Saturday, April 15, 2017
City Child #9: Marking Time
The first time I walked into a church wasn’t to pray.
Clutching Patti Smith’s Babel like a hymn book, I opened the big white door door to St Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery. It was New Years Eve and for the next twenty-four hours, I would be disembodied, dressed up in a black trench coat, a paisley velveteen scarf around my thin neck.
In three hours it would be 1983. This was no time for caution. Someone opened the door and cold air flooded in like a precursor. I wrapped my scarf tighter, and coloured my lips brick red, pursing them several times. I was the youngest person in the room, but I would be damned if I looked it.
On the mini-stage, Richard Hell walked to the microphone with an acoustic guitar. His large eyes were lined with black and his spiky hair stood up in a way that I had tried to mimic with my own spiky/shaggy hair, deliberately teased and matted. The crowd hollered as Richard howled. I felt a thrill moving through my hips. It might have been the tall, blond boy standing next to me, blowing smoke against my ear, who I initially thought was Jim Carroll. Carroll himself was nodding in the front seats. This was the real deal. Poetry made rock and roll.
I had ridden the #6 to Astor Place, and walked to East 10th Street in the darkening air all by myself, hooked on words, on sounds, on the lure of Mr Punk himself, chanting from his song “Blank Generation” as if it were a poem: “Muscle against silk/tears fall from the burn”.
A sharp metallic scent filled the air and I thought I felt the boy’s hand on my arm. Suddenly the room shifted and I couldn’t breathe. As much as I wanted to be here—dreamed and planned it for months on end, lying to my mother and trying without fail to get someone from High School to come with me—I now needed to get out. I pushed through the crowd, which had thickened considerably, bodies moving in unison like a single being. It took a long time to get to the door in the counter-flow. By the time I finally pushed it open, falling into the icy evening air, I was openly wheezing. The blond boy was there, his eyes half closed, helping me to my feet, and offering his cupped hands to calm my hyperventilation. When I looked at his face, I realised he wasn’t much older than I was. We were both high on bravado, and something else. His eyes were lidded and blurry.
I looked back at the closed door of the church with regret. Was there even a route back in? The boy put his arm around me and began kissing me, even as I was recovering from what would be the first of a lifelong series of veiled panic attacks. That was all in the future though. In this moment of present tense, there was no future to contemplate. Conscience was a bird that sung so faintly in the distance, I could hardly hear it. My fear dissolved into sensation. As I leaned into the handsome stoned stranger, a child on the brink of adulthood, I realised I had dropped my book, somewhere inside. I wouldn’t be going back for it.