Lost Youth, or “I Had Pretty Plumage Once”

Me in 1973 (all photos by James Huff)

Lost Youth, or “I Had Pretty Plumage Once”

And I though never of Ledaean kind

Had pretty plumage once—enough of that,

Better to smile on all that smile, and show

There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.

                                                                        WB Yeats, “Among School Children”

Poverty is not all that terrible if you’re in college. After all, most students live in dormitories, and for my first two years of undergraduate school, the dorms I lived in were officially known as “The Tenements,” the oldest dorms on campus, picturesque but Spartan. And when I say Spartan, I mean tres austère –  no air-conditioning in the summer; hand-searing radiators in the winter; merely two telephones in the hall, one for on campus communication, the other a pay phone you had to feed quarters during long distance calls. And perhaps the worst indignity of all, there were no stalls around the three toilets lined up in the flashback-inducing black-and-white diamond-tiled bathroom. Whenever nature called, the residents of Tenement 9 shielded themselves with open newspapers to create a modicum of privacy. No one, conversed, i.e., no one shot the shit while shitting.


Even though I couldn’t afford it, I moved off-campus my junior year, and after a couple of nightmare rentals in the fall and winter of my senior year, my housemate Warren Moise, along with a host of other impoverished students, moved into the once genteel abode of 1830 Greene Street conveniently located on campus.[1] I’m fairly certain than none of us owned an automobile. SLED paid a visit our first week, and half the residents were carted off to jail for simple possession. Luckily, Warren, Jim, and I were off when police came a calling.

1830 Greene Street

Interestingly enough – and least for me – I had lunch with my Greene-Street housemate Warren Thursday and then encountered another Greene-Street housemate that afternoon when I was signing copies of my novel Today, Oh Boy in Summerville.[2] I hadn’t seen Jim Huff or his wife Jane in this century – in fact, not since the late 80s or early 90s. Jim had been lease-signer of 1830 Greene and therefore collected our $20 rent each month (there were eight of us) and utility money and money to buy kerosine for the enormous furnace that consumed fuel as rapidly as RJ McCarthy downed his 24-ounce cans of “the Bull,” aka Schlitz Malt Liquor. Every room except for the kitchen and the two bathrooms was utilized as a bedroom, including the living room and the conservatory where I slept, only assessable through Mr. McCarthy’s room. 

Hail, affordable housing; farewell, privacy.

Jim Huff circa 1975

Here’s a list Jim compiled of the house’s residents, including girlfriends who spent multiple nights.

At the signing in Summerville, Jim gave me some photographs he had taken back in the day, which I so much appreciate. They demonstrate quite eloquently that whatever I may have gained in monetary wealth, I have equaled in girth, but lost in hair.

Anyway, it was great seeing Warren, Jim, and Jane, though I must admit that the photos have engendered a wee bit of melancholy.

Ah, no; the years O!

And the rotten rose is ript from the wall.[3]

[1] If you’re in the mood for some Night of the Hunter noir, click HERE and read about a couple of harrowing experiences we suffered before moving to Greene Street.

[2] Get ’em while they’re hot. LINK.

[3] You can read the rest of the poem here. LINK.

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