New York

December 1st, 2016

New York

After graduating from Elmhurst College, i spent a miserable month, living at home, and looking for a job in Chicago.  Every day I would take the train into downtown Chicago, and make the rounds of the employment agencies.  I didn’t really have any particular job in mind, and only a foggy conception of what having a job, now, might entail.

I was 21 years old, and eligible for the draft.  But I hadn’t been called up for the draft yet; there was no set time when that would happen.  Which really made me ineligible for any full-time employment; I could be called up at any time.  Employers were acutely aware of this fact.  One employment agency actually advised me to lie about my marriage status, to say that I was engaged and just waiting to get a job before getting married.  It was a miserable situation.

So when I met Behrent, I felt I had found a way out.  We met, of course, at a gay bar in Chicago.  Behrent was blonde (I’m a sucker for blondes); he was Dutch, actually from Holland, with an irresistible Dutch accent.  Behrent made all sorts of claims, like that he was a Jungherr (“young lord”), that he was from the finest folks, that he had been in the Dutch army and fought in Indonesia, all of which had to be taken with a grain of salt.  But he was blonde!  And undeniably cute.

His plan was to go back to Europe, and he invited me to go with him.  His plan was to hitchhike to New York, where we would get jobs aboard a freighter going somewhere near Europe.  I brought him home one weekend — my mother and father happened to be away.  Boggin saw through Behrent’s stories immediately.  But when our first attempt to hitchhike failed, she gave us the money for bus tickets.  We left the next day.

In New York, we got a room at the 34th Street YMCA.  I don’t know if staying at the YMCA is really all it was cracked up to be; we were so poor, and so down-right hungry, that there was no time for lolling around in swimming pools.

We had a little over 30 cents between us.  A hamburger at White Tower cost 15 cents; a token ln the subway cost 15 cents.  We went for the tokens, took the subway out to Queens, and got jobs at the 1964 World’s Fair.

I worked at a pizza place, dishing up pizza from a take-out place, where I didn’t know my pepperoni from greenpeppers — but  the pay, though low, included all you could eat, a god-send.  Behrent would come over for pizza or sausage heroes.  Behrent’s job was at an ice-cream place in the Dutch pavilion, so I’d go over there for dessert.

We worked every day of the week, long hours, and would get back into Manhattan quite late at night.  Some mornings, we’d walk over to the Hudson River, and cruise up and down the docks.  In those days, there were real ships that came and went, giant passenger liners.  We would dream and plot to get jobs aboard one of them.

We were walking through Times Square one hot summer night, when Behrent suddenly appeared very nervous: he’d seen two MPs — military police — who seemed to be following us.  Turns out Behrent was AWOL from the American Army.

I woke up the next morning, and Behrent was gone.  He had left a note: “Have gone to Philadelphia.  Meet me at the YMCA there.”

I was on a bus to Philadelphia later that morning.

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