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From the July 24, issue of New York Magazine. The west side of that acre section of Central Park known as the Ramble had a reputation as a homosexual meeting ground long before Cole teased his friends at private parties with this suggestive lyric. But though Central Park at night—any part of the park—is dangerous, the gay ghetto that is the Ramble is perhaps the section most fear-ridden.
Gangs of toughs—teenagers and the macho middle-aged, usually drunk, occasionally including a couple of off-duty cops—roam the Ramble at night, engaging in an old American pastime: fag bashing. But these shadowy dangers are in sharp contrast to the serenity of the sun-flecked arboreal mecca the Ramble becomes for thousands of gay men throughout each day.
The Ramble has been in the public eye ever since the assault July 5 by a gang of anti-gay toughs who, at , just a little after dusk that Wednesday, went wading in with baseball bats, bashing any men they thought were gay. Five men were hospitalized with serious injuries—including Dick Button, a former ice-skating star and now sportscaster.
Just two nights after this latest act of human vandalism, I made my way into the Ramble at midnight. Much to my surprise, there were actually people there. Not many, perhaps twenty men, but still, there they were. I found, too, that the isolation from city street life which gives the Ramble its idyllic quality by day transforms it into a labyrinth of nameless terrors by night. Without a moon, the unaccustomed eye turns every figure in those blackened byways into a potential assassin.
Without police protection, those shadowy fears can transform themselves into cold, clinical words that march across the admissions records of hospital emergency rooms. At that hour on that night most of the men appeared to be over 35, but what disturbed me was the smell of fear on these men. It was not fear of being beaten. These men are there looking not for danger but for a point of contact, a moment of warmth and touching and comfort.