Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxxviii)

While walking further west on either Fordham Road or Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx toward Upper Manhattan, on a pleasant summer weekday in mid-July 1971, I decided to sit down on a bench in the middle of either a small playground or some vest-pocket-size park of some trees near a sidewalk corner. Still not knowing where my rent for August 1971 was going to come from, I was in the middle of contemplating what survival options were still open to me—now that I had been denied welfare benefits and still seemed unable to earn any money as some kind of freelance writer for a muckraking left-wing publication like Ramparts magazine—when two young white working-class guys with short hair approached me in a cautious way. They both looked culturally straight and to be in their late teens or early 20s.

It turned out that the two young white working-class guys had both been drafted into the U.S. Army and had just deserted from the U.S. military while being subjected to basic training. And since I still looked like a bearded, long-haired, anti-war hippie in mid-July 1971, they correctly assumed that I would let them crash that night in my hippie pad.

Being fresh from escaping from a U.S. Army atmosphere which they felt to be totalitarian, the two deserters—both of whom were now dressed in civilian clothes—spent much of their time imitating the way the drill sergeant from whom they had recently escaped had barked bullying orders at them, as walked the few miles across either Fordham Road or Kingsbridge Road towards my Bronx slum apartment in the Belmont neighborhood.

“Lombardino! Clean the latrine! Lombardino! Remake your bed!, etc., etc.” the deserter who apparently went by that name repeated in a satirical mimicking way and an imitation Southern regional accent. Both the deserters laughed a lot, as we approached my apartment and they recounted to me their stories about the horrors and the absurdities of U.S. Army life, like two people who were overjoyed because they had finally been released from a prison.

Spending the evening drinking beer and conversing with each other in my apartment, we all seemed to agree that the militaristic set-up in U.S. society in the early 1970s was pretty much insane. And that, for the two deserters, going to Canada now seemed to make the most sense; rather then either returning to their army base and risk being either thrown into a stockade or eventually sent to the infantry front-line in “Nam by the super-authoritarian U.S. military brass whose military discipline each of them now rejected as absurd—especially now that they were out of their military uniforms and back among the real world of U.S. civilian life again.

So I gave them the address and phone number of one of the anti-war draft/GI counseling groups in Manhattan that I thought might provide them with some leads as to how to escape to Canada most easily. And when they left my apartment early the next morning they indicated that they would probably stop by at the anti-war GI/draft counseling group’s office before quickly heading back to their parents’ home, in order to visit their parents for a few days and gather up some more of their civilian clothes before the U.S. Army concluded that the two youths had gone AWOL and began hunting for them at their parents’ house. In addition, getting some money quickly from their parents was going to probably be necessary by the two deserters for them to be successful in escaping to Canada. Although I was nearly completely out of money myself by mid-July 1971, I gave the two deserters a $10 bill (in early 1970s money) so that they could at least buy a commuter train ticket which would move each of them closer to the white working-class suburban homes of their parents.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxxvii)

Not surprisingly, in early July 1971 an official letter came from the New York City Welfare Department stating that I was being denied home relief welfare benefits and food stamps for some technical reason. Although I had been laid off from my night clerical job at the Hunt’s Point Market fruit and vegetable wholesale firm in May 1971, after working there only a week, the right-wing white guy who had investigated me apparently justified his denial of welfare benefits to me on the following grounds: 1. Since I had been on home relief for a month the previous year before finding a job as a summer camp counselor in 1970, there was no valid reason why I couldn’t now find a job again as a summer camp counselor in 1971—even though in the Summer of 1970 there hadn’t been any economic recession like there now was in the Summer of 1971; and 2. Since I had quit my office boy job at the Writers Guild—East office nearly 4 months previously, to protest against the failure in 1971 of that middle-class “talent union” to fight against institutional racism and sexism in the radio-TV network world of CBS, NBC and ABC and against the endless U.S. war in Indochina, that somehow meant that I was not now really “entitled” to a home relief welfare check—especially since I had long hair and was a white hippie, not the “legitimate” type of poor person that New York City welfare checks were supposed to be “meant for.”

I was, obviously, enraged at the welfare department and the welfare department caseworker/investigator for denying me the home relief benefits I was legally entitled to. But, given the politics of New York City’s welfare department bureaucracy in 1971, I was skeptical that its denial of welfare benefits to me in July 1971 could really be overturned in some kind of bureaucratic appeal hearing. And since I was nearly penniless when the welfare department denied me home relief benefits, I also thought that by the time any appeal ruling which might overturn the welfare department’s denial of benefits to me would be made, I probably would have already been starved out of or evicted from my Bronx slum apartment for many months.

So I saw no point in even filing an appeal of my home relief denial and, instead, spent the first few weeks of July 1971 researching and writing an article for Ramparts magazine, from a New Left radical perspective, which indicated why the liberal Democratic Party presidential candidate for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination, George McGovern, didn’t really reflect the New Left’s historical anti-imperialist, anti-war and anti-racist radical democratic politics. But when the Ramparts magazine editor rejected the freelance article, I was pretty much at a loss in figuring out what to do to come up with the $57 I needed for my August 1971 rent and for some money to feed myself during the month of August 1971. And I began to feel that August 1971 would be the month that the 1965 to 1971 version of “bob feldman” would cease to exist.

In retrospect, what I probably should have done was to immediately apply for unemployment benefits, since I had been laid-off from my last job as a night clerk at the Hunt’s Point Market fruit and vegetable wholesale firm. But despite our college degrees, neither the welfare department caseworker/investigator who disqualified me from receiving home relief nor I was familiar with unemployment insurance regulations in 1971; and we both just assumed—apparently mistakenly—that an unemployed worker who was laid-off after only 1 week at a job who had quit a previous job a much longer duration would not then be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Also in retrospect, my fear that not having any money to pay my rent in August 1971 meant that I would be quickly evicted by the landlord within 14 or 30 days of receiving a “notice to quit,” was also based on the fact that, despite having a college degree, I—like most U.S. college graduates—had never been taught by either the U.S. public school system or the U.S. higher education system what kind of legal rights rent-controlled tenants in New York City in 1971 and/or all tenants in the USA had under the then-current U.S. housing laws. In reality, a tenant who received a “notice to quit” eviction notice from a landlord for non-payment of rent in 1971—especially a rent-controlled tenant—actually could usually prolong his or her stay in the apartment for over 3 months by just staying put in the apartment, speaking to a tenant advocate at tenants rights groups like the Metropolitan Council on Housing in New York City and challenging the landlord’s eviction notices in housing court. Since only a judge—not a landlord—generally has the legal right to order a tenant out of his or her home in most cities of the United States.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxxvi)

It was in June 1971 that my pet kitten, Kitty, became very sick. For over a year she had lived in the Bronx slum apartment with me or my Summer 1970 sublet tenants and been allowed to go outside and up and down on the fire escape near my kitchen window, when the weather was warm. But when I noticed that she was suddenly getting very thin and fragile-looking, I looked in the yellow pages phone book and found the address for a Bideawee animal clinic on Manhattan’s East Side.

After putting Kitty in a cat-carrying box I had, taking the subway down to the animal clinic and having to wait in the waiting room to see the vet for nearly an hour and a half, I finally was able to have Kitty examined by the vet in his office. After examining Kitty, the vet indicated that Kitty had caught some kind of cat disease and that there was only a slight chance that Kitty would be able to live if she received more medical care. And that this medical care for her would be very expensive to obtain.

Since I had no savings and expected income other than possibly being declared permanently eligible to start receiving regularly a monthly home relief welfare check in July 1971, both the vet and I agreed that the most merciful thing to do was to bring Kitty to the ASPCA and put her out of her misery.

I felt very sad after hearing the vet’s diagnosis. And I felt especially sad when I returned to my Bronx apartment with Kitty and then walked south from my neighborhood for many blocks until I reached the Bronx ASCPA-affiliated facility, said goodbye to Kitty, handed Kitty to the security guard-receptionist, and then walked back uptown to my apartment.

The experience of being too economically impoverished to even have the option of even attempting to save Kitty’s life by bringing her to a vet--who would only work to try saving her if given money up-front—provided me with yet another reason for wanting to transform radically a U.S. capitalist system in which impoverished working-class people were enslaved and trapped at the bottom of a classist U.S. society just because they were born into U.S. working-class families who were neither rich nor the recipients of inherited class economic, political and cultural privileges.

While waiting such a long time at the Bideawee clinic to see the vet, I had passed nearly three-quarters of the time conversing in an animated with an African-American woman in her twenties who, with her older sister, had also come to see the vet in order to have her cat (who was older than Kitty) examined. Unlike Kitty, her pet cat was not ill in any serious way. But while talking with each other, both the African-American woman and I seemed to feel some initial love vibrations beginning to flow between us. And we seemed to be on the same wavelength, somewhat, philosophically—although she was more into health foods and new age stuff than was I.

So before I left the Bideawee animal clinic, she was not reluctant to give me her phone number and invite me to phone her later in the week at the Harlem apartment which she apparently shared with her older sister. But although she was still very friendly over the telephone when I called her at the end of the week, between the time I said goodbye to her at the Bideawee clinic waiting room and the time I telephoned her, she (or perhaps her sister) had developed second thoughts about her possibly getting involved emotionally or romantically with me. And after our friendly telephone conversation of about 15 minutes, my feeling was that it made no sense to ask her for some kind of a date to go down to the Village or hang out in Central Park—especially since I was beginning to suspect that the welfare department caseworker/investigator who had visited me in early June 1971 was going to deny me home relief benefits (because he apparently resented the fact that hip white youths who collected home relief seemed to feel more free and less personally frustrated than he felt working in his 9-to-5 welfare department caseworker/investigator straight job) and I then would be facing possible starvation or eviction within a month or two.