May, 1972. The Vietnam War had suddenly jumped into big news as the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong scored a big victory! There were quite a few nods of approval by some of the many protesters and I had to steer the conversation away from anything political when talking with my rep, Pema, whose husband was a vocal admirer and supporter of Nixon and Vice President Agnew!
He insisted on referring to Agnew in a positive way saying “that’s my boy!” whenever Agnew said something particularly appalling! He had to know what I was feeling and I wondered what he was aiming for.
He and Pema, who actually was the one getting me so much work, lived in a large apartment in a tall building a block from East 86th Street and occasionally there would be a noisy protest close enough that it was hard to avoid hearing his diatribes against the chanting protesters!
Pema was also a painter and very bright so even though she was discreet and non-committal it was difficult for me to reconcile the fact that she also was a Nixon supporter. Occasionally, she would let an opinion slip out.
Her family was Albanian; and her mother lived in the apartment with them. And Albania being a Marxist/Leninist state with a Stalinist administration, I guess it was possible to understand that she and her mother might place a lot of faith, hope and trust in the Nixon administration!
Still, there was a lot of evidence that our government was in the wrong. It seemed that in escaping one ruling dictator they were on the ground floor of supporting another.
But he would be our dictator!
With memories of Hitler and the Nazis in our rear view mirror it was hard for me to understand how they could be so accepting of an administration that was so concerned with infiltration by enemy influences that they had an official Enemies List of prominent people, all Democrats worthy of being secretly investigated!
The discredited House Un-American Activities Committee had been an even more recent memory with the blacklisting of liberal American citizens who had progressive ideas that differed from those of the Committee! Everything was black and white which was so different from the Kennedy administration’s appraisal of political events being shades of grey!
So here we were — back to many, frequently older citizens, being jingoistically “patriotic” and most of the draft-age young being anti-establishment and strongly opposed to the war.
History forgetting and repeating itself!
After one of my appointments that Pema had set up I took refuge at an Automat on 57th Street for a quick lunch. The Automat patrons were so different from each other depending on which neighborhood they were in. I liked the one in Times Square because the mix of theater people and retirees who’d been theater workers but were still theater people was much more interesting. On 57th Street it appeared to be mostly shoppers!
Another day, more meetings with art directors — but I couldn’t complain because every meeting meant more work and the work was always suited to what I liked to do. I was living a dream that few people got to experience; my career was what I’d been doing for fun all my life! And I really did owe it to Pema, who had done a great job of professionally putting me on the map.
I met friends for dinner in Greenwich Village and afterwards we went to the Ninth Circle for coffee. There were demonstrations in Washington Square because Nixon, in retaliation for the ongoing North Vietnam/Viet Cong victory, started an intensified bombing of harbors, bridges, oil facilities and infrastructure in general. The US was widely condemned for it and the actions downtown were particularly active.
Meanwhile, it was quieter at The Ninth Circle.
In the dimly lit room, I spied someone I finally realized was a young woman. I was a bit confused because “she” appeared to have a mustache and thin beard. I finally remembered that there had been a recent screening at the Whitney Museum of a film by the San Francisco artist, Steven Arnold; a film that featured The Cockettes, a troup of “performers” (you might say) who were outrageously hallucinatory drag queens!
I assumed that the young woman was doing a sort of tribute to them — but then again, in the Village in 1972 it could have simply been her every day presentation!
In any event it was a good opportunity for a drawing. There was a different world downtown! The hallucinating drugs of the 1960s had metastasized and morphed into Art!
A few days later I had an appointment with an art director at RCA Records.
Companies were releasing records with boutique labels aimed at a younger hip audience. There were so many new groups and so many labels!
It paid the rent!
Again, it was fun! All I had to do was paint the images and someone who specialized designed the lettering. The art director,of course designed the layout and we executed it separately from the comfort of wherever it was we lived! I have no idea who even did the lettering.
That evening I met Abe Gurvin for dinner at The Haymarket. Abe was an old friend from our days at UCLA. We were both studying Animation with Bill Shull, who had worked at Disney. He had been an animator on my favorite film, Fantasia, a movie that had so fascinated me as a kid that I had thought of animation as a possible profession. Unfortunately, the timing was bad and it was a period that classic animation was falling out of favor. New and stylized work inspired by UPA, the producers of “The Nearsighted Mister Magoo” and others were dominating the field. Abe had also come to New York and was now the art director of one of the small new magazines that were proliferating. He’d given me work when I was starting out having just returned from Paris.
We had a lot of ground to reminisce about.
A few nights later, after seeing a performance of The Royal Ballet with Sharon Powers, we went for dinner at The Bavarian Inn on East 86th Street, Yorkville — which was still very German.
It was the beginning of another week. Two days earlier, on May 13th there had been a robbery in the Chilean embassy in Washington DC. Several men reportedly involved with President Nixon had been involved. It didn’t get much notice at the time — but we’d hear a lot more about it.