Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xiv)

It was also on Lehman College’s campus that I met a new womanfriend one weekday afternoon on a warm Spring day in April 1971. After walking from my apartment, breathing in the fresh air of springtime and getting the spring fever feeling, I arrived on Lehman College’s campus and decided to eat lunch that day in Lehman College’s student cafeteria, since I was hungry and had never eaten there before (and would never ever eat inside there again).

After filling my lunch tray with some cheap food and then paying the cashier, I looked around the crowded cafeteria to see where I could sit. The student cafeteria at Lehman College was smaller than the student cafeteria at Queens College, where I had often eaten lunch while taking a few summer school courses there nearly two years before, in the Summer of 1969. But nearly all the students in the Lehman College cafeteria in 1971 looked a lot more culturally straight than the students in the cafeteria at Queens College had looked in 1969, and the ratio of women to men in the Lehman College student cafeteria was much more equal. In the Queens College student cafeteria in 1969 there seemed to be about 7 women students for every 3 male students, and a much larger percentage of the Queens College men students had long hair; and, although mainly apolitical, the young men there still seemed to identify more strongly with the hippie youth culture of the late 1960s than did the Lehman College male students eating lunch in its student cafeteria in April 1971 (when being a hippie had become a less fashionable youth trend in the U.S. mainstream mass media marketing-manipulation-disinformation-system).

Finally noticing a table on the right side of the cafeteria with mostly vacant seats, I walked over to that table, which was also near the front of the cafeteria, put my tray of lunch down on the table, and started to quickly eat my food, since hanging out in the Lehman College cafeteria on such a nice Spring day seemed like a much less interesting and less pleasurable option than hanging around outside on the campus or in a local park for awhile.

But about five minutes later, across the cafeteria table and about a yard to my left, a young white woman student, about 5 foot three, with long, light brown hair, little make-up, no lipstick and intelligent-looking blue eyes, who was wearing blue jeans and a white blouse, put her tray down on the table and, without noticing me, sat down. Since the only reason she seemed to have chosen the seat across the table from me seemed to be that it had been the first vacant seat she had noticed in the cafeteria and not because she particularly was interested in sitting near me, after I glanced at the woman student, who looked like she was also in her early 20s, I, at first, assumed that once I finished eating my lunch I would just quickly get up and go on my way.

But right before I was about to leave the Lehman College cafeteria, I suddenly noticed that the woman student sitting across from me was reading a copy of the current issue of the Village Voice as she ate her lunch. Because nobody else in the whole student cafeteria was either reading that week’s issue of the Village Voice or even looked like they ever read the Village Voice, I became curious about what she was into.

So I moved a little more directly opposite and directly across from her on the cafeteria table and asked with a smile: “Is there anything interesting to read in the Voice this week?”

Surprised that I had noticed what she was reading and had asked her a question, the woman student looked up, glanced at me and answered: “A few articles seem interesting.”

“Not many other people seem to read the Village Voice at this school. How did you end up going to school at Lehman College?” I replied.

She then started to chat with me and we got into a heavy philosophical conversation for the next half an hour before she had to leave for an afternoon class. And by the end of our first conversation she had told me that her name was Eileen.

Eileen had a part-time job working at a day care center for pre-school children in the morning, but was taking some undergraduate courses, including some kind of a women’s studies course, at Lehman College on weekday afternoons, in order to get her BA. I can’t recall exactly what Eileen was majoring in, because she then seemed kind of vague, herself, about what exactly she wanted to get a BA degree in. But I think she was more into getting a degree in something related to getting a job in the human services field—like in child psychology, psychology, or sociology—than in some more go-to-grad-school-oriented heavy academic subject—like English, history or anthropology.

At the same time she was working part-time in the mornings and attending Lehman College in the afternoon, Eileen was also living with an apolitical guy, about the same age as us, who hadn’t gone to college, but who was apparently already making good money at a 9-to-5 blue-collar day-job.

But being a Village Voice reader and taking a women’s studies course at Lehman College in 1971 had apparently caused Eileen to feel more dissatisfied with the traditional kind of relationship she had with her boyfriend—who apparently didn’t have much of a feminist consciousness and apparently loved her more because she did the housework, cooked and fulfilled her sexual needs than because he also found her intellectually interesting and also enjoyed talking with her.

So, not surprisingly, once Eileen heard me articulate a radical left male feminist cultural critique of U.S. society, the 9-to-5 world, CUNY’s institutionally sexist and then-interpersonally sexist mass educational system, and the way U.S. women were then generally still exploited in both the home and in the U.S. work-world in 1971, Eileen seemed intellectually intrigued by me. Because what I was saying seemed to reflect the intellectual and philosophical wavelength she had drifted towards since she had started reading the Village Voice and begun taking undergraduate college courses.

But although I felt an attraction to Eileen after we first met and talked in the Lehman College cafeteria, once she left to go to her next afternoon class I assumed that, since she was living with her boyfriend, it was unlikely that I was going to get any closer to her on an emotional level in either the short-run or the long-run in 1971.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xiii)

In March, April and May of 1971, I began to spend more time than previously browsing in the Lehman College Library in the afternoon and evening. Not being a student there in the Spring of 1971--and not yet realizing that it was sometimes still possible to gain college library book borrowing privileges at some of the CUNY campus libraries, like at Brooklyn College, by just paying a $50 fee each year—I assumed there was no way I could take home any university library books to read like I had been able to do at Columbia, Richmond College, Queens College and Lehman College when I was officially a student at those places. So most of my browsing activity in the Lehman College library in the Spring of 1971 involved examining reference books that were unavailable to take home from the library even by students who were officially enrolled at Lehman College.

I can’t recall much of what I read while browsing in the Lehman College library in the afternoon or evenings in late March, April and May of 1971. But one thing I do remember is that it was in the Lehman College library that I found the CUNY public records of CUNY faculty salaries which indicated that--while the hippy students at Richmond College received no money for attending college classes taught by hip professors who claimed to be for economic equality and into the hippie values of being more into sharing than making money--the hip professors at places like Richmond College and other CCNY units were being paid $28,000 per year in 1970-71, when most young U.S. workers in Manhattan were only earning between $5,000 and $10,000 per year in 1970-71 for having to work at 9 to 5 menial clerical or blue-collar jobs.

Prior to discovering the CUNY public records of what CUNY profs were being paid in 1970-71, I had assumed that, at most, for doing a soft job that involved mostly just leading discussions and lecturing from notes in a classroom for maybe 15 hours a week, as well as hanging out in their academic offices for another three hours, CUNY professors were being paid no more than the $10,000 to $15,000 per year salaries that the older clerical or unionized blue-collar workers who were trapped in 9 to 5 jobs for 35 hours per week were generally being paid at that time. So when I learned that the CUNY profs—some of whom were only in their late 20s or early 30s—were being paid 4 to 5 times what most of their recent students were being paid once they found themselves trapped in the 9-to-5 “real world” and 2 to 3 times what most older office workers or blue-collar workers who had been stuck in the 9-to-5 “real world” for over 20 years were only allowed to earn, I was shocked. And I quickly concluded that left academics and hippie academic professors in the United States were, by 1971, bringing home such relatively high upper-middle-class salaries that they now had a vested economic interest—like their less intellectual, less politically radical, less hip, more conventionally straight middle-class colleagues who were also members of the privileged, economically secure, now affluent U.S. “professoriate”—in not really encouraging their students to support a Black Panther Party-led or a revolutionary feminist-led anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-classist, anti-racist and anti-sexist Revolution in the United States during the 1970s.

What I also remember about browsing in the library at Lehman College in late March, April and May of 1971 is that I chatted for a long time in the evening a few times with the reference librarian there, who was a bearded, bored, intellectual guy in his early 50s, who looked a little like Nat Hentoff looked at that time in his appearance. One reason the bearded librarian probably was bored being the reference librarian in the Lehman College library during the weekday evenings is that on some evenings only a few Lehman College students bothered to use the library for studying, research or even socializing purposes. And on some evenings, the librarian and I—just a non-student—were the only ones inside the library during the last hour—until the night janitor came to shut the library down.

Like many other underemployed, more intellectual older guys of his generation, by 1971 the librarian seemed to realize—as a result of the by then obviously wasteful and stupid endless U.S. military intervention in Indochina, the 1960s urban ghetto rebellions, things like the 1970 Kent State Massacre and the post-1969 economic slump in New York City and beginning of the post-1970 prolonged U.S. economic decline of the 1950s and 1960s affluent U.S. society—that the System in the USA was corrupt and irrational; and that only his retirement within the next 15 years would give him something qualitatively different to look forward to in terms of his daily life. But like the other underemployed bearded intellectual guys in his 50s at this time, who often seemed to be just working then for the sake of supporting their kids and stay-at-home wives, and not out of any intense interest in their jobs, the reference librarian at Lehman College seemed totally skeptical that U.S. society would ever be changed in a more radically democratic direction. So that people like him would ever not feel trapped in dull 9-to-5 day jobs or 1-to-9 evening jobs, if they were in their 50s and still had families to support, as he felt trapped in 1971.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xii)

In April and May of 1971, I also checked out some of at least two weekend street fairs/block parties that were held within walking distance of my Bronx slum apartment, which were sponsored by some of the local Catholic churches (to honor various saints) and the local small merchants/small shopkeepers in the neighborhoods. The street fairs nearer the Grand Concourse and Kingsbridge Road neighborhood seemed to be sponsored by some churches with mostly Irish-American Catholic parishioners and were held on weekend afternoons. There was some music playing in the background. But what I remember most about these afternoon street fairs were a block or two being closed to cars and the streets being filled mostly with culturally straight, family-oriented elderly and young adults who lived in the neighborhood, their children or neighborhood high school age teenagers and a lot of food vendors selling them food. Few single people or couples who were either college age students or people in their twenties without kids who looked culturally hip seemed to attend the afternoon street fairs which were being sponsored by the churches with the Irish-American parishioners.

A few blocks south of my apartment, on East 187th Street, east of Webster Avenue, was where the street fairs sponsored by the local churches with mostly Italian-American parishioners were held on weekend nights in April and May of 1971. These Saturday night street fairs in honor of some Saints were lavish street fairs and well-attended. The streets would be closed off to traffic for a number of blocks in the Belmont neighborhood, and rides like small ferris wheels would be set up in the street, along with a stage for street performers and musicians and singers. And set up by all the local small merchants on the street would also be booths which sold food and goods to the crowds of family-oriented parents, grandparents, children and high school-age teenagers who lived in the neighborhood and who apparently looked forward to hanging out for hours at these weekend night street fairs every year. Carnival-like booths, like those one might find at Coney Island, also were in the street, and people lined up to throw darts at balloons or balls into barrels or make some wager on a spinning roulette wheel in exchange for tossing in some money that would ultimately end up in the hands of one of the local neighborhood churches.

Not having grown up in the Belmont neighborhood like most of the other single guys my age who I noticed at the weekend night street fairs--and being one of the few long-haired, bearded hippies in the crowd that attended these events--I, naturally, didn't bump into anyone who seemed on the same cultural wavelength as me in 1971 at these weekend night street fairs. But hearing the laughter and observing the fun that most of the neighborhood people seemed to be expressing at the street fair--which seemed like a throwback to 1950s urban street life community culture--reminded me again that the 1960s and early 1970s TV images that assumed that most whites in the United States just lived in suburban neighborhoods whose streets were generally as deserted on weekend nights like the neighborhoods in eastern Queen that I had grown up in or the neighborhood in Indianapolis where I had lived for awhile when I was in high school in the Midwest, were not completely accurate.(Although to be fair to Midwest cities like Indianapolis, during the summer, at least, there were state fairs and county fairs held there on week nights and on weekends in the 1960s that were much more exciting than almost anything taking place on the same night on the streets of Long Island's suburban towns--even if Midwest towns couldn't offer its residents summer recreational hangouts during the summer like Jones Beach, Fire Island, Far Rockaway or Sunken Meadow State Park that Long Island provided its suburban residents during the daytime).

Monday, August 2, 2010

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xi)

Being out of the 9-to-5 Writers Guild Office Boy cage during April 1971 also gave me the chance to get more of a sense of the Belmont neighborhood that immediately surrounded my $57/per-month slum apartment near East 189th Street and Cambreling Avenue.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dion and The Belmonts--the vocal group that was from the Bronx's Belmont neighborhood and that took the singing group's name from the Belmont neighborhood--had become big stars in the pop music world. So, not surprisingly, when I would return home from my walks around the Bronx in March and April of 1971, I would often pass a group of different Italian-American working-class guys in their early 20s--most of whom were unemployed, returning Viet Nam veterans, who still lived wih their parents--singing a cappella the same hit songs of the late 1950s and early 1960s that Dion and The Belmonts had sung.

The guys all sang the late 1950s and early 1960s repertoire of Dion and The Belmonts quite well. And, not surprisingly, they all dressed similarly to how Dion and The Belmonts had dressed, although in a slightly more casual way, and did not have long hair and beards. But, because they had been in 'Nam, they did smoke pot by the 1970s. And, despite being mostly unemployed and still living with their parents, the guys who hung out singing on the corner also mostly owned their own cars.

Being a long-haired, bearded hippie in my appearance in April 1971, I, obviously, looked much less culturally straight than the singing guys on the corner in my neighborhood--none of whom had beards, all of whom had short hair and all of whom got carefully groomed haircuts when they regularly went to the barber shop. The Viet Nam Veteran guys in the neighborhood who sang Dion and The Belmonts songs also were still into clothes and dressing sharply and in a slick way, whereas a hippie leftist guy like me usually wore the same pair of blue jeans and some shabby T-shirt or sweatshirt every day, and had little interest in clothes in early 1971.

So eventually, the guys on the corner noticed me and seemed to be, temporarily, slightly curious as to what I was into. And when I was on my way back to my apartment one afternoon, one of the guys on the corner walked up to me and quietly asked: "Can I use your apartment to smoke a joint there?"

"Sure," I said with a smile. "Follow me."

After we walked into the apartment building, up the stairs and into my second floor 1 and one-half room slum apartment at the end of the hall, I noticed the guy from the street corner started to glance quickly around my apartment. But after he realized how little I possessed in the way of clothes, furniture and material possessions--and noticed that, instead of a stereo, I only owned a portable phonograph, and, instead of using a bed and chairs, I just slept and sat on mattresses that were on the floor, and that I didn't even own a television set--he didn't seem that interested in learning much about the philosophy behind my lifestyle of "emancipated poverty."

So by the time he had finished sharing his joint with me, he seemed to have concluded that if moving out of your parents' apartment in your 20s meant living with so little material possessions in a sparsely furnished neighorhood apartment as I did, there was nothing in my "emancipated poverty/hippy" lifestyle for him and the other guys on the corner who still lived with their parents to be particularly envious about or attracted to, in the early 1970s.