Louie the Ex-Con



Neighborhood: East Village

I loved my fifth-floor tenement apartment on 6th Street in the East Village. At the time, I was in my early twenties and could fly up those stairs

The railroad apartment had two fireplaces, one in the kitchen and one in the living room. In the winter, I couldn’t wait to get home to start a fire in my brick fireplace and get cozy and warm.
The kitchen also had a claw foot bathtub with a beautiful oak wood cover, which doubled as a table. The two windows in the living room opened onto a fire escape.
There were a lot of burglaries in the neighborhood in 1961, when I moved in, so I needed iron gates installed on the windows to prevent anyone from breaking in.

I hired Louie, an ex-con who had been incarcerated at Dannemora, to install the gates. He came highly recommended by a trustworthy friend. Louie was a scrawny, unkempt guy and was between thirty and forty years old. The first thing he did was put newspaper down on the floor making a path as he advanced from the front door to the windows. “To keep the floor clean,” he explained.

After he had finished installing the gates on the windows, I noticed there were some rings on the top of the gates. When I asked him what they were for, he answered, “Thought you might want to hang some ivy or something!” Louie had an artistic side.
I had to know more about him and couldn’t resist inviting him to stay for a cup of coffee.

Louie lived in an airshaft between two buildings because it reminded him of his cell in prison. Occasionally, he was hired by the cops to crack safes that the police couldn’t do by themselves. In his spare time, he made a living by going into subway bathrooms, there were still plenty of them in those days, and removing the brass fixtures on the sinks and toilets. He would then sell them for a nice sum of money.

As we drank coffee, he lowered the tone of his voice and asked me if I needed to get rid of anybody. In the event that I did, he told me to contact him and that he would do the job.

I never saw Louie again, but I kept his information, just in case.


Joan Hall is known as a pioneer in the field of collage illustration. She has also published two poetry books and is the recipient of The Miriam Chaikin Award for poetry in 2018. She’s lived in Westbeth Artist’s Housing, NYC since 1971


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