On The Death Of A Friend

I heard today about your friend, whom I never met, though I know he meant much to you. I trust he is at peace, even if you, a survivor may be confused and hurt.
It is difficult for me to properly frame my condolences. I only knew of him from your writing and snippets passed to me by others who knew him.
I do know that when someone dies alone far away, one feels cheated.
As if the deceased were a wounded pet who has forsaken you and crawled away to die a lonely death, ashamed of their own mortality.
As the days pass, I trust the light that you found in his being will continue to shine and you will remember fondly the things which made him a friend and lover.
That which hath been is now, and that which is to be hath already been, 

Ecclesiastes

Streets of Gold

I was beyond broke. I kept staring at the dime and the nickel, my total worth: net, gross and real. Fifteen cents, the cost of one 1967 New York City subway token. As the Wall Street types say, that was my liquid.

I had fifteen hours until I would be evicted from my SRO flop on West 71st Street. I lay on my bed, stomach growling, as I heard the night clerk shove the eviction notice under my door. I would have until noon tomorrow to pay. No pay, no room.  I was already a week behind in my $12.50 a week rent. I’d let management hold my passport against my past-due rent. I’d hocked all my musical instruments except my soprano clarinets. If I did get a show gig, I would have to borrow some saxophones and flutes or rent them. I knew that if I were homeless, someone would steal my clarinets and then I was doomed. When I came to the Big Apple seeking my fortune in the concert music business, homelessness in Mayor John Lindsay’s crumbling New York City was not on my agenda. My family refused to loan me money: “You could have been a doctor.” The intake worker at unemployment said I hadn’t worked enough freelance gigs to qualify for benefits. She told me that the day after I spent six hours playing in the subway, which netted a mere twenty-two dollars and eighty-two cents.

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A Brooklyn Tale

Mine was a humble arrival in the most famous of America’s boroughs. I entered Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York in a rental car. I had been offered the car free if I would drive it to JFK from Chicago.  My liquidity was $600 cash, a backpack of tattered clothes, art supplies, and the promise of an apartment to sit while its occupants were on honeymoon. I would have ten days to find a place to live. It was 1982, the depths of the Reagan recession and eight months shy of my fortieth birthday.

Park Slope was still home to working class Irish and Puerto Ricans, but it was undergoing rapid gentrification. Every week, another real estate company opened on Seventh Avenue, Park Slope’s commercial hub. Mostly the neighborhood consisted of chopped up Gilded Age brownstones, rent-controlled tenements, and abandoned homes repurposed as hangouts for desperadoes and drug addicts.  It was a neighborhood in transition, still mostly working class and poor, but the inexpensive housing and proximity to Manhattan were an irresistible magnet for all manner of wannabe twenty-somethings: musicians, artists, illustrators, writers, playwrights, dancers, painters, sculptors, directors, actors, models…. There were a few well-known writers, musicians, and film people living on the Slope, but most incoming residents were ambitious career entrants.

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