Norman Thomas Marshall,

Resident at Westbeth in the 1970s

Suck Session

I moved into Westbeth just as it was getting underway. My wife, Nancy, did all the heavy lifting, making the application, fudging the financial facts, dragging me to interviews with the hard-eyed lawyers, accountants, and dilettantes who would be our benefactors. From the jump, I thought the rent was too damn high. I saw no blessing whatsoever in abandoning our three-room, eighteen-dollar-a-month apartment on East 28th Street for a ninety-five-dollar-a-month one-room joint in the Village that was four time zones removed from a subway.

The first benefit was quitting my lucrative waiter’s job in an East 34th Street restaurant because the commute was too onerous–long walk, Eighth Avenue subway, Sixth Avenue line, crosstown bus. In collaboration with fellow tenants Luis Avalos and Harold Miller, we began rehearsing The Bridge by Mario Fratti, thinking that in the warm and steaming creative compost of Westbeth, someone would surely take notice and provide a theatre space for the work of three unheralded geniuses. Nothing doing. At least, it got me back into show business, to the enormous benefit of the English-speaking theatre.

I learned the delights of the odor of Gauloises cigarettes filling an apartment, thanks to Joel Oppenheimer, poet and Village Voice writer. On a morning in 1971 or 1972, Joel and I were sharing the New York Times and slurping down greasy cups of coffee at the Bus Stop diner, when he read the obituary of a prominent poet. He then withdrew from a pocket protected by a pocket protector a writing implement of some genre and commenced an ardent scribbling in the margins of the New York Times. Less than a greasy half cup of coffee later, he and those cuneiforms had reached a conclusion. Joel announced, “I am now the ninth most important poet in the English-speaking world.”

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