Penthouse Retrospective

by Deborah Spungen Originally Published: October, 1983

Nancy Spungen | BONUS Penthouse Legacy

“I’m managing Sid’s career now, Mum,” Nancy told me over the phone. “He’s gonna be even bigger as a solo. He’ll do better in the States, I figure,” she declared firmly. “So we’re comin’ back for good. End of August or so. As soon as we get to New York, I’ll bring Sid down to meet the whole family. We’ll stay for a while. Won’t that be great?”

Nancy was coming home.

The prospect stirred bad memories. Not memories of the public Nancy, the punk Nancy, but memories of our private Nancy, the one we’d grown up with. That experience was far more frightening than anything I’d ever read about the punks.

Frank and I were at the Trenton, N.J., station when the train pulled in. Commuters spilled out of the doors and shoved their way across the platform to the escalators. I craned my neck in search of my Nancy. I couldn’t spot her.

Then the air was pierced by “Mum!”

It was Nancy’s voice. My eyes sought her out and found her.

I was not prepared for how much she’d deteriorated — even from when I’d seen her on TV. She looked like a Holocaust victim. She was much thinner. Her skin was a translucent bluish white. Her eyes had sunk deep into their sockets and had black circles under them. Her hair was bleached white, and along the hairline there were yellowish bruises and sores and scabs. She wore a black leather jacket with a torn, filthy T-shirt under it, tight black jeans, and spiked heels. Around her neck was a charm necklace-silver charms of gargoyles and snakes.

She looked like the walking dead. Behind her lurked Sid. I say “lurked” because he was at least a foot taller than her, and his spiky hair stood straight up on his head. He, too, was bluish white and painfully thin. He wore a black leather jacket, black jeans, black motorcycle boots, and a matching black leather collar and cuffs with pointed metal studs.

Frank and I just stood there, gaping at them. We weren’t alone. Everyone, but everyone, on the platform was staring at them. They stood out as much as if they’d just arrived from another planet. There was a total absence of life to them. It was as if the rest of the world were in color and they were in black and white.

They were totally oblivious of the scene they were causing.

Nancy came toward me and I toward her. We met halfway and embraced.

“My mum!” she cried as she held me tight. “My mum.”

But it wasn’t my Nancy I held in my arms. I felt as if I were holding a stranger. I wanted my Nancy back. But my Nancy was gone. A sob welled up in my throat.

“Mum,” she said, “this is Sid. Sid, this is my mum. Isn’t she beautiful? Just like I told you.”

He stuck out his hand. I shook it. It was wet and limp, a boy’s hand. He was a boy, shy and more than a little confused by the strange surroundings.

“‘Allo, Mum,” he said quietly.

“Hello, Sid,” I said.

He wasn’t so evil-looking once you got used to the sight of him. It was partly his drooping eye that made him appear so malevolent. His presence, however, was not malevolent. It was subdued. My impression was that he simply wasn’t very bright.

At home I barbecued a steak and served it with corn on the cob, salad, and garlic toast. We ate outside on the patio, under our green-and-white-striped awning, seated around our glass-topped wrought-iron table with its six matching wrought-iron chairs.

Nancy’s teenage brother, David, and sister, Suzy, watched as she cut Sid’s meat for him. Apparently Nancy always did. Then he dug in. He ate ravenously for a few minutes, his face in his plate.

“Fuckin’ good food,” he said. “Fuckin’ good, Debbie. Never have I had a meal like this. Never. Used to be I lived in a place with rats. Had to tie the food up in bags. High up, so they couldn’t get at it. Never have I had a meal like this.”

“I don’t cook much,” Nancy giggled.

“But that’s okay,” he said. “She’s so fuckin’ good to me.”

“That’s very nice,” I said.

Few can tell a tragic story as well as a mother, and the Nancy Spungen story qualifies as one of the most sad. Beware the dreams of the Punk Romantic..

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