Sunday, April 3, 2016


I was friends for a long time with a
sculptor fellow named Jim Tomberg.
He was one of the more colorful
characters I'd ever met; about 7 or
so years older than me, drank a lot,
was big, and from California. We'd
met up in the Studio School, where
he'd relocated to, from the San
Francisco Art Institute. I had been
invited to go to school there, but
opted for New York. Through
another connection, he was given
my name, (and me his), so that
when he got to New York,
there we met. I took him around,
believe it or not, acting as his
guide and showing him places
and ways, like I was a big deal.
He was very cool, and he did
eventually get himself a job at
the Cafe Bizarre, on the corner
of Bleecker and MacDougal.
I think it was Cafe Bizarre, but
there were so many back then it
may have been the Cafe Wha',
another one. I really forget. (I
just checked, it was Cafe Bizarre).
They're all gone now anyway,
and long ago that corner was
turned sad. Vacant, rundown,
small junk businesses in place
instead, and some big-ass coffee
shop there now, not a Village cafe
in any way, but instead one of those
Starbucks wannabee kind of places
with people just sitting around
clunking cups of four dollar coffee.
All of the cool Greenwich village
people who used to populate the
streets and alleys are all gone now.
Dead or dying. I don't even know
whatever happened to Jim, but it
was all pretty sweet while I knew
him. He'd get night shifts, three or
four nights a week, the busy nights,
and go to work, in his white apron,
like a barkeep or order-for tables.
There'd be people everywhere, some
sort of music playing, pass the hat
nights, open microphone stuff, or
just regular music-bills. The place
was always crowded and jamming  -
1967 Summer guys and girls, prime
hippie stuff, girls barely covered,
half drunk everybodys everywhere.
Raucous. Jim mostly worked as
drunk as anyone else. He didn't care
about much in  those states  -  least
alone the music or the usual proprieties
of politeness or protocol. It was great
for me because I'd finally gotten a
place to eat  -  he'd pass me whatever
was left around. and, better, drink
for free. It was all better than dumpster
fare, and I never abused any of it
either. I'd go there on Friday or
Thursday nights, sometimes
Saturdays, any old late, weird hour,
just to hang, drink some, see what
and who was around, the music, the
food, the people. The entire street
scene was always amazing, and the
cafe was always teeming with people.
Jim was always around somewhere.
It's all pretty hard to imagine what it
all was like. The world has changed
over twice or more since then. Words
and meanings flipped, intentions all
different, and -   most importantly  -
all the meaningful aspirations of what
went with things have disappeared. It's
as if this now devitalized world has
been stripped down and everything
taken from it. It presents, maybe, a nice,
naked carcass before you, but, in these
times, who needs that anyway. As
difficult as it is to be persuaded of this,
nakedness is now passe. Every third
moron can fullfil his or her complete
desire and biological inquisitiveness
with naked beings, pornography and
sexual gymnastics at the drop of a hat.
Everyone's an expert  now! Kids, let
me tell you, there really was a time
when all that was still a wonderful
thing to behold; a treat, a joy, a
treasure and a glimpse. Not like
now. So, what I'm saying is that the
corner of Bleecker and MacDougal,
on any warm night in those days, was
the most perfect crossroads of fancy
and fantasy, fact and figment, that any
young boy's heart could ever have
desired. People of all stripes were
bleeding into New York City, and
Greenwich Village, and the very
corner of Bleecker and MacDougal
like it was the very corner of the
center of the world : 'Freedom,
just around the corner for you!'
I was a complete novice at any of
this, but no one ever had to know
that and I just never let on, never
volunteered any information. For
all anyone else ever knew, I was
just a local kid, from the streets,
and brought up there, with no one
ever knowing the difference. Jim
and I just sorta' fused naturally. He
did things I didn't care about, so I
didn't do that much with him :
movies, other entertainments. He
had a few different girlfriends
around from time to time, but
they always seemed just to be
so much older than me, womanly
wise and all that -   and I knew
what was up anyway  -  so I
never bothered, nor did they
with me. I just got done telling
you how the whole world was
opening up, people throwing every
restriction and taboo right out the
1960's window, so I knew, if I'd
wanted, with any of these girls or
ladies, I could have been 'screwed,
blued and tattooed' any time I sought
to and nobody would have cared
over it. But I left all that to Jim; he
was probably better at it and more
intently concentrative about it
than I'd ever be. I just couldn't
get motivated in corralling any
of his women-types. And anyway
I had a girlfriend already, out in
the provinces, and I just left it
at that. Jim would get so drunk,
stumbling back in after a late, 
late night of whatever, he'd just 
pass out where he dropped. The 
sculpture studio he kept was out 
back, amidst all sorts of weird 
heads and clay and plaster busts 
and crazy abstract forms. It got 
sometimes pretty weird to keep
him down in place where he'd 
fallen, to sleep one off, in the 
middle of all that  -  but my 
instructions from him ever were 
to just make sure he was in one
piece and comfortable, wherever.
Mostly it was the plaster-strewn 
floor, with a blanket or two. And 
more than once or twice it was with 
a female too. I'd just snuggle them 
in, together, and have done with it. 
They'd eventually awaken, she'd fuss 
and bray over something, and he'd
send her away. Then he'd just stay
there, grinning and farting over his
newest conquest or exploit, like he 
was a six year old with a new toy.
He always somehow reminded me 
of the Dean Moriarity guy from the
Kerouac book, 'On the Road'. Crazy
for the world; mad for time. All that
stuff. And in all this, between the
women and the world of Jim, I think
if he could have just sculpted some
manageable plaster-sculpt woman 
of his own desiring and had sex 
with that, he'd have been as
blissfully happy as forever. It
all was just the way it went with
Jim. We talked, and we talked big 
and we talked crazy and he went 
on and out over things and I never
always got that much good sense
from some of what he said. But we
were different, in all of that sense.
I was the bookish nebbish by 
comparison to his always-lit 
and always-raging fire.
Jim was running his own sculpture 
scene, there in the Studio School. All 
those plaster heads and clay busts and
all that, they were all part of the school's
traditional sculpture-studio stuff. Like
the painting areas as well, there'd always 
be life models around, hired for the day, 
each shift. It was their job. The drawing 
rooms too. They'd enter in a robe, then 
disrobe, and be in all sorts of poses for
real long times, nude. That was the
subject matter for that class - you'd 
draw, pencil or charcoal, or sculpt or 
paint, all depending on where you were. 
It was always cool, and at first it was, 
in fact, off-putting, to see nakedness 
like that. Every twist and contortion, of 
either sex, sometimes the both together, 
would obviously leave nothing to the  
imagination  -  but you  weren't supposed 
to think about that, just instead concentrate 
and go about your work. It was sure an eye 
opener. And it did sometimes take an almost
monastic discipline to keep at your 'work.'
Then, later, you'd see the girl, robed again
and walking around. Like, what were you 
supposed to do then? 'Oh, hi. Hey, it was 
really nice looking at your naked body for 
the last two hours. That's ah, quite a nice, 
ah, whatchacallit you got there.' Yeah.
You wonder sometimes how work gets done.
I'm going on a bit too long here about Jim,
but I have a lot to say. He was pretty unique,
but in a workmanlike way. There wasn't
anything really 'creative' about him that I 
ever found. He was more like a lumberjack 
or something who had, for some reason, 
taken up around 'Art.' But he wasn't the
artist type at all; just more like a big,
pushing brawler. Scrappy. Loud. When 
said he sort of ran his own sculpture 
department, I meant that he had introduced,
or been allowed to introduce, welding 
sculpture, like David Smith or any one of 
those other large-scale metal, steel, ironwork 
sculpture guys. The Studio School wasn't really 
ready for that, interested more, as it was, in 
a traditional Euro-Art based work that was 
confined to staid sculptural forms and effects.
Jim would run around with flaming torches 
and welding glasses, cutting and braising, 
flaming over these large pieces of steel; sparks 
flying every which way, with that really cool, 
almost white-noise of welding, that went with it.
His stuff was large, heavy, ponderous and -
oftentimes soliciting only a vague and
general 'what the fuck?' response. It
really took time. Jim and I would
sometimes take the subway out to parts
of Brooklyn or Queens  -  wrecking yards 
and scrap dealers  -  and he'd pick a few
barely transportable pieces to buy, and we'd
then traipse and struggle through the subways
stops and doors and turnstiles with these crazy
slabs of scrap steel. People, of course not in
the know, would just look at us as if we were 
crazy, insane, loose upon the world. Which
we were, so there.  He'd eventually take
these large, heavy, pieces of steel and cut 
and weld them into some sculptural shape 
of his liking. That was Art, and I 
guess it was naked too.
One last thing, for now : One night a really
drunk Jim came stumbling in. (I've forgotten
to mention that I was getting sixteen dollars a
week from the school to stay there overnight,
sort of like a night-watchman deal. I slept in 
the basement, or on the library floor, if that's
where I'd finally nod off reading. For a while
Jim too slept in the back sculpture rooms. 
No one else knew it but me, since I'd allowed 
it, and it didn't last long anyway. He'd soon
gotten some other place. More on all that
later). I guess neither of us realized there
was a huge pit in the sculpture room floor,
for various uses, about 10 feet deep and maybe
6 feet or so square. Tight fit for Jim. One night,
drunk and in the dark, he simply fell in; get 
banged up some, but stayed passed out.
no one knew where he'd gone or what had
happened to him, maybe for a day, and then
he awoke in the pit; screaming a big noise
and slightly bruised and bloodied. But,
still hale and hearty and alive and well.
Big Jim Tomberg joke at the time.

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