The Cult of the Upper West Side

Its 1961 I’m 24, pregnant and living on the Lower East Side with my first husband Elliott who is selling dope out of our apartment. At night, our apartment is a revolving door for the local addicts on Avenue A. My life felt pretty crazy. So I moved out.

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Hanging With the Sullivanians in the Hamptons

The Sullivinian’s were a group of 20 and 30 something anti-establishment rebels that were known as sexual beasts. Sex addicts,. Hippies. Beatnicks. A cult. If you wanted to join them, your parents would disown you. Society would shun you. Good Jewish girls would never be a Sullivanian…so naturally I became one.

So let me be clear about a few things. I wasn’t some wayward hippie chick looking for a sugar daddy. I was an educated young woman who was raised on Henry Street by a couple of hardworking, intelligent, loving parents. My grandparents lived across the street and my aunt and her family lived up the block.

The problem was it was the 1960s and I was a woman. Society wanted me to get married and have babies but I was raised to be a leader and somehow, somewhere I had to break through female stereotypes to find myself.

The Sullivinian’s were a made up of a generation who wanted to break free. The philosophy of the Sullivinian’s was that we should be independent of the morays of society that are fed to us by our parents. Basically there were psychiatrists within the group to counsel people like me to overcome things like guilt and the need to be a perfect little girl. They said once you are done being raised, you should do what you feel is right and not what your parents want you to do. This is what attracted me to the Sullivinian’s

Don’t get me wrong. There was a lot of fun to be had. The psychiatrist’s of the group – the people guiding us to be who we “truly are”- believed In a healthy social life. They would tell us about parties where we would meet other Sullivinian’s. At these social events we would set up future “dates” Now these “dates’ got a lot of attention from the press. The idea of many “dates” breeded envy among everyone! We had coffee dates, study dates, movie dates and dinner dates. But for some reason everyone focused on the sex dates & sleepovers, And say what you want but they were fun! Assuming you liked the person.

Judgement and envy came from the most unexpected places in my life. One time I went to the doctor for crabs. It was the only time Id ever had it and I didn’t know what it was. He said, “You know a lot of my patients are coming in with crabs. I’m wondering if they know each other.” So I said, “Well I know a few of your patients, that’s how I found you.” Some detective work, huh?

A few days later my mother called. She wanted to know what the doctor’s bill was all about. “I had crabs Mom” what did I have to hide? I told her I got it from a toilet seat. You’d think she’d leave it at that. Instead she asked around the neighborhood and figured out how I really got it. We didn’t speak for 5 years after that.

My time with the Sullivainian’s and my therapist was very supportive and productive for me. I went back to school, was one of 12 female architects to graduate from Pratt in 1970. I learned how to play guitar. I started painting and I developed a close network of friends who became my new family. They reinforced my brave choices through the next several years and were there for me when I battled breast cancer. I married a wonderful man…who wasn’t a Sullivainian…but he was an Irish playwright, which was much more interesting.

Sometimes in life you have to make unilateral choices to get through. The key is recognizing those opportunities when they come along. There’s light and dark to everything, you just have to know the difference between the two.

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2 thoughts on “The Cult of the Upper West Side

  1. I always say watch out for your 20’s. If you’re going to screw up, it happens there. I know a part of me was lost in my 20’s. But like you, I found my way to my future. Thanks for the post! Debbie Jones

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