EUNICE, PART TWO
All Original Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
Some Images are Copyright HAROLD CHAPMAN
And so, after a year in hospital, Eunice was back where she began, in Dover again. Needing to recuperate, she was a prisoner in her childhood bedroom, where a coal burning fireplace supplied the only heat, and one had to get fully dressed, each night, to go to sleep. Then some of her old friends appeared, and set her free. Dover had a small group of unique individuals who were considered to be the town’s intellectual elite. They came to Eunice’s rescue, and included her in all their activities, even though, she was in a cast from hip to toe, with crutches.
The core of the group consisted of Ron Sheridan, a writer and photographer, who inhabited a converted school house, on an estate, just outside of Dover. Ron lived with his paramour, Jillian Harrison. Jill remained Eunice's friend until her death, in 2001. She was an artist and print maker, and also a professor at Exeter College, Oxford. She later did several exchange teaching programs at a college in New Hampshire. Jill visited us often, here in Beacon. She had a daughter by Ron, named, Deri.
Ron, was small and cocky, but not Cockney. He also happened to be Jewish. Even though, he was of the same ethnicity as the lower half of me, I found him to be pushy, and exceedingly obnoxious. Here he is, kidding around with Eunice, who is clad in a toga, fashioned from a bed sheet. This photograph, like most that you will see on this page was taken by Harold Chapman.
I first met Ron when he traveled to Paris to surprise Eunice. He pounded on our hotel room door, one afternoon, unannounced. Surprise! We were "baisant", at the time. Well, it would have been hard to find a time when we were not. Eunice wrapped the sheet around her, which, ironically, had been standard attire at Ron’s school house, and let him in. I covered myself with a pillow. He sat on the bed and chatted away for hours, like he had no idea what we were up to, and didn’t notice we were nude. I was not amused! I don’t think he cared for me either. Before Eunice left for America, Ron tried to dissuade her by proclaiming that I was a collector, and she would just be another toy in my collection.
Ron also, visited us in Beacon, years later, again, dropping in out of nowhere, just passing through. And he was still as abrasive as ever. But Eunice was very fond of all these friends. They had taken her under their wing, and saved her from enduring months on her own, at home in bed. They picked her up every day, and included her in all their fun and games.
The one member of this group, who quickly became Eunice's favorite and her best friend, was the crazy free-lance photographer and journalist, Harold Chapman, who you have already met. Harold was a Wild individual, and great Fun. Harold's relationship with Eunice was close, but brotherly and platonic. They really were the Best of friends. Harold was always the man behind the camera. It's rare that he himself was ever photographed. Here he is in his famous room at 9 Rue Git-le-Goeur in Paris, taking a 1958 "selfie." And, captured, on the right, without his glasses.
Harold bounced back and forth from Paris to Dover. Back in Dover, he got Eunice into all kinds of adventures, even though, her leg was in a cast. The story, claiming she was the founder of a Society for the Sustentation of Superstition was just one of many. After articles appeared in all the papers, showing Eunice, holding an Easter Island Mask, she got crazy fan mail from weirdoes, worldwide! Here, she is out in the graveyard, maintaining the legend that there really was a Society for the Sustentation of Superstition.
When Harold and Eunice were on their way to Paris, Eunice had been asked to dispose of the ashes of a friend, who she had met in physical therapy. She agreed to fulfill his dying wish, which was for her to carry his ashes to Paris, and sprinkle them on Chopin’s grave. Just as Harold and Eunice were passing through the customs inspection, on the dock in Dover, the young man's parents, suddenly, showed up. Apparently they had changed their minds, and thus, his father grabbed the ashes. They were accompanied by the police and a battery of reporters, who had been tipped off, ahead of time. The next day, front page headlines appeared in all the newspapers, screaming: "A Mother’s Plea: Give Me Back My Son's Ashes!" with photos of Eunice, looking surprised. It was not beyond Harold to capture the event in photos, and then sell the article to the papers. He was incorrigible, but Loveable.
Apart from photographing the legendary denizens of the Beat Hotel, I could easily believe that Harold’s favorite subject was Eunice. He produced an endless stream of photos, capturing her many moods. This one was always one of my favorites. It shows her bright and exuberant side. I have often gazed at these images over the years, as if by absorbing them, through the portals of my eyes, I could embrace and participate in her previous life, and, in effect, turn the back the hands of time.
Harold had a rather famous little auto. The decorations on it were painted by Eunice. I failed to mention that she had attended art school. Here we see her with her hair down. Jill is on the right, and between them, just peeking over the hood, is her daughter, Deri. Harold, who is in the driver's seat, later took the car to Paris, and often parked it at the end or Rue Git-le-Coeur.
Eunice's other Great Friend, and a member of the inner circle, was a rather rowdy good-natured fellow, named, Bod Bowles. He owned a Pub called "The Grapes." Bod loved and played Dixieland Jazz. He idolized both Louis Armstrong and Eunice. This relationship remained platonic, through her choice. Nonetheless, he asked her repeatedly to marry him.
Bod later changed the name of his pub to "The Louis Armstrong," with Louis' blessing and permission. The Louis Armstrong became something of a legend and Jazz landmark in England.
I never met Bod, but he continued to correspond with Eunice, throughout his life. He frequently sent us his recordings, and occasionally called long distance. He married Eunice's friend, Jackie, and they had two daughters. Bod passed away, a few years ago.
When Eunice was still on crutches, she met, and was perused by an American, staying in Dover, his name was “Bear.” He came to her house nearly every day. He would sit around and chat with her parents, go out drinking with Alex, and take Eunice out. Being in that body cast, she couldn't get into too much trouble, and she usually managed to steer him in the direction of the schoolhouse, to hang out there. Her friends didn't care for Bear. He was definitely not their type. He entreated Eunice to marry him, and presented her with a ring. On the day that he went back to America, she finally said “OK”. Back in Soux City, Iowa, he sent her an Airline ticket. But she had changed her mind, and didn't go. Bear returned to England to fetch her, but she continued to refuse. Then he proposed to one of Eunice's girlfriends and married her instead. The wedding took place in Dover; Eunice attended, on her crutches. And they all remained Friends.
Next, Eunice, reportedly, met a French Count, named, Pierre. He invited her to "visit him" in Paris, when she was able to walk again. A short time later, Eunice was just beginning to get around, without her cast. She decided to celebrate by going on Holiday in Paris with Harold. She would stay with him at his room at 9 Rue Git Le Coeur. So, off she went to France for an extended holiday to celebrate her freedom from two years of confinement, and, most likely, look up Pierre. Paris is only a short trip from England. Eunice had been there several times with Stefan Knapp.
When I met Eunice, she had not yet contacted the “Count.” For some reason she was in no hurry. He wasn't a piece of fiction, nor, according to her, was he Prince Charming. He was a real person, not terribly attractive, with a stuttering problem. But she and Harold did take a weekend trip to visit the estate of another of her suitors, a wealthy Frenchmen named Rene Vissot, who planned to take her on a trip to some exotic place. In retrospect, I have, sometimes, mused upon the theory that, at that moment in time, the stars were perfectly aligned, for once, in my life, in my favor. Years later, Eunice offered me, this backhanded compliment. She said: “The night we met, you were definitely the best looking man in the room! Then again, there were only two black men and Ken!”
One morning, after we had been together for several weeks, a letter arrived from my Mother. We lay in bed, and read it. The letter informed me that she was “Broke!” Her world had crumbled. She had "lost everything!" All the property was gone, and she was, not only, going to have to sell the house and the Cadillacs, but she was going to have to "SCRUB FLOORS." Furthermore, I had to RETURN TO DETROIT, IMMEDIATELY, and “GET A JOB” to SUPPORT HER! My world crumbled too!
I'm not joking! That is what she wrote. And like an Idiot, I believed it. And, part of me was even eager to go and get a paper route or something. At last, for the first time in my life, here was a valid need to get a job. My moment had arrived! I thought about my mother's lifestyle; she won and lost more money, every week, playing canasta than I was capable of earning as a young "commercial artist" in Detroit. God knows, what I would do in Detroit to support her. But, I had no choice, but to return there.
Verta had returned to America, several months before. And Bob planned to go back, too, in about a month's time. I decided to return on the Queen Elizabeth with him. We booked passage together. Eunice and I had 30 days remaining, and we made the most of them. I promised to send her an open-ended round trip ticket to join me in America, as soon as I knew where I stood, and where I would be living. It would also take her some time to get a visa. There was nothing mentioned about marriage. This was Paris; we were living and loving in the heart and heyday of the Beat Generation. With each passing day, we had passively, unconsciously, and comfortably, become Beatniks. Marriage was neither thought about, nor mentioned. This year in Paris had been transformative. I had left “The World of Supposed to Do” behind me. Now, Fate and falsehood, beckoned me to return to it again.
The minute I met Eunice, I disappeared off of the face of the Earth. Meanwhile, even though, Verta had gone back to America, Bob didn’t miss her, or my company, as he had met a Swedish girl, who he was dating. He poetically described one outing in the forest. It terminated with a graphic description of waves crashing on rocky coastline, the standard symbolism for romance, in a 1940s movie.
One day, for old time’s sake, Eunice and I, actually got out of bed, and went with Bob to the Swiss Market. It was similar to the Paris Flea Market, but much closer in town, not far from the Eiffel Tower, and open only one weekday a week. Below, is the only photograph of Eunice and I together in Paris. It was taken, there, at the Swiss Market. I have no idea who took it, or how we got it, after it was developed. As far as I can remember, Bob didn’t have a camera. Therefore, It is a mystery. On this one excursion, away from Rue Mazarine, we found a lovely bisque doll. I bought it as a gift for Eunice. It resembled her in many ways. She is holding it in the photo. If you look carefully, you can just make it out. When I went to back to America, she insisted that I take it with me to help me remember her, until she could be there in person. As if I needed a visual aid!
We made the most of the time that we had left, living and loving life to its fullest, right up until the final moment of the final day. Then, Eunice, Bob, and I went to the train station together. The massive quantities of possessions I had collected had been sent ahead. I had been to this very station with Bob once before, as we bid “bon voyage” to Verta, when she returned to the USA. Now, it was our turn to catch the train for the Port of Cherbourg, where the Queen Elizabeth was waiting.
This was a sad occasion. Eunice and I vowed to remain faithful. We were determined to meet again in the USA. But we also knew, deep down inside, that life came with no guarantees. And there was no way to say, with certainty that fate would cooperate, and allow us to decide our own destinies. And so, we bid each other "au revoir," for what we hoped and prayed would not be the last time. I was also bidding goodbye to Paris, the one place on Earth, where I had been, and perhaps would ever be, deliriously happy.
As the train pulled out of the station, I leaned out of the window and waved, as one does in that familiar scene, portrayed a million times in movies. And there on the platform, growing ever smaller as she diminished, and finally disappeared into the distance, Eunice continued to wave back at me. I could see that she was crying.
The trip back on the Queen Elizabeth was HELL. It stormed all the time. All the chairs and tables were bolted down. No one showed up for meals, except Bob and I. The storm didn’t spoil our appetites. And it was sort of fun, passing condiments to each other, by setting them down, and watching them slide. Apart from eating, there was nothing to do. Bob acted like it was all my fault. He set his sights on a young Indian girl, who never left the side of her ancient chaperone. He obsessed over her, day and night. The horrible highlight of this journey was when Bob insisted we go swimming. At this point, I was willing to go along with anything to placate him. God knows, what we used for bathing suits.
This misadventure turned out to be far worse than Survival Class at Pratt! This being June, even with the storm raging, one might imagine a luxurious pool on the deck of the ship, with maybe even a palm tree or two. Think again! I certainly had second thoughts, when we actually saw the pool. It turned out to be a huge metal tank, made out of stainless steel, like something a giant might cook fries in. And it was located in the very bowels of the ship, in what appeared to be the boiler room. This enormous silver vat was at least twenty feet deep. One had to climb down a ladder twelve feet to reach the water. It wasn’t hard to see why it had been made this way, for when the ship rolled from side to side, as the storm around us raged, the water in the pool behaved like one enormous wave.
I can’t believe we were brave enough to climb down into it. Whenever the ship tipped, at one end of the pool, the water would rise, right up to the full height of twenty feet, and spill over the rim. Then, when it tipped the other way, we would, suddenly, be left, standing in water that was ankle deep. It was actually sort of fun, in a nightmarish way, rising and crashing with each wave. Then, ten minutes into this surreal ordeal, the giant wave washed me right over the edge and out of the pool. And that was it for me! Swim time was over. Bob, grudgingly, left the pool too, even grumpier than before.
When we, finally, arrived in America, My Mother and Aunt Loris had driven to New York, and were waiting at the pier to pick me up, and all my stuff. Thank God for Aunt Loris! In spite of her obsessive, and incessant psychotherapy, she always seemed to me to be the one sane member of the family. Verta was also there to meet us. She greeted Bob and me both, with many hugs and kisses. It was a joyous reunion.
The car was soon packed to overflowing with my stuff, a huge old Louis Vuitton steamer trunk, crammed full of vintage toys, my gigantic paintings, all rolled up. I had also acquired three life-sized dress mannequins, one being a circus fat lady, size 50+, the other a man with beautifully articulated wooden arms and hands, and the last, a 5 year old child, with no arms at all. Bob stuffed Verta's vehicle with tubas, but still had room enough to kindly take my mannequins to the house that Verta had rented in Philadelphia, for me to pick up later. A full-sized carousel pig, studded with mirrors, went to Detroit with me.
Then Leila, Loris, and I got in the car and drove 800 miles, without stopping, all the way to Detroit. All they talked about for the first several hours of the journey, was the fact that they had just seen me kiss a black girl! I had never heard a word of such bigotry, uttered by anyone in my family, all the while that I was growing up. Where was this coming from? I was absolutely stunned! Thus, both America and cold Reality hit me all at once! Smack! Right in the kisser! The sickening feeling in my gut told me that I was not in Paris anymore. I was Home again! Home alone!
A year later, when Eunice and I were living in Ann Arbor, she got a letter from her girlfriend who married Bear. She was living in Iowa, and loving it there. Her big news was the fact that they had just repainted the shutters on their ranch style suburban home, and that made all the neighbors happy! Just think; that life could have been Eunice’s. I don’t know about you, but the thought of getting excited over newly painted shutters makes me shudder!
From time to time, Harold aimed his lens at studies of a more artistically uplifting nature. This, too, is one of my all-time favorites. Here, Eunice bares her assets for the camera, revealing the fact that she is more than just a pretty face. The provocative composition, titillates the eye. And the dramatic lighting is exciting.
Harold had a friend named, "Jean." He called her, “Hairy Scratches,” for some reason that Eunice could never figure out, but he called her that, only behind her back. She was a occasional visitor at the schoolhouse, and wore a bed sheet toga too. But, here, she's wearing a bathing suit.