June 25, 2010

Vestry Street

Many people talk about unconditional love, including Oprah and Dr. Phil, as if it were something that human beings are capable of, the pious cant and personal divinization marketed by pop spirituality notwithstanding. Mere love, apparently, doesn't quite get us there any more. Those pesky conditions do spring up of course, usually sooner than later, often the moment our convenience isn’t consulted. Yeah, I know... unconditional love does have its limits. But that's OK. Be real, and we'll get along fine. "Let your 'yes' be yes, let your 'no' be no." Love, in my experience, is pretty amazing as-is.

Steven was certainly one of the most generous human beings I’ve ever had the pleasure to know, asking nothing in return. He plucked me out of a difficult situation and let me stay in the Christopher Street apartment of a friend of his who was abroad for months, no strings, no rent, no problem, until it ran out. And when it did, he invited me to join the tribe at the Vestry Street loft. He lived there, off an on, with his boyfriend Earl, while wisely maintaining his own little pied-a-terre elsewhere in the Village.

Steven and Earl were restaurateurs, mostly, proprietors of Odile, a bisro near Tribeca, named after the wicked black swan in Swan Lake. Earl had been, for many years, in the corps de ballet at New York City Ballet, and the loft was a crossroad for a lot of dancers, among others, forever passing through on their way to Tanglewood, or Quogue, or Key West. We lived there, my roommate Bill and I, in our own little annex, for most of the late seventies. Herewith, a photo album, with captions. The rest of the saga awaits a more ambitious day...

Steven was a talented shiatsu masseur and naturalist, a New York native. We had dinner together, just the two of us, at the loft once - he made roast cornish game hens stuffed with millet.

That's Earl, doing the arabesque. Seated behind him, all in one chair, are Jerry, Rob, and Lemuel. Weezy looks on.

The ceiling at the loft was high enough to play badminton under. This is where we left phone, and assorted other, messages for one another. There were few personal computers back then. The big technology was the stereo, a monster. Music came and went in binges. We'd play Nina Simone for a month. Or Traffic. Aretha. Dr. Buzzard. Maria Callas. Jazz on the edge of insanity.

Rob smokes a Winston. He did prep at the restaurant, as did I for a time. Rob revealed to me the zen of prep.


Jerry paints the floor. I told him to paint his hand, and he did. He'd do anything.

Dennis paints his eyelashes orange with a match stick. We were dressing up for a night at some club. Dennis had beautiful eyebrows. He was a regular in my underground super-8 movies.

Hunky little mad John Rosser, a musician and an artist with a pirate vibe. One of his sculptures makes an appearance in one of my stories. He invited me into his bedroom at the loft once, where he was crashing with his girlfriend, Chloe. Half undressed himself, and with the three of us sitting on the bed, he demonstrated, after hiking up his girlfriend’s T-shirt, how a pencil could not be made to lodge under her breast. It fell. He tried again. It fell again. “That’s important,” he said.

Nietsche. An agreeable cat, like most big orange toms. I don't have a photo of Oyster, the other cat. Their names, and their names only, were on the front door of the loft.

Peter was a very bright and adventurous human being, a novelist, my bud.
We went a few places with each other that I can't go with you.

Felipe, the Indian from Village People, out of costume. We'd done one of the shoots for the group's first album cover on the roof of the loft. (The record came out that summer. I had a pretty good time at Fire Island that year.) At the Bicentennial party (the loft had a commanding view of the Hudson River) I'd described this to Louis Falco who tried hard to get me to go up there with some of his dancers for some shots. But a light drizzle had begun, and I was nervous about lightning and the camera and the rain, and declined... something I remember now with burning regret.

Chris. Had I remembered, at the above mentioned party, that Steve Sondheim and I shared a mutual interest in Chris, we would have had more to talk about. (Well, that hit the page with a clang...) The last time I saw Chris, ten years later, he was sitting crouched, high up in one of the sculptures at Battery Park, beautiful as ever, mad as a cat, watching the world going around. I saw in his eyes that he half-remembered me. I didn't have the presence of mind to not look startled. He made a sweeping gesture with his hand, said "Whoosh!" and I continued on my way...

Tom, a dancer. I photographed him a lot. Tom had a remarkable face.

Bob, a regular, a Texan, and a tropical plant dealer. He did a lot of work for Tiffany's, a lot of which I photographed.

David worked as a paralegal at the midtown headquarters of a huge corporation involved in a class action lawsuit against it. Although we never talked about it explicitly, I can say with confidence that David had little hesitation doing whatever he could, overtly or otherwise, to favor the victims. He had an astonishing knack for networking, and was forever turning up with tickets to some premier, piano-side seats for Blossom Dearie, a summer cottage on Quogue Island. The last time I saw David was at his 10th Street apartment, overlooking a garden. His boyfriend had died of AIDS, David was holding on. I brought caviar. We munched and talked and sipped Chablis until the sun went down.

I think Dennis took this one. I was crowding thirty by then, as were we all.