SHEEPSKIN JACKET: “Harley-Davidson, huh?”
I had just moved to The City, from Queens, where I had grown up. This was my first apartment in NYC, and it was on East 3rd Street in the East Village, between Avenues B and C. This area colloquially, was colorfully known as “Alphabet City” because of the letter assigned streets of Avenue A, Avenue B, Avenue C and Avenue D—all of which were sandwiched between the East River in the east, and First Avenue in the west. Alphabet City was sandwiched along the south-north axis,, between Houston (pronounced “how-ston”) in the south, and 14th Street in the north.
Alphabet City in perspective, was a smaller part of the “East Village,” and the East Village was in turn, a smaller part of the “Lower East Side” of NYC.
The East Village in the late 1960s, was known as a ethnically mixed area ridden with drugs and crime, and was considered a low-rent district. Hey man, check it out. The rent for my first house (in New York, “house” is used generically as a synonym for “home,” whether one lived in an apartment or actual house.) was sixty-nine bucks a month. That’s how undesirable the East Village was, which is not the case now. Now, the East Village has been gentrified, with condominiums going for millions of dollars.
But not in 1969. However, in the late ’60s, the area was infused with bohemian luster, as the hippies moved in after the “Summer of Love” in 1967. The East Village in short order, became second only to Haight-Ashbury, as a haven for hippies. Any time counterculturists inhabit an area, there are bikers alongside–primarily because of the low rents of these areas. This was true of the East Village as well. Bikers and hippies coexisted–along with longtime ethnic residents who consisted of Eastern Europeans and Puerto Ricans, in the East Village. Places like Gem Spa on St. Marks Place and 2nd Avenue, became hangouts for hardcore bikers.
CHAIN BANDOLERO: Could not be identified as a deadly weapon by cops.
This was the world I’d moved into, in May of 1969. I too, hung out in front of Gem Spa on St. marks Place. One day, I was walking down St. Marks Place with my ex. I was wearing a sheepskin jacket, and a bandolero of heavy chain from my shoulder to my waist, that I used to chain my Harley up when I parked her. My Harley at the time, was Sally The Bitch, my ’68 XLCH. This heavy chain was useful in another way. It could not be identified as a deadly weapon, unless one was caught in the act of beating someone with the chain.
ARTHUR “STEPPENWOLF” SELLERS: Carried a 12 inch crescent wrench.
One night, my friend Arthur “Steppenwolf” Sellers and I, took a midnight ride up to The Cloisters. Arthur at that time, was a one percenter and member of the Rat Pack MC. We parked our bikes–Arthur had his Pan and I had my Sportster—in the park and were wandering around. A cop came up to us and said that we couldn’t park our bikes in the park, and we were there after closing. The cop then asked me what my chain was for, and I told him that it was for securing my bike. The cop asked Arthur what the 12 inch crescent wrench was for, and Arthur said, “It’s for making repairs on my bike.” Of course Arthur carried it as a bludgeon, but the cop couldn’t arrest him for possession of a deadly weapon, because it was a legitimate tool.
HARLEY PATCH: It was on the back of my jacket.
Back in Queens, I didn’t have any exposure to one percenters. It was when I started to hangout in The City, that I encountered and met one percenters. Shortly after I moved to the East Village, I was walking down St. Marks Place. I was wearing my sheepskin jacket, with a Harley patch on the back. A member of the Hells Angels MC caught up to me, conspicuously looked at the Harley patch and said, in a mocking and humorous tone, “Harley-Davidson, huh.” This biker was older than me. His comment and supercilious tone reminded me of how young I was—I was only 22—and gave me pause, to think about the hierarchy of greater age that confers more experience.
I can remember being in my 20s in the East Village, and wanting to be taken more seriously, as an older man would have been. I also felt this many times in California, as a young man in San Diego, after I moved there. It is quaint now, to think of those times. It is a truism that younger men want to be older, as older men want to be younger again. Later.