Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (vi)

Sometimes I would continue walking eastward on Pelham Parkway, a few blocks east of White Plains Road. But if I wanted to explore the neighborhood much further east on Pelham Parkway, I would usually wait till the weekend and just hop on the bus that took you to Pelham Bay Park, and look out the bus window at the culturally straight people, walking out of the culturally straight-looking Pelham Parkway apartment buildings and houses to get into their cars, go shopping or enjoy the springtime weather on the weekends. On a few occasions, both during the week and on weekends, I would spend some time walking north on White Plains Road, under the elevated IRT line tracks, to explore the Allerton neighborhood—which I later learned was apparently not far from where Stokely Carmichael a/k/a Kwame Ture lived when he attended the Bronx High School of Science in the late 1950s as a teenager, before later enrolling at Howard University during the early 1960s. But I can’t recall ever talking with anyone during my walks along White Plains Road, north of Pelham Parkway, during the spring and summer of 1971.

When I returned to my apartment from walking eastward, I would often take a return route that led me through the Bronx Park forest area that surrounded the Botanical Garden area which was both north of my apartment and adjacent to the back of Fordham University’s campus. By 2:30 in the afternoon during the week and all day on Saturday and Sunday in the spring and summer of 1971, Bronx Park would be filled with enough people sitting on blankets with their children or with their friends, walking around and enjoying the green park space, making out with their boyfriend or womanfriend, enjoying the sun, picnicking, reading (or studying if they were Fordham students), so that you usually never felt there was much risk of being ripped off there.

If I had a small paperback book in my pants pocket (or was carrying a small knapsack with a hard-cover library book in it) during the spring of 1971, and the spring weather and air was giving me spring fever and making me feel I just wanted to sit outside in a lazy way and spend a few hours reading on the park grass, I would sometimes pretend that the Bronx Park and the Bronx Botanical Garden was my estate, while stretching out on the lawn and reading book. Feeling lucky that I wasn’t wasting the nice spring day during the weekday afternoon having to be stuck in a 9 to 5 wage-enslavement cage.

I can recall spending a few hours reading one of the volumes of Simone De Beauvoir’s autobiography stretched out on the lawn of the Bronx Park in April or May of 1971 on one of these beautiful spring days. Around the same time I also was reading her The Second Sex book, so my political and intellectual consciousness became even more feminized in a more deeper way than previously by the spring of 1971—many years before most of the male chauvinist, middle-class academics at the various patriarchal elite U.S. corporate universities finally learned in the late 1970s which politically correct words needed to be used, in order to shield themselves from being criticized by the middle-class feminist liberal academics for not having enough of a feminist intellectual consciousness.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (v)

Before you reached the main intersection of White Plains Road and Pelham Parkway, where the local elevated station for the IRT train that took you into Manhattan was located, you passed a small movie theatre on your right that seemed to mainly show films like Russ Meyer’s Vixen in the early 1970s. I forget whether or not the neighborhood had another movie theatre around the corner on White Plains Road that showed all the mainstream movies that the Hollywood studios distributed. But since the Grand Concourse and Fordham Road area of the Bronx, which contained four movie theatres within a few blocks of each other that all showed mainstream movies as well as some foreign films, was only a 15 minute bus ride away from Pelham Parkway and White Plains Road, if you wanted to see a new movie, you didn’t have to travel very far from the neighborhood to get to a movie theatre.

On White Plains Road near Pelham Parkway in early 1971, there were still a lot of small businesses and restaurants that weren’t part of chains and there always seemed to be a lot of street life and people walking in and out of stores and up or down the elevated IRT subway station, at all times of days. Sometimes I would grab myself something to eat at one of the delicatessens around Pelham Parkway and White Plains Road, but I can’t recall ever speaking to anybody in the neighborhood for any length of time. There seemed to be a total absence of hippies or freaks walking around this neighborhood on weekday afternoons, or even on weekends, in the early 1970s. And it seemed to be a culturally straight, family-oriented neighborhood that had been pretty much untouched by the political and cultural turmoil of the 1960s, on the surface. (Although, I suspect that by this time some of the high school students living with their parents, even in this neighborhood, were probably finding ways to covertly smoke joints at home, when their culturally straight parents weren’t around the apartment.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (iv)

One advantage of limiting my afternoon outdoor activity to just what was within walking distance in all directions of my cheap Bronx apartment in the Belmont neighborhood was that I didn’t spend much money anymore on paying subway fares or bus fares between late March 1971 and early August 1971, when I rarely took a subway down into Manhattan anymore. Since the Bronx--unlike Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Staten Island, Nassau County and Suffolk County—is located on the mainland of the USA, not on an island, if you walked north towards Yonkers and Westchester County you never were forced to end your walk by bumping into a body of water. No matter how many miles north of the Bronx you walked, you never could come to a dead end. And if you wanted to keep walking in that direction, you could actually get up to Albany by foot, if you were willing to spend day-after-day just walking.

Most of my long walking and wandering in the afternoon during the week would be either towards the east, towards the west or towards the north. Going east, I would walk along Fordham Road, past a Howard Johnson’s motel-restaurant on my right--where young couples who didn’t yet live together in their own apartments would stay for the night, surrounded by out-of-town tourists who were staying at the motel because it was next to the Bronx Zoo—and straight forward towards where Fordham Road turned into Pelham Parkway, with the Bronx Zoo gates to your right and the Bronx Botanical Gardens to your left.

Once Pelham Parkway reached the east side of the Bronx Zoo/Bronx Park and the Botanical Gardens, you entered a neighborhood that—unlike the primarily white Italian-American working-class community of the Belmont neighborhood in which I lived—seemed to be, in the early 1970s, a neighborhood of mostly white working-class people of Jewish background. Mainly office workers and their families who lived in rent-controlled apartments built in the 1920s and who seemed less affluent than the white working-class people of Jewish background who had left the Bronx for Queens in the 1950s and 1960s.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (iii)

Now that I didn’t have to get up early and be in a skyscraper office by 9 o’clock during the week anymore in late March and April 1971, I found myself sleeping until after 9 o’clock each morning. Then, after quickly washing up, getting dressed, eating a bowl of dry cereal and drinking some orange juice for breakfast, I would usually spend the rest of the morning during the week writing a new protest folk song or folk love song, listening to vinyl records on my cheap portable phonograph or to the WNEW-FM radio station that then played cuts from the most current rock albums, or reading some library book or underground newspaper. One morning around this time, for example, I wrote the “Give It All Up” protest folk song , which included the following lyrics:

Give it all up
For the good of all
Give it all up
To hasten the fall.

Maybe you got a job
A nine-to-five coffin
Fuck their mindless jobs
We’re after our freedom.

I’m sick of imperialism
As well as of sexism
I’m glad you’re here Kathy
You can lie on top of me.

After spending my weekday mornings writing songs, playing guitar, listening to music or reading, when noontime came around I would usually spend the afternoon, if it wasn’t raining outside, walking around the Bronx, exploring different Bronx neighborhoods, wandering through various Bronx parks, checking out the scene at local college campuses, walking in and out of stores around the Grand Concourse near Fordham Road without buying anything, and visiting local branches of the New York Public Library in the Bronx.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (ii)

Since my cheap, $57 per month rent-controlled slum 1 ½ room apartment was located only a few blocks southeast from Fordham University’s campus off Fordham Road, I would sometimes check out the scene there in early 1971—even before I quit my Writers Guild Office Boy job in early March 1971. Although by early 1971, Fordham University’s campus in the Bronx had campus gates and security guards or campus cops by each entrance, to keep non-student community residents from the Bronx from entering it, I was still able to walk onto the campus without getting stopped by the campus security guards or campus cops. Probably because I was white and still looked young enough then to pass for a Fordham University undergraduate or graduate student.

Also, by early 1971 a minority of the male students at Catholic universities like Fordham, St. John’s, Boston College, etc. now had long hair and/or beards and now looked more like hippies and freaks. So by 1971 when a bearded, long-haired hippie freak like myself walked onto a then-predominantly white Catholic campus like Fordham University, he no longer stood out as much or was as noticeable to the campus security guards as he would have been during the mid-1960s.

So on one weekend evening, during the winter in early 1971, I had no difficulty sneaking onto the Fordham University campus. After walking past some of the dormitories, I then stumbled upon a big room where the Shirelles female singing group was giving a concert and where it sang the “Soldier Boy” song hit of the late 50s or early 60s.

I don’t remember much else about the Shirelles’ concert, probably because I had drunk some beer and smoked a joint in my apartment before walking onto the Fordham campus. But I recall that I felt that while many of the Fordham University women undergraduate students in the early 1970s seemed physically attractive to me, they didn’t seem to give off as hip a vibe as did the women undergraduate students at the non-Catholic colleges such as Barnard-Columbia, NYU-Washington Square, NYU-Uptown, Richmond College on Staten Island, Indiana University, Radcliffe-Harvard or Queens College of that historical era. And in early 1971, you still didn’t get the sense that the students at Fordham University were smoking pot and using psychedelics as much as did the students at Columbia in the late 1960s.

Fordham women undergraduates at the Shirelles concert did remind me somewhat, though, of a blonde-haired college-age woman from College Point whom I had met at a bar when I lived in Jackson Heights in the Fall of 1969. No longer do I recall the name of the blonde young woman from College Point. But after we danced a few times I felt physically attracted to her enough to offer to take the subway back to Main Street Flushing with her, where she could then catch her bus to College Point, where she still lived with her parents.

But by the time we arrived at Main Street Flushing, I realized that she had pretty much been unaffected by the Vietnam War and the Movement of the 1960s; and she seemed to realize that my future financial prospects didn’t look promising enough for her to ever consider me for the role of potential husband for her and potential father for her children that she was apparently looking for some guy to fill. So I felt there was no point in asking for her phone number before we kissed goodnight and she got on the bus to head back home to College Point.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (i)

It felt great to finally be free again from having to report to a 9-to-5 cage in the Death Culture skyscraper world of Manhattan in late 1971. I felt freer than when I was a college student since I also didn’t have to sit in boring classroom cages listening to dull white middle-class academics ramble on in monotones, while mumbling the same lecture they gave months or years before, to their previous captive audience of young people. Nor did I have to do any homework or academic shitwork for the college classroom managers-profs anymore. Or have to stay up all night to finish overdue term papers.

I was free to sleep late, free of having to ride in the cattle car subway train from the Bronx to Manhattan, to try to rush into the office by 9 o’clock on the dot, despite the rush-hour crowds and daily subway train delays, and free to just spend my weekdays writing more protest folk songs and folk love songs, reading books that weren’t on some middle-class prof’s reading list, listening to vinyl music records and getting high. And when the warm weather of spring came in 1971, I was now free to spend my weekdays outside in the Bronx parks or hanging out on some Bronx college campus.