It was the 6th year on 38th St. My 5 year lease was up and I was flying month to month with no lease. My landlord John Iraqi would come up the first of every month to collect the rent and hint that I should look for a new space. He was converting everything to offices and said I didn’t fit with the rest of the building anymore…dah. The writing was on the wall, literally. I started checking the paper for a new space. My morning ritual was a giant cup of coffee and the New York Times real estate section. Many of the ads were the same each day so I could scan the few pages in about 10 minutes. If something fit I would call and make an appointment. Usually I was disappointed. The space was either the wrong shape, the wrong location, or was already to upscale to tolerate the organized chaos which seemed to follow me everywhere in those days. Mostly though I didn’t want to move and more importantly I didn’t believe I would have to move.
A few more months went by. One first of the month, John came up looking a bit disheveled and red in the face. I knew the look. He had been up most of the night drinking. He said “Look, I can’t protect you any more. I’m selling the building. The new owner wants to make a deal with you. Whatever he says, take it.” I said I would meet with him. His name was Mr. Colon. I’m not kidding; OK maybe it was spelled with a K. Anyway, we met at his penthouse office in lower Manhattan. His office had this incredible view over the water. I swear you could see clear out to the ocean. It was me, John, Mr. Colon, and his trophy secretary who took notes the whole time. He offered me 3 months to get out or else. I told him it would take him at least a year to legally throw me out and he wouldn’t be collecting any rent during that time. John looked at me amazed. He pulled me aside and said “Take the deal. You don’t know who you’re dealing with.” My mind was racing. I had a few thousand in the bank but not enough to get, build, and move into a new place. I never thought I would have to move. I hadn’t planned on John selling the building. Now I just admitted I could be out in a year. It was really over.
I went back to the table, sat down and said nothing. Mr. Colon wiped the mustard from his now finished sandwich off his lower lip. It was then I realized he had scheduled me during his lunch hour. I was small fry. He shot an annoying glance at John as if to say, I thought this was going to be done by now. He said, “So do we have a deal?” No, I want one year with no rent. I felt John’s foot under the table. Mr. K said 3 months only and I’ll through in the no rent. John piped in “Take it, Take it!” Back and forth we went fast and furious for what seemed an eternity; was probably only a minute. 11 months no rent. 4 months with no rent. 10months; no 5; 9; 6; 8; 6; 8; 6; 8; 6; then John kicked me under the table again and “6 months no rent” just popped out of my mouth. OK they both said in unison. OK, Game over – he won. He was good. Better than me. But at least now I had the money to move. But to where.
Hold that thought, because at that exact moment, a huge red thunder bolt came out of nowhere shaking the glass office windows. It sounds like a cliche, but it’s the God’s honest truth. The three of them jumped in their chairs. I didn’t move a muscle. Remember, I’m used to loud noises. But it was weird. When I looked out I could only see a couple small clouds, not enough to have created that disturbance.
John was the first to stand up. I waited for Mr K to rise. He did and finally said something nice to me. If I needed help finding a space he would help me or something to that effect. I let him finish, but wasn’t really listening. I stood up, said thank you, and headed for the door. The secretary held out papers in front of me; to sign I suppose. Ignoring her, I turned to Mr. K and said “6 months no rent, I’ll be out” and walked out. I never saw Mr K again.
Fred was never the most talkative or open guy in the world, in fact he always played his cards very close to the chest. I still don’t know if Fred ever even liked me that much. But at that point I was there with him every day, I wasn’t there much at night (unless we were rehearsing), but in the day it wasn’t as busy. Well it wasn’t a constant cacophony any how. I remember Fred coming in from his house on the lower east side (way before he became a New Jersey land baron), and he said “One word is our future: “Yamamoto”. I asked him what the fuck that meant, he replied “You’ll find out soon enough, just remember Yamamoto”! I don’t even think he told me about the deal he and Iraqui had struck, I don’t even think I knew that we were being kicked out at this point. I should say that Fred may have actually informed me of what was transpiring, I just didn’t register it at the time. My mind was pretty used up at the time. I just remember the cryptic word “Yamamoto”.
Yo El Dub Bunny, Michael, man, I love you guys! I marveled at your abilities then. I used to see your Branola bread commercial on TV all the time. I was so proud that you worked at the studio. Your first day of work you introduced yourself as Michael Gregg. I never understood that whole story. Pure Prarie League was in Studio A and the whole PA blew up. You jumped right in and helped me switch out almost every cabinet in the place. Some of my fondest memories are hanging out at your apartment in Brooklyn with you and Laurie watching TV. Giant was my social life and you were a part of that. One of my worst times was having your day shift taken away because of noise complaints. But that was reality. It was that or lose the whole place. Giant was a huge headache for me and very stressful. I never knew when the next bomb was going to drop. Paul put the best. “It was like standing under a drain pipe with sewage pouring on your head, and it never stops.” We shared a lot of times. Looking back; they were some of the best times ever.
On a sad note, my sister Betsy died on Dec 29th. I’ve been home since the 12th and had some good chunks of time to talk with and be with her. She was my musical mentor.
Yamamoto was the Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto of the Japanese Navy, (1884-1943)
Actually, Michael, I meant Yamoto, lead ship of a class of two 65,000-ton (over 72,800-tons at full load) battleships, was built at Kure, Japan. She and her sister, Musashi were by far the largest battleships ever built.
My brother Charlie was a model ship builder. He said I should get a space that could become the biggest rehearsal studio in NY. It was partly his influence which caused me to tackle such an impossible task. I was truly possessed.