The Commune

Feb 5, 2024

It was 1973.  Mary Anne and I were living together in what we called a commune on Staten Island.  It was actually a nine-bedroom Victorian house that seven college students all found at just about the same time.  So, we did what any kid who was looking for cheap lodging did in those days…. We all agreed to move in together.  It was an interesting group, so say the least.  Two brothers were from Brooklyn. One was a little off center.  The other was dead center.  Personality-wise, that is. One often danced naked to Cat Stevens music.  The other was quiet and hung around with his girlfriend.

One girl was from Queens who only ate macrobiotic food.  It seemed to make sense when we realized that her father owned a fish store. Oh, the smells he must have brought home … Another guy was also from Brooklyn.  He liked marajuana .. for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  And, a girl named Siobhan Lubieniecka.  Cute as a button with a name that filled all four corners of her mouth.  She was skinny as a rail and talked and and talked and talked.

Another guy named Morgan hailed from Long Island.  He looked like a member of the Hells Angels Bikers.  Long hair, big black beard. But, his looks were deceiving though.  He was a real mush.

Michael was also from Long Island.  He was a quiet, sweet guy who looked like any kid who went to Woodstock.

And, then there was John.  He danced to a different drummer.  An early follower of Yoga, Buddhism and all that seemed to bring you to the light.  It was a lively group who got along amazingly well.

Once we settled in we realized we needed a phone.  With seven or eight or nine different overnighters we realized the phone bill could get complicated.  Someone needed to put their name down on the account.  Yeah, right?  Who had a credit history when you were in your 20s?

So, the phone company came up with an idea. Could we be a company or an organization?  If so, we could have a Pay Phone installed.  Bingo.  John said, we’ll tell them we’re an Indian Tribe and name it after the street we live on:  The Phelps Place Tribe.  It was a perfect idea.  All you needed was a sock full of quarters every time you made a call. Well, that is until one of the “tribesmen” heard about a way to stick a pin through one of the phone wires so we could bypass the requirement for any coins.  We didn’t consider it unethical or illegal but, rather student ingenuity.

After living together for a while someone got the ridiculous idea that we should all invite our parents to visit us.  Oh boy, that was an eye opening experience.  Somewhat akin to having a party of strangers who were Trump and Bernie die hard supporters all in one place.  They travelled from Brooklyn and Long Island .. Catholics, Jews and Atheists.  They left their comfortable middle class homes to see how a bunch of oddball kids could live together in a creaky old house on Staten Island – a borough that oddly seemed suitable. They explored the living room with a toilet that served as a seat.  And, a kitchen that had the strangest containers of leftover mung bean casserole and  expired milk containers. Upstairs were the bedrooms.  A mattress here, a mattress there .. a large Indian scarf divides a room in two. Guitars here and there and everywhere. Let’s just say it was a funny, crazy and weird place and a weird day.

But, allow me to backtrack first.  We were living together.  And, Mary Anne’s parents weren’t all too happy about that situation.  “What should we tell the family about you two?  That you’re shaking up?”  My reply to my father-in-law .. “No, I wouldn’t say that.”  Him: “So what would you call it?” Me: “Why don’t you tell them we’re living together?” Him:  “What the hell’s the difference”?  Me.  “it sounds better.”  That wisecrack didn’t fly so well.

Of course there was another illuminating conversation we had a few months later.  He:  “So, are you going to marry my daughter?”  Me: “It’s a possibility.”  That one didn’t fly so well either.

Over time .. and, after we got married .. the conversations drifted towards his oddball collection of electronics from the 1950s.  I always thought he should write a book about how to cope with your Sicilian mother-in-law who lives in the room behind the kitchen.

After our Parent’s Visiting Day, I decided to turn that event into a movie.  It was a perfect project for a student studying the art of filmmaking.  I hooked up with a friend to write the script, gathered up a crew from fellow students, acquired all of the camera/sound and lighting equipment that City University had to offer and off I went.  First was casting talent from the local pool of community actors, next was a shooting schedule and off we went.  A few days on location at our Victorian house, a few weeks in the editing room and voila.  The premier (and, only public showing) included the cast, crew, friends and the families who made the original event happen.  Uggh.  Who’s idea was this?  Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to show off the fiction version of the non-fiction event?  I think .. there was some kind of applause at the end.     On a positive note, the film helped me to get admitted to NYU and USC Graduate Film Schools.  Too bad I never took either of them on their offers.  The idea of making a living as a filmmaker was daunting in the early 1970s.  So, I got a graduate degree in Performing Arts Management.  But, that’s another story for another day.