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]


BT said...

More bombs in Gaza. Rockets into Israel. Cops throwing down bad guys.

And then to read this.

Thank you doesn't say enough.

8:09 a.m. said...

This is haunting. This ought to be put in a book and/or a film.

Anonymous said...

Her beautifully written remembrances brought tears to my eyes.

creature said...

Pamela is one hell of a writer.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful tribute. And isn't it amazing how much his self-portrait in the 1968 diary so closely resembles the most recent photo of him?

nygrump said...

a million stories in the big city, look around at your neighbors and say hello, slow down, stay awhile.

Anonymous said...

A very beautiful post. Thank you EV Grieve. And Miss Pamela, thank you for your memories.

I'm so, so happy nice, honest and kind people like the super and the neighbor exist.

If I may be so bold, may I suggest maybe some things could be donated to local theaters. When I was evicted from my East Third Street home last year, I donated my large mirrors to Theater for the New City, to use on sets and in the dressing rooms. They had some damage after Sandy.

My eyes are welling up now, so I'm going to post this. RIP Michael.

Former East Villager

EV Grieve said...

Thanks @anon 9:05!

Good idea about donating stuff to local theaters, especially given that Michael was an actor.

The resident did donate some of Michael's (many) suitcases to a theater set designer.

Anonymous said...

You are a good person.

Romy said...

This is wonderful. I'm very glad to know about Mr. Brody. People like him make the spirit of the city.

Anonymous said...

This is the best post you've ever published Grieve.

Anonymous said...

Pamela's letter is very beautiful. To be remembered like that you have to have done something right.

Anonymous said...

Very touching.

Anonymous said...

This story and the fact that Dr Dave was able to raise over $30,000 in less than 5 days to keep his office open gives me some hope that this neighborhood may survive with some integrity.

After all the annoying people move back to the burbs or elsewhere to breed, there may be the rest of left to look back on the drunk invasion of the 2000s and 2010s.

Alternatively we may all get priced out, too.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know Michael but because of his story, I will always remember him...

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and moving, pure love in Pamela's writing, releases memories of my own of the neighborhood in the early 70s.

The old macrobiotic restaurant she remembers is probably the Cauldron, as she says, which I think was on 6th Street, though it could also be the Paradox, which I think was on 7th Street and which I think was first.

For some time at least the Cauldron was run by a handsome Orthodox Jewish man.

Virginia Kelley

Anonymous said...

Very touching.

And wow, he has a beautiful apartment!

marjorie said...

I'm teary too. Thank you, Miss Pamela, for your wonderful reminisces -- not only of Michael but of a halcyon East Village. And thank you, Grieve, for bringing us Michael's story. I agree with the commenter above -- between the love for Michael and the reporting of this blog and the outpouring of support for Dr Dave, I have good feelings about my neighborhood today.

Unknown said...

I believe he was a neighbor at one pint. Did he live on the 100 block of First Street?

JAZ said...

God that was fucking great.

Giovanni said...

Amazing. Just amazing.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Thank you so much for sharing this.

bowboy said...

maybe Tamara at FAB could redistribute remaining items to theaters in the area through the Load-Out program?

Richard A said...

Thinking about the Paradox and the Cauldron... and remembering how when I arrived in the East Village the area was defined for some of us by places like that and people like Michael. Thank you all for having been here.

DrBOP said...

Ain't humanity grand sometimes?

Props to all.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely perfect. First post I've ever saved.

Galwegian said...

Thanks Grieve. The best journalism I have read in a long time, on a hyperlocal blog. Maybe this is the way of the future.

Anonymous said...

i agree-Pamela, tell the story. It sounds wonderful and you tell it so beautifully.

Maybe that's what he left you.

Riffchorusriff said...

This is the most moving piece you've ever posted. Thanks for really making my night!

Pamela said...

The very first macrobiotic restaurant was The Paradox. So was Michael.
It was the cheapest place to eat then, so artists, dancers, actors, students, Hare Krishna followers, students, etc. ate there & the conversations were like none other....a new world emerged.

Stay true to the 'hood. Back in the day, late 60's, was raw and pushing up like buds from a twig after a long winter. Don't get jaded. Magic's afoot. Treat the children well. I tutored Grant St. Settlement house kids....is it still around? Changed all our lives.
Glad to share.

pinhead said...

One would hope to be remembered so vividly and fondly. Thanks, Pamela.

Anonymous said...

So many people spoke and wrote this way then, we were all so well-ejucated by the public schools. I'm 60 now but always hung out with older people in that same era, so feel as if I've known and lost Michael. And gained Pamela!

This is just a wonderful tribute

Anonymous said...

Thanks EV, really beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I thought about this query all week and reached out to a few people, to no avail. Pamela's tribute to Michael is so heartfelt -- it really is a wonderful thing to read -- and reminds me that behind each door is a story, a rich and complex story...

MNapoli said...

Good to read and remember Michael, again.

Wide Awake Ancestors said...

Just want to say that Michael's ghost visited me last year, in a leafy green form, looking young and sort of country. Maybe he appeared because so many people wrote about him on this blog.
I almost didn't recognize him, he was so sweet and sincere, doffing his hat. Not the usual insouciant, detached observer.

In the 60's, I'd flown back to NY from S. California, a giant bundle of fresh picked yellow gladiolas grown by Japanese farmers around my childhood home in arm for the successful opening of a play he was in, and he was uncharacteristically refused them, giving them back to me. It took me awhile to realize he was off to another woman. And another....such a little womanizer! I felt like a fool. In those early days of Free Love we were all free to have our hearts broken.

Seeing some old photos, one of a young woman he was smitten with, and talking to Uncle Ted, I realize now that his heart had been broken and he yearned for his mate as did I him. What are the odds of any of us consummating passion a whole life long?

One time I took the red eye from San Francisco to NYC just to spend New Years Eve with some well off swells, dancing the night away til dawn, at the best clubs and restaurants, then catching the red eye same day back to the Left Coast. I'd parked a Tibetan tulku at Michael's apartment to go partying, and when I went back to fetch him he said, "Your friend Michael is too philosophic. He needs to integrate into life more. It's not enough just to know. Wisdom needs to be mingled in action with others."

I told Michael but of course he disregarded it, insisting he knew everything, didn't need anything, cracking jokes about the Dalai lama, (as he did back in the 60's) and other cosmic cracks.
I didn't know that he'd been reading Buddhist texts all those long decades.

While in the City in 1991 during the Kalachakra initiations at Madison Square Garden I couldn't' get him to come out to hear the Dalai Lama and other lhigh lamas, no matter how I cajoled and begged. He was happy, however, to turn me and my Californian retinue on to great lower east side restaurants, but was unmoved by our pleas to join us. Such a stubborn man!

He came to Big Sur in the late 80's when I had a shop there. but he was as evanescent there, as hard to hold as steam, and it just seemed like a dream that he'd passed through. He was staying with Uncle Ted in S.F.
He made me feel naive. Had to tell me the reason that my neighbors, where I lived in an Airstream 5 miles down a dirt road were hostile toward me was that they were dope growers and they thought I was straight.
I'd just thought they had the Big Sur Ornery Neighbor Syndrome virus.

If I hadn't been so surprised when I saw his ghost, I'd have bided a wee. I'd still like to just call him up.

Fiona said...

I met Michael when he and Ron Gold were performing at the Asolo Theater in Sarasota Florida during my time at New College of Florida. We became good friends and later lived in the experiment at Cloud Farm on the Delaware Water Gap. Michael was endlessly entertaining and a sweet soul. I had tried in the past few years to try to discover where and how he was without luck. So sorry to have missed making contact before he passed away. Thanks so much for this lovely remembrance of him.

C. Soehl

Unknown said...

I have returned to this article about Michael several times....it is a balm to my soul to read about him here....to see that others knew him and shared this feeling of love for him.
He and I lived together on and off for 7 years....that apartment on e.1st street was a haven for me and every inch of it was dear to me.....I returned to it over the years when I visited New York, sitting at Michael's little kitchen table , chatting with him over coffee as if no time had passed.The years rolled on, but still he was always there, the same apartment, the same peyote cactus growing in his window, getting bigger and bigger over the years....the same phone # for 40 years.....the most stable thing in my life was him !
It is 4 years now since he passed away ......I think of him often and feel the large empty space in my heart that he occupied for so long . No one could ever replace him.
Michael, you were strange, and wonderful and loved by many !