June 30, 1960
On a warm, cloudy afternoon recently, the young flocked like lemmings to the fountain in Washington Square. They made the usual scene: sloppy blue jeans and occult amulets dangling from open shirt fronts; a bongo drum thumping and reverberating through the trees. But always on the outskirts of the crowd, where once a single police officer walked his beat, three or four now strolled.
Suddenly, great raindrops flashed down. A girl yelped and the crowd ran for cover. As disheveled figures flew by, the officers laughed and beat the iron park fences with their sticks, yelling: “Run Beatniks!” They were delighted. The tensions of the Square, scene of many a fight, beating, and arrest in the past years, had been relieved courtesy of God.
McDougal is Mecca
Most of the rain-outs wound up on MacDougal Street. There, in its coffee houses and bars, they became more definable. Most were in late ‘teens or 20’s. From other parts of the city and New Jersey, or from districts adjacent to but not of the Village, they had come to their spiritual home. For MacDougal Street is much more to them than a place to get out of the rain. It symbolized their non-conformity, their adventures amorous or otherwise. MacDougal is Mecca—1960 style.
A bunch pulling into one coffee house arrayed their dripping selves around tables. Two pulled out frayed copies of beat poetry. Somebody else plunked on a banjo, until the manager told him the police might object. A third reader tried Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling,” but gave up on it. And then a tall, muscular young blonde began athletic exercises in the open doorway.
“You want sailors to pick you up?” somebody laughed.
The girl smirked, stopping with arms raised high over her head. “You, you’re like inside the big egg, man. Looking out from the yoke.”
Conversations mumbled on through the damp. “This is a swinging generation,” one such went. “You know, like people in the 30’s and 40’s never came on strong like we do.”
And thus the tenor of much MacDougal talk these days. For this is a generation which perhaps more than others takes its own posturing and pronunciatamentos, its own image, pretty seriously. One result is that many of its members tend to think of their Mecca as having sprung full-blown from the beat tides of the 50’s. For them, MacDougal has only the vaguest mythological history.
Yet such a history cannot be ignored. Even a glance at it would explain much of the street’s current gaudy exhibitionism, attraction to tourists, and occasional violence.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 18, 2005