A tiny life lesson I learned in early February 1973: you cannot sign for a registered letter unless you are the recipient of said letter and have the proper identification. No more than two weeks after Matty left for his first professional gig, this claim slip from the Post Office landed in our mail box. Jacob thought he could somehow pass for Matty, (maybe because they were both from Youngstown, Ohio?), but he returned without the mystery epistle and our interest was only further peaked. All we knew was that the return zip code belonged to the upper eastside. It became the topic of our following Monday night’s conversation with our absent roommate. Matty didn’t seem the least concerned. His advice to us was “just throw it away”. Jacob was the polar opposite. He was totally intimidated by anything that might look remotely serious. I hovered somewhere in between, depending on my mood and how it might impact my world, but I must admit I was uncomfortably curious to learn what Matty might have gotten himself into.
It was amazing how well Jacob and I were getting along, considering we were fairly thrown together in this apartment share. He was a good roommate in the fact that he was quite responsible for a kid and made sure to share duties so we each equally pulled our own weight. We had very little in common, other than the apartment and pot. He socialized with his obnoxious friend and a group of people I didn’t know or care to meet. This Matty thing was making him bonkers and he was on a one-man mission to find out what it was all about. He started digging through some of Matty’s papers stored in the top of the only closet in the apartment. I have always had an incredibly curious nature myself, but that was a little too indiscreet even for me. He never found anything of great interest anyway, except some correspondence from the phone company from the previous year, showing that he’d had a telephone that was shut off for non-payment of his bill. They required a deposit of several hundred dollars to turn his service back on but only after he paid the past due amount. Jacob figured that perhaps it was Ma Bell looking for the balance which he had most likely reneged on. At least Jacob could now sleep nights again and I had worthier priorities of my own.
Around this same time, only a week or so after Richard’s and my relationship had taken its turn for the better, it quickly nose-dived south. He began having guilt, or doubts, misgivings – I never understood what exactly. He was still kind but now distant and unable to articulate his feelings. I cannot recall where it took place or how many days after our beautiful tryst, but he announced he thought it best that he stop seeing me. I was gobsmacked. This was something I certainly had not seen coming.
It began with a dejected “Why would you want a cook in a Japanese restaurant in the East Village?”. I assured him neither his job nor his address made any difference to me, a man from Ohio with a net worth of under four hundred dollars who slept on an air mattress that he shared with an overgrown teenager and a large family of cockroaches. It was him and his tender heart that I cared about. He countered with something to the effect of “but you’re going to be an actor and then where will I be?”. That was just so ludicrous coming from an intelligent and sensitive man like him I knew he was avoiding telling me something. At some point in our discussion I reached over and touched his cheek, fearing I wouldn’t have his face to look at very much longer. I knew there must have been another man or some awful mystery he was hiding from me. “Richard, please just tell me the truth”, I was pleading like a frightened child. “What’s really going on?”, I awaited an answer that I already knew I did not want to hear.
It was that he thought he was only bisexual or possibly totally straight. I just sat there numb and dumb as the blood stopped its natural flow and settled into my lower legs and feet. He’d started coming to Marie’s because it was not a typical hard-core pickup bar and he was able to comfortably sit back and take it all in. And then one September night this guy blew in the door from Ohio and he just let things happen. I never knew if there had ever been another “me” – he claimed there hadn’t been, but he admitted he’d had some previous male experiences in his past, but nothing significant. It boiled down to the fact that he was attracted to women and the future prospects of a family. How ever do you counter that? There was nothing to say because it was out of my realm of comprehension. I tried hard not to cry, that I remember. I was also careful not to attempt convincing him I thought he might be terribly wrong. If he was so sure that he couldn’t enjoy a man-on-man relationship, why sit in a gay bar all those months? I felt like some sort of laboratory experiment, a fruit fly in a petri dish that Richard watched reacting. I only knew my feelings were crushed, I severely doubted my judgement and my heavy feet were stepping all over my ego.
I was certain it would be impossible for me to have remained Richard’s friend. We had both gone way beyond those boundaries and it would have hurt too much for us to just become casual drinking buddies. I still cared too much to feign interest in watching him search for a soul mate to procreate with. The ache was palpable. Just as I can’t remember where or when this final scene took place, neither can I recall how we left what was to become of the “us” that had existed only moments before. I have no recollection of leaving or saying goodbye, but I do remember we both understood it was the end. He was one of those very painful lessons which often come at the worst possible times in a life.
The following few days were spent like a zombie, trying to carry on as though I was fine and life was hunky dory. But since my ethereal bubble had burst, nothing held my interest, not even my beloved City. And one afternoon, when coming back from having pretended I’d had something exciting to do outside, I saw this paper attached to the apartment door with tape. It was an official document from the City of New York and the Marshall’s office. It was addressed to Matty, but since it was not even in an envelope, I was able to read it, my mouth literally gaping wide. It was giving only a few days to vacate the premises due to non-payment of rent. After that date, anything left would be seized and later auctioned “by the Marshall”. This got my blood circulating for the first time in days. Holy shit, were we ever in trouble, while Matty was singing “Soon it’s Gonna Rain” somewhere in Kansas. I waited for Jacob to come back so we could figure what the hell we were supposed to do now.
We called the phone number on the paper, deciding perhaps we should plead our own case, since we were aware that we could do nothing in Matty’s name to save us. The little bastard must have been taking our cash and spending it on clothes and good times, because he hadn’t paid any rent for at least three-month, (or the landlord couldn’t have begun eviction proceedings), probably closer to six, according to the crusty lady in the City office. About all we got for our ten-cent phone call was her advice telling us that we had better take anything we wanted from the apartment, ours or the evictee’s and be nowhere near the place on the lock-up date of the Marshall’s notice. Our question now was not what do we take, but where do we take it? The two of us were technically homeless. It was the end of February and all the good cardboard boxes had already been claimed by the professional street people.
First, we had to talk to Matty. This could not wait until the next Monday night call. We had the theatre box office number for emergencies and this was bigger than that. We knocked on Colleen’s door, the only face with a name I knew in the building. She was an ex-nun, but she still had to remember what Christian charity was about. She couldn’t have been sweeter. She invited us in and made coffee while we called. Matty wasn’t there, but they got a message to him and before we’d drained our cups he called us back. I let Jacob tell him because he knew him longer and better than me. He was being obstinate, trying to brush it off in his cavalier way. I could see Jacob fuming, nearly frothing at the mouth. “It’s a paper from the Marshall’s office” he kept repeating, each time a little slower and a lot louder. Colleen was in tears and she wasn’t even the one being evicted. I was listening and it still hadn’t fully sunken in that in a few days I would have nowhere to live. I don’t know if I grabbed the phone or if Jacob threw it to me in disgust, but I remember him greeting me with something along the lines of “Hi hon, so what’s up?”. My only recollection was I asked him what he had done with my $75 dollars the last four months, and where he thought I was supposed to live now. Nothing changed: “the landlord is an asshole – I paid him in cash every month – just tear up the paper – he can’t do this to us – don’t worry, hon – blah blah blah”. I assured him the landlord was not doing anything to us. He was doing it to Jacob and me.
Colleen said we could house anything we wanted in her apartment, but she couldn’t offer us a place to stay. She knew friends and family in the Bronx if there wasn’t anywhere else for us to go. I had never been to the Bronx, but from what I knew about it, I’d go back to Cleveland first. There wasn’t even time for us to look for an apartment, plus neither of us worked nor had any money for a security deposit and first month’s rent. Jacob would stay with his obnoxious friend for a while and I was on my way to the only possible person I could ask – dear new friend, Ron. He had already been the only shoulder I had to cry on after Richard dropped out of my world only a few days before. I felt this was an awful lot to ask of anybody. Of course he said I could stay. I think he even offered to give me the bedroom and he’d sleep on the couch. That’s the kind of man he was after only knowing me for a few months.
We salvaged what Jacob and I felt was worthwhile of Matty’s crap and boxed up the little bit of kitchen ware we thought we might use in a new place and stored it down at Colleen’s. I took my antique trunk of knick knacks and memorabilia I had shipped from Ohio, my clothes in the suitcase and the TV set and moved to Ron’s on trendy West 8th Street, the night before the Marshall had promised to lock us up. Jacob left for his friend’s apartment and the door was shut on 24 King Street.
I did sleep in Ron’s bed that first night. He insisted I needed a good night’s sleep. The door was closed and I was alone for the first time since Jacob arrived at Christmas. I hadn’t slept in a real bed since my last night in Ohio. I had been so hell-bent on changing my life and had I ever. I was always such a good judge of character. What made me think Matty was trustworthy? He was a crummy actor, yet I allowed him to rob me blind and even when called on it, he pretended that he’d done nothing wrong. And Richard – the eviction had acted like a smokescreen that kept me occupied, giving me a brief respite from mourning his absence in my life. Then there was my acting career; I couldn’t even go there this night. I had no idea how I would fix all the broken things that had become the life of this new person I now had become. I cried myself to sleep, quietly so as not to wake Ron, because he was the kind of man who would come in and ask me what was wrong, and I honestly wouldn’t know just what the answer to that question was.