What with the heavens exploding all around us, New Yorkers have gone rather batty over the last few days. It used to be such battiness was business as usual, but as rents have steadily increased, so have the rates of NYC normalcy. Though it’s rarely acknowledged, New Yorkers have become some of the nation’s biggest conformists since the “Friends”-style gentrification began with the Rudy Giuliani Reign of Terror. Every generation of NY mourns the one that preceded them, of course, but I think I am right in preferring the Lady Bunnies of Alphabet City over the assless chaps who now preside over Nouveau Brooklyn.
This week has felt like a return to an older New York—an unhinged one–and in my purple haze of grief and longing, I have felt right at home. Yesterday, for example, I eschewed my customary spring bob for a high-piled homage to The Birds. It’s very Bride of Frankenstein and very four-dimensional. I mention this not only because my hair seems to have taken a life of its own—a lemonade life—but because I am generally fascinated by the significance of stylistic ebbs and flows, and this one says Thar She Blows.
To wit: Today I attended a screening of an adaptation of Lady Susan, Jane Austen’s most razor-edged and least beloved novel. For the occasion, I dressed in what only can be described as Dowager Chic: a collarless camel tweed coat; a long plaid skirt of red and orange; a mauve crewneck sweater; leopard-spotted sunglasses; short black socks; and bright-pink Converse. When I was 20, this might have been a charming outfit. Here in my middle age, I looked a bit mad, which pleased me perhaps more than it should have. It took all the restraint I possessed to refrain from adding on the flowered lilac apron I’d bought in my recent travels.
The film was an unexpected pleasure (I’ll review it next week) and afterward I walked through Central Park and down Fifth Avenue. En route, I passed many of Midtown’s chic older women—bossing their companions, fussing over their small dogs, and sporting silken and minky outfits in jewel and peacock colors. One eightiesh snapdragon socked a man with her vintage Vuitton purse when, in a not-so-smartphone fog, he stepped into the cab she’d just hailed.
She got the cab, obviously. iPhonies really should stick to Uber.
The Union Square greenmarket was agog: lilacs, ramps, more bossy older women steamrolling younger people wielding yoga mats and expensive baby carriages. After making my purchases, I surrendered briefly to a reverie featuring the liberties of my own older age.
On the L subway platform I met someone who seemed to feel the same way. Clad in a four o’clock shadow, a shapeless flowered housedress, nude pantyhose, and men’s office shoes, this beautiful person was crooning while accompanying themselves on a smallish guitar. They talked in a falsetto and sang in a basso profundo and offered the most Daffy Duck ferrago of sad-sack screeches and sweetheart lyrics. The very best of older New York: Jackie Curtis and Quentin Crisp and Jerry Rubin and Edna St. Vincent Millay coursed right through this unabashed biological male wearing women’s clothes so sweetly, so savagely–so well, really. When I gave them all the money in my pockets, they gave me a funny jagged smile, and I found myself disappointed that one of this punk-rock hausfraus’s teeth hadn’t been blacked out. Come to my show! My name is Pinc! they called, and I said I would. For once I meant it.
Onto the subway car I sailed, where a Williamsburger with pretty spectacles and a linen suit talked rapidly to himself with such authority that it took the rest of us a beat to realize he was not speaking into earphones or to a companion but to his own compelling brain chemistry. A tired-looking woman in her 50s eyed him flatly while sucking her thumb. A teenager picked his nose and meticulously smeared his findings on the window where he was resting his head. Me with my wilting bouquet of daffodils and ugly pink feet fit right in. Mad hatters we were, every one of us. Perfectly, gorgeously mad.