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.