Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

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

-- Larry E.
Time II

Friday, August 5, 2016

Come Where All Those Muses Meet


I didn’t consider myself a bad person. No, I was a good guy. When I was dating, the girls’ mothers all liked me. I subscribed to the saying, “As long as you aren’t hurting anyone, it’s okay.”

I thought other popular  platitudes being muttered over and over on the college campuses were bad advice. I mean, “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” was plain stupid. Why denigrate something that in a short time would include yourself?

The dangerous one was, “If it feels good, do it.” Are you nuts, man? It might feel great to jump off a cliff and pretend you’re flying, right up to the splat, but I ain’t gonna do it because the first part where you're floating free through the air might feel good, but not so much the sudden stop. That was why I didn’t do drugs. It might feel good when you did it, but look at the future pain. I wasn’t going to take any chances on scrambling my brain. If only I had applied the same resolve to other sins.
But wait, I was an Atheist now. I didn’t believe in sin. Good and bad was all relative and as long as you didn’t hurt anyone…well, you know.
I felt pretty clean anyway. I didn’t curse and cuss. I didn’t do drugs, as I’ve already mentioned a couple times. I didn’t steal or engage in what could be called illegal activities. I was even pretty obedient to traffic laws, except speeding. I didn’t even drink coffee yet and my intake of alcohol was minimal. I would have two Whiskey Sours when Lois and I dined out at the more upscale restaurants, but we hadn’t been doing much of that lately and even when we had money it was generally once a month. I didn’t chase women or cheat on my wife. I had never had physical sex with anyone else except for my wife, and I'm not claim the Clinton definition here. I was very pure from a worldly view of faithfulness; not so much in the Biblical sense. I think all those girlie magazines in my teen years counted against my purity in sex, and believe me, I wasn’t going to get purer in the days ahead. Most of the things on my “I don’t do that” list were about to shift to my “Do List”.  Some of it was the influence of my new gang of friends, but all of it was because of my own weaknesses.
Since my promotion to Accounts Receivable I had begun a nice sideline of ghosting students’ college papers. These things could swing widely in subject matter. Some of my earlier work dealt with the film version of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”, an analysis of T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia)’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the work of James Thurber and the issue of state aid to Catholic Parochial Schools. It was in providing this service that I met Joe Rubio, who became my closest friend over almost the whole next decade, and from meeting Joe our gang of wannabe artists grew.


In a way, I was mentor to Joe. He was a few years younger and a new employee in our department. He was a very likable person. He and his twin brother (in the photo to the left, Joe is the one with shorter hair)were the oldest in a family of nine children. They somehow managed to squeeze in a house on Upland Street in South Philadelphia. Having 11 people living in one of those small houses didn’t leave much room for privacy. Joe and John shared a bedroom. Their sisters had even less individual space.
The family was Cuban, they had emigrated to the United States, just before Joe and John were born, to escape for one reason or another the control of Fulgencio Batista, who was in his first period of power. Often times Uncle Stan, Joe’s Catholic Priest uncle, would stop at the home for a beer and a game of pool.
  
Joe and I were almost connected at the hip in those days. If I was somewhere, Joe was probably right there with me. He was then one of the first members of the group. Now Joe was not really all that interested in pursuing the artistic life like most of us, but he did write some and like we others, he had his day job and he went to college at night. He went to St. Joseph University in Overbrook.
On the heels of Joe and probably through him, I met Jim Tweedy. Jim became the usual host of our get togethers, where we would lounge about in his Carlisle Street basement and talk about how great we were going to be someday. Jim wrote, had edited a school magazine and also wanted to go after a music career. If we weren’t grouping at Jim’s, then we would hang out in Rittenhouse Square by the central fountain until the wee hours. Jim is pictured to the left.
Others in this inner group were Dot Waters, poet and writer; Maureen and Michael Alexander, actors, and then some who flitted in and out, such as Jeff Monson, writer; Diane Pellegrino, writer and Girard Neville, essayist and critic.
Dot Waters                                                  Mureen & Michael Alexander     



                    Jeff Monson
  
  


                                                                                                                    Diane Pelligrino  
                                                                                                                          Girard Neville
There was another artist, who actually was an artist attending the University of the Arts, that became another close friend of mine. Her name was Jane Waiters and she proved a big help to me. I’ll come back to her.
In 2005 I put together a collection of stories, roughly tied together, about that decade. Some of the stories were written close to the time, others later, but they were based on my friends and events that happened from 1963 to 1974. The title I gave the collection was, “To Keep All the Animals Warm”. It is a line from a Leonard Cohen song that I always associated with the ’60. I thought it captured the essence of my stories. There was a story that described our group. Here is the opening except from “Singing in the Street”.
They met in coffee shops or Hippie stores on Lombard and Sansom Streets. They would hang about Rittenhouse Square during late evening. Sometimes, like tonight, they gathered in Jim’s walk-up room on Locust just off Camac. They talked about seeking their muse. Doreen and Douglas wanted to be actors, Tenley a poet and painter. Jim talked of forming a band with James called the James Brothers. He would write the music and James would write the words. James would just shrug. Only Diane and Rob had no interest in artistic careers. Diane wanted to be James’ wife. Rob was Frank's best friend just trying to avoid the Vietnam draft. Frank was not there.
Jim’s room was not large. There was one decoration, a fading poster saying Community Park – Peace and Love. There was a window. Against the back wall was an upright piano further shortening the space. There was a row of record albums and stereo along a wall.
The furniture was battered and mismatched.
They sprawled in a loose circle around a chipped low-legged table of stained wood upon which sat an unmatched group of glasses, cups, and varied highs of choice.
That is very much what it was, but let me explain the differences in this fictionalized version and reality.  What I remember is we went to Lombard and Samson Streets and this was the Hippie market, more than South Street. The streets were lined with shops selling used clothing, such as the Salvation Army Resale Shop. There were candle and book stores, poster shops and occult enclaves. On one corner was a theater, The Pocket Playhouse. It was very colorful, the sidewalks and gutters were painted a variety of colors. Music flowed from the shops. All this is gone today, gentrified out of existence. The photo is on South Street, there is nothing of the old days on Sanson or Lombard.

Jim did not live in a walkup on Locust off Camac Street, but in his parent’s home on Carlisle Street. An address of Camac and Locust doesn’t exist, they are far apart. It was actually Maureen and Michael who had an apartment downtown, but I am not certain anymore if it was Locust or Walnut Street, but it was East of Broad Street. The rest, except for character’s names, is true. Well, the comment about highs of choice is not. There was only one choice for getting high, the constant pitchers of Screwdrivers Jim kept mixing, and Joe kept drinking.
This was where I started to drink and smoke. The Screwdrivers were a constant and tasted pretty good. I started getting into this social drinking stuff. Everybody in the room smoked. There was a cloud always hanging in the air of Jim’s basement. I took up smoking as a defense, because when you were smoking you didn’t notice it so much around you. I began bumming from others in the group, but soon I bought my own. I didn’t stop there, though. I couldn’t just smoke what everyone else was. I started puffing Sherman Cigarettes.
I couldn’t buy Sherman Cigarettes locally and had to order them shipped from New York.
They were long and thin, 100 mms. In 1966 Benson & Hedges had set the cigarette market on its ear with the introduction for the Benson & Hedges 100s, but Sherman beat them to the punch.
You could also get Sherman Cigarettes in different colors. I generally bought brown. They were cigarettes, but they looked like a long, thin cigar. I did also smoke cigars and I owned a couple pipes I sometimes fired up. I only smoked for one or two years, then one day I was working and realized I hadn’t taken a smoke break. I did so, lighted up and I asked myself, why am I spending money on these things if I can’t remember to smoke them? I snubbed out the butt and that was it. I quit cold turkey. I never felt a loss, no cravings, no withdrawal symptoms.
I kept to the drinking, did I ever. I also picked up another addition, which we will get to soon.
At some point in our relationship, Jim suggested we form a band. He would compose the music and I would do the lyrics. We were going to call it “Ethereal”. Ethereal means something too light and delicate and perfect for this world. Our plan was for Lois to front the band as lead singer. Lois had a good voice. Even though she had been trained on the piano, she never played the instrument. Instead she went for the vocal instrument, her voice. She had sung in the various choruses as school and with the choir at her church.
She was also pretty and sexy, and willing enough, for the rest of our plan. We would have her dress in flimsy, flowing outfits, translucent enough to keep the audience guessing if she wore anything beneath the flowing gowns or not. Of course the answer was, no she didn’t.
But our band, like a lot of other big ideas, never came to fruition.
Frankly, the group did more talking about their art than executing it, but we played the part well. Rittenhouse Square was full of suits during the day, the people in a hurry from here to nowhere, grabbing lunch on the run and hurrying back to their desks someplace. We were often part of that scene during the work week, but come evenings or weekends we shed the business attire for our bellbottoms and rat-tag wardrobe to loiter with the other “street” people in the Square.

All evening it was a changing scene, like some giant kaleidoscope, ever changing its patterns. The Hippies came early in the night and they whirled about us, dancers in odd costumes. As the moon crossed the sky, it brought a harsher scene as those already too far gone on drugs began to drift about, sometimes begging for fix money. In the late hours, the wee hours, Homosexuals would begin to amble through. The bars were closing. Some had partners or came in packs, some came alone looking and longing for companionship. Finally, the crowds would seep away into the darkness of deep morning and then we would also drift off toward another day in our work clothes.
I was beginning to pull away from this hanging about art fringes. I was getting gigs.
Part of this was due to Jane (pictured left). Jane was actually an artist, a painter. We became friends and I used to ride the subway north with her on school nights. Temple was up on North Broad Street and she lived in North Philadelphia. Here is a passage from another one of my stories, “Why We Will Never have Peace”, that describes how it was to walk around Philadelphia with Jane in the 1960.


Frank took evening classes. The college closed Monday and Tuesday due to the snow, but on Wednesday he had to go. In better weather he walked to the campus. It took forty-five minutes to walk, but tonight he chose to ride because of the cold and ice. He heard his name called as he strode to the subway.
Jain came scurrying toward him, waving a hand of greeting. She was taking art courses at the University of the Arts. She carried a brown portfolio under her arm. She was a slim woman, about the same girth as Jeannette, but not as tall, a small woman actually. Her face was round, cheekbones smooth as finely polished wood, her skin the color of coffee with a tad bit of cream added. Her eyes were large, the brown irises islands completely surrounded by white seas, eyes burning with energy, intelligence and deep anger. You could see a flame behind the pupil, like the pilot light of a stove.
Her boyfriend was a photographer. He published photos in the underground press. It was Jain who had talked Frank into writing for the same magazines. Her boyfriend was gone. She said he had gone to Cuba.
They rode the subway together. Frank because he was going to classes, Jain because she was going home and lived in an area where blue-eyed Frank would become a white island in a brown sea.
They came to a corner where a policeman was directing traffic, waving his arms like a frantic air raid warren guiding human targets to the nearest shelter. As they crossed the street he watched them, his eyes slits, eyebrows angry, and mouth clamped in a sneer. Jain stared straight ahead, but Frank turned his head and looked. The cop mouthed something Frank could not hear.
They stood on the subway platform corralled with a herd of rush hour commuters in overcoats and shining boots. The shove and tug of the homeward tide threatened to separate them. She hooked a hand around his elbow. Frank’s face shown pale under the hanging bulbs above, while Jain’s was a dark shadow under the same lighting. He watched the people watching them.
They stood in a crowded car, dangling from the dark brown ceiling straps and swaying in rhythm with the train. Moving north the number of white faces dissipated, leaving behind more and more brown faces, but the staring did not change with the color. When he looked to Jain, she was staring straight ahead at nothing, but her eyes burned.

The Jain in the story, of course, is Jane. Not much of a disguise there, and Frank is me. The Jeannette referenced briefly was the stand in for Lois. Other than the names everything else in this passage is true. I did often hike up to Temple from work and when it was not so nice out I did ride the North bound subway with Jane.
Jane would get on me quite a bit about my continuing to work at Atlantic. “You should quit,” she’d say. “Go to New York, live on your talent.” I wasn’t brave enough to do it.
Jane disappear one day, I know not where, but I can quess. Her boyfriend had gone to Cuba, even though travel there was banned. She threatened to follow suit. She was angry at this country and so I think maybe she did go.
But before she disappeared, while I knew her, she took me to a small and messy office somewhere downtown and introduced me around. This was the center for some Underground Press publications and very soon I was writing for them.
At “The Communicator” I had to use a pen name because I wasn’t allowed to write there. For the
Underground Press, considering the frequently violent and incendiary material they published, especially in “Psychedelphia Period” for which I wrote, I choose to use a pseudonym, thus I wrote as Eugene Lawrence.


At any rate, as I was finding my muse I also was hearing the call of another siren, S-E-X.

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