!
I thought you said you were tough?

I am tough! But it still hurt.
Well, the worst is over. Okay, you’re gonna feel a little tiny pinch right now.

Is it bleeding?
Not at all.

Is that a good thing?
Sure. Not everybody bleeds.

--Samantha Smith

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Warehouse Songs and Stories: A Conversation with Mike of Mary Jane Books

Heading on over to Mary Jane Books to interview Mike, I was stopped by one of his coworkers, Nathaniel, who explained that Mike wasn’t in the store. He told me that if I still wanted to see Mike, he would be busy in their warehouse. This came as a big surprise. I was a bit skeptical at first--going into an unknown warehouse seems risky--but I was pleased to see Mike and a host of other people who only work exclusively in the warehouse waiting inside.

Mike offered me a chair, as he sat on a stool ladder.--Tony Geras

It’s just so weird interviewing you here, because I was expecting to go to the store. I was told by your friend Nathaniel to come here instead. I didn’t even know that you guys had a warehouse.
All the books that don’t get used during the semester get stored here and then a lot of books get bought off the internet and then we have to store them down here. We just sort them all down here; all the books that never get used for semesters you can get for a lot cheaper this way.

It’s kind of like a secret library, you know? There’s no sign showing this place is owned by Mary Jane Books, and there are literally thousands of books in here that aren’t held in the store.
Yeah, it’s pretty cool down here. You can get out of the store; it’s not as stressful.

Everything about the atmosphere here seems pretty laid-back. Both buildings have these hip, indie vibes. Do you listen to the kind of music that’s playing right now? What kind of music are you into?
We listen to all different kinds of stuff. I mostly listen to punk, a lot of underground stuff that you probably haven’t heard of before.

What bands?
The Big Boys?

Haven’t heard of them. I’ve gone to some underground punk shows, too, but it really wouldn’t be “underground” if we’ve all heard of it before, huh?
[Turns his attention to his coworkers as they’re walking by.]
You can get these guys to do an interview, too.

[Laughs] So all you guys just come down here to chill?
Yeah. A lot of the book orders get handled down here, too. The deliveries come down here, and then we price them and make sure they're OK.

Have you guys ever just came down here when you were too stressed out at the store?
Not really. Usually we’re just down here when the book orders get in. Nathaniel works down here. Usually there’s not as many people working down here either. When kids come back from school for the first couple of weeks, more people are employed.

What do you do to relax?
I ride bikes a lot. I’m a big bicycle rider. Not so much in the winter but during the summer I’m outside every day.

I think I’ve seen you riding around here before! Do you live in Albany, then?
Yeah, on Madison Avenue.

Cool, I was going to head to Madison at some point. I was initially going to interview someone at a head shop down there.
Which one?

I have no idea. There are so many!
Yeah, I know of a few that are on Madison, and there’s a bunch on Lark Street.

I ended up at one on Lark Street and the store got robbed while I was in there. When I went in, another person followed me inside and started asking for change; the lady working there told him that she doesn’t have any, but he could take a few quarters out of the tip jar. Then, he walked out with the tip jar.
Why do they have a tip jar in a head shop?

I dunno. Has anything like that ever happened to you guys?
Some lady tried to sell a library book.

Really? Did it have the barcode and index thing on the back that you could tell?
It had printed right on the front: Albany Public Library. I was like, “Uh, you should probably return this to the library.”

Monday, April 13, 2009

What I've Learned: Steven Coffey

Steven Coffey, photographed in the author's kitchen in East Greenbush, NY.

Construction Manager, 45, Albany
By Emily Catherine Massa

You got to be mean. And I’m mean. I’m a carpenter by trade, but my vocation is construction management. To be a construction manager, you have to know how to technically do everyone else’s job, so you know they’re doing it right.

A lot of people in construction aren’t in it by choice. All they care about is getting home to the five o’clock cure. If they could be doing anything else, they would be. So you have to be very aggressive and patient at the same time. I’m basically a kindergarten teacher.

I’ve been doing carpentry since I was a very young man. My uncle was a builder. I got into the Marine Corps right after high school. I got out, went to college, and got a degree in Geology. My whole class was hired by Exxon. But I was a former specialist-in-nastiness, so I was more valuable to them as a Marine than a geologist. They said they were going to put a rifle back in my hands, and I just wasn’t having it. So I came back, and started to build. I love it.

I’ve been shot twice. So I know all about it.
I started a development on my own and I needed money for everything. There used to be this “Money to Lend” feature in the New York Times. I answered one of the ads, and it was all very official. There was a lawyer and lots of paperwork.

But before I knew it, I was getting money in suitcases. Cash. It was just like in the movies, except these guys had real guns. But that didn’t really bother me. They didn’t shoot very well.

Drink your beer. I was renovating a bar on Lark Street, The Griffin. It was the end of the day, we were all done, the bar’s ready to open. I was sitting at the bar with the owner, his bartender, and my foreman having a beer. I hadn’t been drinking for a couple of years, so mine was just sitting in front of me. All of a sudden, this guy drags his girlfriend in off the street, down the stairs, beating her. Just horribly. Wailing on her.

So I looked around and said, I’ll take care of this. I went over and intervened. In three-tenths of a second, I’ve had the guy’s arm twisted up behind his back and was tormenting him. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the emergency room. The girlfriend had gone over to the bar, picked up the beer I wasn’t drinking, and cracked me on the back of the head with it.

I should have drunk my beer. It would have been lighter.

When a German shepherd looks at you, it like they’re looking at your soul. I had this ninety-pound, solid black, German Shepherd I used to bring to the construction sites. Albany was pretty rough then. He would sit in front of the door and guard. If someone new came, he would just look at them. I’d had to say, Oh, let them in for him to move. That dog was so good.

Both of my daughters are excellent carpenters. I could never stand the thought of somebody watching my children, so they would come to the site with me. When it was nap time, I would put a blanket in one those construction tubs, and they would take naps in the tubs with bulldozers and people hammering in the background.

There used to be a lot of drinking on the job. One day my wife came by the site after work to take the little one home. The house we were working on was perfectly blank, just plain floors and sheetrock. So in the middle of this empty room is an empty beer can. And the little one walks up to the beer can, looks at it, and says Aww fuck! And my wife looks at me and says That’s it! And that was it. My girls developed some foul mouths being on construction sites. But it hasn’t hurt their personalities.

I’m never going to retire. I’ll give up working seven days a week, but I’ll still build one or two houses a year. That should keep me fine; I don’t need anything to retire on. Really, it’s all for my kids.--

Monday, April 6, 2009

School Play: David Quinn's Not-Great Story About His Short-Lived Film Career

David Quinn in School Play.

David Quinn—father, husband, lawyer, longtime Center Square resident, folklorist, brother of original MTV VJ Martha Quinn—has stories to tell. Leaning back in his office chair, it becomes clear that, despite calling a week on the set of an Andy Warhol production School Play 'not a great story,' he has no qualms about making it one. “It was a great, great time to be 19,” he tells us. “I had the world by the short hairs.” He smiles as he reenacts his week, laughing at his 19-year-old-self and the adventures he had.--Michelle Cabral

It was the summer of 1969 and I had just dropped out of college. I went back to New York, back to my mother’s house, and found a job with a film production company. I thought that was what I wanted to do with my life.

I didn’t know anything about film, but I liked film, and thought I could do something with it. I got a job in the editing room, cleaning and splicing film together. It was mostly grunt work, but I told the guy I was interested in it and he sent me to Long Island University for a film production workshop.

Bud Wirtshafter taught the course; he was this avant-garde filmmaker. He had a piece called “Polar Bears in the Snow.” It was just a blank white film with a voiceover, describing all these polar bears running around in a blizzard. It was ridiculous but hysterical.

Well anyway, he was hired to do the camera work for this production out in Bridgehampton.

He asked, “Who wants to come out and watch and maybe help out?”

“Uh, Sure.”

So we go out to Bridgehampton and, lo and behold, all these Warhol Factory people are there. Taylor Mead and Gerard Malanga were the most famous people. There was also a woman named Brigid [Berlin]. She was this was this hugely fat, very pale woman, famous for her nude calendar. Anyway, I was young, wasn’t bad looking, and this guy says, “Wanna be in this movie?”

“Oh shit. Sure, okay,” I say.

“Put on this bathing suit.”

Oh god--I saw it coming. These were weird people, weird people, but peaceable people. Just a little weird.

The opening credits of School Play. Quinn's name is third down in the second column.

The plot of the movie was this series of dream sequences, sort of a Cinderella kind of fairytale thing. It was weird. And you know, when you shoot a movie, you never know what it’s about, unless you’ve written it or you're involved with it.

My character in this movie was one that would reappear in the various dream sequences with Brigid, who was the princess or whatever. Then we would repeat the scene with another woman who was just the absolute visual negative of Brigid.

I would repeat those scenes, and we did a couple more weird scenes. In one scene, this guy Carl was in a big cast iron pot, and I was one of the natives cooking him. I was supposed to taste him—ladle out of the pot and make native nosies. Ooga-booga, things like that.

So that was the movie.

When we wrapped, Brigid came over to me. “Oh David, you gotta come to L.A. We’re gonna start a TV series, The Every Day Show, it’s gonna be fun, you’re a natural, you should come to L.A. with us.”

Well, these people were weird enough, and it was going to be far for me to go off to L.A. with them, I tell you that right now.

Then Charles Rydell, the film's director, comes up and he has my check: 290 dollars. He comes up, just like on Cash Cab, and says “Well, I got your check right here. But I suggest you join SAG.”

“SAG? What’s that”?

“That’s the union for screen actors. Once you get into SAG, you get paid union rate”--scale, they call it--“and you get health benefits and all it’s a great gig. If you’re ever going to do this you’ve got to be a member of SAG.”

So I said, “What’s that going to cost me?”

He says, “275 dollars.”

“Wait a minute," I say. "You want me to give you my 290 hard-earned dollars and get 15 back, for a card? I don’t think so.”

And I think it was probably a mistake--it would have been worth the 290 dollars to carry a SAG card today.

About the spring of 1970 was when the screening occurred. I got a job in the Natural History Museum and went down to the book store and this guy comes over to me.

“Hey, David. Were you ever in a movie?”

Aww shit man, I’m getting busted on this. “Well uh, yeah, why do you ask?”

“Cause there’s a magazine, Interview, you’re in it.”

“No way.”

“A picture of you uh, ladling something out of a pot, and you’re name’s there.”

I never saw that picture. I never saw that magazine. I’ve no idea what this magazine was about.

So that is a flash-in-the-pan of my events with the Warhol group. That was pretty cool. But it’s not a great story.