Joe D’s memorial, sort of

Joseph Dankowski ws born in Camden, New Jersey on September 2, 1932.

After moving to New York City in 1958, he took up photography, working mostly in black and white reportage style, as influenced by Eugene Atget, Harry Callahan and Robert Frank.

In 1972 he received one of the first National Endowment for the Arts grants bestowed on a photographer.

Joseph moved to Shirley, Maine in 1974 where he continued to photograph, while working as a carpenter.  His work in Maine focused on the portfolio “Fall in Black and White” and a sequence of “Ice on the River” photographs.

Joseph’s (1969-71) “Manholes and Gutters” 50 print portfolio are in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine, the Joy of Giving Something Collection and in private collections.

He is survived by his loving sister, Stella Lizambri and Many friends.

I love The Simpsons.  I love particularly the way the first plot piece leads into the second plot piece which then leads into the actual story for that particular episode.  More and more I’m coming to see my life as working in that same mode.  If not my life, then certainly some of my blog postings.  This one for instance.  You see, I’m not going to write about Joe  D’s memorial held today.  I’m not going to write about Wesley Waites, who looks like this…

and who informed me of Joe’s death, who lives deep in my heart

  • despite living in Saugerties, more than bike-riding distance away,
  • despite my not having been in his presence for 10 or so years until today,
  • and certainly not because, in his role of vital connection to the two bars of my New York Past, he has become the Messenger of Death in my life.

Ultimately this about Richie Velez, seen here at that memorial for Joe, the one he put together.

All of this centers around the year 1965, more specifically the autumn of that year.  I had freshly dropped out of graduate school at UCONN, conned my way out of the Vietnam War and found my way to the Lower East Side and work as a short order cook at The Annex, a bar on Avenue B between 10th and 11th in New York’s Lower-East-Side-about-to-become-East-Village.  I was 23, depressed at the death of my father, overwhelmed by New  York City and, consequently, madly in love with intoxication.  Richie was also 23 and, along with Gus Rodriguez, owned the Annex.  Richie played the congas and lived on stage.  Richie was my boss.

In November of 1965,  two months after having started my work as a short order cook at the Annex and a few weeks after the blackout when Richie gave me a baseball bat and a comfy beach chair with built-in leg extension and told me, someone he barely knew,to guard the bar against intruders while he and everyone else at The Annex went down the street to Stanley’s Bar (where they had enough sense to leave the cash register open as the power failed) to drink, I came to the realization that I had been working 9 hour days with, yes, an unlimited amount of scotch but also without a dinner break.  I decided to bring the second part of this to Richie’s attention, and, after a significant amount of that unlimited amount of scotch and with significant irate-atude, I did so.  Even now I recall the frequent appearance of the phrase, “What the (or Who the–)  fuck…” in my presentation.  Richie, never shy or reluctant to reply in kind, more than matched my vocabulary and attitude in his response.  Words led to words (and probably some gestures) before he told me I was fired and I told him I’d already quit.

I don’t remember what happened next, but no more than 20 minutes later we were sitting together at the bar.  He was buying me drinks and providing me with a list of places to look for work with  him as a reference.  All his anger of the moment before had utterly disappeared. To him I was no longer a big-mouthed, hostile employee.  I was a guy he knew who needed work.  Nothing in my New England background had prepared me for such an abrupt shift in attitude.  I come from the land of steady habits, of eternal grudgery.  With Richie, it was, “once it’s over, it’s over.  What’s next?”  Wow!

Joe Dankowski photographed the things we all see but don’t notice.  Wesley Waites lives one day at a time, coping graciously with whatever life throws him.  Richie taught me,  Once it’s over, it’s over.  What’s next?  The Buddha teaches the same things under the umbrella of mindfulness.  I now try to teach this to my clients at Samaritan Village.  Sometimes–like right now–I wonder, if I hadn’t run into the Buddha, how much would I have valued the lessons taught by Joe, Wes and Richie?

Published in: on December 18, 2010 at 3:15 pm  Comments (9)