FAMOUS FOR NEVER is a semi-fictional recounting of the life of a ne’er-do-well living in the East Village during the 1970s, Paris throughout the 1980s, and Asia for the 1990s. Peter Nolan Smith’s pingponging through the world ricochetted him through the ranks of the famous and near-famous such as Jean Michel-Basquiat and Klaus Nomi without success ever threatening his firm grasp on failure, for there is no failure greater than premature success.
Here’s an excerpt:
New York City teetered on the edge of bankruptcy during the mid-70s.
The Daily News splashed the headline FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD, after the GOP president refused to bailout the Democratic metropolis.
Without federal funds the mayor was forced to slash every department’s budget to the bone and the city collapsed into a ruin rivaling Rome after the Goths burned it to the ground.
Subways broke down on the tracks. Muggers ruled the streets and parks after dark. Arsonists torched the Bronx and Lower East Side for fun and profit. Shooting victims overwhelmed Harlem’s emergency wards, while heroin ODs became the Oueens’ leading cause of teenager death. When Staten Island proposed a referendum to secede from the city, no one accused the distant borough of treason, because the worst was yet to come for the East Village.
The 9th Preceinct police rarely ventured farther than Tompkins Square Park. Shooting galleries outnumbered bodegas and hordes of thieves fearlessly prowled their new-won turf for victims. Nobody honest could survive in a neighborhood more burnt-out than a junkie’s vein and families of all races, colors, and creeds fled the outlaw DMZ for the suburbs.
The population of the Lower East Side shriveled from 120,000 to 60,000. It never hit zero, because cheap rents, proximity to the subways, and minimal police presence attracted a nation of malcontents disenchanted with the morality of the country’s Silent Majority and this diverse smattering of gays, drifters, artists, musicians, and addicts reversed the exodus from the smoldering desolation.
Stutterers read poetry to NYU coeds without ridicule. Hopeless derelicts squatted derelict buildings without fear of landlords. Teenager girls denied cheerleader suburban destinies were offered flesh ballerina careers at sordid go-go bars and graffiti artists painted heaven on charred walls with spray cans.
It was the place to be, if you were young.
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foto by anthony scibelli