Electric Yo-yo Love
The bus was parked near the world famous ice skating rink at 30 Rockefeller Center, pointed east on 50th street in Manhattan and toward the airport in Queens. You could sit in the bus waiting and see the restaurant and iconic ice rink below. I am not sure which airport, La Guardia or JFK that I left from as more than forty years of my life have passed since that chilly Sunday morn.
For a small fee, the bus would take me to Icelandic Airlines, then fly to Iceland, then jump to Brussels and soon after a short old-fashioned train ride to Paris.
It was November 1971 and my young heart had been severely broken. The love of my life Laura Jo Weisbord, smart pretty and my age, had returned to our studio apartment from the, “Suck Film Festival,” in Amsterdam, and announced she was going back to Europe. She was not so much in love with another man as she was having more fun with another man, one, Jean-Jacques Lebel. And you heard right it was called the, “Suck,” Film Festival and it was all about sex. On film screens, in the streets and in the hotels. That year the festival was famous for having shown a film where a woman got fucked by a pig. Right, a pig, like the farmyard animal… not a rock-n-roll drummer. I wanted Laura to stay in New York with me, not run away to Paris.
I was in excruciating mental pain after Laura left so abruptly. I screamed at her. Pleaded with her and at one point smashed a cassette tape recorder against the wall in horrible violence. I did not know what to do. I did not know how to change what was happening to me. I was broken and stunned by her leaving back to France a week after she just returned. But Laura gone, I was not alone. I was feeling insane. I asked friends to hang with me in Laura’s and my room at the Chelsea.
I spent the immediate three days after Laura flew to Paris with my male buddies and one very petite, but oh so loving and willing pretty female, one, Debbie Fisher. We were well supplied with food, booze, drugs and encamped in a small but emotionally spacious room in the famous artist hotel, room two hundred and three, second floor front. An affordable room with a small balcony that you could stand on and look west and east on the busy traffic filled 23rd Street.
Al Pacino was staying next door the week Laura left for France. A month ago he had asked me for advice on his new stardom via the, “Godfather.” More permanent loggers, such as director Milos Forman, up a floor, and his director buddy Ivan Passer down the hall from us, also filmmaker Shirley Clark in her tee-pee pent house on the roof and musical composer George Kleinsinger, with his dozens of exotic warm and cold blooded animals, as in lizard, snakes, turtles and large parrots in a very humid room on the 10th floor. Composer Virgil Thomson had a huge two-bed room suite with a large kitchen and dining room. He once chased me around the table, thinking I was his birthday present. Andy Warhol super star Viva was there too in room 510.
Debbie kept moaning about to orgasm, yet again, on the bed in the corner of the room with her and David Rosen conservatively hidden under a blanket. I was deep in racing obsessive jealous thoughts, sitting cross-legged on the floor ignoring everything around me. My Buddies Cy Randal and Bill Elliot were on the balcony ignoring my ongoing pain.
Suddenly I jumped up and exclaimed, “I got it! I’ll go get her back!” Everybody stopped. Cy and Bill stepped in from the balcony when they heard my loudness. I danced around like a prospector who just found gold in them hills of California. “That’s it! I’m going. I got it. I’m going after her!” I needed support, but got little.
David of course rolled back and politely stopped fucking Debbie. She slowly sat up pulling her legs to her bare chest. “I told you that yesterday and you rejected it.” She said. “You did?” I was so nuts, spaced and crazy I didn’t hear her. It was near noon outside on 23rd street. Horns honking, trucks reeving their motors, Monday morning in mid-town Manhattan was loud and still is. New York was my hometown and except for a year in the war, ’66 to ’67 in Vietnam, I had not been anywhere, really. Jamaica, with actress Joy Bang, the hot blonde, who brought me Laura.
Joy had a theory she would never let an ex-boyfriend go away hurt and alone. She was proud of the reputation on latching you up with one of her hip and beautiful girlfriends. She dumped me but gave me actress Ellen Gurin. Whom I didn’t really get along with, a sexy dark haired beauty with the look of Ava Gardner, but she was hurting inside and softly neurotic, sweet tender talented, performing in Tom Eyen’s Play, “The Dirtiest Show in Town.” Ellen would subsequently kill herself by renting a room in the Waldorf Astoria and jumping out of the window to Park Avenue. Joy Bang told me, Laura and I were made for each other and we were. I thought. But Laura had run away.
Bill and Cy lit a joint by the desk near the day light coming in the studio apartment through the single tall, floor to ceiling window and passed it around except to me. We gathered around to once more discuss my love troubles.
I hardly ever smoked pot it always made me nervous and prone to nausea and wanting to vomit. I don’t mind at all others doing it, smoking it around me, and in fact like the scent of it. But I hate smoking or eating it. My drug of choice was and still is good scotch or Irish whiskey.
“You’re just going to run off to Europe after her?” “She may not want to see you at all, you know.” “You don’t know where she is exactly.”
David Rose, recent college graduate, Jewish, handsome and who was the artist businessman of our mischievous little group topped them all with logic. “You don’t have enough money. Do you?”
We were still pretty high. Cy and I had some orange acid, this was our second day hanging out and we went on and on and on. They were friends and didn’t want to see me go off the deep end. They wanted to talk me out of an emotional hasty and rash decision. Talk me out of something I wanted to do but had no idea how I was going to do it. “Jump on a plane and go where?” I was not sure where. “Amsterdam? Paris?” I needed money. More money. I had some.
I had never been to Europe before. I did however have a passport. It was Laura that advised me to get one ASAP back when we first started living together down in China Town on East Broadway, next to the NYFD firehouse.
Cy thought I should go; he was our resident hippie anthropologist. He would one day take me to “Wounded Knee,” where I filmed the Lakota Sioux “Sundance Ceremony” for the first filming ever. Cy was the poorest among us, but a brilliant wise and kind man. I loved his support and always respected his wise council. “If you don’t go after her you will regret it all your life.”
True, I saw no other answer if I did not do something quickly, something real, and something that moved me forward that eased my heart, by simply giving me a face-to-face answer from Laura. Yes, by putting myself near Laura. If not, I might explode. I had to go. I just wanted to die. Oh, the pain, I hated love. I was hurting.
Laura’s new lover, Jean-Jacques Lebel was a French artist, political activist and scholar, about seven years older, established and richer than nubile me. He was the son of Robert Lebel, a famous art critic and friend of Marcel Duchamp. I could see why Laura would want to be with him in Paris over me. But I wanted her back. I was blinded by the whole thought of her leaving me for him. Paris. I must go. I would, but first I must sober up and make a plan. Money. I needed money. Thank God, I had that passport Laura made me get. But I had not been out of the country except to go to war in Vietnam, and spend my Rest and Recuperation, “R and R” in military jargon, in the Philippines. That was fun, but not very wildly fun as it was with my dad’s relatives. Who, don’t get me wrong I was honored to be with for a few weeks and certainly it was better than being in country and in a war. A war, I knew then and still believe was a monumental mistake.
There I was standing at the steps to the Tenth Street Baths. Russian Turkish hot rock and steam baths on New York’s lower east side, built into a brown stone building and a very special place, populated by characters, faces, cops, and run by one very fat Jew and one Jew who had a perpetual cigar stuck in his teeth. To them I had no name. To these two tough guys who always seemed be either laughing at something I asked for like a towel or a beer or a light, to them I was known as, “Fred Baker’s Friend.”
“What do you want, Baker’s friend?” “A clean towel, please. I stuttered weakly.” This bastard always had me off balance. I bet I could kick his ass really. “Baker’s friend wants another fuckin’ towel!” He shouts. The fat one laughs, men at the counter, chuckle. What the fuck is so damn funny I think. “Hey Baker’s friend where is Baker today?” “I’m alone.” “You ok Baker’s friend? You’re never alone.” I said nothing and went down to the hot rooms and cold pool below. Thinking, “Fuck that ugly fucker.” Last year Christmas time, I came here with Freddie Baker of course, day after Christmas. I mistakenly felt confident, as I did NOT have to fight or ask for anything. I was with Baker and we were given the usual no questions asked. This bath was funky but not cheap and Baker tipped well. It was clean, I will say that.
Relaxed that day after Christmas, I dumbly said to the meaner ugly unshaven Jew with the cigar sticking out of his mouth always, “Merry Christmas!” Shit! His dead eyes blazed open. I thought he might actually come around the food counter and hit me. “Merry Christmas,” he repeated. But it sounded more like “shirt piss cock!” “Fuck you!” he says to me, loud. “Merry Christmas! Cocksucker! Get away.” I got away
Down in the white tiled basement, nude, in a white robe or skimpy towel, if you chose, there were two pools, one the length of the building, you could do a few strokes in and one small ice-cold pool that you dipped in after the hot room platza rub down. A Platza is a rub down by ,“a rubber man” with a Eucalyptus leafed brush in the large tiled heated room, one that had long wooden benches along three walls, the constantly heated hot rocks on the fourth wall.
The room is heated to a blistering swelter by water dropping on the heated ever-so-hot rocks. There was an American style steam room next door filled with steam too, but we, Freddie and I never used it.
After three days of misery and hung over, there was nothing better than a rub down with those platza brushes, by the paid Russian Rubber Man, up on the top wooden benches where the heat was as strong as you could stand without dying. Rubber Man splashed you with cool water when it was too much, somewhere between pleasure and pain, thank God.
I took my shocking dip in the ice-cold water. Ice cold. I then sat there on a tiled bench attached to the wall near the small ice pool and was deep in my pained loser thoughts, planning an empty plan to get to Paris and get Laura back, somehow.
Now there was a, “little man,” about five foot nothing, who worked in the bathhouse. We were all naked and so was he. Down his chest he had a long scar from what I assumed was a heart operation or something as monumental. He worked hard keeping the baths clean. At the moment, he carried two old fashioned wooden buckets filled splashing across the tiled floor. I had seen him working there over the past three years that I had been going to the baths, but I did not know his name and had never spoken to the little man. Nor he to me.
After all I was invisible. I had no name. Only called ,“Baker’s Friend.” However, this day he stops before me. Seeing me sitting he puts his two buckets, one in each hand, down. His had reaches up and grabs my face, pinching my cheeks together as if I was a pet dog about to get a pill, firmly but at the same time gently. I am puckered up like a bird and he says, looking directly into my face with his old Russian blue water logged eyes, “Jealousy will ruin your life!” He turns and picks up his buckets and his naked ass is gone. I am stunned.
It sounds silly but I think I really looked to him as if he was God. A miracle and obvious message. Why did he do that? How did he know? Was I so steeped in this horrible coffin of pain and literally green with jealousy. That was it I thought. I would go to Laura and not ask her to come back but just see her. Just see her. I dressed quickly.
Chen Tien Lui and I were building a TV studio on Dwayne street which used to be an old egg company. They use to fill it with live chickens and eggs. We cleaned out the smell of chicken shit and used all the old egg boxes for soundproofing.
Lui ran a company CTL Electronics, that now, thanks partially to me supplied most of the musical talent, and artist in Manhattan, with newly invented portable video tape cameras and recording equipment called Sony “Port-a-Paks.” These half-inch recorders and cameras were creating a creative revolution in video art and television and film production.
Lui advanced me one thousand dollars after hearing my story, as did Robert Cordiere, a French director, living in New York, with whom I was making a film. Robert and I had become good friends and being French, a man with a big heart, listened to my tale of woe about my, “run away Laura,” and he not only gave me money, he gave me names of all his famous friends in Paris to help me out. I bought a ticket to fly on a plane to Paris. But, I had to board a bus first.
The bus exhaust created steam in the cold morning air as it waited for the exact time to leave for the airport. I had little to no luggage; I wore a black raincoat, a suit and tie. Long curly thick black hair. I looked like a rich rock and roll lawyer. I had a pocket full of cash and American Express traveler’s checks. Paris was cheaper in those days, not like today. I felt good, clear and confidant and excited not scared. I was in love and knew this was like Vietnam, the adventure of my life. Important.
It was early, 50th street near 30 Rockefeller Plaza was empty of tourists, and traffic was light. I do remember it was about a week after I had jumped up in my room at the Chelsea and decided to go after Laura and that would make it gloomy Sunday as I recall. A chestnut vender was just arriving with his cart. Near the bus door was a hippie girl in a long tan coat, brown cute hat and she was playing with electric yoyo’s. Up and down. When the yoyo slid down its string and uncoiled — the yoyo lit up in whatever bright color the plastic sides were made of — Up and Down, sparkling circles of electric light lit the sides of the yoyo. I had my bus ticket, stepped into the bus but for some reason I went back down the three rubber bus steps to the street. “How much?” She was obviously selling them as she had more than a few. “Five bucks.” Hippies were industrious. She was probably saving for a ticket Marrakesh on Icelandic Airlines. I bought two electric yo-yos.
The plane trip was un-spectacular. The one memorable but strange stand out moment was one fellow, dressed nicely in a suit, standing in the aisle of the plane, obviously after the seat belt light went off, he read the newspaper, lord knows which one, but very likely one from New York, standing and then at one classic moment folding it up and locking it under his arm, finished reading his morning news and ready to exit to the day. As if he were on a downtown IRT subway. Too weird.
To be written:
Train to Paris from Brussels.
Arrival Paris, that first night.
Tony Long, Laura’s ex-husband and new friends in Paris.
Paris. Time there. The post card. Laura is in Morocco.
Tony sends me off with safe warning and a knife, costumed like a mid-eastern tough.
Arrival in Marrakesh meeting John Sheppard English rich businessman and new guardian angel.
Bus Trip to Essaouira, a beach city on the Atlantic west coast of Morocco and hopefully Laura.
Continue for now:
The bus to Essaouira arrived early at the beach resort town popular among Europeans and Americans. The ride was short, about an hour long. The countryside along the route was pastoral with children waving and people traveling on donkeys as they did a thousand years before.
On the bus, men smoked what smelled like sweet hashish, knives in their belt and fat bellies. Laughing loudly. At one point about half way to the ocean side, they kicked a Berber Tribes woman with her tattooed blue faced, off the bus, literally. A large man dressed in traditional tan kaftan kicked a woman and her satchel down the aisle of the bus, literally, with his foot and rolled her out the front door. Looking back at his male friends, ignoring all the rest of the passengers thank God, he laughed proudly. It caused all the other smoking men seated in the rear of the bus to laugh too and applaud his triumph. Tony mentioned that Jean-Jacque could have me killed for 200 dollars in this land. I believed him and remembered the knife I had hidden in my boot. A last minute gift from Tony, “Here you may need this.”
The powder blue painted two-story hotel was quiet, the sky light lit the lobby. Rooms circled the two-story hotel. The tile floor was damp as a woman on her knees scrubbed it. In my weak French, I asked at the front desk for Monsieur Le Bell. The female clerk looked and pointed to a room down the hallway in back of me. I turned ready to go and knock. Not knowing what to expect after my long journey from that morning two weeks ago in the Chelsea Hotel to the pretty powder blue lobby of this very clean quaint hotel in Morocco. I was nervous. I hesitated. I felt a tug on my trouser leg. The Scrub Woman on the floor was looking up at me having tugged my trouser. Her bright dark brown eyes on not a particular remarkable face indicated, “no,” to the direction I was headed but then quickly pointed down another hallway in the opposite direction. “La dame est là-bas à droite. Vous voulez son oui.” And kept pointing and repeating urgently. “Madame est a droite. Voila!” So I knew what she meant and that she was right. How she knew to tell me this, I do not know.
I went down the narrow hallway now behind the lobby desk area. Everything was still, it was morning and quiet, I knocked. “Yes.” Laura’s beautiful sharp feminine voice replied to the knock. I spoke in French. “Télégramme de la Lady Merci.” Laura opened the door. I was so pleased to see her. She was not as shocked as expected but very happy to see me. She complained that she was a virtual prisoner and the Jean-Jacques Lebel had kept her without money and stoned on opium all day and night. We kissed and made love. “Let’s get out of here.” We started to pack her suitcase. I wanted to make the bus back to Marrakesh. Suddenly there was a knock at the door. It opened it was Jean-Jacques. “I bet you are Frank.” We spoke English. There was a tension but it felt civil. I felt like I was in his house and had to get out. In my bag, on the bed, were the two electric yoyo’s I had bought in New York for no good reason. I thought I was helping a hippie girl get breakfast. I had just given one yoyo to Laura. I reached down and pick up the other. “Here I bought this for you.”
Amazingly enough, Jean-Jacques broke open the cheap cardboard box holding the five dollar gift, made in China, and began to play with the electric yoyo. It was glowing and beautiful in the darkened hallway. He was focused, fascinated by the sparkling lights that lit up the side of the yoyo its trip down and up and down and up.
Seemingly fascinated he slowly drifted off down the hall, back to his room, I suppose to show his friends. I was not sure. “Let’s go!” Laura wanted eagerly to go back to the safety of me and New York and our little room in the Chelsea. We quickly scampered out of the hotel quickly. Her bill was of course being paid by Jean- Jacques.
We hopped the bus back to Marrakesh. We had lunch with the Englishman John Shepard who had wisely woke me before the sun was up and gotten me to the bus. As he counseled, “Here in Marrakesh, if the bus fills up no matter what time, it will leave.” He was another guardian angel. There seemed to be so many in New York, in Paris and here in Morocco.
Including that smart woman scrubbing the floor. Bless her smarts. If I had awoke Jean-Jacques first and not Laura I might have gotten stoned myself and things may have gotten silly or worse just plan embarrassing, tense and boring and I might have left empty handed with no Laura.
The English real estate man John Shepard, over some good scotch whiskey asked me what I was going to do when I got back to New York. I boldly said I was going to marry Laura. It was the first I had mentioned that to anyone even myself. John laughed at Laura’s surprise. “You are surprised, Laura my dear.” “First I heard of it. But sure. I guess.” Later, that day we got on the plane to Paris and Christmas. At the Airport in Marrakesh, we saw director Alfred Hitchcock, a large man, get off a small private plane.