Early 1980’s. Alphabet City. Segments are airing on national TV about drugs, guns, general life-threatening disorder. Yet, still and all, it’s where the artists live. Coax a cab east and try your luck.
On Avenue B, half-windowed buildings. Puerto Rican mafia guys lurking. Street lights, but they do little more than rattle and buzz. Rats. You carefully watching your footsteps to avoid another one-beneath-as-one-scuttles-atop scenario. Maybe one of the discarded syringes will trip-up the fucker before you do. The Gas Station on your left as you and yours tumble out of the cab, which pulls off before you fully close the door. Kind of pretty in its charred regal manifestation. The usual gathering of performance artists, drug addicts and experimental bands (as in experimenting at being a band, as in GG Allin). Halos seem to float miraculously above them. You swear you can smell the gasoline wafting across the incessant breeze, but your date reminds you it’s been forever since the joint burnt or exploded or was just in general abandoned and the drug addict artists took over. Shit. No electricity. No heat. Around the corner, on 2nd, Lucky Seven, a hopping heroin den. More images of rats skewered on myriad needles. Doubtful. You watch your feet.
Then: the door. Formidable. Grey. You seem to be alone on the street. How did that happen? A sound. Another. Closer? You’ve got to knock. There’s a postcard sized peephole, which slides open and two rather naughty eyes eye you. You try to look cool, which could mean a number of things depending upon the doorman’s mood. Mostly, it would seem, it means sufficiently seedy enough to add that je ne sais quoi, yet also capable of paying for the illegal overpriced limited-option drinks. The peephole slides shut. Clang! You’re fucked.
On other nights, perhaps, though, you’re not. Perhaps you’re selected by the six something foot bald guy in the mini skirt and high heels who works the door. He’s a doll if he knows you. A sweetheart. A gem. If he doesn’t, he’s finicky, sassy and, at times, downright mean. Of course, he’s on drugs. Aren’t we all? Cocaine is the prima donna at this affair. Most of the junkies prowling about aren’t interested in what Save The Robots has to offer, though there’s always the exception. Speed is drug-of-choice #2. Good luck with the john. Most nights, Joey Ramone is developing his crack habit in its wet tomb.
So: you get through the door, through the gate, past Dean, the doorman. Then: the hall. Long, like shoelace licorice. Skinny in the same way. Then: a narrow and not necessarily trustworthy set of stairs. You’re cooking now. You can smell the sawdust that awaits you on the floor below. It’s faux-Japanese restaurant decor though perhaps its hard to state as much with any authority. Dark. There’s a couple of fold-out tables covered in white paper. Maybe they’re bare. Does it matter? It’s after 2:00. All the legal clubs are shut. You saunter over. Order a Budweiser or an orange and vodka. Ten dollars either way. Bud comes out of a plastic cooler. Top flips up. Then, flips down. Pfft. Early enough it’s cold; as the morning unfolds, the ice melts. Brewskis become lukewarm. Orange juice, warm or otherwise, tastes like Kool-aid. Bartender asks you if you’re from around here. You develop a hankering for spiked kids’ drinks.
There’s a lot of folks down here. And you wonder what they’re all on about. What they’re doing here. But you already know. Sally Randall. Rudolph. Diane Brill. John Sex. Terry Toy. Heterosexual. Homosexual. Bisexual. Transvestite. Yeah, those are hot. They draw the most glee. Big hair on the “girls.” A lot of up do’s. Mermaid dresses. And so on. Lots of make-up all round in colours that twinkle and glow. A man in slip-on stilettos lets you borrow his lipstick. It’s Dean, the doorman, and he’s left the door, locked, for a quick spin on the dance floor. Though, not so quick you notice, as he pirouettes and stomps and slithers crammed in tight against others who are doing the same. The guys, the straight ones, still sport a few mohawks. Others, though, are growing it long. It trails about behind them like rainbows. Dean is bald, you refresh watching him go, the only one. Jesus, he’s pale. Never sees much daylight. Who here does?
They all live in this neighbourhood, you discover. When the epic clubs–Area, Dancetaria and so on–close at 2:00, the clubbies, those ebullient few who make the clubs “clubs,” traipse over yonder. Fuck the cabs. Most of them walk. No money. Plus, they have a nice buzz–from drinking free at marquee clubs, sweetened in by owners looking for the authentic goods–and the city looks beautiful that night. Plus again, who are they going to be afraid of? Okay, the mafia thing can get shaky, but mostly not.
Dean the doorman had opened his own club, he tells you, when you get to know him, around the corner from Save The Robots just months before Robots opened. He’d named it Uncle Bud’s Amway. After his Uncle Bud. And his Uncle Bud’s employer. He’d established a velvet rope and refused everybody entry, perched on his high backed chair, glittering beneath the murky stars in sequined skirts and iridescent knit tops. The lines grew verbose. Soon enough, however, the mob guys wanted in. Hence: Dean’s current employment where someone else tends to the tricky bits. Denis Provost and his wife Alexandria to be precise, the proprietors. Alexandria’s father worked in robotics and he designed robots or parts of robots. Hence: the name of the club. Or so the bartender tells you. You’ve just purchased drink number two. Your date’s ahead of you, #4, #5, #6? And he’s mingling. You wonder how many of these people have made it into those segments on television.
One night, your date tells you having, briefly, wandered back, the cops busted the joint. The thing was, they’d just busted the after-hours hole a few streets over and they’d confiscated everybodys’ crack. He smirks as he says confiscated. There’s so much smoke around you, it’s a bit the way you imagine the eye of a hurricane. When you think that, you think of Dean’s eyes sizing you up the first time you came and you’re glad you made it in the second. Mostly that’s cuz your date has formed a pithy New York band and he’s causing a little stir. Roboters like stirs. Or so it seems. So they confiscated it, he goes on. Then then did all the shit themselves so by the time they got here they were all fucked up. They busted the place up royal. Holes in the walls. Handcuffing and shit. Take everyone down to jail and lock them in the same cell with the people from the other club. They fucking partied all night and were let go some time in the afternoon. This story amuses your date. As if the club had some sort of edge on the cops. You try to imagine your fellow revelers, heads currently bent over rolled up bills, released into the sun. Not likely.
And then? Well, they couldn’t do shit to the club. I mean, they’d fucked up the bust. It’s lucky Alexandria and Denis didn’t press charges against the pigs. Except, of course, that would have been madness because their whole thing here is illegal. But you’re certain, as you search the spray-painted walls for cop-punched holes, your date really does know as much.
There’s music playing, of course. Dance, mostly, loud. Your feet vibrate. Your tendons too. And so on. Everybody’s dancing. Thumping, pounding, whirling. Except, naturally, Joey. He’s hogging the john. John Hall is in charge. He’s spinning hip hop as well. You wonder what hip hop is. Though you notice there’s a bunch of black guys hanging around looking mischievous. And chances are they’ve got something to do with it.
Later, when you’re a regular and the door opens before you knock and Dean kisses you and slips you candies and the bartender sometimes doesn’t charge you and Joey lets you use the toilet, sometimes, and you know all the songs John is spinning except for a few and when you ask him what those are he’ll answer you, Alexandria and Denis open the upstairs. It’s a lounge. They’ve acquired a couple of couches and chairs from somewhere. The street? They’ve embellished them: spray paint. You can sit there, for hours, and think about all the folks on the outside who didn’t get in. And you know, if you think about it, that their hearts are breaking. That somehow Save The Robots is, inexplicably, The Promised Land. And Dean, teetering prettily in heels, holds your salvation in his large, and overly-white, you think, hands. Though perhaps that’s pushing it.
It’s after legal club time and there’s nowhere to go. And now there’s here. And everyone who’s anyone, in those terms, has agreed that here is It. And Dean: eying. Later, around 7ish. The mawkish crowd moves northward, landing themselves at Pyramid. Reeks like old, old beer and smokes. Wired on coke and speed it’s all talk, no listening. Then late afternoon sleep. Do they sleep? Or a job. Doubtful. Unless, of course, it’s at one of the clubs.
Eventually Save The Robots gets sold to some out-of-towners. Out-of-countryers. Turns out, it’s famous around the world. Punks and hardcore kids and goths and speed bands and the nascent hip-hoppers and old school dance-heads and the new school techno-heads and so on. Check it out. Bridge and tunnel, now, as well. And you start to make some inner-housekeeping changes of your own.
Then: flash forward; 2002. Same streets, same sense of cool urging about. New generation. And a whole lot of gentrification. Guernica, a trendy restaurant on hallowed Robots ground, serving up, well, what the fuck, no Kool-aid here. The Gas Station, decimated. Brought down to honor a Kings Pharmacy and flights of yuppies. Lucky Seven, an Italian haunt. Good food. Visiting movie stars taste the fares: Julia Roberts, Benjamin Bratt. Separate dates.
Windows, now, lots of them. Street lights. Parents wouldn’t let them live there without. Rents you couldn’t make if you worked a dozen club jobs. Not true, not true. But where are the clubs these days? Still and all, it’s hell over here. Carcasses of times barely recalled. You walk around a bit, check out the kids in their false-punk get-ups and mighty heels, know they are convinced they’re the edge just as you were once convinced as much, stealing some other generation’s way. But that was back before it took more than one beer, albeit Guinness, to give you a hang over.
Now: you put in a call to Dean, the doorman, to reminisce. Voice message response: “I’ll tell you what I remember.” Long-ish pause. “You know.” Which you take to be code for “the drugs.”
Wind still blows, Northeast mostly. The Towers proved that. Alone? Hah, these days. Not. Likely. Then: maybe you are. And it smells like gasoline. Don’t embellish. But smells the same, like back in the day, somehow. And you pass Il Bagatto, hang a louie on B, pass Kings, there she is: Guernica. And you try, this quiet Sunday morning, to recollect. But you can’t. They tore the fucking door down.