Friday, August 10, 2007

Dennis Part II

In late September the phone in my parent’s apartment rang and it was Dennis who told me the good news that he would love to have me as a roommate. I let out a loud whoop and turned to see my mother with a sad look on her face. She knew that I would be leaving. I went to the kitchen window that opened up to the airshaft and served as my 1967 cell phone line of communication to Howard. “Howie” I yelled” “ Open the window, I got the apartment can you help me move some stuff there maybe later today.” Of course he said yes and I packed a few suitcases with stuff that we could easily take with us on the subway. My brother had also promised to drive me over to the apartment maybe over the weekend, and that was when I would be bringing most of my stuff. Sadness hung over the apartment; my mother disheveled in her housedress started to yell at my father, “Its all your fault he’s leaving you drove him out.” I paid no attention because I knew that soon I would be rid of all the tension and anger that had filled my young life for so many years. I couldn’t sleep that night, and I could hear my father in his bedroom workshop weeping. The next day there was a note taped to the outside of my door from him begging me not to leave, that he would do better for me. Touched and depressed at the same time by this meaningful note, I knew that it was too late for him or things to change. I would be moving in with Dennis on Oct 1, and when the day finally came both of my parents cried and tried to get me to change my mind. It was a nice cool brisk fall day when I took the subway out of Brooklyn and into Manhattan. Carrying my suitcase I might have been coming from Iowa or a foreign country because the change that was about to happen in my life would be as new and strange as it might have been for someone moving from across the country or the world. My moving and big life change pretty much coincided with all the tremendous changes and upheavals that would soon shake our country to its core. As I got out of the subway on 14th street and 8th ave, I started to take in the sights and sounds of my new neighborhood of Chelsea. It was rough around the edges in 1967. Rooming houses were everywhere, and 8th ave was no where near the gentrified mess Chelsea would become in 20 years. I noticed that there was a Spanish language movie theatre The Elgin right across the street from the apartment, and thought that I wouldn’t be seeing movies there anytime soon. But like a fast paced montage in some good film noir b flick everything moved fast and furious. Overnight the Elgin became a revival house and was one of the first theatres to show midnight movies. It was at the Elgin where I would go mostly in the afternoons that I saw many of the great gems of world cinema for the first time. Huffing and puffing up those 6 flights of stairs I was greeted at the door by Dennis, Lisa the dog, and the two cats Sam and Charlie. “Be careful where you step Ira, I haven’t had a chance to clean up Lisa’s shit or clean the cat’s kitty litter box.” I didn’t need to me told this, as the smell lingered in the air, even though Dennis had used some kind of air freshner spray that sat on the narrow ledge of a long narrow iron wrought table that ran along the hallway wall, making the space even more narrow and difficult to pass by. When entering the apartment you found yourself in this narrow long dark hallway and the animals bathroom was here beneath the table. One false step and you would find yourself with your foot in Lisa’s waste. Surprise No. 1. Dennis never ever took Lisa out for a walk hence her obese pear like shape, and the hallway was the official Lisa the dog poop station. I carefully made my way down the hallway into the wonderful living room, which was just as nice and inviting as I remembered it, and plopped down into one of the leather recliners, which I now noticed had seen better days. All over the chair I could make out lots of little cat scratches. And the rug was covered with cat and dog hairs, washing out the bright colors that I knew were underneath it. “That’s ok I thought, it gives the place a nice lived in appearance.” Dennis sat opposite me and started to give me some of the rules and regulations of the house.” We can either eat on our own or we can shop for food and cook together. It’s up to you. The bedroom was my responsibity and I would have to keep it neat and tidy.” “That’s fine Dennis” “And we’ll share the upkeep of the rest of the apartment.” I have to ask that you help with the picking up and tossing of Lisa and the cat’s waste.” Dennis must have seen the look of despair that fell across my face like the big curtain falling at Radio City Music Hall. “Oh don’t worry I’ll do it more often than not, I can understand some people being queasy about that sort of chore.” After I unpacked I decided to take a walk and explore the neighborhood. I was surprised to discover that I was so close to the village, I had no idea I told Howard that night on the phone. I was floating on air, and that night I had my first joint with Dennis as we watched a Busby Berkeley musical on the late show. I prompedly fell asleep and work up the next morning a little slow and dazed as I got dressed to go to work at the small ad agency where I did crap work, like paste-ups which I hated doing and was no good at doing them. I was expecting the ax to fall anyway. I disliked most of the people who worked there, especially the vicious nasty head of the agency who was almost a midget in size. I didn’t tell Dennis any of my problems I was having there as I was hoping to hang on at least until after the Christmas holidays. And that exactly what happened. I got the heave ho after the Christmas season. I had saved up $800.00 bucks and even in 1967 that was not a hell of a lot of money. I was also having pangs of homesickness, and felt lonely and lost. At night in my bed with the shutters thrown open and the wonderful Empire State building filling part of the view from my window I started to have these weird sensations and thoughts that I really didn’t understand. I would think why am I here, and now what happens. Who the fuck am I? I tried speaking to my mother every night because I knew she missed me and felt guilty about my leaving, but I was happy to be out of that crazy place, and knew that it was for the best and a great opportunity for me. One night soon after moving in I discovered surprise No. 2. Dennis was out at City College where he was taking evening classes and I was going to make something for dinner, (most likely Kraft’s macaroni and cheese) as I turned the light on in the kitchen I was faced with and surrounded by what seemed like100’s of cockroaches. They were everywhere, in the pet’s food bowls, on the sink, the stove, everywhere. I made a mental note to mention this to Dennis; surely there was something that could be done about this. When I brought it up, he just shrugged, and pulled out a can of bug spray from under the sink. “I don’t like using this stuff, it just gets them angry and it doesn’t really kill them.” It was 1967 and things both in society and for me were rapidly changing. The counter culture, hippie revolution, anti war movement was on and the both of us embraced it with a big hug. Both our appearances were changing overnight, and again it seems to me now like a fast moving movie montage. We both started to let our hair grow, mine neat and curly, Dennis’s stringy. We both grew mustaches, his a fu Manchu type and mine was a pathetic thin line of hair under my nose. The movement gave Dennis the freedom finally to connect with his femmine side. Out went the suits and ties and in came the beads, the frilly thin Indian shirts, the knee length boots, the bell bottom pants and the Navy peacoats, which on a shopping spree Dennis insisted on buying one for me. He also started to use the hippie language that was so pretenious and annoying. “Peace man” was said to anyone he saw on the street who had long hair. Never comfortable or happy with his homosexuality, Dennis a child of the depression who grew up in Oklahoma was now a full-blown middle aged flower child. He started to bring home young hippie boys and girls he would meet in the 2nd hand record store that was not far from our apartment, and would let them stay the night, usually sharing my bed, much to my annoyance. Along with the stray hippies he would bring home LPs of the new exciting music that was shaking up the country like The Jefferson Airplane, The Doors, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Country Joe and so many more. We would get stoned and suddenly the apartment was filled with this great new music. Dennis would react like he was having the best orgasm of his life, jumping up and screaming and moaning at the top of his lungs, Lisa and the cats would get so frighten they would flee for safely. It was also at this time that he would invite some of his friends from his old life for dinner and to meet me. Several were actors in the open theatre, writers and a few artists. Most if not all were bisexual and had had affairs with each other. I of course developed crushes on them all. It was also here in this October of 1967 that I went with Dennis and several of his open theatre pals to my first anti-war demonstration. It was being held in the early morning hours at the Army induction center down on Whitehall street, and it was very scary because at this time there was still an acceptance of the Viet Nam war and we were few in number. As the sun started to come up and people were getting off the Staten Island Ferry and the subways to go to work we were met with abuse and horrible taunts and threats. We stayed and held our own. I was so happy with what was happening to me, I was living the life I had always imagined I would and should have, I was meeting really interesting people and I was starting to become an artist. I bought large sketchbooks and started to draw and paint in them. I still have these meaningful drawings some of which have been published in many on line magazines and print journals including the portraits that I did of Dennis. One Saturday morning I decided that I would take Lisa out for a walk, I mean she hadn’t been out of the house since she was a puppy, and I was feeling sorry for her. Although ugly as sin, and terribly starved for affection she had the sweetest disposition of any dog I had ever know. I would take her to Washington Sq. Park. Getting her down the six flights of stairs was hard enough but after our little day in the park, where everyone just stared at her because she was such a sad sight; I had to literally carry her up the six flights of stairs. As we got in the door, I heard Dennis call out. “Ira I have some news, Peter hates it in Puerto Rico and is going to move back.” TO BE CONTINUED.

Images used in this post: The view from my bedroom window. Me in the village. Dennis smelling the flowers. Dennis at his desk. My bedroom night table and a drawing of Dennis and Charlie the cat.


Blogger Alex Gildzen said...

wonderful post. wonderful pix.

the one of Ninth Circle brought back so many memories.

5:49 PM  

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