Manhattan, New York, New York city in the 1960s was a place you won’t be able to even imagine if you didn’t live there. It’s a world that many movies and TV shows tried to capture but never could. The Times Square/Theatre area wasn’t safe but you could find everything and anything you wanted. Walking down 42nd Street you were part of the  world made up of prostitutes, male and female, drug sellers and buyers, run-a-way kids and the world of porno along with tourists, Broadway stars and New Yorkers coming and going to work. Turn the corner and walk north up 8th Avenue and there is the world of steak houses like Downey’s, neighborhood bars represented by Blarney’s not to forget the Adonis movie house which became a porn theatre with sex happening in every nook and cranny. Ablock away you took an elevator to the second floor of a building and when you stepped off and turned to the left you walked into a replica of Central Park and had sex in the bushes while if you stepped left you were in an army barracks.

It wasn’t all about sex but New York had the sexual revolution before the rest of the world. Yes, I knew all about the gay city from the ‘bird circuit’, gay bars all over the borough to Mary’s on 8th Avenue in the Village or the Coat of Arms, an east side bar off Lexington Avenue, in the 50s with everyone dressed in jackets and ties for drinks in the front which was the bar and then go to the rear for dinner. And the Everod and St. Marks and Penn Station baths, just to mention 3, that were the definition of the ‘dens of iniquity’ and fun!

There are so many images running through my mind from the jobs I had to the plays and musicals I saw and the friends I made but one image stands above all and that is Jose ‘Pepe’ Cuesta. He was my age, Cuban, ambitious, hard working and had one goal, which was to get his parents out of Cuba and bring them here. His father had been one of the biggest cigar makers in the world and when Castro came in he took the Cuesta property. Pepe was going to an Academy in Virginia and his parents wouldn’t let him come back to Havana.

We met ‘Hollywood style, cute’ one snowy, stormy evening when I turned the corner from 8th Avenue to 23rd Street while he was turning from 23rd Street to 8th Avenue and we knocked each other, both landing in a pile of snow. Long story short–Pepe became my first long term relationship. It was with him that I moved into an apartment that we made a home together which was another first for me. He was a great cook and made Paella, flan, Arroz con Pollo and so many other dishes that I had never tasted before. He took me to concerts that starred Olga Guillot, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and Los Trios Panchos, teaching me the words, in Spanish, of the trio’s “Un Historia de Amore”.

Our affair was almost over before it even started as I didn’t know “Latin time”. I had tickets to see “I Can Get It For You Wholesale” in which some actress Barbra Streisand was making her Broadway debut and whom I had seen a couple of times at the Bon Soir in the Village and it was for two evenings after that fall in the snow. I made a mistake by telling him that the show started at 8 PM and we got to the theatre just as the curtain was going up which didn’t sit well with me. I learned to ‘lie’ about times we had to be at places.

He lived with me as I grew fatter, drank more and, though I didn’t know he knew, my infidelities. He accepted me as I was and loved me for what he saw. When my grandmother died Flo brought her up here to be buried and she stayed the week with us. She hadn’t been up north during winter for many years and I still laugh picturing her sitting on the radiator to get warm. She loved Pepe and they had a lot of laughs together though he learned very quickly that only she could make fun of me!

It is sort of complicated to explain but, briefly, Pepe’s mother had been born in Spain and she couldn’t come to the USA seeking refuge so they had to get her here via Mexico or Puerto Rico. Pepe had worked 3 jobs for over 7 years until he had the money for his parents to make the trip out of Cuba. I knew what was coming from the beginning but didn’t think much about it. He came home one evening and said he was leaving in a month to go into business with Mundo, a friend, in Puerto Rica and after getting settled, get his parents there and then bring them to Miami and set up a home for them and live with them for awhile. He said he would help me look for a place in Manhattan if I didn’t want to stay in Sunnyside, Queens, and when I found a place he not only helped me move but gave me a large, round dining room table handcrafted by his father.

I could talk for hours about Pepe and all the kind things he did and  taught me but I still have the rest of the 60s to cover so I’ll just say that he was one of the best things that ever happened to me and the last time I saw him was when he came to Memphis in 1975 and when he was having dinner with me and Johnny he said that as great as I looked being thin I should never forget that he loved me when I was fat–that was Pepe. For many years I got a birthday card from him every year but they stopped coming and I have no idea what happened to him. I still miss him and I still know all the words to “Un Historia de Amore”.

(To be continued)


“Magic is

believing in yourself,

if you can do that,

you can make

anything happen.”


(Maria’s cards)

Posted May 23, 2012 by greatmartin in Uncategorized

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