ROOMING HOUSE NIGHTS

55-highland-street-west-hartford-ct-my-old-rooming-house-and-my-first-apartment-in-1968-copy-3

(The rooming house at 55 Highland Street, West Hartford, Connecticut.)

Not in vain did I stay up all those nights, listening to the dreaming murmuring of birds.

In that rooming house on Highland Street in West Hartford, Connecticut, where I lived when I was eighteen years old, I wrote many a song and poem in the quiet of those nights. The only sounds would be the clanging of the radiators, or the dripping of snow from the eaves in Winter. Or the occasional footsteps in the hall of one of the eccentric occupants.

We were a motley collection of souls. There was me, second floor back right, with the gable windows, the young musician in his first foray out of his family home.  On the first floor front room left, there was Wayne, the Frank Sinatra-obsessed postal worker from Torrington, who, though in his early twenties, sported a carefully combed and coiffed pompadour from the 1950s. He wore cardigan sweaters and Italian loafers and would invite me in to hear Sinatra records, enthusiastically gushing all the while, his voice steadily rising to an alarmingly loud volume. He was in a constant state of exasperation that the world didn’t seem to recognize the fact that Frank Sinatra was a genius and very possibly a saint.

Across from Wayne, first floor front room right, was Guy, the long-haired Swedish-American dude who spoke and moved at the pace of an rain-forest sloth. He worked in the kitchen of one of the clubs my band played in. He spoke so slowly, with heavy lidded eyes peeking out of his medieval-looking bangs, that you had to resist the urge to strike him squarely on the top of his head to get him to complete his sentences. He was always home.

Then there was Susan, the pretty older woman (thirty was practically ancient to me at the time) who played flute in a chamber ensemble and studied at Hartt College of Music. She was attractive in that Lindsay Crouse kind of way, in her wire rimmed glasses, intelligent and with the body of a cyclist. Knowing I was a pianist and sax player, she gave me a rosewood bagpipe practice chanter.

My nearest neighbor, in the second floor front right apartment, was a middle aged woman named Gladys. She was quite overweight and rarely left her room. I’m sure she was on assistance of some sort. Though it was against house rules to cook in your room, she would often fire up her hotplate and fry up large meals containing lots of onions, usually at midnight. At her request, I’d help her turn over her mattress every few weeks. I thought we were friends, until one night, while I was on the  hallway payphone with my girlfriend, she came storming out of her cave screaming at me “You’re the devil! I’ll piss on your head!”. Obviously she was mentally ill, and I gave her a wide berth after that.

side-view-of-my-old-room-at-55-highland-street-rooming-house

(That’s my room in the middle on the second floor, with the two circular windows.)

I was working full time as accompanist for modern dance classes at The Hartford Conservatory during the day, and playing with my band Portrait Blues at night. I found it most efficient to compose music in the night hours, writing out the parts on music paper to give to my band members at rehearsal. I always loved writing music parts, and would give each musician a nickname, along with a drawing at the top of his part. Bassist David Stoltz was “Drake Cottony”. Drummer/blues harp player Ralph Rosen was “Smilin’ Corn”. Tenor sax/flute player Mark Kaplan was  “Triangle Reed Beard” and guitarist John Webber was “Little Johnny Stringshanks”.

The nicknames changed with each new part, but some, I hear, are carried forward to this today, with pride and affection, by the musicians themselves.

portrait-blues-band-photo-1970

(Portrait Blues, 1970: left ro right, John Webber – guitar; Mark Kaplan – tenor sax, flute; Grayson Hugh – vocal, piano, organ, soprano saxophone; Ralph Rosen – drums, blues harp.)

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TO HEAR “BREEZY FARM”, ONE OF THE SONGS I WROTE BACK THEN, CLICK HERE.

TO HEAR “GRAY DAY CLICK HERE.

Here are three poems I wrote while living there.

••• MUTE SNOW •••

we’re half here and half there
and all inbetween like the light

the moon is a half fish dune
like a lark in a black creek
and all i want to eat
is the white of the shadow
of the blooming pear moon

ah the night goes about to be
down dark where you can’t see
just like your dumb dark hair

then the pine trees clap
on all the hills
and the woods are white
with all those quiet spills

••• SOLO •••

the moon needs no name for its light
which wanders from itself
onto the new world earth at night

through the sky it falls also
into the sea and seen by fish
and onto all tree branches

outside above the streetlight
slow moths wake
and hover against no wind

 

••• ROOMING HOUSE WHALES •••

In the rooming house where ten humans lived
I was lying awake several hours past midnight
listening to the college radio station playing undiscovered folk soul songs
and I turned it off to think

I thought about the shadows of moonlight
sliding slowly off the big leaves of trees
and dropping onto the summer grass outside
where lawn chairs
and birdless lilac bushes
stand silent in the scene

I thought about all the people who were inside now
curled up sleeping in their second floor burrows
dreaming their ornately unfolding big blossoms of dreams
their brains working unapologetic
and electric
all through the night
flashes and spasms of fear and desire
and long involved wanderings
and stumblings through childhoods

and I could hear the occasional car
softly slowly come and rip the quiet of the night
creeping like a shark
as it passed under the streetlight in front of the rooming house
a sad metal spirit dragging itself by

and there by myself in the vanishing summer night
I imagined how beautifully terrifying it would be
to suddenly
just for one second
be transported next to the gigantic breathing body
of a huge whale
in some deep dim sea

with his huge half asleep eye
he would look at my odd speck of a body
perhaps thinking I was a sudden large seahorse
or a dream vision

and I would be immediately transported back to my bed
with the glistening remains of a miracle
wetly draping my arms like seaweed hair

but I would remember
and have forever imbued in the water of my blood
the feeling of that giant whale body next to me

hearing his big warm heart slowly beating
floating in the hush and pulse of his thoughts
blessed with the brotherhood of living
by this lord of all oceans

and lying there in the rooming house night
i shivered with terror and joy
knowing for a fact that right then
and at any moment

a whale is breathing
he is there
with his dreams descending
all around him like a sea snow falling
down there in the dark water
without me

© 1969, 2016 by Grayson Hugh

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3 thoughts on “ROOMING HOUSE NIGHTS

  1. One of the many things I have learned from your blog is just how much New England is like “Merry OLD England.” … and don’t ask me why but this post brought back Distant Memories of Herman Melville.
    Your blog is a joy with it’s blend of your artistic originality and influences.
    Thank you for another great one!

      1. Aye aye! Stow the whale blubber and ambergris in the hole down below and let nary a bit go to waste! … when giving my book report, I was informed, Moby Dick is not specifically about JUST blubber. 🐳👍👍

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