Was That All it Was?

Was That All it Was?

Was That All it Was?

When I was younger:
Age 40:
Now:

“You look good”
“You look good for your age”
“Good to see you”

You Look Good

To my parents’ dismay, I took full advantage of New York City’s disco era in the late 1970s till the mid-80s.  I did go to NYU undergraduate, but if someone asks, “What was your major?” I answer “Night Life.”  Eventually, I got into every club gratis, with the exception of Studio 54, where I always had to pay.  I sometimes didn’t eat on Thursdays so I could afford the fifteen dollars it cost to get in.

Seeing old photographs, I think I did look more than just okay.  I wish I had been able to better appreciate my appearance at the time.  But I wasn’t the New York City standard of beauty that automatically invited you into the elite spaces.  I had some truly gorgeous friends, and I admit, I learned how to work it, with or without them by my side.

I also have a theory.  This may get me into trouble.  Some unbearably good-looking people prefer to be surrounded by less attractive persons of the same sex.  That way there’s no direct competition: just singular attention paid to the beautiful one.

I may have been broke, but I always carried enough cash to include a tip.  I’m a vocal believer that if you can’t afford to leave an appropriate gratuity when you buy a cocktail, then don’t order at all.  I was lucky to have a couple of friends who worked at Studio. They would sometimes hand me drinks while I was on the dance floor.  But everywhere else, when I paid for anything, I always tipped.

I don’t have many friends from introductions made at discotheques.  Some moved away or are no longer alive, with the majority being little more permanent than “club acquaintances.”  Just smiles and European-like double cheek kisses.  Artificial and affected.

***

One night at a club, I was dancing with my good friend Lynette as we were being filmed.  No surprise, she was ridiculously gorgeous.  I was wearing twenty-nine-inch waist, black-velvet Fiorucci pants, cut to fit like jeans, with the brand’s label sewn in between rear belt loops.  I bought them from the blue-haired manager, Joey, at their flagship American store on East 59th Street, half a block from Bloomingdale’s.  They cost me $65, which I estimate would be about $400 today.  (Meanwhile, I was living on cold cereal and boxed macaroni and cheese). While being videoed dancing, I shredded the crotch of my Fioruccis. And not along some seam, where they might be repaired and re-worn.

The club was called Xenon.  Fashioned almost exactly like Studio 54, including their velvet rope policy, located 11 blocks to the south on West 43rd Street, half a block east of Times Square.  Most of us who hung out at Studio also came to Xenon.  Anyone I talk to knows of the urban legend, Studio 54.  Almost no one seems to recognize the name Xenon.

***

Another club that defined New York City night life was Ice Palace 57.  An out and proud gay disco, situated in the upscale area of West 57th Street, just off of Avenue of the Americas, in Manhattan.  There’s now a gold door that reads “Verizon” in white letters on it, where the entrance to the club had been.  When Ice Palace opened in 1977 (the same year as Studio 54), it was exclusively for men, with the rare sighting of a woman — Lynette being one — accompanied by a gay male friend.  The first time I walked down the neon stairs, hypnotized by the pounding music like an invisible pied piper, I was overwhelmed and immediately addicted.  I became a regular and before too long wasn’t asked to pay the cover charge.  Back then, decades before everyone carried a cell phone, no cameras of any kind were allowed inside.  A certain percentage of men at the club were still closeted to their friends, family or/and at work.  Their privacy was protected.  These “discreet” guys came to IP57 to let loose in the dark, subterranean disco.

On Sunday afternoons, there was a line of men down West 57th Street to get into Ice Palace for Tea Dance.  The human queue ran almost all the way to Bergdorf Goodman, at the corner of Fifth Avenue.  No one who wasn’t “out” would be seen waiting in the daylight, where the boys were clad in short shorts and tight, sleeveless tee shirts, waiting impatiently on the white stone thoroughfare to get into the gay club, located the distance of a football field from Tiffany and the Plaza Hotel.

It was a magical time for me.  Most people grow out of it and settle into responsible lives.  I still dream and live in the past.  I may no longer be out playing until four in the morning, but I still hold on to a way of life with a soundtrack now considered retro.  I don’t defend it.  Not that anyone says anything directly to my face.

You Look Good...For Your Age

As an adult, I have never looked my age.  When I was in high school and hated that I still resembled a twelve-year old girl, my friend Rebecca said that when I was older, I’d be very happy to appear younger than my years.  I still have a full head of hair and could comfortably wear size twenty-nine Levi’s until I was about fifty years old.

When AIDS reared its murderous head in the 1980s, a good deal of clubs and bars in the city closed, as well as most of the bathhouses.  I had a palpable fear that all the progress the gay population had gained was going to retreat back into the shadows.  For reasons to which I’m not entirely sure, that desert didn’t last for very long.  I credit ACT UP and Elizabeth Taylor for a certain amount of attention paid to the gay populous due to their fight against AIDS.  Relatively quickly, there seemed to be an enlightened awareness in society, I’m happy to say.  By that time in American history, I think almost everyone knew of, worked with, or was related to someone gay, no matter their color, religion or ethnic background.  I recognize that bigotry and ignorance will always exist.  But a once completely marginalized population metaphorically began to come into the light.  Even some of the most conservative people don’t seem to base their political actions and beliefs on someone’s sexuality as definitively as they had in the recent past.

I write this at a time when drag queens and transgender persons are under attack.  There is still gay bashing going on, including in the most liberal cities.  When the pendulum swings high toward acceptance, the magnet of stupidity often rebounds violently in the opposite direction.

As for the bubble that is New York City, as difficult as it can be to survive well here, I think of these five boroughs as being its own country.  I won’t say that there isn’t hate and prejudice here. But with a richer mix of ethnicities in one place than anywhere else on the planet, there seems to be a higher tolerance for people who are not like you.  And statistically, New York City has the lowest violent crime rate of any large American city.  Look it up.

Good To See You

I’m reading Barbra Streisand’s 970-page autobiography.  That alone pegs me as no longer being young.

I remember standing in a popular gay bar on Greenwich Avenue in New York City.  This was a long time ago.  A few guys walked past me.  One said, “he’s cute.”  Another answered, “Naw.  He’s too old.”  I was twenty-six.

This year I become a senior citizen.  I look back to when I turned twenty-one and seriously thought to myself, “If I’m still single at age thirty, I’ll kill myself.”  Well, I’m single again and much, much older.  Coming from parents who had a good and loving relationship for over sixty years (and as far as I know, remained monogamous), I can’t help but silently laugh that I have never sustained a lasting romantic relationship.

***

My partner at work, who had also become a close friend, passed away last fall.  She was sixty-six.  Like me, her early adult years were partially defined by New York nightlife, though we hadn’t known each other at the time.  More to the point, she too had become a loner.  I wasn’t born to be that way or raised to prefer living alone.  I placed myself in this solitary existence sometime past middle age.

This friend suffered through cancer from leg to brain for well over a year before she died having spent the majority of her illness days staring out a window from her bed in the hospital.  Separate from my dealing with that terrible loss, I reflected on my own choices.  I know basically we all die alone.  But I hadn’t considered the possibility of dying slowly from some drawn-out, debilitating disease where I would be dependent on others due to unquestionable necessity.   I thought I could live my life as I choose, for as long as I choose.  Then, when I turned a certain age and deem to be “old,” I would simply drop dead.  We all should be so fortunate.

I can’t stand it when someone regurgitates the cliché, “Live every day as if it’s your last.”  Whatever the future, I try to acknowledge what is good in my landscape without making it precious. I don’t follow or answer to expected societal mores.  I can’t say where that will lead me when I inevitably face the end.  I’ll probably have to pay for it.  But in the abstract, I’d rather go through life as my own judge, as selfish as that may sound.

About the Author

Andrew Sarewitz

Andrew has published more than 60 short stories as well as having penned scripts for various media. Mr. Sarewitz is a recipient of the 2021 City Artists Corp Grant for Writing. His play, Alias Madame Andrèe (based on the life of WWII resistance fighter, Nancy Wake, the “White Mouse”) garnered First Prize from Stage to Screen New Playwrights in San Jose, CA; produced with a multicultural cast and crew. Member: Dramatists Guild of America.