Tuesday, June 20, 2017


- the Jazz Loft, pt. 8, 1967 -
I never knew what it was : bravery,
patience, just getting tired, or maybe
just persistence. It could have been
any one of those things. Mysterious,
why I was ever there  -  and then even
moreso  -  why I stayed or kept coming
back. Whatever; there were hundreds
of other things I could have been doing.
One time I remember my father came
into the city  - yep  -  to visit me. That
was a surprise, and it didn't exactly
work out. When he arrived, of course,
I wasn't where he'd expected I would
be. That was screw-up number one, but
he waited around, saying he walked
Eight Street some and said what the hell
kind of place had I got myself to  -  all
he saw was guys looking like girls and
girls running around half naked. I tried
to calm him down by confusing him :
'Look, Dad, isn't that the same equation
anyway, some people trying out things to
see who they really are or want to be, and
the ones who already know walking around
looking for mates, so of course they're all
going to look that way, right?' Then we
went to this little hot dog dump on the
corner, just the kind of place I knew he'd
love  -  like 44 hot dogs and a soda for 12
cents. Really. There were at least twenty
people in a shuffling line, moving pretty
swiftly enough for the hungry, and he
dove right in. The trouble was putting
him in like that right in the midst of a
bevy of crazy hippies, cross-dressers,
drugged-out, wheezing transvestites and
a few partially-clad girls. I think. Some
of them, no, I wasn't exactly sure. And
knowing my father's history of having been
in the Navy, I wasn't sure if that was going
to mean cooperation or blind hostility. But,
no matter, there was, right next door, the
famed and curious Bigelow Pharmacy, so
at least I could get blood-rags and wipes
and sutures and disinfectants if any of that
came to be necessary. I pretty much
knew I was treading water and started
immediately figuring the clock  -  how
long had he been here, how long was this
'visit' due to last, and what should we do?
Turned out OK. He ate. I knew this artist
guy up above Bigelow's, with a loft and
big windows facing the street. He made
and advertised portraits, etc, and billed
himself as the 'fastest painter in the world.'
An older guy, about 50 then, and he made
a living doing that, for a long time. We went
up there for a while, stuff was all around.
My father immediately started the guy up,
trying to show him how bad and shoddy
all his chairs and stuff were and how he
could reupholster them and help the place
out a lot in appearance with some freshened
up fabric and all. He mentioned a few prices,
and the rest -   but it went nowhere; they just
bantered about stuff and ended up friends OK.
I didn't realize it then, but I think about it now,
and my father was younger than the guy. If
I was 18, my father was perhaps 42 or 43. I
figured them to be the same age with stuff in
common, but  guess I was wrong probably
by 12 years or more. Pretty weird, but back
then anyone over maybe 35 looked ancient
to me. My father had a few pet phrases  -
Holy Cow; Oh brother; Gee willikers;
Boy oh boy oh boy; Golly Gee; stuff like
that. He used each of them about 10 times
that day. And he kept calling all the kids he
saw 'Sonny.' That was freaky too. 'Hello,
Sonny'  -  heard a few too many times. It
began to get me rattled. We went back to
the Studio School, I showed him things, the
11th Street apartment was never mentioned
(thank goodness) and by the time we were
done I'd even been able to evade any telling
about the jazz loft stuff and what had been
keeping me busy. If he ever found out I'd
been hanging around with chemical-hipster
black dudes, jazz or not, he'd had said
something about it for sure, and right to
their faces too  -  he was full of attitude,
all the time  -  and those guys would have
probably strung him up like a stand-up bass
and played him on some nasty riff over and
over until he was dead. So, good for that.
We walked back to the parking garage where
he'd left the car, and parted. Close call. This
was 1967, remember, and my father's been
long dead now too  -  and that's too bad,
because if I still had him around now there's
a million things I'd love to show him and
explain back to him about what was going
on and where I thought then I was headed.
I would have asked for some understanding,
at least, and given plenty back too. For the
sake of any 'Sonny' he might remember.
Surprises like that never happened often, in
fact I can only think of one or two other
times. One time, on 11th Street, the guy
on the floor above me, Billy Joe, a real
serious and notorious hippie dude, noticed
my father's presence and came down the
stairs with this huge bag of stuff, pretending  -
just to mess with my suburban dad's head  -
that he'd been selling, and I'd been buying
from him, a big deal was pending, he had
some of the stuff, and then he started trying
to get my father to 'come on along and get
high, us all together.' I don't know what he
was thinking, Billy Joe, but it's a good thing
my father wasn't armed because he'd be dead.
Jerk. I tried to stop the charade, but he kept
pushing it. My father was near-to-ballistic :
'You sonofabitch, coming down here with all
this dope and trying to make a sale, what the
hell do you think you're doing...'(No gee
willikers or boy oh boys here). It was like a
a really bad, crummy version of a stage play,
one act, about to end in doom. The only
thing that saved and (and to this day I still
give thanks for the female form) was that
Holly  -  Billy Joe's most perfect hippie
girlfriend  -  came in through the doorway
and somehow managed to stand in front
of the one window there, which backlit
her perfect, hippie-girl female form
through her almost sheer anyway peasant
girl costume garb, and, foolishly wearing
nothing underneath it (silly girl), stopped
my father's flapping mouth dead stone
cold in its tracks. The rest was all joy
and light and happiness, and nothing
more but pleasantries came of it. However,
those visits were always treacherous.
It became instantly clear to me why I selected
the jazz loft as a refuge. The Studio School
was great, my friend Jim Tomberg was crazy
great, my other friends too  -  Judy and Steve,
Wendy and Peter  -  any number of real pluses.
But the Jazz Loft after a while just became my
place of first reference. This took a long time
because if you break my time up, in NYC,
it had varied and different segments. Initially,
I was nowhere; homeless, walking and sleeping,
and eating wherever I could and whatever -  that
was the first two Summer months, in Tompkins
Square Park mostly. This was high-hippie days
too, remember, Summer of Love and all that
bullcrap. Not that I was really any part of that,
but people just figured I was. Then the period
when I slept and lived in that 2nd Avenue
theater place, above the marquee, with Andy
Bonamo, then the killer guy from Colorado,
hiding out from the cops, then my own place
on 11th street, then all the draft-dodging and
war-resistance movement stuff, runaways,
AWOLS, stolen and abandoned govt. vehicles,
arranging trips to Canada, my 11th street
apartment becoming a crash-pad resistance
league way-station for all these AWOLS
fleeing their stints and running off to
Canada instead. Selling and unloading
the cars, fighting the draft, and my own
draft. Organizing some of the marches and
rallies, hanging out on Bleecker and Macdougal,
Jim Tomberg working at Cafe Bizarre on
busy hippie-crowd nights, all which got me
free food and beer, traveling the city, bicycle,
subway, foot, doing some illicit things for
money, ferrying stuff, and the rest. It was a
full deck of cards for someone who didn't even
know how to play cards except maybe for
Go Fish, or Go, or whatever those inane card
games for kid had been. This, by contrast,
was cards played for blood.
Then my apartment got too crazy and too
crowded, I moved on and started living in
the basement of the Studio School  -  which
was great for me. 16 bucks a week too.
It all went on. Every time I got back to that
loft, I'd see the scenario again. Another world
entire  -  a commitment to something which it
seemed no one else except these guys even
knew about. Those guys could just nod, and
I'd have a seeming instant understanding of
what they were doing. I felt I had to take stock,
deliberate, and talk over with myself, alone,
the (maybe) fateful nod that awaited me. I
was still new, I hadn't yet decided on things.

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