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.)
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.
My girlfriend, Lynda, wanted to kill her rapist and wanted me to help her. And, I was more than happy to oblige. We discussed alibis, escape routes, safe houses. But, we didn’t kill him. The more we plotted, the more we realized that we’d be immediate suspects. Lynda had reported her rape to the cops. They were sympathetic but warned that in court it would be a “He said, she said.” Plus, she had established a motive for vigilante justice. And, just as cops always look for the boyfriend first when a woman is murdered, they look for the boyfriend-accomplice first when a rapist has his brains pulped with a Louisville Slugger. We had settled on that as the murder weapon. I no longer had my trusty Rocky Colavito model but Lynda’s little brother had a Reggie Jackson model that would work a treat. She would distract her rapist and I would crush his skull from behind.
Funny what time did to our relationship – a few years later, I plotted to kill Lynda and she plotted to kill me. Her accomplices were two comrades from her Communist Party cell – the woman a failed modern dancer and the man a failed modern poet. A deadly duo.
God only knows why but Lynda’s brand of Marxism attracted especially fervent, intelligent, young Whites who were hypnotized by the ravings of their glorious leader – a Hebrew weasel out of the Russian Pale by way of the Brooklyn Pale. He was an imitation Mao and these American kids were his very own Red Guard. I met a talented musician who’d abandoned his French horn scholarship to work in a factory and organize the oppressed workers. I met a beautiful dancer who’d married a Neanderthal negro-convict to convert him to dialectical materialism. I watched her wrestle with reality as she employed the theory of commodification to explain why Tyrone, while on parole, had beaten her bloody, stolen her TV and split.
In the 1960s, we knew that the C.I.A. had used L.S.D. as a truth-serum. We even joked as we toked that Timothy Leary was probably a government agent. We wondered as we got stoned – “What if the entire ‘counterculture’ was created and controlled by some shadowy element in the intelligence world for who knows what purpose?”
Welp… crazy as it sounds, we now know that the C.I.A. funded the Abstract Expressionist art movement, influential literary journals and Ms. Magazine. And, there is intriguing evidence that Leary and Gloria Steinem were indeed (consciously or not) being controlled by the C.I.A. And, this’ll blow your mind – members of the Grateful Dead now attend the ultra-secret Bohemian Grove – the summer camp of the ruling elite that’s linked to the (gulp) C.I.A. So, like they say, “Just coz you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you… man!
Then there was Harold Gary – real name Harold Garfinkel. Art Garfunkel was his nephew so it should have been Simon and Garfinkel. Harold was an excellent character-actor who first appeared on Broadway in the 1920s. (Remember the wealthy heroin dealer in The French Connection who looked like a Jewish orangutan? That was Harold.) We shared a dressing room and since we were both sports-fans, we became fast friends. And, since I was a theater buff, I was a perfect audience for his showbiz war stories. Harold claimed to have fucked every woman in show business and to have told every man in show business to go fuck himself.
I’d be doing my pre-show warm-ups while Harold reclined pasha-like on the union- mandated cot and cast his pearls-of-wisdom my way –
- “Stop with the stretching already. The best warm-up for a show is a good bowel movement just before curtain.
- “So, I gave Jayne Mansfield a dozen chicks for Easter, all different colors – red, blue, purple – but she rolled over on top of them while she was sleeping and killed ’em all. She was too upset to fuck so I took her bowling instead.
- “Mae West’s sister used to give blowjobs in the basement of the Brill Building.
- “So, I’m sitting in the steam room with little Larry Hart. Ya know – Rodgers & Hart? He was almost a midget. Who comes in but Joe Louis and I’m tellin’ ya his prick reaches down to his knees. And, Larry Hart sez to him – ‘Joe, that thing’s bigger than I am. Aren’t you afraid it’ll turn on ya?’
- “Joe Louis told me that Sonja Henie was the best pussy he ever had next to Fanny Brice.
- “So, I walks up to Mike Todd an’ I sez to him – Mike, that’s the kind of guy I am and if you don’t like it step outside.
- “1929, I was in the original Diamond Lil with Clark Gable. No one knew who he was. I take him down to Coney Island one day – we swim, we box, we play handball, we ride bikes, we play basketball, we play tennis. On the way home on the subway he sez to me, ‘Harold,’ he sez, ‘I feel like I’ve spent a month in the country.’ I sez to him – Clark, I do this ev’y day.
- “’Nother time, I’m down Coney and I’m swimmin’ way out. I was very ath-a-letic, see. A guy swims up and sez, ‘You mind if I swim along with ya?’ I sez, Fine. When we get back to the beach he sticks out his mitt and sez, ‘I’m Roy Cohn.’ I sez – Why didn’t you tell me out there, I woulda drowned ya, ya bastard.
- “Ya know my brother Sid Gary was the tenor on the Bing Crosby radio show.
- “You ever hear of Harry Greb the boxer with one glass eye. Forget about these faggot boxers today. Harry Greb…
- “I ever tell you about the time I fucked Helen Twelvetrees?”
In the late 1960s, the mentally ill of America were caught in a political pincer movement. The tightwad Right wanted to close public insane asylums to save money. The moronic Left decided that the insane were the only sanepeople on the planet and had to be liberated from “captivity.” Yippie fuckwits scaled asylum walls and attempted to “free” the petrified inmates. The result of this Left/Right détente was that many of the mentally ill were pumped full of drugs and dumped onto America’s streets. 42ndStreet being one. Aunt Rosa being one. (Ya ask me, insane people should be locked up and kept warm, safe and fed but as far away from sane people as possible. This “care in the community” and “mainstreaming” crap doesn’t work. All it does is create jobs for parasitic social workers while exposing the sane and insane to attacks from each other.)
My family did what we could to help Aunt Rosa but it was impossible to help her. She was crazy. She wouldn’t take her medicine. If we gave her money she gave it away or flushed it away. If we had taken her into our homes she would have burned them down. She needed asylum. As in “insane asylum.” There was no asylum in Times Square for anyone. It was insane to inflict Times Square on the insane and vice versa. Correction. It was criminally insane. The Left and Right should have been given hot-lead enemas for using helpless lunatics as pawns in their political game.
Dr. Quackenstein’s most ingenious “varying modality” was a therapy he developed himself. In his “thera-room,” there was a sunken “thera-pit” very much like the “conversation-pits” found in 1970s living rooms, though to the best of my knowledge those were never called “conversa-pits.” The “thera-pit” was thickly lined with “thera-padding” and filled with “thera-pillows.” Seated on the pillows were a variety of “thera-dolls” – Daddy Doll, Mommy Doll, Anger Doll, Authority Doll and Me Doll.
The sucker… er, I mean, the patient descended into the “thera-pit” to do battle with whichever doll represented the dragon they needed to slay. Ponder, if you will, how potent and healing this metaphoric ritual was – descending into the pit of their psyche, to confront their dragon, the patient wielded not Excalibur but Dr. Quackenstein’s most brilliant invention – the “thera-bat.” (Picture my Rocky Colavito model Louisville Slugger wrapped in foam padding because that’s what it was. And, Quackenstein got it patented!) The patient held said “thera-bat” and beat the bejesus out of whichever doll was their tormentor, or all of the dolls if the patient was having an especially tough day.
I do my best to avoid Doris and Daddy but one night he corners me while I’m eating “sausage and mash” in the kitchen. No sooner have I casually mentioned that one of my favorite war films is Zulu than Daddy’s drooping regimental mustache springs to attention and he is off, seizing the opportunity to re-fight the entire Anglo-Zulu War on my plate. I am more trapped than Michael Caine at Rorke’s Drift –
“Let’s say your mashed potatoes are the British encampment near Isandlwanda here… mmm… perhaps that’s a bit too much potato… there, that’s better… your sausage… here… represents the Zulu army under command of Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khoza… an untenable position I’m sure you will agree… now your broccoli…”
Ah, Swindon! Picture Newark, New Jersey with an English accent but minus the charm. That’s Swindon. Worse, when I am there in 1990, everything in Swindon is shut on Sunday – my one day off. Well, everything but the Spiritualist Church. So, I go. The Reverend in charge is a flaming fruit who goes into trance, contacts a spirit of the departed and then asks his geriatric English audience, “Can anyone claim a George?” (Or Ethel, Victoria or Alfred.) Believe it or not, every Sunday someone in this gray congregation can claim a dearly departed so-named. Then, George, Ethel, Victoria or Alfred, speaking in a sepulchral voice through Reverend Fruit, assures the claimant that all is well with them beyond-the-veil in Summerland. The Swindon faithful swallow this bilge and fill the collection plate with “Love Gifts.”
Reverend Fruit approaches me one week curious as to what brings someone to his church who is still breathing unaided by a portable oxygen tank. I think he also suspects that I’m on to him. I mention that I had almost claimed the spirit George who had “come through” in the service because I had a dearly departed Uncle George. “Silly,” he lisps while giving me an affectionate, limp-wristed slap on the shoulder “you should have so done.” Then, while shaking hands, he tickles my palm with his middle finger. Summerland in Swindon.