Monday, December 29, 2008

'Desperate' Living

Well, it's the end of an era. Love Saves the Day, the beloved East Village vintage clothing and bric-a-brac shop where Madonna famously traded her leather pyramid jacket for rhinestone studded boots in "Desperately Seeking Susan" -- setting in motion the greatest new wave amnesia screwball comedy of all time -- is going the way of neon rubber bracelets. (Merciless rent hikes and the founder's recent death are to blame. Her surviving hubby says the store is now missing its "soul.") My coworker who has lived near the store for about as long as I've been alive and I were lamenting what a cool neighborhood the East Village used to be, but how it's quickly becoming what he calls a combination "college campus and tourist trap." He predicts another Starbucks will move in, something I'm sure Gary Glass would have much preferred.

Although I'm a sworn Chelsea dweller, the East Village has long been one of my favorite places to hang out. I picked up a best friend and a boyfriend at the Boiler Room in the late '90s. And spent about five years (nonstop) in the bars along Avenue A (may Starlight rest in peace). These days, the E.V. still has its charms. Michael and I dine and see movies there nearly every weekend.

So after reading about the impending closure of Love Saves the Day, we decided to have head over to the East Village to have our Christmas dinner at my new favorite bistro, Lucien. Waiter Brandon always makes sure the meal is perfect, and Jesus' birthday was no exception. Lucien's cassoulet is to-die-for, but Michael and both opted for the Steak Frites (how's that for a new Christmas tradition?). Michael got the shell steak while I had the (extra bloody) fillet. The fries have to be the tastiest I've ever eaten, and the steak was too. (And what is that sauce? YUM!!!)

After dinner we took advantage of the quasi-tropical weather New York was enjoying and strolled by Love Saves the Day to pay our last respects. Much to my delight, the shop -- along with all of nearby St. Marks Place --was open for business and bustling with activity.

I picked up a couple copies of Dynamite magazine (my subscription ran out in 1979) and we even managed to snap a couple of (highly prohibited) photos inside the store.

Das boots

Spying on Susan

Downtown train circa 1985

As some of you know, it was my teenage love affair with "Desperately Seeking Susan" that helped seal my fate for a life in New York. I was in high school working as an usher for AMC Theaters when Susan Seidelman's much-underrated indie classic was released in 1985, and while it opened at the Lakes theater in Tempe (where I saw it opening week), it quickly moved to the Fiesta Village in Mesa where I worked making it easy for me to see it on the big screen dozens of times in addition to sneaking into the theater to watch bits and pieces throughout my shifts. So taken by the film's star -- Manhattan -- it also led my friends Greg (a fellow Dobson High student) and Nina (a Detroit friend) and me to make our first pilgrimage to the city to retrace Susan and Roberta's footsteps in the winter of 1985. (My brother Terence joined us for part of the trip, too.)

Battery Park by Day circa 1985

Village idiots

"Gorham, please"

Teenagers in love (with the city -- and hair dye!)

The trip almost didn't happen as my mom was apprehensive about her young son traipsing off to New York ("Why would he want to go there? What's in New York?" she quizzed my older brother Bill). In her defense, she's of the generation that prides itself on NOT having to live in the city, so it escaped her why anyone would choose to go there on purpose -- never mind the world-famous art, theater and architecture. (FYI: upon arrival in New York on her first visit to see me here in 1998 she -- without missing a beat -- announced that she still doesn't "get it." ) Meanwhile, Greg didn't have enough money saved to cover his share, but then came through with an 11th hour job at Burger King, working there just long enough to save up enough and quit.

The second we arrived I thought I would burst with excitement. The sight of all the highrises, taxis and people was like a scene in a movie -- and like nothing I'd seen before in surburbia. On Nina's "cool sister" Claudia's recommendation, we stayed in the Theater District (at the recently renamed Gorham Hotel). Although looking back '80s Downtown was obviously the place to be, we were all underage and weren't looking to explore clubland, so it worked out quite well. We spent hours touring Rockefeller Center (visiting the Christmas tree and ice skating rink were childhood fantasies of mine come true), Central Park (freezing our asses off -- Greg had never even seen snow before!), the Museum of Modern Art and shopping on Fifth Avenue. We also ventured downtown for hours of exploring Greenwich Village. Back then, record shopping was almost the No. 1 priority on my vacation to-do list, and this trip was no exception. (And boy did we all clean up. Greg and Nina were music-collecting freaks as well.) I've been to some record stores on and around Bleecker Street since moving here and I'm nearly certain one of them was one we raided way back when.

Showing off some of my finds

We had always been told that New Yorkers were "rude," yet everywhere we went we were greeted with smiles. (Looking back, I think we were so young and excited that even the most jaded New Yorker couldn't help but be swept up in our enthusiasm.) By the time the week was over I was 100 percent certain that New York was for me. Still, it took me nearly a decade to get back for a visit -- I moved to Los Angeles and then D.C.-- and 13 to finally finally call it home. But 10 years later and now a bonafide New Yorker, I must confess that I still get the same butterflies in my stomach I did back in '85 every time I return home and see the city skyline from the airplane window. I definitely "get it" ...

How much did "Desperately Seeking Susan" mean to me? Well, I got these kickass Roberta and Susan dolls for Christmas on Thursday from my brother Bill (seriously!!!).

Michael and I stopped by the building that once housed Danceteria, where Gary Glass and Susan had their first encounter. I understand it's about to become (yet another) condo building ...

7 comments:

lz said...

One of my all-time favorite posts.

mattrett said...

I didn't realize the DSS obsession went THIS far = loves it. I came to NYC to see Madonna in SPEED-THE-PLOW; same actress, not quite the same vehicle (I can't believe they're still doing that painful play). But when I came, I did some of the same things as you did, at least the crazy-record-collector things. I was DYING that I had NO money yet finally was at Record Runner and Rebel Rebel live and in person and could not afford much at all. I hated being as broke as Susan but not nearly as glam.

Bill said...

I'm hardly that obsessed, but still there's something about the idea of eating Chinese food out of the carton and washing it down with vodka straight out of the bottle, either in a ramshackle loft or on the roof ...

Anonymous said...

FYI, there's a "branch" of Love Saves the Day here in New Hope, PA. At least, I believe it's owned by the same people. It's been here for years, a real magnet for the tourists who flock into town on weekends. I haven't been inside it in ages, but they do great window displays. I haven't heard any news of it on the local front, but I don't think a rent hike will be a problem; the store owns the building (an 1870s pharmacy) which they expensively renovated a few years back...

Marc Lallanilla said...

Great trip down Memory Lane -- it reminded me of my first trips here as an "adult" back in the 80s, getting trashed in skanky EV dives and whoring my way across the city. Starlight Lounge? The best. Nightlife in NYC is much poorer since its demise.

Joey7777 said...

The best thing about Manhattan in the early '80's (and late '70's, though I was too young to really indulge in that) was that there was an incredible mystery to it- down every street, around every corner- that is totally gone now.

Anonymous said...

you wer one hell of a hot kid kennth i love the photo of you in tight shorts back in 83 i just wish i id a sleep over with you then we wound have add some fun hehehe oyeah

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