“How’m I doin’?”–Remembering the ’80s in NYC

10 Feb

How’m I doin’?”

That’s the first thing I think of when I remember Ed Koch. He’d put up the big New York Hands and ask that question over and over. I kind of liked that. I think he wore a lot of overly patterned sports jackets, like big houndstooth checks. I like New York mayors generally, even when I don’t agree with their politics. They have such big freaking mouths. When I think of Rudy Giuliani, I don’t think of “broken windows” and his ridiculous placement of his security command IN the World Trade Center (if I am remember correctly—was it the 17th floor). I mean, he actually did a pretty good job with the WTC I think, until there was a certain moment when he sort of jumped the shark and seemed to think the whole freaking catastrophe was all about him.

 But nothing will compare for me with the moment that he was on some radio show—no—he had his OWN weekly show— and started a rant about ferrets because New York was banning them, and a ferret lover called him. In case this precious moment has slipped from your mind, may I refresh your memory? 

 “There is something deranged about you. The excessive concern you have for ferrets is something you should examine with a therapist. There is something really, really very sad about you. This excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness. You should go consult a psychologist.? Your compulsion about, your excessive concern with it is a sign that there is something wrong in your personality. You have a sickness, and I know it’s hard for you to accept that. You need help.”

I don’t have a dog or even a ferret in this fight, so for me, this moment was just golden.


For a while, we had a gentleman mayor named David Dinkins. I don’t remember a damn thing about his policies. But I do remember that he never said anything as awesome about ferrets as Rudy Giuliani. Sure enough, his tenure was short and bland.


Now we have Mayor Mike, who also has that Big Appletude that brings a song to my heart. In 2010 there was a huge storm in the city, and it took a number of days to plow out the streets, and told people that they had to move their completely snowed in cars or take their lumps and have them towed and it was just too damned bad if they didn’t like it. It was truly obnoxious, in the finest New York spirit.


So, Ed Koch. He was mayor from 1978-1989. The eighties were my first decade in New York. It was not exactly a decade I feel nostalgic about, although I understand that the scary, decayed place NY was at the time not all his fault. But here are some of the things I remembered (along with the fabulous shoulder pads, the Punched-in-the-face makeup and gimongous crimped hair of the Tube and Tunnel crowd, (especially that style where the front of your hair was pushed up really high and you still had bangs—not me—just sayin!”


–the $20 rule: If you didn’t carry around at least 20 bucks for the robbers, they’d beat you up.

–the windshield wipers: Beggers who’d run out into the street and wash your windows while you went NO NO NO and they’d beg for money.

–the fear around the corner going down onto subway platforms

–the notoreiety of Central Park as a terrifying place.

–the beginnings of women wearing sneakers to work and changing into high heels in the office.

–Hot new food: Croissants!

–9th avenue Hookers coming up to cars, shivering in little outfits in the wintertime.

–Beggars filling Tompkins Square with a tent city until one day, boom, it was cleaned out.

–Reallly really cheap off-off Broadway theater (still here!)

–Lockers in Port authority. Then, when they took all seats out of Port Authority. Then, when they took all the benches off of most of the streets of the city.

–winos sleeping everywhere in cardboard boxes.

–crunching on crack vials walking to Port Authority.

–How you’d leave your door unlocked if you had a car so the thieves wouldn’t smash the window in to get at your change or your radio. And the “No Radio” signs. And then the development of those car radios that you could remove and put up a big panel instead.

–the development of car alarms so obnoxious that one began to pray someone would just steal the damn thing.

–“Lofts” that were really lofts, not multimillion dollar open-style housing.

–the bodega on my corner that had nothing but old milk and diapers, but yet had a bulletproof window between you and the cashier.

–Cheap Indian restaurants that used colanders to cover lightbulbs and tacked tigerprint fabric to the wall for atmosphere on East 6th Street.

–Watching a policewoman sitting on top of a guy in handcuffs, holding the guy by his hair and smashing it again and again on the pavement.

–The terrifyingness of Alphabett City.

–The horrifying plague of AIDS and beautiful young men dying left and right all around us.

–graffiti—people seriously wondering if it was “art” instead of destruction of property.


I guess the dominant feeling that I don’t miss is that constant creepy vibe of fear. Not fear for the future, but fear for the next ten minutes. I was always thinking, how fast can I run, where can I find help, who will see me if it’s dark.

Now, New York is such a playground. Tables with umbrellas everywhere, charming parks with yoga, boule, reading sections, ice skating rinks, art installations, etc. People are so mannerly and civilized—I barely remember that choking feeling in my throat, the shiver down my spine. And yet, so many people are out of work, or underpaid, in this expensive city. That’s fearsome in its own way.


I can’t remember exactly what Ed Koch had to do with this. But man, those were some tough years. At the same time, New York was still itself. Scary, dark, dangerous, but for those who have that mysterious gene that makes them natural New Yorkers—who love its energy, abrasiveness, inventiveness, magic, deeply authentic—it still had that mysterious quality that puts wind in the sails of the curious, the creative, and the ambitious. And the loud ones, with the big-talking hands.



One Response to ““How’m I doin’?”–Remembering the ’80s in NYC”

  1. Kathy W. February 11, 2013 at 12:03 am #

    Thanks, Ms. Hex, for that trip down Memory Lane.

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