The rock I throw misses the boy’s head and hits the wooden fence behind him with such force that all the tenement mothers thrust their bobby-pinned heads out of their windows. Tenement mothers instinctively know the sound of one child trying to murder another with a rock. I don’t even know who he is. I am seven. I know this because my mother has sent me into the backyard to check on my infant sister who is sleeping in her carriage. I’m seven years older than she so…
I am seven and it is a sunny day in 1957 and I am walking into our tenement’s backyard when I spot a strange little boy sitting next to my sister’s carriage. I can’t tell if he is talking to her or reading to her. But, I know he isn’t harming her. I know it. But, a twisted, heroic, righteous rage rises in me. No Red Devil whispers in my ear. This is all my doing. This is me. Evil Me. This is the first time the Red Mist engulfs me. I know the story of David and Goliath so I know all about smiting someone with a stone. I decide that I will be a tough guy like David or, even better, the local gang leader, Tony Unbatz. Man, will he and his gang be proud of me? They’ll throw me into the air and buy me a frozen Coke. These are my thoughts as I pick up the largest rock I can throw and hurl it at the boy. Rock in the eye – I blind him. Rock in the temple – I kill him. No Guardian Angel stays my hand. But, maybe his Angel is watching because the rock misses his head. Just. He looks at me with shocked, innocent eyes and runs away.
Many nights, as my not-so-innocent eyes close, I see that boy. I hear the rock. I sit up. I shudder. What if? I am too ashamed and ascared to raise this sin at my First Confession or my last or any in between. But, I do seek forgiveness from that boy. I hope he has enjoyed the life that could so easily have been ruined by me. I hope that, like me, he survived Vietnam and AIDS and 9/11. I hope he accepts my apology
Don’t ask me how but in 1970s New York, modern dance had become the “New Rock & Roll.” Choreographers were so famous that they starred in cigarette ads. (And, you thought ballplayers selling Luckies was a nutty idea!) Photographs of these elite artistes, dressed in black and lounging on ballet barres, were splashed across billboards that towered over the streets of Manhattan –
After a day of improvised gesture and motif development, there’s nothing I like better than getting lung cancer.
But, the new-found popularity of modern… oh, no, excuse me, I meant to say contemporary dance coincided with the stylistic pretension known as “minimalism” in which the last thing any dancer wanted to be caught dead doing was dance. I attended dance performances in which a “dancer” just rolled an orange across the stage very, very slowly or opened and shut an umbrella over and over again or sat still in a chair – for an eternity. Stillness was the ultimate movement in the “new” dance. When one choreographer had his dancer stand, walk around the chair and sit down again, the debate raged in NOHO as to whether this represented a retrograde step or a daring leap into the choreographic future. This minimalist-dance craze swept across SOHO and NOHO even faster than chlamydia.
As long as we’re on the subject of female torsos… we rented our Bowery loft to a yoga instructor who was transitioning to yogi, i.e. a female to male transsexual. (Mind you, this was 1976, so the current “I was born in the wrong body” dementia-mania is nothing new.) “Jack” was fresh from having her breasts sliced from her female torso and was wrapped in more bandages than Tutankhamen. This creature was so cranked on pot, painkillers and testosterone that she floated several feet off the ground, vibrating in midair like a hummingbird. (You know the scene in the horror movie when the actor transforms via time-lapse photography from man to monster? Imagine a stop frame of that process mid-way. That was what “Jack” looked like – suspended between male and female, between past and present, between serenity and suicide. Unsettled and unsettling.) “Jack” was so uncomfortable around men, I was sure she would evaporate whenever I got near her. I, of course, delighted in torturing this psychosexual misfit by getting “up close and personal” as often as possible.
Lynda was slogging through a series of bottom-feeder jobs, too. No surprise that we needed extra income to pay our rent. So, we converted half our loft into a rehearsal space and rented it to every NOHO-SOHO “boho” who ran classes, conducted seminars, held séances, burned incense, massaged feet, manipulated skulls, channeled angels, cleansed auras or chanted om, aum, or papa oom mow mow. Honest to God, we rented to a troupe of world-famous tap dancers and a troupe of not-so-famous whirling dervishes. That was the last straw for our downstairs neighbor – Fu Yu. He was a world-famous photo-realist painter who worked ever-so-meticulously with an airbrush on his wall-sized paintings of female torsos. (Now, ya ask me, if ya seen one wall-sized, photo-realist female torso… but… what do I know?)
Fu Yu was mega because along with cocaine, punk and disco, photo-realism was all the rage in the soulless Seventies. But, all that whirling and tapping upstairs shook the building and shook Fu’s airbrush all over his torsos downstairs. When this happened (And, it happened lots.), he would storm upstairs and bang on our door like the long-suffering Mr. Yunioshi who lived downstairs from Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (Yeah, yeah, I know, Yunioshi is Japanese and Fu Yu is Chinese. Don’t get me started again on the Yellow Peril.)
An actor friend abandoning New York for L.A. offered me his job. I was to deliver bicycle-wheel sized reels of computer tape from one end of Wall Street to the other. These tapes contained that day’s stock market trades or something equally toxic. In 1976, computers were the size of Montana. They generated so much heat they had to be kept in refrigerated rooms behind glass walls and were lovingly tended by white-coated computer technicians. We Untermensch, relegated to the outer-office, pressed our faces against the glass and stared at the large whirling wheels feeling we’d fallen into a James Bond movie and sure we were staring at America’s affluent, computerized future. We shared the legend of the Wall Street office boy who years before had read an investment memo he was delivering which advised – “BUY SHARES OF CONTROL DATA.” He did and made millions by “getting into” computers early.
I was to make one tape-reel delivery a day, five days a week. Just one delivery. Just one problem. That delivery happened in the middle of the night. And, it happened at a different time in the middle of every night. And, with no mobile phone, I had to be chained to my home phone waiting for “the call” all night long.
Since my rock career had died aborning, I decided to turn my hand to politics. And, since 1976 was a presidential election year, I found ready employment with The New York Times-CBS News poll. Both of these legendary news outlets were and are notoriously slanted Left. The man running their poll “war room” was a recent graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism – a hotbed of Cultural Marxism. Barry was prematurely balding, preternaturally sweaty and hell-bent on becoming the next Woodward or Bernstein. Preferably, Bernstein. (America was still obsessed with Watergate.) This pushy prick saw polling as a necessary step up the media ladder to his heroic, muckraking future. At worst, he might be the next Geraldo Rivera.
Barry was drawn from the “rootless cosmopolitan” class so he had nothing in common with and nothing but contempt for anyone who lived west of the Hudson River, i.e. most Americans. He radiated disdain for what he held were the pinhead opinions of Mr. & Mrs. Mainstreet. And, all of Barry’s minions shared his belief that, parts of Manhattan aside, America was populated by knuckle-dragging nitwits. The office mantra was – “Don’t forget, Tricky Dick won the last election in a fucking landslide, man!”
Barry’s polling posse consisted of Columbia School of Journalism undergrads, grudge-bearing McGovern voters, Hadassah hags and lifetime members of the Fist Fuckers of America who gloried in being refugees from that “other America” – a land bereft of beauty, culture and glory holes. There is nothing so haughty and censorious as regional queens come to Gotham – unless it’s their balding, sweaty boss. I did my level best to man-up against them, stand-up for America and screw-up the poll results.
I extended our artistic empire to a Bowery-bum drop-in center down the street. One of our loft neighbors worked there and asked me to entertain at a sobriety anniversary party. I declined since my guitar repertoire consisted of two songs – “All I Have to Do Is Dream” by the Everly Brothers and not “All I Have to Do Is Dream”by the Everly Brothers. And, I had to watch my hands to play both. I sucked. And, I knew it. Thus, I had never imposed myself on an audience. But, our neighbor assured me that this audience would appreciate anything I could offer. So, against my better judgment but already planning to dress all in black, I took the gig.
On party day, quivering with stage fright, I fought my way into the drop-in center past a line of bums waiting for their lunch. Then I fought my way into the party room past a line of junkies waiting for their methadone. There I faced a roomful of the scariest scum ever to crawl out of a Bowery sewer. But, it was like Old Home Week because I recognized most of the bums from my doorstep – faces red, swollen and scarred, eyes glassy, smiles toothless, hair plastered to their skulls with Brylcreem. And, on top of those skulls sat pointy party-hats with a big red 1 on the front. There were balloons, garlands and a birthday cake with a candle in the shape of a big red 1. Clearly, these men were celebrating their first anniversary sober. I didn’t know if it was their first year or month but judging from the smell that wafted from their persons, I guessed it was their first day sober. And, probably their last.
Lynda was a dancer and I was an actor and we would have our very own “performance space” where we would live, eat lots of brown rice, wear lots of black clothes and collaborate on lots of dance-theater “pieces” so avant-garde they’d make the fillings fall out of your teeth. And, we would only rent our “space” to deserving artists who shared our dietary and fashion sense.
When I learned that in the early 20thcentury a nickelodeon theater had occupied the ground floor of our building, Lynda and I decided this was a good omen. We determined to collaborate on a dance-theater “piece” on the theme of avant-garde nickelodeons. We never did.
The lofts above the nickelodeon theater had been sweatshops. Our top-floor loft bore the scars of that period – a long row of side-by-side footprints worried into the floorboards by immigrant girls as they sat working their sewing machines. It was a haunting artifact. Lynda and I decided this was a good omen and determined to collaborate on a dance-theater “piece” on the theme of avant-garde sewing machines or footprints or something. We never did.
Scrambled eggs gave me the idea to blow my girlfriend Lynda’s brains out with my father’s shotgun. Scrambled eggs plus the stickiness, pissiness that overcomes a body in the New York summer heat – a heat not helped when that body is in a 5th-floor walk-up loft on the Bowery with no air-conditioning or fan. And, this was when the Bowery was The Bowery. Like Rob and I on St. Mark’s Place and my acting group and I on West 42nd Street, Lynda and I were playing at being pioneers on a street infamous as the bottom of the urban barrel. After a man had drunk himself down to the Bowery, his next stop was Potter’s Field.
Since those days of yore and gore, St. Mark’s Place, West 42nd and the Bowery have been prettified beyond recognition and way beyond my price range.
Oy, if only I bought when I had the chance!
The legendary punk-rock club CBGB was across the Bowery from our loft but watching pink-haired punks shit, piss, bleed and vomit on each other lost its charm surprisingly quickly. Besides, why cross the street? On our side of the Bowery, we had every wino in New York shitting, pissing, bleeding and vomiting on our doorstep.
Tell me, when’s the last time you climbed over a mountain of stewed cretins wallowing in their own excreta just to get in your front door?
I attended recruiting meetings at Commie Party headquarters where I was shown earnest documentaries about Peruvian peasants and served earnest platters of Peruvian grains. As I grazed and mingled with these earnest young workers-of-the-world, I was delighted to discover that despite their earnest demeanors they were total fruitcakes. All the motifs I’d encountered in my lifetime of kook hunting were on display.
These young Marxists were sure that JFK and Hitler were living inside the hollow earth and happily cleansing their colons with enemas made from Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. But, there was some dispute. The neo-Trotskyites among them believed that Adolf and Jack were living in alien bases on the dark side of the moon and cleansing their colons with crystals. They also hipped me to the commie gossip that Mao had a taste for underage female flesh and that Fidel liked the dark meat – the younger and darker the better.