Zoe Hansen has got it made. Home is a two-bedroom rent-stabilized Mitchell-Lama apartment in the East Village shared with husband Richard "Handsome Dick" Manitoba and their son, Jake. Zoe is a writer, and Richard—lead singer of punk band The Dictators—owns nearby bar Manitoba's and has a program on Sirius Radio. But things weren't always so good. In 1984, 17-year-old Zoe left England and landed in NYC with $200 and a heroin habit that led to stints as a drug dealer, prostitute and madam. Clean since 1996, she's working on a memoir, My American Dream, Going Down in Gotham.
Was it easy morphing from edgy scenester to playground regular?
ZH When I first had Jake, it was so intimidating to go to the park and have to meet parents. Initially, people weren't terribly friendly.
Maybe they were a bit wary of you...
ZH When we show up, people can be intimidated: I have tattoos and piercings and Richard looks a bit like a biker, but he's the sweetest, softest guy.
Jake will have to rebel by wearing Brooks Brothers suits.
ZH Ha! He'll probably grow up to be a real square. We do take him everywhere with us—art openings, rock concerts. He sees his daddy perform and meets famous people, so our "cool" lifestyle is normal to him.
What's your parenting style?
RM Figuring it out as we go along. [Laughs] We have no shortage of wonderful friends to bounce stuff off of.
ZH My parents were distant, cold even. Happily, I find it easy to be the opposite. I do believe in good manners. It's important that Jake is polite and able to shake a person's hand and look them in the eye. Also, coming from an addictive background, I try to make sure we do things in moderation.
With so many bars in the neighborhood, Jake must see his fair share of alcoholics and addicts. How much have you two told him about your former lives?
RM I tell him Daddy used to drink too much. When he's ready to know more, I'll figure out a way to tell him.
ZH Richard's been sober for 26 years. For me, it hasn't come up, but I'm sure it will soon. I suspect Jake's got some clue—kids pick up on everything. I am proud of my life, and I regret nothing, because it got me where I am today, which is a good place.
And is the East Village a good place to raise a kid?
RM Yes. We do give up space, but we gain diversity. You're never going to find everything in one place.
ZH It has such a small town feel: We walk to the corner and five people will say 'Hi' to Jake. Poor kid, the first time he even tries to light up a cigarette, we'll know about it before he's had time to put it out!
"We virtually live in Tompkins Square Park (Ave A at E 7th St). We spend many sunny afternoons in the little swimming pool and the water sprinkler. Jake loves to play baseball with Dad on the grassy section. The Yankees are very important in our house, and Richard has been instructing him since he could throw a ball. Jake's a lefty, which apparently is good news."
"Ray's Candy Store (113 Ave A between 7th and 8th Sts, 212-505-7609. myspace.com/rayscandystore) has large $2 chocolate yogurt cones and $1 huge iced coffee. Ray's is a city institution and has, unfortunately, been threatened with closure due to rising rents. Everyone who grew up in the East Village grew up eating Ray's Belgian Fries, hot dogs and cones."
"The best pizza hands-down is Enzo's (50 Second Ave between 2nd and 3rd Sts, 212-353-3388). Mike, the owner, is a great New York City--Italian character and proudly makes amazing pizza. There's silence as the three of us eat, which is an incredible thing in itself—we as a family are rarely, if ever, quiet!"
"At Alphabets (115 Ave A between 7th and 8th Sts, 212-475-7250), we shop for Legos, gifts and the magic-show games that Jake is very into."
"The new Union Square playground (Union Square North between Broadway and Park Ave South) is very artsy. Jake loves to run up the large silver mountain. We stay there for hours reading and watching him play."
"We are really looking forward to catching some of the free concerts at the South Street Seaport (South St at Fulton St; seaportmusicfestival.com). We've seen the New York Dolls and Suicide. Jake has been to a few gigs with us. We like to ride our bikes down East River Drive, eat ice cream and then watch the acts. It's the perfect end to a summer day."