photo by Floyd M. Wright
excerpt from LAUGHING BOY
It was late summer of 1969 in New York’s Greenwich Village, a Friday night. I’d been driving a delivery van all day in Manhattan and was tired and ready for a drink. I stopped first at Jack Barry’s, a bar on Greenwich Avenue where Bruce was hanging out in those days, having been eighty-sixed (so he proudly told me) from every other bar in the village. I knew it was an exaggeration, but why argue. I was used to such hyperbole by now coming from him. Not finding him there I walked over to 9 Jane Street where his friend Glen, who was an engineer of some kind, owned a basement apartment, and probably the whole building, now that I think about it. Bruce was there in the kitchen cooking a steak he had stolen from the super market. He was frying it in a pan full of butter. I don’t know who else was there; probably Leona, Glen’s girlfriend. She was very attractive, and very hip, a curvy brunette and kind of wild, in her late twenties, maybe, might have been thirty, who knows. Naturally, I was quite taken with her but she was way out of my league. Glen was older, like forty something, and tolerated me hanging around because I was Bruce’s kid brother. I mostly kept my mouth shut and watched what was going on hoping they’d share some beer with me, or whatever they were drinking, which they always did. I don’t remember any drugs, exactly, but they must have smoked pot. I do know that Bruce hated marijuana because as he said it made him too paranoid, so he wasn’t smoking anything but cigars and cigarettes. These people were drinkers. Anyway Bruce cut off a piece of steak and gave it to me, and I have to say it was the best steak I ever tasted. Everything tastes good when you’re hungry. Then the door opened and in walked this older guy, even older than Glen, and I was thinking 50’s, but of course, everyone looks older to you when you’re only twenty two. The guy actually was fifty years old that year exactly. Bruce introduced me to him. “This is Lawrence Tierney,” he said. “The actor. He’s famous. He was in all those old film noir movies.” I actually remembered the guy because I used to watch all those old black and white movies from the forties on the Early Bird Show on TV when I was seven or eight years old. I could see the resemblance and the voice was unmistakable. He played gangsters mostly. Now he’s famous for being in Reservoir Dogs, the 1992 movie by Quentin Tarantino, and for playing Elaine’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) father on Seinfeld. Jerry and Julia said later in an interview that everyone on the set was afraid of him. This particular night Tierney was complaining about what a shit day it had been. He had gotten an acting job in some movie and in one scene had to jump in the East River, which would make anyone unhappy. So we got drunk. All of us. And that’s all I remember of it. Somehow I got home, all the way up on East 99th Street in Spanish Harlem. He was a nice guy, Lawrence Tierney; treated me all right. Nothing scary about him at all. Bruce knew lots of people. If you were going to hang around in a bar drinking, Bruce was the guy to do it with. If you were lucky he’d get a deck of cards and do magic tricks. Anything for a free drink.
photo by Floyd M. Wright
Bruce could often be seen walking along Bleecker Street in the Village with a transistor radio up on his shoulder by his ear. He listened only to Classical music. His favorite piece was the Schubert Piano Sonata in B flat Major. If you sat him down at a piano he could play it, or sections of it (his ambition exceeded his diligence). When I was in the seventh grade Bruce used to show up at my mother’s house and astound us by playing the Grieg Concerto, or a similarly difficult piece from the standard concert repertoire, and then leave. He loved the arts, any and all of them, including poetry. My brother liked to say his favorite poet was Wallace Stevens. He would quote from his poems while bending someone's ear at a bar in the village, Jack Barry’s, perhaps, beer in hand, giving his best dramatic delivery, half bullshit and half genuine appreciation for true aesthetic endeavor. There was a particular night in 1969 when four of us piled into an old van, Bruce, Billy Quinn, myself, and Jim the hippie poet, and off we went to some party in Jersey (there were about 8 or 9 people there as I recall, a decidedly low key party with a real bar from some saloon installed in the dining area) and Bruce in his usual way was quite the drunken charmer and show off, much of which went either unnoticed or met with big yawns and a less than appreciative response; he could be tedious. I was installed in a chair off in the corner perusing the nudist magazines I had discovered on the table, much to my youthful delight. All of a sudden, after hours of nothing much going on, a young lady, who apparently lived there, opened the door from the bedroom and walked into the room stark naked bidding everyone goodnight. I was a bit stunned by it, eyeballs popping out of my head, as though she had just stepped out of one of the magazines I was looking at. But Bruce came alive, ran right up to her from across the room, hands extended, saying, “Oooh, I have to touch those and in his best dramatic and poetic voice (he had studied acting in high school, before studying piano, was always quoting Shakespeare to me when I was a kid) and with a delighted wink he quoted Stevens :
Beauty is momentary in the mind—
The fitful tracing of a portal;
But in the flesh (pause here for effect)
It is immortal.
And then Bruce proceeded to put his hands on her breasts and kiss her goodnight. She loved it, however, exhibitionist that she was, and Bruce, ever the charmer, made it seem amusing rather than sleazy. It took me a week to stop thinking about that girl. I was all of twenty one. Welcome to New York, I thought.
cover photo by Floyd M. Wright
- this is a work in progress -
LAUGHING BOY - A memoir of the short and tragic life of Bruce Warwick Wright. Defined forever in the infamous photograph taken by Diane Arbus in 1968, there are other photographs that show the deeper story to his life, that now in the burgeoning age of acceptance, can be appreciated for the real tragedy that it was. Bruce Wright 1941 - 1982
The Untold Story - LitHub.com