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.

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