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?