New York Avatar No. 4,
May 10, 1968, pp 9-11


John Wilton

A great deal has been happening to the Avatar family in the last few weeks which is actually news, and so this issue of the paper is coming out somewhat ahead of schedule. I don't really know where to start so it might as well be six o'clock tonight, Friday, when I had dinner with Dick and Harvey, our lawyers in New York and Boston respectively, plus Harvey's mother and brother who run a candy concession in one of those funky 42nd street movie houses (which by the way, is the place to see first run flicks at a quarter the price from around the corner on Broadway.) A Jewish family and an absolute gas. We went to eat in one of those rather posh, super plastic and very funky restaurants on 43rd street. The preliminaries were fun, we all had a good time what with the clams that Dick got, by the time he'd eaten all but two of them he realised that they tasted rather strange, sent them back and after a little bit the waitress comes back with a smaller plate with two clams on it announcing that these were the two, it was the way they'd been opened and everything was OK now, it took some absurd to and fro-ing to elucidate that they were different clams from the ones that had been sent away, and (this part implied of course) that the trouble with the opening was that it happened a long time ago. There were other things too, the waitress was sixty and behind the plastic facade really groovey, but the nitty-gritty came when a drunken bum lurched in, wanting a dime and the manager and waitress came up to throw him out as the usual uptight case is. How many people reading this would have asked him to sit down, telling the manager he was a friend? Anyway, that's what Harvey did, and incidentally giving the lie to every system of belief and conduct that has ever been promulgated especially by the current turned-on generation which thinks that if everyone took acid the problems would be over. He was an ex-10th precinct cop named Jim, Fordham '38. This, his story, and its grounding in objective events is totally irrelevant. He went to work for the First National City Bank in the department approving loans to policemen. He gave loans to some who were in trouble with loan sharks and ended up getting fired and he joined the police force, right? Went through the war, in Iran and China and Germany and the Pacific etc. etc., and while all this was going on there would be diversions like he'd give his hand to one of us saying "you're in my corner, there aren't too many of us left," one of those unfortunate but absolutely true things though I think that is what acid is actually about. There'll be more of us who truly are individuals, but it absolutely doesn't matter because when you talk about something which is gonna maybe happen in the future you have to fight off the people wanting to clutch that line — but I'll get to that. Anyway, Jim would say you're in my corner and we'd tell him to eat his hamburger and he'd tell the waitress that the wrinkles in his hair were making his brain wobble and we'd tell him to go to Fordham hospital to do something about his shakes, he being an alumnus and all, it was finally agreed he'd go to the VA hospital, so another quarter for the A train and of course as soon as he's out the door, hustling dimes again.

The purpose of all this is to show what a beautiful person Harvey Silvergate is. He stands in the middle of a huge squabble which is going on in Boston at the moment, between the people who've been putting out Boston Avatar (the Fort Hill community) and the people critical of the Hill's handling of the paper (specifically Mel Lyman), the Valley People. Both sides have asked Harvey to represent them in all this. Dick asked me which side I was on, I could only tell him that I was me. As an absurd irrelevance to the incredible things happening, Harvey told me that in the Boston newspapers in the last week there has been all a lot of bullshit about me being the Australian defence chief's son and the Australian News Service calling him etc., etc., and because of my moral turpitude (selling Avatar to a minor) of which I was convicted in Cambridge Superior Court last Monday with a $500 fine, appealed of course — poor Harvey. Anyway I left Harvey and went up to the Public Library to check out what was happening in the papers and incidentally to dig my notoriety. Of course, they didn't have the Boston Papers so I wandered back down to 42nd st. checking out the newsstands to see how our paper was doing. Some background here: we are distributing with J and J, a commercial outfit which handles the RAT and National Enquirer, and now EVO. Was furious to find that hardly any of the stands carrying those other papers had Avatar. We gave distribution to J and J because he could get it on those stands. The one stand that did have it had the old issue, even though j&j had the paper, the new one for two days and got it a day before the current issue of EVO which had already been distributed. Anyway, I was in a total funk at this point, waiting around trying to catch the distributor by phone. Every time I called he wasn't home and I was vaguely thinking of going to New Jersey to get my mother's sister to help me handle my problem with my parents who would like to see their highly qualified structural engineer son being an engineer and then reading in the Australian papers that he was a convicted felon. At this point I ran into Jon Maslow, one of our photographers, one of the reasons we had no photos in the last issue is that he's been avoiding us, as usual he showed me that the reverse of down is up and I ran down to him all the things that have happened in the last month. It goes something like this:

We were going to change the format of Avatar (New York) with issue three. Up to that point, separate newspapers had been published for Boston and New York with a magazine common to both. The new plan was to make the New York paper a magazine, distributed by itself in New York for 0.25, and insert it into the Boston newspaper section selling for 0.35. Bob and Eben were to come to the city the Friday before paste-up, and the first intimation of trouble we had down here was when Bob and Eben didn't show. We went right ahead and did our paper here (Number Three). Halfway through paste-up I flew up to Boston to be sentenced and caught some of what was going on — that the people on the Hill were going through an emotional time, that everyone was building a wall around Mel's house and that was why nobody had come to New York and that nothing was being done on the Boston paper. At this point I will digress to give a little political history of the paper so that you can understand the next developments. The Boston Avatar was started back in June last year by a group of people in Cambridge, including some people from the Hill. All ventures if they are to materialize, require that things get out of the talk stage. And it became apparent that the people who could be relied on to do the work and get the paper out were the Hill people. So naturally it effectively became their paper, with lots of criticism from the other people who rather flippantly (but actually for ease of reference) I'm calling the Valley people. Anyway when I was in Boston on Monday it was clear that the Valley people were taking advantage of the chaos in the Hill to take over control of the paper. That's not really fair, the Hill people including me, don't believe much in such abstractions as the "Boston-Cambridge Community" or "The Progressive Youth Movement". If you can't point to real people with real human electricity flowing between them then it's just a big fucking game, but the Valley people really believed that the paper should serve an imaginary community with the paper 'covering' 'events' and thus stepping off the road where we (the Hill) wanted it to be, where we talk about events only so far as we can still be talking about ourselves, off the road and onto that highway of despair landmarked by the Voice, the Boston Globe, and Time. Wayne (Boston Editor) showed me a long piece he had written, which we are printing in this issue, more or less letting go. I think it's a groovey piece.

Not really realizing at this point that the situation was going to get completely out of hand, I came back to New York, finished issue number three, and Brian and I shot back to Boston to get it printed. Politics that afternoon, in the evening I went out to the Press an hour on the Pike from Boston to see my paper through, while everyone else went to the Club 47 in Cambridge where the Lyman family (the Hill) was giving a benefit for the Club. (Send the 47 your $$$$ by the way, a lot of things got started there but their baby is big and fat now and costs).

I got back to the office about 3 AM expecting to find people pasting up the paper and found only Ed Beardsley there who with unconcealed delight told me that Eben had slugged Brian on stage at the 47 and that my community was in ruins. Ed told John MacDonald to go with me up to the Hill because Mel's birthday party was supposed to be in progress there. I told him I didn't think that would be a very good idea and he showed a lot of balls by coming anyway. I walked into Eben's (and my) house. There were thirty people sitting around the big table, Brian was talking to Mel.

At the Club 47 total insanity had erupted, beginning with Eben breaking up furniture and ending with a free for all on stage. About what it means — anyone with any sensitivity must know that to do something that brings out a reality, any reality, in public is a very rare achievement. But I guess you have to do it before you understand it. The scene in Eben's house was the aftermath. Through it all I didn't feel a thing except for the first time for Mel, before that night I guess mainly I feared him because he's stronger than me. He sat through that incredibly stupid scene which was supposed to be his birthday party. People alternately acting out a silence then viciously the group tears into one of its members. Poor goddam Mel, he really is Christ on Earth you goddam cretins, you sure as hell aren't, telling people where it's at by word, by action, by being his ludicrous disguises, being asked some stupid political question and answering by analysing his smoke rings so that all is forgot, magic in the twentieth century, and then being confronted by people who give his words back to him as if they have some meaning apart from when he says them. You goddam creeps in New York are so uptight about Mel. We print his stuff because if you knew the guy you could not not print it because when you are with him it is so goddam obvious that he is more than anyone else around that to criticise what he writes or to attempt to 'edit' it seems ludicrous. I'd better stop this eulogy right here. If I were Mel I think I'd split and try again somewhere else.

Things got really stupid. Eben destroyed his drawings, everyone was so emotional that the paper didn't get done until finally a 28-page tabloid [Avatar 24] was put together consisting entirely of pix of Allison's acid trip. I saw the pictures so it's probably a groovey paper but a very poor excuse for letting emotions get in the way of doing what has to be done. The infuriating thing being that Wayne and all put out the paper when they manifestly had nothing to offer in such a way that everyone else, also my and their dear friends, so uptight that they might, probably will, start another paper, get into legal hassles etc., etc. Wayne said he still wants to do the paper because Mel has started writing again, I heard him say that at least ten times and when you say something that many times, you must be trying to convince yourself. For God's sake Wayne stop that bullshit, become editor of the goddam paper if that's what you really want and stop being yet another one of Mel's yes-men. It seems to me that's why the whole mess happened, that Mel finally got fed up with having human tape recorders around him. Not that I blame you. When I'm with Mel, I find it almost impossible to be myself but for those instants when I am John with Mel without separation this whole ludicrous venture is justified and I guess it'll go on till we die.

[see: Brian Keating's Last Week article in the following issue,
and Letters in response.]