My Blue Period*
In the first footnote to my blog of a couple of days ago - titled 'This Isn't The U.S. I Used To Know' - I opened a window on my life in Manhattan during the initial stages of my intensive Search for Truth and then closed it, to get on with the immediate 'story' at hand. But I have realized that that was a bit of a bummer thing to do; was a teaser thing to do, to titillate like that, so to speak, and have felt the desire to 'set things right,' at least somewhat. Herewith.
First, the (somewhat, I presume) 'offending' footnote, and then further comment on the scene that it exposed briefly to view - the scene of life Down And Out in NewYork City, during My Year In Manhattan, of a Sincere Seeker For Truth, And All That Jazz.
"1 The collection itself was published in 1953. [N.B. I was referring to a thin book of short stories by J.D. Salinger called, simply, 'Nine Stories.' Highly recommended reading, by the way. Very - empathetic, I guess is the word.] And boy, do I have a story to tell sometime about my life when coming across that collection, living down and out in Manhattan (after leaving university all the way across the continent in California, to initiate my search for answers to Life) and haunting the streets around Times Square in general and the New York Public Library Reading Room in particular, and standing in the ocean-sprayed prow of the Staten Island Ferry for breaks from being huddled in my broom-closet of a room in a cheap hotel off the edge of the aforesaid Square, reading books on the likes of Theosophy and Krishnamurti and Edgar Cayce and the (English translations of various German scholars's takes on the) origins of Christianity, and being occasionally solicited there by hookers, who didn't fully appreciate that, living in such a dump, I would hardly have a pot to pee in, let alone enough ready cash to buy them a - well, to buy them, period. But - like a lot of things about my life, and where it has taken me in my pilgrim's search for the Big Ones - another time, perhaps."
So, let this be That Time. Or a bit of it, at least.
First: My Hotel. A couple of blocks north of the 42nd Street rather tawdry strip marking the south boundary of said [Times] Square, that seedy section of it and my hotel being on the West Side (for my West Side Story while living in Manhattan).
As for the hookers. They were both young and nice-looking; and in other circumstances…(They must have been working their way through college on their backs. That sort of thing was not unknown about during my time on the collegiate scene, even on the less sophisticated West Coast; was just not a topic for even casual conversation. This was the era of Eisenhower, remember. 'Nuff said. Presumably. There were interesting things going on before the era of the Rolling Stones; just not in your face. As it were. Hey, did you hear about the Mars Bar and Bianca - no. Let's not go there. What do you think this is? A more historically up-to-date version of 'Tropic of Cancer'?? I was there for high reasons. Not hi-jinks.)
So, as I was saying: As for the prostitutes (rather fairly-assumed, I should think. What else would they have been at my door for? A neighborly game of Parcheesi?? Some help with their homework???): the first one was a blonde; the second one, who came about a month later, as near as I can recall (the only one who came out of the whole deal, then, titter titter), was dark-haired. When I finally cottoned on to what was going on (it really hit me after the second Lady Caller. To both of whom I could only think of saying, "You must have the wrong room," and closed the door on them without a further word passing between us; sending them both away empty-handed, as it were, and literally), I half-expected that if there ever were a third knock on my door, there would be a young guy standing there. (I have to presume that the lady at the front desk, to say small office with peekaboo check-in counter, monitoring 'the trade' into her fiefdom, was in the business - perhaps on the side?? - of trying to help match up tricks with her stable of fillies. And/or vice versa. As I say, it was a cheap hotel; it just took me a while to discover/realize just how, er, seedy it was. It had some monthly renters, like me; but apparently it made its basic income from nightly - or hourly - users. Waking up to the real world, I was. Thus sayeth Yoda. Not. )
And as for a third knocker on my door, and the idea of a gay scene in NYC at that time - this was circa 1955-56: Oh, my, yes, indeed, was there one; which I barely brushed against on my way through the joint. But that may have to be another story; I'm not sure how long this one is going to be. Until I get into it. I'm flying a bit blind, here; creating as I go along. No detailed flight plan to navigate by...
One thing I definitely want to put in is the bit about the jukebox down in the 42nd Street Subway entrance. (Who said that Manhattan was a city with a lot of glitter and no soul?? like a whore??? Well, let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of Manhattan, and show you something to make you change your mind. Or at least, help you to…your choice…...)
One evening on my way to somewhere or other I was heading for those turnstiles when I heard some magnificent sounds coming from a corner of the small set of shops in the downstairs of the entranceway. Stunned and curious, I dropped my plans - whatever they were, and at least for the moment - and went over to investigate. What I found was a jukebox, in a corner alcove of the small shopping complex, full of nothing but operatic selections - solos, duets, and just 'plain' orchestral passages. I couldn't believe it. What an unexpected feast. Carnegie Hall in miniature; but the sounds were just as stupendous as if I were bathing in them at a live concert in a real concert hall, rather than the (somewhat echoey) underground entranceway of a seedy stop to the City's subway system.
Che gelida manina…Nessun Dorna…...
I don't know how I had happened to miss it before then; this was well into my year's stay in The Big Apple. But I certainly made up for lost time in the days and few months left of my stay.1
That alcove was also the site of another encounter with the offer of sex. And this time, I didn't feel, with any financial strings attached to the deal.
One night while feeding my few quarters that I could spare into the machine, a young black gal who had just used the photo machine in the alcove, right across from the jukebox, got talking with me. She was jiving about her picture, and asked me if it was a good likeness. (As I recall, it was. She had a nice, friendly, even cheery air about her.) One thing led to another, as these brief-encounter things sometimes do, and she invited me to her place for a drink; and when I - politely enough, I felt, and feel - declined the offer, she ended up the conversation saying, plaintively, but with a note of dignity as well - to say, not beseechingly: "i don't want to have to go home alone."
Sorry, Miss. It's not what I'm here for. I'm here to uplift myself. Not…
what. Degrade myself???
What did I think of sex at that time?? (Let alone with a black girl.)
I know I didn't like the idea of paying for it. That was so, uncool, in my estimation. Plus, I wasn't really that highly sexed. I had had, by that time, one really close bush, er, brush with 'the little death,' with a very pretty gal from a different high school from mine whose fetching and somewhat haunting picture (she had a head scarf draped over a bit of one side of her head, almost biblical-like) I happened to see in the window of a photographer's shop near my home, and one thing led to another, as these things sometimes do. But I reached a sticking point in the relationship (so to speak): I just couldn't face the idea of going into a pharmacy and having the woman behind the counter ask me, in reply to my request for a packet of condoms, "What size," and, stunned, and fumbling for an answer, say cooly in response, "Oh, about a medium." What do you think, looking at me, Ma'am; would you say that that was about right?? I mean, such embarrassing moments, in this growing up business…It's rather different, now, I see, with condoms not only right out there on the shelves proper, but in different flavors (!), and girls in high schools (perhaps even now in junior highs - excuse me; in middle schools, I understand they're called in this day and new age. Not to be confused with the 'spiritual' one) learning to fit them onto bananas or penis prosthetics of some sort.2
This all reminds me of the time when -
No. I won't go there. Got to stick to the story proper. A failing of mine. I think of it as my style, with my brain flashing immediately - split-secondly - to associated memories, that add color to the telling, I feel; but I think that others think of it as too jump-aroundish for comfortable concentration. So let me continue, directly. More directly, at least.
Let's see. Where from here. The operatic music jukebox…
Oh. Got one; that should be interesting, and insightful, and all that jazz.
When I first hit the Big Apple
(from delivering a woman's car for her from my home town in Southern California -
where I am back at now, after all these years, in point of fact; it's a small world -
to Chicago, and taking a bus from there to Detroit, from where I had heard you can find cars to deliver for the likes of car dealers, which proved indeed to be the case and which got me to Pittsburgh, from where I took a Greyhound on into NewYork City)
I had nothing but the phone number of a friend from my high school fraternity days to go by for my Next Steps. He was a year ahead of me in school, and had ended up transferring from school in California to go to Columbia, for their apparently highly recommended philosophy and poli sci courses. I called the number from the main downtown bus station, and caught him in, and followed his detailed directions as to which subway to take (and in which direction; that was very confusing for me for a while) and which stop to get off at and how to get to his place from there, and Bob's your uncle (said with extra intent, because that was his name).
It turned out that he had a room in a Jewish family's apartment that the school had helped him get lined up with, as on-campus accommodation was apparently as scarce as hen's teeth, if existent at all (I don't recall those details). He told me that I could stay the night on his floor, until I could find a room of my own; that his landlady wouldn't mind. I wasn't sure about the latter when the next morning, when I went to leave the upstairs apartment - after using the phone to line up an appointment to see about a cheap hotel room in the heart (or at least the center) of the city that I came across in the Yellow Pages - she gave me a dirty look. I didn't know if I should have offered to pay for the phone call - my friend, who had already left for classes, hadn't told me that that would be a problem - but then she relented somewhat in demeanor, and wished me luck. On my way out, I glanced over their library shelf (as is my wont).
It was full of books on Communism.
This was circa 1955.
'They' have been playing a long game.
Now, let me totally clarify where I am with this subject. It's totally fine to want 'a better world'.
It all depends on how you go about it.
If you go about it by making the state totally powerful, in order to command people to behave the way you want them to:
a) what happens if/when that totally powerful state falls into the hands of people that you don't agree with?? and
b) a matter of fundamentals here. To say:
Voting yourselves money out of other people's pockets is immoral.
And that's enough, really, for this time, on
My Blue Period.
* A play on the title of one of J.D. Salinger's short stories in his 'Nine Stories' collection
1) As for my Date of Departure:
At some point of my excursion in being footloose and fancy free in Manhattan…
(cancel that last bit: I very much fancied hours and hours in the NY Public Library; at first full-time -
while I was living on a small stipend that my
(long-out of-the picture, from a divorce when I was still in diapers)
father had left me in his will
(to be used for my "education". It certainly was, that. I had no qualms about thinking otherwise -
and then, when that ran out, I got a job
(a couple of them, before I settled down for a good stretch in the last one; another story)
and could only go to the Library in the evenings
(which I did, religiously. What else was I going to do, with but pennies in my pocket?? And go to evening concerts down in the 42nd Street Subway entranceway)
I received a notice in the mail that advised me that, since I was no longer in school (except for the school of Life, and Interesting Knocks), I was subject to the Draft; and to report to such-and-such a place at such-and-such an hour on such-and-such a day of such-and-such month, Sincerely yours; and oh: Have a nice day. (I jest with that last bit.)
In the event, I applied for, and received, exemption from carrying a weapon by being classified as 1A-O, which meant that I was a c.o., better known as a conscientious objector; and went into the Army, and served a tour of duty, for two years, as a medic. In Korea. But that's definitely another story.
Back to this one.
2) On this matter of female pharmacy clerks having sport with young guys about condoms, my little fictional anecdote is based on a true story. One of my high school fraternity mates - a year or two above me; I forget which - was telling a group of us one evening after our meeting about being 'hazed' by such a woman in a drugstore that he went into for a packet of condoms for his evening out (or in; whatever), and when he quietly asked her for what it was he wanted, she turned and said, in a loud voice, to her female mates, "Hey, do we have any rubbers left? This kid here wants some." As I recall the story, one of her mates replied, in the same loud manner, something to the effect of "Yeah, they're over there under that other counter." To which the first hazer called out, "Okay. Thanks." And went over to get the loudly advertised product…
Our frat mate said that he was about all shriveled up in his shoes by then; with another part of his anatomy having likewise disappeared.
Or words to that effect.