One of the first people I met when I moved to New York was Johnny Meyer. He was a musician, a pianist and a writer of special material for cabaret performers. While I was still living in Los Angeles doing graduate work at UCLA I read about the exciting things happening in New York City clubs.
An article in Vogue magazine’s “People Are Talking About” column described a sad ballad about a woman who had a crush on Mr. Clean:
“I’ve got this mad, mad thing for Mr. Clean
I know no hips could be slimmer, no head more Yul Brynner!
He’s heaven when dinner is through
And I’m alone in the night with my dishes, the music and you!”
Barre (the curious spelling on his birth certificate) introduced me to a lot of his cabaret friends and I found myself haunting clubs in Greenwich Village and seeing young soon-to-be stars Joan Rivers, Dom DeLuise and Ruth Buzzi (who were a comedy duo at the time), Linda Lavin, Marianne Mercer and so many others!
Johnny had written a very funny routine for Barre portraying Barre as an automated mechanical fortune teller, “The Gypsy Lady,” telling outrageous fortunes in rhyming couplets — a routine that always was a favorite!
Now Johnny was living with Margaret Whiting and working with her as her music director. One evening I was invited to come and bring Mary Milton with me to Margaret’s apartment near Central Park. It was a haven high above the protests and demonstrations that were constantly happening in the park.
There were just a few of us so it was very casual and relaxed. Margaret had a tiny pet potbelly pig who freely roamed among us occasionally rolling over for a friendly tummy rub.
There was a lot of conversation that somehow was not about Viet Nam, Nixon/Agnew or protests. What a relief!
I’d become acquainted with Richard Falcon through Buzzy King. He was very civilized with a deep knowledge of diverse subjects — gourmet cuisine to international affairs and much in between. He was also a marvelous host with frequent at homes that brought together a wide-ranging group of interesting people.
Conversation was always lively with people expressing opinions on politics, the arts and what effect the current sociological situation would have on the future. There was always something delicious to eat, something so intriguing that the whole conversation would seamlessly switch to questions of food!
At the request of many, Richard started informal teaching sessions at his apartment where seemingly complicated dishes were explained and simply and deliciously demonstrated.
The next day, after a meeting in midtown I decided not to walk home but to kill some time waiting until after rush hour when the bus would be less crowded. I was carrying my portfolio of samples because an art director was less specific about what he wanted and my rep, Pema, suggested that I go see him at the agency myself just to make sure. Yellowfingers across from Bloomingdale’s was always a good place to hang out for any reason.
I had a friend working there so I could hear some juicy bits of news or gossip which made me feel a bit more involved with the world.
I had had a meeting with an art director at J. Walter Thompson and on the way home stopped for a quick snack at a coffee shop on Lexington Avenue where the counterman was telling a regular customer that he’d just heard on the radio that Jackie Robinson, the first African American baseball player, had died of diabetes at the comparatively young age of 53! Maybe it was easier not being involved with the world!
I have always felt sympathy for cab drivers who worked long hours while manipulating Manhattan traffic. I did notice, however, that the driver I had when coming home from a meeting would close his eyes for a quick snooze every time we hit a red light! It didn’t inspire a relaxed ride.
Later that evening I took a subway down to the Village to visit my good friend, Joanne Beretta.
When I was still living in Los Angeles someone told me about a singer they’d heard at a club in San Francisco. She wasn’t just a singer, they tried to explain – she was more like a great theatrical experience!
It was not easy for me to grasp what this person’s charismatic performance must have been like. I’d seen Edith Piaf in Los Angeles during her international tour and was knocked out by her intensity achieved with seemingly minimal effort, but with maximal effect! Maybe that’s what they were trying to describe about the San Francisco singer.
One night, after I’d lived in Manhattan for a while, I discovered a club in Greenwich Village called The Duplex; and I became a habitué.
That’s where I first saw and heard Joanne Beretta! During her show she mentioned San Francisco and flower children and instantly I knew that she was that charismatic performer! I understood how difficult it was to sum up her magic!
She immediately became a friend of mine!
So I was going downtown to visit her. There was so much to talk about and our conversation turned, as it invariably did, to philosophically abstract thoughts and beliefs. At the end of the evening she said she was going to — what is the proper phrase? — “do”? the I Ching for me.
I’d been concerned about my young friend Craig Caswell, who had disappeared from New York a while back after quitting Georgetown University and I had no idea where he was and if he was okay. He’d become a kind of little brother to me and I was afraid that his parents would think I was a bad influence!
To prepare for the I Ching reading I did what Joanne told me to do and then she read from the book.
There was something about a sturdy rock obstructing the flow of a stream. It’s strong and holds back the water’s flow — but the water persists and the rock is ever so slowly worn away allowing the water to easily pass.
She asked if I related to any of that.
I was being slowly eroded by my overwrought concerns for Craig.
Thanking her, I left and headed back uptown.
The next day someone rang the front door buzzer to my apartment.