Gedney Market felt like a new man. Even his walk was lighter, bouncier, more self-confident. As he strode down Lexington Avenue with his chartreuse fanny pack riding jauntily on his hips, everything seemed to interest him. The little musical Peruvians, desperately seeking riches in the United States, the old men and women huddled together in dark coats, even the drunks he stepped over as he boarded the subway. The whole world was shining with a glossy new patina, and there was simply too much to do, too much to spend. And he knew he could top everything that had come before, that he would soon be living in a great big way.
Once every year, as the earth tilted solemnly in its orbit, rolling down the temperature as well as the sleeves of most New Yorkers, Gedney prepared himself for the grand expedition. In early August he obtained from a friend the early proofs of Interview, G.Q., Esquire and the Village Voice, in which he carefully studied the “looks” the fashion cognosceti had decreed were available to him. Gedney would then whittle down his choices, usually arriving at two or three that allowed him to convey his own, personal sense of himself as the new Urban American Hipster, both coolly confident and calculatingly hip. And this year was particularly exciting, because he had decided to go for something utterly new and different: the updated James Dean look. All summer he had allowed his forelock to grow, carefully hidden by his “X” cap. Now his hair hung casually from his brow, ready to be slicked back or to remain true to the Keanu-esque revitalization of the familiar teen rebel. With the addition of sideburns Gedney’s Fonz-ification fantasy was about to come to fruition.
Emerging from the subway, Gedney barely avoided a splash of blood as he bounded past two young men stabbing a tourist. Gedney noticed the green bandanas the young toughs wore, and made a mental note to himself to pick up something similar, if not slightly more expensive and menacing. Soon he was pressing through the shiny, gilded doors of a well-known department store, leaving behind the sounds and smells of the street. Gedney proceeded deliberately towards the the bank of elevators, gently repulsing the advances of the flirtatious and aggressive perfume girls. On the fifth floor he was greeted by Moschino, his personal guru, who was obsequiously pleased to see him. After a few words, both men were grinning broadly and stepping smartly towards the racks and racks of carefully pressed Razzy jeans. The pants had been broken in by a genuine Marlboro Man on a Brazilian ranch, and stood as a swank affirmation of Gedney’s astute evaluation of this year’s vogue. Gedney then pored over a cornucopia of black leather jackets, finally selecting an Italian clothier’s model replete with skid marks designed to mimic those from real motorcycle accidents on the great highways of California. Already ensconced in a regal pair of Reebok pumps (the choice of JDs everywhere), Gedney headed towards the cash register, tripping briefly from the overabundance of fabric in his trousers but quickly recovering and snapping his Platinum card deftly on the counter. Moschino nodded approvingly as Gedney signed the imprint without even bothering to notice the four figure amount that was to be debited against his account.
Later that day Gedney stopped by his apartment to collect his mail and his landlady invited him in for some herbal tea. Pringle Pypkin, the owner of the East Village walk-up our hero inhabited as well as a mid-size advertising company, served as a sometimes mentor for young Gedney.
Today she responded immediately to his new look. “Oh, chills, Gedney, chills!” she exclaimed, managing somehow to pronounce the “s” as both a “th” and a hard “s” at the same time. She fawned and purred enthusiastically as she examined him. Gedney always felt a little silly about this part, but it did reassure him, as his Aunt Heddy’s sloppy kisses had done when he was a boy in Poughkeepsie.
Pringle belonged to an older generation, and Gedney sometimes felt indebted to her, as he had often appropriated her beatnik and hippie past in his never ending quest for fashion’s grail. But his new look was a resurrection that could have occurred only in the early nineties, an expensive rehash of a poor minority’s misinterpretation of outdated styles. And today Pringle was only serving as an embarrassing reminder of all those earlier incarnations Gedney had sloughed off with his latest purchases. Had he really borrowed her Janis Joplin albums and Linda Goodman books just last year? And what about her copies of Grand Funk Railroad and Erica Jong? Pringle made Gedney feel confused; he longed to clear his head with the latest pronouncements of the Voice. He knew he was tired of all this campy stuff, but he couldn’t find anything more real with which to replace it. Maybe the answer was in the six-pack of Schiltz long-necks, symbol of the working classes, cooling in his freezer. Anyway, it wasn’t here. Gathering up his pile of the latest mail-order catalogs, Gedney pushed through her bead curtains and headed upstairs.
In his studio he dumped a quarter in his newly installed juke box, which had recently replaced his Victrola, and readied himself for the latest from Kitchens of Distinction, Pops Cool Love, NWA, and Transvision Vamp. Watching the videos spring to life on his 1972 Zenith, a canny purchase from a bus driver who lived on West 162nd Street, his mind emptied comfortably. Jesus Jones was right: “Right here, Right now” was the best time to live. Unfortunately Gedney had only half an hour to coif his hair before heading out to Parvenoos, the new club built on a garbage barge floating in the East River. It had been built by the pan-generational hipster, Thierry Mugler, who felt he had captured the spirit of recycling, nineties style. Another plus was its location, which was inaccessible to the average New Yorker and the bridge and tunnel crowd. But not to Gedney, who carried in his pockets the keys to his uncle’s new speed boat.
The machine responded well as he knifed through the viscous and lumpy waters of the East River. Gedney enjoyed the smell of salt and exhaust he was creating in the oily spray of his wake. He savored even more the sense of control that so often eluded him in his attempts to define his image. Racing through the night Gedney was for a moment lord of his present. He could see how Mick Jagger found these boats so appealing.
Docking and flipping his keys to the valet, Gedney avoided the envious stares of the lesser folks crowding the docks just outside the white-hot center of hip. He did offer a shy nod to “The Love Boat,” a whimsical craft owned by a retro-seventies group who drank nothing but Kaluha and frozen Daiquiries. Gedney’s new garb assured him immediate access to the inner reaches of Parvenoo’s, but he couldn’t help feel a quick pang of guilt as he circumvented those left outside. “That could have been me,” he thought, “if I hadn’t kept up my subscription to Popcorn’s BrainReserve.” Nothing quite enforced his dedication to hip as pathetic tableaus like this: the slightly less-cognizant left humiliated outside the gates of paradise while undreamed-of fun went on inside.
Then he saw her.
She was wearing a black leather jacket with “Too much Irony” printed on the back, in direct contradiction with her retro plaid skirt and huge safety pin from the early eighties. She was definitely hip, ironic to the core, and utterly marketable. Gedney stared. He coveted. No matter how he turned it around in his head he couldn’t suss out her signifiers, but the ambiguity made her even more attractive. Fortunately Gedney’s technique in such situations was almost foolproof. With a series of exaggerated gestures he produced his leather bound lap top and tapped out a few lines. Then he conspicuously flipped his platinum on the bar and asked for a thesaurus and an Absolut. She could not miss these obvious marks of literary prowess. The girl approached him immediately.
“You . . . write?” she asked, opening her jacket to reveal a blouse made of old copies of THE BAFFLER magazine, “stories and stuff?”
“And poetry . . . poetry,” Gedney responded, trying to suppress the knowledge that it had in fact been months since he had put together more than a few intelligible thoughts.
“Have you got a light?” she asked. Gedney quickly responded, offering her a light from his electronic Zippo, modeled hilariously after a real butane lighter. She was impressed, and even more so when he asked her if she knew the Aborigine, based on the quaint mating rituals of that culture. She did, and they danced together and laughed about all the things they had both owned as kids and all the things they both wanted now.
Later they went for a drive in the boat, and Gedney pointed out the Newport sign in Queens. They agreed that mentholated cigarettes had overtaken the outdated red packs. Out on the river they felt like the only couple in New York, and for a moment, they really were, having found their unique language. His favorite shows had been Mannix and the Avengers, while she had liked Gilligan’s Island and the Partridge Family.
(to be continued)