Saturday, June 14, 2014

I Move

I moved to Manhattan from Brooklyn when I was 19 in the late summer of 1967, one year after Frank O’ Hara was mowed down by a dune buggy on Water Island. Most people refer to his death as happening on Fire Island, but it was Water Island that he died, visiting the same house where a few years earlier Edward Albee had written “Who’s Afraind Of Virginia Wolfe?” I too would visit this house and place one summer a few years later but that comes much later. At the time I had no idea who Frank O’Hara was, and when my new sophisticated friends first mentioned him, I thought they were talking about some Italian actor named Franco Hara. I had just turned 19 and was really ready to get out of Brooklyn and make the move to Manhattan. This was my goal since I was 15. When I was around 17 me and my friend Howard would sit in one of the glorious art deco rooms of the main branch of the Brooklyn public library near Grand Army Plaza and read through the apartment ads in the back of the Village Voice, dreaming of the day when I would move into the city. I had saved up $800.00 from my jobs working in advertising, but my career in the ad world was not going all that well. Still I was willing to take a chance that I could always find employment doing crap work in the profession. I wanted to live of course in Greenwich Village which was in my heart and soul for as long as I could remember. I had been going there since I was a 15-year-old kid. Moodily I would sit in Washington Sq. park in the dead of Fall and Winter reading Baldwin’s “Another Country.” I knew that the life and people that Baldwin wrote about in the book was the kind of life that I wanted. I wanted to know writers, actors and artists. I would go to the Washington Sq. Art shows with my fellow high school art students thinking that this garbage was good. How little I knew. I started to go to Off-Broadway shows when I was 16 and 17 mainly with Howard. We had seen our first Albee plays and discovered the wonderful Judson Poet’s Theatre which we would go to, it seems to me every weekend. What is now strange and somewhat disappointing to me is that at the same time I was going to see the plays there was also happenings, dance and art taking place but we never went to those events. Instead we stayed with the plays. I did go into the art gallery one day and asked the young man sitting at the desk if I could bring my drawings in to show him, and he said sure, but I chickened out, and some years later I would tell Jon Hendricks who was the young man behind the desk this story and we would chuckle about it. Me and Howard thought we were so grown up, so know it all hip Brooklyn Jewish boys. We couldn’t hit a baseball but we could recite lines from Albee’s “The American Dream” by heart and could sing some of the songs from the Al Carmines Rosalyn Drexler musical “Home Movies.” It’s now 47 years ago since I started to look for a place to live. Sharing an apartment with a stranger was such a new option for me both scary and exciting but I was determined to get out of my crazy house where my parents fought all the time. I had stopped talking to my father. He was at that time out of his mind. His addiction to diet pills and speed had taken its toll and he was manic and dangerous. He had turned the bedroom that he and my mother once shared (she was now sleeping alone in the bedroom that I once shared with my brother) into a workshop, a garage, a room that was full of wood, paint tools and the weird objects that he would make. He was also storing tires and cans of gasoline. Why he didn’t blow us all up is a miracle. They turned off the electricity for a while because my parents had no money to pay the bill and he ran cables up and down the hall and tapped into the buildings current. He took my sisters baby shoes, sprayed them with gold paint and made a hideous lamp out of them. There her tiny little shoes sat, once white and happy they now sat sadly at the base of some gold-sprayed pieces of wood with its eerie light topped off by a lampshade that he had found in some trash bin. Looking back on it, I suppose this was good therapy for him, but not for me. It was a very sad tension filled time for me. My brother and sister had both married and I was on my own in this crazy place. I was now sleeping in the small small bedroom that was once my sister’s room that was next to his workshop-bedroom. He would hammer, saw and talk to himself into all hours of the night of course keeping me up with the noise. I complained. “Can you stop the noise I have to get up to go to school or later on I have to get up to go to work.” He would just look at me and continue to hammer and saw as if I didn’t exist. Finally in the early dawn he would be exhausted and collapse on the bed that was full of things and fall asleep in his dirty clothes. So finally 47 years ago in the spring and summer of 1967 I took an ad out in the Village Voice announcing to all that I was looking for a roommate. My mother was upset that I was planning to move out, and I really don’t think she believed that I would do it, but truth be told I wasn’t getting along all that well with her either. So in that spring and early summer of 1967 I started to prepare for my move. A few days after the ad came out, I started to get responses and I would head off to the city to look at the apartments. Howard had asked if I wanted him to come along and I said sure why not I could use the moral support and company. So at each place he would patiently wait for me downstairs as I went to look at apartments. They were in the village, some uptown and one near Times Sq. After 47 years I still remember them all. There was one place on Christopher St. that when I asked the guy where do I sleep he patted his bed. No thank you. I also saw an apartment off Greenwich Avenue that was being offered by a very large overweight African American whose taste was as loud and garish as he was large and overweight. Over the plastic wrapped white couch that had lots of gold fringes and borders was a very large oil painting of his mother. I thought he was a pimp and offered me the room on the spot. “I’ll get back to you in a day or so” I said as I made a hasty retreat back down to the avenue. Actually most of the guys who I met were gay, and at 19 I really didn’t know who I was. I was still like a little chick just coming out of his shell. One guy and his girlfriend interviewed me in his small ugly upper eastside apartment and they didn’t stop arguing, but he said I could share the place if I wanted to. I recall him being very handsome, and he keep telling his girlfriend Mindy to shut up every time she tried to say something. “Mindy would you please shut the fuck up” he would yell. I agreed to share, but later in the day he called to say that his girlfriend would be moving in instead. Maybe that’s what they were fighting about but I was relieved. The search went on. One day I answered the phone and the voice at the other end sounded very feminine. “I have a room for rent in my apartment on 19th street in Chelsea, would you be interested”. “Yes I would but where is Chelsea?” He gave me the directions and soon me and Howard found ourselves in a neighborhood I had never been to before. Where was I? It was a rather run down Spanish neighborhood with lots of small mom and pop shops along 8th avenue. We found the building a huge pre war number but no elevators and I started the long climb up to the 6th floor. Dennis and his overweight sweet dog Lisa greeted me at the door. I loved the apartment right off the bat. The living room had nice pattered rugs on the floor and wooden shutters on the windows. A comfortable red worn couch was against one wall and two old leather recliners sat at either end of the couch. But what really caught my eye was the wall to wall bookshelves that held 100’s of books along with Dennis’s large opera and classical music record collection. There was a small kitchen and bath and two bedrooms, one was Dennis’s office, which also had wall to wall bookcases and two desks. The room smelled nice, musty but nice. The other bedroom would be mine if I got lucky. It also had shutters on the window and the view from it was terrific with a great view of the Empire State Building. It was all so nice and sophisticated, a set out of a Broadway play. I wanted to live here in the worst way. It was my dream apartment come true. Dennis was small and somewhat effeminate with a high voice and a scary loud laugh that most people when hearing it thought he was a girl. At that time he dressed conservatively and he told me about the several careers he had before I met him, including one as a costume designer, which he left to go work in publishing. He opened the closet to show where my clothes would go and it was full of dresses and other feminine things. Oh shit I thought. He’s a transvestite this will never do. “These are my ex-girlfriends clothes, she just moved out and she’ll be picking up the stuff soon.” His ex-girlfriend what a relief. We sat in the living room with the sun pouring in. Two cats basked in a small pool of it taking their afternoon nap, and Lisa the dog was staring at me with her big soulful eyes. “Lisa out” Dennis commanded and she sulked out of the room to her little corner in the hallway. “I work at home now” he said I do free lance editing. He asked me about myself what did I do for a living. “You would have the bedroom, and I’ll sleep on the couch that opens up into a bed.” The rent is 80.00 a month. I was ready to move in that day. “My original roommate Peter just moved back to Puerto Rico so I need someone to share the rent and the expenses.” Oh one thing Ira after working all day I like to relax and smoke some pot and watch old movies on TV.” Do you smoke pot? “No I never have, but I would love to” I replied. He laughed and I knew that I had passed the test. Well I have a few more guys to interview, and I’ll get back to you when I reach my decision. As we said our goodbyes, I knew this was where I belonged and I literally floated down 6th floors. “How did it go Howard asked.” “Oh God what a great apartment, this is the one Howard.” “Where the fuck are we anyway.” I asked. “Chelsea where the fuck is Chelsea”?. I would soon know all about Chelsea.

The illustrations are drawings of my roommates


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