Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ceremonies, initiations and other rites

Since I was the founder of Big Gray, people, in the beginning anyway, looked to me to define whatever the hell we were doing. So, I came up with a few ideas. Communes or intentional communities, I thought, ought to at least share expenses and food. Expenses meant we all shared house bills. Right away, that led to the question of how Richie and Sylvia, who had one room would pay their share of the rent. We agreed that room size shouldn't matter, since it was the whole house we were renting together. Therefore, all shares would be equal. (We amended that later on, when people moved to the attic bedrooms that weren't heated.) Couples, we reasoned, ought to pay one and a half shares of the rent, and two shares of the rest of the bills.Thus, a couple would get a "discount" on the rent since they were sharing a room, but would, otherwise pay their own share of utilities and other stuff we bought. We called it the "Couple Compromise". It was our first law, and it stood for 21 years.

Food became our next issue. I wanted to eat together every day, but since our schedules were so different, we decided we would cook and eat dinner together on Wednesday nights which would also be our meeting night. Meetings were always an important part of house politics. Richie came up with the idea of sharing food expenses by rotating the responsibility for buying different food items in our diet. I should mention here that we had all decided to keep a macrobiotic diet (Richie and Sylvia's's idea- imported from California). Alan and Susan weren't delighted by that idea, but agreed to eat their hamburgers "off- premises". So, one week I would buy juice, for example, the most used and most expensive part of the diet, and the next, brown rice and miso.We also supplied nuts, soy margarine, bread,vegetables, beans, tamari and tahini. We kept all of this neatly in the refrigerator and pantry, each item having it's place. (Also Richie's idea -the consummate Virgo) As true macrobiotics, we avoided red meat but ate fish. Normally for fish, we went to a macrobiotic restaurant on East 5th Street in the Village(The Cauldron). This was one of our hangouts and we would often run across each other in there. We also had bottled water delivered which we kept in a ceramic dispenser in the kitchen. This worked well for awhile, but after Jackson moved back, he wanted eggs and meat which would mean keeping stuff we didn't all eat in the refrigerator, so we changed again. But before that happened, Wednesday nights were a lot of fun. We would call home during the day to coordinate the buying of food and come together to cook our communal meal. I learned a lot about cooking from these experiences and the camaraderie in the kitchen was special. Afterwards, we would retreat to the Library for our meeting which was often followed by a drum ceremony. I should mention here that I had been reading about the Plains Indians, a life long interest, so I used what I learned in creating our unique culture. Thus, the idea of the community as an intentional family group with no real leader emerged. Like the Plains People, we had peace chiefs and war (or fire) chiefs. The war chiefs would , by example, lead the people to war and the peace chief would work behind the lines to establish peace. This was never really spelled out, but we evolved this way with Richie or Jaime (usually) fighting to establish a precedent, and me trying to bring everyone else along. Because the two of them were such strong personalities, they would often spar. I took it as my responsibility to keep them both happy. It wasn't always possible, but it solidified our roles in the house. A commune is really a form of anarchy (at least the way we ran it). So, like a tribe, there were no elected leaders- just people with the strongest or best expressed ideas who functioned as leaders. But, people were free to go along with them or not, so there was always a need to find consensus. Over the years, many members griped at the idea of a consensus, complaining that nothing got done that way, but that method worked best (when it worked) When it didn't, you needed a peace chief.

The Drum Ceremony happened because Richie (who played clarinet and saxophone) and Kim (piano and trumpet) were musicians. Also, Jaime, while not a trained musician, had a canny sense of rhythm and could sustain a very lively beat on the drum. We had a conga drum, a bongo, an African skin drum, the steel drum Kim found and a number of other make shift chimes, bells, pots and pans. After a meeting, one of us (Jaime usually) would start a rhythm going and we would all join in, each of us taking a little solo on the instrument of his or her choice. I always believed those ceremonies helped us find a harmony. They were great fun and would often last a half hour or more. At Thanksgiving, Richie's cousin (Kim's brother-in-law)who happened to be first trumpet at the Met joined us with his trumpet and provided some interesting counter points to our collective drum beat. After Richie and Sylvia moved, we stopped doing them for awhile only to revive them for one of our anniversary parties. Then, they became a big public affair. But those early ones were kind of magical.

Richie and Kim were always practicing. When we first moved in, it was Mozart's Concerto in C Minor for clarinet that Richie practiced in phrases which he played over and over. The two of them gave an impromptu recital one day of a television sit com theme they had the music for.(The Danny Thomas show if you remember it) Kim also played the baby grand which Harry left with us. Anyhow, with all those musicians around, it became natural when it came to picking a name for the house, to come up with Big Gray. How many of you readers remember the musicians that got their start backing up Bob Dylan after he went "electric"? They called themselves The Band. Their first solo album was put together and produced at a communal house which they rented in Saugerties, New York (not far from Woodstock). The house which was big and painted pink on the exterior, was called Big Pink, and the album (which everyone ought to own) was called Music From Big Pink. Thus, Big Gray was christened. Kim burnt our name on to a weathered piece of wood which we hung up next to the front door, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Wait! I wanted to tell you about the initiation. After having some initial difficulties with our membership, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief when Kim became our eighth member. It seemed like we would stay this way for awhile, at least. So, we began discussing a way to bring our last three members into the house in a ceremonial manner. I felt like finding this house and this group of people was an amazing bit of luck or fate which saved my life, really. So, the idea of blessing the house and creating an initiation for all of us started to take shape in my mind. Like all of these things, the plan kind of fell together in pieces. We decided we would keep the initiation plans secret. So,on a particular night after Jaime, Sheila and Kim went to bed we five met in the round room. In silence, we crept into each of their rooms, woke them and bid them follow us. Meeting again in the round room, we lit a stick of incense and passed it around the circle after "blessing" the one next to us. After that, we each lit a stick and proceeded downstairs and out the front door. We circled the house stopping at the four directions to ask the spirits of North, South, East and West to bless our endeavor and then came again to the front of the house where Richie had dug eight holes in the lawn. He handed each of us a daffodil bulb which we planted in a circle. Fortunately, it was late enough so no neighbors or passersby witnessed the ceremony or saw us in our "ceremonial" clothes. I know this probably sounds way out to many young readers of the blog, especially if you were never at our house. But let me just leave you with this. Over the years, members of the original Circle of Eight left to go off on their own starting with Richie who was the first to leave about a year later. As each of the eight left, one daffodil would cease to flower that spring! After Kim left (for his second and last time), only one flower remained in the circle. Coincidence? Probably, but I prefer to think of it as the result of the strong magic we imbued the house with on that evening. When it finally came time to leave Big Gray, the last group and I did a closing ceremony reversing the path we original founders took on that first night. Now, it's just an old building again.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Circle of Eight

Another customer from the store expressed interest in the house. Her name was Dorie. I knew her from her reading habits. She had done EST training and was into Bagwan Rajneesh .That made six of us. Then Susan told us that Jackson was also interested. Now as I mentioned before, Jackson ,who was in his 60's, (he seemed ancient then) was Susan's mom's boyfriend. He was a born New Yorker and wrote New York detective stories. He had no money, but he told us tales of working for a magazine in New Mexico in the 1950's, where the staff kept a full basket of peyote buttons on a table for public consumption during work. Great credentials, no? Actually, Jackson was a really good person and perfect for our strangely eclectic group. He made our number seven. On the morning of July 15, 1975, Richie and Sylvia drove up to our West End Avenue apartment in a rented truck. Their things took up a corner of the back. Into the remainder of the truck, we emptied our two apartments, bid a fond farewell to our doorman (and pot dealer), and started out for Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

Arriving at the house with this enormous truck, we began to unload our belongings. Within minutes a group of seven or eight local teenagers discovered us. Now let's face it. These kids did not know any adults who looked quite like us. So when we told them we were renting Dr.H's house, they became captivated by our presence, you might say. (My guess is as friends of the Doc's eldest son, they were into the secrets of the family). They unloaded the entire truck for us. Later, fifteen of them (they multiplied) gathered on the porch where basically, they remained a constant presence for most of our first year, greeting our comings and goings. (Richie talked about starting a" boy scout troop "with these kids as the core. He suggested the loft of the garage as the meeting house, but after a few smoky "meetings", our neighbors registered a strong protest.)

We sat together in the hallway on top of crates and sofas and someone said, "Which rooms do you want?" Immediately, we all got up and climbed the stairs to pick out the rooms we wanted. There was no hassle and no discussion. Everyone got the room they wanted. We set aside the parachute room (where Dr H and his son still were still parked) as our living room. The downstairs parlor seemed too public with its windows open to the porch and our gang, so we opted for the much more private third floor room as our living room, or as we came to call it after hauling crates of books into it, the Library. The house was not yet empty. Mrs. H, her mother and three of the kids moved that same day with the contents of a huge van, but Doctor Harry and his eldest son stayed behind to fill a big station wagon to overflowing with the rest of their stuff. They were still there a week later as the doctor made final arrangements and his son bid tearful farewells to his girl friend across the street .We asked Harry during the week when he intended to leave, to which he replied, "I don't travel in your time and space. "

I of course, immediately went for the second floor bedroom off the stairs, because it had the window onto the roof. Through the years, that roof became a great place to be away from the hustle and bustle of the house (not to mention, a great escape route during one of our hide and seek marathons).The "Vision Ledge", I called it. I remember Jaime demonstrating Aikido to a whole group of us out there in 1976, and I had long conversations with Brenna (our youngest ever member) in 1995 while she sat out there smoking cigarettes. Mostly though, it became a place to see the sun set and to pray to the gods for guidance.

Within a few days, things began to change. Dorie expressed feelings that the long trip into the city might be too tiring. In those days the R and N trains would get you to Times Square in 45 minutes, and she was complaining! It was a hassle if you worked on the East side. At some point, Jackson moved back to Manhattan for a time, I forget why. Meanwhile, I had submitted our names to George. I could see that all this changing might look a little unsettling to a landlord, so I talked him into letting us pay for the rent with one, rather than 5 or 6 or 8 different checks. We went straight to the bank, and opened a free business checking account in the name of Big Gray Community. That way, I didn't have to tell the landlord about all our changes, and we had an official presence. It took some doing, but by Labor Day we were still there and holding our first party.

No one from Manhattan came to our party, except Sylvia's crazy family from East Harlem, but all of the teenagers in Brooklyn with their friends were there apparently under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs. S----- arrived in the middle of the party. She was answering an ad we placed in a free guide to finding room mates and stole our hearts. She was a sweet flower child from Brooklyn who was really into our idea. We took in S------ and her carton of New Age remedies, and a few days later Jaime walked in having read the same paper. Richie and Jaime were rivals from their first day. Jaime was a smooth talking rich kid from Long Island with a taste for wildness. I was settling into the "Peace Chief" role in the house, but Jaime and Richie would always fight for the dominant "Fire Chief "position. A few weeks after Jaime and S------ arrived, Richie introduced us to Kim, his cousin's brother- in- law. A red headed and red bearded hippie with John Lennon style glasses, Kim was an accomplished musician, artist, handy man, mechanic, and much more, I would learn. He showed up for his first visit with a steel drum he had rescued from someone's garbage. He was a unanimous choice- no discussion at all.

Going into the fall, we were Alan, Susan, Richie, Sylvia, S------, Kim, Jaime and me - the Circle of Eight.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The landlord and the first generation

After taking the sacrament in the "round room" as it became known, Harry told us that he rented the house from a Coptic Church in Park Slope, a nearby neighborhood which as it happens, would have been much more accepting of an urban commune. (I should explain, the Coptic Church is the branch of the Catholic Communion who are Arab speaking. Their rituals are slightly different than the Roman Catholics.) He was paying the church $400 a month to rent the house in addition to paying for utilities, water and heating. By 1975 standards, this might be considered a large amount if you didn't consider the house had 15 rooms. For four to six single payers, it was a steal (as long as you didn't mind living with four to six people). For eight of us, it was economic freedom.

I began calculating the economics of the venture, and it seemed perfect. More than perfect. Because let me tell you dear reader, I fell madly in love with the house on that evening. As a kid growing up in an Astoria apartment, I spent a lot of time, "house hunting" with Mom and Dad. The houses I favored were those that to this young dreamer were reminiscent of English townhouses or Celtic castles. So in my eight year old evaluation, if a house had a bedroom leading on to a balcony, that was a lot better reason to buy it then how far Daddy would have to travel to work, or the dozen other reasons Mom gave for not buying it. I guess I really hadn't changed that much over the years. "I want it!", I told him.

That meant , of course dealing with Monsignor S. and the trustees of the church. As a still guilty Catholic boy, I was quite sure that Monsignor S. would never rent to me, a failed Catholic. It turns out I never even spoke to him. Instead, I get a call from an elderly guy who spoke a heavilly accented English. His name was George, and as a prominent parishonner, he would represent the Monsignor. "The price", he told me," is $600 plus security. You (me) will be the principal tennant, and you (me) will supply a list of the renter's names."In other words, they were willing to rent to me on their terms. We would seek to change that notion.

The "renters" were at that moment, Virginia, me and two friends of hers I hadn't met. "We need more people", I declared.

My current room mate, Alan worked at the bookstore with me. I didn't really see Alan as the communal type, but I asked him anyway. He was very interested (the landlord of our West End Avenue sub-let wanted to give us the heave, anyway). A day later, our next door neighbor, Susan wanted in too. Now, Alan, Susan and I did hang out a lot together. She lived down the hall and smoked a lot of pot with Alan and me. But neither of them seemed right for this venture. They were both, it seemed to me, Manhattan types. They were essentially quiet people who needed their privacy. Alan had turned me on to a lot great music over the three years we worked together. He played me" Workingman's Dead"a year before I knew anything about the Grateful Dead . He took careful pains with his music and his precious stereo equipment. How would Alan's record collection and stereo fit in with the communal life style? Would he be willing to share it? And how about Susan, who seemed so much a "Westsider". Her mom and sister lived a few blocks away in another apartment. Her mom's boyfriend, Jackson who was also pals with Susan lived a few blocks from them and she spent a lot of time with them. We had these two cavernous apartments on West End Avenue, and Susan's was full of stuff. Was she willing to plug the "furniture gap" at the house? Then, both Susan and Alan were cautious Capricorn types. Instead of fueling my Catholic school boy impulse to get it right, I welcomed both of them. All my misgivings proved wrong. As soon as we moved into Big Gray, Alan suggested we put the stereo in the living room, and Susan's furniture stayed in the house long after she left. I still have her desk.

We put up a sign in the store asking if anyone was interested in forming an intentional community in Brooklyn, and a day later, Richie and Sylvia walked in. They made up big time for any lack of color I sensed in Alan and Susan. Richie was an extravagant and talented wood wind player, originally from New York but looking very Los Angeles, and Sylvia was a beautiful, hip Latina from East Harlem. She had an easily recognizable New York street sense with a sharp wit, but exuded a gentle, calm side. She had been doing yoga in LA when Richie hooked up with her. Together, they were a whirlwind. On the spot, they became part of our core. Then we learned Virginia and her two friends decided they couldn't leave their precious New York apartments. We never looked back.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The House

Harry's wife opened the front door and lead us through a small foyer and a second inner door into an entrance hall with a 13 foot ceiling. Two rooms stood at either side of the hall. To the left was a very large parlor framed by tie-back curtains. The furniture looked a little old and worn for a doctor's house, but nonetheless formal. A baby grand piano dominated a space at the far end of the room and a fireplace stood across from it. To the right of the entrance way were the double doors of the doctor's office with another beautifully tiled fireplace and the requisite couch.

A twelve foot oval mirror in a wooden, free-standing frame was the centerpiece of the entrance hall. It faced an ornate, mahogany staircase which wound it's way up the two floors of the "living quarters" . On the far side of this staircase where one could see all the way to the third floor were two doors. One led to a half bathroom built under the stairs and the other to the side of the wrap around porch. A large door on the third wall of the entrance hall led to the back of the house, the dining room, pantry and kitchen. By sliding this door close, a visitor, patient or neighbor would only be able to see the front of the house the entrance hall, office and parlor. Thus the doctor could lead a patient through the front door into the curtained parlor and return to the office. A patient would leave through the side door assuring his or her privacy. The doctor's privacy was also guaranteed by this arrangement. In Harry's case, this was a definite necessity. If the front of the house befit a prominent psychiatrist, the rest of the house (the 13 other rooms) were the pad of an exiled bishop of the Neo-American Church.

The four kids and Harry's mother-in-law lived on the second floor. The arrangement of these rooms was interesting. The corner right bedroom was meant to be the master bedroom with two chambers set apart by a sliding door on the inner adjourning wall. The part of the bedroom facing the street must have been a sitting room, we imagined, while the second chamber was for sleeping. Harry's two younger, feral sons kept the inner doors open and used both parts of the room as a bedroom and gym. This bedroom (we made it into two separate bedrooms ) joined two other bedrooms on the second floor. One (Harry's daughter's) in the front left side of the house could be accessed through a shared bathroom , while a third bedroom (designed to be a nursery we surmised) was accessible through an inner door in back of the master bedroom. Thus, the parents of the family who built the house could enter their children's' rooms without going into the hallway. I thought it was great because it's the kind of personal touch an architect or builder would make with a particular family in mind. Next to the staircase, was a fourth smaller bedroom unconnected to the rest (Grandma's room). One of the windows in this room (built originally for a servant, we guessed) led out to the roof of the first floor . One could walk out on this roof and follow it around to the back of the house and the window of the back bathroom. To complete the intriguing layout of the second floor, a back staircase wound back down to the hallway and pantry outside the kitchen on the first floor . Two doors, one leading to the backyard and one to the cellar were at the back of the pantry.

The third floor was dominated by the room with the orange parachute. Planned originally as a day nursery, this room was roughly the same size as the parlor. Taking advantage of the way the third floor intersected with the roof, the builders set two big closets in the room. Around a corner of this L-shaped room was an alcove big enough for an enormous water bed Harry had set there. And the turret, which began above the front porch and formed a corner of the master bedroom was a more separate and circular room on the third floor due to it's entrance which was much narrower . Harry had tacked a small curtain over the entrance and installed a (dirty) foam rubber mat on the floor . Four floppy pillows completed the picture. Here was a room dedicated to taking of the Sacrament! After we moved in (and Harry and his son finally moved out), the parachute room became our living room. We had two big couches and several easy chairs there. We took out the water bed (it leaked) and installed shelves for our many books and our state of the art stereo. We referred to the room as The Library, and used it daily for hanging out, listening to music. having meetings, smaller parties, drum ceremonies,and after we finally got one, watching TV. The circular room of the turret was perfect for plants and watching the street. A bus traveled up the block and went over a bump right in front of the house. It's vibration could be felt most acutely in the little circular room. It was there we conducted the first house ritual. But, I'm getting ahead of my story.

Completing the tour of the third floor, there were three other bedrooms. One in front over the stairs was sparse by house standards, a second looked out over the side and was the smallest in the house. (We decided to use it as a guest room) A third bedroom in the back of the house was large and L- shaped like the day nursery. This was one of the quietest rooms in the house and looked out through the smaller windows of the third floor on the side and back yards. Harry and his wife slept in this room. It had a large closet you could walk into, and a second closet which bent around the chimney and roof forming a small storage space nestled in the back. A large bathroom (with the claw footed tub) completed the third floor. Outside in the hall was a small door built into a shaft which contained a dumbwaiter leading to the pantry at one time, but had since been sealed off. Another hallway door led to the attic with two side rooms built into the dormers on either side of the attic stairs and circular windows in front and back in the peak of the roof.

Now picture all of this with mylar, flashers blinking blue and red lights in the wall sconses, day-glo posters on the walls, and drug paraphenallia everywhere, and you have some idea of our first impression of Harry and his house. We found nitrous oxide bottles in the clothes closet downstairs, several cartons of unlabelled pills, a jar of liquid speed and a drawer (in my room) containing over $300 in silver half dollars- all after they moved!

It was everything I dreamed of and more!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Dr. Harry H. and his Sacrament

Learning about the orgy certainly peaked my interest in this strange house in Brooklyn and it's inhabitants. Where the hell was Bay Ridge? I had been to Brooklyn perhaps 5 times before- mostly to attend Dodger games with my dad. Bay Ridge, I found out, is a small community situated in South Brooklyn where the Verranzano Bridge crosses to Staten Island (another mysterious place). Isolated as it was at the very end of the subway line, Bay Ridge had yet to hear of integration or other realities of 1975 New York. It gave one the sense of being in a town in Ohio, perhaps. The major "industry" in Bay Ridge seemed to be drinking alcohol, and bars lined the avenues. The voting district Bay Ridge belonged to was the only one in New York to carry Barry Goldwater in his quixotic bid for the presidency. There was also a small significant segment of the teenage population who were mired in the 60's flower child rebellion.(More of them later). Into this atypical (for New York) environment came Dr. H. and his family.

Dr. H. was a psychiatrist on the staff of a large Brooklyn Hospital where he conducted research in sleep therapy. He also saw a small number of private patients in an office situated in his home. Unknown to his colleagues at the hospital or his neighbors in Bay Ridge, the good doctor was also a bishop in Timothy Leary's Neo-American Church. For those readers who are not familiar with his name, Timothy Leary was the Harvard psychologist who along with another psychologist, Richard Alpert was instrumental in popularizing a then experimental drug known by its pharmacological initials, LSD. Their experiments with the drug got them both tossed out of Harvard . Alpert went to India where he met a guru and morphed into Ram Dass--New Age teacher, founder of SEVA and other spiritual/social experiments. (You can read more about him in an earlier posting of mine)

Leary became an exponent of wide spread experimentation with LSD . His Neo-American Church declared LSD a sacrament and the way to enlightenment. ("Tune in, turn on and drop out" ) Dr. Harry apparently, became a willing convert. Along the way, he and Mrs.H. took up wife swapping to compliment their psychedelic experimentation (thus the orgy) and had four kids (presumably with each other). The six of them and Mrs. H's 70- something mother moved to Brooklyn to avoid prosecution in their native Texas where Harry was under indictment for growing marijuana (also a sacrament).

I have to confess here that this idea about marijuana and LSD as "sacraments" was not entirely foreign to my own thinking.

Virginia had met the whole family at the orgy, and had become friendly (not that way) with Mrs. H. It was she who tipped Virginia that the bishop was tiring of New York and longed for a reunion with his Texas flock. And so, an appointment for Virginia and me to meet with the doctor and discuss the possibility of taking over the house was arranged.

We arrived in Bay Ridge on a warm evening in late May of 1975. Coming upon the house from the sidewalk, I was first confronted with a large 8 foot hedge shielding the side and front yards. The driveway led to a 2 door garage built in the same style as the house with a large horse shoe shaped window in a loft telling of its history as a carriage house and stable. Next to it, Big Gray seemed to loom over it's surroundings. Built in 1895, the house had an aura of faded glory, with it's grand porch that wrapped around its front and sides, and its massive gable which rose 3 stories and culminated in a cone shaped roof. One could easily imagine this house as the home of a wealthy doctor or a family of social importance at the turn of the century. Here it sat, out of place among younger and smaller houses, an apartment house behind it. We climbed the front porch and rang the bell. As we waited for Harry's wife to open the door, I looked around and knew I had found my place.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Have you ever been to a Big Gray party?

Parties at Big Gray were a happening. Some of our parties, like our annual anniversary party drew hundreds of people invited and otherwise. Musicians were often at the house and played with the band or took part in one of our Drum Ceremonies. Halloween was well, Halloween,and Thanksgiving and Christmas were memorable times for great food and good friends.We also had many other great moments. Perhaps you attended the "Sending of the Soul" ceremony we held when Haikila died, or John Lennon's Wake, or on a happier note, The Wedding of Michael and Barbara. House guests (there were dozens) were reason for many spontaneous parties as well.

I once was speaking on the phone with someone from the business office of the telephone company. We were moving a phone from one room in the house to the "office". I found it necessary to explain that we were a private house, that we were not a single family, but shared rent and expenses among us. Unexpectedly, the operator I was speaking to interrupted me.
"Wait!", she said." I think I was at a party at that house!"
She was just one of the many whose names I never learned- who came to a party with a friend and who had a memorable time in that great old house in Brooklyn.

If you were one of the hundreds who attended a Big Gray event, we would love to hear from you. Please, leave your comments and share your recollections.

Monday, July 03, 2006

How do you start a commune?

I had no idea, really. Just a few notions from seeing
Easy Rider three times. So, I needed to find a location, a concrete place where I could imagine this commune into being. I told a few friends including those kindred souls I met along the way through my bookstore at Broadway and 72nd Street on Manhattan's West Side. All kinds of interesting people (John Lennon and Yoko, Joseph Heller, Issac Asimov and a lot of lesser known authors, actors and artists) lived in that neighborhood in 1971 when we arrived with our eclectic and homey bookstore. Many of them found their way to our doorstep. Among them was Virginia, a Jewish girl from Greenwich Village. Her father was a successful art dealer, and she dripped of old world culture. At the same time, Virginia was an avid explorer of the New Age revolution.

I have always loved Greenwich Village but was still a little green and underage when I first roamed it's streets in 1959. Virginia took me to Chumley's (the speak-easy on Bedford Street), with it's secret entrance and other fanciful places. One night, in her apartment on Washington Square, she told me of an orgy she had attended in a house in Brooklyn. Her story emphasized this magnificent old house, where she witnessed a light show in a large room on the third floor. She said the room had a full-sized orange parachute covering the ceiling and was down the hall from a bathroom featuring a claw-footed tub from where she was "attended" under a mylar ceiling and flashing lights. She also told me this house might be available to rent.