Monday, June 18, 2007

Steven's Reign of Terror

OK, I'm at that point in the history when change was coming fast and furious. Let's see if I can remember the sequence of events.

With all the changes in personnel and the inclusion of my kids, Big Gray was in danger of losing its identity and becoming something else. In spite of the problems of the first couple of years, I still loved the house and wanted it to keep its "revolutionary edge". I enjoyed our status in the neighborhood and the alternative life style we had created. The war between Richard and Jaime notwithstanding, I recognized the need for the kind of individuals that they represented. Without strong personalities to stir the pot (no pun intended), Big Gray could sink into mediocrity. I didn't want that to happen. So, when Jaime announced he was ready to move on, I became determined to find a replacement who would have the leadership qualities he exhibited, but would also display a gentler side. As Jaime moved closer to his goal of becoming a "futurist", he took on an aura of respectability which some of us saw as a sellout . For example, he objected to the kids answering the house phone or anyone of us answering with the usual, "Big Gray, what do you say?"

Jaime had suddenly become very conscious of his image. In retrospect, I totally see the dilemma he was in. He might have solved the problem by putting in a business line to his room, but the house "culture"at the time, frowned on this form of privatization.In any case, he was looking to go west for his fortune.The ad we ran in the Voice went something like this:

Brooklyn communal house seeks strong but gentle leadership type to complete our space. Applicant should have spiritual side and be into our alternative lifestyle.

You know the expression, "Be careful what you ask for"? Well when Steven walked in the door, we were about to find out the truth of that proverb. He was 6' 4" with long red hair and beard and a strong English accent. He claimed to be bisexual, said he had served in the British army for 15 years, had martial arts experience and had trained as a Gestalt therapist. Gestalt therapy was something we all were familiar with. Its founder, Fritz Perls was a student of Freud's who had taken a totally different approach to psychotherapy. Instead of the Freudian method of allowing the patient to tell his story with little or no interference from the therapist, Perls debunked this approach as artificial. Instead, he promulgated using the "ground" between patient and therapist as the primary focus of investigation. Dubbed the "Zen" of psychotherapy, Gestalt was certainly not main stream but differed a lot in its application depending on who was practicing it and from whom it was learned. For instance, Jaime, Donna and I had experience with a gestalt therapist named Marilyn who we did training with at the "Creative Quest" in Manhattan. That association would yield some important relationships to Big Gray. Steven was of a different mold altogether. As an ardent adherent to a purer form of Gestalt, he believed that one could not just practice Gestalt within the confines of the psychotherapy room, but rather, should "live Gestalt" in every encounter one had with the world.That belief would lead to some fiery encounters at home and with visitors to the house. In addition to this rather impressive resume, Steven, an immigrant without a green card, was "employed" by selling marijuana in Central Park when he arrived at our door.

Now, if there was one constant problem at Big Gray, it was the inability we had in meeting our monthly fiscal responsibilities. You would think that for eight people coming up with $600 a month would be a piece of cake, but somehow, we struggled every month to gather the funds for rent, telephone gas , electricity, heating oil and our communal expenses. Between Jackson's earnings that were at best, seasonal, and kim, who in spite of his considerable talents, never seemed to have any money, we were constantly giving our annoyed landlord, or at least his hated representative George, cause for expelling us. Adding Steven to our lot would not improve this situation. Also, there was something about Steven's disdain for what he called the "American bourgeois"culture which rubbed me the wrong way. I guess as "alternative" as I wished to be seen, there was still a big part of me that clung to my middle-class roots and didn't want to totally let go of them. Jaime, who would stay for about two or three months after we finally agreed on accepting Steven, accused me of being homophobic and threatened by Steven's bisexuality when I voiced an objection to him. I let Jaime's criticism push me into voting in favor of accepting Steven, who had swiftly moved to ingratiate "hirself" (His word for the balance of male/female energy he espoused)) with all the other house members. Jaime also convinced Laura, who would later tell me she believed Steven to be a " classic psychopath", to vote for acceptance.

In order to be accepted as a member of Big Gray, one had to have unanimous approval. That way, everyone was responsible for the addition of new house mates. So many times, I or someone else was reminded of this fact when the "honeymoon period" was over and a member's "warts" became evident. It didn't take long for Steven to reveal his harder side. Jaime, the one who talked Laura and me into voting for him, was his first target. I don't remember the cause of the incident, but I vividly remember an explosive confrontation in the hallway and Jaime being cowered by Steven's considerable physical presence. In spite of his facile way of manipulating the truth, Steven was the martial artist he purported to be. More than that, he could create a very menacing presence. I would see more of that when it was directed at me, but in the interest of creating an honest account of Steven, I should also talk about his more admirable qualities. He was a magician. Yes, his ego led him to use his magic in ways that could be extremely manipulative of others, yet there was no doubt about his powers. He was capable of exquisite gentleness. His voice could take on a deep timbre which was comforting and almost hypnotic.He was also very intuitive and could sense the slightest bit of dis-ease in a person. And, he was a master at reading body language. Add to that, his knowledge of things like folk medicine, yoga, and the spiritual traditions of the East and you have some idea of this guru- like creature who held Big Gray in his sway for several years. Many a day would be spent with him in the Library over pots of tea and English joints (these perfect cylinders of tobacco and grass he would roll) while we all would sit with Steven and listen to stories about his travels and his knowledge of all things spiritual and secular.I will leave the "appreciation" of Steven to others. Over the years, I found him to be a great lier and manipulator. In the end, he was removed by force and he fled into oblivion. I will leave you with one image of Steven standing in the Library round room naked, save for a doti, his red hair and beard lit by the morning light, playing his reed flute and looking for all the world, like the god Pan. Oh yes, be careful of what you ask for. Big Gray had its new Fire Chief and his reign would be wonderful and terrible.


Michael said...

Ah Cheman, you are stirring up memories. Stephen was quite a trip. In the end he did have to leave as the mellow vibes of Big Gray were being poisoned by the lure of harder drugs and money. But I do have some found memories of Stephen. A hug from Stephen enveloped you and one could feel his warm heart under what could be at times a very gruff and frightening persona. Some snipets. I remember Julie coming home with a book assignment on astronomy. Stephen took her out at night with a telescope and showed her the heavens. He was fond of Julie and on a camping trip, I finally let go of her in an emotional fatherly sense , as she rode off on Stephen's Triumph bike at 100mph. I totally trusted him with her safety. When I was training for the marathon, I reached a point about 3 weeks before the race where I felt burnt out and decided not to run the marathon. He got on my case, knowing how hard I trained and got me back on course both metaphorically and literally. A person one never forgets, I hope he is well.

Cheman said...

He(Steven)was definitely a mixed blessing.Like Richie and Jaime before him, he was that mixture of veracity and bullshit, motivator and manipulator, friend and foe. In so many ways, the Big Gray experience can be framed by those events and people during and before Steven and those after his tenure. I suppose that regardless of what you thought of him, he marked the end of an illustrious chapter in our history.You hope he is well? The way he lived so close to the edge, I hope he is alive.