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Illustrator Lou Brooks talks about his life and reading – Page 2

The New York years in the late 1970s...

READERSVOICE.COM: What kinds of places did you live in while in New York for 20 years, and what do you think about living in New York in hindsight?

LOU BROOKS: Well, the ’76 Philadelphia Bicentennial was the last straw for me. To this day, don’t ever ask me to stand near any man dressed up as Ben Franklin. I’ll kill him.

So, we managed to move to New York on June 12, 1977. Kevin Walsh’s www.forgotten-ny.com web site describes that period in New York as “when the city was at its miasmic, garbage- and crime-strewn worst.” Son of Sam was running around loose. There was a two- or three-day power blackout as soon as we moved there. That winter, the Blizzard of ’77.

We had moved into a top floor corner loft at 26th and Lexington. Toilet in the hallway. The neighborhood was sort of a WalMart for street hookers working out of the Elton Hotel a block away on Park. On the weekends, there would be twelve girls to each intersection. Like an Iceberg Slim novel. Shirt-and-tie guys were getting blow jobs in our vestibule. Pimps were being shot. I still remember seeing my first chalk body outline on the sidewalk across the street one Saturday morning.

AYDS was still doing well as an appetite-suppressant candy. Somebody threw a bomb in the Cuban Embassy up the street. Some nut case shot John Lennon. And so on.

One morning, we woke up to a naked corpse staring back at us through our skylight. It was the chef from the expensive restaurant a few doors east.
He had been bound in his own neckties and stabbed to death by his lover At least, that’s the story we heard. We never did see or hear anymore about it.
That’s the thing about Big Town: not enough room or time to tell us all the stories. The homicide detective looked a lot like James Garner in The Rockford Files — at least in my memory he did. And he actually said to my wife, “Like to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind, ma’am.” He actually said that.

After Philadelphia, living in that fourth floor loft was like a war experience or something. Exciting. Everything moved very fast. Son of Sam was caught by summer’s end. We got on friendly terms with the pimps and hookers. Clare’s elderly mother would come up and stay with us, and she’d be hanging out our fourth floor corner window all night just taking in all of the action. She was very nice and motherly to them all. “I know when I’m needed,” she used to say.

But as soon as we could afford it, we bought into a co-op apartment building over in Hell’s Kitchen. Our accountant said we should do it. Suddenly, we were living with 35-40 really boring trust fund people. They all seemed to subscribe to The New Yorker. We tried to fit in anyway.
There was a neighbor with an Alistair Cooke accent (years later, we found out that he was from Virginia). An Exxon-exec, who lived in the building once said to us, “We like you two… you’re our building’s bohemians!” Go figure. We spent the larger part of our New York days living there — fairly trapped by the real estate economy — but I wasn’t as happy as I had been further downtown.

So many illustrators lived down there around 26th and Lex… Jim McMullan, Marvin Mattleson, Doug Taylor, Michael Doret, Doug Johnson, Elwood Smith. I felt I was part of the circus. We used to call it “the illustrators’ ghetto.”

Also in those days, I was going full tilt with Playboy Funnies, so I got to know a lot of the cartoonists very quickly. Basically, most of them were crazy.

RV: When did you finally move from the east coast to the west coast of the U.S., and how did you choose where to live, north of San Francisco?

LB: Around 1990, I got myself a Mac Centris. It was like waking up. No more inking assistants and film houses. So, in ’94, we moved down to the South Jersey shore, figuring we’d get up to New York every week or two. But in three years, we only went there twice! Once for a friend’s wedding (they’re divorced now), and once to jury a Society of Illustrators show. I was having fun racing cars and being the oldest surfer on the beach.
The Internet had kicked in just when I was getting the hang of the car racing. We could live anywhere! Our radar just pointed to Northern California. Those hippie days, I guess. On April Fool’s Day, 1997, there was a snow blizzard, but we packed our four cats and whatever else would fit into my racing hauler, and off we went with our AAA book of pet-friendly motels. The Allied van took the rest.
Clare acquired her first driver’s license for the occasion, and actually learned to drive for the first time in her life by going flat-out 90 mph across Iowa and Nebraska.
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