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.