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Saturday, May 19, 2012

Return to Mott Street



October 10, 1983 - I returned to New York, drove the car, terrified, down the East Side Drive, careening, looming, lunging, steering loose, tires bald, headlights barely shining, motor about to quit, to a near stop at Houston Street and Avenue D. Where the junk starts, through that zone around Avenue B, trash dope, the streets menacing, ugly, doors locked, past 2nd Avenue to Mott Street, hardly a refuge, back home after fourteen months. Home sweet home.

I opened the door. An explosion of dirt, mold, depravity and un-exorcised spirits.

Piles of ash, rolling papers, and match heads. Ashtrays laden with needles rubber bands, razor blades, candle stubs, wax drippings, torn besotted issues of Rolling Stone had supplied paper for all sorts of demonic operations.

A nasty black wig that Joe, my subtenant, left on top of my refrigerator. It did not seem like a wig for a woman, but rather a wig meant to dress a man like a woman! Joe, I never knew! The whole place stunk. Cockroaches everywhere, dead cockroaches on their backs, plastered against the wall by their guts where Joe, had presumably whacked them flat with a magazine. In the crevices of the floor, live cockroaches laid cockroach eggs amongst cockroach corpses.

A really great pair of Sheffield steel scissors! The Mad Hatter would have been proud to carry them. What did Joe need these for? Was he taking up tailoring? I didn't imagine Joe on Saville Row for a living. Joe was a Brit, a black haired, well bred lad, exploring New York and all its craziness. Many Euros come to NYC these days, to eat up the scene. A would-be drummer. Up all night, he sleeps till late afternoon.

Hey, no complaints, he paid the rent up front.

But no bed anymore. Did he sell it? A mattress, alas, with a large hole burnt in one side. It was leaned up against the wall, presumably whilst he put the fire out.

Sheets? Nope.

Disgusted, I turned to go up and say hi to my friend Chris.

Chris came to the door in his bathrobe. Said he was nursing a cold. Chris, when he is sick, nurses himself professionally back to health. He stays in bed, refuses to go out, drinks broth, and takes his aspirin. He reminds me of my great aunts and great-great aunts who used to admonish me for not wearing a cap outside after dark, in July. Chris takes such good care of himself when he is ill that it is not really surprising that he is ill quite often. Good old Chris. A joy to see him. We drink tea, talk of changes in the neighborhood. He even lent me some sheets.

Jay and Lee have bought three apartments next door. Their little boy is already running around, learning words. Karen is at Yale three days a week, back in New York on Thursday, stays until Sunday, then off to New Haven again. Barbara is renting the middle room of Karen's apartment to use as her graphics studio. Much has happened everywhere, yet little has happened. I recognize individual cracks in my ceiling, nails with clusters of painted wire on them that I have never bothered to pull out of the wall.

Joe J____'s drum sets, trash on floor. How to face the mess?

Used Band-Aids on the floor, one affixed to the outside of my door. Joe J____, a man of never ending talent, yet problems shaving, cutting himself with a razor, old razor blades in the bottom of the tub, and the edge of the sink. I was afraid to enter my own apartment without heavy shoes. Barefoot? Forget it. Needles in the floorboard cracks.

Tom in London had told me that Joe was getting on fine in the old place. Said he used it for only a few weeks, then Tom moved in himself, with his new girlfriend. Madonna was her name, met her at a club in the East Village. Those days he came into the cutting room late. "Mark you've got to meet Madonna. She's tops."

Then one day he did bring her by. Jim Ivory and Madonna and Humphrey Dixon and Tom and I all sat and chatted for about ten minutes. Did we have tea? I can't remember. She was just an auburn-haired chick who seemed to be with it in some way or another.

I wondered what sort of name was Madonna. Tom flew to London to help me on the sound edit. It hurt him to split up with her.

Good old Tom. A right master of the tall tale that was mostly true. "First movie of me was when I was just four years old. Me mum ya see was touring the Bombay Zoo. All the keepers were opening all the cages and letting me and me Mum in to have a look. She was taking movies with this little camera when apparently I went running for the two tiger cubs. The end of the roll is the tiger mum who has picked me up in her mouth!"

Mum dropped the camera.

Or his sail from Bombay to Iquitos Brazil, in a concrete junk with those famous new-world shysters that conned the Bass Brothers by sealing themselves in a Biosphere for two months but taking fast food deliveries through the back door. The concrete junk voyage was their warm up. Not a sea-hardened skipper amongst them, narry one of them had sailed out of a harbor. They built the junk of concrete and found bits of reinforcing wire. . . . stocked her up, recruited hippy guys and chicks to crew her up and set sail. Halfway across the Indian Ocean they ran out of drinking water. Sharks be dammed, they were so hot Tom said they let himself be dragged behind at a lazy three knots.

Off Madagascar he went diving, with his best buddy Mack. "I let Mack my very best knife. We go diving to this shark lair, and wouldn't you know he drops me best knife right in front of the jaws of a Great White Shark!"

Peals of laughter. Sure Tom!

Tom with two teeth left, a ripped body, who bagged every gal on the set. Mother couldn't control him.

About month nine, when she hadn't heard from Tom at all she put out an All Points Bulletin through the British Embassy.

Good thing. The boy had been sandbagged, passport and all belongings stolen, just outside Lima airport. He'd made it that far before the long Brit arm of Mum found him and brought him home.

Maybe the black wig belonged to Madonna!

It is all the same, and all different. I am the same, and yet I am different. Perhaps I am more changed, and that is why I notice when I return home, and find it the same, but also different.

Hours with soap and water, vacuum, broom first, Joe's drugged detritus safely disposed of.

Today my car would not restart. Forced to take action, I left it at a garage on Houston Street. The man found the problem, a loose wire, and charged me thirty-seven dollars for finding and tightening.

The cars are different, but they move in the same way. So my thoughts are different, but moving, much in the way they used to. Shall I put some of the thoughts and memories of these past months to paper?

I might as well.

Tea water is boiling, I have music playing. Outside the sun is shining. The air is cold, but inside the rooms are hot and dry. Steam heat pounds my memories through the pipes of the building, ghost of years past.

It is a long road back, longer than the road ahead. Often I come to a thought or idea and leave it, saying to myself I will go back and find it later, like something forgotten in a cave. But there isn't any going back, or finding it later. We leave our thoughts behind us.

Dropped in a desert says it better.

The wig, the mattress, awaited pickup on the sidewalk. All the crap and needles and razor blades went safely into bags.

Incense. I'll burn some incense.

I wasn't mad at Joe. After all, he paid his rent, and when I called him, said I could keep the scissors.


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