More and more, I find that some of the people I remember best were bit players in my life, ones who were on the edge of my consciousness but who registered more deeply than I knew at the time: the pretty singer who lived on the seventh floor and who hummed to herself in the elevator; the mournful-looking barber who stood in the window of Paul Mole’s Barbershop on Lexington, watching the schoolboys pass; the club owner who laughed whenever he saw me coming and would wave me in to see Tim Hardin without paying; the West Indian doorman of the building on east Sixteenth Street who liked to work the night shift with no shoes on. I barely remember the guy I traveled with the summer I hitchhiked cross country, but I remember the fifteen-year-old runaway I met. Gay Monday Sad Tuesday was her name. It looked like there’d been very few Mondays in her life. I thought about this a few days ago when I learned of Mayer Vishner’s death by his own hand in late August.
Mayer wasn’t a close friend, but our paths crossed repeatedly over the last thirty years, first when he was a late night radio host on WBAI and booked music at Dr Generosity’s (an Upper East Side dive remembered for free peanuts, cheap beer, and an over-zealous sound system), later when he helped run the Saint Marks Bookshop when it was still on Saint Marks Place; more recently as someone who was constantly wandering the upper reaches of MacDougal Street with his laundry or his cat. Sometimes we’d stop for coffee at one of the overpriced cafes near Washington Square. Mostly we’d talk about doing that and figured we’d do it next week, after the laundry was done, after the cat was fed.
All the time I knew him, Mayer looked very much like what he was: an anarchist with a wicked sense of humor and the best pot on the block. He wanted to blow up Wall Street, but he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s cat in the process.
A prankster, albeit a cranky one, he ran with a crowd of full time troublemakers: Abbie Hoffman, Ed Sanders, Paul Krassner, Phil Ochs, among a few others committed to revolution, psychedelic and otherwise, and committed to the possibility of peace and love. But it’s hard to wage a revolution in an age of property and complacency; Ochs and Hoffman both gave in to doubt and depression and took their own lives. Last week, Mayer followed suit.
A natural contrarian, he distrusted any and all forms of authority and was deeply bewildered by the news that I’d become a father and was raising a son. He simply couldn’t imagine telling anyone what to do. “It’s not like that,” I tried to explain. “The moment they can talk, they start telling YOU what to do.”
He wasn’t entirely convinced, but he agreed to rethink his position.
A shame. He would’ve made a kind and wonderful parent.