THE FIRST TIME I was published was in the early 1970s. I lived in Greenwich Village’s Minetta Lane in a first-floor studio apartment no bigger than an upturned shoebox. My hovel smelled of kitty litter even though I didn’t have a cat. My single loft bed bolstered by eight-foot-high cedar stakes cowered over my writing table. In the summer, it seemed that I roomed with a continuous swarm of cockroaches. I would come in at night from working at a McDonald’s. I would not turn on the kitchen light as I stealthily tip-toed over to the sink. With two open-palmed hands I’d batter the porcelain sides of the sink in a surprise raid on the cockroaches. Bam! Bam! Bam!I Was the Luftwaffe bombing London at night? Instantly my hands were drenched in the insects’ pasty insides. That was what life was like: living in a low rent situation in a metropolitan welt. I’d then turn on the faucet; the rumbling pipes pealed forth announcing that this was the price of living alone, which in turn, is the price of freedom.
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IT WAS A THRILL TO see my first story published by Plastic Galaxy Magazine. The story was My Affable Robot. It took place in what was then the future, but now that would be the present. A dippy person (like myself) is lonely. He sees a TV commercial advertising the “Instant Buddy” so he buys a robot to be his friend. Granted I stole from Star Wars, for the robot, Buddy was patterned after C-3PO. But that was okay because most Si Fi writers were stealing from Star Wars then. In my story, my robot, Buddy, rejects his owner and starts dating a chick, thus leaving his companion alone on a Saturday night leafing through a picture book depicting the Sistine Chapel’s homo-eroticism.
I knew even then that I was fictionalizing an unrequited love situation that I endured in college. He was my roommate named Brad and we almost did everything together. We read each others minds and liked the same records. Together we shared many lysergic laughs. The poignant relationship made me admit me to my true sexual proclivities. By then Brad was engaged to be married. Because that situation was so juvenile and earnest, it took me three years to even think of going to a gay bar. I just didn’t want to sully myself or my love for Brad.
But what was most exciting about the story was when I opened the periodical and saw my name in print on the magazine’s glossy pages. What had started as an incidental idea was then birthed by a typewriter and then shuttled through the labyrinth of editorial acceptance to eventually be made manifest by a national publication, was quite a feat. Seeing my name in Times font and there I was thinking someone had to actually typeset my name. The story even warranted a full-colour illustration. All of it was so thrilling and swirling in my heart and mind on that early June day. I ran from the magazine rack at Scribner’s up Fifth Avenue and through Central Park’s broccoli topped pathways to West 72nd street, past the Dakota and down Broadway to my brother’s upper West Side apartment. I held the magazine away from my heaving torso like was holding the Stanley Cup as I was making the victory lap around the rink. For that moment the world was mine as I was then a published writer.
From that second and for many decades later my sphere was comprised of booze, marijuana, and a cascade of Si Fi novellas, each one more puerile than its predecessor.
In one such tome called Intergalactic Garbage Dump the action takes place on a planet compromised of Styrofoam. Situated there is a giant grinding machine which spews out prison sentences for all that have been accused of crimes. Granted I was paying homage to Kafka, in this case, specifically In The Penal Colony. Not only was I updating it and placing it in outer space, invariably I was adding something of my own into the mix: because the Intergalactic Garbage Dump legal machine accepts plea bargain requests. It is apparent that all of universe’s garbage, be it the human or the actual rubbish, is dumped on this Styrofoam planet and the tragedy was that there is no way to recycle either kind of the allotted refuse.