Throwing Back Fish

Last weeekend Bushwick was heaving with artists, hipsters, dealers, and tourists enjoying a day of open studios in the rejuvenated industrial wasteland. I had bicycled over to Grattan Street to view a friend’s paintings. Frank Holiday greeted me with surprise.

“I’m so happy you showed up.”

“As am I.” I quickly examined his new paintings. His bold strokes had been muted underneath a patois of color without any loss of dynamic force and we discussed the positive metamorphosis of his work.

Several other friends showed up to his studio and we sat drinking water, while recounting stories of the old wickedness in New York to young men questioning the city’s status as America’s Babylon.

“New York was dangerous back then. Every borough was scary,” Steve Turtell explained to the twenty year-olds. “And the nightlife was small. The punk scene was maybe 500 people. The gay population was in the thousands. We were hidden from the mainstream, not like today. We had the Mineshaft, Toilet, the Anvil, places that can’t exist now.”

“A friend of mine and I were at the Anvil and the DJ announced that the first person to piss into some guy’s mouth would win a six pack of beer.” Frank wasn’t mentioning the name, but I had a good idea who he meant, especially after he said, “And my friend came back a minute later with a big smile, screaming, “I won, I won.”

We laughed hard at the remembrance of those lost times and friends. A handsome actor from Chicago asked what I was writing.

“A book about hitchhiking across the USA in 1974.”

“I used to hitchhike all the time,” Steve cooed with fond memory. “One time I was coming back from a folk festival in West Virginia. I was stuck out on the highway in Maryland and this guy stopped for me. He was looking for action, but I wasn’t interested in him, so he got off the road and drove me all the way back to where he picked me up like he was throwing back a fish. Talk about a scary ride.”

“I know what you mean.” I had hitchhiked hundreds of times in the 60s and 70s. Strange people were looking for strange people. They were different times indeed, for as Charlie Manson said, “I was strange when strange meant something.”

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