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!
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.
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.
Method Acting teachers are seen as gurus and they embrace this mantle: “I am the great Father Figure, Witch-Doctor, Shrink, the Font of All Wisdom, the Repository of All Knowledge, the Giver of Pleasure and Pain.” No surprise their schools become personality cults. No surprise these cults are especially attractive to young women who have little self-esteem and big “Daddy” issues. The Guru demands that the student emotes at all times. The student is not having a successful scene if the student is not having a nervous breakdown – even if the scene is from Mary Poppins. Simply put – “If you ain’t crying, you ain’t acting.”
One Guru held his entire class captive for two days because one student had not prepared a scene. Two days. No food. No phone calls. No talking. Limited toilet breaks. Very limited. Meanwhile, across town, a revered female Guru sent her students out to pick up strangers in bars and have sex with them – in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. And, people fought to get into these classes.
In the 1980s, after a young actress accused her acting teacher of raping her, the dam burst. Former students from as far back as the 1950s reported similar attacks by Professor Pervowitz. He had been an acclaimed teacher and a predatory sadist for decades. He had run weekly ads in The Village Voice. Taught major stars. And, you had to hand it to Pervowitz, he had a psychologically brilliant M.O. He would tell the actor or actress in his sights that they were a genius. But, to prevent jealousy, their “genius” had to remain secret from the other students. Pervowitz was willing to give the budding genius private coaching… ssshhh… to open you up… ssshhh… you are a genius but you are emotionally blocked. I know how to unblock you… ssshhh… now take your clothes off, kneel at my feet and masturbate while repeating – I am your bitch-slut-cunt.”
And, they did it. Many geniuses did it. Male and female did it they – for decades.
Acting has always attracted the delightful but also the dim, the desperate and the deranged. ‘Twas ever thus. My parents were delightful, stage-struck, Italian kids from Brooklyn when they met in a Manhattan acting school in the 1930s. It was a time when the New York theater was crawling with Russian émigrés all of whom claimed to have been former members of Constantine Stanislavski’s renowned Moscow Art Theater. Stanislavski invented “Method Acting” and every one of the Russo-invaders claimed to have been his mentor – “And, I told Constantine he vas wrong about the emotive mimetic.” Manhattan sheltered more of these borscht bullshitters than the number of baby-boom bullshitters who claim to have seen Jimi at Woodstock.
And, every Boris and Svetlana ran an École de Théâtre in a drafty loft on Delancey Street or a Temple of the Dramatic Arts ensconced in a dank basement on Bleecker. One teacher would dampen the wooden floor of her studio with a garden hose then turn up the heat, thereby creating a steam-room. Her students disrobed and lay down on the floor to do esoteric Siberian breathing exercises. “It is imperative to open and breathe through all the orifices of the body at once.”
Racy stuff for then and total bullshit for always.
It is my happy fate to live in Brooklyn and London neighborhoods where Jehovah’s Witnesses train their doorbell-ringing missionaries. They are almost always Black. Imagine the delight of a pair of young, Witness trainees when, far from slamming the door in their faces, the nice White man invites them in for a chat. A long chat. A very long chat. Imagine their chagrin to discover that the nice White man knows more about their religion than they do. Imagine the trainees running and screaming from the suddenly crazed White man when he dons a pair of red, light-up, devil horns and asks them to abandon Jehovah and become Sam Butera’s Witnesses.