Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Deep Below West 10th Street Chapter One

This is one of those things that really is very hard to convey to the reader.If you have ever seen the video from SNL, "Lazy Sunday" you can see the front of my apartment at the beginning of the video (I will post the link to Lazy Sunday at the bottom of the page).
This was no ordinary city dwelling but a subterranean cave. The cave at 207 West 10th Street was my first real apartment in New York City(5 1/2 years). Through a rental service I did a short trial stay in a 5th floor walk up apartment for 2 and a half months where the guy who lived there was off doing opera in Italy.I had 2 roommates that grew up together in Connecticut. Mark was a sort of Keith Hernandez/Tom Selleck looking guy. Linda was older than Mark and to me she had an older sister vibe. Linda had split up with her boyfriend Brendan or as her friends nicknamed him "The Arena" after the Brendan Byrne Arena.Now known as Continental Airlines/Meadowlands Arena.They would get stoned and then hook up.We lived above a Korean grocery and First Wok Chinese restaurant at 78th Street and 3rd Avenue.Roaches had taken over the kitchen and I was afraid to turn the lights on at night cause they would scatter in all directions.With no A/C in my room that had one tiny window facing a wall in an alley I was roasting in the August heat of a concrete jungle.My window fan blew hot air.Two cold showers a night did not really help. But hell I was living in New York City and I would endure the heat,the roaches,the fornicating stoner roommates .Whatever NYC threw at me I could handle it.I survived living in the biggest frat house at Ohio State so co-existing with 70 -80 people was second nature.
As my trial period was coming into it's final few weeks I started to search for other options with the rental service Roommate Finders.One thing that I really wanted was to live in Greenwich Village.My first night ever in New York as a tourist was spent with my boyhood pal Phil Napoli walking the streets of the Village.The streets were teeming with life ,...........and bars .Coming from Cincinnati,Ohio I had never experienced a place anywhere that prepared me for the Village.Not visiting my brother and sister at Georgetown.Not even the nightlife on High Street at Ohio State where my big bro was in med school.
So the rental service gave me some names and phone numbers.Normally I remember every minute detail but I think that some of the places I checked out were so bad that I have blocked them out or made no impression at all.But when I walked into Mike Skaar's office on the opposite side of 10th Street I knew I had found my new home.Mike and his business partner Jerry were very welcoming and un-business like.I had spent part of that summer before moving to New York on August 15th working as a rental agent in my cousin David's apartment complex Clifton Colony by the University of Cincinnati.I was learning the ins and outs so to speak of the rental game.I also realized that being honest and basically nice to people made my days more enjoyable and made it easier to get clients.Mike and Jerry were not bullshit artists.Mike showed me across the street.He explained that Jerry and himself had been hippies.Jerry I think was a schoolteacher.They bought this 6 story building and many of the tenants were students.Many were from Scandinavia.Mike was from a Swedish background.On the basement floor they had converted an office space into 7 bedrooms of varying sizes with a patio out back that had some trees and 1 hour a day of sun kind of like in jail when you get an hour in the yard.The smallest cave was about the size of a small walk in closet.Twin bed on a platform with drawers underneath and no window.The biggest room was in the back and had a queen size waterbed built into a platform and A/C in a window facing the back patio .Because it was below street level there was no sunlight.It was a cave like existence.The closet cave rented for 250/month.The waterbed cave was 500/month.My cavemmates were from all over god's green earth and from all walks of life.Nuns,Vietnam Vets, Marines back from the Mideast conflict in Lebanon,Divorcees,Alcoholics,Video techs.
Japanese,SouthAfricans,Italians,Danes,South Africans escaping apartheid,Long Islanders!Then there was me a simple innocent kid from Cincinnati, Ohio.
My first night on 10th Street was October 31st.The Village hosts a massive Halloween parade every year with upwards of a million people taking to the streets to either march in the parade or join in the revelry.It was around 8p.m. when I ventured out to have dinner and not realizing their was a parade going directly in front of my house I stood there for a full hour staring at the men that were dressed in drag on the street in front of my building.It was like going to a runway show at Fashion Week except this one was choreographed like a lavish Broadway show and it had no real women.I guess that in my rush to live in the Village I had not researched or really gone west of Seventh Avenue....ever!So I didn't realize that Christopher Street which was one block south of 10th Street was the hub of the gay community in New York City.I can use an old cliche here when I say that I had friends that were gay,frat brothers that were gay,my mom was an actor/writer/director and many of her co-artists were gay.
I ended up looking at it this way.There were plenty of women in New York and in my immediate vicinity I would have little or no competition in meeting them except.............. maybe from my lesbian ex-girlfriend from Ohio but I am saving that story for my next chapter.

Two links
1. Google maps link below: windows below sidewalk to left of entry door were mine.Stairway going down to the left of the windows was our front door.

2. Lazy Sunday video :

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Jew and the Wasp

So here it was 1999 and I was competing in my usual round of summer tournaments on the USTA-Eastern men's circuit.I had done pretty well in a grass court event at Forest Hills making it through the first 3 rounds to get into the quarterfinals and facing one of the top seeds.
I had lost to a highly ranked player Ed Perpetua but felt as if I could at the least win a round or two in the National grass event at The Rockaway Hunting Club which is the oldest Country Club in the USA.I noticed on the tournament form that the matches began on......Yom Kippur. Holiest day of the year for my people.They were giving exemptions to Jews to play on Sunday before the tournament began.I was going to be away that weekend and in my tennis mind the option for me was play on Monday(the holy day).It seemed logical to me to act as if the the day of atonement would survive without me.My ancestors from Poland,Russia,Lithuania,Nelsonville,Ohio and Cincinnati were not there to tell me to stay home,pray,fast,eat later,put away my rackets!My parents were in Ohio so it was up to me to decide how to live my life.I chose to play tennis.My opponent Randy Vigmostad had world class skills.I fought as hard as I could but that wasn't enough to beat this guy.I got 3 games in 2 sets.I had played Randy 13 years earlier and got 1 game in 2 sets so! I did better?.................
I still got my ass whooped.After my match my friend Chris Gilroy asked me if I wanted to grab a bite in the clubhouse of the Waspiest country club in the good old United States of America on Yom freakin' Kippur the holiest of all Jewish Holy days.You know what I figured I had already broken the sin barrier so........I went for the gusto.I didn't only have lunch.I had the friggin'buffet lunch.All the goddamn food and drink that I could eat.I had a burger(no bacon) and I think I had a second helping.Dessert....I had pie.After stuffing my face I went back with Chris to the courts and helped him warm up for his next match.I grabbed a soda from a cooler by the court and popped it open and took a sip.I went back to continue the warm up and after ten more minutes Chris went on his way.I noticed a yellow Jacket on my soda can and I shooed it away and grabbed the can to guzzle the sweet nectar.What I felt next was akin to getting stabbed in my throat.Another wasp was inside the can and I swallowed the little S.O.B.! My friends who were with me court side thought I was joking.I went into the locker room and stuck my finger down my throat to extract the stinger.Mark Harrison one of the players gave me a Benadryl which I quickly swallowed in case my throat closed up.I started guzzling water to flush out the wasp.I sat at the tournament desk for a half hour so they could monitor me in case I stopped breathing or swallowing.I have never been shot or stabbed but this seemed like it was pretty close to that pain level.When I got in my car I kept drinking water and had to pull off the highway a few times to find a bathroom.I picked up my daughter at daycare and still could not talk.I could whisper.When I got home and I explained to my wife my dilemma.Dinner at my cousin Martha's was in an hour to break the fast.I could lie.I could call in sick.I could tell the truth.The truth shall set you free.I opted for the truth and a martini or five to dull the pain.We ate.We laughed.We reflected.One guy wanted to use my story.Sorry dude it is all mine.On the holiest of Jewish holy days a Wasp taught me a lesson in the Waspiest place in America. Have I played tennis on Yom Kippur since then? Did I go develop full leg cramps once a few years after because I did two and a half hours of hitting lessons without eating or drinking?
......No comment.
Nowadays on the holiest of days I rest,I pray,I reflect,I wait to eat and slowly ,cautiously sip that first Martini (with 3 olives) and I remember to laugh..............even about my friend..... the Wasp.