You had Hairon Broadway with naked actors
while we had the tame movie version
with Beverly D’Angelo and Treat Williams,
but you can never take the original Evita from us,
with Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone,
the former who now plays Saul on Homeland,
the latter who appears in the third season of Girls
as a fake spokesperson for an osteoporosis drug.
You are a baby boomer with a pension plan
and tricked out Winnebago. We are Gen-X
filled with anxiety about the dying seas,
even though technically there’s a five year span
that’s up for grabs. Those born between 1961 and 1966
can claim either generation which is why the “we”
is sometimes in contrast to you and other times
not. We had Claire Danes as Angela in My So-Called Life,
but they have Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison
and Temple Grandin. Homeland and Girls
are for their generation, though we watch too.
Hulu pop-ups mock our age—Latisse to treat
“inadequate eyelash” growth, Swiffer WetJet,
and Astroglide. They are known as Gen Y
and the Millennials. They have a film version
in which Madonna plays Evita and Antonio Banderas,
Ché. By the time Rent came along, I was too adult
to get it, even though I was still living
in Alphabet City just like the characters. I thought
the boring white guy narrator was exploiting
his colorful neighbors, but hadn’t I done
the same thing? My early odes were to Felix,
the homeless man to whom I brought leftovers, writing
myself as a secular Mother Teresa. We were jealous,
we’ll admit, when fellow Nuyorican poet Reg E. Gaines
received a Tony nomination for Bring in ‘da Noise,
Bring in ‘da Funk, but the play was so great
we saw it twice. We had Hairspray with Divine
and Rikki Lake, but they have Hairspray with John Travolta
and Nikki Blonsky. You had Baltimore riots
and they have Baltimore riots. We all have police brutality
and real war. We had Vietnam and they have
Iraq and Afghanistan, for which women can enlist.
Your brothers had shellshock, ours flashbacks, and now they
have PTSD. We had Elton John’s “Philadelphia Freedom,”
but they have Elton John’s Lion King.
We had Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop,”
but they have Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors”
in a Kodak commercial and later Kinky Boots.
Cyndi Lauper danced the streets of the Lower East Side
to make her “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” video
two summers before I moved there when Madonna
was buying yogurt at the same bodega where I
would later buy mine. We had poverty and they have poverty
with the spinoff T-shirt Girls Just Want to Have Funds.
By the time Glee and Smash came along
we were ready to join AARP. You had Quaaludes
and LSD. We had coke and crack addicts on the stoop.
You had political protests and we had crime waves—
one friend stabbed and another shot. They
have Ritalin, Oxy, and Xanax. You had rent control
and we had slum lords. They stay home
or sometimes move to Williamsburg or Red Hook.
You had girdles and long line bras. We had anorexia
and bulimia. They have plastic surgery and Spanx.
We had The Brady Bunch and they did too
because of Nickelodeon and The Brady Bunch Movie.
You had the Beatles and we did too because of Dick Clark
and oldies radio. They even have the Beatles
through “Revolution” in the Nike commercial.
We had The Jackson Five’s “ABC” and Michael Jackson’s
“Thriller.” They have Michael Jackson’s
child abuse allegations, his death by propofol,
and hologram. We had Pippi Longstocking
selling us self-reliance and they have Wendy,
selling them burgers. You had braids, we had
French braids, and they have hair extensions.
All your Annies were white and so were ours.
Same with our Cinderellas—but they have Brandy
and Quvenzhané Wallis. All our movie couples
were pretty much the same color except in To Sir with Love
but we never got to see Lulu’s crush bloom—not because of race,
but because of the student/teacher line which couldn’t
be crossed. The night before I taught my first composition class
I was so nervous I got drunk at Area, a club you said
was better in your day before AIDS and skyrocketing
real estate. I danced with my friends then kissed a stranger.
The next morning he sat in the first row leering.
He stood near me in the elevator and told me
I smelled good until I started taking the five flights
of stairs. After a few weeks he dropped out—
maybe as a courtesy, maybe he was bad
at taking tests. Looking back at my rosters at Baruch,
I taught four people named Jennifer Lopez.
J Lo would have been there in those years,
but I don’t remember anyone who seemed like her,
though does any celebrity really seem
like their famous image in real life?
J Lo is only eight years younger than I am,
but now my students can be thirty years younger
or more. We both had moist thatches of hair, but they have
vayjayjays and wax. Five years before The Vagina
Monologues, I let an editor change the title of my second
book to The Woman with Two Vaginas, the name
of one of the poems. He thought readers would think it
hilarious, but soon I was in a mess, promptly banned
and censored. My father had a nightmare I was shamed
on The Phil Donahue Show and relatives were calling him
asking where he and my mother had gone wrong.
We had Phil Donahue and they have Oprah.
You had feminism and we had feminism,
but we can’t say our feminism was better than theirs,
can we? When we were in college, there wasn’t even a term
for sexual harassment. So there was nothing to do
about the lit professors with pregnant wives
who kissed us in their offices. Or the writing professors
who put their hands on our knees after class, saying
how that guy in our short story was crazy to leave.
Your harassment was worse than our harassment,
I’ll admit, and it was even worse for our mothers
and grandmothers, before people were self-conscious
enough to name their generations. Both of us
project ourselves onto the perils of Generation Z
and the end of the alphabet, just like both of us
can imagine the witch who came before, stripped
of her clothes—her head, legs, and pubis shaved
as the patriarchy believed a woman braided a man’s fate
in her hair. She met her inquisitor walking backwards
so she couldn’t give him the evil eye. Maybe your
East Village was indeed better than mine,
the avant-garde gasping its last breath
when Kmart came to Astor Place.
Her village had survived the Black Plague.
Hard to believe just three hundred years ago,
her children watched her burn at the stake.
I wish I could have seen Hair on Broadway,
those twenty seconds when actors stood naked
behind a scrim, chanting “beads, flowers, freedom,
and happiness.” I’ve always wanted
to step back, but just a little bit, in time.
Latest posts by Denise Duhamel (see all)
- MAYBE YOUR EAST VILLAGE WAS BETTER THAN MINE: A BRAIDED POEM - October 21, 2015