What follows is the next installment of my somewhat self indulgent personal history Park Avenue Punk.
In the late 1980’s East Village, a very distant place, there were several squats on the east side of Tompkins Square Park. Some were inhabited by junkies, some with runaways and some with runaways who were well on their way to becoming junkies. Many squatters were into the hardcore/punk/skinhead scene that was all mixed together at that time downtown.
At that time I had a friend from Philly who herself had become a recent runaway when we perused the various squats in Alphabet City circa 1985/86 looking for a place for her to “live.” We were really really young. But when dressed in a very intimidating way age loses its meaning.
After months inhabiting one such squat on 9th street (right next to the infamous “C” Squat) between C and D, my friend introduced me to a girl, I believe also from Philly, who moved in and she warmed right up to. Her name was Cary Saunders. She was a couple of years older than us.
One night in December just before Christmas, I stayed down there with the two of them. I forewent my cozy Upper East Side home, festooned with Christmas fluff for an electricity-less, hole-in-the-floor-toiletted room with a pad-lock on the door huddled together tightly with 2 un-showered runaway girls with shaved heads and tattoos (much like mine).
It was a cold night, but otherwise much like any other “sleep-over” a group of young teenage girls might have, giggling and talking about “boys” (albeit, un-conventionally good-looking boys).
One big difference from the traditional sleepover; I went home the next morning to a home, which I believe was the morning of Christmas Eve. My friend went to work and Cary did whatever she did to occupy her days.
That night I slipped into my room while my family ate and cavorted in the communal parts of the home. Scanning the TV for ANYTHING non-holiday related, the local news came on with insane pictures of a blazing fire they could hardly get a handle on in the very same building I had slept in the night before. I was glued to the screen. Firefighters, police and locals gathered on the street in front of the building I had left a few hours earlier that day. It was pure Christmas Eve pandemonium.
They pulled a body from the fire but said it was too badly burned to determine whether it was a man or a woman. They showed a picture of the tattoo on its arm; it was Cary’s tattoo. The one she had been waving around with inconsolable joy, the way the girls I went to school with would flaunt a new pair of Tiffany earrings or a Cartier Trinity ring.
I cried. I was really scared. I was thirteen years old and I was really really scared. I didn’t know Cary very well, but I didn’t know anyone before then who had died so young; in such a brutal way.
One life down.