The Willy Wonka of Art: At Warhol’s Factory

28 Oct

A few years ago, a man died in a vat of melted chocolate in Camden, NJ. It happened at the old Campbell’s Soup Factory. It is so sad that factories these days have become symbols of financial distress and confectionery casualties. I remember a time when a factory was a place of passion, beauty, and non-fatal incidents.

As a real mover-and-shaker on the New York scene, I, of course, crossed paths with one Mister Andy Warhol. There was a time in fact where he and I crossed paths on a daily basis as I was living on East 47th Street, and we often bumped into each other as we were nipping down to the store to pick up pints of milk each morning. Our interaction began with just a friendly hello but quickly grew much deeper.  He and I often discussed local news events, the weather, and, before I knew it, the possibility of marriage.

Andy was such a virile man that he literally stank of potency. I remember he once challenged a homeless man to an arm wrestling match, and Andy wiped the floor with the poor veteran (though he generously refused to take his winnings from the man’s Dixie cup). At first this oozing masculinity was appealing (I was between beaux at the time and could have been described as gagging for it), but I must confess I soon tired of watching him bench press bicycles and outrace buses. Andy, sweetheart, I asked him, do you not have any other interests? It was then he confessed that he was working as a part time artist until he was able to bulk up enough to join the middleweight circuit. As I have always been keen to encourage artists, particularly ones hung like a horse, I immediately asked to see some of his work. This is when I first entered his Factory, an oasis of calm in the storm of midtown Manhattan.

And was the place full of characters? Oh yes, indeed it was. I loved many of them and have stayed close with some even to this day.  I was particularly fond of Pope Ondine, who once retrieved a kitten from out of a local park’s mighty oak, and I will forever remember him as a gentle soul. I was also close with Nico, an actress from Alabama who was in New York desperately trying to shed her down-home, plain Jane persona. Many of Andy’s friends were also musicians, and it was at the Factory that I first heard the melodic music of a band called the Velvet Underground.

While I confess that illegal drugs were bountiful in the Factory, I for one never partook. Lou Reed, another abstainer, and I spent many an hour trying to understand the appeal of “getting out of one’s head” when far greater highs could be achieved by simply playing canasta and eating pretzels. There was also a plethora of sexual activity, and this did little to throw water on Andrew’s libido. I generally keep my displays of affection at least semi-private, but Andy was always all over me like white on rice. I tried as hard as I could to remain clothed for most of the time, but the building itself seemed to just encourage lust.  One night while Andy was in the kitchen making sandwiches, I shared a quick kiss with an actor named Joe Dallesandro (who later went on to become a primary school teacher in my hometown of Trenton, NJ). Luckily, Andy never found out because he was a ruthlessly jealous lover and the more time we spent together at the Factory, the more adamant he became about wanting to make an honest woman of me. He told me he dreamt of us growing old together in a farmhouse, surrounded by little Andy’s and shelves full of his boxing trophies, where he could spend his weekends chopping wood, hunting bear and trapping beaver. But I unfortunately wanted more from life and could not grant this wish. We eventually parted ways, but those memories still reside warmly in my heart.

Despite the romantic difficulties, in retrospect, my only real regret about that time was that I never introduced Andy to a good friend of mine named Valerie Solanas, a delightful charmer living in our neighbourhood. She was young and had fallen into that trap that many ladies do of being focused on nothing but finding a man. It’s a shame the two of them never got together because I think there could have been a real love connection between them.LouReedHershey

The experiences I had at Andy’s Factory certainly were more fulfilling and passion-filled than that Camden worker’s; at the same time, though, I imagine they were just as a sweet.

Rest in peace, Lou Reed.

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