The Unitarian Center

I hope by this time you're starting to get a feel for the outré swarm I hung around with and learned from back in those glory days. Unlike the present, such a gang came out of the woodwork; convention wasn't conventional. The next person to be described is one of the most eccentric, earnest, talented and kooky friends I've ever had. Moreover, and perhaps most important, here was a guy who completely lived out Oscar Wilde's dictum:
We are not sent into the world to air our moral prejudices.
Hands down, that was most valuable thing I learned from him. I'm ever grateful to have picked up that lesson when first starting college and setting out on my own. It's good to begin life free of prejudice, opening up way more opportunities and rendering the world all that more visible.

Back to the Health Food Store, that veritable vortex. It was here I met Joe. While I frequented the place for weight-gain products (this being back in my powerlifting days) Joe came by for vitamins, carrot juice, weird herbs, wheat germ and all the usual miscellany a food faddist thrives on. Even though our gastronomic tastes were considerably at odds, somehow we became fast friends after meeting there. He invited me to his place for a visit, and I accepted.

Now remember, I was but eighteen years old, living a spartan existence in that bachelor pad on Fourth Street. You'll find it hard to believe, but I subsisted on forty dollars a month then, which covered rent, food, tuition, text books and very few frivolities. I owned perhaps less than fifty books in those days, my "bedroom" furnishings consisting exclusively of one bookshelf and a mattress on the floor. Allen Ginsberg might have described it in one of his poems.

So anyway, I hitchhiked out to Joe's place on a pleasant summer day. He was the caretaker of the Unitarian Center, and thus lived in the second story flat there. After arriving, Joe led me upstairs and we plopped down in some overstuffed chairs in his study. And what a study it was! Surrounding us on all four walls were shelves overflowing with books, books, books! Just as a rough estimate, I would say his personal library consisted of between one and two thousand titles, mostly obscure.

I jumped up at once, cranking my head sideways, and started to peruse the spines. There were countless volumes on astrology, Theosophy, sex, yoga, flying saucers, health, medicine, Scientology, pyramids, name it. Joe was clearly into arcane lore, much as I was in those heady years. One title that sticks out in my mind particularly after all this time is:
Throw Away Your Glasses...Perhaps if he had listened to his father more closely that wouldn't have been such an issue.

The green-eyed monster struck. A little less than one year later, I was living in much more spacious accommodations, with a princely monthly allowance of $150, thanks to my father's Social Security. That was more than enough to load up on pine planks from the lumber yard and outfit both the living room and my bedroom with wall-to-wall bookshelves. My private library grew exponentially.

This might be a good time to describe my friend. Joe was very trim and healthy, no doubt a sight to behold on the nude beaches he frequented. Sporting wavy hair, I guess it would have been red at one time, but grayed quite early. It's been so long since I've seen him that I can't be sure anymore, but I believe he sported a goatee. Even though he was a good fifteen years my senior, we became fast friends. But one thing I do remember with perfect clarity has been the running theme of the last few blog entries: here was a chap who was interested in
everything, ready to converse on any topic no matter how controversial or out-of-the-way, moreover, ready to contribute knowledge freely from an extremely broad background. Once again, it's that old theme of someone "getting it." I got spoiled then, thinking (erroneously it turned out) that everyone in the world was that way.

Looking back at it all now, it's somewhat odd that Joe and I liked each other's company so much, for we really were very different from one another. Whereas I was constantly out for laughs, Joe was always in dead earnest about everything. As near as I can tell, neither irony nor metaphor made sense to him. He would have found a thesaurus a total mystery. And then, with his strong opinions on health, he was always concerned about the insane diet I held to in order to gain weight. He was convinced I was giving myself diabetes. Joe also had doubts about my drinking and using Copenhagen, but remember what I said earlier about Oscar? He never nagged or anything like that, but would figure out subtle ways to make suggestions. I didn't mind. I probably gave him crap about doing eye exercises to render an optometrist obsolete.

Joe was working on a Master's Degree in some biology or health-related field. I recall when he was writing his thesis and got all excited the time the Memorial Library called up to say the documents he'd requested through inter-library loan had arrived. I was very amused to see the package he picked up consisted of Xeroxes of photographs, pictures of dozens and dozens of penises in various states of repair. Apparently his research was on a possible connection between member atrophy and marijuana usage. Joe was upset that the Library had folded the pictures in two, concealing them in a brown paper wrapper...

His living quarters had every comfort of home which could be desired in the Aquarian Age:

  • a mock up pyramid in which to sleep (some goofy book had come out recently about the mysteries of pyramid power)
  • a set of electrical apparatus with electrodes for testing who knows what, from Scientology
  • a plant rack with Gro-Lights for examining whether our green brethren have feelings or hearing (again, another book rage at the time)
  • nomographs and charts for computing biorhythms (yet one more craze then)
Joe was an accomplished astrologer and had an enormous collection of rare books on the subject. His specialty was Indian astrology, heavy on the use of harmonics. He and I often debated the foundations of astrology, but neither convinced the other. Joe was adamant that there would be an empirical, statistical or causal explanation for how horoscopes worked, while I insisted on an acausal, symbolical or Jungian accounting, based upon synchronicity.

Regardless, he was extremely skilled in the subject. I learned many advanced techniques from the guy, he exposing me to a number of hard-to-find books from Germany, Switzerland and France.

One last thing which might surprise you: Joe was super adept at auto mechanics and took on all sorts of what I would consider big jobs, right in the driveway of the Unitarian Center.

Yes, he truly was one-of-a-kind, but do you know something? In the Age of Aquarius, one-of-a-kinds weren't one-of-a-kind.

Next installment: 248 Norton Street

No comments:

Post a Comment