Sunday, May 27, 2012

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxxv)

It was in either May or June 1971 that I finally got around to exploring the City Island neighborhood of the Bronx on one weekend day. I had read somewhere that some counter-cultural hippie freaks had set up some kind of commune whose living quarters was in a rented house on City Island. But when I walked along the main street of what felt somewhat like a fishing village to me, I didn’t see much evidence that the commune’s presence there had created much of a counter-cultural hippie atmosphere on City Island’s main street in the Spring of 1971. So I did not look any further into whether or not moving into a hippie commune on City Island might be a possible new lifestyle option for me during the remainder of the 1970s.

What I did do in June of 1971, though, was to explore the possibility of enrolling at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and studying some field related to farming and rural life, like agricultural economics. In the early 1970s, out-of-state tuition costs at certain state universities in the Southeast (like the University of Tennessee) were still less than $300 for either a semester (or perhaps an academic year). And after I wrote a folk song about the advantage and desire to escape the loveless and depressing urban rat race scene of early 1970s New York City working-class neighborhoods for some potentially more liberated, land-based country scene in the rural USA, I thought, for awhile, that one way I might be able to eventually escape to a country farming community and live again in some kind of campus youth ghetto—where I’d feel less culturally isolated than I then felt in the Bronx—might be to try to take advantage of the University of Tennessee’s low tuition costs; and attend school down there. But by the time I got around to actually applying for admissions there in late June 1971, I no longer had enough money to afford to even pay for an application for admissions there, let alone finance some kind of long-distance move from the Bronx to Knoxville.

Yet I had been so into the idea of possibly studying at the University of Tennessee in the Fall of 1971 that when I exchanged letters with Sue of New Jersey—whom I had met in the summer of 1970 when we both worked at Camp Summit in Pennsylvania—I even mentioned in one of my letters to her that I was hoping to “learn how to feed all the hungry people in the world better,” by studying agricultural economics at the University of Tennessee. But although Sue felt that my possible new goal was a worthwhile one and also seemed to understand a critique of how Camp Summit had been run the previous summer that I included in one of my letters to her, she—herself—had decided that her best economic option in the Summer of 1971 was still to just return to Camp Summit and work there again as a waitress/server, before then probably going off to some college that wasn’t as far from New Jersey as one in Tennessee might be—despite the University of Tennessee’s then low-cost for out-of-state residents.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxxiv)

It was during June 1971 that Mike—the only guy in the Belmont neighborhood in which I lived who seemed somewhat hip and who, despite still living in his mother’s apartment at around 30 years of age, also hung out in Greenwich Village—suddenly reappeared one evening at the door of my cheap slum apartment. He hadn’t visited me there in about three months, so I invited him to step inside.

After offering me a joint to share with him, Mike then said: “I was hanging out in the Village. And I met this fantastic-looking chick. But the chick doesn’t want to go out on a date with me and go see a movie together, unless I can also find a blind date for the chick’s girlfriend. So that this chick’s girlfriend and her blind date can come along with us to see the movie. Can you do me a big favor and be her girlfriend’s blind date?”

After inhaling on the joint, I laughed and asked: “What are they into? She and her friend.”

“The chick has a car and she and her girlfriend are trying to find a cheap pad together in the Village. And I told the chick I know about a cheap pad there that they can move into at the end of the month,” Mike answered.

“I don’t have much extra bread to spend on dates these days,” I replied.

“Don’t worry. I’ll pay for the movie tickets if you’re willing to be the blind date for the chick’s girlfriend.”

So, despite my growing financial worries, I agreed to do Mike a favor and be the required blind date for his date’s friend. Mike then used my telephone to call up the apartment-hunting woman whom he had met and to tell her he had found a blind date for her friend. And it was agreed that she and her friend would drive up to the Bronx a few evenings later to pick up Mike and me in my apartment. And then she would drive all four of us down to the Upper East Side Manhattan theater in which the movie that Mike wanted to see was playing.

A few evenings later, Mike arrived in my apartment dressed up in a suit and tie, and looking as if he was about to go out on a job interview. In contrast, I was just wearing jeans and a turtle-neck shirt, and was dressed in a more casual way. And about a half-hour after Mike arrived in my apartment, his date and my blind date knocked on my apartment door.

Mike’s date was a white woman in her 20s, who was dressed in a skirt and blouse, wore earrings, used lipstick and make-up, did not have long hair, and looked pretty culturally straight and somewhat plastic. But most men in the USA likely considered her to be physically attractive and sexually appealing, although not someone who possessed a beautiful face. And since she seemed both friendly and intelligent when we all talked in her car, as she drove us down to Manhattan from the Bronx, I could see why Mike felt she was an appealing woman to date—despite her not appearing to be that much of a bohemian, beatnik or hippie on a philosophical level.

My blind date was also a white women in her 20s who dressed in a skrit and blouse, wore make-up and lipstick and looked pretty straight and plastic on a cultural level. But unlike Mike’s date, she probably would not have been considered that physically attractive by most men in the USA; and she seemed less interesting and desirable to me than Mike’s date, with whom she was looking for a vacant Village apartment. And also, as we sat in the back seat of the car and Mike and her friend sat in the front seat, I think my blind date quickly concluded that I wasn’t the type of guy she was looking for to get involved with.

It turned out that the movie that Mike had selected for all of us to see was “The Boys In The Band” movie that reflected some of the special problems gay men had to confront within the homophobic U.S. society before the 1970s. And I’m not sure that the two women liked the movie as much as did Mike.

It turned out also that Mike apparently didn’t really know about any cheap Village apartment that would be available for the two women to rent at the end of the month. Because about a week after going to see “The Boys In The Band” with the two women and Mike, I received a telephone call from Mike’s date—to whom Mike had apparently previously given my phone number to call in case she had couldn’t find the building in which I lived when she picked us up for our date together. And in an angry voice, Mike’s date complained: “Your friend Mike keeps telephoning me to ask me for another date and keeps promising me that I’ll be able to rent the apartment he knows about the next day. But every day he telephones, he always gives me some excuse as to why I can’t go see the apartment yet. Do you know whether there really is a Village apartment that Mike can get me?

“If Mike still hasn’t shown you by now the apartment he says he found for you in the Village, it sounds like you probably shouldn’t count on Mike being able to get you an apartment,” I replied.

“Well, you can tell your friend Mike to go fuck himself!” Mike’s date snarled before hanging up the telephone receiver.

I did not speak with Mike again, however, until about a month later, in late July 1971, when he again knocked on my apartment door, entered the apartment and offered me a joint again. And, surprisingly, Mike now announced to me that he had decided that he was a gay man and was now going to come out and start hanging out in the Village gay bars. And he urged me to join him there if I ever recovered from my financial difficulties. But since--by August 1971--my financial difficulties had led me to move from the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx and I never returned there to hang out after August 1971, I never bumped into Mike again. And I never learned whether or not he enjoyed his life during the rest of the 1970s and whether or not he survived the 1980s or made it into the 21st-century.