A fire-haired woman named Ellen Turrietta (a.k.a. Ginger Mama) has outlined something of an occupation corridor on East Seventh Street and Second Avenue in the East Village, turning a strip of sidewalk outside of her former apartment first into a free barbershop and then into a “leather shop” consisting of dog collars, filthy garments, and a skeleton bodysuit complete with inflatable boner.
Though she had to put a stop to the barbershop when she ran out of shaving cream, she continues to offer “fire grooming” — a hair removal technique by which the groomer burns hair off the groomee. She insists the method doesn’t leave razor burn, though it does cause an odor. “I love the smell of burning hair,” she told us. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
Workers at the nearby construction site aren’t shy about gawking at this wiry little woman as she flails about and babbles maniacally — she is, after all, a model who has appeared in Vogue Italia and has been photographed at swank parties.
She’s on the street, she says, because her landlord kicked her out. “They asked me to leave and I said ‘OK,’ because I don’t stay places where they ask me to leave,” she explained. “I was a little brat here. I was loud. I was like, ‘It’s the East Village– if you don’t like noise, get out of the city,’ and everyone heard that song.”
Just how turnt up was Ginger Mama, exactly?
She spoke ecstatically: “I invited everybody to live with me– fancy and un-fancy alike, black, white, yellow, red. And we were throwing paint parties every night and lathering ourselves in paint and running all around and making interactive Rorschach on each other essentially.”
Turrietta referred to her place, before it was so ruthlessly quashed, as a “commune” — “so we were all participating in this whole, like, Peter Pan codependency, actually, because it’s like we are indeed Motherless and Fatherless,” she said. “We are the street children.”
“Maybe I was being unreasonable,” she added with a smile.
According to Facebook photos, she’s been posted up in her squat since at least Saturday, perhaps longer, with little to no trouble. Passersby seem drawn to the strikingly pale, lanky redhead with a cooing voice and theatrical mannerisms.
The only time there’s been an issue, says Ginger Mama, was the morning she left her stuff out and Sanitation ticketed her landlord. “I was incredibly apologetic,” she insisted. “I will probably lose my deposit for just the $300 fine. I don’t care about money, it’s part of the fun. But now I make sure that I wrap this whole thing up every night. I wrap it all up. And then every day it’s something different.”
It’s a bizarre scene, and one wonders how Ellen can sit there all day being a weirdo and not have to work. But she explained she has a place to stay, since just opposite the construction is the home of “Father Patrick,” and apparently enough borscht to share.
“Father Patrick was the elected spiritual adviser of my community,” Ellen said. “I love him. He’s adopting me as his child basically. So not only did I give away everything for free, but I get a dad for free, which is basically a boyfriend that you don’t have to have sex with.”
Things were getting weird. We couldn’t help wondering if this was some kind of protest. Was there a deeper social meaning to Turrietta’s performance piece / manic breakdown? If so, her display is a little opaque. And the fact that she refers to herself and her friends as “street children” might cause some to cringe, since it’s coming from a globetrotting party girl.
“But the message here is, we have everything we need. It’s all on the block, baby. And I’m not going to leave the block because this is my family. And if I’ve done any harm, I’m sure that I can make it work, you know?”
Perhaps her intentions are to demonstrate to her landlord that he’s turned her into an orphan, or that she’s more trouble as an evicted tenant than an existing tenant.
But Turrietta was adamant that the occupation was also a reflection of her desire to turn her life around. She’s stopped shoplifting and has promised to stop harming strippers (she feels bad about covering them in “toxic paint”). “I had all these motherfuckers around me, and I was like why are these people so horrible? And I’m like, probably because I’m a shady bitch. So once I started being nice, I had all these nice people around me. It’s been weird. It’s crazy. And even my neighbors have been supportive because I stopped being such a brat. And people bring me food for free. I could probably live this way forever.”
Perhaps Ginger Mama really is out to mend her ways. After all, she admitted the whole commune thing wasn’t exactly working out. “You know, so there has to be some rules, not even rules, but some type of practice would be good. Like if everyone’s constantly producing work, we wouldn’t have drama. If we’re all exercising every day, we won’t have drama.”
We managed to track down Turrietta’s landlord, S. Kochhar, who acknowledged that she’s a former tenant, but claims that she wasn’t kicked out. “You know I can’t do that to people,” he told us, saying that Turrietta had moved out on her own volition at the end of July. According to Kochhar, she simply sent him an email telling him she was packing up.
“I have nothing to do with this,” he sighed, referring to her street antics. “This is some crazy woman.” He explained how some of his tenants have called the police on Turrietta, citing her project as a nuisance. But because she’s on the sidewalk and technically not encroaching on Kochhar’s property, the cops haven’t been able to remove her. The landlord said he recently underwent knee surgery, so he hasn’t been able to hoof it over there himself to chase her out. “I have no control over the sidewalk,” he said. “I’m just going to let the situation resolve itself.”
If you’re down to see some old-fashioned East Village weirdness, be sure to swing by Ginger Mama’s Leather Shop. Something tells us it won’t be around for much longer. If you’re lucky, Turrietta might clip one of her red locks off and braid it into your hair.