It was hard to get good radio stations in NYC in the 70s. There was the public station, BAI, but mainly , between good, funny shows ,( the first radio station I think in New York to play Dot Dash, by Wire, the punk single that changed my musical life, I thought oh my God, I can’t abide any more hippy shit. This song has big energy. I want to jump up and down in time to it. Oh, it’s called punk. I think that is what I am going to have to be) they asked you to pledge money. It was like Geldolf in LiveAid times a billion. But not in a cute Irish accent but a very fucking annoying nasal NY whine, come on, send money now or we won’t be able to , uh, play more radio shows asking you for more money. Fuck that shit. Plus my mother’s best friend at the time insisted the station was anti Semitic. I had not even heard of the word. I thought it was people against semen. I had no evidence of this but I adored her, I even middle named my kid after her, so I looked up the meaning and on my mother’s best friend’s word, listened to the station sporadically. In secret. Under the bedclothes.
The other station was, oh crikey I can’t for the life of me remember the name and I am not going to google it. But it played “cool” hippy music, particularly at night when a sexy woman would come on and announce she was Alison, the nightbird, come fly with her. I felt a feeling when I heard that voice, a feeling I now identify as horny. Previously, I had thought this was a feeling exclusive to boys. Was I a voice-centric lesbian, or did I just enjoy the show? Every other song was Neil Young, whom I adored and still do, but she would throw in something else now and then that I would try to figure out in my mother’s bathroom, on the guitar. The bathroom had such fine acoustics you could hear when the people upstairs had food poisoning. I had a fantastic guitar a Guild D25 which many years later, I gave to a kid who later grew up and made films and married a former member of Hole.
She ( Alison the nightbird) also played rather a lot of a genre now known as Southern Rock. Southern rock was emetic to punks, mind you everything was emetic to punks, but I really loved it when she played The Allman Brothers because that was my sister’s favourite band before she got into disco, and that and Gil Scot Heron were the only things me and my sister agreed on. Once she put headphones on my head and put on Blue Sky on full blast and turned the lights off and left the room and before she did she said, “I think you will really like this” and I did. That same year I got my best friend the single Blue Sky for her birthday, but I don’t think she was impressed. When she grew up, she listened to opera.
It’s taking me some time to get to the boyfriend bit. I guess music always came first, boyfriends, if I had one at all, which I never really did til this first one ( apart from a kid at summer camp I kissed on the lips, to my friends, that counted) were not high priority. I wanted to do well at school, I wanted to listen to great music, I wanted to write. I wanted to start my fucking periods. This didn’t happen til I was nearly 16 cos I was so skinny. But I think by the time I’d met Alfred, all this had happened. I grew tits the girls in the locker room did not believe were mine, but thought were tennis balls in a bra. I had to show some of them, really , they are mine. They just sprung, unbidden, largely, one summer when every day I got to swim and eat fresh vegetables and fresh fish every day at the opera friend’s parent’s summer house in Long Island. Before she liked opera, way before. We are still friends and I still love her to bits.
Anyway this boy, I knew him sorta through the summer house connection ( can’t remember exactly how, he didn’t seem to have any money which was sort of pre requisite to having parents with a summer house) but he also lived in Queens, where I lived as well. I can’t even remember how we started “going out” This was an ill defined thing for guys with no money. You didn’t go to the movies. You didn’t go bowling. You didn’t go to a diner for milkshakes. You certainly didn’t go to a bar. That was for proper grown ups or people with plausible fake ID.
What I remember about him, perhaps quite rightly, was that he looked like Arlo Guthrie in the Woodstock movie. Sort of surprised, curly long hair, guitar on his back, a look of perpetual wonder and confusion I now know as stoned.
My bestest friend was this gay guy Drew, who gave this new boyfriend the big thumbs down. There was a song that was played universally on the radio in those days, even the nightbird played it, it was called Dust in the Wind and it had a very predictable chord progression but I learnt to play it in my mother’s bathroom in about two seconds, and so did the boyfriend, not in my mother’s bathroom because she didn’t like him.
“He doesn’t wash,” she said.
“He’s dirty,” said the gay best friend. “He’s Dusty in the Wind”
“But he looks like Arlo Guthrie in Woodstock”
“I don’t care, the boy needs a shower and some good grooming products from the ground floor at Saks.”
I could never suggest this. At the time, my friend Drew worked there, and knew how to make a guy clean, good, and gay. He worked one of the high end counters, and told me he once did the face of the wife of Boutris Boutris Gally. Or however the fuck you spell it. He said she had bad breath and it was hard work.
But my boyfriend knew nothing about grooming. Mainly, we would take long walks in Forest Park, a park near where I lived, and when it got dark we would go back to my mother’s apartment and make out on the sofa til she walked in. Then we would straighten out our largely still buttoned shirts and bell bottoms -I really can’t impress upon you how sexually innocent I was- and pretend to be watching TV. My mother would say, “I think you need to get out, get some fresh air” or some such thing mothers say, and we would go out, and walk the streets of Kew Gardens ( the one in NY not London) and Forest Hills, where the really rich kids lived.
One such evening, we were walking round the long bock where my mother lived, and we saw a passing car with a man leaning out the window, projectile vomiting. The boyfriend said, “That’s right. Get it all out.”
Somehow, somewhere deep inside, this struck me as common. He was trying to bond with a throwing up guy in a car, a guy he didn’t even know.
My mood changed, but he did not recognise it. I should mention that he smoked, but never had money for cigarettes. So he would ” bum” them off strangers. As I grew up in two countries, UK and US, the UK side would take over and I would think, you must never ask for things. It’s wrong, it’s needy, it’ s in poor taste. But a stranger walked by and the stranger was smoking and the boyfriend asked for a cigarette, pal. It was the word pal that really got to me. He is not your pal, you want a cigarette, end of story.
The guy, who was with a very beautiful girl, said, “Sorry, this is my last one” And I so wanted to be that beautiful girl with that last cigarette guy, I so wanted to be part of that couple rather than the couple I was in.
I said “Never ever ever ever ask for a cigarette from someone you don’t know. It’s very wrong”
And the filthy Arlo Guthrie said , “But, like, why?”
Everyone in those days used the word “like” as hippy filler. It’s what you said if you didn’t have a good vocabulary, or pretended to have a bad vocabulary.
I said, “It’s not polite. It makes it seem like you are poor, like you are a bum”
My sister and I had a board game from ages ago called “Mystery Date” I can not remember how you played it but at some point, you opened a toy door and got your date, it could be a jock, or a studious guy, or a rich guy, or the bum. Actually the bum was the cutest guy.
I said, “Cos it makes you like the bum on mystery date. If you get the bum, you instantly lose.”
Of course, not being a girl, not having girl based board games, he had no idea what I was talking about.
I continued, “First of all you shouldn’t smoke at all. Have you seen the film with all the bunnies smoking cigarettes at force? They all get cancer and die”
This confused the boyfriend , who was confused anyway.
He said, “This isn’t working”
I said “You mean the cigarette thing?”
He said no, the total thing. “We should have a place to do it.”
“What is it? Ask people for cigarettes?”
He looked pissed off. “No, it. As in doing it.”
I had no idea, really no idea what he meant. I said, “if you want to stay with me, you have to wash now and then and not ask strangers for cigarettes. It’s very wrong. I can’t tell you why, it just is.”
He looked forlorn. He said, OK, I will do those things when I am with you. It didn’t occur to me that he should really make it sort of a life policy. Wash, and don’t ask strangers for cigarettes.
We walked some, in silence. We heard crickets, or city versions of crickets. Another couple walked past us, the guy smoking a cigarette.
Mentally I pleaded , oh please please please don’t ask for a cigarette. I just told you how against it, I am, oh great unwashed Arlo.
He went up to the guy and said Excuse me sir, can I have a cigarette?”
The guy fished in his pockets and pulled out a Virginia Slim, a sort of cigarette/ thin cigar marketed at women.
He was smoking girl cigarettes. Alfred took one anyway.
I said, “You just don’t get it.”
He said damn right I don’t get it. Your fucking mother and her walking in.”
I had no idea what he was talking about and at that point, didn’t care. We finished. It was right to finish it. It was wrong to have started in the first place.