“But by God, two people have met in the maelstrom, by the fragile thread of human involvement, and intuitively (shall I imagine it?) become one.”
Chapter 1, Entangled
It all began with an invitation, this intersection of lives. Rogue invited me to meet him in Greenwich Village. We came together on the corner of Greenwich Avenue and West 10th Street.
Rogue’s dark eyes had a deep inner glow, his smile a wild spark. “I need to prepare you, Erin, for what you’ll see.” Rogue’s voice was hesitant but melodious. “PJ was a recluse for some time before I met him.”
Rogue took out a key and opened the side door of a three-story colonial building. Steep stairs led along the outer skin of brick wall to the upper floors. Rogue’s sandals and my sneakers fell lightly, but the stairs creaked with age and neglect. A narrow hall with a rickety wooden railing stopped at the only door on the top floor.
Rogue’s call was laughing, tongue-in-cheek, but I heard a note of euphoria. “PJ.”
I followed him into a Village garret stripped bare of any amenities.
“I’ve brought someone to meet you.”
A tall, gaunt man with a bent hawk nose and intense blue eyes peered at me. His whimsical smile was wreathed in a white beard and curving mustache. His white hair fell back from his forehead and almost to the collar of his light blue dress shirt.
The garret was every artist’s twilight nightmare. Walls were scuffed, doors scarred and furniture scourged down to the flesh. In the cluttered front room, art claimed every perspective.
PJ’s long bony fingers swept over drifting stacks of books, papers, paintings, typewriter ribbons, photographs and found objects, all jumbled together, everything melting into some other form, a rebellious lack of form. “Dali would have had an idea of the melodramatic squalor in which I live.”
I looked about in amazement and distress.
“This is how I’ll end up.” Rogue cupped his chin; his smile a concupiscence of anxiety and merriment. “I’m drawn to old age because I want to know how it all adds up, or does not add up, at the end.”
Two World War I gas masks hung from a post by PJ’s bed. I wondered aloud to Rogue, “For a pair of lovers? Or paranoid lovers?”
PJ hovered near a battered desk and primordial Royal typewriter. Behind him, bookshelves lined the long outside wall. Typewriter paper boxes were stacked on them.
I picked up one box. “What is this?” I blew the dust off.
“That’s The Document.” He passed a hand over the collection. “My lifelong stream of consciousness work.”
Inside each box were hundreds of pages of onionskin paper filled with words, single-spaced and in a tiny font.
“For the first two years,” he said, “everything I wrote was rationalization. After that I wrote to renew my innocence.”
In the aura of a fading Village, with PJ’s guidance, Rogue and I began cleaning dirt and debris away, clearing a space around PJ’s bed and desk.
As we began to make order out of the rubble, the deeper we dug the more the vivacious past leaped out. I sorted through photographs of PJ as a young man, his wife and daughter, and old postcards, pamphlets, letters and theater flyers.
I showed a small handout to Rogue:
It is raining love in Greenwich Village (one time the capital of romantic love). Like autumn leaves falling, pieces of yellow paper flutter down to settle in doorways or on sidewalks. About three inches square, they bear, printed in large letters, a dirty four-letter word. Under it is a very artistic monogram: PJ. What other can the obscene word be but: LOVE (a word of limitless obscurity.)
I was puzzled. Why is love an obscene word?
There is a rumor going ’round that anyone, collecting a thousand pieces of these litterings, on delivering them to the WORDS office will get the prize of a thousand (useless) dollars.
PJ (the provocateur of this misdemeanor) confronted with this rumor, smiled, and spoke with love: We’re out to litter the world with love. He continued with a grin, No one can deliver a thousand pieces to the WORDS office because we are underground. No office. We seek litterers all over the world. We have the small papers, printed on one side: LOVE/PJ. These may be handed out to people wherever gathered, parties, theater lobbies, bank lines, buses …
“Those are his Love Tokens,” Rogue said. “In the early 1960s, he left them around the Village, in bookstores, cafés, for anyone to pick up. It was a kind of performance art. That’s when he was the Professor of Love.”
I shifted to look at PJ. He had been watching us in silence. “Do you know how The Old Man met Rogue?”
“No,” I said, loudly, realizing he did not hear well.
He folded his long body into a straight-backed wooden chair. “One Christmas Eve I went out in a terrible snowstorm to a poetry reading at St. Mark’s Church in the Bouwerie. Rogue did the same thing, independently. And there we stood on the steps of the church and read together that the night’s reading had been cancelled.”
He invited Rogue to his garret for a glass of wine. That was how the relationship of the Aging Bohemian and his equally bearded protégé began.
“Are there coincidences in your life?”
Yes, I nodded.
“There were in mine,” PJ said. “It’s incredible how my life became entangled with others, seemed to work in and out of others.”
Summer brought Rogue and I out to the streets. We strolled through the ways and byways of the Village, east and west, spending eight or twelve hours at a time together. We were the new Bohemians.
After wine, tea or coffee at O’John’s or The Riviera, and stopping at cafés for salad or hamburgers, we visited PJ. We left him to attend poetry readings or search for delectable pieces of text in bookstores, ending the night in bars upscale or dive where poets, writers and other vagabonds played pool, parodied their own and other’s poetry, and fell down drunk.
Rogue and I became friends very fast, more rapidly than I ever had experienced before. We talked for hours about poets and poetry, and at the outdoor cafés he introduced me to poets and writers. The weeks were filled with new people, images, sensations and a feeling of lagging behind in taking it all in. I was saturated. Rogue never seemed to stop or rest.
One afternoon, we decided to meet PJ. I got off the subway and waited for Rogue. On the next corner we could see PJ sitting outside with his Fair Weather Gallery. On days when the weather was good, he set up his artwork on the street near his apartment, by the library or in the park.
“Let’s circle around,” Rogue said, “and come at him from different directions.”
So we circled around the block and walked up to PJ at the same time from opposite directions as if by coincidence.
PJ looked from one of us to the other, and laughed.
Rogue and I left PJ in his garret and went to Rogue’s place, where he made coffee and I looked through his bookcases. He read parts of a novel by PJ called World’s End. It began with: “The world’s end has come and gone, and no one is the wiser.”
The book sounded like an original folk masterpiece. It was very intellectual, but not in the scholarly sense. He detailed the history of “intellectual leadership” in the world from ancient times, to its first weakness, and current decadence.
In another piece, for modern times and minds, PJ had redefined the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They were: the hospital, the telephone company, the power company and your choice of bureaucracy.
In his late 70s, PJ was beginning to bend from the weight of so many years and thoughts warping about in his head like spaceships carrying aliens and exiles. His chest and shoulders curved from trying to turn round on himself, to go back or flee, to see what wreckage he had left behind, at the same time to advance towards death.
“I’ve lived so long, looking like death, because I keep so close to it that death forgets I am here.”
Tally: An Intuitive Life is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble: Paperback $16.95 (check for discounts) and Kindle $5.99. Tally is in Amazon’s Matchbook program: you can buy the print book and get the Kindle for only $1.99. Barnes and Noble paperback $16.95 and Nook $5.99.