Friday, February 16, 2007

Tales of 939 Summit Ave, in the Jersey City Heights - The Beginning

I got an e-mail from my buddy Tom Solomon the other day. In it, he talked about our days as housemates at the infamous 939 Summit Ave., in Jersey City, NJ. When I got his e-mail, I couldn't help but laugh remembering the things that used to happen, and the people that lived there. It's funny- Now, after a number of years have gone by, I look back on that time with affection, and things don't seem as bad as I thought they were at the time. The passage of time will do that.

We shared the place with four other guys, and a ghost.

It was owned by Bob P., who was an opera singer, translator, and an ex-catholic priest. Bob was a great guy, and no one in the house ever had anything bad to say about him, even though we had plenty of bad things to say about lots of people. We would joke about Bob every now and then, but it was always out of affection. He was a stocky guy who shaved his head bald, and wore frameless glasses. Bob went to Tom's first show and Tom didn't recognize him, because Bob was wearing a wig and contacts, to impress the woman he was with!

Bob ran 939 as rooming house for members of the art community. The rent was cheap, and to live there you needed some sort of connection to the arts. At least in the beginning, that is. When a space became available, Bob ran an ad in the Village Voice setting out the conditions. The phone number was that of his nephew, Rich, who had no connection to anything, as far as anyone could see.

If you look up the word loser in the dictionary, you see Rich's picture next to it. Just as no one ever had anything bad to say about Bob, no one ever had anything good to say about Rich, once they got to know him. For one thing, he ate everyones food. He would do it in front of you, too. If you called him out on it, he would say that you weren't being a positive member of the house, and threaten to call his uncle.

I don't know where the furniture came from in 939, the furnishings were done in Early Salvation Army Revival style. The table and chairs in the dining room were the only really nice pieces of furniture. The floors creaked, and sometimes strange smells came from the backyard, making me wonder if Rich had buried someone back there.

Anyway, You met Rich at 939, looked things over, and maybe met the other residents. If Rich approved, you went to Bobs' little cubby hole in Manhattan, to give him the deposit.

When I first moved in there, the residents were me, Tom Solomon, the magician and escape artist, and Rich, who shared the basement with Tom. There was also Lester, who was an actor from France, Brian, an illustrator, and Bill, who was a drummer in a speed metal band called D.I.E.

Lester was a strange guy. Lester never worked. It turns out he was living off a trust fund given to him by his grandfather. He was totally clueless about anything domestic. He and Rich had such a total lack of common sense, that I thought that they must have both been raised in caves by bears.

He and Rich spent an inordinate amount of time together at the donut shop. Tom and I couldn't figure out what their obsession was with donuts. Then Bill said that "donut shop" must be their code word for a gay encounter. That made sense, since most of their conversations about going to the donut shop went something like this:

Rich- Hey Lester, do you want to go to the "donut shop?"

Lester- Uhhhh, sure Rich.

Rich- Do you want to get some "donut holes?"

Lester- Uhhhh, sure Rich. Can I get the cream filled ones this time?

Rich- Sure Lester. I feel like having the chocolate "donut holes".

Bill was cool. He was still young, just 19, and a friend of Bill W. He had done something bad and had gotten caught. The judge gave him a choice- either go through rehab, or go to prison. He was so caught up in his addiction, that he almost chose prison. Choosing rehab changed his life for the better, and he was working hard to keep his life moving in the right direction. So much so, that he is probably the most responsible person I have ever met in my life. (OK, excluding my wife, that is.) ;-D. I went with him and his band when they auditioned at CBGB's, and we met
Gene Simmons of KISS.

Brian was all right. He was quiet, but had a wickedly dry sense of humor. He usually kept to himself, and stayed in his room doing his work. Sometimes he would come down and watch TV with us. One time he did was when his friend Lynda Barry was on the David Letterman Show. Otherwise he stayed away from the madness going on downstairs.

And what mad things used to go on . . .

(To be continued)