Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Scribbles & Sex Comes to the City of Brotherly Love

The city was changing, but not in a positive way. By 1969 I had gone to school, worked and lived in Philadelphia for a decade in various ways. I really liked the city. It had history, charm, culture, a vibrant art scene, generally friendly people and was great for walking. Despite the civil rights riots and the antiwar protests that had sometimes sputtered up, Philly always seemed safe to me.  It was relatively clean.
One day, not long after we moved into University City, I was returning from one of my strolls downtown. Crossing the campuses somewhere in the area between Drexel and Penn, I happened to look up toward nearby rooftops where there were some billboards. Billboards were not an uncommon sight, but scrolled across the front of one was a word that was unusual, although it soon wouldn’t be, and that word was “Cornbread”.
It wasn't part of the ad. It actually obliterated part of the slogan. It was not professionally made at all, one could easily see how amateurish it was.
What in the world was it?
It wasn’t a “it”;  it was a person and the Nickname “Cornbread” began appearing as a spray-painted scrawl everywhere. Over the next few years it was joined by Cool Earl, Chewy, Cool Kleppo Kid and others, although those were the most prominent. A lot of people wanted them found and arrested , and to be forced to clean up their defacing and maybe get some jail time as well. Yes but, you know how it is. There are a lot of morons everywhere, especially in universities and soon a lot of college kids took up the scribblings as a cause. Then a group of egghead academics and noodle-brained elitist from the museum community actually labeled this garbage “Art” They called the disrespectful property damagers, "Graffiti Artists”; instead of seeing them for the vandals they were.

Philadelphia became the graffiti capital of the world. This ugliness spread from Philly to New York, and from there to other U. S. cities, then oversees.
My feeling was put a stop to this at once End it in its tracks before it grows bigger. Some scoffed, it was a little thing,  they said, kids being kids. I said take care of the little things and the big things will not become so big. Instead, these pathetic youths were made into some kind of cultural heroes, and the art world even embraced and displayed some of the growing graffiti. And what was the result? Graffiti everywhere on private and public buildings, subway corridors and trains, rolling stock on the rails, delivery trucks, walls and tunnels besmirched with crude drawings, course words and faceless names. It became coded messages for drug deals and markings for gang territory and activity.

These scrawls of sometimes unreadable signatures were not the only stain spreading in the city. The other was something that quickly drew me into its swamp.
Again, on one of my many walks about the town, I was striding West on Walnut directly across from Rittenhouse Square. This was a nice neighborhood, generally quiet, unless a protest hit the park on any particular day. That block of Walnut was lined with boutiques and usually pricy shops  (or should I say "shoppes"), which  I guess it still is. At any Rate, in the ‘sixties it was something of a tony neighborhood.

Some of the shops were on two levels; that is, you would have a half-story stairway going down to a shop just below ground level and another half stairway going up to partially above the sidewalk. I was passing the display window of a basement shop that sold jewelry, and oddly, potions. From what I recall it actually had the word “witch” or “witching” in its name, somewhat surprising for that area. It looked more like it escaped from South Street. I had no particular interest in this downstairs shop, but there was a new upstairs establishment recently opened and I went up the steps to check it out.

It did not have a fancy entry way. It was rather plain, kind of a sandstone color and I believe gray. I went inside and there were some separate rooms, so unfurnished and homely it looked like the rooms of an incomplete picture gallery. That would not have been unexpected. There were several snobbish art galleries around downtown, except this place had no paintings displayed on its mostly empty walls or any statues on pedestals here and there. All it had were a few ancient-looking machines scattered about in each room.
They were kind of old-fashioned Nickelodeons. You know, about waist high boxes with viewers like cutoff binoculars on top. I only knew what they were because they had similar machines in the Penny Arcade at Dorney Park. You put a nickel in a slot and could watch old time silent comedy films through the lens. These particular bosses didn't accept nickels, though; the coin slot was made for quarters. There was a machine attached to one wall that would exchange dollar bills for quarters. These were peep shows, the first I had ever seen about the city.

These weren’t showing old silent Charlie Chaplin’s for your quarter either. The signs were distinctly smaller than that on the photo to the right and the titles were a bit obscure, like “What she learned in Egypt” or “Taking off, a Flight of Delight.”
I dropped a quarter in one machine's slot and pressed my face down against the viewer. In a couple seconds a title flickered across the screen and then this woman appeared in the frame. There was no fancy background, just a black backdrop. There were no props, only the woman, who began to dance about, somewhat awkwardly. She stepped about in little circles from one edge to the other, and then she reached forward and began unbuttoning her blouse. She unsnapped the last button and blam! The screen went black. A little caption popped up asking you to drop another quarter to continue.
After a second quarter dropped, the film picked up where it had left off. The woman slipped off her blouse and then snapped her skirt and let it drop. She writhed about for several minutes, occasionally tugging at the waist band of her panties. Finally, she reached behind and undid the clasp of her bra and then what! The screen went black again and asked for another quarter.
Now the woman let her bra drop and began tugging suggestively at her panties and then she struggled out of these to prance about in just a G-string and pasties right before the screen did its black thing. The fourth quarter got you further dance moves, which ended with her tossing aside the pasties, shedding the G-string and standing there briefly in her altogether or sometimes rolling about on the floor. 

Someone told me that Ira Einhorn (left) owned the shop and the peeps. I don’t know if that was true or not. Einhorn was something of a guru in the Philly of the 1960s. We'll talk about him more later. Looking back, it was pretty tame stuff that quite frankly might show up on your TV today. It 1969 it was really daring.  The ‘50s had almost acted as if sex didn’t exist. You would have been hard pressed to find peep shows out in the broad daylight when I was growing up. People seldom even spoke of sex. Philly certainly had its secret places in the ’60 (go ask Ronald), but they were not easy for the average person to find and the Quaker City was still pretty straight lace. It was very clean, a situation that wouldn’t last.
First came the peep shows there on Walnut, and I admit I kept stopping in and probably saw all the little films they had to offer. The one I remember most distinctly was where this woman was completely naked by the end of the third quarter and spend the entire fourth reel frolicking about in a pile of rose petals. This one stood out because there was actually a prop and not just the stark background. Most of these little enticements were alike, a woman slowly stripping and dancing before a plain white or black background curtain.
That was only the initial step. Not too long afterward came the first so-called “Adult Bookstore”; on Market Street I believe. I don’t think any of the magazine articles featured there ever showed up as blurbs on any North American poster. A lot of my money disappeared into that bookstore, those magazines were expensive compared to your normal newsstand offerings, and often a lot thinner; 
Gradually, two things happened. First, more and more Adult Bookstores began to open. Eventually the whole block of Race on both sides became infested with these merchants, one after another. In fact, sex shops of one kind or another  ended up running up 12th and 13th Street and probably Race, too.

I visited that first Adult Bookstore on Market out of inquisitiveness. I’ve done a lot of things just out of an insatiable need to know. That is the definition of curiosity: “A strong desire to know or learn something.” Boy, did I learn something! And yes, I know the saying, “Curiosity killed the cat.” You seldom hear anyone finish that couplet, though. “Satisfaction brought him back.”
The problem was, there was no satisfaction. You know, when Eve bit the forbidden fruit, she didn’t say, “Oh, okay that’s what it tastes like. Fine, I’m satisfied.”  No, once she bit it she not only wanted more, she wanted to share and she did, with Adam. For me, scanning through that first pornographic magazine was like the old Lay’s Potato Chip ad, “Bet you can’t eat just one.”
Now it is true that when the store first opened most of the magazine issues simply featured female nudity. I was not a neophyte to displays of female pulchritude. As an adolescent I diligently searched for such images; I stole to get them.  As a teen I found a slippery, slimy character willing to sell magazines of so-called art poses to an underage boy.  But in the merchandise of this shop on Market, the pictures of the ladies on display showed a lot more and nothing appeared airbrushed. With “Playboy” or “Evergreen”, what relatively tame pictures were there, you could claim you got the magazine for the articles if you wanted a purer motive. For something like “Avant Gard”, why, I’m only interested in the art. There were no such fig leaves (should me call them “Fib leaves”) to hide behind here. You would buy these publications for one reason and one reason only and it wasn’t edification.
Just as when I was 13 or 14 and I copped the “Girlie” magazines at Sam Charles and started with one, then a couple and finally stuffed whatever I could under my shirt, I bought one magazine here, then came back for a couple and was soon a regular buying as many as I felt I could afford. Truth be told, I couldn’t afford that first one, but I was hooked and these photos became something I felt I needed. I constantly was drawn to the racks.
After a month or two, the magazine content began to grow more sexual. It wasn’t just posing nude models, now it was photos of couples in the act. Looking at some pretty woman standing there in the flesh wasn’t enough anymore, now there was some need for action, for some semblance of movement and activity in the photographs.
Here is the thing with pornography, and I imagine it is similar for alcohol and drugs. With booze some people are fairly impervious to it. You know there are a lot of people who can take a drink or several, who don’t become alcoholics, don’t have a problem with it at all. I was like that. I can’t say about drugs because I never did any. I know most things I have tried in my life I could easily walk away from. I gave up smoking cold turkey without ever experience an urge, whim or wish for tobacco again. It was the same when I quit drinking booze
 I thought I wasn’t allowed to drink coffee because of a medication I was taking and I quit on the spot. I did not have nervous twitches, no headaches and no difficulties staying away from coffee, even thought it was something I had really enjoyed for years and years. Nothing soothed me like a nice hot cup of Java in the morning. Yet, when I thought I had to give it up I stopped drinking it. Fortunately, after about a year of abstinence I discovered I could drink it and enjoy my morning Joe again. However, the pornography wasn’t that way.

For me, and many people (yes, there may be less, but there are women) pornography is as insidious as alcohol to an alcoholic once they have had a taste. A sip of beer is not enough and then a beer isn’t strong enough and then a sip doesn’t cause any thrill. What starts out as a minor titillation grows into a consuming obsession. And all the time you keep needing something stronger and more outrageous to feel any kick. 
And it is everywhere, just like graffiti.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Nearly Naked and Other malfunctions

I lost the key to our mailbox. I spent a good amount of time with a screwdriver prying it open like an angry squirrel with a stubborn walnut. Maybe I should have left it locked forever and allowed the mail inside rot. I generally didn’t get anything of value. I was told many time, "You may have already won", but they lied; I never won bupkis. I had noticed that as of late most of my letters had been pre-opened. I did not think this was being done by the Mail Elf as a convenience to me.

My best guess was the FBI was reading my mail.
That must have bored J. Edgar no end. 
Why should the FBI have any interest in poor little me.
 Part of that answer is the times we were living in. There was a good bit of distrust,  suspicion and fear in the '60s, not dissimilar to today. Remember, I had been writing for the Underground Press in publications that were not so subtle about their stance against authority and the status quo. In Philadelphia there was already a war against the police being ginned up and the Philly cops of that era didn’t help cool things down. They swaggered about the city in these leather jackets and they had very descriptive words for any protesters on the street, not to mention a pretty aggressively vocal Police Commissioner named Rizzo.

I was not much a fan of the establishment then myself.
There were also the magazines I subscribed to. One was well known as a radical, leftist rag that also often printed salacious pieces. This was a very popular magazine with artists and anyone considering themselves a revolutionary. It was called Evergreen Review”.  It did feature work by a who’s who of writers though, Susan Sontag, Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, Samuel Beckett, Charles Bukowski and many others of note. Frankly, I tried to get in the blasted thing myself.
It also ran a continuing erotic comic strip called “The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist”.
The strip was part satirical, part intellectual and a whole lot of sexual. Somehow poor Phoebe often found herself naked and tied up.

They had also translated and run the French comic strip of Barbarella, later made into a somewhat notorious film starring Jane Fonda. Like Phoebe Zeit-Geist, Barbarella couldn’t seem to keep herself completely dressed either.

Through Evergreen I started to get books under the Black Cat imprimatur from the same publisher, Grove Press. Grove specialized in the forbidden, censored literature and often found itself defending against obscenity charges. It was the Publisher that brought the banned Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence to America and knocked down a lot of the censorship walls. They published a lot of the Beat Writers and books on then taboo subjects, such as homosexuality, drugs, sex and S&M. Reading these books and magazines meant I was opening myself up for more erotica and radical ideas.

In January 1968 a new magazine came out of New York titled “Avant Garde”. I am not certain where I ran across information on it, but I was one of the premier subscribers and I continued to be one until it closed shop in July 1971. It was very critical of both the American government and our society in general. It was very slickly done and it featured a lot of sexual imagery in its art work.

My other subscription was to a magazine that man men subscribed to. This was “Playboy”. It was a Christmas gift from my wife. You will see when it came to sex she was quite liberal.

Lois and I had also taken part in a few protests and demonstration about town, and would continue to do so for a while to come. We were becoming regular attendees in the coffeehouse as well. The result of this “radical” behavior was seen by someone somewhere as a threat.

I came home one day from work and there was large and strange looking document sticking out of my mailbox, and duplicate ones poking out of several other mailboxes on the wall, actually out of a majority. What the heck was this? I didn't know what it was, but it looked like trouble. I opened it up and it was a subpoena. What in the world was this all about?
Reading further I discovered I was being charged with voter fraud, specifically of illegally registering and been witnessed being coached on what party to choose by the registrar. It was signed by some legal clerk and by the witness to my dirty deed.  Who’s behind this nonsense, it wasn’t even an election year?  Ah, but there was one of great interest to the city coming in 1971. They must have wanted an early start to rig it.
I first registered to vote in in 1961 when I turned 21. That was the first year I was eligible, the 18 year-old being allowed to vote didn’t happen for another decade during the Vietnam War. Having grown up in Republican strongholds, I had registered as a Republican. I voted for Barry Goldwater in 1964, my first Presidential election. By 1968, I was already becoming a rebel and I voted for Dick Gregory for President, although still registered Republican.
When we moved to University City in Philadelphia we moved into a heavily Democratic area. We had to reregister because our address had changed, so one day a month or so after we settled in, Lois and I ambled down to the registration office, which was located in a University of Pennsylvania Medical Clinic on the corner of our block right across from Clark Park. There was a fairly large room with a couple long tables in the center, a few chairs and almost no people about. We had already decided to register as Democrats because that was the majority in the area, no other reason.
Some guy took Lois to one table and this middle-aged woman called me over to the other table. She checked my ID and asked some questions. Had I been a resident of the district at least 30 days? Birth date? Was I an American citizen? They were very basic queries. Of course, one she asked was occupation. Lois told her guy she was a private secretary at the University of Pennsylvania Chemical Department. I told my interrogator I was a “freelance writer”, because at that moment that was all I was.
“Freelance writer” is a pretty nebulous title. What is it, anyway? It could simply be a prideful substitute for “unemployed”. Here I am 47 years later and I can still call myself a “Freelance Writer”, but almost the only writing I do anymore is my Blogs, but writing really is the only thing I do. Anyway, Lois did not get a summons. I thought that was curious, but I quickly figured out it was the occupation answer. She was a Private Secretary, that was a “real” job. I was some mysterious thing called “freelance writer”. They must have taken that answer as phony in some way.
I was also curious about the witness. The address was given and it was only a few blocks away, so I walked over to the street and the house number. There was no house to put a number on. There was only a weedy empty lot.
And an occupation of freelance writer is suspicious, but an empty lot as an address isn't?
I soon learned through the student grapevine that I should call the Democratic Headquarters for my district. There had been several thousand residents of the area, mostly college students, that received subpoenas challenging their right to vote. The Republicans wanted to reduce them from the voter poles. They were going to put Frank Rizzo up for mayor and he did fly well with students. The Democrats were supplying a lawyer. I spoke with someone from the Party. He told me I would have to go to court or my vote would be automatically stripped from me.
Thus on Thursday, July 17, a day when the temperature would reach 96 degrees, I found myself entering a court room in Philadelphia City Hall. I was ordered to report early and with me I am usually early before my time, which on this day I was glad to be because I got a seat about halfway down the room. I would not have gotten a seat otherwise.

The space filled quickly, soon it was wall to wall people. They brought in more chairs, but this was limited by the fire laws. People were standing across the back, shoulder to shoulder. There were many more jamming the hallway who couldn’t even get an eyelash through the door. The temperature was already oppressive, now body heat was pushing it to unbearable
Up at the front was a long table, or bench as they called it, with six men seated behind it. These were our judges, but they really weren’t judges. They were Republican Committeemen and Ward Healers. Our fate would be decided by the very people who brought us up on charges.
I looked around the court room. It was clear most of those summoned were college students, but not all. Some, like me, must have fallen in their net by error. There were three or four middle aged Black women a couple rows down from me. They each wore one of those Sunday-Go-To-Meeting hats.  A few rows behind was a slumped old man falling asleep. Over from me sat a fat guy with a long white beard. “Oh my gosh”, I thought, “they even subpoenaed Santa Claus.”
Our Democratic Lawyer sat in a chair at the front.
The alleged witnesses to our misdeeds sat lined along the right side wall. There were three men and a lady, all kind of propped there. Their age was indeterminable, but they were all shabby and slovenly. My guess was they were paid in something like a bottle of Thunderbird in exchange for their testimony, which they gave with the hesitancy of poor memorization. I wondered which one lived in the vacant lot. The witnesses name was male, so I could only rule out the woman.
Every time our lawyer stood to make a motion or an objection he was overruled. At one point he was even told to shut up. Finally, the “judges” began calling forth the accused, one at a time, alphabetically. I stole a look at my watch (I wore one in those days) and calculated it would be hours before they got to the M’s and maybe days before this ended.
Every one called forward so far was able to produce a valid Pennsylvania License and allowed to leave. About mid-morning a brief recess was called, probably so these “judges” could go potty. Our lawyer stepped to the center of the front and announced that anyone with a valid Driver’s License with the same address as their voter registration could show it to the clerk and go home. They would not lose their voting privileges.  A long line formed, including yours truly, and in several minutes I was back on the boiling streets headed home.
It was all a sham, an attempt to disfranchise the University City population. A calculation had been made that most of these students would have licenses from their hometown, not their college addresses, but the plotters guessed wrong in most cases. They certainly miscalculated in my case. Pennsylvania regulations said you had to be a resident of the district you registered within for 30 days. Lois and I had waited out the 30 days. We were perfectly legal.

Something was happening to the society. I was walking along Market Street, then began to cross 15th at the light. There were three girls ahead of me, all young, probably on work break. As they started across at the light change a group of young men came from the other direction. Suddenly, one of these fellows reached out and grabbed one of the girl’s breasts. She looked totally flabbergasted at this breach of civility. The guys simply kept walking, bent over with laughter. I felt both a sense of outrage, but also a feeling of arousal. Something was happening with me as well.

I had suddenly aware that I was scoping out the miniskirts flitting about town, like a cat stalking a bird.  There was always a group ensconced near the North American Building, especially around lunchtime.  My eye was always wandering over that way on the chance the wind might blow. After all, I could get a break and catch a glimpse of panty.
One day I was walking about the streets near the apartment, wandering down to the college campus and the little stores about that catered to the students. A Beetle passed me, going in the same direction. The VW pulled into a parking space on the opposite side and this young woman stepped out, obviously a student wearing a very flouncy mini dress. Just as I came opposite her car, she leaned in over the driver’s seat to scoop up her books from the other side. The force of her stretch to reach brought her dress up her back and hips and I could plainly see she wore no underwear. To be honest, it kind of made my day.

I was turning into a bon vivant voyeur.
In the middle of July, Lois and I got a respite from the tensions of new jobs, a new home and a kangaroo court trial. Her long time best friend, Evelyn had an older brother who owned a marina in Rockhall, Maryland and we were all invited down for a day and a cook out. We, Lois and I, was driving not too far outside of Rockhall when Lois said she didn’t have a swimsuit. Just outside of town was a small gift shop along the road that sold bathing suits. We pulled in and she bought herself a nice white Bikini.

         We arrived and were greeting by Evelyn, who was dressed in a white Bikini of her own. Lois went in a changing room and put on her suit, and then we toured the docks and went on a cruise down the Chesapeake Bay to the sea.
When we got back we all dove into the Marina’s swimming pool, which is when we discovered Lois’ new suit went transparent when wet. Once in the water she was nearly naked. A few minutes out of the water it dried back to the opaque white.

So we discovered a couple of things. I was aroused by the voyeur aspects of this and she was not particularly embarrassed; actually, she seemed fine with the situation and now we knew she had some exhibitionist tendencies.
This is probably a good place to explain about the mind and sex. Lois is bipolar, although we did not realize it back in 1969. We knew she suffered with long bouts of deep depression and we had also seen some examples of paranoia, such as when she was so fearful that the little kids next door were plotting to destroy our car, but we were in the dark about the manic phases. One problem for those with depressive or Type 2 Bipolar is the depressions are easily experienced, but not the mania. They often feel the manic times are normal, partly because they generally feel good when having them. Being up, even if a little crazy, is a lot better than being down in the dark of depression.
During a manic episode the person may engage in risky sexual behavior, which might partially explain her affair with the orderly. It is quite common in mania to have a significantly heightened sex drive. A bipolar person can become much more focused on sex and risky behavior than they normally would.
We did not know about this possibility, that she was bipolar and prone to manic attacks. I simply thought I was lucky to have a pretty wife who would do all kinds of sexual things some wives wouldn’t, besides her lean toward exhibitionism fit perfect with my voyeuristic tendencies.
Now explaining my sexual peculiarities is a different manner. Maybe I was just insane.

I had some exhibitionism in myself. Not to where I wanted to hide in bushes and jump out naked at people. I really didn’t want anyone to see me naked, just as I hadn’t in junior high school, yet I had a tendency to put myself on display, so to speak. I mean it was all a part of drawing attention, like when I wore orange shoes. Nothing overly overt, but something that felt sexy to me. This was generally wearing tight pants and no underwear.
I think I only had three pairs of pants, not counting the suit I wore to work. I had a pair of blue soft cotton bell-bottom jeans, probably my most comfortable and favorite wear. I often wore a pair of suede bell-bottoms with a slight low-rider waist when we went to the concerts or coffee houses . Finally, I had a white pair of dress pants.
It was in the white pants that I had my own wardrobe malfunction that year. I had to deliver some kind of package (no pun intended) to Evelyn’s place for Lois. I don’t remember what it was at all. I drove to Evelyn’s home, where she lived alone with her brood of dogs. I parked and then reached into the back seat to get the package just as she came out of her house to greet me. As I stood up I heard a strange sound and looking below I saw my zipper had ripped open, from the top to the bottom. There was no way to repair the zipper. Not wearing underpants made the whole situation somewhat worse, but it got more so.
She invited me to bring the package inside and then stay for a cup of coffee. She said she had just gotten up and was making breakfast for herself and the dogs. Her outfit was somewhat revealing. She had on a fluffy robe over her nightgown and the bodice kept flapping open because it had no upper buttons, just a waist tie. I could catch a fair view of her breasts when she moved.
I was trying not to have her get a fair glimpse of anything. All this had the effect of causing a good bit of arousal and in my present condition I could not tuck anything out of sight in my tight, but gapping trousers. She told me to set the package on the living room sofa on the way to the kitchen. Now there was nothing to hide behind. She was facing the other way, leading me through and my only hope was she would not turn around.

In the kitchen I quickly sat down and slid under the table. We had our coffee and chatted, but my mind was distracted. I was wondering how I would exit this situation. When that time came I was lucky enough that she again took the lead and walked ahead of me to the front door. I hurried past her and left, now my back toward her and my only concern being whether any neighbors were peering out their windows, or a real dread, would someone come walking past her house. None did and I jumped into my car and took off. It took me a while to settle down.

These instances would lead to a change in Lois and my relationship. Riskier sex was peeking over the horizon and sex was about to explode in the city as well.