Dave Barry

Classic '97: Dave Barry visits SoHo for a cultural (and literal) awakening


This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, April 13, 1997 with the headline "SOHO-RRIBLE"

I admit that I don't have a sophisticated lifestyle. I don't party all night in trendy clubs with people whose hair is the color of Jell-O. My idea of an exciting evening is to go out at 7:45 p.m. and get a medium dish of frozen yogurt with -- sometimes you have to walk on the wild side, darn it -- low-fat chocolate topping.

I live on a peaceful street where there's hardly any noise except for a neighbor's pet parrot, which has been trying for years to make some kind of important announcement, but unfortunately cannot get past the first syllable, which is ``GRAAK!''

I've worn the same style of clothes since 1967, when I made the breakthrough fashion discovery that you can't make too much of a fool of yourself if everything you own, except your underwear, is blue.

I would no more have my body tattooed or pierced than I would stick a live scorpion up my nose.

In other words, I am, culturally, Mr. American Cheese On White Bread With Mayonnaise. So I experienced quite an awakening recently when my wife and I spent a weekend in New York City's fashionable SoHo district. SoHo is located south of Houston Street; hence the name ``SoHo,'' which stands for: ``So, How Do You Eat With Those Rings Through Your Tongue?''

We stayed in a very nice loft belonging to some friends of ours, who sent us pages of detailed instructions about how to get past the elaborate system of locks and entry codes and burglar alarms. I have never personally launched nuclear missiles against Moscow, but I bet it would be less complicated than gaining access to this loft. People are very security-conscious in New York; at one point, we encountered a woman in the lobby, and although we tried to appear friendly and harmless, she had that expression that you see on many New Yorkers in such situations, whereby they strain to look as polite as possible considering that they strongly suspect you're about to whip out a machete and a vial of hydrochloric acid.

(I'm not saying it's a lot better in Miami. I'm just saying that in Miami we don't go around worrying that everybody else is armed, because we know everybody else is armed.)

But getting back to my cultural awakening: SoHo is full of clothing boutiques selling fashions that are extremely ``avant garde,'' which is French for ``visible from space.'' Do you remember when hip people wore black, and un-hip people wore polyester clothes in clashing, retina-damaging colors? Well, things have changed. There are many boutiques in SoHo featuring comically unattractive, radioactively plaid outfits -- and these are not cheap outfits -- that would be barred from Clown School for being too loud.

(Meanwhile, in some variety store in rural Kentucky, the first shipment of black clothing is just now arriving.)

Do you want to know what else is fashionable in SoHo? Cruddy old furniture. By ``cruddy old furniture,'' I don't mean ``furniture that, underneath the surface crud, is actually beautiful.'' I mean ``furniture that, underneath the surface crud, is crud.'' Some SoHo stores are proudly selling metal yard furniture from which all the metal content rusted away decades ago, so what you're actually purchasing is a furniture-shaped shell of hardened dirt.

One store was selling a beat-up ``seed cabinet'' that had many drawers broken or missing and that looked as though it had served as a latrine for generations of diseased bats; the price was $4,000 . Nearby, in the store's clothing section, people were admiring a female mannequin dressed in a color scheme that had to be distorting the Earth's magnetic field: bright-blue-plaid pants, a lime-green blouse, and of course a purple scarf. In a situation like that, you find yourself thinking: ``Am I THAT unsophisticated? Or are all these people insane?''

This is what we were asking ourselves as we returned to the loft and settled down for a restful night of sitting bolt upright in bed every two minutes until dawn. Because it turns out that, at night, SoHo can compete, decibel for decibel, with World War II. There are people whose social lives apparently consist of standing on the sidewalk directly under loft windows all night shouting curse words at each other. SoHo is also the site of the nightly meeting of the Organization Of Easily Irritated Motorists With Very Loud Horns.

My theory is that nobody in SoHo ever gets any sleep, so that after a while people become delirious and encourage each other to engage in erratic behavior:

``I know! Let's pierce our bodies and wear polyester clown outfits!''

``Yes! And then let's buy a cruddy old seed cabinet for $4,000!''

``Great idea! Even though the closest we ever come to engaging in agriculture is when we steam asparagus!''

That's what I think is going on. Although I admit it could be that I'm just too unsophisticated to understand the SoHo scene. But I doubt it. I'm not some yokel who thinks that ``fine art'' is a portrait of Elvis on a beach towel. Mine is on genuine velveteen.