Wednesday, November 20, 2013

SIGN the Pe-ti-SHUN!

Now and then, I think about a certain character from the old East Village. With her folding table and anti-pornography signs, she was vibrant and angry, intimidating and exciting. Her voice and the cadence she used to call out her mantra, "Sign the petition," has stayed in people's psyches over the years. Now and then, some of us find ourselves still saying it, in our heads, or out loud to friends, spontaneously, as if we are conjuring old ghosts: "SIGN the pe-ti-SHUN!"

Who was that woman? Awhile ago, I asked the Hive Mind on Facebook and the Hive Mind answered.


Valerie Harper in Times Square

Her name was Page and she was a feminist against pornography. People's memories of her go back to the early 1990s, possibly the 1980s.

A regular at Astor Place, she was known for her graphic posters, including the infamous Hustler meat grinder cover, and her scare tactics. Laura recalled, "One of my friends once asked her where the money went and she snapped and said. 'Go away, you doe-eyed bimbo, go home and get your beating......Sign the PETition!'"

Danielle remembered: "Once I heard her SCREAM at a male passerby, 'Go home and beat your damned wife!'"

Jessica worked for her, briefly. She recalls: "she had an ad in the Voice. she said she was going to pay $8 an hour. she had to train me to yell right. i couldn't do it. i wasn't loud enough or mean enough."



Eventually, Page turned her efforts to the animal world. "I’m through with women," she told The Observer in 1998. "I’m through with those ding-dongs! They dress like whores because they are whores!"

She was still around in 2004 when Wilson wrote an article about her in The Villager saying, "You think you’re just going to sign something in support of animal rights, but then she tells you that the 'sign-up' fee to join her organization is $7 (which is enough to cover a pack of cigarettes, which she then promptly purchases at St. Mark’s and Third once she’s suckered her first victim of the day)."



Sometime in the mid-2000s, Page vanished from New York. Signs point to San Francisco where I hope she is still standing on a corner somewhere, calling "SIGN the pe-ti-SHUN" for women or for kittens, for something, for anything. She made the neighborhood more interesting and we're missing that--now more than ever.

Somehow, I don't think the new shiny Astor Place would permit her--especially now that it will be overrun with Twits.




UPDATE: Photographer Richard Greene got this rare shot of Page and her anti-porn table at Broadway and 8th Street in 1989:


©richardgreene 2015

35 comments:

Groovybeans said...

As a kid, I remember her sitting at her folding table in front of Zabars, holding up that sign and shouting, "Women - this is what your husbands are masturbating to." Her voice was a cross between a rusty chainsaw and a cheese-grater. I was both fascinated and terrified by her.

I saw her years later on the C train, yelling at two young Asian women who were passing out fliers for a traveling Chinese circus. The women looked confused, as they were clearly not very fluent in English, but she was loudly braying in their faces about animal rights and saying, "You people are the worst!"

Thanks for these memories.

Caleo said...

I just remember a constant refrain of "ANIMAL RIGHTS!!!".
I always wondered what happened to her. She was always there, in all seasons, for many years... and then she was gone.

Anonymous said...

After having my first child, I walked by her with the stoller. She screamed, "Breeder!"

Gojira said...

OMG, I remember her! Once I actually saw her somewhere on the Upper West Side haranguing the passing crowds there - that was when she was in her animal phase. Thanks for jogging my memory!

I also remember in the late 1980s when the old, gritty Astor Place had an impromptu flea market Sunday mornings on the west side of Cooper Union - people would come and spread blankets out and sell clothes and household items they no longer wanted. I got rid of lots of stuff that way, and made a few extra bucks doing so. Don't think that would be allowed any more, either...

Charles said...

In the early 2000s, she used to set up a table outside a PATH station in New Jersey. Heading home from work, "Animal RIGHTS" "SIGN the PETITION!" was the chant that greeted you as you surfaced. Don't remember when that stopped. I never realized she had a history in the East Village. Thanks for the memories.

Anonymous said...

OMG, does this bring back memories. She was one twisted up gal. And don't ask her what she does with the money or call her a broad, like some passer-by did. Woooeeee...she was reality show before it became mainstream.
I told her that she was giving feminism a bad name.

Dirty Young Man said...

She would protest "porno" by displaying the absolute vilest smut in public for everyone - even little children - to see. Pretty hypocritical.

I asked her where she got one sordid photo of an extreme S&M scene of a woman being severely tortured - again, on full display to young and old alike on Sixth Avenue - because I had never seen anything like it in the porno stores I went to.

She replied that she got it from some bum on the Bowery.

I found her pretty repulsive.

Anonymous said...

NYC still has plenty of insane bigots ranting on the streets holding signs and scamming people out of money. We'll never lose that kind of "character" in this fine city.

Anonymous said...

I knew Paige (how she often spelled her name) very well during the late 1980's and 1990's when she lived on East 95th Street between Second and Third Avenues. If you knew her, she made no bones about the fact that she was using her anti-pornography rants in order to meet other lesbians, preferably for one-night stands. She claimed to have a voracious sexual appetite and stated that since most of the people who signed the petition were 1) female and 2) inordinately gay, it was a good tactic to meet them and get their phone numbers. In the mid-1990's or so she switched to animal rights because it also attracted largely women and a large lesbian contingent (although as not as many as with pornography). Eventually women otherwise sympathetic to her causes got wise to her and realized that signing the petition meant getting endless booty calls, and she gave up her schtick. As a side note, she was a frequent guest on the Morton Downey Jr, show where he tried to bait her into revealing her sexual preference.

Anonymous said...

Oh, my GOD. This woman. I had almost blanked her from my memory. She scared the hell out of little kid me on a regular basis in the '80s. Whenever I would hear her horrible, cracked voice, sometimes in the East Village, sometimes in the Upper East Side, I would go the opposite direction. I distinctly recall one horrible instance where she barked in my mother's face on East 86th Street, telling her her husband was probably at home "screwing some whore" while she was out with me. Then she screamed something at me, I don't really remember what, I was 6 or 7 years old and scared witless. At this point, my mother exploded with rage, and after several very, very unkind words were exchanged, she got us out of there.

What is it with the crazy people and the extremely specific way they yell things? While in college in Pittsburgh, I recall regularly encountering a pro-life protestor (with a gigantic placard featuring a full-color picture of a dismembered fetus) outside the Downtown Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood clinic yelling, in this exact inflection for four years, "'Yer DOCTORS... Are killin' BABIES!"

I didn't miss that guy when I moved back home to NYC. I don't miss this crazy woman now. Are we seriously pining for this psycho? Does anyone actually miss her terrorizing neighborhoods and passersby? Wow. Pardon my pretentiousness, but Milan Kundera was right when he said, "In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine."

Gregoire Alessandrini said...

I'm pretty sure she was also around 42nd street...Not on 42nd exactly but the streets behind Times Square...I remember perfectly the hustler cover and this woman screaming...you felt like running away !

Anonymous said...

She sure was a piece of work! I am happy so many others have fond memories of the characters that used to exist in the EV. PS. Please excuse the typos in my Villager article, aka excessive tirade from almost a decade ago. It was an inside job/we were hacked! WILSON

Anonymous said...

I once sat across the table from her at a Log Cabin Gay Republican dinner. I kid you not. She was perfectly civil and quite funny too.

Anonymous said...

Wow, does this bring back memories. I was a student at Columbia from '83 to '87, and she was often on Broadway and 116th Street with her table and the posters. And yes, "Sign the petition" is ingrained in my memory.

Anonymous said...

"DON'T BE PASSIVE" was another one of her refrains. To this day, my brother and I will scream at each other in her voice when we show a moment's hesitation and fall about laughing.

Didn't realize the joke was on all of us...the little con artist!

Greg said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1w-HNrhhbUQ&feature=youtu.be&t=21m31s

Space Pope said...

She even made it into the pages of 'true tales of real life'-style comic books with "Sign the PE-TISH-UN!".

Anonymous said...

was she the woman with short blond hair? i saw her around penn station in mid 90s screaming this to a guy "women hate jews and faggots" she's bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Haha I used to see her all the time in East Village when living there. After I moved I forgot all about her but then she reappeared on the corner of 42nd and Fifth for about a week. This was right before she switched to Animals because I remember she clobbered a man with her woman in a meat grinder sign when he attempted to sign the petition. LOVE now hearing that she was trying to pick up chicks! LOL

Michael Simmons said...

In the late '70s/early '80s, I got into a screaming match with one of the WAP women at their table with the Hustler cover. They were parked across from Bloomingdale's. It was a pointless exercise on my part, but having come from the sexual liberation of the '60s, I thought they were taking a step backwards. Anti-porn activists Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon became bedfellows (so to speak) with the Religious Right. All part of a reactionary trend that culminated with Reagan's election and all the bullshit we still endure.

There's a story in the Times today about how certain "New Yorkers" are offended because they can see their neighbors walk around naked in their own apartments. Another sign of how provincial many so-called "New Yorkers" have become.

Anonymous said...

I went to NYU from 1984-88 and I definitely remember seeing her and her picture of a woman in a meatgrinder on Broadway regularly. Once I was walking with a male friend from school and she yelled at me to go home with my boyfriend even though I was a feminist.

Anonymous said...

I remember once back in the mid-80s when she was on the corner of West 8th and 6th Avenue. A young guy walked by and looked at her Hustler poster and asked, "Hey, lady, how much for the poster?" She was almost struck dumb but then recovered enough to say "fuck you, asshole." I thought it was funny.

Anonymous said...

I remember way back in the early 80's and watching her grab the pen away from some guy who wanted to "sign the PeTISHun!" But then I met some guy who claimed he got the FAP pin from her. She was so ingrained in the entire pysche of the city.

chris flash said...

What a crazy memory to dredge up, Jeremiah!

I remember seeing her everywhere in the mid-late 80s, with the Hustler cover, which, if really you look at it, is AGAINST treating women like pieces of meat. I remember like yesterday her shrill screach: "WAKE UP WOMEN!!"

One day in 1989, when I was operating an Anarchist book store on East Seventh Street, I received a note from her, signed "Paige Melish." I had no idea who she was by name, but one of the volunteers told me she was that crazy lady with the Hustler cover. I can't remember exactly what the note said, except words to the effect of "we have to get these guys," as if she and I needed to team up or something. To this day, I have NO idea WHY she left that note or what the fuck she was talking about.

I think interesting and crazy characters like her could exist in NYC because rent and cost of living was sooo much cheaper and there were SROs, where a person had a room as wide as a mattress, but at least they could bathe and have a roof over their heads for about $50-60 a week.

I remember the guy dressed like Robert Deniro as Travis Bickel from Taxi Driver in a green Army field jacket who stood at the corner of 57th + Broadway with a canteen, singing OPERA for spare change!! Then there was Gene Palma, with his slicked back black hair and his snare drum, announcing the names of drummers whose style he was demonstrating as he wailed away with his drum sticks -- Martin Scorcese actually included him for a few seconds doing his shtick in Taxi Driver!

Fifi Laru said...

Nope, don't miss her at all. She may have been colorful, but she was a psycho. Good riddance. As bad as the flashers on the train.

Anonymous said...

I see irony in Feminists Against Pornography, or FAP,

Anonymous said...

I remember her well, an annoying Astor Place fixture along with Mean People Suck Man in the late 1990s.

I could swear I've seen her working a table at the Union Square Farmers market this year. She seems to have calmed down.

Anonymous said...

I remember her well from when I lived on 86th street. I saw her once in Alexander's basement buying a child's colorful backpack, so I thought she might have had a daughter or son. Then one day years later, I saw her looking very prosperous in a big and a giant FUR HAT, so I am flabbergasted that she moved on to animal rights.

Donica said...

FIGHT BACK, WOMEN! SIGN THE PETITION!! Oh boy, do I remember this fire ball. Every single damn day outside Zabar's with the most vile, disgusting posters. But, she was part of the fabric of the city. Thanks so much for bringing back such a vivid character, Jeremiah!!

Anonymous said...

OMG, I blocked this broad out of my head till I read your article. I used to see here in midtown where I worked in the '80s and '90s yelling "Sign the petition!" "Don't be passive!" "Fight back, women!" holding up the Hustler meat-grinder poster. A little blonde curly-haired woman. Somewhere in the early 2000s she switched to animal rights with the same voice and same "Sign the petition!" Can't believe she made that much of an impact that so many people remember seeing her.

Anonymous said...

Oh yea I remember her. Part of the tapestry that was New York as I knew it. I saw her so many times (hundreds, thousands maybe) that I often failed to notice. Mostly around the Village, but she could pop up anywhere in the City. You could take the #6 down to Astor Place, emerge from the rush hour crowd, climb the steps to the street and the first thing that would greet you was "Sign the Petition" or "We have bill before Congress." Did the bill ever come to a vote?

A male friend of mine tried to sign and she refused to allow it.

Oddly enough, I last saw her down here in DC. This was around 2001 or 2002. She was doing the Animal Rights cause and had the table set up outside DuPont Circle. Maybe she has set up shop here.
Anyway, I agree that she was quite the character. Never said a word to her and I was probably invisible. None the less, she was a trip and then some.

Anonymous said...

I remember her in the early 80s always on the corner of 6 Ave & 8 St in front of B. Daltons. What a trip!

anthony faber said...

I moved to San Francisco in '98 and haven't seen her, so either she probably ain't here, or she's given up tabling.

S. Adam Bernstein said...

I remember her in various places in NYC in the '80s and '90s. Once in Times Square I walked by and she yelled, "go look somewhere else addicted Dick!" I used to wonder, does she really think she's going to have any impact on porn whatsoever with her fake petition and table? That other post totally makes sense: this whole thing was just a tactic to pick up fellow lezzies.

anon said...

I have an update on her whereabouts since leaving Manhattan (albeit a rather out of date update). I stumbled upon her outside of Whole Foods in Palo Alto, CA in August of 2006, where she was asking for signatures in support of kitties. I made some brief video clips of her which you can see here:
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/qojncsjyv6ioh8v/AABm2ywL7M3z0fgfPVEy0DT9a?dl=0

She seemed to have lost a lot of her vim and vigor from when I last came upon her in NYC.