In early March of 1970 a townhouse on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village exploded killing three members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) who were presumably building a bomb in the basement! Other members of SDS (Weathermen) went underground becoming known as the Weather Underground!
A month earlier a bomb had exploded outside a police station in San Francisco killing a police sergeant and injuring two others. At first it was believed to have been committed by the Black Panthers but later it was learned to have been done by the Weathermen! Young men up to the age of 23 had to register for the draft! Up until 1970 the ago had been 18.
So 1970 was literally starting off with a bang!
It was discovered that the army had been spying and monitoring public political acts and demonstrations since 1966! Although the Chicago Seven were finally declared innocent of conspiring to incite riots during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the defense attorney William Kunstler was sentenced to four years for contempt charges during the trial!
Demonstrations were nowhere near to be calming down!
On March 10 as the rubble from the townhouse explosion was still being studied the Firesign Theater performed at the Dalton School and I went along with them. I was introduced to Lucy Saroyan, the daughter of the writer William Saroyan who’d been at Dalton with Phil Proctor.And since Lucy’s father was the most famous person that Fresno had produced I admitted to her that I had spent my teenaged years in Fresno. Somehow Fresno had always been a punch line and Lucy still had family living there. But still, we both laughed!
The next day I met Mara for lunch at le Soufflé because I had to be midtown for an appointment with Jon Berg, the art director of Columbia Records. People were still shocked by the bombing in Greenwich Village!
The weekend I went to the farm in New Jersey and the following week was frantically busy with multiple deadlines. And the new tiny Persian kitten Othello was still not being accepted by Tybalt! I hadn’t ever thought of him being jealously territorial but I was truly worried about Othello’s safety! They were still separated.
The weekend was coming and Tybalt wasnow accustomed to being put into his wicker carrier but whatever was I going to do with Othello? I asked my friend and upstairs neighbor Eileen if she would care for him over the weekend and she agreed.
Arriving at the farm, I put Tybalt in my bedroom after giving him his dinner and then Bill, Gary and I went down to Connie Bartel’s house where we visited a bit and then we all went to an Italian restaurant in Philipsburg.
I’d felt a bit queasy earlier in the evening but had a Coca-Cola at dinner and that made me feel better. After dinner on the way back to the farm I had Bill drive by a liquor store where I picked up a six pack of Coke. Just in case.
I drank one and went to bed and the next morning as Bill and Gary and I were planning where we were going to plant a vegetable garden, Curt Lassen rode up on his horse. He looked at me and quickly said, “what happened?”
I asked him what he meant and he said, “you’re jaundiced!”
Bill and Gary hadn’t noticed but then they did!
Curt said that I should see a doctor immediately so Bill drove me into Phillipsburg where a doctor informed me I had hepatitis! It was decided that I had to go back to Manhattan and immediately go to Lenox Hill Hospital which was just a few blocks away from my apartment!
I packed up Tybalt and off we went! Back to Manhattan. I was dropped off at the Emergency Department and Bill took Tybalt to Eileen’s.
After being examined I was given a room and learned that I would have to stay quarantined in the hospital for some time.
A young doctor came in and introduced himself as Dr. Frank Colenda.
He looked at the yellow colored pajamas I’d been given and said to the nurse, “first — get some different colored pajamas! There’s too much YELLOW!!” This certainly lightened the mood! The white of my eyes had turned a vivid neon canary yellow!
Eventually, my friend Ray Smith took Othello to his apartment and Eileen agreed to continue caring for Tybalt while I was in the hospital! I didn’t know how long I’d be there.
Eileen was so amazing; she immediately came to the hospital with some beautiful cheery anemones! That certainly made the room a lot less antiseptic looking.
Aside from the flowers there wasn’t a lot to look at!
There was another person in the room which was separated by a cloth curtain divider. She was released and I had the room to myself. The nausea had gone away, the bed was comfortable and the young nurses were attractive and very nice!
And there was Television!
There was a tribute to Hedy Lamarr and a lot of her films were being shown.
My agent Pema Browne came to visit and bring art equipment. She told me that she wasn’t going to tell people that I was in the hospital for fear that work possibilities would dry up. She had another Japanese-themed project from New York Magazine and asked if I’d be able to do it.
She had brought some Japanese image references with her.
I was being very well cared for — the only treatment they had for me was to keep feeding me so my liver would keep working and keep flushing out the hepatitis! In between meals they brought me chocolate milkshakes!
I said to Pema that of course. I’d LOVE to keep working! What could be bad?
I was unaware until much later after my release that I was on the critical list!
But ignorance was indeed bliss and I kept working!
And watching television movies!
Hedy Lamarr was so beautiful! The movie, “Comrade X” was a set up not unlike “Ninotchka” with Greta Garbo — and this time with Hedy Lamarr as a communist Russian being defrosted by Clark Gable! I was imagining that MGM was letting Garbo know that she was not uniquely indispensable!
Being in the hospital was not an unpleasant experience; my room was beginning to have a comfortable clutter of drawing paper pads and art equipment scattered over and around my bed.
And occasional gifts.
But then I got a roommate. Gordon Williams, a nice gentle man from New Jersey, was in Lenox Hill for some tests. I had a feeling that it was serious but he didn’t appear to be in any distress.
However: he had a nonstop monologue going. And it was repetitious and continuous! (I wrote some of it down).
His wife came frequently to visit. She was a pleasant woman and trying to not show how worried she was about her husband.
One day she arrived and seeing my artwork strewn all around my area told me that she’d been looking at an ad in The New York Times and it had confused her. It was advertising an art appreciation course and there was a photograph of a painting by the 19th century French academic painter William Bouguereau; and next to it, a painting by Matisse.
The caption was something dealing with the fact that the Matisse was a much more valuable painting than the Bouguereau and Mrs. Williams had been very bothered because she didn’t know why!
I couldn’t explain to her the official explanation of the progression of Art History and how the work reflects the time during which it was painted or the more complicated idea about the placing of a monetary value on a work of art.
But it annoyed me that this course appeared to have as its main objective the goal of embarrassing everyday people who didn’t buy into the current trendy art movement or have a knowledge of how art movements grow out of previous movements. Why would Mrs. Williams have even needed to know about any of it? If she liked Bouguereau, so be it!
Interestingly too — since 1970 many critics are re-evaluating 19th century academic art and I can’t imagine an advertisement like the one she was referring to as being useful any more!
Gordon Williams’ story had an unhappy ending. It turned out that he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and there wasn’t very much that they could do for him.
An amusing aspect of my long stay at Lenox Hill was that I was supposed to be there resting. But there I was with my agent Pema having to wear a surgical mask because of my semi-quarantine, bringing me assignments. Even the nurses would wake me at dawn upon leaving their overnight shifts asking me to draw their portraits (as I’d promised)!
I was also pleasantly surprised when my brother appeared with a gift for me: a very special Hamlet Burger from Hamburger Hamlet in Westwood which he had gotten on his way to the airport!
Another happy surprise was when Eileen arranged to bring Tybalt in to see me. The poor boy got out of the carrier and carefully walked across the bed to snuggle in my arms.
As it turned out, I was in the hospital for so long that Othello had bonded with Ray Smith. I thought if I brought him home with me everyone would be unhappy! He was no longer a tiny kitten! Tybalt would be unhappy and so would Ray and Othello — so I gave Othello to Ray!
When I finally left the hospital I found that I’d gained 40 pounds due to all the food, milkshakes and lying in bed!
Nobody could figure out how I’d gotten hepatitis; I’d had clams that night before at dinner in New Jersey and Bill, Gary and Connie had all gotten protective shots just in case.
Just recently I was thinking — could Hepatitis with jaundice be a rare side effect of trisoralen? The pill that enabled me to tan in Puerto Rico without my usual burning; the pill that the doctor had said could be hard on one’s liver. Maybe!
How silly can we be when vanity prevails?!