Coming of Age

1976–1985: Punk to Pomo, Basquiat to Breakdancing

June 22, 1982

The brands of heroin most actively hawked Wednesday afternoon, June 9, 1982, on 3rd Street east of Avenue C were Red Tape and Yellow Tape and Buddha: open-faced boys on street corners approached cars, solicitous merchants selling glassine packets containing a "trip for your dollar that will make you holler." For a certain extra sum, the sellers might direct a shopper to any of several derelict buildings where one could, in relative safety, mix with water, cook and strain and administer one's drugs. Two of these shooting galleries, very heavily trafficked, are in the block of 3rd Street between avenues C and D—or were that week. Walking their slow, gravity-defying walk, the 3rd Street dope fiends stopped mid-block last Wednesday, slightly confused, possibly transfixed by an unexpected vision.

Tranquil between two tenements, on land that was long ago an orchard, grows Mrs. Olean For's garden, a proper, formal, gated refuge, at its entrance a bower of tea roses, full-headed, fresh pink, trained in an old-fashioned arch. The junkies stood outside the gate, staring in and nodding. Drowsily in the summer breeze, the blossoms nodded back.

Walking in this neighborhood with a friend some weeks ago, I found many gardens. The East Village, on 9th Street at Avenue D, on 8th Street farther west, in lots tucked up between tenements and fenced off from the debris, is alive with produce: lettuce leaves, collared from the sun and rats, grow in one plot beneath a stuffed sock-monkey effigy. On a stake in another patch, a plastic hobby horse is impaled: he snorts mid-air over a plot of beans. A sign nearby warns, "People Who Bother The Dogs—They Are Watching You." Giant vegetables, ripe as dreams, recede in formal perspective toward a sunny horizon in a mural painted on the building wall.
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Tubs Perdu: Notes on the Baths

By Jeff Weinstein

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June 24, 1984

It's a plague, he told me, it's my worst nightmare come true (he forgot about war). Do you still have sex, I asked him, are you still looking for a lover? I couldn't tell his answer by his eyes, and hoped he'd be careful.

How can you be "careful" with a disease that's diffused its communication so cunningly that sexual behavior and identity themselves become the germs? And look what we do, personifying a disease by calling it cunning: that's medieval, pathetic.

I walk by the St. Mark's Baths twice a day, to and from work. For years I played an engaging game, trying to predict who on the street would turn abruptly toward those metal doors. The clues? A gym bag; a too rapid, too determined gait; a homing pigeon smile. I never went in; my longish steady relationship made me a door-voyeur. But last year I gave up the guessing game. And last month I noticed something I now consider a great danger. In spite of my rational knowledge that virulent humors and mal-arias don't exist, my body veers automatically away from those doors.

Have I become a prude? Do my mental lips curl when "promiscuous" passes through them? Yes, they do, just a little. I have no idea whether or not this is new. I'm not going to enter the debate over whether the San Francisco Department of Health should have pressured the baths to close. I know the arguments pro and con, but I'm not sure readers who have never seen the baths, never used the baths, could know how to make up their minds.
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By Cynthia Heimel
September 14, 1982

Dear Problem Lady,

Could you say a few words about thrift-store etiquette? I have a very close friend with whom I often go to second-hand shops and yard sales, and relations between us are becoming strained. She has taken to jumping out of the car at yard sales before I can turn the engine off. Do you think it's fair for her to claim a lace hanky we both have our hands on just because she discovered the shop? (She already has enough to blow two noses on and I let her have a silk camisole I saw first last week just because she was depressed.) Don't tell me to shop by myself. I need someone with me to keep me from buying any more bed jackets.


Dear Jane:


And what, pray tell, about the time you actually stuck out your foot and tripped this friend of yours simply because you caught sight of a large stack of fiestaware? What about the time when she let you have that utterly stunning green gabardine jacket simply because she is such a nice person, even though it looked much better on her? (She is, after all, taller than you are, and can carry padded shoulders much more gracefully.) And what about the time in Coudersport, Pennsylvania, when you pointed out the window and said, "My God! There goes your ex-husband!" while you clandestinely pocketed that teal cashmere sweater? If that isn't subterfuge, what is?

Not that I know you, of course, I am only speculating hypothetically.

As it is in love and war, anything goes in the thrift store. After all, half the fun is in constructing elaborate maneuvers to outwit each other.

Dworkin at an anti-porn demo (Oct. 1982)
photo: Bettye Lane

Strange Bedfellows in the Anti-Porn Movement

Censorship in the Name of Feminism
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