After a semester or two of theatre in college, also armed with theatre experience from Teen Town and BRLT, some work as extras in Alvarez Kelly, a film starring William Holden and Richard Whitmark (with a Saturday serial hero of mine named Don “Red” Berry), thinking there wasn’t much to this minute-at-a-time acting on horses, Bill Leet and I take a long train ride to New York City, sitting up so long in bottom-sprung seats that even the allure of moving north loses some of its glamour.
We stay on Staten Island in a rambling four-story house with an old friend from Teen Town, Dee Wood, whose father was transferred by Standard Oil to New Jersey. More than accommodating, treating us like family, Dee’s parents, Ruth and Jim Wood, good people, allow Bill and I to come and go at all hours. A half-hour on the small commuter train from Fish Kill to the Staten Island Ferry, a half-hour trip over water, then usually another half-hour on the subway, it takes a while to get use to planning ahead by two hours for job searches and apartment hunting.
I get an interview for a clerical position at Simon & Schuster, at the division of Pocket Books, and somehow the promising interview is cut short when in answer to a question about my long-term work plans I tell them I want to be a writer. Blank looks—like they’ve never heard of the profession. At the New York State Department of Labor, standing in a long, long line of recent high school graduates, some employment guy comes down the line asking if anyone knows how to type and I am the only one to raise a hand and follow to a room for a typing test.
If you would please ship 47 loads of A-1 cotton material @ $62.37 per load which would equal a total of $2931.39 (which will count against the balance you owe us of $10,287.39) . . .
And on and on, calling for all those little-used top row keys which makes my typing test sound like someone has scattered corn over the keyboard for a hungry hunting-and-pecking goose.
The apartment we finally rent is on West 87th, between Amsterdam and Columbus, a one-room walkup on the 4th floor with a bath and a kitchen we never once cook in. Only a matter of weeks and Bill’s contacts for summer stock come through and Lonnie Chapman is standing in the apartment, saying he is double-parked, so there are quick goodbyes and good luck wishes and suddenly the apartment is quiet, mine, suddenly empty, the unexpected aloneness not bargained for so soon.
For weeks I stay in the apartment, lacking the drive and even the knowledge on how to become an actor, shielding myself from busy streets, from jostling strangers without apology for sharp elbows and packages swinging like pendulums, from the uncertainty of destination, no direction known other than home. When I do make contact with a few friends from Louisiana, we spend an inordinate amount of time in the Village, hanging around Washington Square and listening to musicians with guitars and open cases collecting a few tossed coins. Once we go to some friend of a friend’s apartment rented by two girls and one keeps disappearing and reappearing in different clothes and doing her best to pretend like she is not modeling them, each outfit more revealing than the last, three of us guys sitting silently on the couch like underage teens at a strip club. Finally, a surprise when I open my mouth.
You enjoy doing this?
Modeling for us, showing off.
What are you talking about?
You’ve changed clothes six times and then it’s like you’re on a runway.
It’s my fucking apartment. I can do any damn thing I want.
People on the sidewalk are still jostling each other, still walking with purpose stamped on their faces.
Fuck. You had to say something, hunh?
Let’s go to my place. I’ve got beer.
My landlady is a woman named Mrs. Mulhman who monitors all the comings and goings of her tenants on the four floors above her. More warden than anything else, she carries keys to all the apartments and uses them for unannounced entry when she hears more than the usual number of shoes echoing in the stairwell. The first raid happens right after the fashion show in the apartment in the Village. Sitting with the two friends from Louisiana, talking about the two girls, if the blonde is prettier, the motive of the brunette dressing and undressing, and Mulhman barges in, the maintenance man trailing behind her like a bodyguard. Surveying the room, she doesn’t see any heroin use going on, but spotting a bent screwdriver on the mantle and going to it, she picks it up, showing it to the maintenance man and asking for verification if it is his missing screwdriver. He nods.
We found it blocks away on a street.
I don’t like a lot of strange people in my apartments.
I thought it was my apartment since I’m paying rent.
No, it is always my apartment.
Back and forth for a while then Mrs. Mulhman and the maintenance man leave, taking the bent screwdriver with them.
I guess she’s going to fingerprint it, one of my friends says.