Sam Goody stores. Telephone booths with hinged doors. And graffiti that was at once intimidating and mesmerizing.
Less than half a dozen episodes into HBO’s “Vinyl,” which is set in 1973, and I’m nostalgic for the dirty, gritty New York City of my youth.
No, I am not looking to bring back the good ol’ bad ol’ days, and am relieved that I raised my children in a kinder, gentler Manhattan. But growing up in what I considered my boring outer borough of the Bronx, the danger of “downtown” as we called it, only added to its allure.
I spent sophomore year of high school (and a few years after that) wishing my life away, anticipating the day I would be old enough -- and cool enough -- to go to Max’s Kansas City, the Felt Forum, and this new club that opened called CBGB’s, which the much older brothers of my friends talked about.
It was the year that the World Trade Center changed our city’s skyline, and I took my first walk on the wild side.
I went to Lord & Taylor for a cardigan sweater I’d seen in Seventeen magazine. (The rest of the world was a fashion mishmash of vintage, rock, punk, glam, disco, ‘60s holdovers, or preppy a la Ali MacGraw in Love Story.)
It was also the style of the day – at least in high school – to wear Danskin brand ballerina leotards under pullovers and shirts.
The department store’s helpful salesgirl told me there was a Capezio nearby in the 40s on Seventh Avenue, in Times Square.
I lost track of how many neon signs blinked GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS, how different the people looked from those in my middle class nabe, and how seedy it was.
Yes, I was nervous, but that emotion was eclipsed by energy. That was the most exciting place I had ever been in my life.
Before I made my way to Madison Avenue to pick up the express bus home, I called my mother from one of the aforementioned phones on the street so she’d know when to expect me.
If I close my eyes and the room is totally silent, with a little concentration I can still hear the sound of her hysterical voice screaming through the earpiece, “Get out of there now!”
She also had a hate bag on for high-crime Central Park, where they had free concerts like Carole King and The Eagles. I wasn’t allowed to go to concerts, regardless of where they were. My mother insisted someone would try to slip me drugs, and even if that didn’t happen, she was sure I’d get trampled by the crowd. I feel ya, mom, now that I myself am a mother. I can pretty much guarantee that back then, though, I rolled my eyes.
Her trepidations were confirmed by an upperclassman boy, who wanted to impress me by taking me on an afternoon date in NYC.
Since neither of us had any money to actually go anywhere or do anything, he decided to just show me the sights.
We got off the D train on West 86th Street. The goal was to end up on the Upper East Side so he could point out 1049 Park Avenue, the building where The Odd Couple lived.
Today the obvious way to get there would be to cut through the park, but he said it would be safer if we trekked down to Columbus Circle, across Central Park South, and then up Fifth Avenue. We walked and talked all the while, like a couple in a Woody Allen movie, even though at the time I didn’t know who Woody Allen was. A fond memory indeed.
Four decades ago, the struggle here was really real; the city was a very unforgiving place, and yet fertile ground for creativity with punk, disco and hip hop emerging simultaneously.
To paraphrase Bobby Cannavale’s “Vinyl” character describing how he feels about music, New York City made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, made me want to dance, or go out and kick somebody’s ass.
It still does.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels FAT CHICK and BACK TO WORK SHE GOES.