Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Remembering Michael Brody
Last Monday, I posted an item about Michael Brody, a longtime East Village resident who died on June 8 of lung cancer at age 71.
The super of the East First Street building where Michael had lived for 40-plus years was seemingly left in charge of taking care of his possessions. The super, who was good friends with Michael, invited another building resident into the apartment to help him figure out what to do with Michael's belongings. At the time, the two were unsure if anyone had been in Michael's apartment in recent weeks.
The resident, who asked not to be named in this post, was able to track down several of Michael's friends. The resident found a diary from 1967-1968 featuring prominent mentions of a Pamela. Turns out that there was also a postcard from 2010 on top of his refrigerator with Pamela's last name and address. The resident ended up finding the right Pamela in California on the first attempt via email.
In the days that followed, Pamela shared a series of touching and beautiful stories about her relationship with Michael in the East Village in the late 1960s.
Pamela gave me her permission to share her stories about Michael.
"I want his presence remembered," she said.
Michael was my first boyfriend, a real love of my life, when I went to NYU film school in 1966-68 — straight out of high school.
It's a funny story how we met. I rolled into the Bleecker Street Cinema, stoned or tipsy, and mistook him standing in the lobby with friends. I gave him a big kiss, saying “Tom! I’m sorry I’m late.’”
He and his friends just twinkled, and without missing a beat, he put his arm in mine and ushered me into the movie, smooth as a tango dancer. We were inseparable from then on.
He introduced me to his roommate as Uncle Ted. He was younger than him, a rosy-cheeked, handsome young man with blazing blue eyes who chased ballerinas ... who he’d met traveling in the Cedars of Lebanon in their salad days after college, exploring for Kief and hash.
Michael was a good actor then. I always urged him to keep going out for parts, but something made him give up. Such a loss. He was born to act. He was quite brilliant. Used to read Samuel Beckett to me as bedtime stories ... one of the only people I’ve ever met who made me laugh and appreciate the great writer. He turned me on to the I Ching too, which I used for years.
He disappeared for the better part of a year. I couldn’t find him anywhere, and felt utterly bewildered. Uncle Ted was mum. I figured he went off with some other woman. He’d actually been in jail, busted for picking up some bricks of Mexican pot to sell. He never explained it, but jail bit deep into his spirit.
He was too hard on himself. Though of course he’d disagree. His sense of irony and disdainful ennui was unparalleled.
He was from Hammond, Indiana, and I think in the Big Apple, it might have given him an inferiority complex.
He was an old, old soul. Love of my life. Forever dear to me. He was one of a kind, never to be duplicated. Deep, subtle, too smart for his own good. I could never un-love him.
I was thinking about a macrobiotic restaurant we used to go to, the very first one in the East Village. We went because it was cheap, just rice and vegetables, can’t recall the name — The Cauldron or something like that. So many great conversations with actors, writers, artists, etc. eating there.
Walking home we’d join the dancers in front of the Swami Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada sitting on his stoop, hipsters goofing around, ecstatically getting high naturally. The Electric Circus on St. Mark's was a groove.
Michael taught me how to throw and read the I Ching. He taught me a lot about being present, detached, able to laugh, how to walk down the street. His perceptions of people were X-ray all the way and his ability to sound like a multitude of people as good as Robin Williams, without the frantic. His English voices make me laugh now. He was good with pompous. Sense of humor, mostly very dry, disdainful. He softened the older he got.
Memories of Michael are flowing like an underground river. He was a star shining in the daytime. He’d laugh at me for saying that, but in my life it's true. He was good to the core. A gentle soul in a harsh city … and we saw some of the best of it.
Every time I called Michael it was if no time had passed and we just picked up the conversation we’d left off a minute before.
I was just in NYC in May and called him before I came. We’d looked forward to seeing each other ... but he refused to see me when I came. I could tell it would hurt his pride if I just showed up. I guessed he probably was gaunt and felt like hell and figured he might even be too weak to go to the window and throw down the key.
When we said goodbye on the phone it was just like he always did, which made me cry, because we both knew … I’d been telling him for years to quit smoking. He thought doing Tai Chi made him invulnerable.
His hypersensitivity, depth of feeling and critical mind made him so private. Infuriatingly so. Stubborn and brilliant, his hurts and doubts kept so private, impenetrable. God I wish I could talk to him, see him once again.
In the days that followed the post, I heard from several of Michael's friends, including Uncle Ted. Several people had assured me that they had been in Michael's apartment after his death, collecting items, including some of his many diaries and journals, per his instructions.
The resident sent Pamela a diary, some photos, drawings, a pair of his sunglasses and a scarf.
"I'm so glad I found Pamela — I think the diary should be in her care," the resident told me. "They both started diaries around the same time, drawing self-portraits with each entry."
His apartment is now in the hands of the super. Some of the remaining things, such as clothing, will be donated to a homeless shelter. Some of the items will end up on the street — likely where Michael found them. One friend said that he picked up most of his furniture and odd-and-ends on the street. One diary entry from 1968 mentioned finding a hat rack with a description. The hat rack is still in the apartment.
"I wish though that the apartment was just preserved as is... and could be a museum," the resident said.
"I felt a little weird about going through his things and don't know whether or not that's intrusive or disrespectful of such a private person," the resident said. "I guess I'm a very curious person and wanted to figure out who my neighbor was."
[A recent photo of Michael courtesy of Lili Barsha]