Saturday, January 30, 2010



Suzanna the actress was the one who said how good I looked in the white jacket. In the meeting just ended she had given a vivid and sexually loaded picture of hunting up her younger boyfriend at a café in Park Slope where she knew he would be eating breakfast.
Suzanna was glamour.

She wore her black hair sometimes partly down and sometimes partly up with what looked to me like incense sticks in it, which felt to me either black or white magic. A week before this I had gone to see her current production, a one-woman off-Broadway show way over on West 43rd Street. She played a series of famous woman athletes, yet stayed totally feminine, and more appealing than ever as she moved about the stage like a trained dancer, raising her arms above her head to show a victory but seeming to me, who had so little use for athletes, more like an unusually graceful woman taking joy in her triumphs.

In this meeting just over I had been talking about my adventures with paintings and the memories they aroused. I spoke of how I was getting my information visually now, and hardly ever through words on paper though my identity had been so tied to my being a writer. I said I was wondering how much the writer idea had had to do with showing the family I was not the small figure they took me to be, showing them by going for success in a field that, for the family, was still dominated by my late grandfather. Also, how much it had had to do with competition with my brother, whom I had been sure the family thought would be the successor to the grandfather.

Susan asked now if I had been in the galleries in the East Village. There had not been much of a gallery scene when I had last lived there 24 years back, which was before the name East Village had been created. If there had been galleries Vannie and I would have been in them fast. I was only vaguely aware that there were galleries now. My wife had known someone doing something with beads down there but it did not seem serious. And I had not been to the small theaters for years. I had known that some exile Filipinos who came into my last book were involved with the theater called La Mama, which was on the block of 4th Street where I had seen so many plays so many years ago. But I had thought,without checking, that La Mama now would be both shriveled and pretentious. I had stayed away from the East Village until this new time when I was revisiting the area because of weekly ACOA meetings – after that very crucial New Year’s Eve meeting on St. Mark’s Place. Which was why I did not know all these galleries had sprung up. I had been focusing on church basements, and a small a Polish restaurant where we went afterwards to talk and eat Kielbasa.

On my way to and from meetings I tended to be more in the past than in the present when I was in this part of town, imagining the Phoenix Theater still alive in the years before it became the Fillmore East, and imaging that the old Yiddish Theater and Molly Pican were still in operation on Second Avenue, and it was almost as if I could still see the big old dairy restaurants Ratners and Rappaport’s. And I thought of the young Vannie down on 4th Street, and the other girls I knew back then, including Alma whom I had first known in college when she was a hustling, delicate girl who looked powdered and pampered and fresh amongst more worn-out dance hall women at the Tango Palace on the north end of Times Square.

For a brief time while I was in college my parents had a small basement studio apartment on 10th Street in case they wanted to spend a night in the city, and since they rarely did I could use it sometimes. It was across from an Episcopal church that, the neighborhood notwithstanding, was so classy it called itself St. Mark’s-in-the-Bouwerie – Bouwerie not Bowery. That one-room place was not exactly where I lost my virginity, but close enough. I had paid Alma by endorsing over the modest check that had been my Christmas gift from my parents. And seven years later she spent a night in my tenement building, which fronted on the 11th Street side of the church.

When I was in White Pines in New Hampshire I had always been aware that I was moving in the present in a place set in the past. But in my place on East 11th it never seemed to me that this was in territory that had been parents’. Any more than it occurred to me now with
Suzanna, though I would hear my brother somewhere saying we should pull ourselves together and stop complaining.

But it was so clear that this past that was on my mind now was my past, not theirs.
And now
Suzanna was saying I really did have to see these galleries in the East village. And if I’d like, she’d meet me there and show me around.

So on a crisp, bright day we met at a new espresso/vegetarian place down on Tompkins Square, and as we roamed she told me some of her story – a rich and harsh doctor father who loved sailing and took his boat to Bahamaian island called Green Turtle Quay, one of the little known small islands populated by very pale descendants of Scotsmen who had been shipwrecked in the previous century. This all-white place being one of the places I had been to so recently, yet so far in the past it already seemed, with the stylish blonde photographer.

In bright daylight everything about the East Village was new to me. Vast stretches of condemned buildings, some of them “liberated,” by squatters who proudly announced what they were doing on big signs. And in several places between buildings vacant lots had been turned into people's parks complete with heavy vegetation and graffiti slogans and mural paintings of Ché Guevara. And young people everywhere.

A present I could not smother or confuse with any past. And oh my God, the new galleries were a feast!

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