Living in the ’60s, as seen from the ’70s

[I’ve already described some of the apartments I lived in after returning from a half-year at Stanford grad in 1962, but below is what I first wrote about them, around 1970, with a different slant from later. It’s interesting to me to see the difference. If it means nothing to you, you can trash it easily, one of the delights of email.

[I transcribed it as best as I could from a lousy scan of paper that had turned deep tan with age; I’ve indicated missing or unreadable words with question marks (within brackets, if following a single questionable word.)

[This and other barely rescued snippets were typed on Telex paper swiped from the Penn student newspaper’s office, sitting untended and useless years after the paper – and most of the rest of the world – had stopped using Telex. The paper came in a cardboard box, 18” long, about 6” across, maybe 4-5” high. The paper was accordion-folded so that the whole stack could be fed through the Telex machine in a steady stream. There was probably a half-mile of paper when I first inserted it into my 1937 IBM Selectric, one of the first-ever electric desk typewriters. I probably picked it up from a junk store. You could adjust the response of the keys with almost infinite variation. I’d guess that at the lightest setting you could have breathed on the keys to start them typing. I wish I still had that beast, loved it.]

[23 S. 34th St. was and will always remain The House for me. Much more written about it elsewhere. I lived there summer 1962 to spring 64.]

Eight years (nine years, I do not know) back, it was the House, already described, communal in that middle-ground that campus housing has, close-knit yet uncontrolled. At this remove I can add nothing that would make the House seem anything more than what I have said. It was bought by a thin, nasty, crass soul of contemporary age. It is reported that his parents died in an auto crash, leaving him fifty thousand, in thanks for which providence he went on a five-day tear. Under him the House was caught, slaughtered and butchered into six ratty[?] apartments, all cut against the grain. The shed into which I threw the chairs I ritually broke at each drunken party was ripped off as though by a giant hand and cast from him. The walls I had painted and ??, the witty, filthy sayings we had scrawled upon the walls were scraped and shattered. My room was defiled by a pullman kitchen. I spit  in his eye. I urinate upon his business holdings. I defecate in the doorway of his French restaurant which ?? from rowhouse to rowhouse along the last remaining backstreet of the campus, [half line too mangled to read] around a pole and, as his eyes roll detached across the road, watch the glee unfold across his parents long-strained faces.

In succession after the House:

[Summer 1964, 3700 block of Spruce St.]

A three-room apartment, pleasant enough, of no significance other than a wide gutter outside the third-floor window, where I could place my feet and survey the street, pleasant, tree-lined. Two floors down lived a guitar-picker, looking like a snaggle-toothed Missouri hick, but from Haddonfield, N.J. He drank continually, or appeared to without being immoderate, studied math and surrounded himself with small, intelligent, giggly, deformed-looking people. He also treated his wife, whose chin and personality receded like ?? stars at infinity, as though her main function were to provide the shortest distance between himself and their refrigerator. They were together possessed of a liberated, swinging two year old (the occasion of their marriage) who danced sporadically on a footstool to obscure delta blues. He (the picker, not the kid) was given to moodiness and would every month or so lock his door and mutter nastiness if someone knocked. I heard later than the receding[?] wife was adept at two-day marathon fucks, which helps clear up many of the ambiguities. The middle floor was unoccupied during the first two months and since a roommate and the picker had been satellites of the House during its second (lesser) year, the place provided a scaled-down, pastel transition from the room where I first began to compose all this and the almost-exile of my first experience at living alone.

[Fall 1964 to… ?1966. SE corner of 37th and Chestnut Sts.. Julie moved in near the end. What’s written here is much too negative a view of one of the most absurdly delightful places I’ve ever lived. The negativity comes, really, from what followed, when the two of us knew way too much difficulty.]

A two-roomer this time, again the third floor, but in contrast completely cut off from the rest of the building. The house itself could best be described as a brownstone shanty, a disgustingly ugly pile of featureless rock with rancid plywood attachments on the second floor and the third floor porch (mine) entirely enclosed by chicken wire, as thought a cage for or defense against some great predatory bird that fed on entrails. I ripped down the chicken wire, cleaned and painted the porch, removed the checkerboard grey linoleum that covered every inch of the floors, sand the floors, whited the walls, tacked curtains over the immense closet doors and, in the one act of distinctive brilliance, closed, locked and draped-over the one official entrance. My new entrance was an immense outward-thrusting fire escape, an act of aggression perpetuated by some mad ironworker who had decided to make his offense a blatant feature of the landscape. It was old, ?? and scaled, possessed of a particular[?] sort of grime and grit which did not settle on it but somehow regenerated within hours after I had swept its cleated steps. It hunkered like a scabrous dinosaur above the daily mounds of garbage which issued from the food store on the first floor. I also shook and creaked whenever walked upon, giving my guests a cheap taste of the abyss. On the strange green lattice of the porch gate I hung Durer’s self portrait, grimacing[?] like a Christ gone sour, shedding[?] its mental masturbation down to the street by means of a spotlight I put on it all evening. The door into the main room took the place of the central window in a bay and was opened by a skeleton key which I left in the drawer of a table on the porch. I ignored the building and it ignored me. The view (a corner building tic[?]) was down upon a Presbyterian church which had a small, functionless yet beautiful cloister on our side. We left (the girl I lived with — now my wife – and I [first wife, Julie]) when the loneliness of the sun setting slowly, slowly – shadows creating [most of line lost on fold] monkish view, threatened to turn my mind to dung. It was place of ?? happy summer afternoons and horrid autumn evenings. It distilled my fear of night approaching.

[1966-April ’67, 500 block of Delancey St. The one great wonder of our stay was the birth of Morgan, my eldest, far more important than the minutia of shit listed here. Again, the sour outlook is a back-reflection from later sorrows.]

 The next, three rooms again, though four by nature, and with it came this night I feared, the Dark Night of the Soul. Oh, this is an exaggeration of course. 2 men can know primal misery only if his condition is truly primal and there is no hope, or if his condition is so much his own that it does not matter what the facts are. We lived comfortably enough without statistical want, so the latter case pertains, and there can be no social justification of the misery we felt, the grinding horror we lived under. Most of it had little to do with surroundings anyway, and so belongs elsewhere. Even if ?? were otherwise, ?? it all here would be too much of distortion this early in the game, too much a cry for pity when presentation is the only aim. Enough though to catalog the semi-objective points of this side-show trap.

Above us a slim[?] divorcee fucked morning noon and evening, or as soon as they returned from anywhere, with her lover, a personification of slow wittedness and five-o’clock shadow. They climaxed in maddening crescendo, like mammoth rodents and, so nearly as the listening world could gather, always simultaneously. Either they were perfectly attuned, or one of them was a hypocrite. This was not as madly annoying as amazing, especially as their bed was directly over ours. We laughed in fact, mentally timing them from their mad dash up the stairs to the last shriek. She had a five year old son who was either conveniently absent at the right time or, for him, strangely quiet – awed no doubt. The rest of his waking life was spent leaping off whatever article of furniture was nearest him, landing heels first and tearing across whichever room he was in until he encountered an obstacle, at which point the process was repeated. The front door was guarded by a fat, arthritic red dog, part chow its owner would tell you daily, who snapped at your heels as you stepped or leapt over him, sprawled at the foot of the stairs. The dog, though, was preferable to the owner, a widower overbrimming with a cowardly nastiness[?] which he inflicted on his sons through hours of verbal harassment, mostly threatening them with imminent dismemberment which, unfortunately – at least in the case of the elder son – never ?? place. He was something of a low-degree electrician by trade, enough of one at least to be tapping half the power to his apartment off our line.

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