Decked as the streets are with tourists and tinsel, surrogate snow and Salvation Army shills, it isn’t as though this whole business could have escaped you. So why is it that only a few days shy of opening night, you haven’t even made it to rehearsals? Perhaps the horror of gift-buying would seem more manageable if you confined your forays to a single neighborhood. With your sanity and tiny budget in mind, we scoured the East Village, a neighborhood whose long, dissolute history ensures that it isn’t taking this holiday business too seriously.
Across the street, In the Woods (9 St. Marks Place) is presided over by a tough-talking, cigarette-smoking moll, who looks like she’s been sitting behind the counter since the place opened as Bowl and Board in the 1960s. Though the name may have changed a few months ago, the stock is familiar: Among the birdhouses and step stools is a barrel of yo-yos in seasonal red or green ($3.50). The cavernous shop also carries a slew of cheap, appealing non-wood items, including $9 thick knit slipper-socks in interesting color combinations (pink and black, blue and orange) and matching gloves for $5, both imported from Pakistan and both potential lifesavers for freezing tenement dwellers. If you’re interested in spending even less, those beaded Buddha bracelets everyone is wearing are $4. Inch-long malachite elephants are only $1, but then they’ve been kicking around for a while—a sign says they were imported from Mexico in the ’80s.
Trash and Vaudeville and In the Woods have a lot of history, but not nearly as much as Surma (11 East 7th Street), a shop whose business cards boast that it has been “Serving the Slavic Community since 1918.” In the window, a faded blown-up page of Mademoiselle magazine circa 1968 shows a model wearing one of the shop’s signature peasant blouses with a decorated denim skirt that looks like it was lifted from Tom Ford’s 1999 runway. The puffy drawstring blouses are back in style, too: An example in soft cotton decorated with a smattering of mauve needlepoint embroidery is $49.95. If that’s too high, a basket on the counter has a nice assortment of those painted wooden eggs the Ukrainian community is famous for ($5), or you can splurge on a more elaborate example painted with a winking Santa and inscribed 2000 that comes complete with a string for tree-hanging ($9.50).
Serving the needs of the lingerie-loving community since 1979, Enelra (48 1/2 East 7th Street) has satin mules festooned with marabou ($53), pastel gloves embellished with the same stuff ($32.95), and lavender feather boas (the shop describes them as “double- thick”) for $22. Little boxes decorated with Victorian angels contain decidedly un-Victorian booty: namely a pair of G-strings, one lace and one silk ($29.95).
The absence of the kitsch-laden Little Ricky is sorely felt by lots of East Villagers, but a visit to Fab 208, at 77 East 7th Street since 1992, can restore optimism. Switch plates decorated with Betty Page?esque pinups on a fishnet background ($12) share space with purple fake fur agendas ($20), backless slippers of scarlet velvet with embroidered flowers and Mrs. Claus furry trim ($15), and very special mittens that usually only exist for the under-four set, inasmuch as they have teeth and tongues and could pass for puppets. A memorable blue shark sports a black fin; a pink and white creature with little ears and a tail looks like a happy cross between a dragon and a mouse ($15). If none of these items strikes a sufficiently irreverent note, you need not leave empty-handed—for $3, there’s a purple plastic pen in the form of an idealized nude, which the shop’s saucy proprietress describes thusly: “Her breasts make a perfect ledge for your thumb, and if you get pissed at her perfect ass you can rip her head off and throw it away.”
Such frivolity is far beneath the young anarchists who hang out at Blackout Books (50 Avenue B), many of whom on a recent visit were still basking in the glow of their comrades’ triumph in Seattle. Among an exhaustive catalog of lefty lit and subversive pamphlets (“The Complete Manual of Pirate Radio” by Zeke Teflon goes for $5) is an item that will brighten the holiday of someone on your list who has no time these days for theory, only practice. It’s called the Slingshot Organizer and it looks like a zine but is really a datebook, complete with ample space to list upcoming demos and sleep-ins. A bit of history (August 23: 410 Visigoths sack Rome; 1927 Sacco and Vanzetti executed) enhances each page.
Around the corner, Love Shine (543 1/2 East 6th Street) has a unique suggestion for staying warm at an all-night vigil: a muff. A purple velvet hand warmer ($35) looks like a survivor from a turn-of-the-last-century suffrage march; a pink fake fur version trimmed with plastic flowers ($40) might have been at Stonewall, had that event taken place in the winter. Other shop exclusives include handbags whose fronts have been created from those distinctive sequined masks Mexican wrestlers favor ($18), and a host of shoulder bags, satchels, and cases made from the kind of midcentury kitchen oilcloth that once graced Alice Kramden’s table. A bright blue fruit-and-flower printed makeup tote—just the right size to conceal a Slingshot Organizer—is $10.