I'll tell y'all the truth, do some confessin', like: I came to New York City to make it. I did. To make it as something, but something at least, maybe a writer, a piano player, an editor, a lover of as many of these hippest of the hip women here in Manhattan as I could love--and I was married when I came to NYC and I didn't love my wife but I admired her and respected her and now I'm beginning to sound like a ninny but I'm not--I never hide in sheep's clothing--though I will wear their hides as clothing. Hell, I was tough enough in those days to make it in New York City. Born a Texas-Oklahoma prairie child, always in lands strange to me, like coming into my senses in Enid, Oklahoma, and then discovering my individuality in Big D, little "a" double el A S, going to college in that same area, escaping it finally as an adult manchild with an 18-year-old coal-dark Choctaw-Mexican-Welsh beauty wife down to the Land of Dreams, Heaven on earth, they call it Basin Street--except me and my child bride lived first on Chartres and then, our best years, on Dumaine, smack-dab in the middle of the Vieux Carre.
New Orleans was very good to me. It was my kind of city in those days--sinking, yes; all New Orleanians knew we were below sea level and sinking, I mean, we could see the Mississippi River up above us, especially where I lived in the French Quarter. I could sit on my second-floor balcony and look over towards the Levee and the Mighty Mississippi and suddenly I would see appearing as though a phantom giant sneaking up on me a huge freighter slipping down the Mississippi shipping channel just beyond the Levee on top of which ran railroad tracks and all of this was up above me and I could watch the trains switching cars up on the Levee and the trains were up above me, Those ships floated in the sky above my balcony as the high-in-the-sky trains worked like ants horizontally framing the giant ships.
Watching for these gigantic image became a sport with me and I would sit for hours just waiting for the bridge of one of those huge tankers or freighters or tugs to appear and then maybe it would give a blast on its horn--oh the joy of that, and that tremendous blat splatted right into my face to continue on down the alleyway behind my apartment over toward Chartres, echoing across the Vieux Carre.
So, yes, we knew New Orleans was sinking when I lived there. We didn't worry about it. I lived through a hurricane there; it turned out to be one of the stillest days I ever spent in New Orleans, as the hurricane, Betsy she was named, bounced over New Orleans thus sparing it the highest winds. I think Betsy veered off and hit Grand Isle that day and hit it pretty damn bad. Grand Isle the setting for Kate Chopin's great novel, isn't it? And one of Lafcadio Hearne's stories centers around Grand Isle and a hurricane hitting it--Chita is the title of that book--I'm going by memory--too lazy to search for the correct titles.
Except in those days when a hurricane came in from south of New Orleans over the river delta it first hit the broad and thickly grassed salt marshes and then a series inneractive water systems that kind'a buffeted New Orleans from the brunt of hurricane-force storms by not only absorbing the high waves caused by the storms but also actually absorbing some of the wind, you the grassland marshes acting like brakes on the lower winds, taking some of the force out of the storms, slowing them down, or causing them to veer off right or left and miss New Orleans. [Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? I do. I'm tryin' to get down there now but I'm being thwarted by a lot of things, madness being one of them; I don't wanna go down there and you know go apeshit mad and attack throats and shit.... But there is a little mystery that an old friend and I have together that I'd like to meet him in New Orleans and pry into this mystery we share and maybe find our friend disheveled and playing his guitar in spite of the storms raging both outside and inside of him. A live ghost story; and what better a place for a live ghost story than New Orleans after Katrina.
Bastard FEMA. I saw a FEMA guy standing outside that devastated Kansas city talking about how fast FEMA reacted to this tragedy. Then the Democratic governor of Kansas, a woman, told the truth--that FEMA hadn't done a damn thing really and that the equipment they normally would have depended on in such a catastrophe--you know, heavy equipment to clear the debris and water tankers and field kitchens and hospitals and temporary housing (tents and blankets)--that equipment was in Iraq with the Kansas National Guard. Now the Repugnicans are ridiculing the Kansas governor and of course saying Georgie Porgie W. Bush, our phony "president," was right on the money with disaster aid and his private jet and hell he was sending a team of Walter Reed doctors--hell, he was even sending old Pappy G. Herbert W. Bush and his new asshole buddy Slick Willie "Hillbilly" Billy Jeff Clinton out to Kansas--the state that still does not accept theories of evolution and are sticking to insane creationist theories, like the earth is only 6,000 years old and tornadoes are Acts of God. Kansas also has a native son who's wildly rightwing insane running for president, Senator Sam Brownback, a true Yahoo.
I can't get mad at Kansas. It once awed me as a little boy. There ain't nothin' flatter than Kansas. Dogs go mad looking for places to piss in Kansas. The state tree is the sunflower. I can't believe I'm making Kansas jokes.
But that's why I came to New York City. It called a guy like me to its bosom; it challenged me to survive here. It was easy. I come from White Pioneer stock; we're hearty folks full of poetry and a love of good cooking and good drinks, the best jazz, the best classical music--and, hell, I went to Carnegie Hall regularly in those days--Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony--Leopold Stokowski conducting his American Symphony Orchestra--and I was there the day they Ives's Holidays Symphony and I was there when Bruno Maderno conducted Saint-Saens Organ Symphony and Stokowski in the balcony box across from mine put his fingers in his ears right at the moment the organ entered the orchestral picture with a punctuation heard 'round the world.
Stravinsky was still alive and living up on Central Park in the Essex House. And the Russian Kerensky was still alive and living up the street from me when I lived on Sutton Place. Brando was here, too. Kurt Vonnegut used to walk the streets of my first neighborhood in NYC, First Avenue and E. 56th. I used to chat with the old actress but still looking gorgeous Gloria De Haven and then Alice from the Honeymooners, Audrey Meadows, would come along and get Gloria and off they'd go to look at something antique-ish Audrey had found back up toward Beekman Place; and then one evening I found myself at the Whitney Museum sitting on pillows thrown about on a concrete floor listening to Sonny Rollins playing all by himself one conglomeration song of his familiar hits for over 1 hour, over 1 and 1/2 hour in fact; and another evening my wife and I attended a lecture by Babbling Buckminster Fuller, Bucky himself talking geodesiacally domish about how he figured the earth was just a spaceship and he compared it to a cottonwood tree seed pod--all its seeds are stuck to furry like feathery stems that when you blow on them the seeds flare off into the space around them, fly off, each seed a little spaceship carrying with it into unknown spaces and future distances its many seeds--looking for an orbit, a harmony, a synchronization in which it can plant its seeds and let them steadily evolve--against itself? I suddenly felt like asking myself. The earth planting its seeds to grow against itself--like burning it up by opening up a hole in the earth's ozone layer, its protective shield--its Ray-Ban sunglasses.
So I came to New York City to make it. As what, I didn't know, nor did I care. New York City then was a place you could live like a Bohemian for long whiles and then when your money ran out you could easily run out and get a job, as a proofreader, as a copyeditor, as a synopsis writer, as a proposal writer, an adwriter, or you could put up sheetrock and spackle and learn plumbing or you could pump gas, be a bartender, play music in the street--whatever, you could get a job real easy when your money ran out back in those early days I came to make it in NYC.
Tennessee Williams was still alive and hanging out in a bar called the Monkey Bar in the old once-glamorous-now-fading hotel he loved to live in when he was in NYC-- and he had plays running Off-Broadway. Truman Capote was still alive and partying and lisping his nonsense and babbling and living within the depths of himself. And Liza Minella was tripping around town with her boy toys and picking up Halston and tripping and doing handfuls of uppers--wow, it was a wild old time in the Apple. There were jazz clubs all over town, uptown, Mikell's up on Columbus, downtown, Slugs in the East Village, the Village Gate, the Vanguard, the Knickerbocker down near Washington Square had jazz--there was Sweet Basil over on Seventh Avenue South and up the street Seventh Avenue South the club owned by the Brecker Brothers, and on down on Hudson and Spring was the Half Note--even the Metropole was still a jazz club when I first walked through Times Square--my wife and I had a hot dogs at Nathan's on Times Square the very first day we were in NYC, piled high with onions and relish and hot mustard and catsup and a cup or two of fried clams...
It's long-gone now, folks. This old city ain't what it used to be. Times Square is now a Disney-style wonderland signfest--I mean there are so many high-tech and max-tacks signs in Times Square now you can't tell what's a building and what's a sign. There ain't no peep shows no more; no flea circuses; no Jack Dempsey's Bar, no Astor Hotel, no Latin Quarter, no Taft Hotel, no Palace Theater, no Lindy's, no Whelan's Drugstore, no Hurley's Bar, no Robert Hall Clothiers....
I came to New York City to make it and I have really. I've been extremely lucky in NYC. Extremely successful really. I had one hell of a good time in the late 60s and 70s and into the early 80s until the AIDS epidemic put an end to our free-love and mafficking fun. I worked for Time & Life--that's what it was called in those days--then I worked for CBS Television, then Viacom International, then the Emmy Awards, and I got to be a lead singer with a cult band, and I got to sing and play the blues in all the blues clubs in NYC, and I got published as a writer, one book very successful, for me, making nearly a hundred grand on it when I was still quite young, frisky, and in love with every beautiful woman I could lure into my glorious life, come on, jump in, float along with me. Life was good. The music was good. The books being written were good. Even the damn movies being made were interesting--I watched them film the movie Carnal Knowledge with Jack Nicholson, Ann Margret, and even old dullass Art Garfunkle acting in that movie, too--they filmed several scenes from that movie at a tennis club whose courts my dining room window overlooked and whose entrance I gained permission into every day since I was a tenant in the exclusive apartment building in which the tennis club was housed. Don't get uppity--my wife was wealthy--she paid the rent. Then later I worked in the advertising game for a decade or so--that's where I made my most money--I made gobs of money in advertising, but then, advertising left me with a sorry feeling and the stress was unbelievable. I was writing and editing and making lies sort-of truthful. All advertising is LIES. I guarantee you that, folks.
I just felt like confessin' those few pages of life events that made my days past and I hope days future.
I love NYC, but, like I fell out of love with several really truly magnificent and mightily beautiful women--did them dirty--I'm beginning to have such feelings for the NYC that is taking the place of the New York City I came to to make it in.
for The Daily Growler