Monday, September 29, 2008

25 years of yuppies

Lots to do and see in New York's 40th anniversary issue.

For instance, here's Jay McInerney in an essay he wrote titled "Yuppies in Eden"....He says he first heard the term "yuppie" in 1983 while having breakfast at Veselka. A painter he knew muttered "fucking yuppies" after seeing an Upper East Side-looking couple in chinos.

Not long after my first actual sighting, I would see the earliest DIE YUPPIE SCUM graffiti around the neighborhood, an epithet that was soon vying in popularity with that LES perennial EAT THE RICH. The vituperative tone with which the Y-word was pronounced on East Fifth Street was in part a function of rapidly escalating real-estate prices in the East Village; after decades of relative stability that had made the area a bastion of Eastern European immigrants and young bohemians, though, it’s easy to forget at this distance that it was also a war zone where muggings and rapes weren’t considered news. The Hells Angels ruled East Third Street, and after dark you went east of Second Avenue strictly at your own risk. The cops didn’t go there. East Tenth beyond Avenue A was a narcotics supermarket where preteen runners scampered in and out of bombed-out tenements. In fact, great swatches of the city were dirty and crime-ridden. Even the West Village was pretty gritty by today’s standards, and Times Square was a scene of spectacular squalor. Check out Taxi Driver or The French Connection if you want to get a sense of what this urban wasteland looked like.

And later...

My first novel, Bright Lights, Big City, came out in September 1984, although it was set a few years earlier, in a grubbier, less prosperous New York. No one was more surprised than me when The Wall Street Journal described me as a spokesman for the yuppies. The protagonist of the novel was a downwardly mobile fact-checker and aspiring novelist, and unless I’m mistaken, he didn’t eat any raw fish in the novel. His best friend, Tad Allagash, was a likelier yuppie, an adman with entrĂ©e to all the right places, an uptown boy who knew his way around downtown. And they both did a lot of coke, a.k.a. Bolivian Marching Powder, which was to become the emblematic drug of the eighties, what acid had been to the sixties.

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