Photo by Joel K.
In the late-70s Fiorucci on East 60th Street was the style center for the disco world of New York. The windows boasted the latest flash fashion from Italy. These trendy threads guaranteed almost immediate entrance into Studio 54 or any exclusive disco in Manhattan.
Joey Arias was the store manager in the summer of 1977 and the part-time singer featured a gold lame Elvis suit in the front window. I wanted it bad. The price was $300. Almost a week’s wages at Hurrah where I worked as a doorman. I tried to bargain him down by offering him free entrance to club.
“I already get in for free.” Joey was persona gratis everywhere.
“What about 20% off the suit?” That price was still beyond my finances.
“No way.” Joey walked off to get an expresso and I went over to talk with Matt, the dweebish store manager. He said he might lower the price if I went into the backroom with him.
“No, but thanks anyway.” I was no hustler on the corner of 53rd and 3rd. I had a girlfriend. I was straight, although 50% of the men on the night scene were playing for the other team. My friends at Serendipity 3 and seemingly many of the punks at CBGBs. Most of them considered themselves straight as long as they got paid for it. 15 tricks and the suit was mine. I had my dignity and resigned myself to torn jeans and a black t-shirt. As a punk I got in everywhere too.
July was hot that summer. Lightning rocked the skies without rain. On the 13th I was finishing an acting class at Hunter. I was seeing an actress in the troupe. Carla and I were practicing a scene from STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. I was playing Mitch. Her estranged husband was in the role on Stanley. The coach thought the inner tensions strengthened our personae, but before the three of us could move onto the next scene, the lights went out.
All over New York.
It was a blackout.
Escaping the darkened building took the better part of a half-hour. The chaos of Lexington Avenue revealed the extent of the outage. Cars were stalled at the traffic lights. Several people were directing traffic. I asked Carla, “You want to come home with me?”
“No.” She wasn’t walking to Park Slope and looked over to her estranged husband. He was handsome and his family owned a meat-packing company in the Midwest. They linked arms and strolled into Central Park. He had a penthouse on West End Avenue. She had told me about the view from the terrace many times.
I headed over to Serendipity 3. My friends were upstairs at their apartment. They had run out of ice for their vodka tonics.
“There’s no ice anywhere.” Tim complained bitterly with a southern accent. He had studied ballet In North Carolina. His good friend Andy was in the ballet corps. He was already drunk.
“I want ice.”
“Maybe the Plaza has some.” I suggested since the hotel was the epitome of elegance. It had to have an emergency generator. Ice was less than five blocks away.
“Let’s go.” Andy and I hurried through the streets. People were talking about looting going on in Harlem.
They looked to the north. A radio said Flatbush was under siege. There were no police in sight. City dwellers were marching home. Some said they had been in the subway for hours. The usual light canyon of Park Avenue was without illumination. Andy pointed to the sky.
“I can see stars.”
“Also the Big Dipper and the Bear.” He drew Ursa Major in the night. I saw it as a hog. We turned the corner at 59th and 5th. I stopped in shock. The Plaza was pitch-black. We were back in the Stone Age. Ice only came in season. For some reason this new truth angered me and I said to Andy, “Let’s go to Fiorucci.”
“They won’t have ice.”
“No, but they do have a gold Elvis suit.”
“No one will be working there now.” It was past 11.
“Exactly.” I picked up a cinder block from a work site. “I’m shopping the old-fashioned way.”
“That’s looting.” Andy was wild, but never violent.
“Just like the Huns.” I had Pictish blood in me. We were an old tribe before the 10th Commandments were etched in stone by a bearded god. I strode up to Fiorucci. The gold lame suit shone even in the black of anarchy. 54 was at my fingertips. I wouldn’t be Mitch in the next acting class. I’d be a star.
“Stand back.” I warned Andy and then heaved the cinder block at the window. The missile struck the plate glass and bounced right back, narrowly missing my skull. Several guards pointed at me. I hadn’t seen them in the murk. They chased us to the Subway Inn and we lost them in the crowd in the dubious establishment. When we arrived back at the apartment above Serendipity 3 the boys were entertained by my attempt at communal confiscation.
“I didn’t get anything.”
“But you tried and that’s the key to triumph. The first syllable.” Tim was proud of his knowledge of Salada Tea sentiment and I guess I was proud to be an outlaw, although the next day when I tried to go to Fiorucci, Joey Arias ordered the security to refuse me entry into the store.
“We don’t accept thieves as customers.” The boys above Serendipity 3 had snitched out my
failed trashing of Fioruuci’s window
“At these prices I don’t know who’s the real thief.” It was the best riposte I could come up with, hung-over.
Fiorucci closed several years later. I bought the dusty Elvis suit through Matt. It was two size too small. My girlfriend at the time was a tall model from Baltimore. She loved it. It got her into everywhere. I was not so lucky. I only went places where I knew the door. That was everywhere too, but I really wished I could have been wearing the Elvis suit.
Some things just aren’t meant to be.
Especially Elvis Suits for men who are not Elvis.
Peter Nolan Smith left New England in 1976 for the East Village. The nightlife became his vehicle for traveling the world; Paris, Hamburg, Nice, and London. His career ended at the Milk Bar in Beverly Hills in 1995 and he split the following years working as a diamantaire in Manhattan’s Diamond District and traveling through the Orient. Most of his 21st Century has been spent in Thailand, although economics forced his return to 47th Street in 2008. Peter NolanSmith currently lives in Brooklyn and Sriracha, Thailand. He is the editor and writer of www.mangozeen.com and has recently been named writer-in-residence at a foreign embassy in Mittel Europe.