Friday, June 3, 2016


I never lived without money. I never
lived with money either, don't get me
wrong, but those were days when other
people would provide for me. Mothers
make lunches, and all that. Once I began
being on my own, I had to get resourceful
quite quickly. New York City, in 1967, did
not quite yet demand that you have a million
dollars always at the ready, but it demanded
cash, and at the ready. As I mentioned before,
places like that Polish camp-survivor guy
would allow me to pretty much eat for a
quarter. There was another place, on Eighth
Street, where they had these massive and
pretty great potato knishes, also for a quarter.
One or two places had hot dogs too, some at
two for a quarter! I always had a supply of
corn muffins and things I'd manage to get,
and then of course I was adept at scrounging
around  -  meaning to say, restaurants throw
out a lot of good junk, as do supermarkets.
One thing I never did was wait in lines
for food-kitchen stuff. That was mostly
for the real bums  -  old, staggering scruffy
guys, beat by life and downtrodden. I could
have been there, but never wanted to. I'd
stand around fire-barrels with them, in
the cold, and sometimes the episodes were
good. But I never waiting in soup lines.
There was one at a mission by Canal Street.
It came with some prayers and stuff you had
to go through first. I never much wanted that
either, like making a deal for a meal. Deals
For Meals! What a concept. Except 'Meals
On Wheels' stole it. One funny thing, all
through the 1980's and more, when I did
finally have a job and a career and all
that crap, with St. George Press, and I'd
get a big, fat sixteen or so pound turkey
each year, at Thanksgiving, as part of
the Thanksgiving paycheck, my wife,
son, and I would, without fail, each
year, take the turkey in to that very
mission and donate it. For twelve years
we did that. It was the best feeling in
the world, doing that. We'd walk right
past the slowly growing line of hungry
men, usually the Saturday or Sunday
before the holiday, and donate it for
their dinner. They always wanted us
to fill out a stupid tax-donation slip
to deduct the cost of the turkey, or
something. I always declined. It
wasn't about taking back something
for a damned free turkey.
I used to sit and try to think why I did
that. It wasn't for pride, or superiority.
It had more to do with wanting to
remember those days I'd remember;
of these old guys standing around
the shacks and sheds off the crumbling
Westside Highway area, the old meat
markets and little factory places. Every
guy, silent and brooding, with some sort
of cigarette dangling, unshaven and
unkempt as they were, trying to stay
warm in their shoddy clothes and hats,
broken down old shoes and bad teeth.
They'd crowd the barrel, flames and
warmth shading the area in an intimate
privacy of men, the downtrodden.
If you got them to start, they each had
a story, some meager fragment of a
life, tried and broken over some matter
or another. Trading cigarettes around,
they'd look at me and start that old 'Son',
or 'Kid' routine  -  'don't end up like me
here, stay with it from the start, work and
get ahead. I made mistakes, and they've
killed me, but I have no regrets, just
this life, that's all I got left....' and they'd
go on. As different as each were, so too
each story was alike enough to give the
mark/handle 'ugly life, bad turn' a good
use. That's all gone now, but it was all
still there, even when I left. An entire
subculture of under-the-radar types. New
York City was made for them. They are
the underside of each New York story or
NY Noir you ever see or hear. The old
men who'd flamed out, lost a few fingers,
had gotten beaten or maimed, fell off the
train and stayed down. That's where I was
too, and where I'd probably end up  -
had I not been just a tad more careful,
I suppose, or even lucky, then any of
them. Life always has its turns; I
just never turned.
509 east 11th Street, when I got 
there was pretty much a shambles. 
A run down shocker of a walkup, a 
few flights of stairs. It had one of those 
lobbies wherein you just know that, 
since the year 1900, at least 5000 people 
must have lived and grown out from there  -
every lineage and every life-story there
ever was. Generations of immigrants and
strugglers. The dead and the living. The 
kind of place when, as soon as you 
entered, the soup or sauce being made 
on the fourth floor had already sent its
aroma downward somehow to permeate
the entire stairwell and entryway. All
these smells were intermingled and
unavoidable. The walls had some old
black and white tile motif, patterned
design, circles and swirls, with large
patches of missing tiles. The banisters
were some dark, old, polished wood
kept smooth and polished by the
hundreds of hands a day which were 
slid along it. A half wall of mailboxes
on the right side of the entry, each one
with a little window bearing a typed 
or scrawled name. One comes with 
every rental. I never used mine once.
There were, then, no big security bolts 
or lobby deadlocks. Each apartment 
was free to justify its own security in
whatever way it chose to, lock, 
chain, baseball bat, or gun, but the
lobby had nothing. First door on the
right was the Superintendent's, and he
mostly watched everything. My sixty
bucks a month, the first month anyway,
was paid to him. Curiously enough  -  
and this had nothing to do with me  -  
the guy who I brought in to share
expenses and act as 'roommate', from
that point on, in his special rapport
with the Super in question, paid the
rent in drugs from that point on. I
knew nothing of it, wanted not to 
know, and just stayed away from it all.
I think it was always pot, but I'm not
even sure of that, since this roommate
guy turned out also to be a 'pharmacist'.
('Nice work if you can get it, and you 
can get it if you try.') His name was
Andy Bonamo, curious fellow, a bit
mysterious. When I first met him he
was living up above the old Second 
Avenue Theater, which in immigrant 
days had been one of the lower eastside
NYC's premier Yiddish theaters, but
was now just about derelict. He had a
large, single room, as an apartment,
on the second floor, right above the 
marquee. The huge, old-style turn
windows (they were on like a vertical 
swivel so you could open them out, 
right out onto the marquee, walking 
out if you were so inclined), looked 
out over the street. This all was near
the corner of Eighth Street, right there
called St. Mark's Place, actually.
Across from Gem Spa, a crazy hippie
candy store, of sorts. Egg creams, full
fountain service, a zillion newspapers
and magazines. Runaways and hippies, 
the real kind, swarmed St. Mark's Place
at any hour of the day and night. You
could pretty much get anything you
sought  -  from girls to body parts to
drugs to food. Andy gave me open-door
to sleep, crash, or do whatever I wished,
and with whomever  -  if it came to 
that  -  at his gigantic room. I slept on 
his hardwood floor plenty of times, 
curled on  a blanket as October 
approached. I got to know him a bit.
We talked. He was always sleeping
with somebody, a different somebody
like every 14 hours. That's all I ever
knew. The cute little babes just came 
and went. Naked was a state of mind, 
and that was the state they mostly 
seemed to live in. In  due time, Andy
heard I'd just bagged a 60 buck a month
apartment 3 blocks away, at the park,
right by the 'Psychedelicatessant, as
it was called, and he jumped at the 
chance to move in with me and foot 
the bill. I, of course, said yes. Andy
was gold in that respect. He brought
a few sets of cowboy boots with him,
and they stayed on the floor. One 
filled always with quarters, one 
with dimes, one with nickels, etc. 
Take whatever you wished, for subway
fare, coffee or snack, small change. The
big money, Andy kept. He was selling
all sorts of drugs out of the place in no
time flat. Hallucinogens, pot, speed, 
LSD, STP, you name it. A veritable
empire of drug-commerce, with
Andy as banker and deal-man. He 
never pressured me to partake, honestly,
I had neither the time to burn up, nor
the inclination to get all hazy and 
dumb. I didn't need any insights. I
had my own already. By comparison
him and his minions, I was a working
man, already hard at my task of writing
and painting, and the rest of me. I did
sometimes get annoyed at him, and I 
often wished others could see him as
I did  -  Andy Suicide. I don't know 
how many kids' heads he screwed up,
but it was a big, round number. Then
the place started getting overcrowded.
We were taking in draft dodgers and
military runaways on their way north
to Canada. They  were mostly coming 
from some base in Virginia, bringing
along as well whatever stolen shit 
they'd take with them. Two times
there was base cars involved  - they
were Plymouth Valiants, white, with
govt' military markings on the side.
There was a Puerto Rican body shop
right across the street. The two that 
I know of, the cars, were brought in 
there, quickly de-numbered, sanded 
and repainted, and moved out. Andy
would get about 300 bucks per car.
Crime? If it was crime it was rampant.
But if it was crime too, then what the
hell was the Vietnam War called if not
Crime, with a big C. Everything going 
to Hell. All these kids on their way to
Canada, guys and girls too, Wacs or 
Waves, or whatever the military 
female crap was, they were fleeing
to freedom. They'd leave all sorts of
stuff behind  -  shirts, pants, shoes. I
got a good number of decent wearables
out of that. The girls, I'd have to say, 
they most all stayed the day or two 
it took, to have sex with Andy, and to
get drugged stupid high before they
left for Canada. It was like an 
Underground Railroad all over 
again. Military slaves this time.
Instead of 1857, say, it was 1967.
This went on. I eventually just left the
place  -  too many people around, naked
bodies sleeping everywhere, rotting food
left around, everyone zoned out and too
stupid to know there was a roach on 
the end of their nose, the same roach as
the hundred others crawling all down the
refrigerator and sink. One time, no one
would let me in because no one knew 
who I was. 'You stupid shits, it's my 
apartment. Let me in.' 
That's when the Studio School began to
let me live in their basement as a night
watchman of sorts (previously written 
of many chapters back). I was grateful 
for that. Remember, this was all still in
my name; whatever went on in that 
apartment was traceable back to me.
And then the inevitable happened.
Two dead kids, found, no less, stuffed
in my (my grandmother's, which I'd 
been given) steamer-case, foot-locker
thing, whatever it's called. The stuff
immigrants come over the seas with
and in which they've put their 
belongings. Steamer trunks, I guess. 
These two kids had been brutally
murdered, cut all up and were found
in a nearby alley, dead in the trunk.
I knew right off what was up. The
Unsolved Hippie Murders, I think the
casefile was called in the newspaper.
Just before that, on Avenue B, there 
was also another dead hippie thing 
going on, a black guy named 
'Groovy' was found killed. I think
they called that one 'The Groovy
Murders.' The stupid newspapers
ate this stuff up  -  kids, hippies,
drugs, war, girls, and death. If it 
all tied together, or if there was 
any crap to that from the mad 
mob at 509 e11th street, and my 
purloined steamer trunk, I never 
really knew. Just surmised. But 
I stayed long away from that
bongfest from then on. One time,
later, when I'd gone back, the place
was police-taped, vacant, and every
last soul  was gone. And so was all
my stuff, bicycle to underpants, man.
The Studio School became my 
own 'No-Tell Motel.'

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