Thursday, December 22, 2016


Tommy and Lenora 
Vicks were two people
I'd gotten to know 
from down along 
e12th Street - he was 
a stage-construction 
union guy for some 
of the big uptown 
theaters and she 
passed her time 
waitressing and 
trying to put 
together some 
sort of dance 
career - which 
never went 
anywhere that I
saw. The two of them 
were pretty normal 
in all other respects, 
and by the time I 
met them it was
surprising to me 
to be able to find
two NYC people, in
a close age range 
proximity to me,
who actually did 
live fairly normal 
lives from their own
nice apartment; flowers 
and window-sill 
planters and a decent 
little garden spot out 
back; nicely furnished 
rooms and kitchen 
and all the other 
amenities I'd normally 
have thought about 
for some older uncle 
or aunt somewhere.
They did all this 
pretty well and I 
guess really the only
thing they'd not 
acquired was a car - 
urban New Yorkers 
took that in stride 
and never thought 
twice about it, even 
though it did stand
out a bit to me, and
even though I too,
of course, didn't 
have one. At the
same time though I 
wasn't 'seeing them'
as an uncle or an 
aunt living comfortably
in a nice space. So, I
just let it go. However, 
Lenora's paradise 
was 14th Street and 
all the stuff it offered,
so that I suppose 
from that spot most
of these things in 
this homey little 
space came. Back
in those days it 
was still the sort 
of environment 
where 14th Street 
yet held some 
dignity - fairly 
decent dress and 
gown and linen 
shops and dishes 
and stuff - whereas 
now it too has 
degenerated into 
the usual Chinese 
junk and imported 
trinkets sold by 
immigrants along 
the way - acres of 
cheap paper products 
and detergents indoors 
and ten dollar shoes 
and watches outdoors.
At this time  -  not so 
much now  -  there'd 
be  carts and rows of 
cheap people selling 
cheap stuff., but even
though it as cheap, that
was mostly because of
no overhead. It wasn't
because the stuff itself 
was cheap. I don't know
how the stores even
tolerated this  -  all
those street merchants 
undercutting store 
prices for certain 
goods by large margins  
-  because they had no
overhead, no light-bills, 
no wages and taxes  -  no
what's now called 'brick
and mortar' concerns to
worry about. The stores,
on the other hand, were
drowning in expenses. I
always figured that if I
was a store owner I'd
most certainly send some
goons out there, to the
sidewalk, to bash some 
heads and convince
these morons to move 
on. On top of all else,
they didn't even pay 
rent for their little 
sidewalk space, while
the store owners got 
saddled with everything.
But, to my point, the 
rows and rows of 
carts and booths 
which now distract 
the eye and ear 
(and nose) with
all that cheap, 
plastic, and 
marginal stuff,
were not there.
Another funny 
thing about that 
older New York is 
the fact of the now
'glorified' charm 
of the old pushcart 
vendors who sold 
along every street 
their wares, and 
fruits, and vegetables
and most anything 
else in the early 
days before the 
establishment of 
sales taxes, department 
stores, and inspectors
and compartments 
and sections for 
selling this and 
that under roof 
and ceiling - now 
that same, unique
outdoor sales effect
has degenerated 
into trash-merchants 
redundant up and 
down some streets 
and certainly any 
historic 'charm' 
has long ago been 
cancelled out.but 
Lenora partook 
of all this stuff 
and from it made
a nice place and 
Tommy - always 
busy - just came 
and went as he 
needed and it was 
a pleasure to visit 
them - 28 e12th 
if I recall - the few 
times I did, but 
before that Tommy 
Vicks had gotten 
into some sort of 
scrap with the law 
and had a few 
precarious months,
as he put it, in jail 
or Rikers or 
sweating it out. 
But he was always 
the same - direct 
and strong-willed, 
with a foul-enough 
mouth used mostly 
on the job but it was 
all something he'd say 
you get used to real 
fast if you're 'gonna' 
survive here,' and 
because of his skills 
he'd built a few really 
nice shelf-cases and 
tables in the apartment
which added a nice 
touch. But there really 
never were any books 
about - something I
always looked for  -
they'd load this space 
all up instead with 
decorative stuff, I 
guess called 'furnishings' 
or  something, things
that she'd get out 
shopping along the
streets. It was nice 
visually (so was she, 
but I never got involved 
in any of that angle; 
just so you know), 
but never meant too 
much to me to see 
and I did always
rue the lack of 
books there, as I
said.  That might 
not seem like much
of anything but I 
mention it twice 
because, for me, 
the way I was, it 
was a touchstone 
signature of how 
people really lived. 
Just as a person's 
actual 'signature' 
sort of betrays 
their essential 
self no matter 
what, so also does
the presence or 
lack of, books, 
to me. I admit, 
it's some 50 years 
later now, which 
is weird, but the 
prevalence and 
significance of 
'books', even 
though prevailing 
society has now 
discounted that 
factor and found a 
hundred others 
ways for people 
to submit to 
and the getting 
of it  -  as well 
as games, crap, 
junk, porno, 
bargains, deals 
and steals, even 
obituaries!  -  I 
still factor in and 
value the essential
idea of a 'book' 
when I draw the
bounds for a person's 
interior-identity sketch. 
I often wondered where
theirs were  -  Tommy 
and Lenora. Bookless?
One day he came 
home with a small 
sculpture, as I 
remember, from 
some production 
or other - a form 
made of sticks and 
wire - some sort of 
human pose supposed 
to be evocative of 
something, and he 
plunked it in the 
corner on a small 
pedestal he'd brought
 - it stayed there a 
while but the next 
time I went in it 
was gone so I 

never knew what

happened : I was 

never much a theater 
guy but they always 
had those little 
Playbill books 
lying about too, for 
any of the current 
productions, and 
they were sometimes 
fun to see - especially 
the ads - and Tommy 
would say he needed 
them for work and 
from them he 
referenced names 
and titles and 
locations where 
he could at any 
time be sent on 
a job - made sense
to me - and then 
I learned later also 
that 'opening night' 
Playbills or, better, 
opening night 
Playbills signed 
by a cast member 
or two were very 
collectible and 
considered sometimes 
quite valuable - the 
'opening night' specials 
were often sealed and 
stamped in a corner 
especially to denote 
their provenance or 
uniqueness or whatever 
- anyway, I learned 
later that the root 
of Tommy's problem 
had been in forging 
signatures and falsely 
sealing and stamping 
playbills which he 
and another person
had amassed, and 
they'd been selling 
them as original 
'opening nighters
through some form 
of mail-order or 
something for the 
theater crowd - 
they'd gotten 
caught and had 
been charged with 
forgery and 
mail fraud, and a 
few other things,
and for a while it 
had looked bad, 
(serious enough 
charges), but after 
a month or so in 
jail and after a 
few hearings they'd 
been able to buy a 
good enough lawyer 
to calm everything 
down - Tommy's 
biggest fear was in 
losing his job and 
his union card and 
all that - so that 
nothing much 
came of it all 
after a while - 
funny and totally
unique story to 
me at the time.
This little bit of 
malfeasance on Tommy's
part has always stayed 
with me. Not for what 
he did, but  -  actually  -  
for the way he, I guess,
'lied' to me, or found 
that he could or would, 
about this. I didn't know
much of any of this
theater stuff, and he
could most probably 
have said anything he 
wanted, but by 
mis-representing it 
all to say he 'needed 
them to stay on top 
of job possibilities,' 
or job openings, or 
however he phrased 
it, in retrospect to me 
it turned out to be 
pretty rotten. And I 
was sorely disappointed 
he'd done that. I was
'vexed' as my British 
friend Morris used to
say. All he had to do
was own up to it. I 
really wouldn't
have cared. But,
anyway now so
long past, it little 
matters. Sorry to
say, I've never had
any further trace of
them. Wish I had.

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