Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Meyer Silverberg arrived in New York City in 1920 during the last great wave of immigrants to leave Eastern Europe for a new life in America. He was 5 years old and was traveling alone. His parents, 3 brothers & sister had arrived in New York slowly but surely over a period of 3 years. He was put on the freighter alone by his mother’s younger sister Betty and had arrived at Ellis Island in the arms of a stranger who had taken pity on the boy and who placed him in the arms of his mother tired and scared. Like most of the Jews arriving in New York his family settled in the dirty crowded neighborhoods of the lower eastside and like most, he and his family worked hard doing lousy work. His family’s work was the peddling of goods in the streets. Hot or freezing cold Meyer his father and three brothers did their jobs and hated every minute of it. His mother and sister stayed at home and took in sewing. A clichéd life if ever there was one, but there can also be truth and even beauty in clichés. Meyer grew up and realized that he did not want to stay where he was. He did not like his life of poverty and wanted a way out. Meyer dropped the berg from his last name but kept his first name and went out into the world now as Meyer Silver and like his last name that is what he became. Silver. And also gold. Meyer became wealthy. After Attending City College at night he got a job in a theatrical office where he helped book vaudeville acts into theatres around the country. He also fiddled around at night in his small rented room on 27th street near Tin Pan Alley inventing things. One of the things he invented was some kind of paper shredder that would be used in offices around the world to get rid of secret and not so secret papers and that’s what made Meyer a very wealthy individual. Now at this time he was still a young man, and Meyer realized that he loved men. He loved men, but was very discreet about it because that’s the way it had to be back then. He was not all that attractive, but what he didn’t have in looks he made up for with an incredible curiosity and chutzpah plus it didn’t hurt that he was very rich. He was curious and interested in all the arts, especially poetry, music, opera, dance and painting. On Saturday afternoons he would of course be at the old Met, and if not there you could surely find him in the galleries that lined 57th street from the west to the east. He became friends with the poets and artists who were just starting out to make names and careers for themselves. His tastes were conservative and when the Abstract Expressionists became all the rage, he was not especially taken with them. He preferred the gentle realistic paintings that were falling more and more out of vogue with the New York City art world movers and shakers. He bought them for cheap from his artist friends and hung them all over his new apartment in Greenwich Village. He went out every night and took his poor artist friends and poets out to the theatre or the opera and on to restaurants where he always picked up the tab. He was a generous man. He had a nice sense of humor and a fine smile. He was a bear of a man with expressive eyes and hands that moved about when he talked or told a dirty joke or story. He had some women friends but mostly his close friends and acquaintances were all gay men. He lived alone. He loved gossip, but not when he was the subject of it and if he found out that you were talking about him behind his back he would drop you hard and fast. I first met Meyer during the fall of 1969 at the annual party that Rita Loren and her husband Jerry threw in their large Park Ave apartment. Rita and Jerry were patrons of the arts, not quite up there with the The Lists but they did what they did rather well. Rita loved poetry and writers and started a small foundation to publish their works. The first author she published was Marco and it was with him that I attended the soirée. There were lots of artists and writers in attendence and I was somewhat ga ga over the crowd that was gathered there. I mean I was all of 21 and for the first time in my life I was eating and drinking in rich folk’s digs. I guess I was most impressed with the series of engravings from Rouault’s Miserere that lined one whole wall in the study, and seeing Lotte Lenya “yes darling” this one and that one. I was also taken by a blonde blue eyed beauty named J.J. Mitchell. It was as I was eying him from across the crowded room, with Marco by my side that Meyer slithered up to us and Marco introduced me to him. I thought he was amusing and later that night when we got home,Marco told me all about Meyer and lots of stories about the others who were at the party. “Meyer wants to take us out to dinner next week” he said. “Great can’t wait.” I replied at the same time letting out a healthy yawn. The next week we did indeed have dinner at one of Meyer’s favorite restaurants in the village and I had a nice time. “You guys will have to come out to Provincetown next summer and visit”, Meyer said between bites of his veal.” “Oh that would be lovely.”Marco said. “Of course you’ll be at my Christmas party in a few weeks” “Wouldn’t miss it for the world” Marco charmingly replied as he gulped down his 3rd glass of wine. Although Meyer was a Jew, he wouldn’t know a Yom from a Kippur, and much preferred Christmas, because as he would say, “Its all so shinny and pretty.’ His tree was always decorated by one of his favorite young artists and his small but elegantly furnished apartment was jammed with guests all merrily drunk and very touchy feely when it came to the nice young things that seemed to be part of the Christmas ornaments. Vincent and Albert were also at the party, having just arrived in the city for one of their drunken debacles and Vincent was in a cheery chatty mood. “Meyer just invited us out to P town next summer” Vincent whispered in my ear loud enough so that everyone in the room heard. “Oh great, me and Marco are going out there also but most likely in August.” Meyer’s house on the very outskirts of Provincetown was famous for a number of reasons. It was designed by Philip Johnson and it was there during one long summer and fall that one of America’s most famous living playwrights had written what is generally considered to be one of the great works of the American Theatre. It was also at that house that one of America’s greatest now non living poets was horribly murdered, two summers before I arrived in New York. He had been out late one night roaming drunk among the dunes, and was found the next morning with his throat cut. The cutter was never found. Now as far as art world scandals go this one was pretty good, right up there with the nasty gossipy bitchy gay art critic who was murdered in the Bahamas, or the artist who threw his wife out the window of their 14th floor apartment or the art dealer who was involved with s&m leather, sex and the murder of one poor unfortunate young man. Some would say that Meyer’s house was cursed and haunted with the ghost of the murdered poet roaming the dunes, but that didn’t stop anyone from taking him up on invitations to visit. So that summer in early steaming July Vincent and Albert rented a car in the city where they were staying with the poet Jason Addle and drove the long drive to Meyer’s house in Provincetown. Now it should be said also that Meyer was very controlling when it came to his visiting guests. His house was not close to the center of town, and he would announce right off to his friends that they were not to go into Provincetown without him, and they should stay out of the gay bars and dance clubs because he did not want any more scandals to come down on his head. He was still reeling from the grizzly murder of his friend Jack, and also as he said to all “no tricks are allowed in this house.” Vincent and Albert looked at each other with total disbelief. So for the 1st day the boys did what they were told, they read, walked the dunes and kept Meyer company and listened politely to all his stories. Meals were all taken at the house with barbecues on the patio that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean and the narrow beach. Vincent and Albert were bored. As was the custom with Meyer, a nap was taken every day at 2 and Vincent and Albert decided to jump ship so to speak and go into P Town. Meyer slept soundly but upon awakening saw that his guests were no where to be found and their car was gone. He knew where they were. Vincent and Albert hit the bars and discos with an abandonment that was usual for the two of them and didn’t return back to Meyer’s until the next day. After the bars and clubs had closed they met up with a hot number who was staying in one of the charming guest houses that lined the back streets of the town and the three of them had a happy happy time. As they drove up to Meyer’s the next day they could see him on the back porch and they knew they were in for a bad time. “Where the fuck were you two? Do you think I invited you here so you could go whoring around. This is not a hotel. I was worried sick. Why didn’t you at least call. Please pack your bags and get out.” Well Albert didn’t say a word and Vincent started to cry and at the same time tried to explain and apologize to Meyer. It didn’t work and to be truthful it wasn’t the first nor was it the last time that Albert and Vincent had been asked to leave someone’s house. They drove back to New York with Vincent sniffling all the way. Later that summer Marco and me made the trip out to Meyer’s and all he could talk about was how rude our little friends were. I tried to defend Vincent, as I knew it was all the fault of that awful boyfriend of his, but Meyer would not listen. I finally gave up and for the next few days me and Marco kept Meyer company and during his naps we would walk the dunes.

The drawing accompanying this post is titled "Bold Landscape" and was done by me sometime in the early 1980's.


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