I have had two brushes with the law in New York. I’ll tell you the first today, the other tomorrow.
The first time, the brush was more with the cop’s horse. I didn’t understand why the cop was on a horse. Why not a car, or even a bus? The subway for sure. Or they could just bolt outta the car in heavy turtle necks, like Starsky and Hutch. Why, in this city, which was not like, some podunk town in the deep South, in the 1930s, was a cop, with a gun and one of those jackets where he could not get shot in the heart ( and why not just wear that stuff head to toe, why get shot anywhere? If you’re a cop) on a horsie? Was it to make the cop more loveable? Aw, look at the horse. But lemme tell you something, those horses, maybe most horses, I’m not around them so much, they sure like to shit, like, everywhere. They can’t walk one New York City block without taking a big grassy dump right in the middle of the road? Did the cops scoop it up? Did they hell. No poop scoops for New York City cop horses.
I would have been 14 or so. I remember I had been ill in bed with something to do with my throat and chest. It hurt to breathe and swallow. Sometimes it still does, even when there is nothing medically wrong with me, I’m guessing. I don’t see the doctor every time that happens. I read lots of books. My mother made me a lot of farina, which she brought to me on a green metallic tray which was the tray she used when you were sick. Everything slid around on it, everything that went uneaten, which was the bowl of farina. You could slide it back and forth if you propped it on your knees but it eventually fell in a bowl like lump on to the floor. But I was just getting better, and I really wanted to get out. So I took my guitar, put on my jeans and a floaty, embroidered at the neckline Mexican shirt a friend had got me from Mexico, and found everything had swamped me. I had withered away in my sick bed. But I felt well. Well enough to strap on my guitar and head out on the F train to the village, West Fourth St.
It was about an hour’s ride, but felt longer if you had nothing to read. I couldn’t play the guitar on the train. I’d probably get in trouble, and I only knew about three songs. I almost knew “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by the Eagles, a song I came to hate, a band I came to hate, but when we went into Sam Goody to get the sheet music my mother read the lyrics and said it was about sex and she didn’t want me playing it. It was the line, “I want to sleep with you in the desert tonight” And I said, but maybe he just means sleep, as in go to sleep.
My mother said she didn’t think so , so we took the James Taylor book instead. That was OK. He was only a heroin addict, though none of us knew it at the time.
So there I was on the train, wondering who was going to be in Washington Square. There was always someone I knew there Usually Aron Kay, the guy who threw pies at politicians or just people he didn’t like. David Peel was always there, singing about drugs or the Lower East Side. Well, not so much singing, sort of shouting. A girl called June who never wore a bra, but should have, and always sang Chain of Fools. A guy called Don Huston, who sang Peaceful Easy Feeling. I had to ask him, was that song, that line about sleeping, was it sex sleeping or snoring sleeping? He said, he chuckled, that he wouldn’t mind sleeping with June in the desert. So I took it to mean sex. My mother had been right.
But we’d go and sit on the side of the fountain and just jam. I’d say what chords, and they’d say A, Em, D, G, or something like that. I would bar the F, cos it seemed impressive, with my tiny thin fingers. These were heavy gauge strings so my fingers hurt like hell, but I did the F in a bar.
When I got to the park that day, no one was there, just a few straggling hippies and dudes in long coats going “loose joints, loose joints,” selling rolled up oregano to dumb kids like me from Queens. Well not me, cos I didn’t smoke. I got high on life, man. That was my story.
I wish it were still true.
But someone I knew was there and said hey Michele, we’re all going on the march, but we have to meet up at the Bowery first to get the stuff.
What stuff, what march?
Just come. He grabbed my hand and we ran over East, down eighth st to the Bowery. It was just on the verge of hippies finishing and punks starting. There were still alkies there, drinking and throwing up any time of day or night. We went into some squat, I think it is still there, probably selling coffee and used , water logged paperbacks.
The room was fuggy with incense and patchouli and dope. I felt fantastic, so much better than being in bed with the green tray. I looked like a child. I was a child. Some guy said, take this on the march. It was a baggie, with a joint, a condom, a leaflet that said legalise pot, and some Big Bamboo rolling paper. I didn’t know what to do with any of it. I just didn’t want to be found with it. I said, “Cool, man” and gave it to another hippy who looked happy about it.
The march was going to start at the bottom of Fifth ave and we would walk all the way up to Central Park. Once in the park, lawyer guys like Bill Kuntsler and old Yippies would give speeches about why maryjane should be legal. We were out of Vietnam, there was not a whole bunch else that concerned them, or seemed to. I didn’t care about any of it. I just wanted to know what it felt like to march, to have people watch me marching. With my guitar. And my Mexican shirt. I had found my tribe, even though I did’t like their drugs and the smell of those that didn’t wash, which was quite a few of em.
So we marched and David Peel sang songs and shouted “A pot in every chicken” and everyone laughed, everyone got the word play, except me. Surely it was a chicken in every pot?
Still, we marched, we got waved at, we went past all the posh shops on Fifth Ave, and maybe halfway there, we were sort of sealed off by a line of cops on horses. Some of the hippies went oh shit its the pigs. And I thought, God these are really city boys, they don’t know pigs from horses. But I kept it to myself. There was so much slang. Pigs could have been the hippy slang for horses.
But it was the cops who where the pigs. My first inclination was to yelp with delight, horsies! And find a brush and brush one. All any 14 year old girl who has never seen a horse wants to do is pat the horse and brush it and maybe even ride it, but this seemed unlikely.
Some of the hippies just barged through the gaps in the horses. Someone said, come on Michele, you can do it, you are small. Just go under the legs. Fast. So I did, or tried to, and the horse moved and put its foot on my foot, but not hard, it’s like he knew. I wasn’t really one of them. I wanted to give him sugar and brush him and he knew this, as horses do. So I didn’t get through the line, but I did step in a massive pile of NYC cop horse shit, which changed everything. It made none of it worth it, the singalongs, the dope I wouldn’t smoke, the guys I would never sleep with on the desert , as in sleep sleep, I would never, ever have sex with them. I was a child. I was a frail child, just outta sickbed, covered in horse shit. Bottom of my bell bottoms, forget about it.
I got on the train at Fifth Ave, and smelly and uncertain about everything, went back to Queens. When I got home, I had a long bath, threw the jeans away and put my shoes in the sink. I learned later they had to dry out first,then you scrape it off. But it smelled so bad. It was my first realisation that my people were not actually my people. But at 14, who are your people?