Sunday, August 9, 2015


The only thing I “cut” was class. If high school had little meaning for me, college had less. Fewer controls meant fewer classes. From time to time I’ve pondered this: Is “freedom” easier with structure or without? Don’t kill yourself thinking about it. However, if you spend more than a few minutes thinking about it, you have your answer.
Every Monday we got into Larry’s beat-up, rusted, tin can of a Ford and made our way into Manhattan. Greenwich Village was our usual point of reference, beginning with Latin Night at The Village Gate. We had a few drug connections in the city and would shop after the set, before starting back to Sullivan County. One particular disastrous trip began with me driving from South Fallsburg, wearing a sweater that had seen better days. On this sweater I had a button, popular in the sixties, as buttons were at that time that said, simply, “It Sucks.” I was going very fast and was clocked by a state trooper somewhere around Middletown. I pulled over to the shoulder of the Interstate and waited. He came, all six foot four of him. His waist was at my window, and the belt holding his gun. My future danced before my eyes. After giving him my license and Larry’s registration, and after he gave me a ticket, he asked the meaning of my button. I told him that it answered any question he might want to ask. He paused for a second, and then asked me how I felt now that my license was going to be suspended.
On another occasion, after ingesting a portion of magic mushrooms, I tripped into my biology class where we happened to be dissecting a fetal pig. I figured this was going to be fun, until I saw the pig move. Quickly, I grabbed it by its short puny hind legs and hurled it out the opened window. Luckily, my teacher, somewhat the faculty rogue, thought it funny. The dean, however, after some reports from other teachers concerning my arrogant and abhorrent behavior, did not. When he visited my dorm, after the incident, he found it even less funny. To say my bed wasn’t made would be like saying there was loose dirt in Dresden after the blitz. He made it clear to me and my parents, that I was not to return there next term, and hopefully, not to the Catskill region of New York at all.
I was a physical and mental basket case the day my folks came to pick me up. I wore the same sweater the state trooper had delighted in, tired dungarees, muddied sneakers, no socks, hair parted in four or five different places, and an expression that said, “take me anyplace.” Fred Astaire danced a suicide two-step in my head while my parents bombarded me with the truth of my behavior and situation. I had to take drivers end classes for my suspended license mandated by The Motor Vehicle Bureau, work in the supermarket immediately, and see Dr. Zarawitz next week. The summer looked grim.

My folks saw my condition and just allowed me time to rest and heal. I don’t know if that was a conscious decision, or one based on fear, confusion and non-confrontation. In any event, I ate good foods and rested for days but still my depression didn’t lift. However, after a week, after the chemicals left my body, it did. One day I woke up and didn’t feel so bad; I didn’t feel great, but good enough to go out again and see some friends who I knew didn’t get high, at least not yet.
Donny, who was going to Brooklyn College and who had joined a fraternity, persuaded me to go to one of their parties. Reluctantly, I went. I was desperate for company. I was never one for fraternities, sororities, big parties, gatherings, or crowds. I do not like crowds; I distrust crowds. I think the crowd becomes mindless with the very real possibility of mindless action. An action that an individual would never do when alone somehow becomes not only permissible but also encouraged among other humans of cowardly bent.
When in crowded rooms with people I don’t know, I usually look to do one of two things: either I look for a drink, or a place where I can hide, preferably both. Donny brought me there but was soon lost amid his fraternity brothers celebrating the end of the semester and the beginning of summer. Summer for spirits at rest, for minds uncluttered by defeat. I grabbed a beer and looked around for a spot that seemed isolated. I spied an anteroom near the front of the house, snatched two more cans of beer, and went toward it. If somebody thought they could drink two cans of beer, I could drink four, and so on. In fact, I thought I could piss more than most people could drink. Hey, any of our social masculine trappings would encourage me, motivate me, and elevate me, beyond the ozone layer. I turned a corner, sipping on one beer, and clutching two more when I saw Corinne sitting on the edge of a sofa, alone.
“Hey man.” She looked up. Her face brightened. Between the two of us we could have lit up Broadway. “What the fuck you doin’ here?” I stuttered, beer dribbling down the corner of my mouth. She laughed with one of those stupefied expressions and said, “I really don’t know.”
“Me neither, let’s get the Hell out of here.”
“I’m ready.” She stood up and came over to me.
“Wait right here, I’ll be right back.” I ran into the living room, grabbed some more beer and hurried back to her. I put my hand through the crook of her elbow, and the first wave of adrenaline rushed through me. On legs that could best be described as “wobbly,” I guided her out the front door.
Both of us laughed and breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s a good thing I showed up when I did. In another minute you would have been dead.”
We walked and talked and sipped our beers. We traded confidences and told each other the disappointments and, to some extent, the pain, that the year had wrought. It was difficult and easy at the same time. She had outgrown Marty and had moved on, but her home situation was unraveling. Her mother had taken up with her father’s best friend who lived next door to them, and she felt obligated to sustain her brother and sister. Her academic work was in a shambles. Her concentration had fled, and she was now thinking of dropping Russian as a major and switching to Art. “It’s easy to hide behind art,” she explained. “You can make a case for anything.”
“That’s what Dostoyevsky did, didn’t he?” She looked at me long and hard but said nothing.
We caught a bus back to Seagate and talked on the beach until the sun inched its way out of the water.
“We really shouldn’t say goodbye now, you know,” I said.
“I can’t just do it like that. I need a little time.”
“Take your time,” I said, but didn’t really mean it, “I ain’t goin’ nowhere; I’m gonna be here.”
I walked her home and kissed her gently. “Tomorrow?”
“Yes, tomorrow.” She turned and walked inside her house, and I knew that I was going inside with her as well.
That’s all it took. That’s all it ever takes, for any of us, isn’t it? A little bit of hope. Love is like knowledge: you never know when it’s going to leap up and grab you around the throat. But, if “thinking” is to “knowledge” is to “head’, and if “love” is to “feeling” is to “heart” then I did a whole lot of “feeling” and not very much “thinking.” In my “heart” I was a victim; in my “head” a victimizer. Rarely does that coin ever land on its side. It would take me years to become aware of that. But, it was summer! The wounds of that winter would heal, scar over, and fade. Romance had careened around the corner like a mad streetcar with a raving conductor playing a silly Sousa march. What else can make you forget the dead loves, the betrayals, defeats, and dreams unrealized like the first budding of a new love?

Problems and responsibilities were like so many pieces of lint that you brush away with a flick of the hand. That behemoth of bureaucracy, The Motor Vehicle Bureau, had me going into New York City, to watch a film that featured car accidents, violent, graphic and thoroughly enjoyable, before I could get my license back, and my father had me going into his store a few days a week. Neither could diminish in any way the exhilaration I felt before, during, or after being with Corinne. And Corinne and I were nearly inseparable those first few weeks. Talking in the early morning and then hooking up in the evening to talk and walk some more bracketed our days. And there was plenty to talk about: Vietnam, civil rights, Coltrane playing like a priest conducting mass in Latin on Meditations on the one hand and Dylan Bringing It All Back Home on the other; Ginsberg and Ramparts and infidelity and communism/socialism and liberation and burning burning burning the human dynamo in the machinery of night. She converted me to Dylan; I turned her on to Billie and Bird, Miles, and Trane. She brought me back to The Impressions, Miracles, and soul, and I told her about The Towne Hill and Sam Cooke. I showed her my poetry, and she told me how I might want to polish it. Whatever we did, whatever we talked about, sex permeated the air around us. The tease of unspoken promise heightened our senses. We were already lovers who had yet to consummate our love, and the fever built like heat rising off the asphalt tar, swirling around and through and over us and up over our heads.
Curtis Mayfield was singing Gypsy Woman on a hot June day when we finally made love in the basement of her house in her bedroom. It was beautifully awkward. We fumbled with each other and strained to please. It was too conscious, and not conscious enough, but by the end of the summer we were familiar with each other’s likes and dislikes, trusting and experimenting with tongues and teeth and fingers and eyes and ears and flesh and sweat and sweat, our hair wet and our bodies devoured and devouring. We’d walk the boardwalk in Coney Island or the beach in Seagate after making love; the air, sweet and salty licking our bodies, making my cock, and her nipples, hard again and making us laugh as the breezes played with and through unbuttoned shirts and leather sandals. We were as invincible as the ocean. Nothing was unobtainable. She’d lightly place her hand on the small of my back and rub or stick her hand in the rear pocket of my jeans. I’d hold her around her waist and watch the white foamed waves, etched in black, roll in and out, and in again. Nothing would change, ever. And, as new lovers would, we’d make love anywhere, anytime: the backs of cars, the beach, a hallway, staircase, her bedroom in the basement, or my bedroom which was next to my parents bedroom. The only thing that mattered was whether or not we had a few minutes to play with. And really, that didn’t matter much either.


Norman Savage
Greenwich Village, 2015

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