It was a common enough occurrence to see the artist Quentin Crisp strolling along the street in the East Village. You knew with absolute certainty that he would say hello to you, even though he didn’t know you from a hole in the wall. It was easy to spot him way off ahead even with all the foot traffic around here; his outfit was so distinctive. A big black floppy hat, a suit with exaggerated shoulders and wide lapels, a loud (red or green) cravat draped underneath his soft white collared shirt, pinned down with a diamond studded tie-pin. His elegant walk – characterised with a sideways sway – went perfectly with his attire. Effeminate and pale, his soft skin appeared all the more milky set against his black mascara. People often stopped to talk with him and he seemed to delight in the opportunity. Many years previous I had seen the movie based on his book “The Naked Civil Servant” – a masterpiece. It was broadcast in 1975 with John Hurt as Quentin, he was so convincing, I thought that he was him. The program made both John Hurt and Quentin Crisp into stars. Crisp was a brilliant raconteur and successfully toured his one man shows to sold-out theatres. After he performed in New York he was smitten and moved here to East Village in the 80’s, living on East 3rd Street.
New York is full of people trying to get attention, but you have to be careful, they could turn on you for getting what they asked for. Today I passed a woman that I have seen numerous times on the street around here. She looks like she could be Native American, or Asian. She is tie-dyed from head to toe. Her waist-length hair is tie-dyed the colours of the rainbow, her t-shirt the same. Her sweatpants and a long shop coat the same, even her boots. She wears a full size black visor that covers her entire face, and she pulls a small shopping cart that has a sign on it saying “I’m not in the mood for being stared at”. Of course I’m thinking “Then why the hell are you dressed like a Martian!” This is another reason why I loved Quentin Crisp. He dressed outrageously and drew your attention, when he got it he reveled in it.
I saw him perform once at a P.S 122 Benefit. It was a performance space on the corner on 9th Street and First Avenue. He started off by saying how much he loved New York and that he didn’t miss England at all with its fussy ways and social reserve. America had a much healthier attitude he reckoned, people said what they thought, and brought stuff out in the open. He then told a story to illustrate his point.
A woman goes into a railway station in London and finds that she has some time to kill before her train departs. So she goes to the café and finds that most of the few chairs there are taken. She sees one little round table is occupied by a single man, after clearing that it was available she places the cup of tea that she was carrying down on the table with a Kit Kat. She then removes her coat and places it on the back of her chair, shoves her suitcase underneath and begins to unwrap the Kit Kat. She breaks a finger off and washes a bite down with the tea. It’s hot and muggy in the café. “Too many people and too many coats and cases” she thinks. The steam from the cooking and human breath fogs up the glass windows looking out into the bustling station. The man sharing the table breaks off a piece of the Kit Kat for himself. She is astonished “The bloody cheek of him!” She knew it was a small table, and that her presence had taken away his privacy. But really, does she owe him a Kit Kat? Couldn’t he at least ask? She quickly has another piece, and so does he. “Well I never” she thought. She thinks, it’s time to find her platform now anyway, so much for a bit of relaxation. She throws on her coat and heads off for her train, astounding at the cheek of that bloke.
After the train pulls out of the station, a conductor announces “tickets please”. She opens up her bag to find the ticket and their she sees, an unopened Kit-Kat.