I’m back on PRAY detail. Inspired by a social media interaction I finally followed up on a lead someone sent me pre-Covid, a lead on where to find a smattering of surviving etchings from the legendary scratchiti artist of yore.
Sure enough, there they were, four in a row on a window frame outside a tattoo shop, with another one around the corner on the door frame of a residential apartment building. Unquestionably genuine, and a bit of neighborhood lore, according to my source. My source’s source was a fan of PRAY while she was active, and if I remember correctly he is said to have witnessed PRAY at work.
I don’t know what’s nuttier: The vagrant elderly white woman scratching religious encomiums into (as the legend goes) “every payphone in New York City” or the middle-aged white guy chasing after her vapors 40 years later.
Today’s follow-through on the pre-Covid PRAY lead came after a day of discovering, or maybe rediscovering another extant etching that I probably documented but now I don’t remember. Yesterday’s re-find came with another twist. Unfortunately at this moment I cannot recall the exact wording and it is not showing up in my web search history but something like “TRUE PATIENCE ALLAH” is also etched on an adjacent surface. If that scratchiti is the same hand as PRAY’s is it possible she was Muslim? I found it almost impossible to record the ALLAH scratchiti, it was so faint and the metallic surface not hospitable to summoning such a discrete message.
The question will inevitably arise. Religious vandalism is rampant. The “JESUS SAVES” etchings, found on almost every payphone in New York (or so it seemed) never captured my imagination the way PRAY has. Why? It’s a story. A long story. Or is it so long? The story starts in 1991, when a store manager at Tower Records entered into a monologue filled with both admiration and bewilderment about a crazy old lady known only as “PRAY” who scratched words like “PRAY”, “LOVE GOD”, “GO TO CHURCH” and so on into, as the legend goes, “EVERY SINGLE PAYPHONE IN NEW YORK CITY.” His account of PRAY resonated with me at a time when religious agita and angst still lingered from my years of Catholic grade school and high school, years which left me confused and ambivilant about the idea of God or [I-i]s role in my reality. I had so many bad experiences with priests that I could barely bring myself to respect the role, and the teachings of the gospels, as filtered through the Jesuit mythos, seemed incoherent and vindictive.
I left Tower Records that night with the legend of PRAY fresh in my mind. Suddenly the words “LOVE GOD” and “PRAY” popped out at me like neon from every payphone in sight. True to that Tower Records manager’s words she was everywhere, not just on payphones but virtually any metal surface.
That’s the beginning of the story. Which already needs ample revisions.
Today I walked the Ed Koch/Triboro for what I think is the first time this year. The MTA did a piss-poor job of announcing mid-day N/W/R train planned outages, leaving hundreds of us sitting for too long at the Lexington/59th Street station watching the signs promising trains in 2 minutes when none ever arrived.
I didn’t care. I had the day. I exited the station and just walked. My plan to carb up on a slice of pizza almost met with failure when I discovered Tony and Johnny’s, or whatever their names were, seems to have closed. That was the last stop pizza before the bridge on 1st Avenue in the shadow of the bridge. It moved several doors over a few years back but now it seems to be done. Finito. That sucks ass. I found another place further up the Avenue but that pit stop has forever changed. No more bathroom at the Bed Bath & Beyond. No more pizza right there at the base of the bridge. No more porn store on 2nd Avenue. I think even the Subway bar closed at its new location?
I’m being sarcastical. Things change, and I’m fine with it. But it was a bore to find the old standbys defunct and done. The bridge was its typically inhospitable terrain. I did discover, though, that rooftops at the Queensbridge Houses are blanketed with solar panels. I guess that’s a good thing? F’ugly as F’ck but whos watching the ceilings? Peeps used to party on those rooftops but maybe not anymore.’