Of course, what made it
all bearable, besides a bit of money Bell Labs was paying us, was
the wondrous City of New York, and the theater which I was doing and
my little studio on Ridge Street which I loved so much.
Ridge Street, on the
Lower East Side, full of history. Today it was a rough
Across the street from
my studio in New York was an elementary school and the garbage from
the students’ cafeteria was put on the sidewalk each day. The
garbage spread along the street and overturned milk cartons leaked
out a wide, slow-moving river of white across the sidewalk.
It was my habit, when
walking to my studio, to step carefully as I neared the school or I
would carry the sticky, white liquid onto my studio floor.
One day as I approached,
perhaps not quite awake, I felt my foot slip on the walk. I looked
down. Something was wrong. I looked up. There was the schoolyard
ahead. It was not milk flowing into the gutter. I was standing in
a pool of dark red liquid.
At the store that
afternoon they said it was a shotgun that did it. They said when
they took him away his liver was still on the street.
* * *
I had gotten a big piece of paper,
heavy sort of buff colored, and, with some heavy oil pastels of
black and red that I had, I drew a big, sort of abstract man lying
in a pool of blood, and pinned it to the wall.
Jeffery was in town
those days and saw the drawing.
“Bill,” he said, “I’ve
never seen you do that before, that kind of thing.”
I looked at the drawing.
And then I saw more, and others. I did a little drawing of a little
amoeba type of guy, x’s for eyes and obviously dead. Out of a hole
in his side poured a stream of glutinous liquid.
Other odd pieces of
rough paper, I covered with dark images of lurking men, standing in
doorways, collapsed on the ground, cut in half.
It was finally spring
and the glutinous muck of Ridge Street outside my studio, was drying
up. May it was of my first year in New York and I decided to make a
little poster of the amoeba man and call it Bill Wolf “Works” and
have a showing in my studio one Saturday afternoon.
A bunch of people came, Jefferey,
Maria, others, even Maria’s mother, Marie. She looked at the amoeba
man and the blood pouring out of him and said, “A candle!” Maria
rolled her eyes, “Yes, Mother.”
* * *
Later, someone would
look at my little amoeba man and say, “Oh, the AIDS virus.”
AIDS was certainly
raising its ugly head.
The gay community
across America was reeling. I was, of course, in close contact with
our friends in San Francisco, and so was always hearing the latest,
who was rumored to have got it, friends or, mostly at that time,
friends of friends. I remember one of first was Sam D’Alesandro,
Jeffery’s friend and a long time hanger-on at Triple A Productions.
I thought back to his evening of poetry at the studio, only last
year; “Nasty, Disgusting and Suicidal...” something was the title.
I remembered that I had been in Los Angeles, in my studio in the old
hotel, at that time and hadn’t seen his show.
And in the theater
business in New York, on the periphery of which I found myself, AIDS
consciousness came quickly and thoroughly. There was a lot of talk
about AIDS and I had been making a lot of gay friends, in the
theater and art communities. I remembered back to the conference at
Brooks Hall of three years ago. I remembered the very clear
instructions on how you got AIDS and how you didn’t; medical
information which would not change in the years to come.
So, I shuddered, as I
gawked at the potential harm of this disease, but I guess I took a
certain amount of heart from my past and my knowledge, and felt
confident personally, for myself and Russell, at least.
So I charged ahead in
my life and I found myself in a wonderland in Lower Manhattan and I
did my art and I did sets in the theater and I loved it.
* * *
phenomena, of which I can report in some detail, is perhaps also of
some interest here. I had, long ago in San Francisco, hooked up
with a few individuals and then small groups of individuals for whom
the “primary sexual interest is the mutual masturbation,” end-quote.
(NOTE: the squeamish can jump ahead
to Chapter 18, if they like.)
First in some dirty-movie houses and then in people’s homes, we
would get to know each other and tell each other about upcoming
parties or impromptu events. Some times we would all be naked or
other times just sitting around with our pants pulled down and, well,
going at it. It was fun. Nobody was thinking about safe sex in
those days; we just liked to do it.
Well, pretty soon in San Francisco
some of the guys started to form a club, with meetings and such, you
can imagine. They (we?) were called the “San Francisco Jacks,” for
“jack”-off, of course, and it grew to be a big club. Somebody
started a “newsletter” to report on the parties and announce future
At first it was a sort of crumby,
typed page or two and a couple pictures, but then pretty soon got a
bit slicker and nice paper and better photos, natch.
The club grew fast and had club
nights, sometimes fifty or a hundred guys, naked, standing around
doing it to themselves. I thought it was Heaven! They even had a
Christmas party and you could sit on Santa’s lap and masturbate.
And, there was always
news of a new Jacks opening in another city, soon there were the
Dallas Jacks, the Miami Jacks, and, of course, the New York Jacks.
That first winter in New York, I had to look them up.
It was a big scene, of
course, just being New York, and had been for a long time. But now
a new element had appeared; the gay community was suddenly very
conscious of safe sex, or NO sex, and you couldn’t get much safer
than jacking yourself off. The Jacks was the place to be, and large
numbers of guys started coming to the clubs and the New York Jacks
even divided into two groups. They were crowded and popular.
Well, it happened that
a lot of these recent converts were not really into it but were
coming around to just talk or sit around and socialize, if you know
what I mean, and it was sometimes not very, well, as intense as it
could have been.
Meanwhile, of course, those of us
who were more, well, “original-intenters,” could spot each other a
you ought to go to ...such-and-such,”
they’d say to each other and a sort of underground network of
alternative-like places started to form. Like a bar or sex club
would decide to make one night a week for masturbation only.
Sometimes there would be specialty
masturbation nights, like leather, or diapers, or uncircumcised, you
know. Well, they were always more interesting than the big clubs,
at least, to me.
Some even featured "performance art" (!).
It was at one of these
I was walking around and happened to lock eyes with a cute, little kid across the room.
He was going at it pretty hot and heavy and he gave me a small, sweet, crooked smile.
I slowly edged over to him and we stood staring at each other and
doing it hard and fast. I was about a foot taller than him.
“I could do this for two hours,” I
whispered looking down into his smiling face. He started nodding
his head up and
down, "Me too." We stood there for a while enjoying it and then I
said, "Let’s go to my studio." He began nodding his head again and we made our
way out the door into a taxi.
His name was John Cockran, and I
say “kid,” well, I was 37 and he was 20 or so. We had a great time
and saw a lot of each other for a while. We got into doing a lot of daddy-son
type fantasies together, the father teaching the son to masturbate,
"Daddy, am I doing it right?", that sort
of thing. Sometimes I’d take him to a small gathering or such, and
we’d do our daddy-son routine for other people to watch. It was
In one place there was this, like,
stall with a peep hole where I could put John inside on a little seat
and close the door and convince other guys to come up and look at my
the peep hole. I’d whisper in the door, “Show the nice man how you
like to masturbate, son.” He’d sit there looking all timid or
sucking his thumb and go at it like crazy. The guys all thought it
Plus he was a nice guy.
We would occasionally go somewhere just social, you know, mostly
galleries or museums, or out to eat, and we always had a good time. He was in
school studying something, I can’t remember. In fact he came to my
show at my studio on Ridge, and was real nice and met a lot of
people. A few of my friends were like rolling their eyes, but John
didn’t know that and he enjoyed the show and meeting my friends. At
least I hope.
* * *