Mel Birnkrant's
Mel Birnkrant's
All Original Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
Continue to NEXT PAGE                                Return to INDEX
          As the four years that we lived in the loft on 26th Street sped by, old friends continued to reappear in our lives.  My best friend from Pratt, Harley Wolfe was there for every holiday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas both.  He was virtually a member of the family.   Christmas entered Harleys life, solely because of us.  He embraced it reluctantly.  I remember back in art school, when everyone was singing Christmas carols, Harley would remain conspicuously silent, throughout the entire repertoire, until we finally got to the line: “Born is the King of IS-RAY-ELL!” and he would belt that out!  My mother traveled to New York for the holiday, that year, as well.  Here are a few photographs of our First Noel in what we have come to call, “The Old Loft.”
          It is amazing to see these long lost photos.  They are a study in selective perception.  At the time they were taken, our living area was located in the back.  That arrangement would be reversed a year later.  For now, the Christmas tree was adjacent to the hot water heater.  I can’t believe we didn’t notice that back then.  I certainly see it clearly, now, and cringe.  In those days, the Christmas spirit had an impact that overcame reality.  It is a treat to see the gifts we gave each other that first year.  It’s almost like unwrapping them again.  I can detect the beautiful Charlie McCarthy doll that Eunice gave me, as well as an American tin windup dancing couple.  On the pedestal table, is a purple and white chess set, carved of alabaster that I gave Eunice.  Fifty years, and many repaired pieces, later, the deep purple color has faded to pale lavender.
          Norbert Austen’s trip to Mexico in search of craftsmen to make tin ornaments resulted in his discovering and importing amazing Christmas baskets full of a mind boggling cornucopia of Mexican folk art.  I gave Eunice one of these surprise baskets for Christmas, the ultimate Christmas stocking.
           Eunice’s roommate from Paris, Benita Blau occasionally dropped by.  She was living in NYC, and became a reporter for NBC TV.   Another friend who I knew only slightly at Pratt, Ellen Kunsel,  now became a regular visitor as well.  She and Eunice became good friends.  Ellen had a darkroom, and, sometimes, we would spend the weekend at her apartment in Brooklyn, where she was kind enough to let me use it.  Harley often joined us there.  I was known to make the most of this rare opportunity by working in her darkroom all night long, while Harley left, and Ellen, Eunice and Samantha slept. 

Allan Thaler, an architect who Eunice met in Paris, after I left, and his girlfriend Sue Schachter, an author, became good friends as well.  As happens all too often, lately, searching for Allan on Google to make sure I was spelling his name right, I just now discovered that Al died in 2009.  Sue apparently is still alive.  They had two sons, and one granddaughter at that time.  I suppose, now that Al is gone, the strange role that I played in his life can be told.

Sue and Al had been dating for a year or more. The sort of stories that Sue wrote were romantic.  They appeared in ladies magazines like “Red Book.”  In other words, she hoped to one day get married.  Al, on the other hand, was not the marrying kind.  Sue had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get him to make a commitment for some time.  One day, apparently, for no apparent reason, Al, suddenly, broke up with her.  Sue was devastated!  That was when I did a “mind MELd” and got inside her head.  I have been known to do that sort of thing, from time to time.  While I was in there, I played the role of Cyrano, and wrote a love letter to Al.  Sue felt it was exactly right, and accurately expressed her feelings.  Therefore, she copied it in her own hand, and sent it to him.  Al’s reply was a marriage proposal.  And they lived happily ever after, together for the next 44 years. 

Another new/old friend was Herbert Kohl, a brilliant man, who Eunice and I both knew slightly from France.  Herb was a Harvard graduate, and an Oxford scholar.  I will never forget one magic night in Bob and Verta’s room at Number 9 Rue Git le Coeur.  On that memorable occasion, Herb mesmerized an admiring crowd by reading aloud from James Joyce’s Ulysses.  The sole source of illumination for that reading was the magic glow of the crazy fuchsia warning light, that Bob and I stole from a construction site.  When we left France, I took this rusty lantern with me.  It can be seen in some of the photographs included on this website.  It’s in the middle of the wall in the Christmas dinner photograph above.  Ironically, I came across this ancient memento in the basement, just last week, and for nostalgia’s sake, I carried it upstairs.  It still lights up, and radiates enchantment, after all these years.
         Now, in those lofty days, Herb became a close friend and frequent visitor.  He would often come over for the evening, particularly on weekends, and we would talk late into the night and early morning.  Well, Herb talked, I listened.  I have always loved the company of people more intelligent than myself.  God gave me just enough brains to be able to perceive that rare commodity, and enjoy it.  I was born with just enough intellect to recognize, and not to be intimidated by genius, and be grateful when such gifted individuals are willing to share their thoughts with me. I sit back, keep a low profile, and listen!  Eunice would get mildly pissed off, and retire early.  She harbored a theory that Herb was purposely trying to keep me out of bed with her.  Even when, later in the year, Herb got married, Eunice didn’t alter her opinion.  The friendship continued, and Herb and his wife, Judy often came to our loft for dinner and we in turn, went to their apartment for the same.  Judy made a lovely beef stew with wine in it that I greatly enjoyed.  I can almost taste it now.

          We also shared mutual friends, Joe Lelyveld and his wife, Carolyn who lived just around the corner from our loft. Their Daughter went to the same daycare as Samantha.  Joe had recently been hired by the New York Times.  He eventually went on to become its editor.  Herb and Judy, Joe and Carolyn, Mel and Eunice, occasionally got together over dinner.

Herb couldn’t quite figure me out.  Much of his career was about the testing of intelligence, and therefore he insisted that he and Judy, who was also clever, administer an IQ test to me.  I think Herb was trying to ascertain if I was worthy of all the time that he was lavishing on me.  I knew exactly what the results would be.  I was keenly aware that my strengths were visual, and that my math skills, or total lack of them, were miserable.  But taking the test was fun.  I could spot what image a dissected puzzle would make up, before the pieces hit the table, a hand, an elephant, etc. Thus, in some areas Herb was amazed.  On the other hand, the math half of the exam dragged me down.  In the end, I squeezed by with a score that was, just enough for me to qualify.  I could have told him that before the test began.

Although, there was no limit to what Herbert Kohl might have chosen to do in life, he opted to be an educator.  In 1962 he took a job teaching a 6th grade class of underprivileged kids in Harlem. They were privileged to have him for a teacher.  He later wrote a book about this experience, called, “36 Children”  Herb has authored many books since then.  “36 Children”  was illustrated by one of the thirty-six, Robert George Jackson III.

We first met Robert when he was eleven.  He was a somewhat shy young man who spent almost all of his time obsessively writing and drawing comic books. Today, these would be called Graphic Novels.  His stories were always about superheroes.  They were exceedingly well done, but there was one element about them that I found sad and troubling. This was the fact that all of Robert’s characters were white.  I wondered if that was because all the comic books that one saw back then were always about white guys, or if it was because Robert  had not an iota of Black Pride.  He certainly had ample reason to be proud, for he was awesomely talented. 

Herb asked me if I would be give Robert drawing lessons. I replied that I would do so, gladly.  Thus, every Saturday when Herb regularly took a group of half a dozen or more of his students on some sort of outing, the day would start out with the entire crowd, arriving at our loft, where they would drop Robert off.  Then, they would pick him up again, later in the afternoon.

Up to this time, everything that Robert had drawn, had originated in his mind.  He had never experienced the act of observing something that existed in real life, and attempting to translate and interpret it as a two dimensional image on a sheet of paper.

Each week, in preparation for his lesson, I set up a still-life, ahead of time.  It was made up of toys and objects that I found around the loft.  When I was in art school, the method by which I was taught, or not, was to present the students with a still-life, or a model, and from there, they were on their own.  We literally taught ourselves by trial and error.  With many students in the classroom, that was, most likely, the best a teacher could do.  Being able to work with Robert, one on one, I took a much more active role.  I sat behind him, and called his attention to everything that he was doing.  This might not have been a legitimate way of teaching, but I, more or less, talked him through each drawing, suggesting what to look for, and what to keep in mind.

It was a joy for me to watch this young man learning, at a rate of speed that was astounding.  All I had to do was point out something, and he would observe and execute it perfectly.  How amazing was he?  Below is the second drawing that he did with me.  Would you believe that up until that time, every drawing he had ever done consisted only of lines?  He had never observed or attempted to render light and shadow in his life. When I pointed out to him that the play of light across an object, when used to define volume, should be part of a drawing,  he grasped the concept immediately.  The amazing piece of art below is the first time he ever attempted shading.  I was so amazed and pleased with the result that Robert gave me the drawing.
          Robert’s drawing lessons continued for nearly a year, and he got better every week.  He was a far more adept draftsman than I would ever be.  One day, I included a cast iron bank of a black man in the still-life.  Robert was rendering it uncharacteristically badly.  The impulse came to me to ask him what he felt about the bank.  He replied, “I hate it!”  I said, ”Then, express that feeling in your drawing.”  The bank became ominous and scary.  Clearly, Robert had issues that ran deep.

I wish I could say this story had a happy ending.  But the fact is, I don’t know the outcome.  Suddenly, a man named Isaiah Robinson entered Robert’s life.  He was some sort of black activist, connected with the school system.  He had gotten wind of Robert's talent, and seeing it as proof of Black Superiority, even though, Robert had a family, Isaiah decided to adopt him!  Apparently, Isaiah had one son already.  Mr. Robinson was on the cutting edge of a movement to eliminate the odious writings of Mark Twain from the nation’s public libraries, and banish the evil entity, Huckleberry Finn, forever, because his story used the "N" word, and Huck’s friend Jim was a slave.  Isaiah Robinson was a man with a mission.

He insisted on visiting our loft to check us out.  Robert and I were working on a project at the time.  We were translating one of his comic book stories into a play for the toy theater.  Robert had been working on this for several weeks.  The hero, by the way, with subtle encouragement from me, had become black.

Isaiah entered our loft dramatically, with an air of self-importance and pomposity that would befit a lord high executioner.  After a few minutes of snooping around, he decreed that he found us and our lifestyle unsuitable, and deemed us a bad influence on his superior son to be.  Henceforth, Robert would never be allowed to visit us again, or have another art lesson with me.   We were delegated to the white trash bin, along with Huckleberry Finn.

Sometime later, Herb mentioned that Robert’s adoption wasn’t turning out as planned.  Apparently, Robert and Isaiah’s son of the same age didn’t get along.  The lad had accused Robert of chasing him with a knife, and Isaiah was considering throwing Robert back.  That was the last I heard of him. 

Today, I looked up Isaiah Robinson on Google.  What I found was his obituary.  I learned that he had become the first black president of the New York Board of Education, had one son, and three adopted ones.  He passed away in 2011, preceded by his wife and one of his children.  I couldn’t find anything about a son named Robert Robinson.  Robert George Jackson III, is only mentioned on Google, in regards to illustrating Herb’s book, “36 Children.”
           Around the time that I was working on the Outer Space Men, Herb and Judy moved to California.  We would never see them again, but they left a legacy with me, my beloved barber chair.

When Herb first married Judy, they moved into an apartment near Greenwich Village that was formerly a beauty parlor.  The previous tenant had abandoned an enormous old fashioned barber chair in their apartment, which Herb and Judy gave to me.  This complex and visually interesting contraption was insanely heavy, and quite lovely.  I can’t believe I managed to get it up five flights of stairs to the loft on 26th street.  And It has been with me, ever since.  Right now, it’s sitting here beside me.  This chair has always been a few feet from my desk, in two lofts in NYC, and up here in the country.

It was from this relaxing perch that I surveyed all the multitude of projects that I worked on over the years.  I did all my most creative thinking there.  It was like a second home to me.  All the creative endeavors of my life, every toy and doll design, beginning with the Outer Space Men, and all the Colorforms toys I engineered, were conceived and overseen, from the perspective of this versatile barber chair.  I did everything, but get a haircut there.
          Thinking of Al Thaler, and the barber chair, at the same time, brings to mind an incident that I’d prefer to forget.  Allan had invested in a curious device that, at the time, was in vogue, called a Relax-A-Cizor.  Today, this quack medicine machine is not only obsolete, but banned!  In fact, in 1971 the FDA declared it to be dangerous, and ordered the destruction of all units.  But in 1963, this Electrical Muscle Stimulator was still all the rage.  Al must have paid $400 for the thing.  His was the deluxe model that came, complete with everything!  

The device was claimed to reduce fat, and enhance one’s anatomy by shocking the muscles with jolts of electricity.  Wet pads were strapped or placed on the body, attached by cords to a variable power source.  Pads could be positioned on the stomach, thighs, arms, legs, etc., even the face.  Then, all you had to do was lie there, and shock yourself into a fabulous physique.  This machine was said to be used by the US Navy to provide exercise for men confined to submarines! 

The barber chair still sat just inside of our front door.  The ordeal of getting that 300 pound object up the stairs had been so arduous that when we finally dragged it through the doorway, I simply left it there.  I had not yet decided where to place it, nor had I quite learned how to operate it.  One lever allowed the massive chair to rotate; the other made it lean back by degrees.  In its extreme position, it tipped back completely, lying flat with the foot rest raised, so the barber could administer a shave.  In this position the barber chair no longer resembled a chair, but was rather like an operating table.  Now, after some initial fumbling, I managed to maneuver it into that state, as the Relax-A-Cizor instructions explained, one must lie completely flat in order to “Relax.”
My standard hot weather attire, suitable for both the sweltering heat of the loft, and frequent excursions to the roof to run the hose, in an attempt to cool it off, was an ordinary bathing suit, which l now removed.  Then, I climbed onto the fully reclining barber chair, and cautiously strapped a pair of dripping wet pads onto my legs.  When they were in place, I reached over to the control, and turned on the rheostat a little bit.  Yikes!  The sensation resembled the kind of electric shock one would get by inserting their finger into a light socket.  The Relax-A-Cizor, even at its lowest setting, delivered a powerful jolt of electricity.  This thing really meant business!  It was not for the squeamish. 

The waves of electricity were timed to come in measured surges.  And, to my astonishment, with each buzzzzz of electricity, the muscles in my legs twitched dramatically, and involuntarily, like a dead frog on a dissecting table, when electricity is applied to its rear legs.  I found this sizzling sensation to be mildly excruciating, but, at the same time, fascinating.  Determined, now, to grin and bear it, I turned the voltage higher.  Soon, my legs were kicking wildly.  Then, I shut the device off, momentarily, to add more dripping wet pads, one at a time; testing each to see if it was effective.  Through trial and error, my experiments methodically revealed which parts of my anatomy were muscles, and which, alas, were not.  I didn’t stop, until there were pads and wires everywhere, attached to any body part that would respond.

Then, with every available pad in place, I turned the electricity on again!  And every part of me began to twitch at once.  Then, bit by bit, I revved it up, until my entire body was bumping, jumping, thumping madly!  What a sight this must have been, a 6 foot 4 inch naked fatty, jumping wildly, as energy surged through, almost, every extremity of my body.  I closed my eyes and visualized a scene right out of Frankenstein:  the ornate barber chair, a maze of tangled wires everywhere, sweat, flying through the air, a monster, fuzzy as a bear! Then, suddenly, the barber chair began to rise up in the air, right through the open ceiling, and out onto the turrets of the Castle Frankenstein.  All around me, a thunderstorm was raging.  Enormous lightning bolts were flashing.  The kites were flying!  The electrodes on my neck were frying.  Not content, even with this, I reached out once again, groping for the rheostat, and turned the dial up even higher, insanely increasing the voltage to the point where I could bear no more.

It was precisely then, that Eunice, followed by the grocery delivery boy, walked through the door.  Now, looking back on this event, one of my “most embarrassing,” I do believe, in spite of all the electricity my body had received, the young man from the A&P was far more shocked than me!

Meanwhile, life in The Old Loft continued. Sadly, our friendship with Bob and Verta did not.  In Verta’s case, it simply faded, as Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor ambitiously pursued her career.  Verta  sought a bliss that did not include us, or Bob either, apparently, as she slowly, but surely rose to fame.  Our friendship with Bob, on the other hand, ended badly, cloaked in mishap and mystery.  A strange series of events, events that were purely circumstantial, and, I hope, unrelated to reality, contributed to its coming to an end.  Bob knew nothing about the little drama that was playing out among Eunice’s friends.  But no evidence cropped up to contradict the crazy premise that fate and this group of imaginative women created.  And its absence made the plot grow wilder.  This teapot full of tempest was intriguing at the time, but I’m glad that time was fifty years ago, and the answer to this mystery is one I’ll never know.

Before the above mentioned events took place, our mutual friendship continued.  Here are some photos of young Samantha and Kali together.  I can’t say that I remember this day, but I would have to have been there, behind the camera.  On this occasion, Eunice and I took the children to the Central Park Zoo.
         Allen hated the damned thing.  So, for a lark, he loaned it to us. This diabolical machine, housed in a serious looking suitcase, sat around the loft, untouched, for weeks.  Then, one swelteringly hot and humid summer afternoon, while Samantha was in daycare, and Eunice was out shopping at the A&P, curiosity got the better of me.  And I decided to explore the Relax-A-Cizor.  I followed the instructions carefully.  I wetted down the various sized felt pads thoroughly, as the instructions directed, and plugged them into the outlets on the main power generator, which I placed on a small table beside the newly arrived barber chair. 
Here are Kali and Samantha, on the swings.  Kali was a few months younger than Samantha.  Their warm clothing indicates that this was either in the fall or early spring.
I know the location, where these photographs were taken, because here is one of little Kali, looking out the window of the play castle at the zoo.  Oh My God!  This is kind of creepy.  Enlarging the photo to retouch it with Photoshop, I just now discovered a hidden face behind Kali.  Good Lord!  Is that Bob?  I knew my memory of that day was foggy. I forgot being there myself, but little did I dream that Bob was with us.  Looking at these photographs certainly jogs the memory.  This would be the last photograph I have of him.
After a long and tiring day, Samantha was sleeping, like a baby.
           Soon after we arrived in NYC, Bob and I drove to his old place in Philadelphia to get the three dress mannequins that he had taken from the Queen Mary, and stored in his cellar for me.  I will never forget that journey.  The mannequins had spent the winter in the basement of his former apartment building.  What happened then, turned out to be a nightmare!  We discovered that the fat lady, size 50, had become the nesting place of a colony of enormous water bugs.  Like the battle with cockroaches that I would later wage in our apartment in the Village, Bob and I ran out and purchased bug spray.  Then, we spent an horrendous afternoon, battling in near darkness, as hundreds of nearly indestructible water bugs, huge and ugly, surged out of the hole in the chubby mannequin’s neck .

On the journey home, we visited an amazing place.  It was the ultimate thrift shop, located in the soaring marble clad interior of what had formerly been a bank.  It was huge, chocked full of unimaginable treasures, everything from art to furniture, and teeming with activity.  In the center of the polished marble floor was a spectacular stack of  11’ X 14’ carpets.  They were piled up fully five feet high.  On the very top of this mountain of several hundred rugs, only accessible by a ladder, sat an enormously fat man in an oversized easy chair.  He was the owner of this surreal collection of the remnants of a thousand lives, holding court over his domain.   Bob and I paged through one corner of the stack, and I picked out a Persian carpet for ten dollars.  Removing it and the proprietor proved to be a major production.  Witnessing that spectacle, alone, was worth ten dollars.  Cramming this large rug into Bobs vehicle required a near miracle.  The carpet can be faintly seen in the first photograph above.

Bob and Verta’s relationship had been a tempestuous one.  Everything with Verta was Dramatic.  She was a Drama Queen (or Princess), and Bob had a roving eye.  Although, they shared an apartment in the 30s, Bob moved into a loft in lower Manhattan.  This place gave the expression “illegal loft” a whole new meaning.  The building was deserted, and he wasn’t paying any rent.  Bob loved living on the edge, and outdid me, many times over, at pretending to be poor.  Eunice distinctly remembers that in Paris he’d say bizarre things, like: “Lets go look at poor people, today!”

When we were still in France, Bob disclosed to me, in utmost secrecy, that when he was 21 he would begin to get the proceeds of a trust fund that would amount to $25k a year.  That was a huge sum, back then.  He was concerned that his friends would no longer like him, when, and if, they knew that he was "rich."  I would surmise that annual stipend sustained him throughout his lifetime.  Then again, for all I know, he might have inherited his parent’s fortune.  He went on to become a minimalist artist, and achieved some degree of success.

  Now, Bob took me to see where he was living.  He had really outdone himself this time.  The building was deserted.  No one knew that anyone was squatting there. There was electricity, borrowed from God knows where, but no heat whatsoever.  Bob was not alone in this huge industrial structure.  The enormous loft that he moved into was already occupied by an amazing artist, Mark di Suvero.  Mark had been injured in an elevator accident, a few years before Bob met him.  Although, the injuries he sustained crippled him for many years, he managed to create enormous sculptures that consisted of huge beams that he combined and manipulated in ways that even the most able-bodied man would find challenging.
Bob was now living in the world of art, and I was not.  So, over time, we drifted apart.  Then, there was a
tragedy of sorts, not fatal, thank God, but painful and ironic, to say the least.  One night, Bob stepped into the
elevator in his deserted building, and the elevator was not there.  He fell several floors down the empty
elevator shaft, and broke both his ankles, injured his back, and sustained other injuries.   I understand he
spent a lot of time recuperating.  I do not know the details.  For that matter, I can’t remember how I learned
of the accident.  Perhaps, he called me.  I hadn’t seen Bob in a while, by then.   

         Enter, our friend, Ellen Kunsel:  Ellen received a couple strange and creepy phone calls.  This
freaked her out, because there had been a murder in the news, around that time that got a lot of notoriety,
and obscene calls were suspected to have played a role in it.  Ellen had a thing about her that seemed to
attract bad luck, like a magnet.  She also had a wild imagination.  Although, she could not identify the caller,
who, apparently, had made an effort to disguise his voice, the one person that came to mind was Bob
Grosvenor.  Eunice had introduced them, sometime before.  Ellen believed she was in danger.  Well, if the
caller was the person she suspected, I reassured her that he had been recently incapacitated.

A short time later, Sue Schachter, who was not yet married to Al, when Eunice introduced her to Bob, got a
similar call.  Similar?  Make that, word for word, identical!   Before long, Benita Blau got an obscene phone
call that, judging from the content, might have been from the same man.  Benita had never met either Sue of
Ellen.  None of them knew each other, but they all had met Bob through Eunice, and all three got creepy
phone calls from a heavy breather, whose opening line inquired, “Have you got your panties on?  Then,
Eunice got the identical call too!  One didn’t have to be Nancy Drew to put together two and two.

Meanwhile Ellen had decided that her caller must definitely be the killer, and vowed to go to the police.  I
begged and pleaded with her not to do it, and she reluctantly agreed.  Thankfully, none of the four women
heard from the unknown caller again.  I would like to believe that it was not Bob, but whether it was him or not,
the seeds of doubt had been planted, and took root.  I never felt the need to resolve the mystery, for Bob
never called me again.  Not only, did I not know how to contact him, I had lost all appetite to do so.  And so,
our once close friendship came to an end.

         Meanwhile, Bob and Verta were no longer together.  I understand that Verta eventually met another
man, very similar to Bob, and had a second daughter by him.  Wikipedia makes no mention of a second
husband.  Meanwhile, Verta parlayed all her idiosyncrasies and talents, of which she had plenty, particularly
for embroidering the truth, into a relatively spectacular career.  She recreated and repackaged herself as a
genuine southern Gee Chee Girl, not from Philly, but from somewhere in the  Low Country of South Carolina. 
Eventually, she became a master and authority on the art of Soul Food or "Vibration Cooking" as she called
it in her first book.  From a sophisticated American, speaking "European," cooking spaghetti every night in
Paris, she transformed herself into one of the Gullah peoples, a descendant of West African slaves. 
Shades of Tabinguila!  She has published many cookbooks and acquired her own cooking show on PBS,
and an elusive Creole accent. 

Recently a dynamic young lady, Karen Michel who is a popular journalist for National Public Radio,
interviewed my friend John Fawcett and myself. Karen and I instantly became good friends.  I don’t know
how the subject came up, but it turned out that Karen has known Verta for years, through their mutual
association with PBS.  Karen spoke to Verta recently, and told me she is in a facility for assisted living. 

          I saw both Bob and Verta, only one more time.  And, strangely, both encounters took place on a New
York City bus.  Some years later, I was riding the Lexington Avenue bus, from uptown to 28th street, when
Verta boarded the same vehicle.  We rode together for several blocks.  She was pleasant, and congenial,
but distant.  It was not the meeting of old friends, but rather that of old acquaintances.  The camaraderie of
Paris had evaporated.  She got off the bus, several blocks ahead of me.

Years before that meeting, and not long after Bob’s accident, I was sitting near the back of a Manhattan bus,
when I saw a man who I felt certain was Bob, struggling to get on.  This person looked very much like him,
but, at the same time, very different, and very broken up.  I guess that was to be expected.  Clearly, this
individual was severely handicapped, and might have had braces or crutches; I can't remember which.  It
was painful watching him climb the steps and maneuver to a seat.  He seemed to be impervious to me. 
Secretly, I was relieved.  If he recognized me, he didn’t show it, and our eyes never met.  Part of me felt the
urge to get up and greet him, but the rest of me was remembering the incident with Ellen and our other
friends, and I didn’t initiate a conversation.  Nonetheless, I never took my eyes off him.  If I had seen any
trace of recognition, I would have overcome my reluctance, and got up to speak to him.  But he never turned
his head, or glanced in my direction.  It was as if I was invisible.  And that was fine with me.  A few blocks
later, I watched as he dismounted the bus from the side entrance, located not that far from me, with great
difficulty.  He never looked at me. I never spoke to him.  Because of those mysterious, and possibly
unrelated phone calls and the hubbub they created, the deep well of friendship that I once felt for Bob had
been forever tainted.

          Now, the autumn nights were growing longer, and that lovely season, in which the temperature in our
loft was comfortable would soon be over.  Winter was on the way again, and, this year, I was determined to
tackle the heat situation aggressively.   The first thing I did to confront this condition was borrow an idea from
Bob Grosvenor and constructed a heat saving partition, made, not of vinyl plastic sheeting, flimsy and
flammable, but sturdy two by fours and wall board.  It sectioned off an area, ten feet deep, at the back end of
the loft.  This cold weather enclosure was just big enough to hold our bed at one end, and Samantha’s crib at
the other, with an electric heater in between them, and a curtain hung across the door.  Thus, our living area,
the part that I had labeled “Showroom” was now moved to the front end of the loft, overlooking 26th Street

          Then, at the risk of seeming to be boasting, I came up with an idea that was absolutely brilliant.  One
might even consider it a kind of sculpture.  No doubt about it, it was a masterpiece!  A triumph of form,
subterfuge, and ingenuity!  I guess the idea came about, because I began to keep some empty boxes on
the floor beside our queen-sized bed.  We piled them on top of it every morning, so if the Fire Department
arrived, it might not look like we just got out of bed, and I could claim we never used it. That was step one! 
The next step was a giant leap!  When I was finished, anyone entering the area where Samantha napped
would see her crib, and later on, her child sized bed, at one end, and at the other they would see a stack of
storage boxes, neatly piled up, halfway to the ceiling.  Some of the boxes near the front were partially open,
and one could seemingly see the stuff inside.  Other longer items, like a broom, appeared to be emerging
from between the boxes.  All these items were so neatly organized that I believed they didn’t constitute a fire
safety violation.  They were just a storage area.

In reality, the boxes were not boxes at all, but the exterior of an empty shell, artfully built over an armature,
hinged at one end, and attached to the wall beside our bed.  Some intricate elements of this work of art took
the form of a canopy above the bed that remained there at all times.  It joined up perfectly with the rest, when
the swinging door was closed.  And so, without needing to chant the incantation, “Open Sesame,” we swung
the secret door aside at bed time, and closed it up again, each morning.  And Thus, we never had to make
the bed again, or fear that our queen-sized secret sleeping area would be readily detected by a New York
City Fireman.
Bob fell under Mark’s spell, embraced the theory of minimal art, and moved in.  He was in his element!  To say that his living conditions were primitive would redefine the term "understatement." At one end of the loft, the ceiling tapered to meet the floor at a sharp angle.  Bob had made a sort of tent, consisting of a single wall of vinyl, stretched from the floor to ceiling to complete the triangle.  In that small area, there was a mattress on the floor and a portable electric heater.  That was where he huddled in cold weather.  Bob had found his calling, and he became a follower of the minimal art doctrine.  Perhaps, his best known work, which is called, "Untitled" is located at the nearby Storm King Art Center.