Tuesday, October 20, 2009
#21 – OLD FRIENDS
By New Year’s Eve in ’85, this search for the past well underway, I was spending crucial time at these meetings with women and men of many ages who were probing deep into their lives, right back to infancy often, searching for what had happened. And I was actually one of these people. I was searching too.
There was a big meeting that would last through midnight on St Mark’s place in that stolid building that had been the Polish National Home, had become the Electric Circus, and now was the site of a lot of meetings, most of them Twelve Step, which were allowed there by a rich woman who had purchased the building to set up a school to prepare women for the building trades.
This was an unusually warm evening for the end of December. So warm and mysterious it could have been Spring in the heart of winter. I started out on Barrow Street in the West Village where my friend Joan Snyder was giving a party in her small apartment. She reminded me of the sort of women Barbara Stanwick had played in black and white movies, though she was wittier and often nicer. I had known Joan first that summer of ’59 when we were both working at night in the Newark Bureau of UPI and she was an unusually alive news work colleague. Some nights when we had the place to ourselves we would drop the routines and get on the phone, both of us, entertain ourselves with mocking interviews with Alan Ginsberg’s father, a conventional man who was well known in northern Jersey as the Poet Laureate of Patterson.
When we were on different shifts we would leave notes for each other – such as that one of us had faked the time on the signoff for a story so that the bureau chief would not see how it had been put on the wire late. One day when he left work the bureau chief gave Joan a letter to mail to some superior over in New York. She opened it, saw that it was asking that we all be required to actually live in New Jersey, and so she destroyed it. Her next note to me was signed "deus ex machina." I thought that was great, though I did not know exactly what "deus ex machina" meant.
Now all these years later Joan was still in news work, with CBS now as a producer for the Dan Rather Evening news. Also, she had recently survived breast cancer, with the help of marijuana, suppllied by a pleasant guy named Bob Browder who had also been in Newark that distant summer.
And in town now, she told me on the phone, was Bill Tangney, who had been a great friend at Princeton, an antidote to Princeton, where he took none of their uptight silliness seriously and, unlike the Princeton clubmen, had unlimited energy. We had worked on the student daily there together and he too had wound up right after college at UPI, covering a right-wing legislature in Ohio. He did it with such flair that there was an article about him in Editor & Publisher. Just before he was in Ohio I was covering an even more right-wing legislature in Indiana, and then while I was still with UPIOwe were we had come at the same time in New York, where I introduced him to Joan and they almost immediately set up housekeeping together.
That was when I was living over near Second Avenue. A few years later, after I was back from the Balkans and Africa, I was with Judy rather than Vannie though he was still with Joan, and we were neighbors in the West village. Bill bought a Vespa, I got a 90 cc. Honda and we went all over Manhattan deep into many heavy drinking nights, sometimes each with a girl on the back of the machine, and it was not always the girl it was supposed to be. Amazing that we did not kill ourselves right off. And then he almost did. The Vespa’s small wheels made it perilous to navigate places like below the West Side Highway where there were cobblestones and potholes, and at three one morning he crashed, with the wrong girl on the back, at a high speed. Like me, he rarely wore his helmet. He was taken to St. Vincent’s hospital, which was near both Joan and me. I would call in, as I did doing newspaper work when someone prominent was badly hurt, to get a report on his condition, and for weeks it was critical, the word “critical” being used sometimes as a code word in newspaper writing for “probably fatal,” a code word like the word "attractive" which was applied to a woman in a news story only if she seemed to the writer unattractive.
Bill survived but with a damaged brain and so could not pick up where he had left his life. By the time of the crash he had joined Joan as a writer at CBS, where he now could no longer handle the work. He somehow wound up in a small city in Virginia where he actually started his own weekly paper and was sort of adopted by the town. And now here he was all these years later up from Virginia at Joan’s place – and it was almost as if 30 years of life had not happened.