Everything Above 14th Street Is Gila Bend, Arizona
March 18-25, 1981
Recently I read the most offensive article I can ever remember encountering in the pages of the Voice. I refer of course to “With Malice Toward Everything Below 14th St.” by Marcelle Clements. Now I can understand that the Voice is a liberal paper and thus obliged to present all points of view no matter how pustulent, but I must call the Voice‘s liberalism into question when it prints a piece so obviously elitist, an obscenely yawning wound of terminal neuroses, venom-urping jealousy, and outright class snobbery so hincty stifling it feels like you’re trapped in a paralyzed elevator crammed fulla 38 functioning Mentholatum vaporizers cranked to the max and an epileptic cocaine-OD yammering at you about the water on his knees. There is such a thing as journalistic responsibility, after all, First amendment or no (shut up, Hentoff).
Taking Mr. Clements’s (I presume it is a Mr. — no woman, no one, in fact, but a pathetic male specimen with Travis Bickle-like virility malaria could ever write such a swimming pool full of vitriolic spew) points one by one, he makes such easy pickings I should just turn him over to Frank Perdue if not the Second Ave. Hell’s Angels (who incidentally have seen to it that THERE IS NO HEROIN ON THAT BLOCK; if a junkie or pusher comes ’round they simply kill him).
Before disposing of this walking corpse myself, however, I should perhaps mention that I am proud to reside at Sixth Ave. and Fourteenth St., which is the ideal vantage point on every level. I get to walk outside every day and immediately run into junkies, winos, pill pushers, shopping bag ladies, wasted street hookers, cripples and mutilations, and ripoff artists of every description. It’s a nightmare, but it never pretends to be anything else, unlike everyplace else in this fucking city which as everybody knows is the only place on the planet to live. I’m more comfortable with my mutanthood here than I would be in, say, San Diego where I grew up, or even Detroit where I did time. Because Fourteenth St. is, of course, No Man’s Land, the demarcation line everybody uses. Strictly speaking, I live in no definable neighborhood, which obviously is the best neighborhood. South there’s the Village, about which admittedly both good and bad can be said, North there’s everything else, about which nothing good can be said. So I, as well as the Village, Soho (even? Jesus, this is worse than I thought!), Lower Manhattan, the Bowery, etc., win hands down by simple arithmetic.
Unfortunately, however, bonehead math is not among the disciplines Mr. Clements has yet mastered. He says that our streets “fit within no grid.” Apparently this pathetic specimen is so retarded he has to have all streets laid out in absolutely rigid rectangular patterns or he gets hopelessly lost if he tries to venture out to the corner deli.
Next, Mssr. Clements decries our Lower Manhattan “spaces.” Well, here at least (only here) I agree with him: I hate that particular usage of that fucking word too. Just the other day I was attempting to digest a $7.95 tuna-on-toast in a little “boite” on West 76th St., when my date, a woman who resides only a few blocks away from there, in an orange crate stuffed inside an ironing board closet for which she brags to all her “friends” she only pays $900 a month (I pay $240 a month for an equally huge living room, bedroom, kitchen, bath, and bowling alley), said to me, “I can only take relationships for three weeks at the most, then I gotta blow the guy off no matter how much I like him, because I need my space!”
Now we are all familiar with this type of neurotic, male or female, straight or gay, what’s the difference? The reason we are familiar with them is that both the Upper East and West Sides are infested with them, and all too many of us have had the misfortune of falling into “relationships” which shoulda stood in bed reserved for one night stands. Whereas we in the Village and points South have totally solved the problem of 6000 years of sexism and attendant hangups by recognizing and living by the obvious fact that except for singles’ bar habitues and johns who really oughta tip more SEX NO LONGER EXISTS. That’s right, we never fuck. We create deathless works of art instead.
“Of course I never went down there of my own free will”: would that this were only true! But Mr. Clements admits he is afraid of us. With good reason. We are human. But we’ll let him come down any time he wants, because our humanism is only benevolent. He’ll go to all the wrong stores, buy all the gauchest and most overpriced merchandise anyway, thus making our atmosphere all the more aesthetically stimulating and untainted by tourist-trap ripoff except for suckers like him who as any true New Yorker will tell you deserve it.
“The food is better and cheaper” uptown: I might direct your attention, to single out only one among myriad examples, to Asia DeCuba (190 Eighth Ave.), where you can get a fantastic huge plate of shredded beef, rice, and beans for only $3.50, plus overheard next-table conversations a good deal more interesting than the standard (“Well my acting career’s not going so good and my lover joined the Divine Light Temple but my analyst says I can blame it all and the destruction of Cambodia on my parents … “) chatter one gotta endure up in Marcelle’s environs. Hell, you can’t get food that good that cheap in Mexico, man! The one time I decided to try and celebrate my mastery of the Homer & Jethro blue yodel by risking my alimentary canal on a certain “Mexican” place due east on 71st, the menu on the window said $13.95 for (their inventive terminology) “Texas Chili,” so I just said fuck it and split a 16-oz. jar of protein powder with Olde English 800 malt liquor with my date instead.
“The art shows infinitely superior”: Okay, so you got all the hotshit museums up there. We got lots of galleries, and besides, didn’t you ever see that devastatingly de Chirico-like depiction of a black leather street hoodlum Bleecker Bob used to have over the entrance to his store, not to mention those squiggly lines in homage to Joan Miro the speedfreaks scribble all over the trees in Washington Square Park? Proving yet again your putrid highbrow elitism, which is such instant proof you all got serious problems of gallstone-deep nature you might as well hang a sign around your neck sez “I have an inferiority complex,” or more appositely “WORM.”
The bottom line fact re all this brouhaha is that the farther North you get the worse it all gets. No lie! Chelsea is okay, nice cheap restaurants, ethnic polyglot which’s always healthy, but too damn many sweatshop factories and warehouses to be really interesting. And speaking of uninteresting, you ever been stranded in hotshit MIDTOWN? Macy’s/Gimbel’s. Big deal. There is nothing in the former you couldn’t find on Canal Street at 1/3 the price except things no one in their right mind would buy, and the latter is just like the former except more expensive. Better you should shop at Korvette’s — a little taste of Middle American tasteless ersatz kultur for all you Status Fans! Of course if Korvette’s is your scene, better you should show some balls by taking the PATH to Jersey and digging America for real. It’s like crazy, daddio, a real long-gone L-7 cubecrib from Nowheresville. Reminding me of course of the lovely brownstones of the Middle East Side where some of the people who inflict all this crap billed “culture” on us live their well-appointed lives. Best of luck to ’em! They have ZERO SOUL but that’s not even the point. If I wanted my hostess in a hot-off-the-lathe designer gown serving shakersfull of suburban martinis I’D LIVE IN THE SUBURBS AND GET IT OVER WITH!
In terms of more palatable alternatives, I admit Times Square and 42nd St. between Sixth and Eighth are pretty great, but there is one slight problem: every time you walk out of your double feature and try to score a few Quaaludes, here’s all these jerks in furs and three-hundred-dollar cravats lining up for theatre tickets when everybody knows Broadway ain’t been worth a shit in a decade and a half. Everybody but them so here they are, so paranoid from all the sensationistic so-called exposes they’ve seen on TV where some six o’clock jock thinks it’d be a real bright provocative idea to go down and show everybody how shockingly sleazy Times Square is that they’re tottering off the curbs, quivering if you but reach in your pocket for a cigarette, meanwhile looking at you like “Well I may be mortgaged up the ass but I’m dressed to the teeth tonite like a real authentic genuine Rich Person so FUCK YOU SCUM.” Kill them all is what I say. But then I think Danny Fields should be Mayor.
Meanwhile look who you gotta walk among if you wanna go buy something between there and the Park: all those hideous FIFTH AVENUE people who rich or not look like their bodies never carried a speck of dust in their whole damn lives. Yuck! Mannikins! Showroom dummies! Oh, forgot Hell’s Kitchen. Never been there, actually. What is it, a good place to go if you wanna get beat up?
All right I’ll go there. Because the other direction the horrors really begin: that lovely area around the Fifties and Second Third Park Lex. Walk down Third Ave. in the Fifties. Go eat an overpriced eye-dropper fulla soup at Zum Zum. Right across from you sit guess who? None other than 45-year-old Mrs. nouveau riche from Scarsdale and her 19-year-old daughter; they’ve both just spent the whole afternoon compulsively barging through Bloomingdale’s trying to create more pater ulcers with their damn credit cards. They radiate pure unadulterated HATRED for all living things. Men (they’re all bastards). Other women (they’re all out to steal your bastard). Shopclerks (they’re uppity). Me (I dress like a slob).
As for Bloomingdale’s and Fiorucci: Wet magazine chic, which means you package the shit garish and trendy enough I’ll buy it the more expensive the better. Personally I get my fill of this at places like Hurrah’s. One of the supreme ambitions of my life is to live to be 120 years old and be able to say on my deathbed I never set foot inside Bloomingdale’s.
Of course if you’re a real moron you can go just a little bit higher into Twinkieland and try out Maxwell’s Plum, the Adam’s Apple, etc. etc. etc. ad lobotomatum. Now of course we have reached the Airline Stewardess Gulag. It’s bad enough having to endure these zombies on planes, where the fact they all got paperclips and ballbearings where eyes supposedly once lived can somehow be filed under service.
Ah yes, the romance of the Upper East Side. Needless to say everybody in this area is even more psychotic than anybody in Midtown even. This may in fact have the highest per capita psychosis quotient of any part of the city. An old girlfriend of mine once worked in one of the many thriving businesses in this area. She said it was a big office all curvy no fucking corners and white white white in EVERY respect and everybody who worked there all they did was process computer code info which had some kinda effect on millions of lives somewhere they had zero idea what or who or how or why. What was she doing there? TEMP WORK, which is what you should say if you go to a party in this neighborhood and somebody waltzes up with the inevitable opener: “What do you do?” Watch em panic as they bolt. Great fun. Best part about this place was all the employees had taken EST. She heard a woman on the phone hysterically cackling at her 70-year-old mother she’d just strong-armed into taking her first EST course: “Oh Mother, listen, I’m manipulating you, isn’t that wonderful, hahahahaha!”
Central Park. Very nice. Trees — so what? New York City has nothing to do with trees. Besides which there’s plenty in Washington Square, the dope dealers are better, and you might run into somebody interesting like Arto Lindsay instead of a rapist or his little brother who’ll pinch your twat and snicker. Never go there. If I want a fuckin’ tree I’ll buy a picture of one and hang it up in my living room!
After that the action thins to the deadly dugouts of that long backyard known as the United States of America, first portents of the horrors in store taking the forms of Harlem (America un-reconstructed) and the Bronx (pretending to be reconstructed, besides why kick a cripple?). The only thing standing between us and the savages hunkering in all those Great Plains ragweed shopping centers dreaming of our scalps is the Cloisters, which admittedly is one of the most beautiful spots on the continent. That’s why a bunch of us from Lower Manhattan are gonna come in there next week with bulldozers and cranes and helicopters and trucks and just PULL IT RIGHT UP OUTA THE EARTH by the roots and transport it South a ways to be set down exactly where the old Mercer Arts Center fell in on itself after the Dolls got finished with it. Then we’ll bring in Suicide and DNA and Mars and Lydia’s Devil Dogs and all the other magnificent groups living downtown and let ’em crank up and BLOW OUT THE COBWEBS! If they play loud enough it oughta reach the ears even of Marcelle and all his cronies in Disney World North, whereupon all of them on the Upper East Side can hightail it to Boston and those on the Upper West Side to San Francisco, since you can buy all the same shiny garbage advertised in New York magazine in those two cities as well. Then we can finally secede from the Union for real and hell even the sidewalks won’t be so crowded. ■
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 20, 2020