February 23, 2007

Vote McGovern


We were college freshmen, not long in New York. Smart-ass lookers, we had more attitude than wherewithal, but we didn’t know that. 20 year olds never do. It was the summer of 1972; we had lucked into an apartment. It was on east seventh street, between Avenues C and D. The rent was $74 a month.

Larry was from Pennsylvania, and studied design at Pratt. I was in my first year at NYU and had a part time job at an art gallery on Fifth Avenue. I often walked home from the Bleecker street subway stop, meandering through the East Village, always on the lookout for curbside cast-offs that might be useful or decorative.

It was quite possible, especially for young fashionistas like us, to furnish an entire apartment with such stuff back then, which is pretty much what Larry and I had done. Most of those acquisitions were junk, but frequently appealing junk, imbued with a history whose benevolence our apartment absorbed, whose particulars deferred to our own. But this time, it was a literary find, a stack of old LOOK magazines, rich with photography, on a ninth street curb, that caught my eye. But no sooner had I begun pawing through the pop culture archive, heedlessly absorbed, than three young muggers quietly surrounded me.

With incredible swiftness I was hustled at knifepoint into the deserted lobby of an old tenement across the street. I was young and there was a tussle. I’d managed to wriggle free for the second time, but now they were looming closer and I was backing into the dead end of a stairwell under a bare light bulb. Then I began to yell. "Help! Help!" I yapped with what seemed to my astonished ears the bleat of a baby goat. "Help!" I bawled again, and the three suddenly relaxed, paused, and looked at one another, and then at me, with incredulous disdain. They tossed around some sly Latino banter. "Fuck off," I said, and lurched for the street. They let me go, but not without first stripping off my jacket with such dexterity, as I passed, that it seemed like a magic trick.

I was back home scarcely five minutes, panting out the story to Larry, when there was a commotion, shouting and a scuffle, out in the street. We ran to the window. There were the same three thugs, mugging someone new. From our third floor window Larry put up a ruckus and they all scattered, leaving their victim dazed, but uninjured. Larry went down and got him. We gave him coffee. He took off his jacket. There was a long slice in the leather where a knife had sought, but missed, his reflexively arched back. We made him as comfortable as we could on the couch. He was gone by the time we got up in the morning.

Larry took his Pierre Cardin tuxedo out of the closet.
"What’s the occasion?" I said.
"I’m trading it with Brian for his Meladandri suit."
"Roland Meladandri?"
Larry gave me a look.
"Good grief. Doesn’t Brian have brain in his head?"
"Not so loud," said Larry.

The occasion was an auction the next night at Brooklyn Academy to benefit the McGovern campaign. I had a press pass. We ended up, importunate but affable intruders among indulgent celebrities, at a table with Hermione Gingold, Andy Warhol, Peggy Cass, and Ed Koch. Warhol’s poster of a spinach-colored Nixon was on the auction block.

"Mr. Nixon’s nose resembles a scimitar," said Hermione, in her legendary affected-to-near-disablement accent.

"Could that explain his appeal to voters?" said Koch.

We were homeward bound on the subway well after midnight. It was all Larry could do to refrain from recapitulating the evening with his gut-busting Gingold impression. But his Meladandri was quietly, and insistently, gleaming under the scrutiny of a couple of punks at the other end of the rattling and flashing subway car. We sat tight and looked unamused. When we pulled into the Canal Street station, the car was infused with a small flock of late-night civilization. We could relax.

"Has it ever occurred to anyone," Larry began in Gingold’s trembling and aggrandized tone, "that Golda Meir looks exactly like Lyndon Johnson in drag?"

"I think George McGovern sounds like Liberace," I said. "What if he gets elected and has a state dinner for Golda Meir at the White House?" But that, of course, wasn’t the way it would turn out.




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