Saturday, October 30, 2010
From Hippy to Hedonist to Heaven Bound
It was a one room, first floor apartment with a small kitchen, a bath and a kind of dressing room closet.
It was between 41st and 42nd Street in West Philly up the street from Clark Park. (If you read any of my Philly Stories (Six Stories of the Sixties) you can easily guess that "Claire Square" is a stand-in for Clark Park. The statue in the center of the real Clark Park is of Charles Dickens, who once spoke there on his visit to America. (Friends of Clark Park)
We lived not far off the University of Pennsylvania campus and my wife would walk to her job as a private secretary to the Chairman and co-Chairman of the Chemistry Department where she would type books and papers full of odd symbols and formulas. I think it must have been very difficult to type things when you couldn't understand what you read. She had a very similar situation when she later worked for the Franklin Institute.
(God Resurrected 1966) I considered myself a mercenary writer, a typewriter for hire so to speak. Since "The Communicator" was a paper for college students my pieces always took a contrary view from the convential wisdom of the student trends of the times. Thus I wrote a pro-Vietnam War piece, a pro-God piece (sort of) and an anti-Drug piece. I liked to stir the pot and rile things up. It didn't matter what my personal views were, I always took the least popular side. (I also wrote under the pen name of "Loop" because as a non-student I wasn't supposed to write for this publication.)
We had asimilated a Hippy lifestyle, as I explained previously, but it was to deteriorate to something else just as the Love and Peace Generation was already beginning to deteriorate in delusion after the Rolling Stones concert at Altamost and the Kent State Massacre. For us you might say Love and Peace became Sex and Drink. We became Hedonists, especially me.
"Dirty Pictures" had hooked me in junior high. My only case of criminal activity had been stealing men's magazines at the local newstand (where I picked up the papers for my paper route). I got caught stuffing three such rags in my shirt one day, was told by the owner exactly and precisely where he was going to stuff those magazines if he ever caught me stealing again, and I never stole anything anywhere anytime after that.
However, a few years later a used book and magazine stand opened at the Farmer's Market just east of town. There was a section hidden behind a curtain with a sign saying, "No one under 21 allowed". I would edge to the side of this barrier and peek in and there were all these nudie magazines. One day the proprietor, a man who looked like Ratso Rizzo in "Midnight Cowboy" sidled up to me as I peered through the crack in the curtain.
"Hey kid," he says and I jumped a foot. "Interesting, eh?"
I didn't know what to do. I just shook my head or perhaps I was just shaking.
"Look," he says, "I can see you ain't 21. (No, I was more like 14 or 15.) "But you look like a good kid, like somebody who wouldn't tell anyone if I sold them to you."
And so I began buying my pornographic fix from a sleazy stall at a Farmer's Market. The magazines behind the curtain were basically two kinds. There was "Sunshine and Health", a Naturlist Publication that promoted Nudism and had a lot of pictures of ordinary people in the buff playing volleyball. The other kind had titles such as "Artist and Models". These other magazines came mostly from Sweden and each page consisted of a nude woman in some pose. The blurb of text in the beginning claimed these were for the use of "serious artists" interested in "painting the human form". Yeah, right, I ran home and got my sketch pad at the ready.
Eventually this guy and his bookstall disappeared and my supply was cut off, so I was reduced to buying "Playboy" to hide in a secret crevice back in my bedroom. (Hmm, interesting now that I think of it. Although the Farmer Market guy had a sign banning anyone under twenty-one, the regular newsstands would sell "Playboy" and other men's magazines to you if you were 16 or older. Of course, much of what the Farmer's Market guy sold was more raw than early "Playboys".)
It wasn't easy to get hardcore pornography in those days. There were no legal outlets (what the Farmer's Market guy sold was borderline pornography, not the real thing so to speak) and no Internet.
Somewhere between the Civil Rights Riots and the Anti-War Rallies, Peepshows opened in Philadelphia, the first volleys of the "sexual revolution". The first I remember and which I frequented a lot was above some stores on Walnut right across from Rittenhouse Square. There were Retail Stores in the basement of the building and you went up these steps between them to the Peepshow place. If you stood on those steps, the scene on the right is what you would be looking at.
I heard this place or at least the first peepshows in Philly, true or not I do not know, were started by Ira Einhorn. He was the man who took credit for starting the first Earth Day and later became imfamous as "the Unicorn Killer". Einhorn was a big deal counterculture guru in the sixties and early seventies, until he killed his mistress and kept the body in a trunk in his apartment. He later fled the country for France. (Senator Gaylord Nelson also claims to be the founder of Earth Day, but as far as I know never stored any bodies in his trunks. Being a politician he might have had some skeletons in his closet, however.)
My wife and I took an active part in that first Earth Day. ( Pollution Trail: Where is Man? ) It wasn't the first or last activism we took part in during those years. But by the 'Seventies we had become more interested in the "earthy" than the Earth.
On the dirty heels of the peepshows came the Adult Bookstores. Funny how when they stick "Adult" in front of something it usually means it is pretty immature and at least slightly depraved. There were Adult Bookstores, Adult Films, Adult beverages and Adult Language, hardly any of which represents very adult behavior.
I hate to think how much money I spent in Adult Bookstores. But there they were, popping up like pimples all over the face of Philly. Eventually, they seemed to concentrate, whether by choice or coercion, on Arch Street between Juniper and 13th Street just before the Old Reading Terminal, which became the Philadelphia Convention Center. This was only a block away from the publisher I worked for on Cherry Street. How convenient.
There were a number of movie theaters in the city called Art Houses, another misnomer. They sounded like they showed European films by Fellini, Bergman, Tarkovsky or Pontecorvo, but no, they leaned toward directors such as Russ Meyer and Joseph Mawra, with films with title like "The Immoral Mr. Teas", "Olga's House of Shame" and an unending string of grainy black and whites of those Nudists playing volleyball.
My wife and I use to go to the Art Holiday and Art Walton together. We also went to the Globe Theater in Atlantic City, which did old time burlesque back before the casinos came and took over the town. It was kind of funny. At "Art" houses such as the Holiday and Walton, my wife was a rare woman in the audience; at the Globe it was almost all couples. I guess people figured they were out of town at a tourist trap and no one back home would know. The Globe seemed racy at the time, but you can see much worse on TV these days.
There were also two or three little theaters grouped together on East Market Street, I believe on the corner of 17th Street that showed stripper and nudie movies. By the late sixties they added live shows that went further than anything at the Globe. The women in these shows went to full nudity and then some.
If you are seeing something of a downward progression here, you are. Almost like a drug, pornography can demand stronger fixes. As a teen I was thrilled by a nude model in a static pose. By my late twenties I was seeking more and more stronger stimulates, more and more weird stuff. And my wife and I were becoming ever more daring in our own actions.
One day we were at a large mall and my wife went into a lingeree shop. She took some back to the dressing area and I waited, the ever stoic husband holding his wife's purse, as was another fellow nearby. We nodded to each other, both sharing this kind of moment, when suddenly this medium tall blond woman came out of the dressing area wearing nothing but a fishnet body stocking. This was the other fellow's wife. About then my wife called to me to see what she had on and so I told her to just come out. She did and a kind of contest began between the women of stepping out in brief or transparent items. The other man and I exchanged telephone number. When my wife and I left the store, there was a large crowd of gawkers in front of the broad display windows who applauded as we left.
We began to get together with this other couple, either at their apartment or ours. We would stay over night, play sex games, take poliroid photos of each other. I want you to understand, my wife and I never got into "swinging" or "wife-swapping', we never had any interest in that, but doing it in front of others, yes, that wasn't a problem. As we had transitioned from the Hippy culture, I was back into office jobs. I changed jobs several times and each time I made more money. We were able to move to better apartments than that one in University City. The one we lived it at this time had a closed cuircuit TV channel. If someone rang your buzzer, you could change to channel two and see who it was before letting them in. You could also talk with the caller on an intercom. When they would come to our place, she would show up wearing only a coat, which she would fling open when we answered their ring. Obviously anyone in the building who happened to turn to channel two at the time would have seen her show, would have seen her everything.
As with such things, again their was a progression. However, there were some things about the guy I didn't particularly like, thing he would say that were more perverted than I felt I was and after a while we also began to suspect they wanted to take that step toward wife-swapping. That was when we dropped them.
But we had another couple we were good friends with, even better friends. They lived in the same apartment building and we began getting together with them regularily. There was no nudity, no sexual games involved, just some smutty talk sometimes. He was the very jealous type and prone to violence, so that kind of stuff didn't fly. We would get together and play cards and drink.
Now, I am some kind of freak. I don't know why, but I could consume great quanities of alcohol and not get drunk. I have never really like alcohol very much actually. I didn't really begin drinking any until well into my twenties, but drinking was very much a social thing in the groups or with friends we had and so I drank. I could drink any of them under the table. My wife certainly didn't have my capacity. I almost killed her one night.
We were in the apartment, still in Philly at the time, and she asked me to make her a Manhattan. I didn't know anything about mixing drinks. I had a book. It said mix 1 part Vermouth to four parts Whiskey. I decided to make her a double, so I took a shot glass and put eight shots of whiskey and two shots of dry vermouth in the shaker. Added a couple dashes of bitters and shook it up. My wife gulped it down, lost any idea where she was, felt sick and made it to the bathroom before collapsing. She fell striking her head on the toilet so hard she cracked the tank. Thankfully she didn't also crack open her noggin.
Usually it wasn't us passing out. It was out friend. Most nights we got together, he would eventually drift off to oblivion on beer, which is all he drank usually, but he drank a lot of it. Evenings would end with me carrying him to his bed. He wasn't a big man. He was perhaps an inch or two shorter than I, but very thin. But a dead drunk is nothing but dead weight.
He also had seventy-six tattoos and this was long before getting tattoo became the fad it is today. The song from the "Music Man" always came to mind, "Seventy-six tattoos led the big parade..."
Going out with our friends could be an adventure. It wasn't unusual for his wife to stash silverwear and salt and pepper shakers into her pocket when we left restaurants. There were times I had to pull him out of bars before the fists flew and on at least one occasion grab him and push him into our car to escape arrest. This occured one drunken evening when he decided to join some kids playing street hockey. He always claimed he had played semi-pro hockey at one time. He butted into their game and one of the mothers called the police.
What purpose did life have? I was making enough money we could "enjoy" it. It was just us living in a series of apartments. We had no children encumbering us, no great obligations. I was an Atheist, so there was no higher power to worry about, I only answered to me and what I desired. I worked hard, I was still going to evening college, I was still writing, even selling some stories. This was as good as it gets, wasn't it? Nobody was getting hurt, were they?
Oh, sure, I didn't ever feel satisfied. I always seemed to find something irritating about my jobs. And my wife kept falling into these deep depressions, sometimes talking about suicide. She would cry for no reason (in my opinion) and often complain because she hadn't been able to have children. But she would get over it I was sure, and at last it seemed she had accepted the fact she never would be able to have children. After we lost the sixth one she had her tubes tied.
We no possibility of children, just the two of us, it seemed reasonable not to worry too much about the future. When we reached 40, say, we could begin putting away for a rainy day. We were still young, so we could just go on trying to have fun for some more years. More parties, more travel, more nights out and ever more darker pornography. The pornography I was buying at this point was so dark I was even hiding it from my wife, although she had never objected to me reading the stuff.
Although, our closest friends were our drinking buddies, we did have other friends who were pretty main line suburbanites. I had made good friends with a fellow at my latest job, one I did enjoy and would hold for six years. He and I played tennis most of our lunch hours and we went golfing on the weekends. He had some parties at his place. There was some drinking, but not heavy and no one was putting on lampshades or doing anything foolish. These other friends were never aware of the sex and drink life we had engaged in so often for so long.
My wife and I were not involved with any other couple in sexual activities anymore, but that didn't mean we weren't misbehaving. We were risk takers and we were probably fortunate we never got caught. I'm telling you nothing more, except the things we did would not be acceptable to you I'm certain.
So there I was and where do you think I was headed? There really didn't seem anything would change my mind about God. I was laying down a nice fast road to Hell, except I didn't believe in Hell. So that was no worry for me.
And then my wife got pregnant.
Yes, for the seventh time. Perhaps this was Lucky number.
It's a miracle, right, cause she had her tubes tied.
She was determined to have a child of her own.
And now we were five months along and my wife was lying in a hospital room and the child was doomed.
Number seven, the number of completeness. Like a never-ending slow march to completeness. A wait in a death chamber accompanied by the constant beat of a drum. Beat Beat Beat Beat
I sat in that room every day for a week with the beat of a drum. Beat Beat Beat Beat
But it wasn't the beat of a drum, was it?
It was the beat of a heart that didn't know it should stop.
It was the throb of a life trying to be and wouldn't.
And somewhere in the deep dark night, watching my wife sleep, I heard Beat Beat Believe Believe
There is a God. There must be a God. I can hear his breath in every beat. Believe Believe Beat Beat Beat
But the baby had to be born. They could not delay longer for the sake of my wife the baby had to be born now.
Amy was born in July 1976 and Amy died in July 1976.
This is Good Friday a day itself marked by a death, the death of one as innocent, even more innocent than Amy. An unfair death that seemed to mark the end for so many. Those who saw him nailed to the cross ran and hid and wondered, "What now?"
When Amy died, my wife sunk in depression as close to death as possible while still alive.
But Easter is not the season of death. It is the season of Resurrection, the season of hope, a season of salvation for those who will only reach out and embrace it. Like the seed planted that must die to flower, so it was that year. Here at the end of all, at the number seven, at the completeness of things past I turned to belief I had denied and fought. I rose by dropping to my knees in the silence of my room.
He didn't say, "Go away you're filthy." He didn't say, "Go away and come back when you've changed."
Like Mister Rogers he said, "I love you just the way you are."
Out of death came life. Our friends left us, not because we ignored them or shunned them, but because we had changed and I suppose, to them, we weren't fun anymore. Our old ways ended, but what we didn't realize was so had the impossible.
We had went from Hippy to Hedonist to Heaven Bound.
And very real miracles lay ahead on this brand new road. He makes the impossible possible.
May you have a blessed Resurrection Sunday.
All photos by the author, except the photo of the Peepshow viewers, which is from Wikipedia.