Friday, August 04, 2006

The first year / war with the neighbors/ changes

It's hard now to remember everything that went on. I'm hoping that members of that first generation will find their way to these pages and correct any misrepresentations or mistakes I've made. Sadly, I'm only in touch with two people of that first group, although I'm trying to reestablish contact with all of them. Jaime lives in San Francisco somewhere and reportedly makes a lot of money on the lecture circuit. (I'm not surprised). Richie too, moved back to California after a successful music career, but still plays with local bands. Sylvia did live in the East Village, but may have since moved .I haven't seen her in years. We had a brief affair in the late 80's which kind of soured our relationship. She's a wonderful person, but has had a hard life. Susan is in Arizona and has a kid; S------ got married and moved to Jersey where she is a practicing psychotherapist, and Alan lives alone in Washington Heights and still works in retail. I see him every few years. Kim and I lived together at Big Gray for the longest time. He now lives in Pennsylvania. I talk more with his girlfriend who also lived at the house than with him. We (Kim and I) have a hard time communicating easily, although I think we have a lot of fondness for each other. Let's get back to the story.

The first year was eventful, to say the least. After Harry finally left, we had to deal with his family's leavings. Specifically, his 14 year old daughter's cats. She fed all (I mean all) the stray cats in the neighborhood.The cats naturally thought of Big Gray and its yard as their home. Mind you, we had seven cats of our own to deal with. So, that meant getting cats fixed, finding homes for them, taking care of kittens who were littered before we got to all the cats and dealing constantly with cat wars which erupted on staircases and in the pantry where we fed most of them. Richie and Sylvia were really great with animals and took care of most of the strays. They also named a few of them. Ma Orange, Ma Black and Ma Cripple were three of our notable charges who played a big part in the drama of having too many animals . I could write a whole chapter about Big Gray cats (and dogs), but I will recount one regrettable incident. Shortly, before we moved into the house, I acquired a kitten. After we moved in, I let her become a part of the general population of the house and, I admit, lost interest in her. She became sick and I failed to notice and do anything about her until it was too late. Finally, Sylvia took over her care and saw that she got to a vet. She and Richie had her put to sleep because she was too frail to respond to treatment. I have always regretted the death of that animal. I lost the respect of Richie and Sylvia because of it, and I felt horribly dirty for not acting responsibly. I've never owned another animal since then, but have taken care of many. I always try to go the extra mile in the care of the dogs and cats I've been asked to mind in hopes that it will make up for the loss of that kitten.

But cats weren't our only problem. Bigger yet, and harder to escape were the Squires (a pseudonym). Our next door neighbors, the Squires, were among the local people who believed that Doctor and Mrs.H. and their lovely children were model citizens. Imagine their horror when they became replaced by the rag tag group of hippies who had no blinds on their windows and paraded nude around the house; who used their roof as a hang out and who smoked marijuana with the local teens in the neighborhood! Meanwhile, Mr. and Mrs. Squire had a few skeletons in their own closet. Oh yes, they kept up appearances well. Mrs. Squire had a sugary tone to her voice when speaking to us and Mr. Squire could be heard every day on his way to and from work whistling a happy tune. The kids were all commercial models as children and financed the buying of the house. But, just beneath the surface lurked a troubled family. Both parents and the eldest son were heavy drinkers. The daughter and next son were at 15 and 13, deep into resentment and teenage rebellion. That meant they spent a lot of time at our house to the consternation of their parents. Only the youngest kid, a handsome little 9 year old seemed free of the problems that churned around the rest of the family. At 2:00 AM, a quiet summer evening would suddenly be interrupted with the shrieking of a Squire family brawl. "You're killllling me!!!", Mrs. Squire would scream in a tone reminiscent of a scene from "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf ", followed by an hour or more of bellowing and tears. The next day everything would be as if the evening before was a dream. Mr. Squire would be whistling again, and Mrs. Squire would be directing a son in the ritualistic hosing down of the grounds and house- an activity which we dubbed "cooling down the universe". One time, to shut them up, we played a recording we had of Tibetan monks chanting and playing their ritual horns at full volume.On Alan's stereo, that was loud enough to shake the house. It produced the desired effect for that evening, anyway. Other neighbors, particularly the two families from across the street, were equally unhappy about our arrival in the neighborhood and participated in regularly calling the police whenever we had a party and the music got too loud (always).

Some happy memories? There were many. The day we all piled into Susan's mom's VW Beetle for a trip to Junior's Restaurant. Free concerts at Carnegie Hall owing to the fact that Richie, Jaime and Kim had gotten jobs there as ushers. Great games of hide 'n go seek as we discovered the best hiding places in the house . (The first few months we were like kids who had the whole house to themselves without parents.) Dancing in the kitchen. Swapping clothes. Swapping each other. We were so close, we bonded together sometimes spontaneously. Thus, S----- and I and Kim and Susan wound up for a time as couples. We created our Big Gray Great Seal which we hung in the Dance Room during parties on a circular table top with a skeleton head cut by a lightening bolt in the center, and with Native American symbols and the words, "Only the dead know Brooklyn" around the perimeter. Great fraternal moments with each other hanging out. We all had jobs with different time requirements, so there were always people home. We hatched crazy plots to steal the memorial plaque on the Brooklyn Bridge, or to transport dope from Alaska. We were laughing constantly.

And the parties, ah the parties! Our first Halloween party in our second year had all of us and our 150 or so guests dressed in elaborate costumes dancing to live music in the parlor, thereafter called the Dance Room. Richie and his classical trio (two clarinets and a bassoon) started the evening off. Richie wore Mozart costume complete with powdered wig and one of his band members wore a strippers costume we found in a closet (Left behind by Harry). Then we had a rock and roll band composed of musicians from the neighborhood who had often heard music from the house and had to play with Richie. He switched to sax and jammed with them for awhile. Then, late at night these very cool Jazz players topped the evening off. Yes, the cops came every half hour or so, but we still managed to have a great time. We had to carry the eldest Squire kid home afterwards, but we were used to that. Anniversary parties (July 15) drew even bigger crowds with people hanging out on the porch, backyard and front stoop. It seemed that every flower child in Bay Ridge knew of our existence. Often during these parties, a few of us would climb out on the porch roof just to escape the crowds for awhile. People would roam all over the house on tours and, sad to say, occasionally help themselves to records, money and other valuables.

There were so many great times that it all seems a blur now. I'm sure individual memories differ, and I invite early members to comment and leave their two cents. (If any of them have any cents left after all that partying).

It wasn't all good. We had our differences. Richie and Jaime sparred often, mostly in fun but not always. Richie and Sylvia had their discords as well. By the end of the year, change seemed inevitable. Richie was the first to leave. Then Sylvia and S-----were gone a few months later. Big Gray had to recruit again or die.