Afew years ago, my mother dated a real winner. The guy was nice enough, but like most men in her life (myself included), there were shit stains just under the surface. He was a Christian. He was a recovering alcoholic. He called her his angel. He paid me backhanded compliments about my aging Peter Pan appearance. He couldn’t hold a job. He borrowed $10,000 from her that he never paid back. He left her for another woman.

Possibly the biggest red flag about this pile of dog shit in a polo shirt: He was a staunch admirer of Rudy fucking Giuliani. At a holiday dinner one year, conversation turned to the ever-changing face of New York City and, as to be expected, this guy started singing Giuliani’s praises.

“The squeegee guys were a real problem. Anytime you’d be stuck in traffic or at a red light some disgusting bum would come up and start dragging a dirty cloth across your front windshield and then demand money. It was too much! Rudy stepped up and did something. There were no laws on the books about washing windows at intersections, so he got the cops to start issuing these guys summonses for jaywalking. They’d get a summons and then not pay the fine or show up in court. A warrant would be issued so the next time they got stopped they’d go straight to jail! It was a thing of genius!”

During the budget crisis of the 1970s, the NYPD started the notorious Fear City scare campaign. With the city on the verge of bankruptcy, an understaffed police force went out of its way to discourage tourism. The name stuck, and for a while New York held a reputation not dissimilar to something out of Dante. Although exaggerated, perhaps, the negative public perception wasn’t entirely unwarranted. Far from it. Hell on earth? No. Dangerous shithole? Absolutely.

My mother’s side of the family is originally from the Elmhurst and Rego Park section of Queens. Although she ultimately settled outside of Philly, my father (a Boston native, but I digress...) wound up in Manhattan after their divorce in the 1980s, where he started a business and another family, and stayed until his death. I say this because although I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, my existence has always been inextricably linked with New York City.

Nineteen ninety-three was the year that David Dinkins, the first Black mayor of the city, lost his reelection bid to Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani, a politically aspirational former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who had made a name for himself by prosecuting the Mafia and several high-profile white-collar cases, ran and lost to Dinkins (who himself had unseated three-term incumbent Ed Koch in the Democratic primary) in 1989, but by ’93 he had managed to stir up enough hysteria over citywide quality-of-life crime to pull off a win. Bear in mind that the violent crime rate in New York actually dropped by 20 percent during Dinkins’ term, but that’s beside the point. Giuliani made it sound like Death Wish 3 out there and the public bought it.

The drugs and the sex shops and the discos and the litter and the old man with the squeegee and the young woman with the short skirt: It was the cancer at the heart of New York City.

A previously unseen photo of David Rubinstein, taken in 1983
A previously unseen photo of David Rubinstein, taken in 1983. Photo by Amie Hertzig

This period of time at the end of Dinkins and beginning of Giuliani is exactly when I started spending real time in New York. I’d come up on weekends and my dad would take me around the city. I remember the men who would wash our windshield at red lights and the change that my father would pull from the car’s ashtray and give them. I remember the crumbling Times Square marquees and the neon signs proclaiming LIVE NUDE GIRLS and the lurid posters for all kinds of exploitation movies and just how lonely everybody on the street looked. I remember the junkies and the punks and the B-boys and the hookers and the poor. I remember feeling afraid and exhilarated all at once and knowing that I was gonna chase that awful, blissful feeling for my entire life. Pure humanity.

Trash is something general. Trash is miscellaneous detritus. Trash occupies physical space enough to be a bother and nothing more. Trash is the ultimate end of a substance’s usefulness.

When human beings are reduced to trash in the eyes of other human beings, they tend to blow around. They tend to blow away. Joel Rifkin thrived among the discarded, not because he preyed on sex workers but because he knew nobody in any real place of socioeconomic authority would notice if another scrap of trash disappeared. By the Thursday night in late June of 1993 when Rifkin picked up Tiffany Bresciani at the intersection of Allen and Canal Street in a car he’d borrowed from his mother, telling her strung-out, lobotomized boyfriend Dave Insurgent of the band Reagan Youth that she’d be back in 20 minutes, he’d already done it 16 times.

Every one of us has a story. Depending on how you frame it, any given human being that you pass on the street is living out Ulysses right this very second. The same goes for you. The same goes for me. We are all that important. We are all that insignificant. The fact is, I am drawn to Tiffany Bresciani as a matter of her proximity to my own core interests: hardcore punk. Local celebrity. Artistic aspirations. Addiction. Recovery. Relapse. She was the kind of person I would have tried to hang out with if I was a little older at the time. Tiffany and Dave were friends I never got a chance to have, all because of some fucking guy who lived with his mom in Long Island. Some fucking guy who drove around in a car with a bumper sticker that read STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES BUT WHIPS AND CHAINS EXCITE ME. Some fucking guy who had killed 16 women between February of 1989 and June of 1993 as a matter of course without anyone noticing. Some fucking guy who only stopped killing because he was caught red-handed by happenstance when the cops tried to pull him over three days after Tiffany’s disappearance for a missing license plate. He ran. He crashed. The smell was unavoidable.

Tiffany wanted to be a writer. Tiffany wanted to be an actor. Tiffany wanted to be a dancer. At 17 she left her hometown of Metairie, Louisiana, for Hollywood, and when it didn’t work out there she set her sights east toward Broadway. She regularly called home to her mother. Her grandmother called her “little lamb.”

Tiffany was a punk. She dated the eccentric glam rocker Rick Wilder of the Mau Maus and the Berlin Brats during one of his stints on the East Coast. The two of them lived at the Whitby co-op on West 45th Street. She danced at Show World and the Big Top Lounge. She worked the streets, sometimes around Times Square and sometimes 12th Street and 2nd Avenue in the Village and sometimes around Allen Street on the Lower East Side.

She developed an ever-increasing dependency toward opiates over time, and her reliance on dope made for a constant source of romantic and financial turbulence. Tiffany and Rick would fight and she’d leave and she’d try to get clean and they’d make up and she’d come back, ad infinitum. In June of 1993, she had been in a methadone program until a recent heroin relapse. She moved downtown and began dating David Rubinstein.

Originally from the Forest Hills section of Queens, David was the son of Polish Jews who had survived the Soviet gulag and German concentration camps, respectively. Their experiences during the Holocaust colored their worldview. Fear manifested into a need to control their child. As the cliche would dictate, David rebelled.

In adolescence, his outer appearance was that of an honor roll student who played piano. At the same time, he’d regularly sneak off to the punk clubs on the Lower East Side. He studied Russian anarchists Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin. He started a band in junior high called Pus. In high school, Pus would change their name to Reagan Youth. He’d start going by the name Dave Insurgent.

Along with Kraut, Urban Waste, the Beastie Boys, and Agnostic Front, Reagan Youth were integral mainstays of the secondwave punk scene that sprung up around Lower East Side venues A7 and CBGB in 1980. Dave Insurgent’s leftist politics, effortless wit, and propensity for theatrics put him and Reagan Youth at odds with the nationalistic current of early New York hardcore. Nonetheless, Dave found acceptance and the band thrived...for a time.

By the late 1980s, the face of New York hardcore had yet again changed. The punks and skinheads had given way to the clean-cut youth crew movement. The band’s unwillingness to bend to current aesthetic trends caused Reagan Youth to split up in 1988. Shortly thereafter, Dave (now going by Imperious Galatacus) and fellow Reagan Youth bandmates Paul Cripple (now Pious Paul the 11th) and Johnny Aztec started a new project called House of God. House of God played a few shows and recorded a demo, but they never had a real chance to get off the ground before everything went to hell.

Dave sold heroin. After a bad breakup, he began using. Junkies do not make good heroin dealers. Dave tried walking this line and it went as well as you’d expect. He shorted a supplier by $500. The supplier went looking for him with a fucking baseball bat. Dave received a partial lobotomy in order to save his life, leaving him with a surgical scar from ear to ear.

Dave moved back to his parents’ house in Forest Hills. He tried switching from heroin to weed. It did not take. He relapsed. He made his way back to the Lower East Side. He met Tiffany Bresciani.

Dave and Tiffany were involved for a couple of desperate, intense months. Much like Tiffany’s on-and-off relationship with Rick Wilder, Dave had recently gotten out of a long-term relationship with a woman named Susan Cordon. Susan provided an inconvenient voice of reason that generally kept Dave away from heroin. Away from their former partners, Dave and Tiffany forged a bond of chemical necessity as much as mutual affection. Dave professed his love. Dave wanted to marry Tiffany. Tiffany’s sex work generated enough income to feed their habit.

It was June 24, 1993. Joel Rifkin picked up Tiffany Bresciani on Allen and Canal. He remembered seeing her dance at the Big Top Lounge. He negotiated with her. They settled on a price of $40 for standard sex. He told Dave, who happened to be waiting near Tiffany at the time, that he’d bring her back in 20 minutes. He drove her to the New York Post parking lot by the Manhattan Bridge. He got hard. He got spooked by the presence of someone nearby.

He thinks it’s a cop. He thinks it’s a pervert. He goes limp. He gets frustrated. He strangles Tiffany to death. He didn’t mean to do it this time, he swears. With the sun coming up, he realizes that the nearby presence is an old man doing tai chi.

Tiffany’s mother and grandmother wait. They haven’t heard from her since June 22. They had just sent her a care package with dresses for the summer and a white teddy bear. They are sure it must have arrived by now.

Rick Wilder waits. He and Tiffany have had their problems, but he hopes to reconcile. They have played this song before and the tune is getting old, but he loves her. She loves him. Love is never a clean break. She had been calling periodically. Now, nothing.

David Rubinstein waits. He checks the usual strolls. He checks the clubs where she’d worked. He checks every local hospital. He checks the local precincts. The cops tell him to fuck off. He grows more desperate by the minute.

I know about Tiffany’s mother, Cheryl. I know about Rick Wilder. I know about Dave Insurgent.

I know that Cheryl Bresciani said of Rifkin, “I think he really needs help. He did a horrible thing. Something’s got to be wrong. He is not led by God.”

I know that Rick Wilder has enjoyed a renaissance as a sunken-cheeked, alluringly beautiful music-video darling. He’s worked with Aerial Pink. He works extensively with the Weeknd.

I know that Tiffany Bresciani’s death wasn’t quite the final tragedy in Dave Insurgent’s short life of cosmic indignities. A few days after her bloated corpse was accidentally discovered in the trunk of Rifkin’s Mazda pickup truck on Long Island, he went back to Forest Hills to be with his parents. On June 30, 1993, Dave’s father ran over Dave’s mother in a terrible car accident. She died. On July 3, Dave killed himself by intentional heroin overdose.

I know about these things because Tiffany Bresciani, Rick Wilder, and David Rubinstein are adjacent to my community at large. I own Reagan Youth 7-inches. I’ve laughed about Rick Wilder’s antics in Penelope Spheeris movies. I’ve done my time at Narcotics Anonymous meetings on the Lower East Side. I know a lot of old punks. I know a lot of old junkies.

Joel Rifkin is the subject of countless books, podcasts, blogs, and television specials. He gets off on his own notoriety. There is a Seinfeld episode in which Elaine starts dating a guy named Joel Rifkin shortly after his capture. How awkward.

Every one of Joel Rifkin’s victims has a story, but I can’t begin to tell you any of them. Tiffany was a punk. David was a punk. Rick is a punk. I read old newspapers about them. I read the sections of lurid true-crime books where they were mentioned. Fuck me, I’ve read Lester Bangs’ seminal tome of ’70s punk We Got the Neutron Bomb. They are real to me because I’m some fucking dork with a hard-on for gritty NYC history and New York hardcore and The Decline of Western Civilization lure.

Every one of Joel Rifkin’s victims deserves to have their story told in a widely read publication. Instead, they are footnotes in Investigation Discovery and Oxygen specials. Their stories are traded among old friends and family. It is a disgusting shame that I will do nothing to alleviate.

If I were to show this to my mother’s Giuliani-loving ex-boyfriend, he wouldn’t begin to care. All of these people existed outside of his realm of consciousness. All of these people were litter to be cleaned off the street via jaywalking tickets and cabaret laws and stop-and-frisk. All of these people were trash.

Well, fuck him. Fuck Rudy Giuliani. Fuck broken-windows policing. Fuck an entire system that disregards, demonizes, and penalizes instead of offering readily accessible mental health, addiction, and educational resources.

Fuck Joel Rifkin.

When human beings are reduced to trash in the eyes of other human beings, they tend to blow away.

Thanks for reading CREEM. This article originally appeared in our Summer 2023 issue. If you prefer to read in print, grab a copy here and subscribe to never miss another one.




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