Scoring on MacDougal Street, 1964-Style


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June 18, 1964, Vol. IX, No. 35

Is MacD Still the Place to Hang One’s Hip Card?

By Sally Kempton

The Bleecker Tavern has given way to a cider bar, the hipsters have left Googie’s, and John Mitchell no longer runs the Gaslight. Israel Young, seeking refuge from the tourist hordes, is preparing to move the Folklore Center to Sixth Avenue. Presumably, no one who wants to hang on to his Hip Card would set foot on MacDougal Street for other than professional reasons.

Just the same, the crowds are so thick there that even on a slow night it takes ten minutes and a strong right-hand shove to get from the corner of 4th Street to Rienzi’s. The pizza joints are doing great business, and the hand-writing analysis establishment, where for 50 cents you can get a character reading from an IBM card, is packed all the way out to the curb. Folk music is the big tourist attraction on Saturday nights, but since the hardcore tourists are mostly teenaged and mostly broke, the folk music cafes are far less crowded than the sidewalks outside their doors.

The action on MacDougal Street, like the action on all midways, takes place in the open.

The larger folk cafes like the Bitter End and the Wha? are too expensive for the purses of junior high school students, and a single glance through the door of one of the low-overhead establishments would convince even the squarest teenager that no excitement is to be had within. Instead the kids stand around outside the Night Owl pointedly ignoring the No Loitering sign, form clusters at the door of the Cafe Wha?, where Manny Roth’s beautiful wife occasionally acts as a barker, lean over the fence around the Premise’s entrance on the corner of Bleecker and Thompson, or cadge rides from the motorcycle crowd down on West Broadway.

The hippies among them tag around after the more conspicuous local purveyors of illegal commodities, hoping, no doubt, to pick up some arcane professional secrets. One local pimp claims that a syndicate composed of three 15-year-old Brooklyn boys has been trying to buy out his stable, and another gentleman of the same profession is constantly seen in the company of four or five heavily made-up pubescent girls who want him to take them into his.

Usually, though, the kids simply keep moving, occasionally exchanging esoteric information about the various kinds of marijuana to be had in the neighborhood. The big thing on MacDougal Street is the Walk, or Hip Teenager’s Stroll. It is done with a heel-toe motion and a slight shoulder swing and takes place between West 4th and Bleecker Streets on MacDougal, and down to Thompson Street on Bleecker, most weekend evenings from 7.30 until 1. The Stroll has several objectives. The first objective is to run into somebody you know. The boys look for other boys while the girls, being more upwardly mobile, look for the spade they met last week. If the girls meet somebody from their high school, they pretend not to have noticed.

When you run into somebody on MacDougal Street, you say to him, “What’s happening, man?” Even teenagers new to the scene pick this up. If you hang around long enough or spend more than three Saturday nights on the street, other kids will begin to ask you what’s happening. Then you will have Arrived. Usually nothing is happening, so you and your acquaintance consolidate your forces and stroll together.

The second biggest objective of the Stroll is to score. It is fairly easy to score on MacDougal Street these days; the problem lies in finding a place to smoke the stuff. Some kids buy it in their own neighborhoods and turn on before they leave home, thus eliminating the hassle but depriving their Stroll of a purpose. Arriving on the street high does have one advantage, however. It enables you to say, “I’m stoned, man,” when anybody asks what’s happening.

When you have scored, you foregather with your cohorts against a car or on a corner to discuss the situation. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can fall in with some older kids, one of whom may have an apartment. Otherwise you just stand there for a while. If a new person joins the group, you point to the mounted policeman on the corner and say, “Keep quiet, man. I’m holding.”

…The hardest commodity for an adolescent boy to obtain on MacDougal Street is sex. One boy says that girls go down easier in the rock-and-roll crowd. The teenage girls have their won Strolling ritual, and although the object of their quest remains somewhat obscure, it does not include teenage boys. One of the coffee-house waiters claims that he has been propositioned by three 14-year-old girls in the past month: perhaps this indicates some sort of trend.

…At the end of the evening, when the pot is gone and the party has failed to materialize, the only thing a kid can do is go home. Home, of course, has its own hassles. One boy, who describes himself as the child of “you know, ’30s radicals gone wrong,” has to hid his stash from his mother. She keeps smoking it up.

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