In the 1970's, New York City was a very different place. It was dangerous and sleazy; anything could happen. You'd walk down a side-street at night with a sense of shadows, with your heart beating. Muggings were common; crime was woven into the fabric and you expected to be threatened. In a way it was like the dare of the city-- are you tough enough, are your dreams compelling enough to lie down with rabid dogs, spar with the urban devil himself? There was a certain underlying surf we had to ride out-- a dark fire we were expected to navigate. The noir permeated our art-- our music and poetry-- our clothes, our choices.
On the other hand, there was a wild freedom in our private sex lives. We were walking an edge-- trying out things. There was no internet or linked-in. You'd meet someone and take a risk. There were no personal phones-- only a door or a window to crawl out if you found yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was young and all-connected. I was straddling worlds-- downtown, uptown-- the art world and the music underground. It was thrilling and new. Every day I'd get introduced into someone's world that rocked my own. I'd walk into a club at night and hear something new-- see someone trying to change things. Sometimes you'd exchange ideas; sometimes you exchanged bodies.
One afternoon I was studying at the Figaro on Bleecker Street, and this actor sat down at my table… he wasn't super famous but I recognized him. He was slightly older… and he was smart; we spoke about theatre and Proust. We made a date to meet the next night at a west-side bar. I went to the library that evening and looked him up; he'd written a couple of books, and his publisher was well-known. Everything in those days ended up in bed, and we had a few nights of passion. I was dating a guitar player at the same time who came back to town and I wasn't home much to answer calls. I don't think I even had an answering machine. Anyway, one day I was getting into a car with the guitar player and the actor passed me… I looked the other way. He called me a few nights later, sounded drunk and insecure about his sexual performance… it was a stupid conversation and I was 22 or 23 and didn't feel like getting into a whole psychological tunnel…
Two days later, someone broke into my little apartment on the first floor. It was a vulnerable place and I probably never even drew the curtains when I stayed out all night… but they took everything. In those days everything fit into a couple of suitcases-- but it was all I had, and when I came home on a Sunday evening to find my window smashed, the mattress stripped and the place ransacked, I was spooked. The cops assured me it was no Kojak episode but most likely a desperate junkie looking for cash and things to sell for dope. My guitar player was going on the road; I stayed with a friend at the Chelsea Hotel for a few days while they put in a new window and locks on the door.
At the Chelsea I inhaled the quintessence of 1970's New York. Sid and Nancy were there; Viva and I shared a cigarette on the stairs. My friend was working with John Cale; he'd been robbed too and he processed the dare of the city with a certain bitter mistrust. It was a cool hang, but I needed to face my independence without a support system. I moved back to my little place, bought new sheets and a cheap little TV, was at last drifting off to sleep with Johnny Carson on the black and white 12-inch… when the phone rang. I'd been gone for a week and thought it was my guitar player-- whispering… but then I heard the actor's voice, indisputably, asking me if I knew what he was doing… I jumped out of bed in a cold sweat, and ran up the stairwell to the next floor-- banged on a random door. Some guy answered-- I begged him to let me in… I'm sure he thought I was crazy; thinking back, he had no pants on-- I stuttered something about someone stalking me… anyway, he went into his bedroom and I curled up on his dirty carpet. He had a small dog and it had new puppies… I lay there like a dog myself until the sun came up and I had the nerve to go downstairs.
I hadn't thought about this for so many years, but it was maybe the first coming-of-age reality check of the city. In a way I'd been lucky; no one had really hurt me… and thinking back, it was undoubtedly a total coincidence that the actor phoned at that moment. I'm sure he had no knowledge that I'd been robbed, that I'd been away… or did he? It was the first time I felt genuinely unsafe-- a little terrified-- and had thoughts about finding a more secure apartment, about making wiser and less random choices, about becoming part of a couple as opposed to being the wild and free girl. In a way I changed my vision that night; in a way I accepted there would be a kind of dependence on men in my life. The end of innocence, which for girls is so often some threat or unmanageable fear which changes us and forces us to make a slightly desperate choice. It's not 'live free or die', but 'live'. It's a form of terrorism, but that's another discussion.
Like most things in life, we give up one thing for another; nothing stays the same, no one retains their innocence unless someone else arranges this for us. Of course life in the city today feels much safer; people have phones for emergencies, everyone's marital and employment status is pretty much general knowledge, as is their age and address, their political affiliations and criminal record-- their net worth. People sort through hundreds of prospects on dating sites-- they hook up, they regroup, they text and sext and move on. I seldom walk into a club these days and encounter something that changes my world. I no longer fall in love and rarely walk the dark streets with a sense of danger and excitement. I miss those times; I've had a good and a rich life here, but I do miss myself when I was still brave enough or maybe dumb enough to take a nightly walk on the wild side. When there was a viable and findable wild side.