Sunday, January 24, 2016

It's Only Me- Chapter 7- Getting High With A Little Help From My Friends

Lately, a lot has been written concerning how "it takes a village to raise a child." There is some truth to that even in my own life. There were many times that I felt I was being raised by the wrong set of parents; somebody simply had gotten mixed up at the hospital and sent me home with the wrong people.

Now I am not saying that I inherited nothing from my parents in the way of integrity and tolerance. I am saying that there were other values in addition to those and that without the kind treatment of my friends’ parents these values might have gone unnoticed.

The late 60's and early 70's brought great changes to society in general. These changes wrought havoc in many a home. My home was not immune to these great shifts in culture and behavior. My friend’s homes along with their parents became my havens from the great societal battles being waged. The kindness and tolerance shown me by others outside of my family helped to shape me in many ways for which I will always be grateful.

Being a teenager is never easy. You are trying on “new hats” daily looking for “you”. If you’re lucky, sometimes you find yourself. Other times you can keep coming up against the proverbial “brick wall”. In my house, that “wall” was my parents. If ever a positive and encouraging word passed their lips, well, I’m afraid I wasn’t home at the time.

So many times I was amazed at the encouragement and tolerance that my friend’s found in their parents. Of course it is true that we never see our own parents, and they never see us, through the eyes of the rest of the world. I often wonder if my parents and I would have even liked one another had we met as strangers.

Now don’t take me wrong, my friends had their own dramas going on at home, to be sure. It was the way in which the dramas were handled that made the difference. For instance, this was the late 60’s and long hair was an issue in many homes. My father handled the dispute by dragging me into the bathroom and shearing my head with electric clippers. His point of view was that if there was no hair- there was no problem. My friends families were more realistic and understood the needs of a child to “fit in” as well as express themselves in dress and speech.

Jeffrey and Seth were 2 of my best friends (still are). There were no problems in their homes concerning these issues, beyond the occasional jibe by a parent or relative at holiday time. Of course the comment always came from a bald Uncle or an Aunt with blue hair. Actually, these comments were their own form of tolerance and acceptance.

Not so in my house,until I was 16 or so I actually had to wear dress clothes to school. So, I bought, with my own money, jeans and shirts which I kept in the carriage room downstairs. My Dad caught me changing there one morning and a big fight ensued. But I won the right to dress as I pleased so long as I paid for it. This was a big step for me and lead to my leaving a year later to live on my own. Seth and his parents were instumental in that move,but that's later.

Jeffrey,Seth and I were the first of our group to really get into smoking grass.We were all itching to try it and so it was only a matter of time until we did.

Actually my first time was the summer of ’69 with Gary Guadagno in the basement of Anthony Andreolli’s building on E.18th and Avenue T. They had a band and Anthoy’s Dad was the super- so they had a space to rehearse in. Actually they were pretty good- not pop and certainly not trying to be. They were actually trying to create something different. My brother was helping them paint and I was hanging out. A joint was passed and I smoked it with everyone. Don't know what I expected but what I got was -nothing. But I knew something was there so it was again just a matter of time and that time was with Jeff at his house. Seth had also by this time, started smoking.

Until this time my friendship with Jeff had revolved around old movies-particularly Cagney, Bogart and the like. We even made a short 8 mm film with John and Jimmy DiStefao for someones film class. It was a short version of the film Joe and we had a construction worker,played by John, killing the hippie, played by Jimmy,and then cut to a dummy of the hippie, mutilated and bloodied with ketchup as John beat it to death.

Anyway,we quickly progressed to smoking all the time in vast quantities. For better or worse, this would consume our next few years. Quite a few years.

Jeff lived across the street from me and so it was very easy to get together at any time and get high. Seth and I would get together in the afternoons before and after my job at Ruby's. Sometimes I went home red eyed and caught hell- other times I ate dinner at Seths' before going home. Adair, his Mom was a great cook and even after working all day could whip up a full dinner in a flash.

During this time Jeff was playing guitar, a Fender Strat that he worked on constantly, honing it to a fine instrument. At the same time he was growing some grass in his bedroom window and damn if it wasn’t growing so fast that we could actually see it getting taller by the minute! His parents, Steve and Betty were fairly liberal with their 3 sons, especially compared to my own home situation, which was to say the least, strict.

Another example of the tolerance shown in my friends homes was the time Seth’s parents returned from a weekend in Atlantic City to find me sleeping in their living room. I was comfortably ensconced on the sofa at the early hour of noon when they came home. Aside from the shock of an unexpected guest they showed no anger, rather they were extremely sympathetic to my having left home. This sympathy came in handy about a month later when they found that I had been sneaking in every night and sneaking back out every morning. The whole thing blew up one night when Lenny and Adair had company and someone discovered my toothpaste, deodorant, soap and etc beneath the living room table. And even then they extended me ample time to find an apartment.

Lenny and Adair were used to such surprises, having Seth for a son. There was the time when we were celebrating our Juinor High School graduation. It was the end of June in 1969. Seth’s sister Diane, a genius in gift selection, gave Seth a bottle of champagne. She will have to explain on her own where she got it as she was underage at the time. Well Seth and I had a drink or two, but Seth drank almost the entire bottle and very quickly. At that point, shredding the Sunday NY Times through the fan seemed like a good idea and so we did. It was like New Years Eve.

After a while Seth passed out (never could hold his liquor) and the phone rang. Not wishing to wake him I answered, only to discover that it was Lenny Herman calling to check in. There was no caller ID back then so I just answered blind. “Where’s Seth?”, he asked naturally. “He’s out",I replied truthfully. “What do you mean he’s out”, asked Lenny irritably. I mean he’ll be right back” I stated as evasively as possible. “You tell that little bastard to call me ASAP”,he said, or words to that effect,and then hung up. I woke Seth and he called his Dad. I cleaned the place up and when I left Seth was sleeping like a baby.

There were many calls to Seth’s parent’s. We were out to get me ballons one day. You know the kind, helium filled. You find them at zoos and circuses. We were 17 and Seth had just got his license. Completely on a whim and without permission, we took his Dad’s Buick 225 on a trip to Prospect Park. Our aim, as I’ve said was to go to the zoo and get a ballon. It was a wet fall day and the leaves were rife on the road as we took that turn in Prospect Park right into the back of some Puerto Rican fellow who wanted to strike it rich off this fender bender by a novice driver. They exchanged information and we went back to Seth’s house, minus the ballon I might add.
Seth called his Dad, who, though not pleased with this, came home and straightened out the other driver on what he wasn't going to get.

Weekends were the best, there were movie theaters everywhere and it seemed like they all had midnight showings of old movies. 4 Marx Brothers films or W.C.Fields or Bogart films would run from Midnight til 6 AM for a buck! And the sub culture was in full swing at these events with people selling pot and acid. This all added to the allure of the event and I loved every one of those nights, going home singing through the "naked streets at dawn." (Allen Ginsburg-"Howl")

We were discovering the beat poets and literature,trading new ideas and generally expanding our parameters of thinking.So this gives you an idea of the changes taking place at the time.This is all around 1970 and things would continue on in this vein for some time to come.

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