Early morning when the sun was about to show, the night was behind us and the dawn was proof that as young as we were, we were living. We were alive enough to recognize that we beat the dawn and that we broke the night into different pieces of memory. We lived as fast and as wild as we could and throughout the night, we danced and we played and we sweated in the hot celebrations in the downtown scene. We moved with trance-like music beneath the bright lights flashing and strobe lights, beaming and flickering, or pulsating to the techno-sounds and hypnotic beats of club music.
There were places like The Tunnel, The Red Zone, Limelight or Emerald City. There were others which I remember like Club USA or even Webster Hall and yes, the list goes on. I swear these were both erotic and chaotic playgrounds and yes, I was there. I was part of this. I enjoyed every minute and, to be clear, I never assumed there would be a time when I would grow old or old enough to think to myself, “Is that music too loud?”
I’m not sure if places like this exist anymore. I’m not sure if people like this exist anymore. And I mean people like us or the way we used to be.
I’m sure the culture has changed. I know that fashion has changed. But has the celebration changed? Do people know what it means to be out like this, dress like this or love like this?
Or do they know and I’m just not around to see it? Or maybe I’m too old to understand. Maybe I’m too old to “get it” now.
But I’m not too old to remember. I’m so old that I don’t understand the need for the spotlights or the hot nights or the feeling of flesh against flesh. I’m not so old that I can’t recall what it was like to be in a room with every culture, every background or with people that came from different sides of bridges or tunnels or other states.
I remember the buzz. I remember the feeling, like entering into an exotic theme park of fashion, sex, explosions of people and music.
I’m not too old that I have forgotten the outfits, or the lack thereof. I am not so old that I have forgotten the freedoms we felt to be as wild as ever – or even expressive as ever.
And sure, there were drugs too. I know there was. There were batches of ecstasy and people in the K-hole with Ketamine or GHB (Gamma Hydroxybutyrate) and of course, mushrooms and L.S.D. (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide) and of course there was alcohol and weed, cocaine and speed. There was anything and everything.
Sure, there was all of the above but there was more. There was more to the scene than the need for mind altering substances. There was more to the night and if one were so inclined; one could find themselves in the momentary state of lust or love. One could find themselves in a dance, close and hugged up to a complete and total stranger.
One could embrace in a kiss. One could experience the thrill of the unknown or experience the thrill of what it meant to be young and without a care in the world.
One could understand why places like this exist – to connect, to feel, to dance, to lose your mind and all the while, lights flashed and music bounded. This was our city. This was our kingdom and faults and all, this is where we came from, where we lived, where we partied and where we celebrated.
Next thing; it was 4:00 a.m. The streets accepted us as we emptied from the doors of wherever it was. It was 4:00 a.m. yet, there was more to do and more to see. There were after-hours joints and places where the parties continued.
I remember the times when I went to places like this. And there were times when I celebrated like this. There were times when I was part of this. I was a piece in this puzzle. I was a portion of this history, wild and mad, eager, and of course,I was hungry to feel, think, be, love, do and touch.
I was alive and I was young and yet to have lived. I was on the verge of real life. My love life had yet to form but my intimate life was alive and well.
There were times after nights like this I would drive home during the sunrise. I would relive and rethink the events from the night behind me. I would rethink my approach and relive my ideas or attempts to advance on someone. I would reconsider the way I was hoping for a vibe or the go-ahead, green light, which meant that lust could replace love. Or at minimum; the two could be interchangeable (at least for a few hours).
There were times when I found myself on the parkway only I’d pass my exit and I continued south and then east. I would drive to the beach in my outfit from the night before. I had two silver hoop earrings in my left ear. My hair was long and all one-length, down to the top of my shoulders. I can remember being in one of my preferred outfits, shirt unbuttoned down to my chest. My collar spread open. Shirt untucked. Dress pants and dress shoes. Trying hard to pull off my look. I was trying to be James Dean or maybe even like a young Brando – mysterious and desirable, smiling as if to pose that “I don’t care,” but deep down, I’ve always cared.
I remember pulling into a parking lot at Point Lookout on the beach – and I’d climb out of my car.
Pull out one of my last few Camel cigarettes and light the end. Then I would inhale and exhale my drag upwards in the air to defy the sky. I portrayed myself like some tough guy, or some actor, or some hero or even an antihero.
I remember standing on the beach. I remember wondering if any of this was real or if this was in fact fantasy; then what comes next?
Was it love? Was this next?
Would it be a job or career? Would it be a duplex apartment down by 11th on the west side? Or would it be the suburbs? Would it be a car that was notable enough to gain some prestige? Or, would it be an address to coincide with success or, if anything, would I have at least enough to be attractive?
Or, would I have enough so that at a minimum, I could pull off my look and say, “See? I’m desirable too.”
There was so much for me here. Yet, there was conflict too. There was the need for acceptance. There was a need to be wanted. There was a need to be young. And there was a need to be beautiful. There was a need to live and to touch everything (and everyone). There was a need to be me and there was a need to hide behind the mask I chose because, often, being me was too daring for me to think about.
I never knew that beauty was relative. Perhaps, I never truly understood that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which is why I was never sure if I was beautiful or able to behold the eyes of beauty.
I suppose the reason for this is that when I was young, I lacked the capacity to see who I was and who I was capable of being.
(I wish I knew.)
I was too wrapped up in the commercial lies of what beauty is. I was too exposed to the idea that “if this, then that.”
I was too young to understand why I despised certain things and certain people. Better yet, I was too young to understand that this was a reflection of me. Ah, but I have grown.
Fortunately . . .
If I could go back, I suppose the question is what would I change. Simply put, the only thing I would change is my appreciation. I would relive the moments that were the same; however, I would remove the apprehensive nature and the fears that my tastes or my liking might not meet the acceptance of others. I would tell myself to try more and do more. I would say that it’s perfectly fine to live (as you are) and without regret.
I would remove the need for status or the need for prestige. If I could advise the young me, (or the young anyone) I would say grab hold of the bolts of lightning . . . and never let them go.
I would say this is life. This is love. This is the heart beating. I would say this is your love, flowing, and ongoing, which I agree is cyclical. But love and life is never mundane unless we are lifeless – and neither you nor I could ever be lifeless. Not even if we tried.
I would say this is the music that you will one day remember.
These are the times that come when the light of your life has dimmed but your memories will burn bright enough to keep you alive forever.
This is why you will smile and even at the times when you believe there is no way to feel aroused, this will always turn you on – the way we moved and the way we sweated and danced and grinded and felt alive.
And as for the dawn and the moment we hit the pillow; as for the thoughts and the ideas, the Downtown scene, the Hudson River, flowing like a black stream beneath the moonlight; as for the City life, we can say:
We did this
We saw this
As a matter of fact . . .
We lived this
Although I wished I would have grabbed you more (and sooner) at least I can say that I grabbed you, which means I could never regret a thing.
You, this miraculous species; my muse, my heart, my need for touch and peace as well as the need for the trance from an exotic chaos –
You, this sense of unstoppable romance and a memory of breakfast, down by Astor, or somewhere near there.
You, my reason for poetry and why I love ideas like “Having a Coke with you,” by Frank O’Hara.
You, my vision of all; my City encapsulated in a body and spirit and you, my keeper of secrets (even the ones from Hellfire or The Vault when it was down by the Westside Highway) and you, my dream, my walk along the piers, my hopes to be a writer, a poet, a performer; and you, my everything.
It’s you that kept me going
Ever think about the summers of our youth?
Ever think about taking a walk down St Marks?
Ever think about the stores or the restaurant, Stingy LuLu’s?
(Where the drag queens served the food.)
I think about this all the time.