1961 Etruscan Head


After a month in that  local hospital I was transferred by ambulance to a country rehab. Riding on a stretcher with my face looking backwards showed me where I had been rather than where I was going.

Trees and hills seemed like a good idea. Far from home it was often very lonely.

At night they put "bunny boots" on my feet that kept my ankles from dropping. Braces made to order kept my wrists still and my hands in a curved position. In addition that damn halo! I might as well have been tethered to the bed in a strait jacket.

Gaylord was a refurbished ex-TB sanatorium; a photo of Eugene O'Neil as a patient hung on a wall near the old entrance. I'd look at the photo and wish that my problems were as easy to cure. Emotionally and physically traumatized - I had stopped doing any art work. Asking someone for materials, setting a work spot, and intense physical pain kept me from painting with any sense of direction or desire. In fact I hated art; painting all night before falling asleep at the wheel - the reason for this nightmare!

At the same time a retrospective was given for me on Long Island. It covered a few styles and years. I spent the Sunday of the opening alone, everyone I knew was at the show.

I tried to do some watercolors... the illusive quality, combining intense color with the eternal force of the sun, an ever present challenge.

It also doesn't take a lot of strength to hold a watercolor brush and glide the water laden head across the toothy surface of the paper. Since I couldn't hold a pencil it was the medium of choice.

What I missed the most was the insane passion that kept me going for hours on end. Always the dance, the mystery, the need for resolution, the unknown spirit to wow me. Now just therapy!

There were so many sad stories here. A man in his thirties stabbed in the neck; no movement at all. He sat in a chair and chain smoked the cigarettes friends, passersby held for him. He wished to die; he did when his lungs collapsed. Complete quads lack muscle movement everywhere from the neck down. That includes the lungs.

Another man in his early forties fell off the wagon and drove drunk into a tree. He could walk but his arms hung limply at his side. Maybe use of them came back in time.



Adjusting to living on Long Island after Italy became impossible.  I looked to NYC for lodging with friends. Al  and Tony were living in a loft on Fulton12 and Front Streets above a fish retailer. Imagine a paper cup of  hot soup made fro m fresh fish  broth that smelled and tasted like Neptune's elixir. 25 cents.

Walking through the building's first floor, a 10'  plaster hand, beams and detritus introduced me to the world of Mark di Suvero. Bach music to that of Robert Grovesnor.

In the early dawn quiet streets suddenly came alive with lights, trucks, open stalls, fishermen and retailers noisy in their selling and buying of every size and type of fish. The fifth floor was empty, illegal to use for any purpose; I started a painting in blissful solitude. I was using the  empty top floor that looked out to the streets below through dormer windows. All the walls were unfinished brick. That evening I learned the use and practice of "I Ching" substituting copper pennies for Chinese coins or yarrow sticks. We ate sugar cubes that turned the walls into Mayan carvings. Tony sat by a hole in the floor, rifle in hand, waiting for a rat to show its head. Time in the ordinary sense departed.

All that fun ended when two detectives escorted me into their car. Their mission - to bring me back to the safety of my childhood home.

Depressed and rebellious, my loving family thought I needed help and spoke of sending me away. Instead La Monte Young and Tony came for me. Tony and I left from NYC by car the next day for Washington, DC.

We stayed with a couple and their children. She, "Women can't paint and have children too!" I was not going to give up art no matter who, what or when! Tony said the FBI was after him; on to California.

We had a small tent, a rifle and a single change of clothes. Camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains was beautiful until the evening's stars changed to snow and blizzard. Angry mountaineers chased us Northerners off their land. Now I knew why we had arms. Journal excerpt "Where Back Seats Are Special"13 is particularly succinct. 

Alabama was the same; a fat police chief and his buddy chased us down and told us to leave 'his state.' In Louisiana we camped in the Bijou until the eerie silence and dripping moss shadows scared us into leaving in the dead of night. More afraid of snakes than humans.

The French Quarter (1962) in New Orleans was as noisy as promised. I did my first sketch in days of people, shuttered windows, a street walker and store fronts. We walked on the beach and I made clay figures from the local sand to decorate the car's back seat ledge. I think it was a late 50's Buick. Blue.

While Tony did most of the driving, I wrote consistently. To my ancestor's I inquired 14 is one notation. A recollection from a haze-like state of being and mind.

Finally arriving in San Francisco to stay on Steiner Street with a married couple from Cooper. Susan Kamen/Robert Schnepf. We ate delicious apple pie for three days. Then on to Mission Street. A loft was available for sleeping. Ferlinghetti's old space next door - ours (on loan) Joan Brown and Manuel Nevi. His plaster figures filled the space. Perhaps a hundred full size renditions. Her paintings were fragrant oil impastos.

I took a position with the Hearst's San Francisco Examiner. New recruits had to attend classes that were more like brain washing than learning situations. Rules of behavior and bowing to the almighty publisher. Sheets of paper along the top of blackboards gave codes to live by. After 3 days I left to return East. Tony said he'd drive me!

Santa Fe, parts of Colorado and a hotel in Montana all  retained the Old West flavor. The latter, a brick two story with saloon. Snow, snow and more snow. Beautiful.

Meals while driving usually consisted of white bread sandwiches. Mine with cream cheese, his with onion and mayonnaise. For dress: a gray shift with self-embroidery, his jeans and T-shirt.

We parted, I to Long Island for Christmas and a return to college. He asked my father for my hand in marriage. We were going to marry. I changed my mind. Tony was wild beyond my experience; he scared me, how could I depend on him? Did I love him? He left for Japan and married Yoko Ono.

I worked at a nursery school, attended night college at Hofstra University. As homework I wrote creative stories for Speech Class15, and painted.

While working at a nearby restaurant for the summer, I met a former Peace Corp member, Harvey Berg. His photos from Africa were the inspiration for Jane (1962) and another depicting an open market street scene. Harvey  was studying to be a lawyer and in the fall would leave for the South to work on civil rights. Picked me up at the house in a blue Bonneville convertible. Great Neck guys had something New Hyde Park guys didn't.

With a couple of hundred dollars I bought my first car, a 1948 black Pontiac. It had barely left the garage of its previous owner. A neighbor of Aunt Rose and Uncle Tony, Mr. Austin must have cried when I drove it away; it was probable like his baby.

Winning a First Prize at the Parrish Museum, Southampton,  for Jane afforded me the luxury of applying and subsequently going to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Before leaving, two friends Sharky and Bill Morgenstern that I had met in Southampton introduced me to a NYC neighbor, Henry Geldzahler. He was influential they said. He wouldn't help me, told them my work was too normal!

All my possessions were packed into the car and I drove off, once again, never having been to Massachusetts before let alone Boston. I had made a call to the YWCA reserving a room. It seemed like a safe haven; the ride up was long but uneventful.

<story | next>