Sunday, July 29, 2007

Matt, Michael, Julie,John, Jo Pat, Abby and Paul

Along with Barbara, these were the people who gained membership to the house during Steven's tenure. Two of them, Jo Pat and Paul were asked (forced) to leave, and Steven was (somewhat more violently) ousted as well. So, this was a period of our history filled with a lot of strife. Much of it centered around Steven who, cleverly never picked more than one house mate at a time to conflict with. Laura swore that this was because he was a classic psychopath, but this is getting ahead in the story.

After Barbara was elected to membership, Matt asked to join. Now, as I wrote earlier, he had been hanging around the house anyway. We were all familiar with him, his home made Harley and his gigantic Ford LTD convertible. It was clear that taking him in would lose us the rental income from our garage, where Roy A. from across the street parked his Jaguar. Since Roy's dad, Dr. A. was one of the neighbors who regularly called the police on us during parties, I felt that renting Roy the garage might be useful. But between Kim who always had at least one car and Matt, we were not going to be able to rent any more space. That consideration aside, I was definitely into taking Matt into the house. He was an incredibly energetic guy from a family of energetic people. Matt was someone who was driven to success in whatever field he entered. As a lanky teenager, he took up Karate and had his black belt by the time he was 17. After high school, where he won the city's Industrial Arts Award for two years running, he joined his dad's import/export firm. Business flourished under his drive and dedication. By the time he was 20, he had a Master Cabinet Maker's license and was working for a firm that built sets for trade shows. His plan, when he entered the house was to return to school (Aviation Academy) and get his Air Frame Mechanic's certification while he worked on his pilot's license. At the same time, Matt also had a gentle side. He really liked my kids and was very close with me. He asked for my advice a lot, and always listened to my opinions. As soon as he got into the house, I told him that our kitchen needed some renovation . He built a pot rack over the stove and a counter next to it giving us needed storage and work space. That was the kind of thing that really endeared him to me. He always looked to fix a problem with a hands on approach. Unfortunately, not all problems can be fixed that way, but this head strong, dynamic kid was a welcome addition. He was slated to get Jaime's room as soon as Jaime moved his stuff out. In a last display of power, Jaime told Matt he would be moving "when he felt like it" or words to that effect. Matt told him if he wasn't out in two days, he would move his stuff into the hall. This kid had power. Steven must have seen that immediately. In all the time they lived together, I never saw Steven try to intimidate Matt. He couldn't.

Matt had a few biker friends who came around to the house after he moved in. These were great people who shared a love of choppers, and had that biker mentality of "live and let live". I really felt it was going to be a special time in our history. That's when Steven started showing his darker side. I can remember the day it changed for me. It must have been early in September. I was still having trouble getting my kids in bed early enough so they could get up early for school. It was taking a little prodding and running between the kitchen and the third floor to facilitate their getting dressed and putting their breakfast and lunch together. I suppose it was louder than Steven wanted. He told us he liked to "move gently from the dream state to consciousness" Well, I'm sorry. You live with people. Anyway, he came down to the kitchen for water, and I made the mistake of saying, good morning to him. "I don't see what's good about it, with all this noise" was his less than amicable response. Naturally, I felt guilty for disturbing his precious dream state. That wouldn't have bothered most people, but I was really susceptible to any implied criticism involving my kids. I'll come back to my problems with Steven later. We had a complicated relationship.

After Matt, Barbara sponsored her boyfriend Michael's bid to become a house member. Three or four times after that, people wanted admission for their chosen other . It was always a problem, because you didn't want to reject a member's lover, but if you didn't share that person's enthusiasm for their spouse, well...That surely wasn't the case with Michael. He and I had met a few times before at Creative Quest, but had never really bonded. Then, before he and Barbara started dating, Marilyn (the other therapist from CQ) put together a conference at Ramapo College in New Jersey, entitled "Men and the Male Role". I decided to go and take my kids. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I had, and it was fantastic for my kids. I suppose there were about 300 people at the conference which lasted 5 days. The kids and I shared a dorm room and had meals together. The rest of the time, they banded together with the nine other kids who were there with their parents, including Julie, Michael's daughter. Always a dynamic individual, Julie became "leader of the pack", much to the chagrin of my daughter Patty who was a year older. We would see them all running around the campus only stopping to ask for vending machine money when they needed a candy fix. Meanwhile, Michael and I kept running into each other and shared quite a few pipe ceremonies during the conference. I immediately felt in him a kindred spirit, as he is to this day. So, I couldn't be more delighted that he wanted to become a house member. My girls were slightly less sanguine about admitting Julie who shared time with both her parents, but they managed to form a workable if not entirely strife free relationship.

Matt introduced us to John. He too was a Brooklyn biker. We all liked him. He had a wide open good natured smile, and a boyish innocence about him. He also had a little Italian girl friend with a strong Brooklyn accent who followed him around adoringly. Actually, John wasn't all too happy with Jo Pat's adulation, but I think we felt that he needed someone his own age in the house to relate to. Anyhow, we took in Jo Pat also. She got Alan's vacated room after Steven made it too uncomfortable for Alan to stay. I always felt bad because Alan was such a long time friend of mine and one of the few remaining founding members. But Alan wasn't one to form close bonds with people, preferring his privacy.It made it easy for Steven to isolate him and cut him out. Jo Pat followed in Alan's footsteps in that she isolated herself by falling far behind in her debt to the house. Smelling blood, Steven led the charge in putting her out. She never made it to six months.
So now, we had two Harleys in the garage. Inspired to join the new craze, Steven found a guy selling a British made Triumph motorcycle and somehow, on his car service driver's salary, managed to pay for it. I remember great rides on the back of all those bikes.

Putting an ad in the Voice unearthed Paul, a personal chef and caterer. He and Steven seemed to bond. I wasn't that sure about him, but I couldn't put my finger on anything specific. After he gained admittance, we learned that Paul had a thriving side business in dealing cocaine. This was not a drug I had any knowledge of. I had tried it, but didn't like it at all. I'll take coffee any day over coke. Paul's clientele, unlike those who bought pot called the house at all hours of the day and night and tended to be heavily aggressive personalities. After that, I saw cocaine become a big part of Bay Ridge's party scene and witnessed the ruination of many lives due to it. It seemed odd that we who grew pot in our backyard and smoked and did acid would find fault with another popular drug, but coke had an entirely different culture which this old hippie found to be destructive and mean spirited.We met over Paul and convinced Steven that his habits were a menace to our lifestyle. I think Steven would have liked Paul to stay because he saw in him a way of possibly making money, and a source for the drug Steven was becoming fond of.

Closing out that period of our history, my girls moved a few blocks away to their mom's place. After 5 years of being with them, I finally had become comfortable with the job of parenting. My daughters Margaret and Patty were in Fort Hamilton High School in Bay Ridge and Jen was in junior high. It left a big hole in my life when they moved, even though they were nearby and I saw them a lot. I felt empathy for what their mom must have experienced. Now, I had lost my girlfriend (Donna had moved to California) and my kids. That closed a chapter of my history, but there was still more to come for Big Gray.

Abby moved in right after the girls left. She was an artist and a school teacher. (She taught Art at Lincoln High School in Bensonhurst ) Abby was a great addition to the house. She had a warm personality, and bonded well with all of us. She also had a large group of friends who became fixtures at our parties and dinners. She built a jewelry studio in the basement too. Our basement which was empty and unused (except for Jaime's jar processing wall) had become a busy place housing Barbara's pottery studio, our washing machine which John had resurrected by putting in new hoses, a nursery for starting plants in the garden, a workbench for Matt's wood working projects, and Abby's studio. We even had another whole room with a sink which Kim and I eventually turned into a dark room.

Abby would be our 28th member counting the kids and girlfriends of Alan and Jaime who I haven't mentioned yet. It was the eighth year of our experiment in communal living. Following Steven's removal (for high crimes and misdemeanors), we would take a look at ourselves and make a decision to slow down, make some rules and tone down our "outlaw presence" in the neighborhood. These were all decisions which helped insure our survival, but looking back, I can say, we lost a lot of the edge that made living at Big Gray so joyful and exciting. I guess for me, I was growing older along with the house, and moving (kicking and screaming) towards maturity.

6 comments:

John Morse said...

Hi Joe! How are you? Thanks for the wonderful description...It's John, the boyish grin:-)

Cheman said...

Hey John. We are all so glad to learn you are well. Let me tell a story about John of the Boyish Grin.Like many of us at Big Gray, John was a magician. Only like many magicians, he was not aware of his magic.Let me explain. First, there was Jo Pat.She was someone who John felt was a part of a teen age past, and yet she was clearly desperately obsessed with him. Of course, we had to take both of them.Let's create a little drama. Stephen was all ready to jump on that stage, and said some cruel yet perceptive things about her, and me for trying to ease the situation. That was that. Then during a Big Gray party, where we hosts traditionally gave tour guests the "House Tour", John met Jody. All our guests were interested in the tour, because they got to see all of our enormous house above the party floor,the way we designed our personal spaces and something of the way we lived. Anyway, I was giving my good friend,Jody from Circle's, a tour of the attic. John's room had our black light in the V shaped roof of his room which he had constructed for himself in the very top of the house in the space in front of the circular attic windows in the peak.The room was about the size of an army tent. John put glow in the dark stars on the walls, and well, the effect was always a treat for guests who were unfamiliar with the eerie way black light lit up your teeth or your eyes. Jody fell for John immediately in spite of all else to interest and entertain her at the party.She followed him around for several weeks. Who knows what favors she bestowed him? I was beginning now to appreciate this blond, muscular young biker's power. Then, came the kicker.Our house mate, Joyce had spent several years in Canada studying Dance prior to moving to New York. She spoke often of her good friend there, a woman named Shirley. Shirley was this incredible, creative person who she really missed, and so , as members often did, she invited Shirley to visit New York and stay at the house. Now, remember, if you're someone's guest at Big Gray you're all of our guest . That's part of the lore and the way we expected guests to act. Well, Shirley shows up and we're all expecting a really nice week together, and she meets John (with the boyish grin?)I think we had the guest room in the attic then. The two of them never came down except to pee, and for one or two meals. Shirley later moved to New York to be with him

Michael said...

Hi John,

You must come up to Saugerties. I haven't seen you since we first moved in 23 years ago. I remember you using the chain saw to get in some wood before the Winter set in.
As to Joe's memories of Shirley. I remember them being up in the attic at least 2 weeks. I don't know when they ate any food. John could fool you. You saw his boyish handsome face and it was only when you hung around with him long enough that you realized how wise he was. One story. One day I woke up really sick. I couldn't move, it even hurt to lie on the sheets. Julie, as a Jr. high schooler had school, all kinds of activites to go to, plus eating and all that goes into an active child's day. To my great relief, John stepped in and took care of all her needs for a few days until I got back on my feet. I never forgot his kindness.

John Morse said...

I had forgotton about the black light in the tent room. But I remember how the wind would pull on the plastic window during thunder storms, and how everyone would make their way there to enjoy a smoke together! Except Steve, well untill he needed something! Big Gray is like a room in my mind that will always be there, and when I need too, I open the door and see in. It's a point in time that I draw power and focus from. The experiment was a success!

John Morse said...

Matt, I really can't remember where i first met him, maybe at the gas station where I worked. But he was the first person from big gray I knew. Having a 1963 Pan head Harley was somthing we had in common. One day Matt asked me if I would like to come to where he lived and meet the people he lived with. And If all were ok with it I could rent some garage space. Well that sounded cool. The meeting went well and the Pan head moved in. The first Encounter with someone from the house was a bit unsettling, I started the bike up in the driveway, "I'll admit was a bit noisy" When this big ball of red hair and beard reared up out of the East attic window!
Get out of here it roared!!!
I found out he was working nights at the local car service and I woke him from his beauty sleep.
The first positive experience was with Joe, he invited me for dinner. When I got there he was Cooking, the house smelled great! Joe told me to have a seat in this big dining room, his three daughters Margaret, Patty ann ann Jenny were already seated. As I sat down they started talking to me, asking questions so fast I couldnt answer one before another one started!As I sat at this huge antique table I looked around at the room, big tropical plants by the dining rooms three southern windows, the light streaming in, the house was beautiful. Then Joe came in with the food, a big bowl of fried chicken! Well the girls jumped on the food! I just sat back and waited for my turn, then I relized, there is no turn, Dig in!!!

John Morse said...

Matt, I really can't remember where i first met him, maybe at the gas station where I worked. But he was the first person from big gray I knew. Having a 1963 Pan head Harley was somthing we had in common. One day Matt asked me if I would like to come to where he lived and meet the people he lived with. And If all were ok with it I could rent some garage space. Well that sounded cool. The meeting went well and the Pan head moved in. The first Encounter with someone from the house was a bit unsettling, I started the bike up in the driveway, "I'll admit was a bit noisy" When this big ball of red hair and beard reared up out of the East attic window!
Get out of here it roared!!!
I found out he was working nights at the local car service and I woke him from his beauty sleep.
The first positive experience was with Joe, he invited me for dinner. When I got there he was Cooking, the house smelled great! Joe told me to have a seat in this big dining room, his three daughters Margaret, Patty ann ann Jenny were already seated. As I sat down they started talking to me, asking questions so fast I couldnt answer one before another one started!As I sat at this huge antique table I looked around at the room, big tropical plants by the dining rooms three southern windows, the light streaming in, the house was beautiful. Then Joe came in with the food, a big bowl of fried chicken! Well the girls jumped on the food! I just sat back and waited for my turn, then I relized, there is no turn, Dig in!!!