Saturday, October 10, 2009

#17 - LIVES

I had an official girlfriend, Vannie, But suddenly there were all these other girls. Marcia from UPI. Michelle, graceful student fashion designer, who I took to Chicago on a sentimental trip paid for a by a lowly trade publication. Alma who I knew from college days when she hustled at the Tango Palace on the north end of Times Square. Southern Nancy, born without a hand but so graceful it was not noticed any more in public than it was in bed. And Anne Marie, my second Haitian girlfriend, so striking conversation stopped when we entered a room.

On the way to an ACOA meeting I stand in front of the first of my two places in the East Village. It was on 13th Street between Second and First Avenues, a mostly Puerto Rican block – which was the sort of world I wanted to know – in a ground floor apartment I shared with a childhood friend, Jason Bacon, who was involved with me in a scheme to start a new magazine. But we ran out of money, so Jason became an investment banking trainee and I was working for UPI again, first in a hot summer in Newark and now in Manhattan, world headquarters, going up each night to the Daily News building with its tourist attraction lobby globe of the world to sit at a horseshoe desk and call in stories from everywhere and write or rewrite them – which seemed as good a way as any to bide my time before I became famous. I was 24.

Though the work was trivial. The big story at one point was a guy named Charles van Doren, son of an insufferably correct and strangely beloved Columbia literature professor and safe poet named Mark van Doren. Son Charles had become a star on his own, but had just been exposed in a TV quiz show scandal for making tens of thousands of dollars pretending to know the answers to difficult questions but actually reciting the answers the producers gave him. And the country took it so seriously that now he was on the lam, and I was sent to stand outside the brownstone where he lived in Greenwich village in case he should appear there. But after a glance at the brownstone I headed east, to the part of town I lived in, and at the corner of 4th and Second, just east of the block with all the little theaters where people like Jean genet and Leroy Jones and Edward Albee were causing such a stir in the theater world – just east of there was the solid corner building where my girlfriend Vannie lived, Vannie an action painter, which was the sort of element I wanted in my life here far far from the White Mountains and she had black bangs and wore leotards and we shared friends old and new and the Abstract Expressionists too, and so I spent the night there instead, and if Charles van Doren came home my readers never knew it.

And I was missing even more trivia than Charles van Doren for I was trying to lead several lives at once. One night when Vannie was home in Tennessee I was roaming alone and wound up in a dance place with the Latin name The Corso up on East 86th between German places with ompah bands – and that was where I met the glamorous Irma Hyppolite, which seemed a natural connection for I had recently rented a gallery on Sheridan Square to show Haitian paintings I had brought up to New York from the Foyer des Arts Plastiques outside Port-au-Prince. That’s how many lives I was trying to lead. I saw Irma home to the Upper West Side and she invited me in to her airy apartment for what I thought would be coffee but was actually for a blow job, and so another life was underway.

All this new to me. And so much of it defined by me as not being the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Defined that way even though I hardly ever saw the White Mountains, had by now been through college and Europe and the Army and revolutionary matters in Cuba and wire service journalism in the South and Midwest. Still, on some level I defined all these things that fascinated me as being not things of the White Mountains. Though I still believed in the White

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