Thursday, March 1, 2018

Schulenberg's Page: New York, Part CXLIX

Text and Illustrations by ©Bob Schulenberg

So after 1968 and all its turmoil we were staggering into 1969
with Nixon telling us in his inaugural speech that we “should all stop shouting at one another“! That was easier said than done!

But the Paris Peace Talks were planned with Henry Cabot Lodge going as administrator. He had previously been the American ambassador to South Vietnam so it was presumed that he knew what he was doing and that something positive could be achieved.

A war erupted right in New Jersey when the John Lennon/Yoko Ono album, Two Virgins, was released with the now famous double nude photograph of them on the cover; thousands of the albums were seized with the claim that the cover violated New Jersey’s pornography law!

We were back and running — starting the year with a figurative bang!

This is the front page of my sketchbook with the names and numbers of people I had to immediately deal with either professionally or socially. Blair Sabol’s name and contact information are there as well as Craig Caswell’s phone number at his job at the French American Bank! Annie Rieger and I were beginning to take on a bit of a parental role with Craig who was only 20 and living in The Big City for the first time!  The “Big possibly Bad City”!

Craig had started calling himself my frère cadet (my little brother) so I felt particularly responsible to his parents! He’d quit Georgetown to move to New York and be my frère cadet and they knew nothing about me.
But life careened on dragging us all with it!

Vick Vance, a well known Parisian journalist I’d known in Paris, was now staying in New York doing reportage for Paris Match so that gave Craig and me a chance to speak French.

It was from Vick that I first learned of JFK’s assassination.  I was with a friend at the Cafe Flore telling him about a terrifying drive I’d had earlier with another friend while she was negotiating traffic on the Place de la Concord trying to merge to the Champs Élysée.  She kept muttering, “If I only had a tank!” She’d have driven right over the other cars!

I said to my friend that I could suddenly understand how the French could kill their king and just at that exact moment someone came to our table saying “did you know that Kennedy was shot?” 
I was confused, thinking that he had somehow heard my comment and was making some kind of sick joke until I saw Vick rushing up the stairs in back of the booth where the cashier, Madame Mollet, sat.  The phones were upstairs and I looked at Vick questioning and he just nodded yes.

So now he was in New York reporting on all the stuff!  The Parisians had had their own very rocky 1968 with nearly another revolution but now they’d get to read about our chaos through the eyes and words of one of their own!

Our most recent little movie, Naughty Nurse, was given a trial screening in the Village after which Paul suggested we move on to The Tin Angel nearby.
The screening had gone well; at least the audience laughed!
Elinor “Ellie” Silverman had been helpful promoting as well as she could dealing with a film that was nowhere near feature length!
Afterwards, I met Gary Van Kirk at The Deli Box for a late lunch.  On the menu was “tongue Polonaisse.” Was that a misspelling of Polonaise or was it something that we didn’t know?
The next evening Paul invited Craig and me to dinner at his apartment.  Brian de Palma was there too and we talked about our debut screening of The Secret Cinema and Brian’s feature length Murder à la Mod at Tambellini’s Gate theater.
Bunny Dexter was there too;  she had  “acted” in Naughty Nurse by playing the patient in the hospital scenes.  She had no lines — just had to lie there looking anesthetized!
Afterwards Craig and I went to The Bavarian Inn on East 86th Street in Yorkville.
Paul and I were invited to a screening of SALESMAN, a documentary film by Albert and David Maysles, a true story about the rivalry of four door to door bible sellers trying to sell bibles to hard scrabble working class people in small middle American towns.
It was fairly depressing and made me think that these were the people, poor, unsophisticated and uneducated who were supporters of the war in Vietnam; the ones who were being praised as “good Americans” — the Silent Majority!  There’d be no peace demonstrations in these small towns!  I couldn’t help but wonder why these people whose lives were so grim were so insistent on nothing changing.  I guess they had so little that they didn’t want to risk losing whatever they had!
For us, more interesting than the sad subject matter was the Maysles brothers’ way of working which was so similar to ours: no shooting permits or elaborate equipment, just grab and go!
That evening Annie, Craig, Maria Smith and I met for drinks and ended up delving into the urban equivalent of the Maysles’ middle American hell hole: 42nd Street off of Times Square!  In 1969, 42nd Street was no longer The Great White Way and hadn’t been for years — maybe decades.  What it was was a row of sketchy all night movie theaters, greasy fast food establishments and even a flea circus!  The fleas may have even arrived with the customers!

I’d met Maria during the awful wet summer on Fire Island and we’d remained friends.
Her sister Geraldine looked almost like her twin and had been featured in several of Andy Warhol’s films. Geraldine had lived through the highs and lows that came with a Warhol affiliation.
We hit most of the spots that 42nd Street had to offer, stopping at Grant’s for hot dogs, a particularly greasy establishment on the corner. We even crammed into a photo booth for a foursome Glamour shot!

I still have it — somewhere.
Finally, I suggested we go for dessert at my first favorite people-watching place, the place I’d discovered with Barbra my first weeks in New York almost 9 years earlier — Hector’s Cafeteria.
Craig had told me he had a “nostalgie de la boue,” a rather snotty french term meaning “nostalgia for mud,” which could be broadly translated as “slumming.”  I figured that 42nd Street came as close as seemed safe!

After all, what would his mother say?
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