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Ellen Turrietta holding court in the East Village (all photos courtesy Ellen Turrietta and the author)

Last Sunday afternoon, as baffled tourists watched, an old-fashioned “Happening” occurred under the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge. It consisted of dozens of East Village denizens: one leaping around like a wingless angel with purple hair, another guest, her midriff wrapped in gauze, veiling a baby doll about to drop, a third was a big game safari hunter — most splotched in rouge and powdered in white, weaving through the carnival-like area under the FDR, which was bannered in ribbons and carpeted in flour. I arrived, late and inappropriately dressed and was quickly fitted in a dark jacket. I promptly had a large heart sprayed on my back by the resident shaving cream artist. Immediately I was instructed to remove my shirt and had beet juice sprayed onto my bare chest. String weavers then lassoed everyone together into a single group. It turned out we were all getting married — to each other!

The marriage under the Brooklyn Bridge (click to enlarge)

Roughly a month earlier someone had abandoned a working piano on the shore, not far away. When the young and topless minister said it was time, all leaped over the railing and we positioned ourselves near the piano, now collapsed and algae-covered. The marriage was about to begin.

Strangely this mysterious union began with an eviction.

Ellen Turrietta, former fashion model (I saw her in Italian Vogue), used to hold packed salons in her apartment on Seventh Street, where she accumulated a colorful menagerie of La Dolce Vita characters. This occurred to the growing rancor of her less colorful neighbors, who, didn’t seem to care that her behavior was far more in keeping with the tradition of a neighborhood that once gave rise to everything from the Beats to the Warhol Superstars to the early Punk movement. Inevitably, she got booted.

Wedding guest

“Actually I left very much of my own accord, darling,” she clarified.

Congratulatory hug

Yet a strange thing happened. Her guests kept coming. Without an apartment, she’d meet them on the sidewalk next to the New Middle Collegiate Church, where the four by four foot piece of pavement, became her new ballroom and subsequently her canvas. Attracting a cadre of latter-day Edie Sedgewick types, Ellen’s party just kept rolling. As each Summer day wore on, her skinny body (topped by a fiery brush of red hair) would slowly be covered with a palette of different colors as various projects, made from found object filled the sidewalk. This is where I first saw her. At first thinking she was homeless, I called a friend who was a social worker, but subsequently, seeing that she wasn’t insane or destitute, I would simply stop by and visit.

I had to confess that as the sidewalk filled with paint and “art” I grew increasingly amazed to find she hadn’t been arrested or at least, committed. And one day she invited me to a wedding. I politely declined. She invited me a second time and I detected an urgency in her tone that worried me. So, nervous that she was going to do something rash, I showed up on the edge of the island to find one of the most unusual woman-person shows that I witnessed since I first saw Karen Finley back in the 1980s.

Ellen Turrietta in the East River

Instead of anything so banal as vows, the ceremony culminated in everyone gathering on the sandy shore, around a small trampoline, which was powdered in powdered sugar, then, taking turns each participant, jumped up and down creating a plume of sweet smoke. Finally, Ellen, whose tiny form was thoroughly caked from head to toe in a thick flour, jumped into the East River where she seemed to turn into a thick white watery cloud.

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Arthur Nersesian

Arthur Nersesian is an American novelist, playwright, and poet. He was born and raised in New York City. His novels include The Fuck-up, Manhattan Loverboy, dogrun, Chinese...

2 replies on “Eviction, Group Marriage, and What I Did Last Sunday”

  1. I hope they were up to date on their shots. The banks of the East River make the Ganges look like Club Med. Plus, several centuries of industrial pollutants accumulating in that lovely mud…

  2. “This occurred to the growing rancor of her less colorful neighbors, who, didn’t seem to care that her behavior was far more in keeping with the tradition of a neighborhood that once gave rise to everything from the Beats to the Warhol Superstars to the early Punk movement”

    Her behaviour was not in any form keeping with the tradition of this neighborhood..she wishes. I will say that she is far more in keeping with the tradition of what this neighborhood has become in the last couple of years, a city filled with self entitled brats.

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