We were going into the South Bronx to see what they needed, so we hooked up with Sweat Equity and Megan. We told them what we were about. We told them we had EMTs and Paramedics. James was already of that scene. We couldn’t do the birthings because it was too hot. So we came on full force doing the ambulance service. People were waiting an hour or more for an ambulance. The Sweat Equity folks said they could help us out. They had nine buildings the city had awarded them and they said we could select a building of our own for our home and headquarters.
We weren’t going to Manhattan — we were going to the Bronx.
I was on the New York Farm. The groundwork was already laid for the Plenty Center and the Tennessee folks were coming up to the New York Farm and living with us. We went from a Farm of 64 to a Farm of 105 when we got folks from Tennessee. We all had to squeeze to fit them in. They lived with us for a couple of months while they did the footwork down in The City. Melvyn Stiriss and Michael Rose were doing fundraising. They even went to the Dakota and got a Plenty flyer to the doorman for John and Yoko, and then John died in 1980. I was on the Farm when he died. The flyer never got through.
James Mejia and Edward, were part of the early set up, and all of the New York Farm guys, Lucian Kragiel and Deborah Melford went down with us. Geno and me — we were the single men on the New York Farm. Monday morning was the men’s meeting. The manner of the Monday morning meetings was in the same manner men conducted their meetings on the Farm, it was like that on the satellites, and it carried over to the Bronx.We decided on Monday mornings who was doing what gig. Who was going on construction jobs, who was working on the Farm, who was going to Manhattan. We’d get a clear picture of what we were doing for the week. Similar to what we later did in the Bronx. We were working in the town of Walton on a church with four sixteen-inch diameter pillars, two on each side holding up the top part of the building. It was across the street from a high school and we could see the kids coming out and banging each other in the head with their school bags after getting freed at three o’clock in the afternoon. I was working there. At the men’s meeting we continually canvassed who would manifest the Bronx crew. They asked me if I wanted to go down and be a part of the crew and help manifest the Bronx Center. I said, “No thank you.” This was in August. This was one of the hotter topics — how do we maintain the New York Farm and maintain all our commitments there, and manifest the new center in the City? I had only joined the Farm in April and I had lived in New York City all my life. I was not looking to go back, especially to the South Bronx, ya know?
They were like “Okay, you don’t have to go.”I said, “Alright. Thank you. I’m not going.” This went on until the week of the big migration. It was twenty-two folks who actually went down and landed at Joey Maligno’s father’s. So it was the Monday morning men’s meeting and it was like, “Do you want to go?” and I said, “NO. I don’t really want to go.” Then we talked about what all needed to get done and who all was going. The conversation turned into “You really know New York City. It would be nice if you were there.”
I said, “That is why I’m here — because I DO know New York City.”
As the discussion proceeded I realized the larger picture significance of the project. I finally heard the call. I said, “Okay. I’m gonna go.” I went back up to the single men’s cabin packed a knapsack of clothes and went back to the crew and took my clothes to work with me. Other members set up the migration from the Farm. We finished in Walton for the day and instead of going back to the New York Farm they picked me up in a van at the end of the shift and we moved on down to Brooklyn and settled in at Joey Maligno’s. We played Stevie Nicks with Fleetwood Mac all the way in the white van. There was the song, Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow. It was like we went all the way down floating on air. What a beautiful trip.
We landed there and started exploring — first how we could earn money. Joey Maligno was heading up a crew that I worked with learning how to do sheetrock in Brooklyn. We went to a sheet rocking job where I learned sheet rocking — the hard way — ceilings. We held the sheets in place with our heads, using knit caps with diapers on the top, so when you hold up the sheet rock it didn’t hurt your head so much. In those days we didn’t have the drill guns. You had to hit it with a hammer. You used your head to keep your arms free. After you got a few nails in you backed off and knocked in the rest. We built scaffolding to get up closer. Joe Maligno taught me that.
We started getting to know the neighborhood — the fruit vendors and such — so we could get poverty rates. In those days, we ate throwaway food. We didn’t have money. We would get some food from the produce place. We’d get what they were going to get rid of and we would cut out the bad parts and eat the rest. We didn’t have much spending money. Joey Maligno and Lucian were partners and went out canvassing for the jobs. This was when we were only occupying downstairs at Maligno’s. Edward Sierra and James Mejia were our ambassadors to the Bronx.
Milton Wallace drove the bus from Brooklyn to the Bronx. He brought the bus to move us. He drove us up the FDR Drive. That may have been illegal because you can’t have commercial plates on the FDR. We settled in up stairs and watched Yellow Submarine. Then we saw all the interest in the bus when nobody was down there. Someone needed to do Gate on the bus, so Jack McMurry and I went down to the school bus and went to bed. Everybody else did what they did upstairs. Jack and I were sleeping on the street in front of the building in the school bus. People were jumping up on the bus all night, trying to see who was in there. We had curtains and everything. We slept pretty much. But every now and then we woke up. I don’t know who all came in that period because it was all snowballing. This was in September of 1977. By New Year’s Eve, we were moved in. Milton and many of the New York Farmers were helpful in the transition from the New York Farm to Brooklyn to the Bronx. And then it was re-negotiated who was staying to manifest the Center. Milton moved on to Tennessee with his son Buddy. I stayed in the Bronx.
We had a double entrance building by Crotona Park. It was too big a project. Quick as you put in some pipe someone would steal it. We had to stay up there at night in sleeping bags. It was splitting our energy up to manifest such a big building.
Yes, I do have some recall, memories and old stories of the beginning, middle and transition times of the wonderful adventure of Plenty South Bronx. Remember Tom Brown and April, the Sisters, the Bat Cave, Washington Avenue, Danny, sweaty equity, all of our amazing ambulance calls, CPR trainings, neighborhood folks, our kids, their kids, kids to the country, babies, the New York Farm, Primo, the 39 story building at 55th and 11th storm window installation — much more!!!