Where Did My Brain Go?

Remembering David Nolan (1962-2010)

I met Jayne in November 1981, and we decided to get married a few weeks later. Jayne’s condition for marriage was that I quit my silly job at the bank, where I spent most of my time writing short stories, and get a real job.

I was interested in computers, so we asked Neil, my friend from high school, who owned an employment agency, what I needed to learn to get a programming job. Neil advised me to take the entrance exam for the Intensive Programming course at NYU School of Continuing Education. Neil said the 12 week course was considered the best way to learn programming quickly, and it would enable me to find an entry-level job. The only catch was that I had to take a three-hour entrance exam, because (I think) there were 12,000 applicants for 800 spots.

I was extremely nervous about the test, so Jayne and I spent the night before the exam getting drunk. I took the test slightly hungover. It was the most difficult test of all-time, and had nothing to do with programming. One part of the test displayed exploded views of Defense Department products, and I had to draw lines to show how the parts fit together.

I met Jayne met after the exam, and we waited on a long line to get my results. Finally at the front of line, several people in front of us had not made the cut, so I nervously asked, “Did I pass?”

A young lady replied, “You have an eminently respectable score. You have the 28th highest score, and will be placed in our advanced class.” I learned later that the top 30 scores were placed in this class, so I just made the cut.

Jayne said, “You see? You were worried about nothing!”

The Class

My instructor was Ed Anderson, who claimed to be the only faculty member who had not finished high school. He gleefully told the class that he left his application incomplete, and under education, said “11 years.” He added that he had thoroughly intimidated his interviewer, who was afraid to ask questions, and simply hired him. Ed claimed NYU discovered his lack of a college degree several years later, but he kept his job, since he had not lied, and was remarkably intelligent.

After initimidation, Ed’s second favorite activity was smoking cigarettes. Several times a day, he would distribute a problem for us to solve, saying, “I will be in the hall, smoking, until Mickey points to 10. Then I expect to return, and find that everyone has finished this exercise.”

While the class struggled to solve Ed’s problem, he observed us through a glass pane on the door, sucking the daylights out of 100mm cigarettes.

We had classes from 9-5, breaking 12-1 for lunch, and then “computer room” for daily homework. When the computer room closed at 1 AM, there were always a few students grumbling that they needed more time!

Most of the students were business types, over 30, who had been sent to the course by their employers. But there were two young people, both wearing tie-dyed t-shirts on their first day, David and me, so we went for coffee together, and became friends.

Life on The Lower East Side

I grew up in Brooklyn, and very little shocked me, until my first visit to David’s apartment, on East 11th Street between Avenue A and Avenue B. First, you had to pass through a crowd of drug dealers and customers to get to the building’s entrance. This bothered me, but David thought it was great. “They keep the block safe,” he explained, “because they don’t want anyone to rob their customers.”

David’s apartment was also scary. He was the youngest of a group that “homesteaded” this formerly abandoned building. As I recall, tenants contributed $100/month to a fund, which would eventually be given to NYC to buy the building. The building was a mess. The windows of David’s studio faced the backyard, which was covered by a couple of feet of garbage, including some very large blocks of concrete.

The interior was worse. Several areas, including the bathroom, were missing pieces of floor, so you would see the downstairs tenants if you were both using the bathroom. Sensing my discomfort, he said, “Let’s get something to eat.”

“Something” turned out to be a spleen sandwich which only cost about $1.25 at an Italian place on First Avenue. It was advertised using the Italian word for spleen, which I forget, and was barely edible.

When we returned to his apartment, he opened the door gingerly, grabbed a broom, and whacked a plastic garbage can a few times to make the mice scatter before we entered. That was enough for me, and I suggested that it would be more comfortable to head Uptown, and do our homework where I lived.

The Taj Mahal

Jayne and I lived in a one bedroom apartment at the corner of West 103rd Street and Riverside Drive. Instead of drug dealers, you passed through a doorman to enter our building, and there was no garbage or rodents.

Jayne and I had a lovely, 8 foot, Brunswick Heirloom pool table in our living room. After homework, I invited David to have a drink, and play pool, while I waited for Jayne to get home. She joined us, and we played for awhile, before ordering Chinese food. David had an incredible knack for charming women, and got along great with Jayne, until about 10 PM, her bedtime, when she asked me to send him home. When I informed David, who was a little drunk, he seemed crushed, and said rather loudly, “But this is the Taj Mahal! I never want to leave!” Jayne thought this was so funny, she let him sleep on our convertible sofa. But the name stuck. After school, he would come over smiling, and say, “Let’s go to the Taj Mahal!”

Jayne also liked David’s Dad, Wally, and we met him at his office a few times. I only met his Mom once, when Jayne drove David to Jericho for something.

Mainframes and Microcomputers

Jayne was an anesthesiology resident during the week, and we had similar incomes while I was working at the bank. When I was unemployed, she supplemented her income working Saturday nights at an emergency room. Since we were still in our “newlywed stage,” I used to visit her about 10 PM, and leave with her at 6 AM. This hospital was not very busy, and her supervisor brought his new Apple II computer, and Byte Magazine to pass the time.

Byte frustrated me, because I could barely understand anything! I discussed this with Jayne, and we decided it would be better for me to learn how to program the new microcomputers, instead of learning COBOL and BAL/370.

So Jayne, using her maiden name, wrote me a note that I had to withdraw from school because of migraine headaches.

I left after five weeks. David completed the course, but never used his certificate. He began volunteering at WBAI-FM, explaining that he was getting a chance to prepare for an FCC license exam, so he could host his own radio show. I cannot recall how he supported himself, but he was often at “The Taj Mahal” with Jayne and me. He got along better with Jayne than anyone I met during our marriage. But he never slept there again. I was instructed to provide him with Subway tokens to leave, when Jayne wanted to go to sleep.

However, Jayne liked him so much, that after Maxine was born in January 1985, David was her first, and only, babysitter for a few months.

Dead Air

Shortly after Maxine’s birth, David’s persistence paid off, when he became the host of “Dead Air” – live performances of the Grateful Dead, on (I think) Sunday nights from 3-6 AM.

Of course, I had to visit him, and it was fun. His friend Doug, who had a huge Harley-Davidson logo tattooed on his skinny chest, followed The Dead, and recorded many performances on a portable DAT recorder, wearing a baseball cap, with two microphones sticking out the top.

After 1985

Jayne and I moved to Georgia at the end of 1985, and I was almost killed a few months later. I was still on crutches the next time I met David. I visited Manhattan for something, and got a room at The Chelsea Hotel, where I had always wanted to stay. I met David, but since it was so difficult for me to get around, we spent two days eating delivered Chinese food, and watching TV in my hotel room, which thankfully had two beds.

I saw him about a year later, when we both stayed in his greatly improved apartment, and spent a day or two in the East Village. David enjoyed hanging out at “Life Café“ where we played backgammon.

I tried contacting him after Jayne and I separated in 1992, but was unsuccessful. Several people were angry at me for breaking up with Jayne, and I mistakenly thought he was one of them, because he never called back. I called him again about 1998, and he was not angry, but said he might have had a problem with his answering machine. He was working as a DJ at Wetlands Preserve, and invited me to see Blues Traveler and Joan Osborne. Shows were sold out, so I had to ask for him, and he came out for a second, to let me in.

I visited him several times when he was was the engineer for “New York and Company“ on WNYC. It was amazing to see how much he had learned about radio.

I also met him once when he was having trouble setting up a Mac database for his friend John, to maintain a huge amount of poetry recordings.

That might have been the last time I saw him. When I returned to Manhattan, I called him a couple of times at the 92nd Street Y, where he was audio archivist, to meet for lunch, but our schedules were never compatible.

Recently

Before he setup his Facebook account, I kept in touch with David through occasional emails to MySpace. I always sent birthday greetings, partly because his birthday, Valentine’s Day, was so easy to remember.

I wanted to mail him a paper card this year, but somehow never got around to it. I added a calendar reminder to send him one next year.

Alas, it’s too late. So long buddy, I miss you.