Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press
Rogue and I celebrated PJ’s birthday in Washington Square Park. PJ was festive in burnt sienna pants, a white somewhat stained Arrow shirt and a red scarf around his neck. His daughter, who looked like him in a sleeker version, joined us, bringing homemade ratatouille.
“The fragile thread of human involvement,” PJ observed, “is actually very strong. It’s impossible to break it, consciously. No one human being can break it.”
In his garret later, while Rogue was running an errand, PJ asked why I never came to see him alone. He wanted me to come see him, “Not because you’re Rogue’s friend, and only if I am of value to you.”
I sensed the ultimatum in his words. How could I say what value he was to me? I enjoyed his company and was willing to help him with his work, his writing, and compiling his papers for the New York Public Library. I told Rogue about this.
“PJ told me he feels paranoid about you,” he said.
“What do you mean? Does he think I’m going to use him in some way?”
“No,” Rogue, said, “he’s paranoid about using you. He felt guilty about asking you to help him and taking away time from your own work. If you do it because you underrate yourself and overrate him, you may start to feel hostile toward him in the future. He’s afraid he’ll become dependent on you and the resentment you might have.”
I was alarmed by PJ’s insistence that he and I forge our own relationship. I worried that I would come between Rogue and PJ. Perhaps it was my own form of paranoia, but it seemed to me PJ was bending the thread with Rogue, trying to break our threesome apart. I was hoping he could not.
PJ asked me to help him organize his writing and publish booklets of his work. It would be a challenge to unravel his mysterious typo-filled pages and recreate them to make sense. At times, the ribbon was so light I could barely discern the letters; I used a pencil to bring them up. Other times his hand settled on the wrong row on the keyboard and I sat by my typewriter comparing the letters on his manuscript to the corresponding keys on the row above. After making corrections, assembling sentences and finding the general drift of the piece I re-typed it for him and brought it back to read to him.
“You’re the old man’s eyes and ears,” he said. “You give him a future; you give him a reason to live.”
When Rogue joined us, PJ proposed that he, Rogue and I form a group to turn his “million dollars worth of work into capital.” We would be his agents and split the money three ways. “Let’s form a company,” he said. “Publish The Writer before he croaks.”
Although I had only a few ideas how to promote his writing and his art, I said I would do what I could to help.
PJ wanted to call the company, Words.
Rogue gave us both a sardonic smile. I knew he had a bleak view of the world and an ideal vision of it. It made sense that he, a young artist, would keep a dying artist company.
PJ saw the smile. After Rogue left, he remarked, “Rogue likes to show off his association with me. It’s like knowing one of the street people.”
It was obvious to me that Rogue saw PJ as a father figure and needed his approval for his risky, bohemian way of life. What is, and has been going on between them before I came into their lives?
PJ insisted on feeding me when he realized that I had very little money. Going through his writings with him after dinner, I felt that we had accomplished a great deal.
“Erin, you take such small satisfactions from life,” PJ said. “Every day as you go through life. I couldn’t do that.”
Would he ever have that big satisfaction? As I walked back up Eighth Avenue I began to worry that it was all futile. He was almost 80. He did not have a chance of being published. What happened to all those years?
Rogue, PJ and I padded around the streets, especially in the early evening. In one square, a tall man with a few white hairs on his head, stood on the curb, a hat beside him, staring at the ground, his head bowed. When we passed by, I heard him singing. He sang the whole song sweetly, and so softly people did not hear him until they reached him. His voice was undistinguished but haunting and happy.
“Fleetwood,” PJ said. “He told me he was in Germany during the war and in a hospital for a long time afterward.”
Rogue said the only time Fleetwood was happy was when he sang.
As if he was supposed to be happy when he sang, was how he sounded to me.
One evening, a Spanish woman street singer appeared in the square. Fleetwood was standing in a trance nearby, listening to her playing the guitar and singing vivaciously in Spanish.
PJ, as we passed, said, “Fleetwood’s in love.”
I looked back at him. He looked the same, no discernible expression on his face. But I noticed after that wherever she was, Fleetwood was near, until finally he was standing next to her. Then one day they both disappeared.
As we walked by the ground floor restaurant, its windows reflected Village tourists and starving artists. I glanced at our three slim fluid images in the frame with established faces behind looking back at us.
PJ labored up the stairs, one large sandaled foot at a time. His building’s brick walls were pockmarked with windows, each one with small glass squares in weathered wood frames. These frames afforded snapshots of the Village: squalls of tourists on a crowded street, free-wheeling lives across the way, rooftops crenellated with water-towers and Speedo-clad sunbathers, an Art Deco bar, and the Jefferson Market Library.
PJ encouraged me to talk about myself. “You’re an enigma,” he said.
It was true I could not talk about myself. I had no identity with others, or I refused those identities. How do you identify yourself?
In a fifteen page booklet I combined fact and fantasy and printed it on plain white paper with a typed title, Mona Lisa’s Secret, on the cover. I made less than 20 copies and gave some to friends; the others were for the Small Press Book Fair.
The afternoon I went to Jake’s bookstore to give him one, he was out and the door locked. I slipped a copy through the mail slot. A week later I went back. He was huddled like a bear behind a stack of manuscripts and new books. He said he read it and liked it very much and wanted to publish it as a special issue of his little magazine. He hoped to have it out in time for the Book Fair.
PJ asked me to read it to him, but I said it was too personal. It was an erotic prose poem, after all. I suggested he ask Rogue to read it to him, and he did one evening when I was not there.
The next time Rogue and I visited him, PJ said, “How did we have this intellectual among us and not know it for so long?”
And he had written a blurb I could send to publishers, which I decoded this way:
Now you have read the words and semantics of a brilliant female writer. Erin Yes emerged into a (word indecipherable). She is, in earth years, mature, with an exceptional perception of the world she grew to, yet sensibly, a baby, a girl child, a young woman who has adjusted herself to living in a time of madness and existence in death of the women of the world. She accepts herself as neither male nor female, and knows what no person can admit to herself/himself, the forbidden sensibility to incestuous fantasy. She is the first female writer to tap the universal stream of consciousness and contemplate the wonder of living alive. She has discovered and discloses to readers in the world the experiences of the new world beginning. Here is the opening, the first piece of her work in progress.
“This is all very good,” Jake said. “But there’s not a word of truth to it.”
PJ gave me monogrammed letterhead. He had cut out the letters “EYES” and pasted them up. The letters were neat, elegant.
“Like you,” PJ said.
Rogue smiled, saying PJ had worked hard on it and taken it to the copy shop himself. There were 1000 sheets. It was an extravagant gift from someone as poor as PJ.
“It’s for The Company,” Rogue said. He called PJ’s proposal “The Company.”
We were going to work together to promote the work of all three of us.
I took the paper home, with a strong aversion to being known as “EYES.”
PJ was trying to change my identity. I recognized that Rogue’s using the letters of his first, middle and last name as almost another name had come from PJ’s influence. PJ, meanwhile, had started calling his corporate self, Words.
“The old man,” PJ said, “hopes to relieve his poverty and Rogue the prospect of poverty for the rest of his life.”
The next weekend, Rogue and PJ flew to Boston to see a nutrition expert, a doctor, to try to find a way to restore PJ’s sight or halt its degeneration. The day after they returned, PJ stocked up on bottles of minerals, herbs and vitamin pills he could not afford to buy more than once.
Rogue left to visit a relative and PJ and I were completely alone for the first time. I was not sure if PJ had asked Rogue to engineer this or if Rogue had his own reasons.
PJ and I walked to Washington Square Park. I was nervous. What was I going to say to him?
PJ was obviously pleased and said that Rogue’s “intuition” in leaving us alone was “very strong.” In the park he said his first impression of me was that I had been able to remain innocent, not an easy thing to do in this world, and that fascinated him.
“You know when you meet someone, you make an instantaneous decision. It may be a pleasant experience, but if you don’t get anything of value out of it, and that’s an unconscious evaluation for most people, you never find the time to meet with them again.” He spoke more softly, “Those offers and promises of lunch, coffee, a movie, somehow never happen.”
I nodded, yes. I had experienced this. I had always thought warmly of the person, but in fact, the connection never developed. Consciously, I would not admit that I had determined there was not enough worth knowing in the other person to incorporate them into my life, and vice versa. I recognized the truth in what he was saying. What was my value to PJ? To be seen with a young woman? To bolster his ego, or to assuage his loneliness?
Over dinner in his cramped kitchen, he confided, “In losing my wife, I lost the female half of myself. After the hospital, I existed completely male in the body of a skeleton.” With a bohemian leer, he added, “And no place to hide my embarrassment.”
“But don’t you have a female side as well?”
He shook his head, no, he did not have that. He needed a woman in his life or he was only half alive. “And of course, I had no recourse to the intellectual collaboration which two perspectives make possible.”
And so, over the years, when there was no woman in PJ’s life, he created female personalities, wrote under their names, wrote twenty page letters to them each day, created life stories for them and carried on the collaboration.
“Pearl Joying and Justine Paris. What a pair of gals they were.” He began to hum a “little ditty” from his childhood.
The women he knew in fact and in theory were essential to his ideas.
“When I look back on it and appreciate my wife was one person and I another, I realize she and I were so intuitively together that six years after the split, we got together again for a year and everybody knew, just seeing us together, that we were a man and a woman in love. That was the intuitive thing that sometimes a couple goes on for maybe a year or a year and a half before they begin to get suspicious and start quarreling, start raising issues.”
PJ pulled a box from a shelf beneath a street window and pointed to nine or ten others along the long outer wall. All had the name “Document” hand-printed on them.
“It’s not like any other diary ever written before,” he suggested in an explanatory way as though to persuade me. “This is a study, a documentation, of one’s man’s stream of consciousness, written daily for over thirty years.”
He nodded yes. “But not compulsively. If it had been compulsive, I’d suspect that it was written as a substitute for being with a woman in love.”
“After your divorce.”
“After the hospital. The Document begins with an account of the paranoia in the hospital. It’s about papa’s death and rebirth in a wasted body at forty years of age. Then he was deserted by his wife.”
“What do you mean? I thought you left her, or it was mutual.”
“I became conscious and saw her blood flowing to me. Then I passed out. When I woke again, she was not there. She never came to see me again. I was lost until the writer identified the emaciated remains as the ghost of his wife’s husband.”
“It’s stream of consciousness?” All of it? It seemed exhausting, overwhelming.
“It didn’t start out that way.” He opened a box and showed me onion-skin pages inside, thousands of them. “The first two or three years, it was garbled and confused. Because I was writing to justify myself. I was rationalizing all my actions and my motivations.”
At the time he was working as a book designer at a press in Greenwich Village. In the mornings, he would do his work and leave the information for his assistant, then spend the afternoons at the Museum of Modern Art. Besides the art and relaxing ambience, it was a good place to meet intelligent and interesting women.
One afternoon he met a woman in the penthouse restaurant.
“I was telling her about everything that was wrong with my life, about my illness and recovery, about my divorce and my low salary as a book designer.”
She listened quietly until the end and then she said, “You seem to have things pretty much as you want them.”
He shook his head. “And I thought, my God, maybe I do have everything as I want it. I thought, maybe I’m not right about this. I began to investigate my thoughts, as they occurred before, during and after situations.”
I sat in MOMA and let the flow of my consciousness go by. I could feel,” he said, his fingers responding to tactile memory, “its ripple. Do you know what Walt Whitman said about idleness? ‘I loaf and let the world in.’ This is what I did.”