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GOING THE DISTANCE
"MEMOIR PART ELEVEN"
ON GERALDO'S TV SHOW:
The New York City Hell's Angels.
KAREN PADGETT GOOD ON FACEBOOK:
"Hi, Scott. I just read your memoir piece. You write well. I've read several of your stories, and they stir memories into living color again. I think you were a senior at Newtown High Svhool when I was a sophomore. I lived at 225 East 5th Street for several years. I had a complicated relationship with various members of the New York City Hell's Angels. It was an interesting and action-packed several years. I remember you talking to John John in front of Mom's. He lived in a little cave in the clubhouse....I have a distinct memory of you, in front of 77 East 3rd Street talking to Mario and Flash. The last time I popped by the clubhouse was about 1999. A younger patch was the only one outside. He brought me up to date. Flash was the only older guy still in the club. I introduced Sandy Alexander (Sandy was the president of the club in the '60s) to the Grateful Dead. Sandy was the one who organized the benefit at the Anderson Theater. He didn't go to jail until later."
The concert that Karen referred to, was a benefit concert that the Grateful Dead performed at the now defunct Anderson Theater in the early '70s, for the New York City chapter of the Hell's Angels. The benefit money was for the coffers of the Angels' legal fund. I wrote about attending this concert in "Pop, The Angels & The Dead." It was in the early morning hours immediately following this concert, when I discovered that my father passed away. Karen messaged me on Facebook, after reading this article. I ran into Karen on a website called, "Did You Grow Up in Jackson Heights, Astoria, Woodside, Queens?" This is a website frequented by people who call these neighborhoods, their hometowns. Karen, as you are able to tell by her reference to our high school, grew up in our hometown of Jackson Heights in Queens, New York.
To say that I was surprised at coming across someone who I might have been acquainted with in the constricted social circle of the biker subculture in the 1960s East Village, on a website named, "Did You Grow Up In Jackson Heights..." no less, would seem to be comically improbable, at best. The incongruity of these two scenes, is too funny to contemplate. Yet, there it is. As surprising as the fact that we crossed paths over 40 years ago in the East Village, is the fact that we went to the same high school, in a seemingly former life, in Queens. I tend to think of my "Queens Era" as separately compartmentalized from the "Post-Queens Era" of my life. However bizarre my running into Karen at the Jackson Heights site might seem, I admit that I found our Facebook reunion, to be a pleasant surprise. Karen's Facebook message gave me a feeling of deja vu, as though the scene in front of the clubhouse over 40 years ago, became reanimated by time machine.
"If memory serves."
Turns out that it didn't serve me well at all. This is an oft used phrase, that serves in itself, as a dramatic preface to a revelation of a recollection that the officiously proud speaker, is about to unleash on the world. I've gotta tell ya though, that my memory in this case, does not serve. No, not at all. I've no doubt as to the veracity of the events that Karen recalled to me, or the accuracy of the events. Her certainty with respect to these conversations, is beyond question. I however, have a far more indistinct memory of talking to John John, and Flash. Talking to Mario of the New York HAMC, I do remember, and remember quite well. With the others....not so much. Not that I doubt that these conversations with the others occurred. I'm sure that they did. All I'm saying is, that my memory banks don't have these files securely in place. It's like they didn't make it pass the registration desk at my recall door.
This may be, because Mario was the only one of the three mentioned, who I considered a friend. The others would have been labeled "acquaintances." I've always prided myself on my recollective abilities, yet, there are instances from my distant past when my memory does not serve. The conversations with the other two New York Hell's Angels was one. Another was when I went with my friend Willie Eng to buy his new '67 Camaro. In 1967, I accompanied Willie to the Chevrolet dealership near Columbus Circle in The City (all denizens of the outer boroughs of New York City, refer to Manhattan as "The City," even though New York City as an entity, consists of all the boroughs) when he picked up his brand new Camaro R/S. As momentous as this event was in my friend's life, I can't remember going to Columbus Circle with him. All I recall is one miniscule detail, about admonishing Willie for nailing the accelerator on the way home, for pushing the engine hard before it was broken in.
The omission of virtually all memory of my trip to the dealership with Willie, with the exception of the single vague memory of the comment I made to Willie on the way home, is puzzling to me. Puzzling, because that particular Chevy dealership was very special to me. When Chevy came out with their new Sting Ray in 1963, I made frequent trips by subway there, to ogle the new Corvettes through their large picture windows. I still have this vivid memory, of this one Sebring Silver '63 split-window coupe, shining bright on the showroom floor. She was superiorly illuminated by the overhead ceiling lights, like a Hollywood starlet lit-up by the klieg lights, on her walk to a movie premiere. I recall with perfect detail, pressing my hands against the outside surface of the window, as I gazed longingly at this gorgeous Vette. I distinctly recall seeing my drool, as it ran down the window in viscous rivulets. The tributaries of saliva became a tribute to my love of the Corvette, a love that began over 50 years ago, a love that burns hot, unabated now. Of course, my reference to drooling is just convenient hyperbole, but the white hot passion I felt at the window of the Chevy dealership---was real.
These glaring absences of the memory of certain events in my past, run against the grain of my excellent recall. For example, I have a clear-as-a-chrome-bell memory of laying in my baby carriage, swathed in what I called my "smelling blanket," innocently watching the clouds in the surrounding blue sky, slowly, slowly passing by---as my carriage was pushed my my mom. I thought of this blanket, and later called this blanket, my "smelling blanket," because I liked to hold it against my nose. I dug the the tactitle sensation. This blanket was a wool blanket with a red and blue plaid pattern, and was adorned on both of the short sides with fringes about three inches long. How's that for (almost) total recall?
My memory of moving to The Borough Known As The City, is clarion-clear. The era during which I moved to the East Village, was suffused with the youthful enthusiam that was endemic to the countercultural "movement" that was self-described at the time---and to some extent---self-delusional by those caught up in it. To my generation, we perceived ourselves to be unique among generations, and this feeling of being gifted merely by our birthdates, extended to how we saw the outside world. It also bestowed upon us, a false sense of limitless optimism. I'm speaking in generalties, of my generation. I didn't feel at the time, that this nirvanic, generation-centric vision applied to me.
I moved to Manhattan shortly after the so-called "Summer of Love." The primary cast members in the play called the "Summer of Love," were referred to as "hippies," a term I detested then, and detest now. The Summer of Love was an interactive play, whose stage was placed squarely on a cross-section of the Lower East Side known as the East Village, bordered by Houston Street on the south, 14th Street on the north, Fifth Avenue on the west, the East River on the East, and punctuated by Alphabet City at it's crime-ridden outskirts. The players in this play, spent much of their time posing, posturing and reading their lines on St. Marks Place. The players in main, were left-leaning, flower-in-their-hair-wearing hippies. I generally perceived the peace activists of the era, as weak, delusional and self-aggrandizing. As a Biker, I shared many of the same experiences as the hippies, such as the drug and music culture, but none of their flamboyantly silly behavior. It was my very identity as Biker that separated me from my era-mates, the hippies.
The Summer of Love movement began in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in the mid-'60s, grew to a crescendo by 1967, and then extended itself to the East Village (which is really just a smaller swath of the Lower East Side of Manhattan) of New York, forming a two-headed, bicoastal Hydra of east and west nexuses. The east coast counterculture nexus, was the East Village, and this is where I moved to from Jackson Heights in 1969. The fact that over 40 years later, I became reunited with another East Villager of the time, at the "Did You Grow Up In Jackson Heights, Asoria, Woodside, Queens" website, who happened to be involved with the biker scene of my East Village neighborhood, is really what prompted me to write this extension of my memoir series. I'm sure that I've seen Karen in the East Village in the late '60s and early '70s, even if I can't remember seeing her. Certainly according to Trudy's recall, we were in the same proximity many times, to the extent that she can describe seeing me in detail, with people that we both knew. The fact that we may not have talked to each other, is immaterial. The fact that we talked to the same people in our biker subcultural circle, is material.
Looking at the picture of the New York Hell's Angels assembled on Geraldo Rivera's TV show, I see some faces of the club members that I recognize. Ironically, Mario, my friend---is not one of them. I'm fairly sure he's there among the group. The presence of the others I recognize, indicate that this is the same time frame as when I knew Mario, and he was in the club. The trouble is, that the ensuing forty-plus years since I've seen Mario, have acted like a slow but steady stream of forget-me water, on my memory of his face. Like a rough hewn rock at one time, his face in my memory banks have become worn smooth and unremarkable, through relentless attrition. However, Karen's insertion of the late '60s East Village scene into my consciousness, by way of the highly unlikely catalyst of the "Did You Grow Up In Jackson Heights, Astoria, Woodside, Queens?" Facebook page, has brought back to me, in Karen's own words, "....into living color again....," the events and environs surrounding Mario. I'm grateful for that. Thank you, Karen. Later.