Sunday, December 5

Summer in the City: Edmund White on Sex and Dancing in 1960s New York | Books

There was a hit song in the 1960s by Lovin ‘Spoonful called Summer in the city all about how the days were hot and sandy, everyone seemed half dead, but the nights were passionate and fun, full of sex and dancing. That was certainly my experience of the summer of 1967, especially hot when New York became a tropical city full of cruise ships and drinks, of people sleeping without air conditioning on the ash roofs of their buildings, sharing wine cellars of Mason jars. and attend late night horror movies. In the Village at Sixth Avenue and West Third Street, there was always a basketball game, the beautiful shirtless bodies drenched with sweat.

A young Edmund White.
A young Edmund White. Photography: Christopher Cox

In the evenings, I remember everyone was outside drinking beers or just hanging out, usually in packs. New York was a city of young people, so many that the streets were impassable for cars. Even my neighborhood of Chelsea, which is now so gentrified, was noisy with neighbors sitting on its steps, half dressed and listening to music late into the night. Many people passing by spoke Spanish. A chain of cheap restaurants sold hot dogs and papaya juice. The No Smoking signs at the subway entrances read “No Smoking.”

During the days, the richest people with cars drove to Jones Beach; the even richer would go to Fire Island or the Hamptons, where they owned or rented houses. A typical and fun thing for us poor teenagers was to take a subway to the end of the line in Brooklyn, where it reached above ground. Then we would change to a bus that would take us to Riis Park, where we would descend to the wide white sand beaches, swim in the frozen ocean and have a snack in polystyrene coolers; drag queens pitched tents where they changed into increasingly outrageous costumes. The gay part of the beach was full of wheezing, feigned outrage, and dance music. The trip back to the city was magical, the evening sun bent over playing rope tricks with the long hair of girls or boys; in this long stretch above the ground the windows were open. Back in town, we dined al fresco at cheap spaghetti houses with gardens to the rear.

There was a lot of sex in the helmets and we kissed in the bushes of the parks or at the end of a garbage-filled alley or in the open cellars of parked trucks. When a gay bar opened, everyone hurried until the police closed it; It wasn’t until 1969, two years later, and the beginning of gay liberation after the Stonewall uprising that gays could freely congregate. In bars like the Blue Bunny, when a plainclothes policeman walked in, the Christmas lights on the ceiling would start to flicker and all the dancing couples would separate.

By the end of that summer, the city had become smelly and intolerable. Those with air conditioning stayed inside; those who could afford to escape the city did. In New York there were no alleys for garbage collection, the land was too precious. Large black plastic bags were stacked by the sidewalk, stinking and overflowing, besieged by rats. It was rumored that the mafia had cornered the garbage collection market, which meant that the bags were seldom taken away. In the end, summer was a melon rind filled with coffee grounds, something ravenous rats had released from the sacks. It was no longer fun. We long for the fall breeze and the return of tanned, graceful adults.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *