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It’s a well-known fact, and even a hoary cliché (which is I guess itself a cliché) that New York City is a gathering place for creative people who want to express themselves in a larger, more fertile setting.  But there are places even within New York where that matriculation of talent is even more refined, places where Liberal Arts Majors from all over can find work.  Examples include Perelandra Natural Foods, Ozzie’s Coffee, and a little (now defunct) video store called Screen Memory.

Opened in the mid ‘80’s by a cheerfully rotund psychiatrist named Maureen (the video store name referred to the Freudian idea of substituting horrible memories with a ‘screen,’ or substitute memory {see Whitley Strieber’s “Communion”}); Screen Memory was a gathering place for creative types from the 50 states as well as the 5 boroughs.

The site of Screen Memory, now a Little Things.

There was Bob, the manager, a man of African-American and Native American descent (who believed he could ascertain the exact day the world would end and was oh for six on that score when I knew him), and Omar from the Sudan (who ran the lottery machine by the front door).  Then there was Doug, from California (who always referred to his head as a dome, and was always looking for the bodega that had the best weed {like his personal Holy Grail search}); Cynthia, from The Bronx (a hip-hop dancer who once jumped off a car and landed in a splits in the Apache video “Gangsta Bitch”) and Beau, from Norman, Oklahoma – all of them bided their time checking and renting VHS tapes to Park Slope’s sometimes bitchy clientele while at the same time trying to live out their artistic dreams.

All these people came to (or stayed in) NYC as if drawn magnetically, and like succubae, they wanted to suck all the energy they could out of that town.  For myself, I was drawn not TO New York but magnetically repelled away from Florida’s oppressive sun and the feminine oligarchy I imagined I lived under.  So I always had a bit of an outsider’s vibe, a little ‘sumptin sumptin’ I could never, at the time,  put a name to.

 I wasn’t going FOR something so I became easily bored (it was like I was biding ALL of my time); I drank and smoked too much and attracted the most unusual friends.  There was a cartoonist, Crazy Pete, who I met through an arty director of little movies, named Steve; and then the aforementioned Beau, a classically trained pianist who wore his angst very palpably on his sleeve (and everywhere else).

Doug was too ‘out there’ and high most of the time and Cynthia kept telling me scary stories of people running out of clubs and away from gunfire; so I hung out with Beau, a fellow Oklahoman.  He was a non-conformist living in a place he soon realized cared nothing for varying degrees of conformity.  It was 1993 and he had a lot on his mind.  I could see it on his face behind that video counter on 7th and Garfield in the evenings when we’d rent copies of “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” or “Mississippi Masala” to Slopers as diverse (and famous) as Vanessa Del Rio or Paul Auster.

Beau was a six foot one guy with long red hair and a full beard that always made him look a little older than he was.  His slightly bulgy eyes and predeliction for flannel shirts, combined with the beard, gave him the look of a perpetually surprised lumberjack.  He performed his own compositions, song and spoken word, at small venues in Brooklyn and Manhattan, whenever given the chance.  His was often bewildered with the expectations of peers, parents, and even himself.  In his time in New York he was finding out who he was and what he was really comfortable with.  It became his quest to accept his own art and to find ears for it, people who would accept it too, on his terms.  This was a process that, for any artist, can take quite awhile.

I ate 74.8 lbs. of pizza from them over the years.

One morning that summer I witnessed the ultimate manifestation of any artist’s frustration with being ignored and unloved in New York.  Beau and I were waiting for the F Train at 7th Avenue.  He may have been my roommate then (as I said, I drank too much in those days and my memory’s a little hazy, you might even say it was ‘screened’) and we had just hit up Smiling Pizza on 7th and 9th.

We stood there on the platform and he opened up his pizza slice box.  It was a big wedge of pepperoni with only 2 pepperonis!!  In a fury he lifted it out of the box and hurled it onto the 1930’s era tiles on the wall opposite, just below the ‘ven’ in Avenue.  Of course this didn’t register on any fellow commuter’s “interest-ometer.”

It stuck there for only a second or two, then fell down, where I’m sure it was quickly consumed by the subway fauna.

But even before that slice hit the track bed, Beau and I knew that his rage was not about that under-meated slice of pizza.  There were larger issues at work here.  He was young then, about 23, and he, like many before him and after, bought into the implied paradigm about “making it” in New York City (which probably originated with 19th Century civic boosters).  It wasn’t happening for him and it made him really angry.

His spiels about this were really works of art in themselves (something I know he picked up on in his song-writing that came later on at Surf Reality).

And I, in my differently-angered and usually soused state (I may have mentioned earlier that I imbibed a wee much), found it very amusing.  Especially when I was also high.  Beau liked me and used me as a sounding board because I wasn’t one of his frustrated artist types (though I DID go to art school and was in general, frustrated). After all, I was not about the “toward something” I was more about the “away from something.”

Whiling away our evenings at the bar at Two Boots or down the Ave at Carriage House, this dynamic made our friendship click.  Like Warhol, I just liked to watch as he’d unspool his invectitude.  Sometimes I’d chime in with a really mean comment but usually I was just kind of silent, hiccupping.

Two Boots, looks innocent enough.

He wasn’t getting recognition for his art nor any attention from the ladies; those were his two main subjects and what I thought were his raison d’être.

One night on his birthday the next year, as he, Crazy Pete and I sat crammed in on my roommate Michelle’s bunk bed getting drunk and watching some awards show on an old black and white; I made a mean joke that took things too far.  It was some dark articulated reference to how appropriate it was that his birthday was on April Fools Day.

I was surely at my worst that Spring of ’94 (he wasn’t in such a good spot either) and we didn’t speak again until a few weeks after I got sober in May.  He was so amazed that I got sober that he forgave all of my slights towards him right there on the spot (I remember it well, the sales floor of that 7th Avenue institution, Little Things, where he was working his latest McJob).

It took even awhile after that, but Beau and I had come to the same realization, though from different directions and at different times.  The engines that drove our respective angsts were running on a pretty meager fuel indeed, it turned out.

He was perhaps as mistaken in his belief that he had to “make it happen” in New York as I was that the City, or any other place, was the perfect place to “vanish.”

There was and is no “making it” in NYC, you just do your thing the best you can, in an honest manner, and happiness derives from that, because it has to.

Or it doesn’t.

By the time Beau moved back to Oklahoma he already had accomplished what he was really in New York to do in the first place.  He had confidence in what he had to say as an artist, and since then he has flourished in more accepting surroundings.

As for myself, I realized I was manifesting an escape from something that didn’t exist (unless abandoned self perceptions ARE actually real), and though that may not explain my own sobriety to someone, it may explain how a person like myself can get a little less mean, a little more compassionate.

Having thus abandoned our paradigms (which are always too demanding of us anyway, and take too much effort to maintain), we both found success and peace.  Beau just put an album out last year after having been signed by Zanzibar Records out in Oklahoma.  His lyrics are funny and angry and still tickle me because I can hear him conversationally, just going off.  And I’m here in Georgia, happily married and writing these little memory tales.  And trying  (usually in vain) to hold my tongue when nasty thoughts arise.

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