CLASS NOTES: A fragment from Isolate Flecks: An Anatomy
THIRD IN A SERIES:
PARTS 1 & 2 PUBLISHED IN THE BROOKLYN RAIL, FEBRUARY/MARCH 2012
It was Leo Kaufman and Anton Harley’s fault that Lincoln Gom had it in for Shorty Andrews.
Anton married Becca Kaufman a few years after they graduated, she from Brown and he from RISD. Then, after ten years, a stalled career as a conceptualist, and two kids later, he had too many at Leo’s reception. Talked shit about Linc as a businessman, intimating he had been a gangster all along, with Shorty as his implied source. Harley didn’t go to St. Paul’s, so he didn’t know who he was dealing with. With whom he was dealing.
Vance Whitestone hated Shorty, too. But until he published Malachi Moore and all that Noir shit, no one really cared what he thought. Another former punk rocker wannabe making a go of indie publishing in Brooklyn. The son of an editor, I think. From Ho-Ho-Kus.
Lincoln Gom, in contrast, is a captain of finance, a Henry Ford of hedge funds, a lord of the land, son of a lower circuit court judge from Winnetka. Understands the feudal holdovers of ruling under capitalism, namely the acquisition of tracts of land: rivers, lakes, and streams: mountains, meadows and gorges: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah. Eco-preserves. Hunting grounds.
Youngest member of the Board of Trustees at St. Paul’s. Also on the Board at the Met. Buildings in New York, too, but that’s different. Good business. Never asked where my money was coming from, but he knew it wasn’t inherited. Gave me free advice, pointed me in the right directions.
From day one Linc had pegged Shorty as a potential leak, tolerating him only on the outer edge of his entourage. Said he was the type to give away trade secrets to the competition. Not that Lincoln Gom had competition in high school, where he monopolized drug and alcohol distribution and made fake IDs. If you wanted booze or drugs, you had to pay tribute. The party tax, he called it. Had tax and tribute collectors, Shorty included. Ran numbers on horse and dog races in Seabrook and Framingham.
But the prestige was in hotel parties and Shorty was free publicity.
To intimates, Linc confessed to owning a gun after losing more than $2,000 in a mushrooms deal turned stick-up. “I mean business,” he said, snorting a line of crystal meth and showing us what I remember as a .9 mm Beretta. “Packed and stacked, bitch. 45-fucking-magnum. We’ll see who’s hard now.” Recouped with a large shipment of ecstasy.
What we considered large.
Before starting out at Fidelity, where he managed $500 million in accounts before he was twenty-five, Linc went to Dearborn and majored in English lit., minored in European history, maybe, I’m not sure. According to what I heard from Anton Harley—whose younger sister went to Dearborn, I think—he continued with his business ventures in college. Took two of my father’s courses on European modernism. An assiduous reader, even at St. Paul’s. He especially liked Parkman, Prescott, and Gibbon.
My father said he had some knowledge of and interest in the world of culture and civilization. “Unusually cosmopolitan,” were his exact words. High praise from him. I suppose Linc had ideas about WASPs he got from short stories by people like Fitzgerald, Salinger, and Irwin Shaw. Or maybe movies. I doubt he had read Spackman, none of us had, but Linc thought you had to be refined, sophisticated, and well-read if you wanted to join their clubs or fuck their daughters.
Maybe that’s why he liked me. I knew otherwise. My father bemoaned the rise of the Sunbelt as far back as I remember. Said that left to people with banking, real estate, petroleum, and defense fortunes in states like Florida, Texas, and California, our country would eventually collapse, because those people could never run it the way Richard Hart and his generation had—men who rebuilt the world after total war had destroyed it. Educated men. Plenty of them OSS like Richard Hart.
That ridiculous servility of his. My grandfather and people like him sowed the seeds of our demise before the Sunbelt existed as such. Lucky my father was at Dearborn and not Columbia or Yale, and thus saved from the assault on the Puritans and WASP New England. The power elite that, even then, no longer ruled. Not really.
My father insisted that the new breed of rulers would run the whole business off the cliff by producing illiterate drones within their own class. When an elite can no longer guarantee the ability of its own sons and daughters to read and to think critically, then its days are indeed numbered. He always said that: “indeed numbered.” Prophetic in retrospect judging from the Columbia undergrads I had the displeasure of teaching.
Lincoln Gom may have known that this was wired into me and no one else.
Meaning no one else in St. Paul’s Class of ’93.
The profile of which needs filling out.
Vance Whitestone could actually sort of sing, and his guitar playing was good by our standards, but his lyrics—Jesus Christ. Bad does not begin … I won’t inflict them on you, can no longer recall them in any event. The sort of jackass who thought Dylan was on par with Whitman, Blake, or Picasso. Obsessed with Kurt Cobain and William Burroughs. Hated doing covers, always rehearsing his own “material,” he called it. Like Lou Reed at the Factory, he took a more-is-better approach to songwriting. Prolific if nothing else. “Penis Youth” being his most popular song.
Linc paid Vance and his band—Fullstop Throttle, or something like that—to play at parties. In kind rather than money, although the parties had cover charges. But Linc allowed Vance to be the star he felt he was destined to be. Vance then played beyond his abilities, for free, and everyone—or almost everyone—loved him. At least for the length of the party. After that he had to wait until the next one, since he was such a jackass. Even then.
Thus Linc kept Vance in debt.
Shorty Andrews did not make music, but he knew it and used it.
In fact, although no one ever said so—since Linc hadn’t said so—Vance Whitestone opened for Shorty at these parties. Once Vance finished, with a nod from Linc, Shorty would get behind the turntables. He spun mostly what Linc asked for—classic rock and hip-hop—but roots reggae was his thing.
Shorty had people dancing in trances. He and the coke and the booze and the ecstasy. Dillinger’s “Cocaine in My Brain,” Pharcyde’s “Yo’ Mom is so Fat.”
Shorty’s long proximity to New York airwaves paid off. Girls who ignored him—or worse, who knew he was a clown—would meet him at these parties and think he was somebody … different. Not as suburban as the rest of them. Meaning blacker than the black bourgeoisie, including Monroe and ZuZu Jefferson, who were leaving just as Leo, Linc, Vance, Shorty, and I were arriving. Monroe for Yale, I think, ZuZu for Brown.
In another setting, like Northern Highlands Regional, Shorty would have been ridiculed and Vance would have had the edge, but in Linc’s shadow Shorty shined. There were ghetto kids on scholarship, of course, mostly African-Americans from Roxbury or Harlem. A handful of Puerto Rican kids from the South Bronx, East Harlem, Bridgeport. Maybe a West Indian or two.
They might have known something about the music Shorty played, but were never invited.
Security detail removed Anton Harley from Linc’s perimeter, Becca screaming at them to get their fucking hands off her husband, Leo trotting over, face similar to a lobster in more than color, with his eyes receding into little black dots framed by an abundance of dark hair and densely webbed beard.
This is my fucking wedding, Linc! Get your fucking goons off my fucking brother-in-law. He’s just a drunk and a loudmouth, not a fucking security threat. I told you you could bring the goons, but I assumed you’d fucking potty-train them! You’re shitting all over my wedding, dude! It’s not cool.
The only time I ever saw Linc effectively silenced and visibly ashamed. Didn’t know he had it in him.
Linc respected Leo for being what he considered a real Jew from New York City (Leo wasn’t bar mitzvah’d. Circumcised, yes, like everyone else our age. You have to have showered with these guys as adolescents to really know them). Linc thought Leo had guts and street smarts—they were actually poses from TV and movies—although it’s true that when he was eleven, Leo had been mugged by teenage Puerto Rican girls, who spit on him.
Which counted for something.
Leo’s father was a cardiac surgeon who went to City College and Columbia Med. School, his mother a human rights lawyer who went to Barnard. They met downtown, at the Five Spot, in fact, soon married, and a few years after Leo’s father finished school, moved to the Upper West Side, eventually sent Leo to Collegiate then St. Paul’s.
Paternal grandparents worked in the garment district and had been Party members in Brooklyn in the 1930s and ’40s. Leo celebrated Jewish holidays with them in Coney and looked forward to the great debates: atheism vs. Judaism, Israel and the Palestinians, capitalism after the death of socialism. The aesthetic merits, or lack thereof, of Portnoy’s Complaint.
He ignored Linc’s business ventures, busy preaching the social gospel. He was close to the African-American reverend on campus, helped promote inter-faith dialogue and ecumenical encounters: Jews, Christians, and Muslims. A real peacenik—this after the first Intifada. On and on about Central America, the first Gulf War, inequality, homelessness, police misconduct. The inherent unfairness built into the structure of capitalism. Misogyny and patriarchy.
Leo the New York intellectual. Or his idea of one.
He was more spiritually and politically enlightened than the rest of us, to be sure. Probably knew that would never change. The only one who visited me in Berkeley, looking for what he called revolutionary hotties. The holy trinity: Galeano, Freire, and Neruda, some which he memorized. He could be pedantic. Especially once Subcomandante Marcos appeared on the scene. Shall we say.
But Leo knew who he was. And liked to pretend he was someone else. He was the Bill Wyman of Fullstop Throttle.
Did I mention that Leo and Vance wrote songs together? Leo even worse than Vance: all that Ginsberg, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow. Almost nothing else, besides Dylan and Hendrix. Must have been the key to their partnership. Pretentious, bombastic, loud. Never read To an Early Grave, much less Teitelbaum’s Window. He had an excellent amp, though. Leo couldn’t really play, mostly pretended to read music.
But he was the bassist. The songwriter working with the singer-songwriter. Without Leo, no band, if you let him tell it. But the truth is his assets were the amp, the bass, the hair, the beard (even then), the clothes—striped t-shirts, t-shirts with old logos, skinny jeans: all new then—the cigarette dangling from his lip … Leo played the part.
Not really acting. More like showbiz. No one ever mistook him for someone with musical talent.
Leo had a free pass to live the fantasy. Thank God, because unlike the rest us, he couldn’t play sports. None of them. A real disaster. Worse than music and poetry. Vance ran track, at least. Shorty was a champion water-polo player. Linc a lacrosse star. But Leo he had what he considered cool Fullstop Throttle t-shirts made up and handed out.
Girls loved them.
Meanwhile, he wrote poetry—reams and reams of it. Industrial in output. Some became part of the Fullstop Throttle repertoire once Leo and Vance had worked on them. Others went into Boxtop, which Vance edited with Duncan McKinnon. Others still were performed at school assemblies.
Got more pussy than Shorty Andrews or Vance Whitestone—had a budding Asian fetish then—and no one avoided him during the day, the way they did with Shorty and Vance.
Leo liked stimulants: tea, coffee, meth, coke, non-drowsy over the counter, and above all, bennies, which he got through Linc. Said his dad used them in med. school. Had his homework taken care of after dinner so he could write poetry, songs, and music from, say, 9 p.m. until 2 or 3 a.m. Vance was less disciplined than Leo, but unplugged, they would work on the progressions. Not that there was much to do: I-IV-V. Only so many combinations.
Leo was the only one who wanted to be closer to his family in college, so he went to Columbia.
Leo uptown, Shorty downtown.
Did I tell you they’re cousins?
Shorty chose N.Y.U. because it was still little more than a glorified commuter school that he could get into. That Jamaican record store in Alphabet City.
Long enough after the riots for it to be more than mere suicide, Shorty, who majored in—what else?—film, moved from the East Village to Crown Heights. Leaving behind a light heroin habit he picked up with Leo, he produced some solid dub records during the last Giuliani years, part of hip-hop-dub crossover.
Had first to convince everyone he was not a cop.
Moved to Williamsburg around the time Myles Crawford-Nanetti met Silvio Artifoni.
Got a woman pregnant, had a son whom he wasn’t allowed to see often.
And so on.
Then, after 9/11, he more or less followed Leo Kaufman out to Bushwick, bought a four-story walkup on St. Nicholas and Starr, fixed it up with his father’s money. Produced some of the neighborhood’s first indie bands and hipster porn in his basement, showed Murphy’s art on the ground floor yoga studio, which also had Shorty’s bed and bath, during Artwalk, Bushwick is Arts, Artists for Bushwick, DogwalkArts, Artsfair! Bushwick Renaissance.
Made short films that no one watched except at screenings in the neighborhood, which were well enough attended to make him a minor celebrity in 11237 and 11206.
A lot of shorts. A lot of screenings.
Used the second floor, connected to the first via a spiral iron staircase, for what he called R&R&R.
Roots, rock, reggae. Requisite for real relaxation. Readin, ritin, ritmetic. Rent checks, too. Tenants on the third and fourth floors. He got to see his son more often.
Sold some of the weed he harvested in Maspeth, stockpiled Adderall for himself and his girls, towered over the twenty-three year-old punketas with pink streaks sans public hair who wrote poetry and gave performances and plugged in their basses in the lofts I know and love; always writing or directing or acting or singing or dancing or playing drums in whatever Shorty was doing at the moment. They worked for him, and you had to be impressed by that.
It wasn’t like he was a real dealer. Just a heavy user. Only sold to select people he knew from the art scene or the old days. Asked little of the girls other than that they work. Sex almost an afterthought.
If Williamsburg was indeed an art cemetery, as Myles Crawford-Nanetti insisted, that was because the future belonged to Shorty and his ilk. He was always already at openings, friendly with this painter or that, this buyer or that, looming in his ridiculous urban gear, the sunglasses, the shoes and hats, the straps, the leather and the stripes, with Murphy in his arms or on a leash. Speak when spoken to. Understood his business and theirs.
His right hand lying across his crotch, his left twining around Margot Margolis’s left breast, Shorty Andrews attends, albeit somewhat absently, to the Atrocity Channel’s “Top 10 Torture Techniques through the Ages.” At his feet, sized 16.5, his Jack Russell Terrier, Murphy, barks and jumps and barks.
Margot removes his hand, collects herself and her accessories (hat, sunglasses, keys, Brooklyn Industries shoulder bag, bicycle pump), heads for the door. Malachi Moore, seated in Shorty’s massage chair, follows.
Tall and skinny, dirty blond dreads, a longish Fu Manchu beard in a braid, Shorty looks like a montage of Monk Mulligan and McClintick Sphere gone badly awry.
Worshipped Lee “Scratch” Perry, Osbourne Ruddock. King Tubby.
Shorty’s mother was Jewish, and her mother had lived through the family’s transition from brothels to silk factories in Paterson; much better than pogroms in Georgia or the ovens in Central Europe. Hence the guilt of the descendants. That’s putting it indelicately, I agree, but it’s pretty much what Shorty told me. (Unlike Leo, Shorty had been bar mitzvah’d.) Shorty’s mom painted some during and after college, showed promise—I saw some of them in their house like 20 years ago—but gave it up. His father was a radiologist from Newark who loved William Carlos Williams and wrote some short lyrics in the Irish-American grain, but gave that up for drink. They met in the Village, but moved to Upper Saddle River well before Shorty was born.
Sent Shorty to St. Paul’s.
43 St. Nicholas Ave.
Dramatis Personae: Shorty Andrews, Murphy, C3-PO.
Shorty. What’s good, son?
Nuff respect, nuff respect. Iman wanted fi livin good among me bredren, every dreadlock must endure, Jah! Rastafari, give tanks an praise fi da fruits of de earth, da fullness of de herb. Tryin to lower Iman profile inna 11237, but Horse’s Ass Studio blowin up, numbah one in da whole neighbahood. Da people know I and I.
The fuck you talking about, people know you? Ain’ nobody know you, Shorty. Ghost where I come from. MIA and shit. And cut that fake-ass Jamaican patois bullshit….
Chinese name Ching and Chung, Macintosh came from Scotland, Indian name Rajandabasta, Iman sure dat Smith no come from Africa oh no…Give I fi I name me bred’ren.
Too old for this shit, Shorty. You be 40 soon, you got seeds to feed…I don’t know…I mean, these whitekids out here onna frontier? Cowboys and Indians, man. Those movies, that music? Ain’t nobody listening, Shorty; ain’t nobody watching, ’cept for these low-rent motherfuckers. Ain’t no money in porn. Get that shit for free. You want skinny white bitches? Fat-ass black bitches, itty-bitty Asian bitches, Brazilian midget bitches. S’what the internet was invented for. It’s a real shame about you, man. You used to have skills. Need to get back to the roots. Make real movies an shit.
Pull up, pull up, pull up. Come again, come again. See. I and I nevah abandon da roots, protected by His Imperial Majesty Halle Sellasiae I, Jah! Rastafai negativity cancel by positivity, one love me bred’ren, one love. Rastaman nah stand fi brutality toward our sisters in womankind, pride an respect ya know.
Oh! Oh! Oh, that’s good! That’s good! This motherfucker be like Larry Flynt out here. Less go get that fresh crop. Shorty, yo, when you plan to get rid of these paintings? Make a funeral pyre, burn that shit, yo. Let your po’ dog live in peace, stop torturing her with all this art. Come here, Murphy. Come here, girl. Come to C3P. Oh yes, that’s it, come here girl. Ain’ nobody gonna buy that shit, Shorty. Much less these broke-ass mo’fuckers. Now, I take if off your hands for free you need me to. I admit, it’s uhhh … it’s
uhhh … it’s artistic an shit…
Tell me bred’ren that pound fi pound, Murphy da numbah one painter inna Bushwick today. Shorty dog pay da rent, tanks and praise.
Shorty you own this place. You don’t pay no rent. Collect rent more like it.
Jah! Ras Tafari. Notice I and I nah say hottest canine painter, man. Hottest painter, period. Murphy already ridin onna next bandwagon. Time you see it, already gone. Cuttin edge, mon. Mostly, though, Iman live in peace an armony with the Ecuadorian bred’ren, the Mexican bred’ren, the Guayanese…
Dey ain’t your bred’ren, Shorty. Dey ain’t even mine. And this neighborhood mostly Dominican and Puerto Rican, ask me. Mo’fucker don even speak Spanish, maybe buenos días señorita. Me neither. I’d ask them what they think all these whitekids runnin round. Used to be no-go zone for them out here, now’s open season on black and Puerto Rican. Mo’fuckers play for keeps. They best stay out Brownsville and Ocean Hill, yo.
FORREST HYLTON is an Associate Professor of History at the Universidad de los Andes, and the author of a bi-lingual novel, Vanishing Acts: A Tragedy, along with several books on Latin American history and politics. Beginning in September 2012, he will be a post-doctoral fellow at NYU's Tamiment Library, where he will be completing research for a book entitled 'Doing the Right Thing': Labor, Democracy, and Organized Crime on the Brooklyn Waterfront During the Cold War.