A Penny and Her Thoughts

“Oh my God, now I’ve gotten distracted by my own breasts,” Penny

Arcade said. It was a recent night at Suite 16, the Chelsea nightclub, and Ms.

Arcade-the petite-framed performance artist, Warhol muse and teenage star of Women In Revolt -was hosting a preview of

her new one-woman show, New York Values ,

which debuted at P.S. 122 on Feb. 14. Now 51, with a Bettie Page hairdo and

ruby-colored lips, Ms. Arcade was accompanied by a pair of go-go dancers, and

she wore a red silky sheer blouse tied in a bow, black leather pants and, as it

turned out, no panties.

New York Values is a

paean to dirty old pre–Rudolph Giuliani Manhattan, a rebuke to the city’s

cleaned-up, de-porned image. Always a defender of the eccentric and

semi-employed, Ms. Arcade-who is married and lives in the Lower East Side-began

to harangue rat-racers and the 70-hour work week. “Traditionally, people who

live an alternative life, we don’t work,” she said. “Because we need a lot of

sleep. It’s hard to get a lot of sleep if you have a job. I mean, imagine

letting your job dictate how much you work. Shouldn’t it be the other way

around? Shouldn’t how rested you feel determine how much you work?”

” Yeah! ” someone yelled.

“Traditionally, people who live an alternative life who don’t

work, they just need a lot of sex,” Ms. Arcade said. “It’s hard to get a lot of

sex if you have a job. A lot of people complain about their boyfriend, they

blame their girlfriend. They say, ‘My sex life is boring because of my

partner.’ I’m like, ‘No-your sex life is compromised because you have a job.’

Imagine trying to corral something as volatile as a sex urge and limit it

between the hours of 7 p.m. and midnight. No wonder you’re having a problem. My

dear, this can be remedied. You can get a job where you can sleep; you can have

sex with people at work. Or you can get a job having sex.”

The crowd yelled again: ” Yeahhhhhh! “

Later, she took a seat in a cream-colored booth. Like a lot of

downtown artists and provocateurs, Ms. Arcade, whose real name is Susana

Ventura, had spent much of the Giuliani era feeling stiff-armed by her own

city, as the Mayor and his lieutenants cracked down on strip clubs, sex shops

and grunge in general. Did she have more hope for Michael Bloomberg?

“Bloomberg strikes me as a sport” Ms. Arcade said. “One of the

big issues everybody in New York has is that after living under Giuliani, New

York has gotten very sexually phobic. Giuliani always struck me as a person

where there were serious issues about toilet training …. You know when

someone’s that interested in sex and surveillance, you wonder about their

toilet training?

“Now Mayor Bloomberg strikes me in a very different way,” Ms.

Arcade said. “The man is a bachelor, right? I think the man likes pussy. I

think he has an intelligent girlfriend, which leads me to believe that he may

be a sampler of the many sexual delights available in our fair city.”

A good lover, possibly?

“I think he might be a great lover, and I think he might be a

great john.”

Ms. Arcade was asked if she thought New York had become-as it’s

vogue to say in artistic circles these days-“too safe.”

“It’s turned into a mall,” Ms. Arcade said, delivering the

neo–New York critic’s mantra. “Children can roam the streets at any hour of the

day or night. They are free to walk to the West Side Highway without

prostitutes, Greenwich Village without homosexuals and Fulton Fish Market

without fish. Which is dull, which is not New York. My show is about the New

York you miss, or the New York you missed.

“The problem is that New York is now populated by the 10 most

popular kids from every high school in the world,” Ms. Arcade continued. “Most

of us who moved to New York came here to get away from those people. We were

losers and deviants.”

Ms. Arcade said she felt that Sept. 11 may have signaled a

change, a return to grungy New York. Five months later, she wasn’t so sure.

“The first thought in my mind was, ‘Oh, now we’re gonna get New

York back,'” she  said. She gestured to

one of her go-go dancers sliding around on the bar as Aerosmith’s “Walk This

Way” played. “People moved to New York for this,” she said. “And it’s not

available anymore.”

-George Gurley

The Ballad of the Madison Avenue Chicken Man

For 15 years, John Dragonas, a.k.a. the Chicken Man, has served

lunch from a mobile cart to customers at the southwest corner of 64th Street

and Madison Avenue. Forty years old and originally from Greece, Mr. Dragonas

estimates that he serves nearly 200 people each day, including employees from

the nearby clothing boutiques, chauffeurs and workers from the Central Park

Zoo. Customers come to the corner because Mr. Dragonas, it is fair to say, is a

cut above the average street vendor, serving delicate interpretations of

customary fare like burgers, kebabs, knishes and, of course, his specialty,

marinated chicken sandwiches. Mr. Dragonas’ other concoctions include a

yogurt-based white sauce and pita bread filled with prosciutto di parma, tomatoes, olive oil, fresh basil and

mozzarella, but the chicken sandwich is his signature.

Lately, however, Mr. Dragonas has found himself at the center of

an ugly territorial dispute. Employees at the Chase Manhattan office directly

behind Mr. Dragonas’ cart have complained about the pungent odor emanating from

the four-wheeled eatery, and they recently took steps to drive the Chicken Man

from the corner. Earlier this month, Mr. Dragonas arrived at 64th and Madison

to find that Chase had installed a large terra-cotta flower pot on the

sidewalk, preventing him from setting up his cart in its normal location.

George Renert, the branch manager for the Chase location, said

the flower pot was part of a beautification project, and not intended to drive

Mr. Dragonas away. “This building is a showcase location for us,” Mr. Renert

said. “It [the flower pot] had nothing to do with the hot dog guy.”

Mr. Dragonas tried to fit himself and his cart into the new

landscape, but after three days someone called the police to report that the

cart was illegally parked. A police officer arrived and told Mr. Dragonas that

Chase had a valid permit for its flower pot, and suggested that the Chicken Man

resettle across Madison Avenue on the northeast corner, where a Chanel jewelry

store is under renovation.

Mr. Dragonas moved his cart, but said that business fell off

steeply when he did. “People know where to look for me, in one place,” he said,

shaking his head. “If they don’t see me in that one corner, they don’t think to

look across the street.”

But a few days outside of 29 East 64th Street began to bring Mr.

Dragonas a whole new kind of aggravation. Residents of the building began to

complain that the smoke and steam from his cart was coming in their windows and

stinking up the place.

“The head of the tenants or

something came down and told me, ‘We don’t want you on this corner,'” Mr.

Dragonas said. “Then another lady came down and said, ‘We don’t want you here.’

I said, ‘Look, I don’t want to be here either!'”

Again, the police were summoned.

“The lady said to [the police officer], ‘If you don’t get him out

of here, I’m going to hassle him every day,'” said Mr. Dragonas, shaking his

right hand, encased in a clear plastic glove. “But the cops told me it was a

legal spot.”

Mr. Dragonas said he didn’t want to be an unwelcome presence. “I

wish I could be on a business corner that didn’t have an apartment building,”

he said. “That’s why the bank worked. I wouldn’t want the smoke in my windows.

But there’s no place else; it’s where the police told me to set up.”

Feeling rejected, Mr. Dragonas opted not to bring out his cart

for a couple of days, and instead helped out at his brother Tony’s stand on

Madison and 62nd. But he said he planned to go out to the northeast corner of

Madison and 64th on Tuesday, Feb. 19, and see what happened.

-Rebecca Traister

Honk Haiku

Poetry posted on telephone poles on Clinton Street in Cobble

Hill, Brooklyn:

 

you from new jersey

honking in front of my

house

in your s.u.v.

oh, forget Enron

the problem around here is

all the damn honking

ford, gm, chrysler

zero percent financing

means more cars can honk

 

rudy managed to

get rid of the squeegie

guys

but forgot the honkers

 

-Beth Broome