It was only a month after my seventeenth birthday when I arrived at what is called “college” in America. I had been raised in one of the remotest towns right in the heart of New York City, completely unlike most of the more populated areas that close to the action. It was like a border town, even though it was far from any border. It was home to about thirty thousand people, but it was surrounded on three sides by water (the East River, which is an estuary), with the other side mostly blocked by a huge swamp.
My experience of grammar school was bucolic, if nightmarish. My high school was mostly annoying, also way out in the boroughs, and I spent four years there ignoring them, copying all of the homework moments before it was due to be handed in, and passing the tests by “this much.” (Holds two fingers very close together.) I had given up on school around the seventh grade and taken charge of my own education. I had no business going to college at the time, and I proved that to anyone's satisfaction over the following two years, in which I scored a 1.7 GPA.
I had not, however, wasted my high school years. I became a pretty good chess player. In the beginning, I was still reading my way through all of the Fu Manchu books, and Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Poe. At some point I discovered Evergreen magazine. I will be the first to admit that its initial attraction was two fantastic, sexy comic-art stories: Barbarella and Phoebe Zeitgeist. I got around to reading the other content, which was avant garde stories and poetry, along with some criticism along those lines. I joined the Grove Press Book Club, and it was off to the races. I Am Curious, Yellow. That one was a novel before it was a movie. I read several of William S. Burroughs' books, and those, particularly Naked Lunch, were a real “you can write like that?” moment. I also picked things up almost accidentally. I loved the movie version of The Loved One so much that I bought the book, where I learned to love Evelyn Waugh in general.
Manhattan was all new to me, so I always signed up for classes early in the day. That left a lot of time to just wander around. Manhattan was an endlessly fascinating place. Every corner that you turned into contained some wonderful new surprise. Most of the old architecture is probably gone now; it was mostly gone by the time I left New York in the 1970s. There were still buildings in the old days whose fronts were entirely covered by those old tin squares that had designs stamped into them. That was the old middle class New York, full of regular people doing regular jobs in regular buildings, walk-ups, not too tall, approaching decrepitude. Rents were affordable. Not like now, when everyone in Manhattan is either a billionaire or homeless.
I was sitting in the hall one morning, waiting for my eight o'clock class, ignoring everyone and reading A Handful Of Dust, when I was approached by a nice looking, elegantly dressed black fellow about my age (turned out to be one year older). He smiled, introduced himself, and sat down next to me. “Hello. My name is David! We are going to be friends,” he announced. “I approve of anyone who appreciates Evelyn Waugh.”
He was my best friend for the next thirty years. We had a lot in common, including the habit of talking over whomever we happened to be speaking to at the time. Most of our conversations were conducted with both of us speaking continuously, without seeming to stop to take breaths. David asked me what else I was reading, and he was pleased with the list that I provided. I think that I had also just discovered Kerouac. He immediately recommended, commanded me to read, actually, A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, which had been published the year before and would not become a movie for many years. He seemed very professorial.
The subject of movies, oh, excuse me, the cinema, came up very quickly. That was, and continues to be, his primary passion. He had always been a solitary child, and he had fallen in love with the movies very young. Very, very young. David had been a precocious child, and I'd say that he was as close to being a genius as anyone that I've known. He is certainly the most intelligent person that I've ever known. He not only habitually watched the end credits, but could remember a lot of what they contained. Like who had done what on every movie that he had seen. He is also the only person that I've ever met who sees the tiny triangles in the upper right corner of the movie when they change the reels. Each reel, in the duplicated section, has that triangle, and the projectionists use them to line up the two reels. They must put both triangles directly over each other. David saw that naturally, and was always a bit surprised that no one else knew they were there. They caught his eye every time.
My own experience of the movies was limited. I went to the movies often, but my main interest was in the solitude. The theater was a place where you could sit in the dark for a few hours and no one would bother you. If a high quality movie was featured on PBS, I would try to catch it. I had seen Wild Strawberries, by Ingmar Bergman, and I was favorably impressed. I had also seen a Fellini movie, but I don't even remember which one. Probably La Dolce Vita. David had seen them all, and read books about them in English and French, and subscribed to Cahier du Cinema, and he thought that he was exactly the person to provide me with a decent education in “the cinema.”
The 1960s were the Golden Age of cheap, high quality re-run houses in New York. There was the New Yorker Cinema; the Bleeker Street Cinema; another one that I forget. The Museum of Modern Art was a great place for movies. You could buy a student yearly pass for about eight dollars. That would get you into the museum free for the year. You could just show them your card and ask for a ticket for the seven o'clock movie. They showed two films every evening. There was at least one YMCA that also showed old films, for one dollar I believe.
Over the next few years I became well versed in the French New Wave, Italian Neorealism, the modern films from those places, the films of Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Fassbinder, the pre-war German Expressionism. All of Fellini, and Michelangelo Antonioni. After each movie, David would provide me with a comprehensive lecture on the subway ride home. (He didn't live too far from me. We both took the same subway to the same terminus.)
I discovered Japanese cinema on my own. David, for some reason, ignored that corner of the film universe. Too heterosexual, perhaps, or somehow unknowable, like the Renaissance paintings of Jerome Bosch. I tripped over a tiny movie house on one of my marathon walks and it was all Japanese, all the time, two new movies every Thursday, plus a couple of shorts. I just let those films wash over me, stunned by the color, and the scene blocking. The editing of Japanese movies is very different from American or European movies. That theater showed a bit of everything. It was definitely not all high-brow “cinema.” Some weeks it was one cheap Yakuza vs. detectives thriller plus one torture-porn sword movie with very little of the class to be found in the best movies of that genre. I didn't care. I loved it all.
And I loved my professor. David was a shining light in my life. I moved with my little family to LA, and a year later David and his partner followed us. We talked frequently on the phone, still both talking non-stop. That was really the only way to talk to either of us for most of our lives. We continued to see films in LA, which had the Nuart and the Fox Venice theaters showing re-runs. The Nuart may still be open. LA was Japanese movie heaven for me, do to the large Japanese population and the general interest in the better Japanese films.
Something happened twenty-five years ago, and David and his partner broke it off with me. They said that I had changed, and they were probably right. I had become a lawyer after fifteen years in California, and it was not a good fit for me. Too stressful.
My life has never been a stranger to abandonment, in fact abandonment is the repeating leitmotif in my life. I take it in stride now, simply smiling and saying, “thanks for everything.” Losing David was hard, though. For twenty years in LA, he and his partner, and a few of his friends, were fixtures at all of my family's holiday parties. We were all friends. We had a lot of holiday parties, too. Sit down dinners for more than ten people, big barbecues. I miss the whole crowd.
There are many things that I miss, but I don't dream about them. I do still dream about David. He shows up frequently in my dreams, and we are happy, loving friends again, briefly, before I wake up.
You forgot to mention you became an unbearable alcoholic. That will turn off most people.
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