Sunday, July 8, 2012

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (Conclusion)

My freewheelin’ days in the Bronx days were now over. Squeezed economically (between the unchallenged economic power of U.S. landlords to keep charging monthly rents for the slum apartments in the apartment buildings they were still allowed to own and the unchallenged economic power of the personnel offices of U.S. private and public business, media, government, health care and educational institutions to deny wage work opportunities or welfare benefits/food stamps to U.S. citizens who required the money that a paycheck or welfare check/food stamp coupon would provide to pay their rent and obtain food), I had been forced back onto the streets. And the freewheeling lifestyle of “emancipated poverty” in which I wished to live during the 1970s in the USA (and in which working-class youths who were on the dole in the UK and other Western European countries--where social democratic reforms and welfare state concessions had previously been won through mass struggle—were still able to live until the late 1980s) had been crushed by powerful U.S. economic and powerful historical forces beyond my control.

In the nearly 7 years since the 1964 Berkeley Student Revolt and Free Speech Movement [FSM] spokesperson Mario Savio’s assertions that the end of history has not been reached and our generation “would rather die” than be unfree and historically irrelevant had inspired my own spirit of rebellion against the System, I had managed to escape the chains of the public school and college and university classroom cages, as well as the chains of the Vietnam Era War draft and U.S. military war machine.

But for an individual U.S. working-class person in the 1970s, escaping from the economic chains of classism, wage-slavery, corporate exploitation, landlordism, unemployment, poverty and capitalism for more than brief periods of personal freedom, had proven to be a much tougher set of chains to escape from. And since large numbers of U.S. working-class people still felt it was more practical economically to remain chained to their 9-to-5 wage-slave jobs or “careers” in the 1970s than to collectively cut their economic chains and drop out economically enmasse until the classist U.S. economic system was radically transformed and democratized economically, escaping from the chains of U.S. capitalism for most U.S. working-class rebels during the rest of the 20th century and early 21st-century now seemed like more of a remote prospect.

And although I had managed to create, from a revolutionary left anti-imperialist political and artistic perspective, some protest folk songs between 1965 and 1971 (during periods when I wasn’t involved day-to-day in New Left political activism), the white upper-middle class gatekeepers who decided whose protest folk songs were going to be allowed to reach the ears of the U.S. working-class masses did not appear likely to ever allow any of the songs I had written to impact on the consciousness of most U.S. working-class people.

So when my freewheelin’ in the Bronx days ended in August 1971, I felt, in some ways, that the personal rebel identity that I had developed for myself since leaving my parents’ apartment in 1965 existed no longer. But my understanding of the level of U.S. working-class oppression in the United States had deepened dramatically over what it had been when I was still attending college and living day-to-day within the fantasy world of a white upper-middle-class U.S. campus enclave scene.

The real world of Off-Campus Amerika in 1971 was, indeed, a Death Culture for U.S. working-class people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. And this Death Culture would probably always end up starving out (or eventually roping back into some 9-to-5 prison or 9-to-5 coffin) any individual U.S. working-class male or female youth who became too freewheeling and “uppity” in his or her personal aspirations during the remainder of the 20th century and early 21st-century. (the end)

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxxx)

Having been robbed of my cheap, old-fashioned vinyl record player as well as of my cheap acoustic guitar, my cheap electric guitar and my cheap portable amplifier in July 1971, by the end of July 1971 I could petty much fit all of the remaining possessions I wished to keep—some clothes, some songbooks for guitar, and a cheap portable typewriter—in a big duffle bag, a big knapsack and a small suitcase. So when I got ready to move on from my $57/month slum apartment in late July 1971, there was no need for me to rely on anyone else to help me move out of the Bronx by the first week in August—especially since I had no furniture in the apartment except for the mattresses on the floor and a kitchen table and some chairs that I had previously picked up on the street before some garbage truck pick-up, when I had initially moved up to the Bronx in April 1970.

In retrospect, despite both not having the rent for August 1971 and being robbed of my musical instruments, I probably should have stayed in the rent-controlled apartment without paying rent for the 3 months it would probably have taken the absentee landlord to get a final eviction court order from housing court—even if it meant trying to live on bread and water, for as long as I was without any income, unemployment check or welfare check—and continued to desperately hunt around for some kind of job during the economic recession of 1971. And just desperately hope that some job opening in for me in New York City would develop in September 1971, when the college students with summer jobs quit their jobs and moved back into their college dormitories for another academic year of partying and doing academic shitwork--while the endless mass murder of Vietnamese by the Nixon Administration's war machine continued for yet another academic year.

But since I didn’t have enough knowledge of tenant rights law, or housing law, or rent-control laws or tenant protection rights laws in late July 1971, and didn’t realize that—under the new law that Billionaire Nelson Rockefeller, special real estate interests and New York City landlords had just recently pushed through the Albany state legislature without much mass media publicity in 1971—once a rent-controlled apartment was no longer occupied by a tenant who lived in the apartment before July 1, 1971, the apartment would no longer be subject to New York City’s rent-control laws; I didn’t realize that, by moving from a rent-controlled apartment in August 1971, I was effectively disqualifying myself from ever having a cheap rent-controlled apartment—as opposed to a more expensive post-1974 rent-stabilized apartment—in New York City ever again.

Yet because, by late July 1971, I both doubted that I was going to live for many more months and had completely lost any desire to continue living in my Bronx neighborhood—once the theft of my guitars meant that I no longer had the tools to continue to go to my grave as a struggling, starving, rebel young artist and protest folk songwriter—the thought that I might need or want to retain this particular rent-controlled apartment for the rest of the 20th century never entered my mind.

The thought that did enter my mind, though, was that, since living in the $57/month rent-controlled apartment had enabled me to become a proletarian protest folk songwriter and proletarian folk musician between April 1970 and July 1971, I should try to pass the apartment on to some other tenant who might need a cheap apartment for his or her own purposes, rather than just simply move out of the apartment without passing it on to some other hip young, impoverished person. So near the end of July 1971, I took a final walk to Lehman College’s campus and posted an index card with my phone number on it—on which I also described the apartment and its location, emphasized how cheap it was and indicated that it was now available as a sublet—on one of the campus bulletin boards, in the hope that some Lehman College student would soon contact me.

My original assumption was that my most likely sublet tenant would be some young hippie white guy attending Lehman, who just wished to move from his parents’ apartment, so that he’d be able to have his own space to smoke pot and/or sleep with a lover. But the first telephone call inquiry about the apartment sublet that I received the day after I posted my index card on the Lehman College bulletin board turned out to be from a young woman student at Lehman College. And after conversing about the apartment and its immediate availability for a few minutes, it was agreed that she would come to look at my apartment in the early evening, after her late afternoon class that same day at Lehman.

Since the prospective sublet tenant who had telephoned pretty much had a New York City Eastern regional accent like I did, before she arrived at my apartment I subconsciously assumed that she was a white woman student. So when she arrived at my apartment door in the early evening, I was as surprised that she was an African-American woman student as she was apparently surprised that I was not an African-American man.

But since I was apparently more used to interacting personally, working with and socializing with African-American people in their early 20s because of my past Movement activism, office jobs, inter-racial college friendships and inter-racial apartment sharing experiences than was she, the prospective woman sublet tenant seemed less comfortable, at first, conversing with me about the apartment than was I. And, initially, she seemed to assume that, like most other whites that she had encountered, I would be unable to empathize or identify with her individual feelings, individual needs and individual youthful ambitions.

Yet after I quickly agreed that--since she was the first person to appear in my apartment in response to the index card advertising the sublet--the cheap apartment was now hers to move into on August 1, 1971, if she wanted the apartment—and after we both signed the brief one-page sublet agreement I had drawn up and (without requiring any security deposit) I simply handed her the keys for the apartment and the mailbox for the apartment—she seemed more comfortable conversing with me and talking with me about her life and ambitions, in an emotionally open and emotionally intimate way.

Although she had an Afro hairstyle, she looked somewhat straight since she had come to check out the apartment wearing a tight, low-cut dress and not slacks or jeans. But it turned out that she was preparing for a career in the arts and not a career in the culturally straight world of business and commerce. In her early 20s, she was studying modern dance and soon mentioned how one of the guys she was currently dating had first been turned on to her physically after seeing her perform at a dance concert.

Not apparently having encountered before a man in his 20s who was both into androgyny and unisexuality and who was as much of a male feminist as I was in the early 1970s, she apparently felt that, for a U.S. man in the early 1970s, I was somewhat of a novelty. And she got into conversing with me so much that she ended up spending the next 4 or 5 hours debating with me about what the difference between a man and a woman was, telling me about her recent initial sexual experiences (that she had come to enjoy) with the guy she was most involved with (as well as some of the male chauvinist problems that she had started to experience in her relationship with him,) and getting into a deep philosophical/political/psychological discussion about how to find as much personal freedom as possible, despite the constraints on personal freedom produced by the institutional racism of U.S. society in the early 1970s.

Having spent a lot of time in the dance studio increasing the strength and muscularity of her dancer’s legs, she did not think it farfetched in 1971 to assert that many women were physically weaker than many men more because of social conditioning than because they were “naturally” physically weaker than many men; or that a woman who was trained well in karate or the martial arts might be able to overpower an untrained man of equal size in a fair fight. But she was skeptical that most U.S. men in the early 1970s would ever be willing to either become less male chauvinist, more feminist and more androgynous “new men” (like she felt me to be) or form love relationships with U.S. women who were stronger or their equal in physical or intellectual strength and whom they could not overpower in a fair physical fight or intellectual debate.

Lost in our hours of emotionally intense conversation and philosophical/political/psychological discussion/debate (which was only interrupted when I offered her a glass of wine in the middle of our conversation and we then shared a bottle of wine together during the next few hours), by the time we noticed what time it was on my clock, it was way past midnight. And far too late for her to then start making the 20-minute walk to the nearest subway station through the by-then deserted neighborhood city streets either with me or by herself; and then to ride alone that late on the subway before walking alone through more deserted city streets before dawn, back to the place she was temporarily staying at. So she ended up spending the night on one of the mattresses on the floor that I usually slept on, while I slept on one of the other mattresses that was on the floor of the cheap pad that I was passing on to her.

And when daylight arrived in the morning and we both awoke at about the same time, I handed her the stamped envelope, with the absentee landlord’s address on it, in which she needed to put a check for him for the August 1971 rent, before mailing it to him. I then assured her that--since I had sublet the same apartment during June, July and August of 1970 of the previous summer, when I had been working as a summer camp counselor in the country, with no difficulties from the absentee landlord—as long as she moved her stuff into the apartment, began living there and kept mailing in the rent on time, it was unlikely that the absentee landlord would bother her.

But I also warned her that eventually, when the absentee landlord realized that the tenant who had signed the most recent lease to the slum apartment no longer occupied the apartment, he would probably want her to sign a new lease with him, which might include some kind of minimal rent increase. I reassured her, however, that--since the slum apartment’s neighborhood would likely still be considered too close for comfort to the South Bronx neighborhood by tenants who might be able to afford a much higher rent in the early 1970s—it was unlikely that the absentee landlord would feel any economic incentive to raise her rent during the 1970s or get involved in any kind of too costly legal challenge to her tenancy, instead of just letting her succeed me as the apartment’s primary tenant, with only a minimal rent increase.

Reminding her that I was leaving the apartment for good, myself, before noon that same day, I then wished her good luck in the apartment. And, in reply, she suddenly kissed me goodbye on the cheek before quickly exiting from the apartment. And within an hour after she left, I left my Bronx apartment forever—with a knapsack on my back, a duffel bag in my right hand and a suitcase in my left hand.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Freewheelin' In The Bronx 1971 (xxxix)

By late July 1971, I was no longer eager to even consider fighting against being evicted from my Bronx slum apartment. For it was in July 1971 that Patsy, the local neighborhood white junkie, apparently broke into my apartment from the fire escape window one afternoon and robbed me of my cheap acoustic guitar, my cheap electric guitar and my cheap electric guitar amplifier, in addition to stealing my cheap portable vinyl record player. And since one of the main reasons I had been living in the cheap Bronx apartment was to write protest folk songs there, once my musical instruments were stolen, so that I could no longer create my melodies in the apartment, I took that as a sign that it was time to give up the apartment.

Despite my lack of fondness for cops, my initial response to my musical instruments being robbed was to call the local precinct and report the apartment robbery. But after the two straight-looking uniformed white male cops in their early 30s entered my apartment, noticed the wall poster of a liberated radical feminist-looking young white woman who wore tight pants (at a time when most working-class corporate offices still didn’t allow young women workers to wear tight pants or jeans to work), glanced at each other in a way that seemed to imply that I was some kind of “hippie-pervert,” I quickly realized that these cops were not likely to do too much to recover my stolen guitars and musical amplifier. And a few nights later, I was informed by Viola--the 19 year-old white Italian-American woman who lived on a welfare check with her mother in an apartment on the upper floor of the apartment building—that she had heard through the neighborhood grapevine gossip that Patsy, the neighborhood junkie, was the person who had robbed my instruments. But since Patsy’s uncle was apparently one of the cops in charge of the local precinct in the neighborhood, it was unlikely that either I would get my musical instruments back or that Patsy would ever be required to appear in court.

Coincidentally, a few weeks before the robbery of my instruments, Viola and Patsy had visited my apartment for a few minutes before Patsy went on his way and left the apartment, after apparently noticing the instruments he eventually apparently robbed when he apparently broke into the apartment a few weeks later. Viola, however, stayed behind. And, for a moment, I felt that she might be interested in hanging out with me or having me ask her for a date, since she had put on lipstick and make-up and was wearing a new blouse that seemed to make her look more physically attractive for most men than she had previously appeared to be.

But the reason Viola was now dressed up was that she was planning to go out dancing and possibly meet some new, more culturally straight Italian-American guy from the neighborhood, who was more like her then-imprisoned old boyfriend, at a local club, Maxine’s. And the main reason that she had stopped by my apartment was that she was now, apparently using heroin that Patsy had obtained for her; and she just wanted to use my apartment now to shoot up in, since she couldn’t shoot-up in her mother’s apartment a few floors above mine, when her mother was at home.

Since Viola was both the friendliest young white working-class woman I had met in that neighborhood and a street-tough 19 year-old youth who it was wise for a man to avoid angering, I didn’t object when Viola went into my bathroom while holding her needle, pulled down her dress slacks and panties, and then injected the heroin into her ass—although I didn’t think it was either the healthiest or wisest thing for Viola to now be into. And since I felt that smack should be legalized, heroin addiction should be treated as a health issue, not as a criminal or legal problem, and the civil liberties of individual users of smack should be respected, I didn’t say anything special to Viola about her now using heroin, before she soon left my apartment.

But I inwardly felt that she was probably going to end up as either a junkie like Patsy or perhaps even, like so many others who had gotten into the needle in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Since this was the last time I saw Viola before I moved on from the Bronx and since I never bumped into her again, I do not know whether or not she eventually did become a heroin addict. But, hopefully, by the 1980s the economically impoverished Viola was living the life she still dreamed about in the early 1970s: her own house in a white middle class suburban neighborhood, a husband with a good job and a child or two of her own. Yet, writing these words in 2012, I’m still somewhat doubtful that Viola ever did attain the life she dreamed about in the early 1970s—even if she was able to avoid becoming a heroin addict during the remainder of the 1970s.