Anarchy’s for sale here. You can buy it on the street for $49.99, plus tax, in the form of studded belts, scuffed leather jackets, fingerless gloves, and Sex Pistols action figures. But that didn’t stop Suvy, who is 18 years old, from arriving two months ago, straight out of juvie with a backpack and spiked hair—a simple decision, really, for a kid who thought of himself as a punk. Such is the pull of the St. Marks mythology.
It’s late afternoon, and though he’s been drinking since he woke up around noon in a squat in Brooklyn, Suvy now plots his next beer. He’s sprawled with some of the usual guys on the sidewalk next to the abandoned falafel shop on St. Marks Place, a piece of prime real estate if you hang out on the street. Suvy squatted inside for a while, until a man came in one night, found him in his sleeping bag, naked and wasted, and kicked him out. “I guess I didn’t pay my rent.”
You can’t get away with anything around here anymore. “St. Marks used to be, like, a punk block,” Suvy says. “It used to be overrun with punks. Now it’s like fucking BBQ Chicken and fucking Chipotle, whatever that fucking store is.” John Varvatos has taken over CBGB. Trash & Vaudeville peddles overpriced punk trinkets to tourists. That very day in Tompkins Square Park they’ve set up a big stage, and there’s an infestation of tweens in dance uniforms and glitter paint and families with juice bottles preening on the benches—a far cry from the park’s glory days as a tent village for the city’s lost and broken. “Everyone used to live there,” Suvy says. “But then the cops came and bulldozed it, and now it’s pretty much just a cop hot spot.”
The halcyon days of the punk movement were over before Suvy was born, of course, but each year as the weather warms, hundreds of kids like him descend on St. Marks. They’ve learned the names of the bands. They’ve memorized the lyrics. They’ve carefully crafted the look, gotten the piercings, the tattoos. They come hoping to tap into a scene that no longer exists, but in the process they’ve accidentally created a new one, an ersatz summer camp of misfits and would-be rebels. Some come from the boroughs or the suburbs; for others, it’s a stop on a migratory circuit that includes Portland, Oregon, and New Orleans. Some are fleeing broken families, others just looking for adventure. The common denominator seems to be not family, not class, not race, but merely a highly evolved sense of teenage angst, for which punk provides a ready-made, if recycled, outlet.
There are glam punks and goth punks and skater punks and ska punks. Suvy’s squatting partners Greg and Jamie are crustie punks—that’s punk with a dash of hippie. Jamie’s girlfriend, Jazmin, is a metal punk. Their friend Miquel is a hobo. And Eric is a rockabilly punk who combs his green hair back fifties style.
Suvy calls himself a gutter punk—the closest thing, he says, to the original version. He was kicked out of his home in Philly about a year ago because, he says, “my parents are metal heads and they hate me.” He dropped out of school, couch-surfed for a while, then got picked up for breaking into houses. After seven months in juvie, he had only one plan: getting himself to St. Marks Place. “I heard about St. Marks in a Casualties song,” he says, “so I’m like, ‘Wait a second, I want to hang out there.’ ” That’s what he was doing when he met Greg, who showed him places to squat. He sometimes sleeps in an industrial building in Williamsburg, sometimes in the park, sometimes under a bridge by the East River, sometimes even with women who warm to his cherubic features and haphazard charisma. A few more years of living this life and he won’t be so pretty.
“Hey, what’s up?” he calls out to a girl walking past in plaid pants and a Casualties shirt. She pauses long enough for him to know he might have a chance. “You’re really hot. Come over here.”
Up close, she’s not as cool as she initially seemed. She tells Suvy that she’s a freshman at a high school in Brooklyn, which means first of all that she goes to school and second that she probably lives with her parents. Then there’s the striped glove she’s wearing on one hand, which besides being impeccably clean is exactly the type of merchandise you purchase if you want to look punk. Still, she’s cute, voluptuous and freckled, and Suvy aims to impress.