June 6 - 12, 2013
Sowing seeds of discontent or cultivating a rebirth? “It’s a city rule — no alcohol,” McGorty said. “It can be done, but it was becoming unsafe,” she said of drinking in the garden. McGorty said she is the garden’s senior member, having been with Dias Y Flores since 1983. As for the missing “Freedom Gate,” she scoffed, “The fence can’t be stolen if it’s not your property. It’s been removed for safekeeping. It’s not a ‘Freedom Gate.’ It’s the property of the garden.” Freedman said the final straw was the Easter “drunken party.” He said someone had peed in the plot of a gardener named Alex. Kilgore later explained what actually happened was that some of the partiers had been emptying beer bottles into Alex’s plot and Alex objected, and they then threatened to urinate in his plot.
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‘Free — BUT within limits’ Kilgore, who moved to the neighborhood three years ago and works in real estate, said he has heard about the wild times in the old East Village, and wishes he had been a part of them. “We never revoked his membership because of the parties,” he said of Wright. “I love the free spirit. I would have loved to be here 15 or 20 years ago. … “It can’t be limited,” Kilgore said of the revelry, “but it has to be reasonable. Someone has to take responsibility for it when there is drunken behavior and people get hurt. The thing is, with GreenThumb — we’re not even supposed to be drinking in here. He’s inviting thousands of people to these things.” Wright said, “There have been charges against me ever since I joined: ‘Drunken parties, drunken parties,’ always ‘the drunken parties….’ “Did he thank me,” he asked of Kilgore, “for bringing people into their little private garden? “The gardens are really important,” Wright said, “and I’m afraid that GreenThumb is trying to neuter and sanitize them with this power grab that they’re doing.” Wright said he’s also trying to build up the garden’s membership because he’s always worried that it could be seized back for development. But Hill said that’s ridiculous because the garden isn’t lacking for members, and in fact currently has 68.
Beef at Brillante After the arbitration meeting at Dias Y Flores, over at nearby El Sol Brillante, a man who asked that his name not be printed said they decided this year not to give Wright a key because he wasn’t doing the minimal things required of members. Plus, he said, he objected to the huge fires Wright would have blazing, as well as Wright’s trademark wolf howling. They change the lock on the gate annually, which is the way they weed out unwanted members, he said. “He was thrown out,” the man said. “Look at this party — nice, quiet, mellow,” he said, as he nursed a can of Budweiser. A former garden member was having a pre-wedding party. As opposed to a GreenThumb garden, El Sol Brillante is a land trust. As for Wright, the man continued, “This guy used to take a Christmas tree, chop off all the branches, light it on fire and run around the garden. They used to have a flame 12 feet high” in the fire pit, he said. Nick Breeden, another El Sol Brillante member, said with a smile, “I like Jeff,” later adding, “He’s a handful.” Plus, he said, his wolf howl is “horrible.” Both said that, just as at Dias Y Flores, Wright was prone to making a big issue over bylaws at El Sol Brillante’s meetings. “We used to call him ‘Bylaws Jeff,’ ” Breeden noted. For his part, Wright denied he was kicked out of El Sol Brillante. “That’s not true. They just wouldn’t give me a key after 12 years,” he said.
A party of artists Photo by Lincoln Anderson
Susan Yung, left, and Everett Hill had differing ideas on exactly what kind of “community” is meant by the term “community garden.”
After his Dias Y Flores key was initially taken away, friends of his threw him a party, giving him 30 keys, including one 5 feet tall made out of foamcore. The plan is to assemble these into a sculpture. Wright said he sinks about $1,000 of his own money into the parties each year, which includes “refreshments, charcoal and logs.”
How the howl started As for how his signature party howl emerged, he said it was “when we were in the garden struggle — ’95, ’96 — trying to save Chico... . I was looking for a war cry. I tried the rebel yell and the war cry whoop.” Then he was at a family affair in North Carolina and heard a wolf howl in the distance. “I can do it for like a minute,” he said. “I like to do it a couple of times [per party] — when someone really cool comes in or goes out. And why shouldn’t I make a little noise, to let people know that we’re in the garden, and using it, and defending it? There’s no law against howling. Excuse me — get over it, it’s New York City. … I love howling. The people who like it are at the party and they howl with me.” “People don’t like it,” Hill said, “and it seems to me, people don’t like it is why he does it.” Wright noted that he sent food up to Hill in his apartment when he was recently recovering from quadruple heart bypass surgery. Hill admitted he used to do the grilling at Wright’s parties. Hill said, however, after neighbors started complaining about noise from the parties, he “tried to help” Wright and went over to the Ninth Precinct to find out exactly what the regulations were. Basically, he was told that guitar playing and loud music at garden parties are supposed to end at 8 p.m., except for Fridays and Saturdays, when they can go till 10 p.m. Not long after the May 5 meeting, another
controversy erupted over the so-called “Freedom Gate” that Wright had stuck in his garden plot. This had been a small prototype section of a new fence that the garden’s board was planning to install. They paid $2,600 for this sample, which came out of the garden’s $5,500 treasury, and were then looking into a grant for the fence’s full $75,000 cost. Wright slammed the process, saying not all members were involved in the approval, and the board ultimately scrapped the project. Wright then took the small mock-up section of the fence and stuck it in his plot, dubbing it the “Freedom Gate.” But the fence recently vanished — and he filed a report for grand larceny at the Ninth Precinct.
‘All of us, I think, love large, outdoor, loud, drunken, s---stomping parties. We just can’t have them on 13th St.’ Ron Kuby This past Memorial Day, per the Dias Y Flores bylaws, the garden had a party. However, feeling his actions are now under the microscope, Wright said that “to be safe” he didn’t send out a mass notice on Facebook.
New zero-tolerance policy Sitting on a bench inside the garden’s gate, Fran McGorty and Robert Freedman explained they were enforcing a “zero tolerance policy” on alcohol, though they suspected it was being violated.
Gathered in the garden’s rear, the Memorial Day party was fairly small and low-key, with only about 15 or 20 people. Most were artists of some sort, including Ron Kolb and Steve Dalachinsky of the loose-knit writers’ collective The Unbearables; Debra Drexler, a visiting art professor from Hawaii; Gary Ray, who formerly ran Darinka, a performance space on the Lower East Side; poets Judy Rifka and Susan Yung; and Patricia O’Rourke, a visual artist from Gowanus. Some were discretely sipping wine from paper coffee cups covered with plastic lids. One gardener who didn’t give her name, but who everyone else told The Villager was Debra Jenks, was circulating a petition for the “immediate revocation” of the Dias Y Flores board. It was a little too mellow, so Wright decided it was time to play some guitar and sing. “It’s the East Village! It’s Memorial Day!” he said with a semi-incredulous expression on his face, aware of the others up at the front of the garden keeping a watch on the party, before he launched into “My Girl.” “Caterwauling” was how McGorky described Wright’s singing, but he actually wasn’t too bad. He later hopped up on the table and did a dance with another reveler. Some partiers who were more into drinking had decided to go over to El Sol Brillante, where they found a secluded bench. But when a Villager reported arrived, one of them promptly tipped off the side of the seat and toppled over onto the ground. “Whoa! I don’t normally do that!” he said as one of his drinking buddies stood convulsing with laughter and woozily tried to fill his own lidded, paper coffee cup with more wine.
Coat-of-arms controversy As the party back at Dias Y Flores petered out about 6 p.m., Jenks, who is an accomplished artist, was painting the garden’s “new coat of arms” — which Wright had mentioned to The Villager earlier — on a wall of the con-
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