Join 3,497 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Deuce!
January 23, 2008 4:25 PM   Subscribe

Sex, drugs and sleaze! Were the bad old days really the good old days? Native New Yorkers who remember the City in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, speak up! Was the Big Apple better off then or now?
posted by nangsta (66 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Were the bad old days really the good old days?

Short answer: yes.

Looking forward to checking out these links from the BOTB page. Those folks at FMU, they're the greatest.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:30 PM on January 23, 2008


We had artistic standards back then. Not like the crap today.
posted by Postroad at 4:35 PM on January 23, 2008


Yes, back then children knew their place: off my lawn.
posted by mullingitover at 4:40 PM on January 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Times Square was great in the late 70's, early 80's. Bruce Lee movies, fake I.D. shops, cheap martial arts equipment, nickle bags, big budget flicks at half price (if you didn't mind smelly theatres with sticky floors), Annie Sprinkle movies and the Gotham Blood Bank, where you could get five bucks per donation. Wholesome fun, all that.
posted by hojoki at 4:46 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Times Square was a really scummy place, but I mean that in a positive way. The new Disneyfied version is pathetic.
posted by Flunkie at 4:49 PM on January 23, 2008


I miss the muggings.
posted by sien at 4:50 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Director Allan Moyle found his own screenplay truanced and was ultimately fired from his own film, and the studio proceeded to take out all the harsher elements of the film. Lesbian subtext was removed, scenes of drug abuse cut, and nudity refused

What a metaphor for New York itself!
posted by geoff. at 4:54 PM on January 23, 2008


Sleazoid Express has made me desperately wish I could have enjoyed Times Square at its seediest. Alas, I was 10 at the time, and, if I was at Times Square at the time, it was being dragged quickly past it by my mother.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:54 PM on January 23, 2008


The beginning of the end was marked by the bronze Goofy and the other cartoon characters on the sidewalk at 1 Times Square, so in all fairness it was just as much the Warner Brothersification as anything else.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:55 PM on January 23, 2008


The new Disneyfied version is pathetic.

You want pathetic, check out Dundas/Toronto Life Square, Toronto's sad Times Square knockoff.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:56 PM on January 23, 2008


Call me a suburban yuppie, but...

* In the 70s, my then elementary-school-aged wife was accosted by an old-school flasher in Times Square -- the hat, the overcoat, everything.

* In the 80s, I wouldn't have visited New York if you had paid me.

* In the 90s, I recall walking around Times Square and Midtown thinking, "Weird. I feel safer walking around these streets at night than I would anywhere at night in Los Angeles."

Hooray for Disneyfication, I say.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:00 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I see that somebody has made a movie based on Josh Alan Friedman's wonderful book, Tales of Times Square.

I miss the days when you could see the dealers pitching jumbo Red Tops on 42nd Street, but I don't suppose many people do.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:03 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


So now that Disney runs Times Square no one gets mugged??

I say there is more than one way to get mugged.
posted by R. Mutt at 5:16 PM on January 23, 2008 [9 favorites]


Then, by far. Remember NASA anyone?
posted by Astragalus at 5:22 PM on January 23, 2008


Hooray for Disneyfication, I say.

you're a suburban yuppie. but you knew that.
posted by Hat Maui at 5:28 PM on January 23, 2008


I'm so glad I broke curfew and snuck out just to catch a terribly bad scary movie at a cinema in Times square in the mid eighties. I thought for a while that the exiting seedy scary stuff I saw was partly a result of my big wide eyes having not seen anything yet, since I was so young, but nope, it really was something else back then. Something scary dirty smelly and exiting and good.

It's still smelly though.
posted by dabitch at 5:29 PM on January 23, 2008


Were the bad old days really the good old days?

Short answer: yes.


You better believe it. New York spawned punk, disco, hip-hop, Be-bop, Velvet Underground, the folk scene, even Doo-wop. I can't imagine *any* of that coming out of New York now.

We were leaders and trend setters, now we're followers. It breaks my heart to say it but that is the brutal truth.

New York is a Yuppiefied, Disneyfied McNewYork today. It is indistinguishable from New Jersey, New York State, Plano Texas, Orange County California, Mesa Arizona, or any of the other plastic malled dreary landscape that is the US.

We don't even speak any different from the rest of the country any more. How many genuine New York accents do you hear on the streets of Manhattan? We shop at the same places. Starbucks destroyed the inimitable Greek New York Diner. Dominos is doing the same thing to the New York Pizza joint. So if it is like Plano or Katy, or Encino, only more crowded and vertical, why the hell should I pay so much more to live here. Fer sure.

Vermont here I come!
posted by xetere at 5:29 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's a tiny island. It can only wield cultural influence for a short while then the wave moves onwards. I think the only thing interesting about Manhattan now is that you can hear a helicopter very close and very loud, but never see it due to the street canyons.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:33 PM on January 23, 2008


The subways are safer, but Times Square is now so boring. It used to be filled with characters. It was a freak show, a bit dangerous, but not too much so, and just plain fun to watch.
posted by caddis at 5:44 PM on January 23, 2008


The 70's were a tough time. The financial service industry got hit hard by global financial changes, which caused a fiscal crisis for the city. The boom from 1992-2007 was great for the city... It seemed great for the rest of the country too, at least until we got stuck with the bill.
posted by devonianfarm at 5:47 PM on January 23, 2008


The real gem in that FMU post is the link to the Rockets Redglare interview. I met him a few times around the late 80's. I was sneaking into bars underage (I say sneaking, noone seemed to care), and he was at a few of them. What a nut.

Yeah, things were more vital, more real. I miss it, but the violence sucked for sure.
posted by lumpenprole at 5:51 PM on January 23, 2008


I came to town in 1981 and stayed for 23 years. It was great in the '80s and started going downhill when gentrification hit hard. I knew it was all over when rich people started competing to buy places overlooking Tompkins Square Park.

*remembers Tin Pan Alley (the bar), Wilson's (the soul-food restaurant), the old Knitting Factory, and the great Times Square movie houses*
posted by languagehat at 5:53 PM on January 23, 2008


The nostalgia for this one period of utter squalor is something I have never understood. What was so great about aggressive streetwalkers and drug dealers?

Remember too please that there was life in Times Square before the degradation of the seventies. Good times for decades before 1969, if my parents and grandparents are to be believed, and I believe they are.

I say there is more than one way to get mugged.

True, but now at least you have the option of keeping your money and your life. Back then - less clear cut.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:06 PM on January 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


In 1985 I was walking through Times Square with my dad, who was visiting from Alabama. He gets accosted by a drunken Peurto Rican hooker who latches on to him like he's the last man on earth. She walks with us for a block, arm around my dad, me watching for her to try to steal his wallet. Unable to seal the deal, she giggles, rubs a glittery set of unnaturally long nails down dad's reddening face, and sways off into the crowd.

"Damn, Dad, you get her number?" I asked him, laughing.

"Naw. I figure I know which corner to meet her on. Let's go get a beer."

That's a New York memory I'll treasure forever.

I got mugged twice, ripped off in pot deals numerous times, laid plentifully, was only once beaten to the point of soiling myself, and walked away from it all in 1989 with no diseases or crippling addictions, so.

Yeah. NYC in the 80s pretty much fucking rocked.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:09 PM on January 23, 2008 [7 favorites]


I definitely prefer things the way they are now. I was a kid in the 80s, and a teen in the 90s. I prefer a clean sense of things to drugs and shady characters.

Though I do miss some of NY's old movie houses that have disappeared over the years.
posted by cmgonzalez at 6:28 PM on January 23, 2008


Yeah. NYC in the 80s pretty much fucking rocked.

I remember geezers in the 80s telling me how much better NYC was in the 50s, but there were always racists undertones that came with those pronouncements, so I never paid them much mind. But Times Square? It was always a shithole, no matter how much each generation claims to love its own version of it. A place for idiot tourists, gawkers, scam-artists, fuckers, screwheads and wannabees of all walks of life. I guess that's what made it what it was and is. I spend as little time there as I possible can (and I worked at 4XSQ for 2 years, which made it extremely difficult), I ran through it as fast as I could when it was the Times Square of Taxi Driver and run through even faster today. The place's creepiness today is more insidious that it was back in my younger days.
posted by psmealey at 6:29 PM on January 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


... but to me, it's not very different from the place where I got mugged when I was 14 years old.
posted by psmealey at 6:40 PM on January 23, 2008


The financial service industry got hit hard by global financial changes, which caused a fiscal crisis for the city.

I've never heard of this as a cause for the fiscal crisis. According to my friend who works at the city budget office, it was mostly just good-old-fashioned mismanagement of the city budget. Inflated payrolls, corrupt unions, stupid budget tricks and the like.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:41 PM on January 23, 2008


Boston's Combat Zone is gone, too. That's great for nearby Chinatown, but sad for field-tripping suburban schoolchildren. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of our schoolbus riding through that blighted area, gaping wide-eyed at the XXX movie posters, prostitutes, adult bookstores and strip clubs that had brokedown dancers stationed out front, luring customers in.

Nowadays, when I walk through Times Square or the erstwhile Combat Zone, my eyes are no longer pealed, just hoping, hoping HOPING to see one of my classmates' dads skulking out of a peep-show.

I'd like to blame Giuliani or civic-minded Catholics, but the real villain is the VCR, and later, the internet. Times Square's corpse wouldn't be Disnified if they hadn't put the effort in, but it would still no doubt be a shell of its former self.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 6:43 PM on January 23, 2008


I'd like to blame Giuliani or civic-minded Catholics, but the real villain is the VCR, and later, the internet. Times Square's corpse wouldn't be Disnified if they hadn't put the effort in, but it would still no doubt be a shell of its former self.

So, in other words, what made NYC less entertaining was entertainment itself.

mind, blown.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:56 PM on January 23, 2008


Could it have been possible to keep the culture and vibrance of NYC while ridding it of the violence, or did the confluence of factors that produced the one necessarily produce the other?
posted by papakwanz at 7:14 PM on January 23, 2008


I like it all.
In 1962, a friend and I saw Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera (then at Broadway and 39th). Then we went up to 42nd street. The theaters all showed movies, about half porn and half 'other stuff'. After an evening at the opera, we saw 'A Night at the Opera' on a double bill with 'A Day at the Races'. The total damage was less than $2. One theater showed only westerns. My only regret is that I never saw Hubert's Flea Circus.

I was away for most of the next forty years. I did love the weird sayings on the marquees after the theaters all closed and before the disnification. But google seems not to know them.

I now work on Times Square pretty often. It is nicer than most malls, and the people there seem uncharacteristically happy for New York--they're mostly tourists. The food places are poor and expensive, but there is a wonderful Hello Kitty store (these are vanishingly rare on the east coast).

And I haven't gone to a movie on 42nd street since admission cost 25¢ (a &cent is $0.01 and the 12" black round disks are 'records', which were like CDs but the cover art was actually large enough to see).
posted by hexatron at 7:21 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's "a ¢ is $0.01"
posted by hexatron at 7:22 PM on January 23, 2008


The beginning of the end was marked by the bronze Goofy and the other cartoon characters on the sidewalk at 1 Times Square

No, that's far too late in the cycle.

The beginning of the end was when they outlawed the windshield washers. Everyone knows that.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:26 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Manhattan: Where Millionaire is Middle Class.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:29 PM on January 23, 2008


The Violence is important. It made the price of living in new york blood. Or at least dealing with fear and otherness and real and imagined danger. If that isn't there the price will be in dollars. And very different people can afford the dollars than can afford the danger. The people who can afford the danger are going to be more interesting.

I don't want this to come off as snobby because it isn't. I don't like the interesting people so much more, and different times I would like to live in one city or the other. But the violence is linked to the vibrancy. They French.
posted by I Foody at 7:33 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hey, Hexatron, I remember the 42nd street Haiku too! That was organized by Dee Evetts. Apparently there is a book coming out featuring postcard photos of the marquees with the haiku in April 2008.
posted by nangsta at 7:36 PM on January 23, 2008


I get the feeling that NYC used to be a great place for transgression, and now it's just a great place. It's a shame, but at least we still have something.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:09 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Times Square has definitely changed. "Better" is a loaded term, because sure, it's cleaner, safer, more 'family friendly', but to a lot of folks it's lost its charm. Even over the last five years you can see some pretty big differences.

There are very few diners left in Times Square - same with bars. There are plenty of chain restaurants, but I can go to a Ruby Tuesday/Red Lobster/McDonalds/TGI Fridays/Olive Garden in just about any city in the US.

Over the last couple of years, the cheesy gift shop has all but disappeared as well, replaced by 'Phantom of Brodadway' chain shops, or corporate shill-fests like Hard Rock/Planet hollywood, and even Toys-r-us NYC themed items.

Even the street vendors have changed. Walk through times square, and you'll see the same pieces of kitsch and crap on different tables, like it's bought at some sort of sidewalk seller's Costco.

Basically I guess I'm just grumpy, and saying that what made Times Square distinctive has, like many American cities, been replaced by a corporate 'sameness' that's all show and very little substance...
posted by pupdog at 8:17 PM on January 23, 2008


Of course New York was better back then. New Yorkers lived here!
posted by JaredSeth at 8:32 PM on January 23, 2008


Germaine Greer says, "security is when everything is settled. When nothing can happen to you. Security is the denial of life."

I'm inclined to agree. I don't think violence and vibrancy are mutually exclusive, but I'm still willing to accept an increase in both. The truth is I didn't live through those decades, a fact that significantly reduces the validity of my opinion. On the other hand, the entirety of my family and extended relations constitutes something approaching a statistically valid sample size, especially given that none of them lived in great areas at the time. Wyckoff Street housed a lot of them. They had unruly neighbors who liked to steal screen doors, and they had harrowing experiences getting to school in the morning. Maybe it's a lot harder to convey fear than joy, but most of their stories are saturated with the latter. The ones that are seem bound to that time, but not in any absolute sense: they could happen anywhere that had so many different people doing their thing in one place.

My sense of family beyond blood is largely a ghost erected from their tales, and I search for it always in New York. There are wisps of it here and there, but mostly it is gone. I apologize to anyone who disagrees based on their experiences, as I oppose you with nothing but myth. Still, I can't help but feel that we've retreated into sterility.
posted by invitapriore at 8:34 PM on January 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


Even the street vendors have changed. Walk through times square, and you'll see the same pieces of kitsch and crap on different tables, like it's bought at some sort of sidewalk seller's Costco.

This is aside from the line of discussion here, but I've noticed this recently in many different places such as Bali, Saudi Arabia, NYC, SF, etc. I think there are very few independent street vendors in major tourist destinations anymore. I'm not sure of the causes or mechanisms behind the centralization of them, but it seems to be happening anyways.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:53 PM on January 23, 2008


42nd st. Haiku? I thought that those were Jenny Holzer 'truisms' on the unused theater marquees in the early '90s.
posted by doncoyote at 9:50 PM on January 23, 2008


Yes, NYC was better back then. More diverse, more creative, more interesting than today.
posted by gen at 11:44 PM on January 23, 2008


There's a lot of things about old New York I certainly don't miss. And I actually like the fact that Times Square is cleaned up. I hate gentrification but I also like that Alphabet City is no longer a war zone and neither is Hell's Kitchen. Maybe I'm getting old, but it doesn't bother me too much. The trade off of course is that there is no character anymore to the city. Any candy ass can call New York their home now and that's sort of a shame. When I was a teenager, we all carried weapons on us for self-defense! We weren't hooligans, just cautious. I like that we no longer have to worry about such things. New York in the early 80's was crazy. It was dangerous. But I don't miss it too much.

But fuck that Giuliani guy anyway.
posted by cazoo at 11:53 PM on January 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Dominos is doing the same thing [destruction] to the New York Pizza joint.

Saddest news I've heard all day.
posted by telstar at 11:57 PM on January 23, 2008


While Times Square isn't what it used to be, And Manhattan is shockingly safe...It's still NYC. Let's not forget that two weeks ago two guys wheeled a dead body to the check cashing in Hell's Kitchen. For those of you who don't know, that's within spitting distance of 42nd st. If you're not feeling the Disney Vibe, go hang out on the 9th ave. side of the port Authority.

As for the rest of it...You just have to know where to look. Take a stroll down Roosevelt Ave in Queens. Blade Runner Boulevard I like to call it. It's covered by the elevated subway, so it's always kind of dark and shadowy, and there's a million garish signs in a million different languages, and I'm pretty convinced that somewhere on that street you could buy a human eye, either functional or deep fried for snacking.

It's still 1986 in certain areas of The Bronx. Also see: the Fulton Street mall or Graham Ave in Williamsburg. Take an afternoon and just stand on the corner of Delancey and Essex. If you're really feeling brave, hop off the train on Nostrand in Bed Stuy. On second thought...don't do that. Not saying that these are replacements for Times Square, there aren't many peep shows or killer pimps anymore. Or at least not any that I've found. But the kinda seedy, low rent "New York" that people always claim is gone is still very much alive.

Just yesterday, I randomly walked into a sporting goods store in Crown Heights that according to the old lady running the place has been in business for over 40 years. I don't think they've got a new shipment in that long either. I got a pair of brand new purple suede 1976 vintage pro-keds for $2.00 This is the sort of thing that doesn't even surprise me in New York City.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:35 AM on January 24, 2008 [5 favorites]


Any candy ass can call New York their home now and that's sort of a shame.

That's really it in a nut-shell, along with the violence and vibrancy french-ing.

It used to be that the people who lived in New York were the ones who had the gall to. People who held the considerable down-side (life and limb) to be a price worth paying for the equally considerable up-side (the chance to live in the crucible of a society's cultural identity).

I don't know what New York is today. A good, clean, but expensive place to work and live, but no longer a place to burn it out to the ends and find out how far you can take it, with room for you to take it as far as you can. (I mean, the 'naked' cowboy? fuck-off.) I don't know where that is anymore.

(And it's true, the sound-track of Times Square is hot)
posted by From Bklyn at 12:46 AM on January 24, 2008


What was so great about aggressive streetwalkers and drug dealers?

When I was in my 20's, everything. Now, 20 years later, not so much.

But what do I know? I've never even been to New York.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:38 AM on January 24, 2008


It used to be that the people who lived in New York were the ones who had the gall to. People who held the considerable down-side (life and limb) to be a price worth paying for the equally considerable up-side (the chance to live in the crucible of a society's cultural identity).

I blame Friends.
posted by psmealey at 3:48 AM on January 24, 2008


It's not just New York, though. Yeah, I miss the old New York; I lived in the East Village from 88 - 90 and my block was crammed with drug dealers, which made it infinitely preferable to my old block, which was crammed with rats. Languagehat has it - the removal of the tent city and the arrival of the yuppies at Tompkins Square felt like a death knell to me too. And I was horrified the last time I went to the city by the fact that lower Broadway, once my favorite Saturday squalid strolling ground, is basically a mall now. But it's happened everywhere - the downtowns full of bums and crazy people and rats and razor ribbon, with bonus abandoned storefronts and marginal bizarro shops, that my generation Repo Manned out in, all seem to have been reclaimed (with the possible exception of Baltimore, but even Baltimore is way more upscale than it used to be) and turned into boutique wonderlands.

I was actually thinking about this last weekend in Charleston, SC, my hometown, where downtown has long since become the province of tourists only and now even the marginal suburban once seedy neighborhoods have gotten all slick and shiny and clean. Charleston was pretty desolate in the early eighties too although you'd never know it now and Baltimore was downright terrifying. Back then everyone was building big malls on the outskirts and saying that downtowns would never, ever come back; cities were over. It's kind of amazing how it all turned around and I suppose it's for the best. But I kind of miss the scary, dark, freaky, grungy environments of my teens and early twenties and sometimes I really wonder where all the weirdos and the very poor went, since something tells me they didn't magically morph into yuppies just because their buildings got renovated and their neighborhoods cleaned up.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:37 AM on January 24, 2008


Growing up in NYC in the '60s and '70s, Times Square was the omphalos of the universe. And by "Times Square", I mean that stretch of Broadway from 42nd to 47th, and 42nd from Sixth Avenue west to where dragons be. Arcades stocked with buzzing games and looming chickenhawks, record stores in the subway, scads of little theaters and theater-goers, Tad's Steaks (steak, baked potato, and salad with French dressing for under two bucks), street performers...it had everything. My last Times Square Moment was seeing the Clash at Bond's. After that, I went to grad school overseas, then work. It was some years before I returned to Times Square, by which point sterilization and homogenization had taken their toll. Nowadays, I won't even go to Times Square; too goddam depressing. For, however "safe" things are now and without glamorizing crime or romanticizing danger, the old Times Square/West Village/SoHo/St. Mark's had life and character and uniqueness and specificity to New York.

I guess that's why they call it "nostalgia."
posted by the sobsister at 6:47 AM on January 24, 2008


Anthony Bourdain of Kitchen Confidential fame wrote a great story about living in NYC in the 70s and early 80s in a recent issue of Spin. It summed up a lot of the above, actually.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:20 AM on January 24, 2008


As a former Midwerterner who was about 20 in about 1970, Times Square was a landmark of glorious squalor, as has been mentioned above (and the prostitution was institutionalized, by the way. Sleazoids passing out flyers for "The Dating Room" etc. which directed you to the second-story brothel.) It was a destination point.

I'm not sure I'd make all those side trips to the dangerous 'hoods mentioned above, now that I am a pretty obvious mugger target, but I'd still prefer to walk through the old Times Square if I got to NYC on a bus and got off at Port Authority. I'd take my chances with more joy and adrenaline and that indefineable Times Square thrill rather than walk through what's there today. Sure, NYC is still NYC, but NYC is not as different from Cleveland or Denver or Chicago today.

Actually, Chicago hasn't changed as much, has it? I think I'd like to wander those streets again.

And Market St. in San Francisco is still kinda sleazy, and only a few short blocks from the scuzzy Tenderloin district.
posted by kozad at 7:41 AM on January 24, 2008


Violence, streetwalkers, drug dealers, muggings, and seediness make a city exciting and vibrant and full of life?

Then why aren't you sad New Yorkers all moving to Baltimore or Detriot? Those are definitely cities with character and all the things you miss about Times Square.

Uh-huh. That's what I thought.
posted by schroedinger at 8:41 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but Times Square was just a block of sleaze; there weren't that many muggings and it wasn't a square mile of desperation and desolation.
posted by kozad at 9:02 AM on January 24, 2008


Wow, schroedinger, I can't speak for the others, but you really pinned my ears back! I guess if we nostalgic pussies were really sincere in our love of danger, we would just move to a favela in Rio or maybe a time-share in this other place that's been in the news...what's it called?...just on the tip of my tongue...oh, right, Baghdad.

Or you could just read the responses, mine included, for what they actually, you know, say: Times Square, specifically, and Manhattan, generally, were once places of ferment and activity and authenticity that occasionally manifested themselves in sleazy and/or dangerous ways that were of a part with the whole sense of excitement that these places exuded. Sometimes the sleaziness and/or danger was part of the fun, sometimes it was what one endured/sidestepped to get to the fun. The point being that, with the "clean-up" and gentrification of so much of NYC, the "fun", both incidental and inherent, is gone.

That said, you may want to get that "smug" thing checked. It makes you sound like more than a bit of a twat.
posted by the sobsister at 9:05 AM on January 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Violence, streetwalkers, drug dealers, muggings, and seediness make a city exciting and vibrant and full of life?

You're missing something there, though. Because it was a true red light district, in the middle of all of that, there was always the promise of sex (or something as forbidden). In Baltimore or Detroit there's only the promise of getting your head bashed in.
posted by psmealey at 9:07 AM on January 24, 2008


"The nostalgia for this one period of utter squalor is something I have never understood."

I lived in New York from 1984 until 1997, dividing my first year between three different flats - two on the Upper West Side (106th and Riverside then 109th and Riverside) and one on Charles Street in Greenwich Village - always moving further south, further downtown.

Got me a flat on Sixth Street and Ave B and I never wanted to go north of 14th Street again.

Every third or fourth storefront was a gallery, art was all over the place, abandoned cars blocking the street, homeless burning fires in 55 gallon drums and sharing bottles to keep warm, dope lines, the streets full of all sorts of scamsters and hipsters, Manhattan's Lower East Side (this was before "East Village" was common) had a certain energy and vibrancy that only squalor could tolerate. But still we had a sense of community.

The bars were wild back then - Pyramid, 8BC, Gas, The Aztec Lounge, King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, The World and, of course CBGBs. But the after hours bars that opened at 5AM were even crazier, anything went as they didn't have liquor licenses to lose and these bars were only open to make money anyway they could - The Sin Club and Save the Robots were my particular favourites but there were others. I wandered all over lower Manhattan, spending sometimes six nights a week out and about. All sorts of crazy scenes - pretty much anything you were into you could find a group of liked minded folks doing it.

For me New York back then was the ultimate artistic melting pot, where a lot of cross pollination of ideas and lifestyles took place, experimentation unfettered by the views of whatever majority was in power. That New York arose largely because The City went bankrupt in the late 70's; when I moved to The Lower East Side the police wouldn't venture out in groups of less than six. It was that wild and over the top crazy.

I've lived in London for the past eleven years, and travel a lot both for business and on holiday. I frequently will ask locals for directions to the part of town where all the artists and musicians live. I keep hoping to find a place as energetic as The East Village was back then.

I've never found it. But I always look.
posted by Mutant at 12:03 PM on January 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


Sobsister, I apologize for the smugness. I was just pretty taking aback at people talking about drug dealing and street violence as if it enhanced the vibrancy and character of the city. I live in a place where those kind of ideas, that having massive homelessness issues, unsafe streets, and people on corners selling their bodies for crack somehow keeps things "real" are contributing to the slow poisoning and death of the place where I live. So hearing people speak about them in nostalgic tones--even when they are an add-on to art galleries and Greek diners and whatever--is pretty horrifying to me. I will take the local character. I understand that. But not the violence, not the gangs, not the crack and heroin.
posted by schroedinger at 2:25 PM on January 24, 2008


mygothlaundry : we must live in 2 different Charlestons. Been to upper King/east Bay/meeting streets lately?
posted by toastchee at 5:01 PM on January 24, 2008


schroedinger: apology accepted by the few following this post, still...I got in on it late, myself.

Your post was very eloquent and moving.

Times Square in the Sixties and Seventies was kind of an anomaly.

The massive entropy of dozens of big and medium sized cities is a much more serious issue than this thread has dealt with.

Again, Times Square was just a sleazoid few blocks, not the manifestation of the horror of the inner cities which exists today.
posted by kozad at 7:09 PM on January 24, 2008


I apologize for the smugness.

a rare moment indeed on the blue!
as kozad said, apology accepted, and thanks, all, for a fascinating thread.
posted by Silky Slim at 7:34 PM on January 24, 2008


schroedinger, apology gladly accepted. I take your point. Danger and violence are not inherently desirable things. My only point was that, in retrospect and maybe at the time, they were an acceptable price--at an attenuated level--to pay for living in the most exciting city in the United States.
posted by the sobsister at 7:53 PM on January 24, 2008


Flex the vocab--oh-ho!
posted by unwordy at 8:48 PM on January 24, 2008


Huh. You never woulda heard all these gaddam apologies back in the day on 42nd Street, man. I mean, before it got all Warner Brothers-ized, I'm sayin'. But walk down 42nd Street today, and I tell ya, it's nuthin' but gaddam apologies everywhere.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:48 AM on January 25, 2008 [1 favorite]


« Older This is definitely not a good time to be in the bo...  |  Japanese places... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments