Thursday, December 18, 2014

Boston 1978-83. Stream of consciousness--portrait of an artist as a young poseur

Courtesy of Shabunawaz Photography © 2010 ( Picture first appeared in Oddball Magazine)

Boston 1978-83. Stream of consciousness--portrait of an artist as a young poseur.

By Doug Holder.

The picture above is of a one time rooming house on Newbury Street ( 271) which I was a denizen of from (1978-1983).

I lived in a room on the top floor (38/week), bathroom down the hall-- a stairway to the roof, cockroaches--above Davio's Rest. I remember I worked at the "Fatted Calf" in Copley Square as a short order cook, and sold the Globe over the phone in Cambridge. Used to frequent the Exeter Theatre down the block-- Marx Brothers, Rocky Horror--chanting at midnight--ate at Guild's drugstore across from the Lenox Hotel, Ethel, the counter-woman, continuous narrative of her rotten kids at the Old Colony project in Southie... I also was an asst. manager at Big L Discount Stores for a stint-- health and beauty aids--can you believe it?...taught in the South End at Dr. Solomon Carter Mental Health Center--DYS and DSS Kids... field trips to Roxbury and the abandoned Jewish Temples...  home visits for the kids...the families smoking pot and doing lines..There was a restaurant I used to frequent, the Peter Pan on Beacon Street--big cafeteria style food, poetry readings, Jim and I sat near the steam table, our words floated on the mist of steamed cabbage-- and I was habitually at the Kebab and Curry right down the block...sitar and sag . I used to see Richard Yates  (Revolutionary Road")  a drunken shamble down the block, and I had the same Chinese laundry ( I always lost my ticket..the Chinese guy was irate ("Why you lose ticket!!") as the late radio personality David Brudnoy--loved his show--his pockmarked and intelligent face. I remember ... working as a clerk at the corner of Newbury and Beacon Street--  (Sunny Corner Farms) "The Cars" used to come in there regularly,  Rick so sky high..fingering a Twinkie.. also remember meeting Gildna Radner, Barney Frank rumpled and in a rush, and Howard Zinn,--( tall, a radical patrician) on the night shift. And beers after work at Frankenstein's. My boss--a fat Irish man called me a dirty kike regularly after he had a few...nice to me the next day... I remember the ancient gay security guard  (Maynard) who used to come in to chat--and always told me of stories of how young men were enamored with him-- oh but he maintained his purity--and yes the "toothless whore" who told me she only gives "head" to her "man" her point of honor. I remember during a snow storm I gave shelter to the street icon " Mr. Butch" and almost left him there overnight...Oh yes the Victor Hugo bookshop--what a joint-- cloistered myself with the used and rare..and the Newbury Steakhouse--remember the chef--, black dude, a real card--dirty jokes and hard-earned wisdom--we used to shoot the shit... I even had a sort of girlfriend--well--I later learned she was community property--if you know what I mean--I remember sitting on the stoop of my brownstone on a hot summer night, and people would stop and chat and shoot the summer breeze--,I remember being dead drunk and asking the drunks sleeping on the grates of the Boston Public Library what the meaning of life was...They told me to f-off. I remember the thick hash and eggs I had every morning for breakfast-- how the eggs would bleed every morning on that mound--and Malaba--the Zimbabwe - man on the night shift at McLean -- rasping in his Louis Armstrong voice--called it hashish browns -would be dead if I continued that habit. I remember writing in my furnished room--with my hot plate and thinking I was a Beat poet or something--mice scurrying by--my father told me" get the hell out of there," My mother joined in " That's the life style they lead, Larry..."  Hordes of us made pilgrimages to be with the rodents and roaches.. remember all night poker games with the service bartender, who worked at the Hilton. He was going back to U/Mass for years to finish his degree.. for the past 5 years...

 Part 2

 Oh--that distinct flushed out smell of Father's Five--tattooed- Hell's Angels, ready to bounce you at the door--the Citgo sign flashing in the canyon of Kenmore Square...direction, an elixir for your fog--vinyls at Loony Tunes--the old ladies in Coolidge Corner who brought you their dead husbands' shirts when you manned the counter--"this should fit you they crooned--"-and you would be a walking monument to the deceased. Cutting through the alleys in the Back Bay-- a buffet in the trash bins for the down and out--they delicately picked at the remains of the day--sewage and rot behind a tony shop-- it was always Doomsday in the Commons--street preachers at a clearance sale---street singers--sing for change and begged for it--the old Italian guy who yelled at you: "Hey kid--ripe tomatoes--bring some for ya tomato"--laughing--the stub of a cigar shaking outside his mouth... the Mass. ave bridge gave your life a horizon--open space from the small furnished room-- a city on a hill--Buzzy's roast-beef--in front of the Charles Street Jail ---a knish--delish--hotdog , --  oh,red phallus of beef, melts in my teeth-- .  Karen--the Jewish girl in the North End--you lived and learned to love and leave--Caruso music and the couple that had operatic fights in sync...
Her last words before she threw you out "I can't stand all this eating." Smell of bread baking all night--corpulent men outside the social club--called you twinkle toes, as you jogged by with chicken legs.  Your friend-- a clerk--dating a dwarf--an adjunct at B.C.--American Studies--small love affair--

Part 3

Lived on Park Drive--sounds fancy--  but overlooked  the subway tracks and the vast Sears warehouse-- the roar of the subway, the gray, looming Sears trucks in the distance--the trickle of the Muddy River--My window open--forgot I was nude, catcalls from the subway platform at my flabby body--bloated from the 11 to 7 shift, sitting watching the restraints-- on patients-- rise and fall slightly with their sedated breath--so many chests inflated, deflated...defeated. The croissants from the Savoy Baker in Audbon Circle were flaky concessions, the dark beers and dark cavernous bar at Brown's my balm. And the elevated tracks on Harrison avenue--elevated me--I was a transcendent blur crosstown... the Dudley Bus idling near the vacant lot, rats as big as cats foraging near a fence. Sometimes I met her at the Nickelodeon,...was it the Kiss of the Spiderman...? Held her hand...traced it the way I would her body later in her studio-- a rail thin graphic artist from Providence--she wrote me beautiful letters, that made me swoon in my room...

Part 4

The Greyhound Station was near a RockaBilly bar--the flashing, seductive light of the Playboy Club, hawked long legs and short resumes--there I weaved my way to the carnality of the Combat Zone--down La Grange Street, first stopping by Hand the Hatter, an avuncular old man--some fish--some fish out of order--in the midst of all this--presided over blocked, buffed and august fedoras--the kind my father wore, his heels pounding the floor in Penn Station.  And the whore in the bar said " Give this kid a glass of milk." And all my street-wise posturing melted with these succinct words--not a boilermaker man but a milk boy.

In the old wing of the Boston Public Library Bacchante and Baby met me--lifting her child with joy--I wondered if my mother ever did that with me? A bust of Henry James stared at me in Bates Hall, as I made my way to the Periodical Room--scrolls of newspapers-- old men--half-glasses, canes, wondering why that man was praying over an Anchorage Times--the room smelled like sweat, vaguely urinous--reading a rag-- a waiting room for death...

Part 5
I met her at a school for the retarded- a working class girl--post Judge Tauro--we treated retarded women--trying to stop them from slapping feces on their clothes and ours--chaperoning them at a Fellini-like dance, men and women, with gnarled hands, twisted legs, spittle-- drooling from the sides of their mouths, brushing their cheeks. But they smiled, amidst it all--oh yes--we all need love--we all need intimacy--I told myself--even when they threw food in my face. Her name I forgot--she took me to her parents home in Malden--and being the snot I was--I felt superior--but I loved the way her tight body fell into mine when we danced, intoxicated with her perfume--loving her ful,l lipstick-red lips-her tough but girlish accent. We danced at  the VFW hall-- me with patched sport coat, and unruly, bohemian beard, Italian union men looking at me like I was a strange bird--heard "faggot" under their breath. She drifted away--she said she couldn't understand me--nor could I...

Part 6
Early in the morning -- I heard the retired civil servant..a pensioner with stained undershirt and plaid boxers--coughing up phlegm through the thin walls. " How are you, me boy?"--he greeted me in the morning--both of us jockeying for the head down the hall. Then the fire alarm--a gas main break-- out in the street--explosions traversed Newbury Street, I ran down the stairs in my Blue corduroy sports jacket--a slightly irregular affair--from the depths of Filene's basement ...padded shoulders to bolster my narrow shoulders and frail ego-- a waxed mustached... (The guys in the real estate office used to crack "Hello Dali" when I passed by the office.) I made my way down the winding stair case( the spinster on the second floor opened the door a crack--she knew she would be flushed out)--me with a red scarf around my skinny neck--like a poor man's ascot--Kirby Perkins, the newsman from the scene--I heard say from the side of his mouth to the cameraman:" Look at this fuckin character." So oblivious to my absurdity--a beret on my already thinning hair-- a rakish angel--I could be a posturing mannequin in one of the shop windows--central casting--clichéd young Beatnik...

Part 7
 Copley Square-- Midnight  slipped into Ken's -- a Jackie Gleasonish fat man--the manager--stationed by the rotisserie chickens-- a chorus line of  spread legs, breasts,  melting flesh, wings posturing on their plump hips--wondering which one would I choose?  A dishwasher emerged, effeminate man, dirty apron, a cigarette in a holder, long expressive hands, wearing an eye patch... drag queens in the men's room--at the counter on the first floor-- a waitress--not long on patience--piped " What's it going to be, hon?" Actors --off from a gig at the Colonial , gesturing to each other dramatically at the booths-- a few years before--I was a dishwasher here--I was chosen from a lineup of world-weary men--"you, you, and you"  at 5PM--peering at all this through stacks of dishes-- all this would be mine one day-- a late night character--laughing over corn beef and chopped liver on dark rye--with poets and writers, after a day of writing--joking like Dorothy Parker, round Algonquin Hotel. The men I worked with I knew would reappear again-- even then taking mental notes--trying to construct a narrative of the chaos of my life. 

Part 8
The long days of unemployment. At the Paris Theatre--  midweek matinees, mad housewives pleasuring themselves with milk duds--the cliche of the trench coated men--mumbling into their sleeves...but that lovely, envelope of dark--perhaps a first run Woody Allen--the broad cityscape...served up with King Oliver or Gershwin...things seemed to make sense.  My life, maybe--at one time, will have a similar symphony. Later-- below in the Boylston Street station-- a graveyard of old trolleys-- a panorama of orange rust. I was a strap-hanger then--sacrificing my seat for an old gent--my strange dance--a bump and grind--a transit Tango--with the other passengers--eyes averted--our forced intimacy when the train stopped suddenly-- my collision with a buxom blonde--  Late at night-- walking through the Fens to Park Drive --a residue from the Ramrod Room--men having trysts behind the trees--fertilizing the community garden with their seed....before the plague.. 

Part 9
First night on the psychiatric ward--he called me his finest creation--I was responsible--for the thunder and rain outside--the snapshots of light that popped at the windows--checks on the quiet rooms--museum windows of mental illness--peep shows --all those pink papers--the legal confetti that led them here...A woman took drags on her cigarette-- hollow and sunken chest filled-- a woman of substance until she exhaled--I remember she once grabbed a beautiful young male attendant--squeezing his body close to her--as if she was trying to capture something--his youth--the shock of blonde hair...his strong, undefeated body was now in her old Boston Brahmin, haughty and insane asked me if there were cockroaches on the unit...  I said "No"  "Good she replied, " You must treat them elsewhere." She insisted I was the young researcher from the Panamanian League on Newbury Street--and the young woman ran from her room in the nude, we danced with the beautiful sprite at 3AM-- and she did her swan song, now supine, sedated--restraints. And I talked with a young man--who said he had a correspondence with Allen Ginsberg--I have seen the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness....

I taught Black History/in the South End/Solomon Carter Fuller Mental Health Center. A Jewish boy from Long Island--they called me "homey" --I thought "homely." They said my sorry, sagging ass looked like it had a ton of bricks resting on it--I never-thought about this--I made clandestine trips to the men's room, with a hand mirror to check on my ass--they were right. We took them to the pool on the lower floor--one boy swam with one finger in his ear--a phone conversation with the voices in his head--they were pleasant--the boy had a wild, resplendent smile. Walking down Harrison Ave.  Past Chico's Bodega and the usual drunk sprawled out with Boone's Farm or Muscatel, down past the Shanty Lounge--had dinner at the Asmara--with my fellow teacher--Tesfay-- large Ethiopian flat breads, with exotic droppings of meat and vegetables-he spoke of the revolution--handsome professorial beard--soft spoken, seemed to ponder each word I said--a minister now--back in Africa. 

Part 11
It must have been near the Milner Hotel, an old fleabag--sro at the time--and I was found out by an old black gent--watched me as I passed--I heard the guttural laugh--the slap of the knee--he knew what my sorry ass was up to--how I made that fuckin' mole hill into a mountain--and save my chicken shit walk--the head-tilting attitude--for someone who hasn't it seen it before and has time to give a good God damn. And I remember Chinatown--those late night meals at the Ying-Ying--the staccato chatter of the patrons-- the roast ducks in the windows dripped seductively to me, the chow fun, greasy dollops of ducks, swimming in a broth, thick with noodles,staring at the flashing neon outside on the rain slicked street--I felt I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone, Rod Sterling introducing me: " Have if you will, one Doug Holder... "

Part 12
Double features at the Harvard Square Cinema--hot day--hot movie "Last Tango in Paris"  Brando didn't believe in names--sex with a young Parisian without the brand--and to die on a balcony with Paris as a backdrop--that's the way to go I thought. And where are you Frank Cardullo?--Harvard Square turns its lonely eyes to you--holding court in the back of the Wursthaus, with the cops, merchants, pols, big cigar in the face of a small, mustachioed man. At the "Tasty" the counterman presided over a greasy grill...called me "Smiley" because of my perpetual frown. He delivered the dogs on a square bun--usually with a cornball pun.... The Harvard refugees at the Au Bon Pain--a community of expatriates--expelled from the academy -- chess players--the pressing issues of today over a that intense crowd passed by--the geniuses--  homeless,  buskers,  the  ne'er-do-well. -well--with something to sell...the timeless raven--haired girl --peasant skirt--clasp of books-- the Babble of this Babel....

Part 13

Neisner's...made my way to the Bromfield St. entrance--slopping up my corn chowder with cornbread..then down to Barnes and Noble. Glanced at a book--interesting cover  --"On the Road" some guy named Kerouac. Then that rush--the possibility I could hit the same road--leave tracks--leave the tendrils of straitlaced suburban roots--the voice that pleaded for freedom--caged by conformity. I was an addict  --- injecting myself with Dharma Bums, Town and Country--Allen Ginsberg's -pubic, gray rabbinical beard--sporting a Burroughs Fedora--habituating the Cafe Tangiers in Harvard Square--leaving Beat Books on the counter of the grocery store I worked in Brookline Village--hoping to provoke a conversation with a customer.
Wrote a stream "of self consciousness"--in my journals-- posturing unapologetic-- as if I was admitted into the Cabal--still not venturing much past Kenmore Square...

Part 14

Jack’s Joke Shop--near the Common--your first Dick Nixon Mass-- all jowls, pointed nose crowned with hate and Watergate -- and the subversive whoopee cushion--slip it on a seat--and her the old fart clamoring to get up..Oh and the clock/no sex until six--and its lovely face of carnality--a circle of sixes. And long before you were a Glaucoma suspect--your eyes could pop from your socket--riding on small, slinky springs.  Still a boy--laughing at toys..not that far from the boyhood joys.

Part 15

Working at Rexall Drugs on Boylston Street during the Busing Crisis-- blushing when they asked for condoms--the mad man in a blue blazer/ coat of arms/ bulging eyes/shock of dyed blonde hair/ rushing in out/always looking like he stuck his spotted hand in a socket... smiling at, an then quickly retreating-- a long distance flirtation with the cute 18 year girl behind the soda fountain--thought I was in a Thornton Wilder play. I heard the owner say: " It is the rich, Jewish liberals from the suburbs that are causing this crisis" And everything my Bronx. shtetl, pale of settlement  ( oh how loved her kishkas)  grandma said about the "goys" were true--"  "Well, the Catholic Church is rich too...," I said. And fired the next day--said I was rude to a customer... a lesson in life...

Part 16

Portrait of an artist as a young poseur: Brahmin Woman Descending.....

Bay State Road-- the old Brahmin woman/ 80 degree early spring--shivering in her heavy winter coat-- -- a cripple, down the Brownstone steps--grabbing the hand of a black attendant-- now outside her rarefied cocoon --young Boston University students--preening like young animals in the sun--Oh where are you Dutch Elms?" she thinks--"Wiped out by some unruly cancer, no doubt!"-- Your chalk white face-like a death mask--a Frisbee barely misses your clenched jaw--on such a warm day--cold shock of comprehension...

Part 17

 Such an elite trot down Commonwealth Avenue/measured/patrician bearing/ as if trying to the Catch the Green Line/without losing composure/ covering the same ground/as horses of lesser lineage/did for years. Looking at our framed faces in the subway car/ a museum of surprise/ spotting the Irish chambermaids, the Jewish peddlers, the black laborers/ it must think " So hard to get good domestics." And those police/ like persistent flies/ his tail swipes/dismissively at them....

Portrait of an artist as a young poseur: A Moose in Boston.

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