I had a new apartment at 122 Mt. Auburn St., Harvard Square. Jim Parry had moved into a larger apartment at the same address and offered me his old place. Ed Hood had the third apartment on the ground flood of 122 Mt. Auburn St, along with me and Jim. You will remember Ed as the star of Warhol’s My Hustler. He also had a prominent part in Chelsea Girls. Ed had moved from the University of Minnesota to Cambridge in 1958 to enter a Ph. D. program in the English Department at Harvard, but by 1971, when I met him, he had been expelled, his academic career curtailed by a bust for shoplifting in the Harvard Coop.
122 Mt. Auburn Street, across the street from the Blue Parrot and the Club Casablanca, was one entrance into the vast, decrepit Craigie Hall, which also had entrances on University Road. During the Gilded Age Craigie Hall had provided spacious quarters with indoor toilets, running hot water and central heat for Harvard men when the on-campus accommodations in Harvard Yard had none of these. But that was long ago, and there were no more servants, smoking jackets or indoor lacrosse games, as all the Harvard undergraduates had moved back on campus after the creation of a new residence hall system in the 1930’s. There were several WBCN-related figures in residence in Craigie Hall. Peter Wolf (former WBCN DJ and singer in the J. Geils Band); Charles Giuliano, music critic at the Boston Phoenix,, who lived in a basement apartment at 4 University Road, where he continually broke down interior walls and expanded toward the dank interior; and others.
Over the years the once-roomy apartments had been subdivided, then divided again. Mine, described as a “1-bedroom”, was about 250 square feet. The bedroom was the size of a large coffin with a high ceiling. The kitchen was so narrow that I cold not turn around without rubbing shoulders against the walls. All the rooms, including the bathroom, had been built inside what was once a single room. But it was mine – I had never had an apartment of my own before, and I loved the place, and loved my neighbors Jim and Ed, too.
Jim you will remember as the only happy DJ at WBCN. Charles was sarcastic, smooth; Norm intense and sexy; Maxanne Sartori, Tommy Hadges and Andy Beaubien knowledgeable, charming, witty; Debbie Ullman spiritual; Sam Kopper sprightly and scattered; John Brody laid back; but Jim was the only one you would describe as a nice guy. He loved the blues, particularly acoustic blues, and seemed oblivious to the snickering comments of the other DJ’s about his “choo-choo train sets.” He just kept on chuggin’ playin’ the blues; his rap a little grainy, a little old for 28.
Ed Hood was a remittance man, originally from Alabama, where his widowed mother languished, still beautiful and still courted, on the family plantation. Mother and son had a deep affinity, but Ed’s visits at Thanksgiving and Christmas were too often abbreviated by the intervention of the Alabama State Police in Ed’s endless combinations of automobiles with alcohol and teenage boys. After these incidents Ed’s chagrined mother would give him some extra money and make him go away. Cambridge mostly tolerated him, but Ed’s monthly remittance, no matter how generous, was always quickly spent on the quantities of booze, pot and cocaine needed to entertain his boy friends.
I was aware of the constant nocturnal comings and goings at Ed’s place, and could hear the rock music and male chatter. Before the nightly parties Peter Wolf, always in dark glasses and black leather, slender, his long, straight black hair hiding his face, from which only the large nose protruded, would often visit Ed. During Wolf’s visits I could hear no music from Ed’s apartment; only the muffled sound of intense conversation between the two men.
I did not meet Ed until I had a telephone installed. He must have heard the first ring, and was soon knocking at my door, politely introducing himself in a startling, mellifluous, measured voice. I soon learned that Ed had an unpaid bill of $386.00 owed to New England Telephone, and that his phone had been disconnected. I let Ed use my phone. When he was done with his call, he looked around my apartment. Nothing much to see – a bent piece of foam for a sofa on the living room floor, a few motorcycle parts and two cardboard boxes of books. Ed picked up a book: a small leather bound copy of The Oxford Book of English Verse. “Do you read this?” Ed asked. “Yes,” I said. “Come over to my apartment, will you,” he said, “and have a glass of wine. I want to show you something.” I hesitated. I had been approached sexually by men before and was not interested. But there was something serious about Ed’s tone that allowed me to accept his invitation, and we went next door to his apartment. There he showed me his books. His bedroom was larger than mine, and he had had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves installed on three walls. The shelves were full. Piles of books were here and there in the living room, on the coffee table, in the small kitchen. Ed had an extensive collection of literature and literary criticism, over 2,000 books. As he was showing me his library he turned to me and asked, “How do you pronounce it? ‘litrachoor’ or ‘literchur’?”
I became a daily visitor to Ed’s place. My time was before Wolf, who was also Ed’s student – the early evening. Ed began to fill in some of the lacunae (a word he taught me) in the very mediocre education I had received at Triangle. He taught me the importance of Dante, and gave me reading assignments in Sinclair’s Italian-English edition of The Inferno. He was very unwilling to lend books (a trait I have also acquired; too often I have not got them back), and I soon had to acquire my own copy of Sinclair. I could hold my own with Ed in French literature and language, and in linguistics; but in every other aspect of literature he was by far my superior. He also taught me, oddly, a lot about ethics and morality. He made me understand, for example, that there is no such thing as “bad” weather. I met the literati who drifted in and out of his salon: John Halowell; Gregory Corso; Gerard Malanga. I met Patrick Fleming, who had appeared, as himself, in some Warhol movies with Ed. Patrick was an illiterate Irish immigrant whose native language was Gaelic. I have never seen anything like the bond of devotion and trust that existed between Ed and Patrick. Incomprehensibly to me, the deep love between the two men did not seem to be affected by the constant late night stream of teenagers and 20-something young men in and out of Ed’s bedroom, where, I can assure you, dear reader, they were not looking at books. Patrick’s Irish accent, combined with his relative toothlessness, made it difficult for me to understand him, but I tried to listen and understand, and I found out that he and Ed talked about daily life: doctor’s appointments; getting a broken window fixed; setting up a bank account. The two had become family, as well as friends, and did things for each other that Ed’s literary friends would never have been bothered with.
There was an unspoken agreement between Ed and me: he would teach me and allow me access to his intellectual and artistic circle; I would let him use my telephone. But I did not like a knock on the door at 3:00 A. M, or, for that matter, 8:00. Once, meanly, at the sound of the knock, I answered the door naked. I will not forget the expression on Ed’s face. His jaw dropped; his eyes widened as he looked me up and down. “Would you like to use the phone?” I asked. “Never mind,” he said, and retreated into his apartment. I had never seen him confused before.
Do you know what a butt-set is, reader? In the days when the Telephone Company installed telephones, the installation person would have one of these: a handset-like device with wires coming out of it, hanging from a clip at the belt in such a way that the handset swung against the buttocks. I had found some old telephones and a butt-set in a pile of junk at the WBCN transmitter room. One afternoon I determined to explore the basement of Craigie Hall with the butt-set. I was going to get Ed a phone. I went past Jim Parry’s entrance on the first floor down the stairs by the tiny basement apartment inhabited by a straight-looking young woman who had told me that her rent was $45.00 a month, into the catacombs under Craigie Hall, where I knew there were telephone wires. Occasional incandescent lights tried to dispel some of the gloom, but there were none in the damp alcove, cluttered with old pipes and timbers, where I worked by flashlight, testing each of the pairs on a terminal strip with my butt-set. I found four that had dial tone. Now for the clever part – I had brought along several strands of very fine wire, so fine that so-called “ringing current”, the 90 volt, twenty cycle current that the phone company may still send down the wires to ring a telephone, would fuse the tiny wire – vaporize it if the phone attached to that circuit ever rang. I carefully bridged a piece of the fine wire across each of the four circuits. A few days later I returned. Three of the wires had fused; the fourth was still intact. I removed it, and tested it with my butt-set. Dial tone – nobody had called that line in four days. A few minutes work with needle nosed pliers and one of the old phones was attached.
My life changed. I no longer had three or four visits a day from Ed, calling his dates on my phone. Instead I could hear his magnificent voice distantly, from below, sometimes for hours at a time, not loud enough to disturb. One day Jim Parry approached me in the hall. “Have you heard Ed talking all the time in the basement? It sounds like he’s talking on the phone.” “Oh, really?” I said. The young woman from the bottom of the stairs was distraught. She was closer to the action. “Do you know what’s going on? It’s driving me crazy! I’ve asked him to stop, and he says he will, but then he’s doing it again. Shall I call the police?” “Yeah,” I said, “I know what you mean – but let’s give him a chance. I’ll talk to him, OK?”
This went one for about three months. In the meantime I had been fired from WBCN and was spending more time at home, feeling bad. One morning there was a knock on the door and a somber looking Ed asked me to join him in his apartment for some important business. In Ed’s living room was a well dressed man in his 30’s. We all sat down. The man looked at me. “Listen,” he said, “I don’t know your involvement with this but I do know that Ed has been using the Charles Group’s phone lines to make long distance calls, and that it has to stop. I’ve told Ed that this doesn’t have to go any further, as long as it stops. Ed and I were at school here,” the man said, gesturing over his shoulder towards the august institution all around us, “and I don’t want to take this to the authorities, but I will if I have to.” I had tapped the phone of the think tank across Mt. Auburn St. The fourth line in the “hunting group” would only ring when the other three lines were busy, and it had rung. The woman downstairs had gone into the basement alcove and answered the phone, and the jig was up. I felt bad.