Thursday, May 31, 2007

Romance and responsibility

Boy, my memory is foggy.I'm not sure that last grouping is right or wrong. Kate lived at the house before Steven. That much I'm sure of. Jaime and I met Kate during a Third Avenue Day (possibly the very first) She was one of the "flower children" from the neighborhood and she was a lovely person. Better yet, she had connections to a whole bunch of people who began coming to our parties. In fact, before we met Kate, our first couple of parties were pretty sparsely attended. No one we knew in Manhattan wanted to come out to Brooklyn. The first party we invited her to, we told her to "bring as many people as you want". She showed up with about 150 hippies she knew. Between Kate and our teenage groupies, we had become a Bayridge legend. I mention her because she was really into my kids and helped make their being with me in Brooklyn a good thing. She later moved to Arizona, after getting her Midwife License from Medgar Evers College. Over the period of two years, in fact, a bunch of people we knew through Kate, moved out of Bayridge. Many moved west to California, Colorado and Arizona. Some dropped out and were never heard of again (by us), and, I guess, some just grew up. Seeing them when we first moved to Brooklyn in 1975 with their long hair (the boys) and hippie dresses gave a quaintness to the neighborhood as if it were frozen in time. Eight years after the "San Francisco Summer of Love",here we were in Brooklyn, trying to recreate it. Those kids were our first fans -our "Welcome Wagon".

I guess if I had an editor, he would be bringing some organization to this narrative, suggesting I not jump around so much in the story. However, since I have neither editor nor any coherent plan to this account, you, dear reader will have to abide my twists and turns as I remember parts of the story which ,I at least, feel too important to skip. So saying, I return to my topic for this post, Romance.

I met Ellen at the bookstore. She was a friend of our book buyer, and I was immediately attracted to her. She was an artist, book designer and mother of two kids .I invited her to our first Halloween party, which as I recounted had about 150 people in attendance- all in costume. Between the noise of the band, the guests who on arrival, had to be taken on a "house tour", a necessity at all our parties, and the fact that I had invited 3 different woman to the party, I didn't recognize Ellen when she first arrived with a girl friend. (She was dressed as the "Good Fairy" from the Wizard of Oz and she had a mask on) We danced, but as I said the band was so loud, I didn't hear a word she said to me. So, not until later in the party when it was time for her to leave (her friend was feeling ill) did it dawn on me who she was. (Doh!) That was our first time together. I should have realized then that this relationship didn't have legs, but I persisted. In retrospect, I'm glad I did. Even though we were together just about a year, Ellen was one of those people who created a lasting impression in my life. She was straight forward, beautiful and her brownstone in Park Slope was a welcome respite from life at Big Gray. I learned a lot about freedom and honesty from her, and although we said the relationship was "for now, and now only", I fell deeply in love with her. I could have left Big Gray to be with her, if she had pressed, but she didn't. A year later, when we were breaking up, she advised me to pursue my relationship with Donna, but I recall standing in the rain at the 9th Street Station in Park Slope holding her as we both cried and said goodby. Many, many years later, after Big Gray and before I started dating my wife, our paths crossed again. I went out to dinner with her. She was as beautiful and intense as I remembered her, but in the intervening years had lost that feeling for me. I still had these fond, beautiful and (probably idealized) memories of her, but saw that the relationship was not there now. So, I never called her again. If I had, I may never have married my wife, so I guess Lord Hanuman (I'll explain later perhaps) led me to my wife's arms.

That summer, my 3 daughters (ages 6, 7 and 9) moved into Big Gray. While, I had permission of the house to put them into the third floor bedroom recently vacated by Susan and the guest room (and pay two rent shares), the arguments between my estranged wife and me were becoming so volatile as to threaten my tenure at the house. One of the people who expressed dissatisfaction with the situation was Donna. I realized that I needed people on my side willing to accept the presence of my kids, since as September loomed, it appeared they would be staying, so I consciously began building my friendship with Donna. That friendship soon became more serious after a few times we spent together away from the house and Donna pressed for a more physical relationship.I hesitated for about a week before giving into into my impulses. In the beginning, things were quite steamy between us and I was feeling good about my decision. We became very close over the almost three years we were together at the house, but I always felt that Donna (like Jaime) had a basically selfish and pragmatic attitude about our relationship. While I was given to romantic thoughts of us staying together, I always felt that despite her apparent attraction for me and her somewhat needy attitude concerning our relationship, she was also capable of cutting it off immediately if something better turned up. In the end, the lure of California and a new career proved irresistible. By then, we had experienced our problems. She cheated on me a few times (I'm sure), and my wife adamantly refused to give me a hassle free divorce. Of course, I could have sued on my own, but I felt bad about doing that and possibly losing easy access to my daughters.So, it's not as if I was an attractive alternate to her leaving. Donna moved to California, studied massage, went back to college and became a lawyer, married another lawyer, had two kids with him, divorced and stopped getting in touch with me after that. Looking back, I can say we had a good thing together overall. I learned a lot about exercise and massage from her (Did I mention she was a dancer?) and together we were a force at Big Gray for keeping the community culture together. I had one or two other girlfriends while living at the house after Donna, but nothing on that scale and never with another house member. The sad truth was that our membership was growing younger while I grew older.


Monday, May 28, 2007

The road gets rocky.

As heady as the first two years were for us, they were not all sunbeams and roses. Richie and Jaime were two very dynamic people. They also were very competitive with one another. They vied for the headman position constantly. As the self -proclaimed "peace chief" of the clan, I tried to steer a middle road, but as their differences wore on, I favored Jaime. They were both such control types that it was very hard for them to coexist. Jaime and I became extremely close. I was clearly in awe of his accomplishments, his sense of self-esteem and his "take no prisoners" philosophy about life. He helped me set up the first lecture series we did in the bookstore. He went with me to interview two Tibetan lamas and encouraged me to make the "Medicine Wheel", the name I gave it, my own. I know a lot of his secrets, including his participation in an organization that would surprise many to learn about. I considered him a spiritual brother. We spent many good times together, including a memorable psychedellic experience in upstate New York . It happened during a two day camping trip. I had a panic attack during the trip when I convinced myself that I alone was responsible for keeping the fabric of reality together. Jaime calmed me down and talked me out of my delusion. He got me back to enjoying the experience by feeding me a handfull of dolomite he brought along for emergencies.(Whether this had a placebo effect or was actually useful in "bringing me down",I don't know. I no longer recommend anyone experiment with drugs like LSD in any case). Jaime also had a huge ego and was capable of cruelty which he showed to many people who displeased him.

It was during this period that a big change occurred in my personal life. My wife, after living out her own trip in Berkeley came home from California with my three kids and moved to Connecticut with one of her connections from Naropa Institute, a Buddhist university in Colorado. She had spent a summer there in '74 and had met a bunch of new age hippies. She moved with one of them to California and now was returning with another to Connecticut. They lived there for a year together but were not getting along. She wanted me to take the kids for the summer while she got her head together. I went to the house and explained my plight. People were pretty supportive considering a few of them were not really into kids. I was determined to make the experience good for them which meant getting someone to watch the kids on the three days I was at the store. My weekend was Thursday and Friday then, so I could bring them to my mother-in-law's house on the weekend to be with their mom. Does this sound complicated? Believe me, it was worse than that. I was also dealing with big changes at the house as half of the originals moved out over that time. The Village Voice became the organ through which we found new members when there wasn't a friend available. When my girls moved in for the summer, the house consisted of Jaime, Susan (who Jaime was now warring with), Kim, Alan, Laura who replaced Sylvia, Donna who replaced S-----, Kate who was one of the local flower children, and me.