Back in the 1970s rebellious young people fled the suburbs to find solace with like minds in the East Village. The turmoil of the previous decade had depopulated the Lower East Side and we found new lives in the forelorn tenements of the Lower East Side.
In 1976 I escaped Boston in a stolen car and my hillbilly girlfriend joined me from West Virginia in Spring of 1977. Her best friend, was another aspiring actress from Louisiana. Mine was Anthony a photographer from Long Island. We didn’t go out on double dates, since Susan was living with a film maker in a Chinatown loft.
Alice was funny and pretty. She looked like Shirley MacLaine in THE APARTMENT. I tried to be faithful, but working at a punk nightclub, I ended up a philanderer like Fred McMurray. I pretended that she didn’t notice the perfume and lipstick on my shirts. The best lies are those we tell ourselves.
With the coming of warm weather in 1978 Susan and Alice decided to run a movie night atop the four-story building on Chrystie Street. The double-feature was FROM HELL IT CAME and TWO THOUSAND MANIACS. I thought that the event would be a flop, but the two women attracted men like snakes to a hot rock, plus entry and popcorn was free with cans of Schlitz $1 each.
Her foppish emcee David was dressed like a carney barker and welcomed each guest with a biting diatribe.
“And here’s Steven Kramer with the fabulous movie star Patti Astor.”
She was the darling of the B movie set and he played naked with his band the Wallets.
By show time over a hundred people were crowded onto the roof of Tom’s loft. They represented the high society at the downtown art scene and drank with an abandon reserved for an Irish wake. The first movie was screened against the back of billboard on the lower neighboring building.
It was like a drive-in without cars.
Pithe comments and screams enlivened the night as did Susan and Alice who had dressed up as vampish zombies for the occasion. David kept up a running commentary over the movie’s dialogue. He was very funny.
After THE END Tom spun records for the crowd. My pseudo-sister Kim danced with her beau Amos to James Brown’s SEX MACHINE and Alice pranced across the tarred roof with Susan. This was their evening and I sulked against the wall with Anthony.
We worked together at the nightclub and he said, “Let them have their fun.”
“Why not?” I grabbed another two beers and dropped $2 in the donation bucket.
Handing Anthony his beer I noticed a round-headed man get up on the retaining wall.
On the other side was a thirty-foot drop.
He danced on the narrow top. Anthony looked at me and we grabbed him off his perch.
“Leave me alone. I do this all the time.” The man looked a little like Orson Welles’ thin doppelganger.
“Stay off the wall.” I recognized him as a keyboard player from The Wallets. They were a fun band, but his dancing on the edge of the abyss was not my idea of fun.
Alice came over to join us. Her hazel hair was damp around her angelic face. Her skin glowed with breathlessness. The evening was a big success. My friend Klaus had agreed to perform at New Wave Vaudeville, another one of her projects. The B52s and Blondie were scheduled to headline the event. I was going to be security with Anthony.
Tom segued from Sly’s SEX MACHINE to Otis Reading’S SATISFACTION. The roof wavered under the feet of the dancers. New York spread out beyond this building, but this had become the center of our universe and that cosmos shrunk the moment Steven got back up on the wall. He was dunker than before and Alice said to Anthony, “He’s going to fall.”
Her last word nudge him over the brink and he disappeared from sight.
None of us heard the thud of impact.
Anthony, Alice, and I rushed to the wall.
Down below a man was sprawled facedown on the roof. His leg looked funny, but not in a funny sense. Blood was gathering around his head.
A woman screamed.
It was her wife.
The blonde came from Ohio.
She hit hysteria quick.
The emcee joined us as did Tom.
This wasn’t good.
“Call the police.” I told him.
“What are you going to do?” Alice asked shivering with fright.
“I’m going to help him.” I wasn’t a hero, but 911 wouldn’t get the cops here fast and the body beneath us was lying with a pool of red.
The scaffolding behind the billboard was six feet from the roof. I had leapt nineteen feet to win a AAU meet in Boston. That had been eight years ago. Six feet was within my reach.
“I’m coming with you.” David stood beside me. He was wearing white bucks. They had good traction. “He’s my friend.”
“I’ll go first.”
I ran across the roof and jumped into the air. I caught hold of the struts and swung onto a plank of wood, then turned to stretch out my hand to David.
He might have been a little timid in real life, but he fearlessly flew across the gap between safety and danger. I caught his arm and he said, “Thanks.”
We had an audience and above the applause Steven’s wife was screaming like a pig with an electric prod up its ass. David regarded me and said, “Women.”
Within seconds we descended to the roof and hurried to Steven.
“Damn.” David hugged himself to fight off his queasiness. His friend was fucked up.
Steven’s face was flatter than Kansas. He was drowning in his own blood. Sirens neared Chinatown. They were coming here. Professionals wouldn’t be here fast enough. It was up to me and David.
We crouched over Steven. He was breathing bubbles into his blood.
“Steven, can you hear me. It’s David.”
A painful grunt was his answer.
“We can’t leave him like this or else he’ll drown.” My paternal grandfather had been a surgeon in WWI. I had read his medical books. “Steven, can you move your feet?”
That got a feeble wiggle from him.
“His back isn’t broken, so we have to turn him over to keep from suffocating in his blood.” I wasn’t asking, but telling and David nodded before grabbing hold on his friend’s crimson-stained shirt.
“One, two, three.”
The two of us turned Steven onto his back.
“Steven, move your feet,” David begged with tears in his eyes.
Steven obeyed his command and then swooned into a deeper depth of unconsciousness.
Flashing lights splattered against the walls. The FD and PD were here. A woman kept scream above. It was Steven’s wife.
“Do you need anything?” Anthony yelled from Tom’s roof.
I looked at David.
He nodded in agreement.
“Two beers and tell that woman to shut her hole.”
A minute later the police took control of the scene.
The firemen strapped Steven to a gurney. EMS said he would live.
David and I climbed the billboard back to the roof. Tom and Susan were relieved to not have a death on their hands. Anthony and I drank more beer.
Alice wasn’t much of a drinker and never said anything about Steven’s fall.
Monster Movie Club became a monthly event at Club 57 and New Wave Vaudeville was a big success for everyone, but me, since I had fought with the band members of Blondie. They were even more of an asshole than me.
Alice and I broke up at the end of 1979.
I was at fault for not knowing what I had.
I ran into Steven Kramer several times. He stared at me with distrust. He couldn’t place me in his universe.
One night at the Mudd Club he hobbled up to me. The fall had been bad enough that Steven resembled Truman Capote more than Orson Welles, mostly because he never gained Orson’s weight.
“I know you from some place.”
“No, not really.”
“No, I want to know.”
I refused to answer him, but he grabbed my leather jacket and repeated, “I want to know.”
“I was the person who turned you on your back.”
He looked in my face and walked to his wife without comment.
Later I related the story to Anthony.
“Just goes to show you that all good deeds will go to be punished.”
And that’s the damned truth, but I was glad to have helped someone meet the future.
Maybe one day someone would do the same for me.
ps sadly Steven Kramer passed away last week at the Sundance Film Festival.
We will be missed by friends and family and those he never knew.