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the column of lasting insignificance...
—for February 6, 2016 by John Wilcock

Now Available in Print!!

John Wilcock: New York Years, Book One

A comic book history of the rise of the 1960s underground media.
by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

Don't let a real-life comic strip sneak by unnoticed. This one's too unusual (and brilliant) for that!

http://www.ep.tc/book



* * *

Manhattan Memories

Chapter Thirteen:
The Figaro Diary (part two)

Soho Saturday


Monday, July 26: Could Gerald Ford actually make it to the White House with--of all people--John Conally? The papers I brought in with me to read are full of the two of them schmoozing on the White House lawn. If this Texan gets into the White House it will make the fourth crooked vice president we've had in a row. True, Rockefeller and Connally have not actually been convicted but most people I know think of them as crooks. I was still musing over this when a familiar face, name unknown, came by and sat down to reminisce about "the old days". Once fellow-customers, we find ourselves again exchanging amiable banalities a decade later. One of the only advantages of getting older is the opportunity that pops up occasionally to get deeper into a relationship that never previously got off the ground, and so it was this time. One thing led to another and we not only ended up in bed but found ourselves entangled in a hot and heavy relationship that was pressure-cooked by the knowledge that it could only last three weeks, after which she would be sailing off to Morocco. It was interesting to speculate whether, had we not had this deadline hovering over us, it might have merely been a one-night stand. It made we wonder whether new relationships might not benefit by having an initial cut-off point, to be resumed at some later date. My experience is that when I run into women who were so popular last time we met that they wouldn't even give me the time of the day they are now more sympathetic to my advances--older, perhaps not so much in demand and flattered to find that I admire them as much as the last time around. Of course, I'm more mellow myself and that surely counts for something.

Tuesday, July 27: Today I finally went to see Jack Klein, notorious Soho landlord with whom I'd been negotiating to find an apartment. After reading a piece about him in the Soho Weekly News which described how he refused to let his tenants profiteer over key money, he sounded like my kind of guy. For some reason I like to know my landlord personally. Klein showed me a tiny L-shaped loft in his West Broadway building which at first I agreed to take but, thinking it over later, decided that $400 was a bit excessive for one room and called him up to tell him so. "Apparently he doesn't approve of people making excess profits unless it's him" Gloria said, when I recounted the incident. Then she told me that the Figaro's new landlord was a bit of a rip-off himself back in the early days.

"A typical Mr. Landlord" was how she described him and described his reluctance to make repairs and paint. "In 1965 he weighed a lot more than he does now, maybe 40 or 50 pounds more. He was all-businessman in a grey suit and I'd see him wandering up and down Thompson street in a dream world. One day he wore an orange tie with his grey suit and it made me laugh because I could see the split in his personality, wanting to break out of the jail of his grey suit. In the early '70s he sold the building and when I saw him again he didn't remember me. The guy across the street is great friends with him. they talk about girls together and joke a lot so I guess he's a different person now. Anyway, he must have gone to a shrink; his whole aura is different."

Dear friends,

Like most writers, I'm the worst possible hospital patient. A day or two Is okay and for some people, maybe longer. But don't let he/she fool you, most writers are perpetually writing their story, no matter how much they seem to be paying attention. (Probably only other writers understand this particular human failing).

After more than 18 months since my stroke, I seem almost ready to return to work. An Important letter I must not forget was from a lady with a delightfully short three or four letter name asking for a subscription. Her letter sadly lost, but for a subscription, pay what you like. —JW

...

John Wilcock
Ojai, CA 93023

Artists Who Never Came to Moscow
Joey

Wednesday, July 28: It was well after midnight when I arrived and Robin told me to sit outside with Joey Skaggs, fresh from the triumphal staging of his semen bank hoax for Alex Bennet's cable TV show. Elizabeth was just leaving, escorted by somebody into a taxi (is that her Mafia friend?) and whispered that she'd tell me tomorrow about her disastrous date of the previous night. Robin, just finishing her shift, came to sit with us under the guise of refilling the ketchup bottles. It quickly became obvious that she's just started making it with Joey—godammit, missed her again after waiting all these years. A young woman who looked about 21 stopped by to ask if somebody would come with her to take a swim in the Carmine Street pool. "You have to climb over the fence at night" she explained, "and I don't want to go alone". When we got there a bunch of kids with the same idea were just being evicted by cops from a patrol car but we walked round the block and returned in time for my companion to strip down to her swimsuit and do three lengths without incident. Back at the Figaro it was now 2am and Robin was talking to Stanley Fisher who was surrounded by his usual batch of women groupies. Joey nudged me. "Isn't that the guy who's always into orgies?" he asked. "I hate the bastard; he's a real mind-fucker". I had always been wary of him myself, recalling his Great Fear Press which had propagated the notion that the fear of this planet colliding with a meteorite was the basis of every human's insecurities. I remember thinking at the time that such a paranoia had never entered my mind until then but that once aware of it, the logic was persuasive.

Janet and father
Janet and her father

Fisher once screened his movie at Cinematheque which caused an uproar. I don't remember anything about it except how angry people got, booing and whistling for it to be stopped. It struck me as odd that anybody could arouse so much animosity with such relatively nondescript images and now I was inclined to think of it as negative energy or, if you like, black magic. Ken Russell's movies affect some people the same way. Before I said anything, however, Joey was up from his seat and over at Fisher's table arguing and yelling. "I've never seen you so angry" Robin told him when we all sat down again. It seems that Fisher's technique, and that of his lady acolytes, is to zero in on whatever insecurities or vibrations they detect and go immediately on the offensive with comments like, "Why are you so nervous?" Robin, always cool and smiling, was able to handle it but Joey lost his cool and accused Fisher of being "another Charles Manson". When he calmed down, he admitted it was probably jealousy. He and Fisher had once lived in the same building at 521 Hudson Street and Fisher, he said, had always been coming on to his old lady in the hall. Now it was eight years later and a repeat performance. Robin said it had been an eventful night because Ken Van Sickle, an earlier lover of hers, had been chatting up Janet, the blonde surfer waitress, and Janet's father--who was always dropping by to keep an eye on his dishy daughter--had come on to her. "I think of Janet as a young version of myself, just like I was when the Figaro began", Robin said. "So it seemed that somehow we'd completed a whole circle".

Artists Who Never Came to Moscow

Aug 12, 1978:

The solar kid had invited me to his Broome Street party and there he was, four red lights winking from his T-shirt at one-second intervals. In his hand, activated by a concealed chip, a tiny pyramid glowed at the same frequency.

Punk influence had taken over one noisy end of the party while nearer to the bar people sat around on cushions or low couches & tried to converse over the still-too-loud music. I drew Lenny’s attention to a stylish lady who seemed a mass of dangling items.

“Cheap pseudo-Cuban flash” he sneered, or something to that effect. As I left he was deep in conversation with her.

The party at Broadway & Houston Street was bright, an air of gaiety with happy attractive faces, good lighting, & lots of lovely ladies. I smiled across the kitchen table at a pert, art flirt type with a belly swelled by pregnancy. She was sitting under the fan on a raised part of the floor and gradually making my way around the room. I eased into the seat below her. Our conversation was brittle & snappy. She was the gets-her-own-way JAP type who always seems to turn my head, & although she didn’t appear to have a husband or lover in the offing, I assumed there must be one.

The more interesting and animated our chat, the further down she slipped until eventually she was reclining full length upon the floor, gazing up at me and laughing a lot. Enchanting. Eventually she said she wanted to dance but I said I’d pass. I rarely dance in any case & the idea of that baby bobbing up & down in her belly made me nervous. So she split & danced. A friend said later: “She’s bad news, a bit weird & always looking for a good-looking dude who’ll keep her.” All he had done was to make her sound even more attractive than before. Except for the baby, nach. That kind of responsibility is enough to cool anybody.

But what am I—what is anybody—looking for? Relationships are so confusing these days, which may be why everybody seems to talk about them ad infinitum. Of course, Soho is the last place to seek a partner who has any sense of commitment, loyalty, or continuity. Most of the women seem so liberated, that the idea of actually building up a relationship, i.e. having two consecutive dates with the same person, is probably sacrilegious to their current creed.

So if I want to get married again (unfashionable), or even have what we might term “an old-fashioned relationship”, I’ll have to start looking elsewhere. My demands are actually quite modest; an intelligent, rational, easy-going woman who likes my company & isn’t always searching for somebody else. I enjoy getting into long, stimulating conversations with attractive ladies, but I’m too easily enchanted. I ponder too much on how to be funny, how to make them smile & hug me & invite me over to share their bed & board for long, glorious hours of togetherness. Romantic, that’s me.

Women are fascinating to talk to about relationships except when it comes to fucking. In my unfortunate experience these days, most women appear to seek a man who’ll fulfill all the regular functions of a lover except for the sex. They want to be admired, to be wooed, to be escorted, consoled, and even paid for. And after all that they ask, “Why does sex have to enter in & spoil it? Why can’t we just be friends?” I’ve been hearing that line for about 20 years & I still don’t have an answer for it. In my opinion, fucking with friends is one of the best things in life. Only a woman could suggest that NOT fucking friends could be an improvement.

But then if I’m to believe everything I hear, women these days get harassed with sexual offers from morning until night; only the supremely confident man can persuade somebody he’s just me, that he is more desirable than all the others. Estela says: “You’ve got to give any woman some really good reason why she should want to fuck you. Otherwise why should she bother?” If she is right it’s a depressing prospect.

My trouble is that often I don’t know how to interpret the signals; even if I’m correct in assuming that they are signals. The other night on the subway—of all places—it seemed that a certain lovely stranger returned my interested gaze. She got up to stand by the door long before her stop so I followed her off & all the way through the station. But I chickened out just when I should have said something to her. Shyness, fear, an inability to take the bull by the horns, to grasp the nettle, whatever.

One thing I’ve noticed lately is that this batch of Colombian tends to make me a bit paranoid, but by the same token it encourages constant Alice-in Wonderland trips, a series of scenes, merging, succeeding & adding to everything a more-than-normal quotient of drama. It’s easy to be the dispassionate observer in a succession of plots in which everybody assumes significant dimensions.

Later at the party I’m sat against the wall on the floor when a woman comes to stand right in front of me, her male companion to the left. She doesn’t give me so much as a glance but her ass is about 12 inches from my face. She shifts her foot, grinding her heel into my shoe. She scratches her ass and opens & closes the fingers of her hand so that it almost touches my nose. My mind races furiously. Does she know what she is doing? I feel I should respond in some way, but how? It would be so easy to stroke her leg, leaving her partner, blissfully ignorant of what’s happening. Is that what she wants?

Those marvelously ambiguous situations on buses when arm & arm touch and stay together are so much easier to deal with. Affairs, which are not only not consummated but not even officially acknowledged by either party. It’s probably cowardly not to follow through but, of course, there is always the chance that you’ll guess wrong. If there is any lesson that I’ve learned lately, it’s that if we always act on our assumptions even the best of us is only right about half of the time.

Anyway, I goofed again. Whatever I did would probably have been wrong. She may have meant nothing (in which case why did she stand so close?) or she may have hoped I’d do something just for the pleasure of the subsequent scene (like her man beating me up, for example).

What I did was to touch her leg lightly & offer them both some of the joint. She looked at me like I was definitely a schmuck, declined & moved away. What the dilemma usually boils down to is how angry with myself I’ll be later after the occasions when I don’t act.

Janet Wolfe was telling me the other day that she’s giving a class on assertiveness for men next fall. I will definitely be among the pupils in that seminar. The accepted wisdom these days is that with all that sex around—in movies, magazines, everywhere you go—that to complain about not getting enough is to mark oneself as a bumbling incompetent, undoubtedly suffering from halitosis, trichinosis, plus all the other ills the flesh can be heir to. Not to mention the mind. Well, I’m not getting enough. A certain hairless lady I met last week (that bizarre mag, The Razor’s Edge, had paid her $500 to shave her head), affected the usual show of surprised exasperation when I made a pass at her. She had hoped, she said primly, that this might have been one occasion when she didn’t have to deal with that. I refrained from saying that was exactly the way I felt myself. What I’m really getting tired of is the way all these women just keep wanting me for one thing—my mind.

August 19

If rumor is correct, the Owen Morell sculpture atop Tribeca’s American Thread building is costing thousands of dollars in monthly rent, all paid for by grants which must work out to about $500 per viewer considering how few people have been up to inspect it. A good place for a party, you’d imagine, although nobody has yet suggested it.

In fact there just aren’t any parties right now and the few artists remaining in Soho are getting more desperate each week. The Saturday night ‘circuit’ members exchange frantic phone calls, settling with gratitude for news of gatherings as far as (shudder!) First Avenue, and other such hitherto unthinkable locations as Riverside Drive or Brooklyn Heights.

But although Manhattan social life has hit a summer slump, there is plenty of planning going on in other spheres. in the wonderful world of small-time publishing, for example, a dozen new papers or magazines are gearing up for a fall debut. Most of these are in that strata of the market presently dominated by the Village Voice and, to a lesser extent, by the lackluster Soho News, both of which are vulnerable to some effective competition.

For many years the Voice has drawn the bulk of its audience from (1) out-of-towners who think they’re learning about hip life in the big city; (2) readers who need the classifieds or theater listings; and (3) political groupies. Hardening of the Voice’s arteries set in long ago, exacerbated by Clay Felker’s failed attempt to take it national.

The Soho Weekly News is now reportedly about to become the property of Brit press lord Vere Harmsworth, who already owns part of it, and who is said to be planning a coast-to-coast media empire. Despite parochial prominence, supermarket heir Michael Goldstein has garnered a mere 15,000 circulation after four years of highly publicized operations in Soho, but if the current daily paper strike continues he can expect circulation to zoom along with more ad-rich issues like this week’s 100-pager.

Clearly there’s room for half a dozen general interest weeklies in New York and within the next few years that’s what we can expect to see. Offset printing, once the sole province of the ‘undergrounds’ has become respectable and the relative cheapness of tabloid production is further enhanced by fairly small circulations proving attractive to advertisers. All those teenagers who used to buy rock papers a decade ago have now grown up and what were once sex papers have blossomed into four-color glossy mags.

So the outlook for low-cost publishing is promising. Rex Weiner’s Reliable Sources could emerge as a New York equivalent to London’s gossipy Private Eye; Leon Garry is almost ready with two ‘consumer tabloids’; an art-and-culture paper called New York Eye is on the boards and there are others it would be premature to mention. The publishers of the lively, new Fire Island Tide could be tempted to try to repeat their success in Manhattan although Dan Rattiner, with a string of Dan’s Papers out in the Hamptons, professes to be happy staying right where he is. His nine papers distribute 70,000 copies a week in summer and in winter Dan (an early investor in the East Village Other) likes to travel and take it easy.

Yesterday I was on hand at Brattleboro, VT, to watch the first issue of Jim Buckley’s The National Opener comes off the presses, a breezy tabloid he tags “a thinking man’s National Enquirer”. The last paper Jim started, a decade ago, was Screw, a concept so radical that some of the media—especially TV—which reported on it couldn’t bring themselves to mention its name, and it was always a mystery why the hooker sheet was never busted for pandering. TNO, not as radical as that, does represent a new departure for a tabloid in that its content is aimed at a reasonably intelligent articulate audience instead of the curlers and Geritol crowd.

The paper, as its publisher announced editorially, is “an eclectic compilation of news from around the world, aimed mainly at those of you who want to read something short but don’t want your intelligence insulted while you’re doing it”. Since Buckley sold his share of Screw to Al Goldstein, he’s been hanging out in a pricey house (sex publishing pays off) and making occasional movies, but mostly planning a publishing comeback.

On the drive home, we talked about the first issue, which was of the style and format at which he said he was aiming. “As long as it’s got 72-pt heads and is about 50% graphics, I’ll like it,” I said. Which is pretty much how it turned out to be. It’s an imaginative extension of what used to be the most interesting pages in Screw: a successive patchwork of jigsaw puzzle-like collaged pages. Nothing over 100 words and barely a story unaccompanied by a picture. Its ephemeral writing style is engagingly cheeky, yet shrewd. Sex comprises about 20 per cent of the content, a sensible proportion considering how interesting are so many other subjects. I liked TNO immediately and think Jim has a winner.

[Footnote in 2007: My enthusiasm was short-lived. After agreeing we’d work together on this new paper, Jim met some smug asshole who offered to give him money for a half-share as long as I was dumped. Greed, as you will again see later, always being the paramount thing in Jim’s mind, I was dumped. TNO lasted one issue.]


...

NEXT:
Chapter Fourteen—Around the Art Scene
Party Circuit
Manhattan phone book
JW'S Secret Diary

Manhattan Memories is available at amazon.com.

...

comments? send an email to John Wilcock


also available on amazon.com...
Marijuana—The Weed That Changed the World


National Weed (1974, issue #3)
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Over the past year, my combined medical and support costs from a stroke I had in April 2014 have been more than $100,000. If you'd like to help, use the Paypal donate button, or better yet, buy my book, and thank you. —JW

===========================

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Manhattan MemoriesManhattan Memories
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"A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego."

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