Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Writers Guild Office Boy 1970 (ii)

By the middle of October 1970, both Michelle and Eric had finally moved back down to D.C. and I had my Bronx studio apartment just for myself and my pet kitten, “Kitty” again. And with my wages of $100 per week (in 1970s money) and only a $57 per month apartment rent, I felt I had more spending money in my pocket than I had ever had during my college years. So for the first time in a few years, I actually bought some new clothes for myself at the Alexander’s discount department store on the Grand Concourse and Fordham Road on one Saturday afternoon.

While waiting for the Black Panther Party and its radical feminist-led white movement allies to make the Revolution in the early 1970s in the United States, I did not want, in the Fall of 1970, to get my survival money by just being an office boy or clerical worker until the Revolution happened. Yet until I was able to “earn my living in the 1970s as a protest folk singer-songwriter” the way Phil Ochs had been able to do during the 1960s, it looked like I was going to be stuck in the 9-to-5 office world as a clerical office worker like my father had been for so many years.

So, after being hired by the Writers Guild in September 1970, I also decided to enroll in two education courses at Lehman College’s evening division in the Bronx, in order to obtain the remaining education course credits I needed if I ever decided I wanted to teach social studies at some New York City vocational high school for white working-class students—while waiting for the Black Panther Party and radical feminist-led Movement to make the Revolution.

Although Lehman College’s evening school courses for non-matriculated students were not free (as they were for matriculated undergraduates in the Fall of 1970, five years before free tuition at CUNY was ended), the tuition costs for the two education courses I enrolled were still less than $200. And because my father (whom I had not asked to pay any college costs for me since the end of my freshman year at Columbia) seemed pleased that I now seemed more willing to finally consider becoming a middle-class professional than I had previously been, I decided that it wasn’t exploitative of me to ask him to pay the $200 I needed to take my two education courses at Lehman College’s evening school. But it proved to be the only time after the 1960s that I ever asked my father to help me pay for a U.S. university course.

I only lived three blocks from Fordham University’s gated campus on Fordham Road. But tuition there for any evening teacher education courses was much more expensive than what CUNY charged in those days for its non-matriculated students. So that’s why Lehman College was where I ended up taking my evening teacher ed courses in the Fall of 1970.

Lehman College’s campus, near Bedford Park Road and Jerome Avenue at 196th Street, was about a 25-minute to half-hour walk from where I lived at 188th Street, east of Webster Avenue. Since Lehman College, unlike Fordham or Columbia, was solely a commuter school, there were no dormitories on campus. And, unlike at Columbia or Fordham’s campus in the evening or on weekends, few students ever hung around the campus of Lehman College after dark. So unless you met somebody in an evening class before they hurried home off-campus, it was unlikely that you could meet anybody on campus at Lehman in the evening by just hanging out in the college’s library.

Lehman College had once been Hunter College’s Bronx Division. But by the Fall of 1970 it had been renamed for former New York State Democratic Governor Herbert Lehman, was no longer part of Hunter College, and was the Bronx equivalent of Queens College. Consequently--although the open admissions to CUNY demand for all New York City high school graduates had been won as a result of the African-American and Puerto Rican student building occupations at CCNY, Brooklyn College and Queens College in the Spring of 1969—like Queens College’s student commuters, Lehman College’s commuting daytime student body in the fall of 1970 was still predominantly from white working-class Jewish ethnic backgrounds, although the Lehman College students were generally from less affluent white working-class backgrounds than were the Queens College students.

Most of the evening students at Lehman College, like the evening students at Queens College, were usually just either New York City public school teachers who were required to take more evening school education courses to be permanently certified or 9-to-5 office workers in Manhattan’s business world or in city and state government offices who needed to obtain college BA degree credentials, eventually, to either retain their business or government jobs or to get promoted in the corporate or government agency world.

The main difference between the student body at Lehman College and the student body at Queens College seemed to be that most of the commuting daytime and evening students at Lehman College were from the Bronx or Westchester, whereas most of the commuting Queens College students were from either Queens or Nassau County. Another difference between Lehman College and Queens College seemed to be that a greater percentage of students from less affluent working-class Irish-American backgrounds seemed to attend Lehman College than attended Queens College.

Ironically, when I registered for my two evening education courses at Lehman College in late September 1970, I recognized one of the security guards who was working at Lehman College during its registration period from my days as a Columbia student. At Columbia during the 1965-66 and 1966-67 academic years, he had been the Columbia worker you encountered when you entered or left the Butler Library stacks that would chat or flirt with practically every Columbia or Barnard student who entered or exited the stacks in a cheerful, friendly way.

“Hey, don’t we know each other from Butler Library?” I said to the Lehman security guard after I recognized him.

“Yes. I remember you,” he said with a smile. “What are you doing here?”

“Taking a few courses. But where have you been? You seemed to suddenly disappear from Butler Library at Columbia.”

The Lehman College security guard laughed and replied: “I was drafted and had to spend two years in the army.”

“Glad to see you survived,” I said.

The security guard smiled. “I managed to avoid being sent to Vietnam and got sent to Germany, instead.”

“Good for you,” I said with a laugh and, as the line of registering students moved forward into the next room, I added “Nice to see you again.”

I also recognized in back of me on the Lehman College registration line a white guy in a suit and tie with short hair who had attended Richmond College with me during the 1968-69 academic year.

“Weren’t you a student at Richmond College?” I asked him.

“Yes. Oh, I remember you,” the guy answered.

“Why are you taking courses at Lehman?”

“I’m working as a student counselor in the Dean’s office at Baruch College and I need some additional courses to obtain a Master’s,” the guy replied.

I felt like laughing, because in the fall of 1970, to me this guy seemed like the least appropriate person to counsel CUNY students. At Richmond College, he had been a veteran older student who was a right-wing conservative and a few years older than the other undergraduates who seemed totally unhip politically and culturally to what undergraduate students then wanted from life.

“That’s interesting,” I said before the registration line moved forward and I was able to get away from the culturally straight right-wing would-be college administrator--without having to exchange anymore pleasantries to someone whom I felt was still helping to block radical democratic social change in the USA.

The two evening courses I enrolled in at Lehman College in the Fall of 1970 was a course on the problems students from Puerto Rican family backgrounds faced in the New York City public school system and a course on high school social studies teaching methods. Each course met two evenings per week, but on different nights. And I do have some memories of what went on inside the classroom in each of these evening classes during the Fall of 1970.

A white teacher ed professor in his late 40s or 50s, whose ethnic background was Puerto Rican, taught the education course on the special difficulties that students of Puerto Rican descent-- especially those students whose parents only spoke Spanish--faced inside New York City’s public schools. The professor was a left-liberal politically and provided good information in the course and assigned readings that documented the various ways the New York City public school system discriminates on an institutional and interpersonal basis against Puerto Ricans; and why there was a need to set up bi-lingual educational programs in the public schools, especially in the early grades.

There were only about ten Lehman College evening school students in the this class, including a few current white teachers who seemed to be taking the course, like me, in order to just accumulate the education course credits they needed to obtain a permanent teacher’s license. But none of the teachers in the class seemed interested enough in the course to participate much in the class discussion.

So whatever class discussion happened usually ended up being some kind of debate between the left-liberal professor and myself versus the two right-wing conservatives in the class who kept challenging the professor’s thesis that the New York City public schools treated Puerto Ricans in a racist way and that some kind of affirmative action program (that “discriminates against white people’ according to the right-wing conservatives in the class) was needed in New York City.

One of the right-wing conservatives in the class was a young white guy in his 20s, who didn’t seem particularly closed-minded or especially racist. But the other right-wing conservative who was most vocal in the class was an older guy in his late 50s who was apparently a retired white cop now living on his pension, who, having never attended college, had decided to spend some of his newly-acquired leisure time taking college courses in the evening. Often he seemed to be using his classroom time in the evening to vent his rage at the impression he was getting from watching the TV news that “his country’s” youth was “going commie” in a dangerous way. So he and I sometimes got into some heated debates in the class.

For this class on “Puerto Ricans and the Public School System,” I had to write a term paper. So I wrote a research paper on “U.S. Business Operations In Puerto Rico,” which described how, after 1898, Puerto Rican became an economic colony of the U.S. corporations and was still an economic colony of the U.S. corporations in 1970; with U.S. corporations making super-profits from their investments in Puerto Rico because of Puerto Rico’s high-unemployment, sub-standard wage-rates and corporate tax-exemption incentives, as well as from their exports to a captive Puerto Rican consumer market.

But what turned out to be most memorable for me about my Lehman College teacher education course on Puerto Ricans and the New York City public school system was that by enrolling in this class, I ended up meeting Mary of Valentine Avenue in the Fall of 1970.

Mary sat on the other side of the classroom on the first session of class and didn’t participate much in the class discussion. So, initially, I barely noticed that she was a classmate of mine in the “Puerto Ricans and the Public School System” class. But after the night class ended--and I had left Lehman’s campus, walked up the hill of 196th Street/Bedford Park Avenue, reached the Grand Concourse and approached Kingsbridge Road, on my way to Fordham Road and my apartment—I noticed that Mary was walking in the darkness in front of me. And by the time she reached the next red traffic light, I had caught up with her as she waited for the light to change to green.

“What did you think of the class?” I then asked her.

“Some of it’s interesting,” Mary replied cautiously.

We then started to chat as we walked further south on the Grand Concourse towards the first floor apartment on Valentine Avenue which Mary shared with a woman friend named Norma. I then continued walking for another 10 to 15 minutes, past Webster Avenue, until I reached my own apartment.

Mary, who wore blue jeans each evening, was an Irish-American woman with long brown hair whom most men considered pretty , in her early twenties, who was a few inches shorter than me. She had graduated from Marymount College, which was then an all-women’s Catholic school, just a year or two before the Fall of 1970. But in the Fall of 1970, Mary was then working as a tour guide at the RCA Building during the day.

Bored with having to mechanically repeat the same tour guide text in front of tourists each day at the RCA Building in order to earn her rent money, Mary had decided to enroll in an evening education course at Lehman that semester in order to start accumulating the required credits she might need if she wanted to try to get an elementary school teaching job eventually in the New York City public school system. Like me, however, Mary was a also a Bob Dylan fan in the Fall of 1970 and was anti-war in her politics, despite her right-wing Irish-American Catholic family and parochial school background.

After the first night walking home from Lehman College with Mary and chatting with her, I realized I was attracted to her. And by the second or third class session, I was not only walking her home after each evening class, but she had given me her phone number and was inviting me into her apartment to meet her roommate, Norma, and talk some more in her living room before I continued on my way home.

So, until the end of the Fall 1970 semester, going to my “Puerto Ricans and The Public School System” class always meant walking home and visiting Mary and Norma in their Valentine Avenue apartment for a half hour or so during the week--before getting back to my own apartment to read or work on writing a folk song lyric and then preparing to get to sleep before midnight, so I’d be able to get to the Writers Guild office in Midtown Manhattan the next morning by 9 a.m..

Mary’s father had died before I met her, but she was still close to her mother despite now living in her own apartment on Valentine Avenue. Mary had spent part of the summer just before I met her, for example, traveling with her mother around Ireland, visiting distant Irish relatives, touring the Irish countryside and checking out Irish historical tourist sites and museums in Dublin.

Between the time I worked with another Irish-American woman named Mary at UM & M in the Summer of 1965 and when I became friends with Mary of Valentine Street in the Fall of 1970, the only Irish-American women I had ever had much contact with had generally been hippie-woman who pretty much totally rejected their Catholic upbringing and a Catholic identification; and, having fled from the culturally straight 1960s Irish-American communities in which they may have grown up in, identified themselves more as hippy chicks than as “Irish-Americans.” So Mary was really the first culturally straight Irish-American woman I got to know more than casually after I, myself, became more of a bohemian, hippie, leftist radical.

Before she met me, most of the men with whom Mary had been friends seemed to just be culturally straight, politically unhip Irish-American men from generally right-wing working-class Catholic backgrounds. The kind of Irish-American men who, in the 1960s, were usually more into being on the parochial high school football team, attending sports events and drinking in Irish bars in the Bronx than into hanging out in the Village, being too intellectual or getting into the Civil Rights or antiwar movement in any deep way.

When they went to college, the kind of Irish-American men that Mary was used to hanging around with usually just went to then-Catholic-oriented universities or colleges like Fordham, St. John’s, St. Joseph’s, St. Francis, Manhattan College, Notre Dame, Holy Cross or Boston College as undergraduates, joined fraternities and were usually still more into drinking beer than smoking pot or using psychedelic drugs, prior to the 1970s. In addition, although by the end of 1968 the Civil Rights Movement in the North of Ireland had brought Bernadette Devlin McAliskey and the question of British imperialism in the North of Ireland to the U.S. television screen, neither Mary nor any of the Irish-American guys she knew seemed to have come from Irish-American families who had passed on to them much Irish Republican or Irish nationalist political or historical consciousness.

So, although Mary was into Dylan like I was into Dylan in her musical tastes, she didn’t seem to have previously known many guys who were either hippies or Jewish in their ethnic/religious background at the time she met me in the Fall of 1970. But after about a month of walking Mary home from Lehman College after class during the evening and hanging out in her apartment for a bit after walking Mary home, I decided the time was ripe to telephone Mary and ask her if she was interested in going out on a date with me on a Saturday night.

In the Fall of 1970, hip capitalist rock promoter Bill Graham had not yet closed down his Fillmore East Theatre on the Lower East Side’s Second Avenue. So, after purchasing two tickets to a Saturday night show at the Fillmore East that included a set by B.B. King, I telephoned Mary and asked her if she felt like seeing the show with me on Saturday night.

Mary agreed to go with me to the Fillmore East’s Saturday night show and it was decided that I would meet her at her Valentine Street apartment after dinner on Saturday evening. And then we’d take the D train down to Second Avenue on the Lower East Side to the Fillmore East.

Excited about going on a real date with Mary for the first time, I arrived at Mary’s apartment on Saturday evening. In my pocket, besides my tickets to the Fillmore East show, was some hashish. Just in case Mary felt like watching the show while high on hashish with me.

Mary was dressed-up in a sweater and a skirt--and wearing more lipstick than she usually used--when I arrived. But she still looked very pretty and attractive to me, so I still felt like getting involved romantically with Mary, as we talked in her living room before leaving for the Fillmore East show.

Mary agreed that it would be fun to smoke some hashish before we went downtown to listen to the music. So we smoked some hashish together before leaving her apartment and walking towards the Fordham Road IND subway station to get on the D train going south.

I can’t remember much about the subway trip downtown, except that we barely noticed any of the other passengers around us while we conversed with each other in an animated way. But I do recall that by the time Mary and I were standing on line with our tickets outside the Fillmore East, waiting to be let into the theatre, we were both feeling the effects of the hashish and each enjoying being high on it. Once inside the Fillmore East Theatre, I can only vaguely recall what each of the featured acts performed. But I do remember that both Mary and I pretty much lost ourselves in the music and felt being stoned on hashish made the show more enjoyable.

By the time we took the subway back up to the Bronx and reached Mary’s apartment on Valentine Avenue, the effects of the hashish were wearing off. But although Mary seemed to have had a good time on our date, in the Fall of 1970 she apparently wasn’t the type of woman who would invite you into sleep with her after only one date or quickly express affection for a guy in a physical way, unless she really had decided she loved him. So after Mary kissed me goodbye on the street outside her apartment building in a friendly, but only polite way, and thanked me for the good time, I realized that Mary was still more cautious than I was about becoming romantically involved with each other.

After my Saturday night date with Mary, I still remained friends with her and continued to walk her home after class and stop off in her apartment to chat for a bit. But by the end of the Fall 1970 semester, Mary began to discourage me from seeking to get any closer to her or telephoning her much after we ceased to be evening classmates.

Wanting to eventually have children and not being as much into free love or radical bohemian politics as I still was, Mary had apparently concluded that there were too many philosophical and cultural background differences between us that would doom any attempt by us to develop a love relationship, despite my attraction to her. And after I got the hint from Mary that she hadn’t fallen in love with me, I stopped telephoning her.

So Mary of Valentine Avenue vanished from my life forever by early 1971, even though, in the late 1970s, I started to again bump into more Irish-American women my age that lived in New York City, after I began doing Irish solidarity political work.