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?
The New York summer of 1973, the summer of Carrie’s murder, simmered like every other New York summer – over-heated cabs, over-heated buses, over-heated subways, over-heated apartments, over-heated offices, over-heated people. Olga, the least talented of the untalented avant-garde actresses in our building, got very over-heated about a White hooker and her Black pimp who lived across the street. They looked like a super-hero team that had fallen on threadbare times. He squeezed his fat ass into gold-lamé hand-me-downs from Superfly while she favored silver-latex unitards. Unfortunately, the unitards did not favor her full-figured frame. This girl had been around the block several times. And, I don’t mean St. Mark’s Place. (I wouldn’t fuck her with your dick!) But, why/how this dumpy duo got on Olga’s untalented tits escaped me.
“Safety” is an over-heated, fifth-floor walk-up with hot-and-cold running cockroaches. They are everywhere. When I turn on the lights, the entire room moves. I often can’t face the scurrying brown multitude and leave the room in darkness. Then in a demonstration of the Darwinian principle of adaptation, the brown multitude mutates to albino making it easier for the roaches to conceal themselves on the white porcelain of our sink and tub. Their white camouflage is most effective in the bristles of our toothbrushes. The only give away is the barely detectable movement of the tiny, black, roach eyes. I want to believe that I always spot these albino interlopers before sticking my toothbrush into my mouth. I desperately want to believe that.
In the late 1960s, the Lower East Side and especially St. Mark’s Place is the epicenter of New York’s hippie-yippie-trippieworld. It is Haight-Ashbury East. It is lined with head shops, record-shops, bookshops, poster-shops and vintage-clothes shops. The sidewalk is packed with freaks, frauds and fools. It’s fun. But, by the early 1970s, when Rob and I move in, St. Mark’s is lined with strung-out hippie-junkies and emaciated speed-freaks – the kids who forgot to get off the train before it hit the wall. They are gawked-at by tardy tourists in from Omaha and Osaka. (“Is this where the hippies live?”) In 1968, I see a Black hippie digging for food in a macrobiotic restaurant’s garbage can. Fifty years later, I see him doing the very same and he looks remarkably healthy. I’m astounded that the macrobiotic manure hasn’t killed him.
In the early ’70s, now that their patchouli-oil bubble has burst in an explosion of exceptionally sour disappointment, the hippie-junkies and emaciated speed-freaks feel it is their right to “liberate” money from others – “This is a stick-up… er, I mean, this is a revolution, man.” Young actors are easy prey. So, when returning home late at night, Rob and I avoid the sidewalk and practice our broken-field running down the middle of the street. We figure this gives us more chance of evading any muggers or bullets headed our way.
AIDS does not get my friend, Carrie. No, this young actress is murdered in 1973 while AIDS is waiting in the wings. She is slain in the city of Taxi Driver,The Panic in Needle Park, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 and The French Connection. Handsome John Lindsay is Mayor. He is called the Republican Kennedy. In 1966, he wins office with the slogan, “Everyone else looks tired but he looks fresh.” But, by 1973, Handsome John has wilted along with the confidence of the ’60s. His color has faded along with the Peter Max posters in the Upper East Side and the Hippie murals in the Lower East Side. Rob and I share an apartment there on St. Mark’s Place. Two actors. One struggling. One not. Rob is not only “not” but “hot.” I have to endure the sheer joy of taking phone messages for him – “Rob, Sam Shepard asked if you’d read his play and Sidney Lumet phoned again. Oh, Mike Nichols wants to take you to lunch.”
While Rob is lunching at Lutèce, I’m living on a buck-a-day meal money. Desperate for food, my antennae pick up a radio commercial that promises free dinner at Luchow’s German restaurant in return for listening to a sales pitch. The pitch will be for a property scam in Florida – Rancho Refritos Estates. Selling land in Florida is the oldest racket in America, second only to alternative medicine. (David Mamet’s brilliant play Glenngarry Glenn Ross is about Florida land-swindles.)