Alan Brooks Remembers – 2

Alan Brooks, Boulder, Colorado,  July 1990 – photo by Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries / Allen Ginsberg Estate

Continuing with “Warts and All”  Alan Brooks’ memories of his life in the ’70s and visits and encounters with his famous Uncle Allen

Skipping ahead six years after the Mexican voyage.  In 1974, I became reacquainted with Allen. I was eighteen years old and now eager and ready to learn all about NYC.
Up until then, I had only seen him sporadically.  In ‘74, I visited his new apartment at 437 East 12th street, between First Avenue and Avenue A.
It was to be his home for well-nigh the rest of his life.

Twenty-two years he spent living on 12th street, half of his adult life.
Allen had begun mellowing out around that time, whilst I was just entering into a feckless and excitable adulthood.

Allen was becoming a bodhisattvaHe had finally found himself. And his new apartment was his base of bodhi-operations. His origins were in Paterson, he travelled very frequently, Boulder Colorado (Naropa) was his home-away-from-home, Cherry Valley was a place he went to for communing Thoreau-like with nature. But 12th street was his Home. His apartment there was close to the heart of the East Village (the Lower East Side) but not too close…

I turned eighteen at the right time to make a visit to 12th street, because Allen and Peter had just moved in then. It looked very Buddhist, newly whitewashed, with a window in the back looking out to an overgrown garden. Years later someone suggested to Allen he take a photograph of it (after all, he took pictures of everything else!)  He began taking photos of the garden. There was a tiny guest room next to the garden-window. Next to the guest room was the office, where Bob Rosenthal presided as Secretary General. The apartment was small enough so that it was never cold and the windows kept the entire pad fairly cool in summer. Allen’s room was about the same size as the office, and, like the office, it also faced 12th street and the huge church, Mary Help of Christians, cathedral-like in stature, its bell tolled frequently (“but not for Thee). The kitchen was the center of the pad, (for the many Hungry Freaks, Daddy-o).
It was by far the largest room, a place for thousands of literary discussions, politics and the latest gossip. First time I ever saw the place, Allen wasn’t there, but Peter was there, very happy – it was Home.

“I’d looked out this kitchen-table window a decade thru camera by now, garden court new cleared swept neat, fenced – midsummer leafage on ailanthus trees & backyard bushes in slight breeze, gay club news mag shining flowerpot base on sloped windowsill, guests’d brought sunflowers night before, looks like 68 degrees temperature, 12th Street Lower East Side between First & Avenue A, New York, June 6, 1993” (photo & caption – Allen Ginsberg courtesy Stanford University Libraries/Allen Ginsberg Estate)

“Mary Help of Christians R.C. Church facade with pigeons out my 4th floor living room window, 437 East 12th Street Manhattan, I’ve stayed in his apartment 13 years now cheap rent, September 29, 1985.” (photo & caption – Allen Ginsberg, courtesy Stanford University Libraries/Allen Ginsberg Estate)

I visited Allen with increasing frequently the next year-and-a-half. I was totally clueless
and my father was no help.  A woman across the street from our family’s Long Island house once told me, “You’re just like your father, he’s a dreamer.”

Our Dad treated our Mom poorly, and the house was in a state of near-chaos. Since the age of thirteen, being a dreamer, I had wanted to live in the Midwest, after reading books about the Midwest such as The Wizard of Oz,  Huckleberry Finn,  Tom Sawyer, and Cave of Danger (concerning a high schooler obsessed with discovering a cave in Missouri).
But naive and knowing nothing about the Heartland, I opted instead, to, at the end of ‘75, move to Manhattan. I’d had enough experience in NYC, or so I thought, to begin to tackle it. Surely it was less foreboding than a Kansas twister, rafting on the Mississippi, or a “cave of danger”?

I was homeless for two months, beginning an education concerning what passes for “the real world”, and then moved into Bleecker Publishing, the Yipster Times collective (which was even more in a state of near-chaos than the house on Long Island!)

I showed up, luckily, on Yipster Times periodical mailing-day and the staff put me to work as the ‘house retard’.  Bleecker was about a mile and a half from Allen and Peter’s apartment, visiting them was a cinch, it was an historic walk past Cooper Union, the building where
Abe Lincoln had given a big speech and also (77 East 3rd Street) where the Hell’s Angels resided… an area between the Bowery and the East Village.

Allen and Peter had been living on 12th street for close to two years by the time
I became “house ‘tard”.  There was a good feeling at Allen’s pad.  The burgeoning Bicentennial mood was somewhat lightening up the city’s mood as Springtime blossomed and the two had, by now, fully settled into their Home (Home & Office) there.

They were both at that time getting along fairly well – (well, between fair and good, perhaps). Allen did once say to me,  “Peter and I have said things to each other that we never thought we would!”

But in ‘76 they probably got along as well as the majority of straight married couples
(the difference, for that era, being that they were a ‘gay’ couple, or, more accurately ‘bi-‘)
I visited 12th street a great deal in ‘76, and rarely witnessed any discord between them.
Although one afternoon, Peter’s brother Julius and I were cleaning up for him, and Allen playfully teased him, “You’ve got those two inmates working for you.”
Peter shot back, “You take care of your business and l’Il take care of mine.”
But it was half-friendly banter. Most of the time, during that year, they got along just so.

One day, I remember,  while Allen was at the kitchen table writing, Peter walked up to me in the hallway with a big smile on his face, “Allen is genius!” he exclaimed.

Peter had real talent as a poet, however he wasn’t as ambitious. Their excursions to fabled Boulder, Colorado (and elsewhere) appeared to rejuvenate their marriage,  and it was a marriage, in all but name.
By ‘76, the meaning of marriage had changed anyway. Uptown I had bumped into a friend of a friend of Bob Dylan’s father, Abe. The guy mentioned Abe had a girlfriend, and I asked “Isn’t he married?”
“Hey, nobody is married anymore!”

Allen and Peter had so thoroughly settled into 12th street that routines had become almost set. There was always a New York Times sitting on the kitchen table, and well-read, too, except the Sports section, (though Peter may have skimmed through it now and then). Peter was athletic.  There was a heavy bar securely fitted into the narrow hallway walls leading to the door to the outside of the apartment. Peter did chin-ups on the bar. The two had various Buddhist rituals that they kept up with. Meditation, chanting, prostrations, sometimes a sing-along with Allen playing harmonium.

to be continued 

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