Claude, at Max’s Kansas City



100 e 17th St. ny 10003

Neighborhood: Park Avenue South

Claude was smart and talented and I was beautiful but both of us were too boring to hang around with. That was what they thought at the Playhouse of the Ridiculous where we were each featured members of the chorus in a play called, “The Moke Eater” that ran most midnights at Max’s Kansas City.

I suppose we were boring since we had a similar set of manners that were sort of old-fashioned. In conversation one person spoke and the other one listened and then the other way around. You could never count on anything this mundane with the other Ridiculous cast members. They hijacked a dialogue and flew it over the edge. Claude and I played it safe because that was what we had been taught to do.

It was better that way since people who distinguished themselves as fabulous were likely to come under the lash of John Vacarro, the director over at The Playhouse of the R. He ran rehearsals at his loft on Great Jones Street like the regime of an absolute dictator, and he had an uncomfortable way of breaking down the people from whom he expected great things . He sneered and cajoled and told them straight out that they “stunk”. Not so for Claude and I, who were tractable on top but unreachable underneath.

Beyond manners, though, there was some truth to what they said about Claude and me. Claude did tend to be pedantic about his own projects, the movies he intended to make, his undying hatred for a particular customer at the record store where he worked. As for me I had few interests beyond the contours of my own face which, under the influence of LSD, I could gaze at for hours: the way it resolved itself to hairline cracks then broke into canyons that melted puddling and realigning over and over again.

I suppose it was inevitable that Claude and I would become friends. Claude was gay and I liked the company of men. I just didn’t want sex from them. Claude felt the same way about women. He was also black, by race if not by color. Claude was the color of coffee when half the cup is full of cream. He had close-cropped shiny and abundant black hair, a high forehead, and the hooded black eyes of a madman. His facial bones were fine with prominent cheekbones, his mouth dramatically sculpted. He was tall and slender and could dance.

I tried playing shrink with Claude — only once. We were sitting in his apartment, which was in the far reaches of the West Village fronting the river. You could see the cargo trucks lined up across the street like box cars in a train depot. Beyond that, the docks and the turbid brown river. This was a convenient location for Claude since at the time it was a choice gay cruising area.

Claude was telling me about supplementing his income with blow jobs he gave on 42nd Street for $10 a throw. This was back in 1968 so $10 meant more then than it does now. “But Claude,” I said trying to resolve the University of Chicago graduate in front of me with the street hussy in the story, ” do you like giving blow jobs on 42nd St.?” He thought it over for a while and said, yes, he did quite like giving blow jobs for ten bucks.

Then, since he had a taste for the occult, Claude said he wanted to do a ceremony to cause serious mishap in the life of the record store customer he hated. He lit candles and invoked the prince of darkness and he tossed foul smelling incense salts into the flame. Pfft, pop. ” May he break his leg and have a heart attack,” he chanted gleefully, with me, shamefaced, mouthing the words along with him.

Claude didn’t have to worry about record stores and customers much longer.

My former husband had agreed to pay for the services of a psychiatrist in return for a letter saying I was far too fragile to be left without his support. I didn’t have his support in the first place, but I agreed to help him sleaze out of the war in Viet Nam.

This turn of events brought me to the tony office of a Southern gentleman named Jesse something-or-other, psychiatrist. The office was in a spotless old building on the low end of 5th Avenue, I think, and it had an awning, a doorman, and shiny brass accouterments.

Dr. Jesse was young and cute and flaxen-haired. But he had an odd habit of eating from a loaf of Pepperidge Farm white bread that he kept on an antique table next to his comfy stuffed leather chair. This gave me the feeling that, in the eyes of the doctor, I was some kind of cartoon show.

Thing was, Dr. Jesse liked stories, any story would do, it didn’t even have to be true. I told stories and he ate bread and all and all we were happy with the arrangement. He said the letter for my husband was no problem but shouldn’t I be thinking about a more dependable source of income. How about the dole?

I kept Claude posted on this relationship, and he thought it was really funny. He even gave me a few ideas about the kinds of stories to share with Dr. Jesse. When he found out about the dole, Claude said he thought he would like to have a psychiatrist too. This was even better than before since having the same psychiatrist gave Claude and me plenty to talk about–not to mention relief from the burden of rent.

Claude did finally wangle himself a full scholarship at NYU Film School and he did make his movie. He also gave me the best piece of prose I ever saw , his version of “Gimme Shelter” a la Jack Kerouac’s spontaneous writing.

I lost it after I left New York.

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