Monday, December 20, 2010

Prequel to “The Man Who Hated Christmas”

Yesterday, the New York Times printed a page 1 story in the Metropolitan Section about Bob Kulicke. It was called “The Man Who Hated Christmas” by Wendell Jamieson. Jamieson had been a sort-of stepson of Bob’s in New York City during the late 70’s, 80’s and 90’s.

I loved the article because Bob Kulicke had been a really good friend to me in the 50’s and 60’s—‘way before Wendell Jamieson’s mom and Bob got involved, Bob had even saved my sorry ass one memorable time.

When I knew him, Bob Kulicke had a frame shop at 73rd Street and York Avenue on the east side of Manhattan. My husband Ron Gorchov and I and our tots Michael and Jolie lived on the first floor of a three-story brownstone at 73rd and York. Ron was (and still is) a painter. Bob did the framing for the Museum of Modern Art back then. He was a sweet, warm-hearted, volatile, very funny guy. By 1960, Ron and I were in the midst of a break-up and Ron had moved out. I think Bob and his wife Barbara (Bobby) were having troubles back then too.

Our son Michael was about 7 years old and he loved going over to the frame shop. Bob let him help making frames, like applying the first coat of gesso on what would become a baroque and “distressed” rococo frame. It wasn’t unusual for Bob to drop by our apartment around 4:00 in the afternoon for a cup of coffee. One afternoon, I recognized his knock on the door and I invited him in. The kitchen was the first room you entered. I’d just made a pot of coffee.

We sat down at the round kitchen table near a window looking on 73rd Street. Bob happened to glance over at a wide shelf on a floor-to ceiling-cabinet where I kept odds and ends like cookbooks, pens and pencils and bills to be paid. An item on the shelf caught his eye. He picked it up.

“What the fuck is this…I mean…what IS this?”

“Hmmmm…well Bob…I guess it’s what it says…it’s an eviction notice.”

Eviction notices came in different colors. Like, the first one was pink. One ignored pink ones. The second one was yellow. One ignored yellow ones. The final one was green. You either didn’t ignore the green one or you got evicted. Bob was looking at a green one.

“But jesuschrist! This is for tomorrow.”

“Yeah…nine ayem…that’s what it says.”

“And you are doing WHAT?”

“I’m getting evicted!”

You’d have to know Bob to picture him bolting out of his chair and waving his arms and yelling, “Well Jesus! Well my God! What the hell! FUUUUUCK!”

He stalked into the room that had been Ron’s painting studio before he had moved out. “What have you got to sell? You got anything to sell?”

“Bob, look around…I got NOTHING…that’s why I’m getting evicted.”

“What’s this?”

“It’s a painting John Graham left with us before he went to Europe. It doesn’t belong to me.”

“Of course it belongs to you…it’s here and he’s there.”

Bob picked up the had no frame. It was just the painting on the stretched canvas. But it was a quintessential Graham—about 18” by 18”, the head of a woman with crossed eyes, and a gash on her neck, in a blue dress and a big black hat.

“I’m buying this,” Bob said. “How much is your rent? How much do you owe?”

“You can’t buy that, I don’t own it. And my rent is $120 and I owe three months.”

“Of course I can buy it. I’m buying it. Okay?” Bob tucked the painting under his arm and walked back to the kitchen. He sat down at the table and reached in his pocket for his wallet. He pulled out two checks and started  scribbling on the checks. “Here’s a check for $360, and another one for $100. Go pay your rent and go buy some food or whatever for yourself.”

Needless to say, I stopped arguing and took the checks. I grabbed my baby daughter from her crib,  threw some warm clothes on her and put her in her stroller. We ran up to 80th Street to the realtor’s office. We got there just as he was leaving for the day.

Funnily, just before Bob had knocked on my door that afternoon, I had been lying down having a conversation…a rather one-sided conversation…with God. “Alright,” I had said. “The ball is in your court. I’ve done everything I can do. Now it’s up to you.”

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