“Terror and Love in Manhattan”
One afternoon while working at Big Apple Lights, we were told to be sure to be on time the next day. Besides providing lighting and associated equipment to Broadway, off-Broadway, film, and TV, the owner had made some contacts in the music industry. There was a rock concert (cannot recall which band or where it was going anymore) and we provided them with the what was basically a circus tent as well as some other equipment. There were motors in large metal rolling containers that would pull the ropes and tent up to the top of what looked like a radio antenna tower. The tower itself came in pieces that were stored on an overhead shelf. This was a new kind of client and impressing them would be key to building the business further.
The next morning, only I and the supervisor arrived to work. Everyone else called in sick.
Between moving pieces of metal from overhead shelves and jerking the metal job boxes with hoist motors in them (they weighed about a ton each) over a metal plate ramp that was the wrong shape for the truck dock we had, the day after that I simply could not move. I think I later, maybe the day after that, crawled to the bathroom, which was at the other end of the apartment.
This was my fourth home in Manhattan. The first three were all at 28th and Eighth, though one was around the corner on Eighth in a different building managed by the same people, owned by the same bank. I was only there a short time because I had a falling out with my neighbor who was paranoid. Any time I moved, coughed, sneezed, he banged on the wall. He was convinced that I was part of a gang of thieves and those actions were all our signals to each other as to his movements. Because, you know, $80 per week rooms measuring about eight by twelve are undoubtedly filled with all sorts of valuables. The man was a veteran. I can’t recall if he had served in Vietnam or if that was something I overlaid due to the extreme paranoia and associated with PTSD.
Anyway, by the time of the back injury, I had moved to Ninth Avenue between 51st and 52nd. Hell’s Kitchen. An old Irish mob, ie Westies gang, neighborhood that at the time I moved in still had some signs of it including a local bar where fights (typically between women for some reason) and the arrival of New York’s Finest in the wee hours were commonplace.
My roommate was also an actor so we got on nicely where that was concerned. He was also a I Love Lucy fanatic which also wasn’t a problem. And a wig stylist. And he loved Disney pictures, especially the ones with songs in them. If there’s anything I’ve blocked out of my memory, it is likely to do with Disney songs, beer, and singing at two a.m. and wondering if the wigs were still on the Styrofoam heads.
But it was a railroad flat, built to house two immigrant families, the men of which typically worked on the subway system. It was as spacious a place as one could get for the price and a decent location that only became better over time. It was sinking in the middle however, making the occasional workout double the effort due to attempting to keep the barbells from rolling away once you had finished a set.
I was rehearsing a production with the African Women’s Rep (an internationally acclaimed company) when the injury occurred. I wound up stepping out of the show as a result. I had mixed feelings about that. While I was opposed to racism, I had trouble playing the South African jerk policeman they had cast me as. I’m not sure why. He was a bit two dimensional, only served the purpose as foil to the lead. I think I was having some trouble getting a handle on him. I was also occasionally uncomfortable by the small talk about racism, even though I had a great deal of sympathy for them on that topic.
The injury also meant I could no longer work at Big Apple Lights for the foreseeable future. They were, I think, convinced that I was going to sue them and asked me to come in some weeks later to work “light duty.” Then the same supervisor whom I had helped load that truck by myself came over and tried to get me to do some heavier stuff. I refused and left.
At church, a young soon-to-be actuary introduced me to a man who was looking for a new administrative assistant. She put us together at a luncheon and let us talk.
The man would wind up being my boss for ten years and a friend for several after that. He was a Texan and a Republican. There were some tense moments over, for example, Monicagate, but overall we got along and something else transcended some political differences. He said he called himself Murphy Brown due to having done through a series of administrative assistants recently after he discovered the problems with the one he had kept for a year or so.
I did not vote in the 1988 nor 1992 elections, still soured over the Reagan administration’s subterfuge and what I saw as phony patriotism. However, by the time 1996 rolled around I was a Clinton supporter. The economy was good and I learned on that job to become a decent all-around tech support guy. I also did some database work and even did outside work until the Internet bubble burst that put my income one year just short of six figures. (Though it should be noted some of that went to subcontractors and materials, I didn’t see all of that even before Uncle Sam and New York got their cuts).
That job was in the “old Exxon building,” as people still often referred to it; 1251 Avenue of the Americas, or 1251 Sixth or just 1251 for short. Located in Rockefeller Center, it was the most rented commercial office space building in the area and one of the most rented in the City.
Our job started out as managing the asbestos maintenance and abatement program. RCMC (Rockefeller Center Management Corp.) had bungled a job, gotten media attention as a result, and the owners (a Japanese real estate company) hired an outside consultant to do the job from there on out. Our office was at that time located on the Concourse Level in part of an old Exxon cafeteria.
One of the abatement contractors we worked with was located in the World Trade Center. They were doing abatement for us at at the WTC as well, and so got office space in one of the towers to manage the job. When the first World Trade Center bombing occurred, their employees, mostly their female administrative assistants, rode the subway down to our office to call their families to let them know that they were okay. They were covered in soot when they arrived, having had to walk down so many flights of stairs and flee the smoke from the explosion in the parking garage.
That was a surreal moment for me. Our office was in the basement and we had no radios to speak of down there and certainly no TV. We found out before they arrived that they were coming but it was still a shock when they arrived.
That attack had little effect, as I recall, on things like security at our building. If anything, it made the terrorists seem weak compared to the City’s strength. That would of course change.
At some point after that, I was doing a show with a company I did several productions with. In the cast was a slightly younger, very sweet it seemed to me, gay man. We’ll call him Patrick.
Patrick and I had dinner one night after rehearsal. We discussed gay issues. I was curious as to what he thought caused people to be gay. He, wisely I think, said he feared what would happen when they did discover the cause. Would parents begin trying in vitro drugs to prevent their children being gay? What side effects would there be? That sort of thing. The film Gattaca was based around some of those questions.
During the dinner, I came out to him. He laughed and said he wasn’t sure what it was about him, but I was far from the first who chose him to tell. He was encouraging about coming out to the family and friends. That thought horrified me, though I had actually discussed with at least one friend prior to that.
After the show was over, I started thinking back to college and recalled a friend I had had a crush on. I was about half convinced that he was also gay and likely wondered if I were as well. Whereas my family had been politically conservative and not overly religious, his had been the opposite. His family attended a nondenominational church for a very long time.
I still remember the first day I laid eyes on him back in 1987. It was at a party at the house I shared just off campus with some other art and theater majors, which we called “the Golden Grotto” due to a decidedly seafood restaurant theme in the main living room. He was there with some other rather cute trendy guy and my heart had just about stopped. He was shy though, and it would be a long time before we actually met and learned each others’ names.
That happened because his best friend was dating a friend of a friend of mine. The friend of a friend, it turned out, was a sociopath or psychopath. Really. He was about as charming as anyone you’d meet on the one hand but once his temper flared he was a violent maniac. I wasn’t there when it happened but I recall hearing how he dragged a man by the hair out of a house and then pummeled him outside. That sort of thing was not an uncommon occurrence with him. Therefore, we all found it easier to placate or avoid him as much as possible. He was dangerous, there was no question. In fact, he made international news after 9/11 when he made threatening phone calls to a Muslim cleric living in Canada. The US Secret Service paid him a visit.
Toward the end of his relationship with my future partner’s best friend, we had a falling out. He had already annoyed me with racist comments directed at another theater major, an African American who would later be the stand up comedian who accompanied me to New Jersey. I don’t recall what finally set me off, but he was sitting in a chair leaning back in my dorm room. His girlfriend, my future partner’s best friend was there. He said something that pushed me over the edge and I kicked the chair out from under him. He made a comment about me “getting out of hand” but did not try to drag me outside by my hair or anything else.
That would undoubtedly serve as training for dealing with an inherently corrupt and depraved government decades later. You cannot give an inch to psychopaths, I tell you.
Strange it was therefore that I’d have him to thank for introducing me to the man who would later become a friend of twenty-five years and a partner for nearly fifteen. Yet it was also ultimately tragic as well.
My future partner and I wound up seeing each other frequently enough, though he had a “girlfriend” and I had a job at a local pizza parlor. There were parties, art shows, after art show parties, and breakfasts at two or three in the morning at some greasy spoon.
Sitting in NYC in the mid 90s, I recalled what might have been the last day we saw each other in ’87. I was almost completely moved out of my dorm room and laid down. He came over, I suppose to say goodbye. He sat in a chair next to the bed and we sat in silence for a long while, half uncomfortable, half something else I cannot describe.
I wanted very much to pull him over and kiss him. I don’t know what would have happened. I regretted many times not trying to find out.
In fact, about seven years later I regretted it so much I decided to try to find out. When I went back to visit my parents, I went to where he had last worked, a bookstore. He had not worked there for some time, they said, had gone off to grad school at UIUC. But, they added, he was in town and in fact I had just missed him.
Counting that as lucky, I eventually made contact and we exchanged snailmail and email addresses and phone numbers. We chatted sometimes by phone while I worked and he finished up his masters in French at Champagne-Urbana. There was that same damn awkward silence that neither of us broke but we didn’t hang up either. I visited Champagne. There was what must have been the worst goodbye I ever had. I really did not want to leave and it was clear he didn’t want me to. I think it was before I came out to him in a letter that he sent me a mix tape. I knew at that moment that one day he was going to be mine.
It was on the second visit that we finally kissed. We didn’t do much beyond that, as I recall. There were still two to three decades of hang ups to overcome.
Then he came to New York for Thanksgiving. I took him to a funny hole in the wall in Little Italy, one of the only places open on that holiday. La Mela, “the Apple,” sported comical waiters, yellow paint over I don’t know how many layers of likely also yellow peeling paint, and photos of patrons taped all over them. The owner would typically walk around during appetizers and find the skinniest or slowest eater, stand by them, and shout “Mahnge!” (imperative or slang for mangiare, “Eat!”) while demonstrating with hand to mouth, to the delight of the other patrons.
Then there was a crooner who would come in and do a few songs. I think he was a Nat Cole impersonator and he did a good job with “Mona Lisa” as I recall. The waiters stood behind and around him, sometimes backing him up, sometimes mocking him, such as putting a folded cloth napkin behind his head to make rabbit ears.
Finally, there was a red rope attached to a phallic symbol in the middle of the place. The ladies present were asked to go pull on it and when they pulled the rope all the way, a red light lit up at the ceiling.
It was a family restaurant. Returning there years later, we found it to be more and more touristy and eventually stopped going.
On the way home after dinner, it rained. We kissed under a bus stop.
It became clear. Someone was moving once he was completed his masters degree. Since he had degrees in French and I was already working, it made sense that it would be him to find uses for it in NYC.
I got him an apartment with a couple of other friends across the hall. That apartment belonged to a Westie gang member, an Irish gangster who was away for a long time but really wanted the apartment back when he got out I gathered. The couple that lived there previously had gotten a divorce and moved out but were still holding it for the incarcerated man. That whole situation, the wife living in their house in Pennsylvania and the husband bouncing around became a problem in itself when the husband, unsure what else to do, spent a lot of time in the apartment. Eventually, we moved out and got an apartment together on the Upper East Side but not after my partner had a very tense confrontation with the husband who was about three times his size.
The beginning of the relationship was rough. I would have to say that most of that was my fault. Despite having moved away first and not having had the religious part shoved down my throat, I had the harder time being open about the relationship having become established as a sometimes construction contract manager. I’d say at that time, conversely, I had less of a problem adjusting to gay sex than he did.
He got jobs and lost jobs. A couple dealt with using French. There was a French steel company and one that dealt with electronic museum tour guides. Basically, you walked up to a piece of art you wanted to learn about and pressed the number corresponding to the sign near it and it would tell you its history. French tourists would hear that in French either translated or edited by my partner. Then there was a company who translated websites and manuals, but the actual translation work was done by native speakers only. My partner managed the translators.
When he lost the jobs, I supported him. I should add that I don’t mention this (nor any of the things in this chapter) to make him feel bad about what happened later should he read this. Merely pointing out what is possible with modern technology where destroying relationships is concerned and explaining what the US government did to me, just how bad things have gotten.
Eventually, he wound up working at a French bank. Outside the bank, was a piece of the fallen Berlin Wall as artwork. We lived on the Upper East Side then. We rescued a couple of Pembroke Welsh Corgis.
Around the same time as Monicagate, there was a shake-up at the church. The pastor, yet another Texan, was forced to step down, they said, due to his wife filing for divorce. There were rumors that he was gay. There were a few men who spread those rumors in the hopes of getting the job themselves. The penthouse apartment and the promise of a retirement fund (the people who built the church also built the apartment building next door to defer the costs associated with upkeep, pay off the construction loans, and to fund pastors’ retirements). The man who wound up taking over was actually a very smart and nice man. However, the way some members had treated and criticized the previous one had stuck with me. There had been the occasional gay joke. There was, more disturbingly, the desire to hear condemnation of others from the pulpit. The entire atmosphere became toxic with regards to Monicagate and what was happening there. That, rather than war for profit, became the sin some people were interested in condemning and they wanted to hear it from their preacher.
I wouldn’t really realize until 2012 just how politicized, commercialized, radicalized, and dangerous much of organized religion had become. And I can’t help thinking that was someone’s plan all along .
1 See the introduction to the CIA’s Guerilla Warfare Manual. It explains that the targets of psychological operations (aka PSYOPs) include not just the enemy but also one’s own troops and citizens. Then explain how adding a large number of Mormons (the Church itself secretly and illegally funded the Proposition 8 related campaign to kill gay marriage in California) to the CIA in the 1980s could have wound us up at any other place.
This concept of guerilla warfare as a political war turns Psychological Operations into the factor that determines the results. The target, then, are the minds of the population, the entire population: Our troops, the enemy troops, and the civil population.
CIA FOIA Room, “Psychological Operations in Guerilla Warfare,” Tayacan, ca. 1983:
See also, CIA veteran and CNN Middle East expert Robert Baer’s interview about running TV stations:
You mentioned the financing and control of the media, how did this take place?
It is already known that some CIA agents were responsible for writing the official statement that news anchors would read. Of course the news readers did not know anything as they received their instructions from their bosses who received instructions from his boss who was our (CIA) man. There was one overall task and that was to incite hatred and nationalism through television and for differences between the people to really stand out.
Britić, “CIA exposed by former agent – Robert Baer,” Alex Simic, 10 October 2012: