Tuesday, August 25, 2015
WAR, COUNTRY & LOVE: THE POLITICS OF ADDICTS: FROM CHAPTER VII: CONFESSIONS OF AN UNCONTROLLED DIABETIC
On the corner of University Place, in Greenwich Village, on the same block as were the Executive Offices of Project Return, I found an apartment. It was a 350 square foot, one bedroom, in a brownstone, a postage stamp sized pad for 300 bucks a month. It was March 1974. I used a twenty-five hundred dollar inheritance from Aunt Dora who, at the kindly age of 95, still having all her wits about her, conveniently slipped away two weeks before I signed the lease. I was thrilled to find a pad in The Village but thought that this was just a transition between what I could afford then, and where I wanted to eventually be, in one of those beautiful floor through pads with giant ceilings in The Village, with a garden in the back. I am still here, never having made too much bread then, or now.
Julio had most of the ingredients that go into presenting a figure that other men want to emulate. He was smart, sexy, funny, charismatic, and powerful. He had one other characteristic that was important in my particular cosmology. He was emotionally stingy. Although I knew he was more than pleased with my work, he was less than generous. Not only did he not compensate me financially, he hardly ever complimented or acknowledged the contributions I made. It drew me closer to him, because unlike my father, we’d socialize after work, discussing not only our professional concerns but share secrets about our personal lives as well. It was in this kind of relationship that I’d lose all boundaries. Working hours would be unimportant, my food and eating schedules would have to be adjusted to conform to what his life, and my work, dictated. My own needs and priorities would be placed on the back burner. Consequently, there was an anger simmering just below the surface.
As I’ve previously said, up until therapeutic communities acknowledged the tie between alcohol and substance abuse, those who had given up drugs would tend to drink excessively, not ever equating the two as equally, and potentially, addictive. For me, if I did something twice and it pleased me in the same way, I was hooked on it. Any of the “sparks” and/or “levelers” that keep men from going totally insane, such as booze, drugs, food, gambling and women, were incendiary devices that could, and sometimes would, blow up in my face. I was a heat seeking pleasure missile. I tried to keep a balance or keep afloat for as long as possible and pray that The Coast Guard wasn’t asleep when rescue time was at hand. And I made rescue particularly difficult. I asked to be rescued as I was diving in.
“Hey Norm, you don’t have to drink like that. You’re a diabetic man, a fuckin’ diabetic! Have one, and if you can’t have one, have a Perrier or something instead. As a matter of fact, if you can’t drink, I ain’t drinkin’ either.” That’s what I wanted Julio to say, but how could he say that when I told him nothing? And even if I had, why would I expect him, or anyone else to say that? What I was looking for was not forthcoming: a father who would be not only concerned and sensitive to my diabetes, but who cared enough about me to be willing to sacrifice something he loved himself. Masculinity meant excess; moderation was not part of my vocabulary. I kept going to a well that was dry and expected to find water. How long could I remain passive? The answer was endlessly and forever.
My social network had begun to spread out. Besides going with Julio after work to The Cedar Tavern, an old haunt of mine from my days at The New School, I was going to The Other End, a saloon/cabaret on Bleecker Street in the heart of Greenwich Village. I was introduced to one of the owners, Dan, by a supporter of Project Return, who told me that he might be interested in making a contribution to the program.
During our conversation I met the other owners: Paul Colby, the original owner of The Bitter End, which was the progenitor of The Other End and, Dale, the third partner. Dale, was an ordained reverend who liked having his pulpit on the other side of the bar. It was Dale with whom I got closest. He taught me how to tend bar and mix drinks. It was easy and I enjoyed it. Soon I was hanging out there after work and on weekends. Sometimes, if it was slow, I’d tend bar while clocking the action in The Village. I made friends with some of the staff as well as some of the patrons. I felt safe and in control behind a thick piece of wood that ran the length of the bar. The skills that I honed there would come into play later.
There were many different worlds that I would traverse over the course of a week; the non profit world of substance abuse programs, the wealthy and mannered world of the rich and powerful, and the careless and heated world of saloons, music and immediacy.
One afternoon, after having lunch with an editor from The Atlantic Monthly at The Harvard Club, and drinks with a friend of hers at The Algonquin Hotel, Leslie took me back to her apartment. For quite some time I felt the relationship we had was growing stale. In fact, I was beginning to feel more than a little embarrassed. I felt uncomfortable and ridiculous for accepting lunches, dinners, and gifts as a catalyst, carrot or end-product of our sexual union, but she held out to me both the promise of publication and helping Project Return; she had me by both balls.
“Did I ever tell you about my villa in Sardinia?” she began, over a cup of coffee.
“No, I don’t think so,” I replied, not caring to listen to her tell me about it either. My mind tried to land on something else, something less ephemeral.
“Well,” she continued, “it’s lovely, beautiful. We’re on a hill, overlooking The Mediterranean. The breezes are soft and the air seems perfumed with a sweet salt and jasmine that’s just indescribable. It’s...luscious, that’s it, luscious.”
“Sounds great,” I said.
“You know if Ron were dead, we could just go there, leave this country for half a year at a time. You could write, and I could...I could just be. You’d like that wouldn’t you?” She took my hand in hers and stared into my eyes.
I felt as if someone had walked over my grave. “You’re kidding, aren’t you?” I finally said.
She paused, “Of course I’m kidding. You know I’m kidding. I love Ron and my children. I was really testing you.”
She wasn’t kidding, and she knew I knew she wasn’t kidding. It was time to bail out.
Fortunately for me, the bail-out had a parachute named Dinitia. She was a producer of documentaries who called my office one day to inquire whether she could look at the link between drug addiction and suicide. After checking her credentials with our psychiatrist, who was on our Board of Directors, and Julio, I accepted her invitation to meet. I also accepted her invitation to go to the Emmy awards where she won for her documentary on rape. She was very smart, attractive, and provocative, my Holy Trinity. It wasn’t too long before we were involved with one another on more than a professional basis.
I took Dinitia to my poetry reading at Leslie and Ron’s apartment knowing full well the effect it would have on Leslie. In fact, that’s why I took her. Julio, his wife, my brother, and a few of my friends accompanied me as well. Leslie and Ron had invited a few Broadway producers, literary agents and some actors that I remembered from their days on television. I poured myself a tumbler of scotch, went to the piano, and began to read. I read for about an hour. Afterward, many of their friends came over and told me how they enjoyed hearing poetry that came from the rough and tumble world and not the sylvan playing fields they’d always believed that poetry occupied. Then, an old, but attractive woman who owned a literary agency came up to me and told me she enjoyed the work, but I went on too long. I should, she told me, never overstay my welcome. It’s her remark that has stayed with me most. After I read, waiters came around with trays of food and champagne. As we were talking among ourselves, the lights dimmed, a man who had just arrived came over and sat at the piano, and Leslie, wearing a black unitard, stood by his side as he began to play. Leslie sang an opera leider and danced for twenty minutes. It seemed like she caught everyone off guard, and it took some time for us to catch up. She walked off to a smattering of applause. Julio whispered to me that she reminded him of a degenerate Peter Pan.
By the end of the evening, no offers were made to me, but I achieved what I wanted in more ways than one. Besides, it was a very unique evening for the ex-addicts, barflies, and one time denizens of the deep. We were flying in a new ozone layer, complete with U.F.O’s and servants. I went over to Ron and Leslie and thanked them for the night. Ron shook my hand and told me it was a pleasure. Leslie, kissed my cheek and whispered in my ear, “You’re a bastard.” I did what any good showman would do. I didn’t overstay my welcome.
Six months later I received a postcard from Leslie. It informed me that she and Ron were moving to another state because he wanted to be closer to his manufacturing concerns. She said she would miss me and Project Return and would call me when they got situated. For the briefest of seconds, I was sorry to see them go.
Dinitia and I were moving too, farther apart. Neither one of us were terribly upset by this fact. She was busy in one way, and I in another. We just drifted until we stopped calling each other. Being as visible as I was in my role with Project Return, coupled with having saloons in Greenwich Village where I was known and liked by the owners, gave me more than enough opportunities with women.
In fact, I was flying pretty high and could do no wrong: I was writing P.S.A’s for radio and television that were being aired with frequency and I was engaging private enterprises to donate money, services, or goods. Richard Wilde, a friend of mine from Seagate, was the chairman of the Commercial Art Department at The School of Visual Arts. He helped orchestrate a class project: To create a brochure for a nonprofit that would look as professionally put together as one from the private sector. It was beautifully done, and it was free. I was becoming more sure of myself. From a stuttering kid who was afraid to speak up in front of groups of people I didn’t know, without a drink in my hand or a needle in my arm, I became the lead voice of public relations concerns at meetings that would involve other drug programs. I was on a roll and wanted to become better.
In July of that year, I decided I wanted to go into private therapy. I had become aware of a disturbing trait. I hardly ever finished what I began, either in my creative work or in relationships with women. Also, I knew I should be taking better care of myself diabetically. My energy was at such a high level that I felt I could be finishing major writing projects that I’d outlined or started, and fulfill some of my early dreams.
Handelsman, the psychologist who was brutally honest with me before I went into Areba, was the person I wanted as my therapist. I wrote him a letter telling him so. He called me, and we met a few weeks later in his office. Once he saw that I was no longer using narcotics and independent, he agreed to take me on as a patient. First, he said, he would want to see me in a group that he ran twice a week and, if he thought I had the staying power after my adjustment to the group, he’d see me individually as well. I tried to argue with him. What I needed, I told him, was one to one therapy, not groups. I’d been in literally hundreds of groups. “The people are all different in my groups,” he said. “They are highly intelligent and so diverse that you would benefit greatly from their insights and, maybe, they could benefit from yours. Besides, you’ll be able to help someone else,” he concluded. I hadn’t thought of that.
The group was diverse and had been in therapy with Handelsman for a considerable period of time. There was Sarah, who’s father was a dentist who, when Sarah was a young girl, treated her without the benefit of novacaine; Frank, a former colonel in the armed services and present judge in Manhattan, who’s wife would maliciously mock him for not knowing how to salute; Esther, who nailed her diaphragm to her former lover’s door; Sidney, a gay aging tenor at The Metropolitan Opera, who took young lovers who regularly robbed and beat him; Oscar, a multimillionaire stock broker who lived in a rent-controlled hovel and could never indulge any of his desires, let alone fantasies; Allen, a photographer who now could only take pictures, but never develop them and there was Emily. I remember my first group with them. I’d gotten through the obligatory introduction of myself when Emily, an aspiring psychoanalyst, said, “Why do you talk like a southern black man?”
I thought for a moment, looked at her directly, and replied, “Because Jews ain’t white,” parroting Brasz’ line, and added, “or aren’t you hip to that? You remember the Holocaust, don’t you? Frying those gypsies and Jews and watching Jesse Owens win the gold you had to know Adolf would have liked to bake him, too. In fact, you look a little German to me.” I wanted to wink at her, but refrained from doing so.
Emily remained calm. “We’ll deal with that later,” she smugly said, “you’re too new.”
“With all due respect: Fuck that. Deal with it now,” I shot back, and added, “Besides, I’m not new; inside this skin is an aged infidel. Don’t be afraid, either c’mon and run it, or shut the fuck up.”
She remained silent, while the others in the group looked on. Handelsman knew I had quickly, and effectively, turned the game. And in the process had established myself. But Emily was not wrong, I knew that too. My identity was still up for grabs. My insides had not solidified. Hell, that was why I was there.
Handelsman agreed to see me twice a week privately. I’d still be in the group but would have the opportunity to explore what was kicked-up in there, or brought to light on my own in individual sessions. That was probably in the group’s best interests. I knew I had anger, but not nearly to the depths of which I was to explore. The anger I had could have knocked out the sun. Even to this day, there are certain instances that can bring me back to a state of inner fury as quick as a synapse.
My desire for recognition from people who either had no interest in, or were incapable of providing that, could best be illustrated by two examples. The first involves my father and brother. One afternoon the three of us were sitting in a coffee shop in Manhattan. I was telling them about some of the things I was involved in and then rattled off a short list of accomplishments I’d had up until then for the program. My father looked at my brother with this, “I really don’t want to be telling him this but I just have to” expression. I could feel my blood begin to heat. I couldn’t hear the words as quickly as I could sense them. Then, without looking at me, he said that if he’d been in my position he would have already had at least two large fund-raising benefits under his belt. I looked at him and the feeling that I had done nothing in those two years washed over me. The half million in free advertising, the new brochure, the speeches I had written, not to mention the personal successes I’d had were turned into instant shit. “Hey motherfucker,” I wanted to say, “what the Hell have you done? You were handed your business. I went out and created mine.” Instead, my blood boiled, but I remained silent.
The second incident happened with Julio. We’d been going to high level funding meetings, both in Manhattan and Albany. We spent a lot of time together but, as I’ve said, I had lost perspective of what I was doing to and for myself and had wanted to carve out some distance from him. It was a Friday and I had made plans to meet some friends that evening at The Other End. I gathered my things and stuck my head into Julio’s office to say good-bye to him when he motioned me inside. Carlos was sitting there smoking a cigarette and didn’t turn his head in my direction. “What’s up?” I said.
“Where ya goin?” Julio asked.
“Nothin’ man, just seems ya leavin’ a little early, no?” Julio said, in a way that implied a curious displeasure. Carlos, without turning his head, said something to Julio in Spanish. Each time they did that it irked the shit out of me, and I had voiced that complaint more than once.
“Early?” I began, trying to choose my words carefully, being immediately put on the defensive. “It’s after five, and besides, I never look at the clock, but you know that already. I’m going to ask again, what’s up?”
“There’s a community board meeting that I want you to go to tonight,” Julio said, his tone telling me I had to go.
“Sure, I had plans, but no problem,” I replied, stifling the anger in my chest and stilling the swirling and conflicting thoughts in my head. I wanted (and was waiting for) Julio to come over to me and, in front of Carlos, say, “Norman, I can’t, words can’t, express what you’ve meant to this program. I don’t know how I’m gonna do it but I’m gonna find the bread to give you the raise you deserve.” But he didn’t say that, and never would. Carlos then said something to him so low that I couldn’t make it out. “What did you say, Carlos?” I asked, with more anger than I wanted either of them, but especially Carlos, to see.
“I didn’t say no fuckin’ thing that had any fuckin’ thing to do with you, so take it fuckin’ easy,” Carlos shot back.
“I’ll take it any fuckin’ way I want to,” I replied, and continued, “I don’t know what the Hell is going on here but it has nothin’ to do with me and if it does, if you’re dissatisfied with my work here, then let’s sit down and talk about it, but Jesus Christ, I don’t know what the Hell this is all about,” I said, and paused, thinking how to exit gracefully. “I thought you called me in here to give me a raise.”
Julio laughed and said, “Oh brother, I wish I had the bread, but I don’t. Listen, you don’t have to go to that meeting. I’ll see ya Monday.”
I didn’t say anything. I just turned and went out of his office, but it left a sour taste in my mouth. I didn’t know then what that was all about but, being as paranoid as I am, thought about it a great deal. It began to eat at me, especially the raise, which I knew I deserved and thought he should find the money from somewhere to give me.
The group I was in was on my ass as well. They ridiculed me about the low salary I was receiving. They pointed to other people that they knew who were in the same field who were not nearly as productive as I was and were making much more money than me. I tried to defend the program by saying that we weren’t funded all that well, but it sounded lame, even to my ears. Why should the situation change, why should Julio change they were quick to point out, if you continue working as hard as you’ve been and not complaining? I had no answer to that. Simply, I was afraid to verbalize what I thought to be the truth. If he could find money for other people, he should be able to find some for me. Confronting him with that I was afraid he’d reply, “Well brother, I guess you should move on, look for something else.” They suggested I look for other opportunities and find out what my market value was and believe in my “worth”, both financial and emotional. In fact, they had some contacts who could, if I wanted, steer me in various directions. But I couldn’t do it. I was in a bind. I was not able to go to Julio because of my own inability to confront powerful male figures, and not able to go against a code of honor that prized loyalty above the needs of oneself.
The risk I always ran in those situations was enormous. The slightest betrayal, even from a person I hardly knew, was enough for me to walk away and sever all relations with him. However, it was more dangerous for me if the betrayal came from someone I needed for safety, love, recognition, and acceptance. At first I’d swallow it, but then that betrayal would quickly turn to anger and anger, turned rotten, would turn to hate. When that happened, it often set the stage for my impulsivity, so I could try to vomit the poison out. Miller, in his play, After the Fall, wrote, God, why is betrayal the only truth that sticks? I am a man who gathers evidence of a certain kind, and betrayal, so monumental and sweeping and painful, is the emotional cud that can be endlessly chewed.
The Greater New York Coalition on Substance Abuse, representing over one hundred programs, both drug-free and methadone maintenance, elected me Chairman of Public Relations. I’d accompany Julio, and other presidents and representatives of programs, up to Albany, to lobby for funds during the fiscal crunch of 1975-76. To be privy in seeing behind those old and burnished wooden doors, to back room politics in action, is to experience a sobering and disheartening observation of America. To watch the games unfold inside the chambers of politicians was an education in subtle executions and, less subtle, pissing contests.
We had scheduled meetings in Albany with the Republican leader of the Senate, Warren Anderson, and some of the major Democratic leaders who had lined up on our side, particularly, Steingut and McCall of the House. Facing budget cuts of such magnitude presented a very real prospect of releasing some residents to the streets to once again experience a lifestyle of misery and pain. Also, we’d certainly be unable to admit future clients. We were inside Anderson’s chambers, lobbying for a restoration of funds.
“We do not have the wisdom of Solomon,” began John Scanlon, a public relations wizard who, at that time, was a consultant for Phoenix House and the The Greater Coalition on Substance Abuse. “If you could, Senator Anderson, visit each of our programs and select the men and women that have to be released, we would appreciate that. For we simply cannot choose.” Scanlon concluded.
“Don’t be so melodramatic,” Anderson replied.
“We don’t think we are,” Dr. Rosenthal, the President of Phoenix House, said. “There is virtually no doubt that the ones we will have to let go will go back to the streets and resume a life of addiction which means a life of crime as well.”
“There’s only a finite amount of money available. These are very hard and trying times,” Anderson stated with not the least amount of inflection in his voice.
“Senator, it’s cheaper to treat them than to jail them. It cost approximately twenty-five hundred dollars a year to have a person in my program and twenty thousand dollars a year to house them in a correctional facility anywhere in New York State,” Julio said.
“Commitments have been made,” Anderson began. “What about my people upstate? There is more to New York than New York City. I promised my constituents a zoo; a zoo that I have promised them for years; a zoo they can take their children to. What am I supposed to tell them: that the money that was allocated to them went instead to treat a drug addict in New York City? Gentlemen, be realistic.”
We had known for quite some time about the allocations of money through Democratic leaks about the budget. Anderson, and his Republican colleagues, earmarked a small fortune to build a barge, complete with fireworks, to celebrate The Bicentennial of America on a small portion of The Hudson River on July Fourth.
“What about the nine hundred thousand dollar Bicentennial Barge?” I asked, “Couldn’t you omit one or two Roman Candles?”
Anderson looked at me like he was looking at a bug. “Let’s not be funny. That’s America, son.”
“I’m sorry, I must have lost my head.”
One evening, later in the week, Julio called. He asked me to get the car and pick him up at his home, which was only a few blocks from my apartment. As he got in the car, he told me to drive to Gracie Mansion, the home of New York City’s Mayor.
Gracie Mansion is located on East End Avenue and sits atop a small rise adjacent to Carl Shurz Park, a four block long oasis in Manhattan. The park is relatively small, has some trees and greenery, walkways for those with dogs or idle time on their hands, and a few basketball courts. It is located directly behind the promenade that looks onto The East River. It is a sequestered spot in a city that gives little shelter except, for the very wealthy, not to mention prosperous neighbors of the Mayor of Manhattan.
One of those wealthy neighbors was Dr. Judiann Densen-Gerber, the president of Odyssey House, who had a townhouse on East End Avenue, with her husband, Dr. Michael Baden, a former Chief Medical Examiner of New York City. We parked our car near her home and began strolling the five blocks that comprised the park and Gracie Mansion. Julio had spoke during the drive only to say how upset he was that these, “white bread motherfuckers” could do this to him and suffer no consequences. We stopped, after completing a walking cycle of the area.
“We’re gonna camp, motherfucker,” he said as if speaking to himself, but loud enough for me to hear.
I knew immediately what he had in mind. “I’ll call Mitch, the Monsignor, and we could walk across the street and knock on the Dr.’s door.”
“Leave the doctor for last, first call Mitch and Bill and get them on board. Then you can tell her. You know what I’m sayin’, right?”
“On both counts,” I said. “I’m going to ask them if they’ll join us camping out in front of Gracie Mansion with hundreds of dope fiends until they restore the money in the supplemental budget. After they get on board, I’ll call the good doctor and see if we can use her pad for our headquarters. She’ll like that.”
“You’re white, but you’re cool,” he said, and kissed me on the cheek.
“We should include all the drug-free programs we can, right?”
“Yes, you’re right, call the Rabbi and anyone else you can think of, and get them on board but...”
“Right after Mitch and Bill.”
“People are so scared even if they’re doin’ good because those bastards hold them hostage. Fuck that. We’re gonna show them what some ex-addicts can do, but first we have to make them not feel afraid, and that means that the big boys gotta put their balls on the line before you ask them to.” He paused for a few seconds. He was probably trying to envision what the scene would look like in a week. “What do you think we should call it?” he asked.
“Let me think for a second,” I answered, trying to come up with a catch phrase or sentence the media could capitalize on. “How many people you think we could come up with?” I asked.
“Oh, three or four hundred I think,” he replied.
“The City of the Forgotten,” I said and looked at him.
“That’s it, man, That’s good.”
We pitched tents on the street in front of Gracie Mansion a week later. What began with one hundred recovering addicts, grew to three hundred by weeks end. Once I contacted Rosenthal and the Monsignor, the two most important leaders of drug-free treatment in Manhattan, the project began having a life all it’s own. They spoke with Julio, agreed to coordinate the logistics within their organization, and a due date to begin the operation was established.
Kevin McEneaney, then the Director of Public Relations for Phoenix House, and I, began writing press releases and getting our media contacts synchronized. We wanted to present this as an overnight blitz to thwart the giants of insensitivity, the government, from cutting the funds to our programs. Those who are camping out on the street, we informed the media, are a small sampling of the human beings who are trying to turn their lives around but are now going to be littering the streets should the funds not be restored.
Abraham Beame, a man of diminutive stature and nearing seventy years of age, was the Mayor whose mansion we were camping out in front. By the time Beame awoke, and had his morning cup of coffee, we were snugly in our tents with the major representatives of the top four drug-free programs giving interviews to the print, radio and TV reporters of the greater metropolitan area. Beame had been beset by so many problems during his term as Mayor, that the sight of drug addicts in tents in front of his door made him a hair short of apoplectic. It was bad enough that he’d gotten hammered by the municipal unions, civil service workers, teachers, blacks, Hispanics, the cops, sanitation, and firemen but now drug addicts!? Impossible!
He approached us with a representative and asked if we’d leave if he promised he would conduct meetings to try and restore the funds that the city was eliminating from the treatment facilities. We told him that we couldn’t do that. We wanted the funds restored before we’d leave. He turned, without saying a word, and marched back up to Gracie Mansion.
All that morning, once we saw that we had secured the place for ourselves, and that more room was available, I started to call and invite other programs. They were eager to become part of the demonstration. Shortly after Beame had tramped back up the hill, the bathroom facilities in the park that we had been using for our personal hygiene and sanitation needs were turned off. Instead, we used the hospital’s facilities which were directly across the street from the encampment, and some local businesses, for our biological needs. However, after a few hours, we had overstayed our welcome in most of those alternatives.
I was sitting in the kitchen of Dr. Densen-Gerber, whose townhouse we were using as our headquarters, as she tried using her considerable political connections in Manhattan, to get the bathrooms opened. Stymied on the local level, her next call was to the Vice-President’s office in The White House, Nelson Rockefeller who was then the country’s second in command. I sat, a bit incredulous, as this mini-drama unfolded.
“This is Dr. Judiann Densen-Gerber. May I please speak to the Vice-President?” she intoned into the receiver. “Yes, I’ll wait, but could you please tell him that this is quite urgent.”
I sat, sipping coffee and smoking a cigarette. She asked me how many people we had camping out there and what, if any, media coverage we had, up to that point, gotten. The bits of conversation that follows is as close to what transpired as I remember it, given the fact that I was only privy to her remarks and comments:
“Ah, Nelson, hello, yes I’m fine. How are you?...Good, yes, that’s good. I’m glad to hear that....Nelson, have you been aware of what has been going on here in Manhattan, at Gracie Mansion?...No, it’s not funny Nelson, this is quite serious. Those idiots are trying to shut us down and we’re not going to have any of that. But they’re not playing fair. They’ve closed down the bathrooms in the park, Nelson, and I want you to do something!...No, Nelson, I don’t want to hear that. You can do something and you will; you must! I want you to get them to reopen those restrooms. My girls have no place to change their tampax and it’s just horrible the way they think they can treat people!...Well, thank you, Nelson. And listen, one more thing: why are you federal people putting so much money into methadone maintenance and so little into drug free treatment?...That’s bullshit, Nelson. But thank you for this. Goodbye.”
She got off the phone and a smile crept across her face.
“What did he say, Judy?” I asked.
“He’ll get the bathrooms opened,” she replied.
“What about the question you asked him?”
“They’re putting money into methadone maintenance because they want to know that addicts will be confined in inner city neighborhoods. They want to know where they are.”
By the time I got back to the encampment Elaine, from the famous Elaine’s, the celebrity watering hole on the upper East Side, and the actor Ben Gazzara, were feeding pasta to “The City of the Forgotten.” She had brought over huge drums of food on a truck and her and her staff were ladling it out. When I saw her and Gazzara, I jumped into a phone booth and began making calls to the media, hoping for a chance to be on the six o’clock news. Then I went over to Elaine and told her to slow down a bit, to give the media time to get there.
Some of the neighborhood residents, a bit frightened, or angry and certainly put-off at first, were now mingling with some of the people camped out, talking with Elaine or Gazzara or speaking to staff members of the programs. I took the opportunity to introduce myself to a few, stressing our needs and how they, if they believed in the mission of the programs there, could help. And some did. Within an hour, either because Rockefeller or some of the more heavily politicized residents had, or both, called someone, the bathrooms were reopened.
In the days that followed more programs came down to either pitch tents or support us. We orchestrated the media coverage to put more pressure on city government, winning the public relation wars. Every time the press would arrive, Monsignor O’Brian, if he was there, would go into a nearby underground garage and change from his “battle fatigues” into a priest’s collar and robes. Dr. Densen-Gerber’s program, Odyssey House, which specialized in treating young girls who became addicts, paraded those who were clean, pretty, and articulate for interviews and photo opportunities with the media.
We were able to apply so much pressure that Mayor Beame, looking haggard and worn, who everyday, had to pass this sprawling mass of humanity, came down from his seclusion in The Mansion to meet with us. He met with Julio and the other leaders of the programs and informed them that the cuts, at least on the city’s end, would be restored. We relayed this information to the troops, but not before calling the media to alert them of what had transpired. We were in the process of cleaning up and going home and thought it would make a fitting end for the media to celebrate. We slowed our cleanup until a few media reporters scurried over to film the end of that episode and the beginning of another. It was time to go up to Albany again.
I thought it was a little strange that Carlos went with Julio up to Albany to scout locations for the next encampment, but I didn’t think too much about it because I had plenty to keep me busy. I was following up with the contacts I had made during the previous week, talking to the reporters who had covered the story to try and prolong it’s life, and gearing up the program for our eventual journey up to Albany.
Julio returned and briefed me as to whom he saw and the location he had selected for The City of the Forgotten, Part Two. I went up to Albany the very next day to begin meeting with the press from the local, state, and national media housed there. I found it more than a little peculiar when walking through a state building seeking Carl McCall, a representative who was in our corner, that the other leaders from Phoenix House and Daytop Village were also up there trying to meet with him as well. When I asked what had brought them up there, they informed me that they were also negotiating for a location to hold our demonstration. I asked if they’d spoken to Julio about the location he had already selected and they told me they had. They felt they could negotiate a site nearer the capital building. I said that I felt that a site had already been selected, and that since it was Julio who had taken the lead on this, they should just trust his judgment. They listened but said nothing and went on with their agenda.
I found a phone in a hallway and called Julio. He answered, and I heard voices in the background. He told me that he was in the midst of a meeting with people from the other drug-free programs. I told him that there were people in Albany trying to negotiate what they thought was a better site and I asked if he knew about it. Obviously, he didn’t. For some reason, he began yelling at me, as if I were behind these secret negotiations and perhaps it was I who wanted not only a better site, but a better job as well. I felt my face blush and my world get smaller. I felt dizzy and angry all at the same time. He told me to get back to Manhattan immediately and see him as soon as I did. I was embarrassed, humiliated in front of whomever was in his office. I had no idea then what had provoked his outburst, but I was anxious to find out.
I did not say goodbye to anyone. I got in my car and drove back to New York City enraged and in a hurry.
In a little less than four hours, I was passing Yankee Stadium, on my way into Manhattan. A confrontation that I dreaded, was going to happen. The only question I had was how it would play out.
He was still in his office when I arrived, around six o’clock. There was no one in his office, except for Carlos. I felt queasy, but knew I had to go in.
“Julio, why did you talk like that to me, in front of whoever was in here? Why me, man?” I said, pretending Carlos wasn’t in the room.
“Because you’re getting too big for your own good. You’re not running this program, I am,” he replied looking directly at me.
“What the Hell are you talking about? ‘I’m running the program’? Who told you that?” I said and looked over at Carlos for the first time.
“Never mind who told me; nobody had to tell me. I don’t sleep on anyone.” He paused, looked over to Carlos and said something in Spanish. Carlos responded and they chuckled for a second.
“Hey, people I’m in the room,” I angrily said. “Have the common courtesy to wait ‘til I leave to say what you have to say.” And I started to turn around to leave.
“Wait a minute,” Julio began. “You’re going to stay down here and make sure you get the press to come up to Albany to cover the shit we’re gonna do up there. You got that?”
“I think for the bread you’re payin’ me I’m doin’ a pretty good job of doing that, don’t you think?” I said as sarcastically as I could.
“Don’t give me that shit,” he said. “Just do what you’re supposed to do. I’ve been a little too free with you.”
“Hold on. Wait a second. I’m not in the program anymore; I’m working for the program. There’s a big difference.”
“Tomorrow I’ll be up in Albany. You’ll get your marching orders from Carlos. Call him when you get in tomorrow. Just do your job.”
I turned around and left.
I went out of his office angry and confused. Once I got into my apartment, a few minutes later, I called up a buddy of mine, Doc, and asked if he wanted to meet for dinner and a few cocktails. We were to meet at The Cedar Tavern a few hours later. I took a hot shower, dressed, and went across the street.
Doc, whose name is David, was a real doctor, a psychiatrist. I met him one night while bartending at The Other End. He was of medium height, handsome, with dark and mischievous eyes surrounded by a full beard. He would have rather been a comedy writer than a doctor and probably choose psychiatry because it left some room for humor and error. We were both Jewish, funny, and grew up near each other in Brooklyn, he in Manhattan Beach. Over drinks, he cautioned me not to let my emotions get the better of me. After an hour of considering the pros and cons of the situation, he looked in my eyes, saw the expression on my face, and finished by saying that if he were me, he would start checking the classified sections of the newspapers for work.
It didn’t take long for the proverbial “other shoe” to drop. The next day when I went into the office, I felt like a stranger. Everything I did, and was about to do, seemed odd and out of place. I sat down, took a deep breath, and called Carlos. When he picked up the phone, I asked, trying to have no inflection in my voice, “Well, Carlos, what do you want me to do today?”
“Just tell me everything that you’re doing or are about to do. And at the end of the day write it up in a memo and send it over here because Julio wants to know. So, even if you go to the bathroom...”
“Hey, wait a fucking minute,” I responded, unable to control the anger I felt, “what is this?”
“I’m just following directions, man. Just like you have to do now.”
He hung up, but not before I heard the smirk in his voice. I knew in that moment who had put a bug in Julio’s ear. I knew it was Carlos who had planted the seeds. Jealous of how close I had become to Julio, whom Carlos thought of as an older brother, he had probably said things to him about my considering myself at Julio’s level when dealing with the leaders of other programs. The reality was closer to the fact that I was simply smarter than Carlos, could do more than he could, and was in tune with politics and the future of where drug programs were going. He just couldn’t handle it. I sat at my desk and thought about it. My anger was really pain over being betrayed by both Carlos and Julio. Carlos I could understand, but Julio’s response cut deep. I couldn’t fathom how he could take what Carlos told him at face value. I decided that no matter how close I thought I had become to Julio, I couldn’t fight the “Hispanic” bond that they had together. They had known each other too long and had been through too much together for someone like me to make a difference. I quickly wrote a letter of resignation and called a director in one of our facilities to send over a resident who would act as a courier to deliver my letter to Julio in Albany. I then called Carlos.
“Carlos,” I began, “I just wanted to call and inform you that I’m taking a piss...on your head.” I hung up.
I gathered all my papers, almost five years worth, and left. I was in a hurry, and I didn’t want to leave them with any part of me. I had almost eight weeks of accumulated vacation and sick pay coming and whatever else I had neglected to use. It was enough to hold me until I found another job, and just like that I was gone, almost as if I’d never been there. In all my relationships that involved strong emotional components, when the break came, it came quickly, was usually fractured, and had little, if any, resolution.
Years later, Carlos would admit to me what he had done. I took absolutely no pleasure in finding out that it was everything that I thought it to be.
pgs 128-138, From Chapter VII, JUNK SICK: CONFESSIONS OF AN UNCONTROLLED DIABETIC
Greenwich Village, 2015