It was one of those crystal-clear evenings in the late winter of 1969. My mother, my brother, and I had recently moved into a new high-rise apartment building in Forest Hills, Queens, with a spectacular view of Manhattan.
I was sitting in our new bedroom with Arlene, a friend who’d stopped by after our last class at Forest Hills High School. We could see the entire skyline from my bed by the window and watched the sun set over Manhattan. Arlene gazed at the city lights as I passed her the joint.
All of a sudden, on the other side of the bedroom there was a stirring beneath a huge, homegrown pile of rubble. It was as if this unidentifiable mass of a mess had taken on an animated life of its own.
“What’s that!?” Arlene asked in a hushed but urgent tone; she was ready to bolt should the inexplicable commotion continue.
“Oh, that’s my brother,” I answered, deadpan.
On one side of the bedroom by the window was your average teenage mess, plus a few oddities: a skinny ten-inch-long mirrored hash pipe made by Mexican Indians; an eight-track tape deck; an issue of the East Village Other; a copy of How to Talk Dirty and Influence People by Lenny Bruce; and some guitar picks.
On the other side, my brother’s side, was the pile.
It had levels, or more like tiers: clean and dirty shirts; pants, socks, and assorted underwear; a pair of brown suede, calf-high fringed boots (like the ones Ian Anderson wore on the cover of the Jethro Tull album Stand Up); all covered by a huge Afghan shepherd’s coat. Below, in another layer, were records, newspapers, rock magazines, and wrappers and boxes from various food groups, all surrounded by dishes, cups, and glasses that doubled as ashtrays, containing liquids that had created multicolored foam—beer-mug-type heads that had risen up to and above the rims of the glasses.
Sheets and blankets snaked their way in and out of the living sculpture. An unseen mattress lay on the floor supporting the escalating geological wonder that was my brother’s side of the room.
“Uh, are you sure that’s him?” Arlene asked, somewhat confused, in that I hadn’t even glanced over in the direction of the mysterious mass. “I don’t see anybody.”
“Yeah, that’s him,” I replied, “unless there’s a new tenant in there that I don’t know about.”
Arlene giggled, half genuinely, half nervously.
Hearing our voices, my brother cleared through enough of the debris to pop his head up and see what was going on.
His sunglasses were already on.
They were rarely off.
“Hey, how ya doin’?” he said to Arlene. They’d seen each other around the neighborhood.
“I’m okay,” Arlene said to my brother. “Did we wake you up?”
Looking out the window and seeing that it was almost dark, my brother replied, “No, no, that’s okay, I was up.”
As he started to clear his way out of the heap, we realized he didn’t have any pants on.
Arlene said, “You know, I kinda gotta get goin’. I told Alan I’d stop upstairs.”
“Yeah,” I said. “My mom will be home soon, anyway.”
I moved to the middle of the room to shield Arlene’s view.
I didn’t have many girls come over after that.
My brother—the guy without the pants—lived on to become Joey Ramone, with quite an amazing story.
I lived on to tell it.
© 2009 Mickey Leigh