Tuesday, 2 March 2010

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me

Here is Art Swiden, a.k.a. The Pittsburgh Phantom, when he was a mere 20 years old, posing for a career that would take him into the boxing world, ranking by the time he retired in 1960, 9th Heavyweight in the world. This was at a time when Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis and many of the classic all time greats were fighting as well..and Art fought and sparred with them all. Who am I? I am a woman he loved who loved him when he was 16 years retired out of the ring, and managing one of the best Jazz clubs in Pittsburgh, Pa. I had just turned 20 years old when we met, and he was a handsome, funny, 48 year old ex heavyweight boxer, who for some reason took a big shine to me. This is our story, and it was a secret love affair, for nearly 28 years. Art was a great guy, who had a beautiful big heart...and apparently was a hell of a boxer...my blog is about giving recognition to a man who deserved alot more then he got, but mostly because Art came to me in 2005, a year after his death...this is our incredible story of life and love after death. I have been researching and writing my book about Art and I, our journey together and apart, in life and in the afterlife. It has been a true labor of love for me, for a man I did not know was still in love with me for so many years after we broke up. There are reasons why we didn't stay together, and mostly they had to do with other obligations to our families, and the times we loved in. A 28 year age difference was a big deal in 1976, when we met. But the electricity was there from Art's first approach to me, way back in the Encore downtown, amongst the dark back of the restaurant as I was reaching into the bread bin for bread for my customers. I will never forget that day. Here is how I came to work in a Jazz club under age at just 20, and how it changed my whole life... My Aunt was booking jazz acts from New York City where she lived, to the Encore I(in Shadyside) and II, in downtown Pittsburgh, Pa. and Bobby Davis was the manager then to the Encore Downtown (The Encore II) . Bobby was a cool cat, a man who knew everything there was to know about jazz music, and he and my Aunt were friends.My Aunt had managed The Bitter End and The Gaslight in Greenwich Villiage in the 1960's. Her and my mother were sisters,(my mother 8 years older) and best friends. Both had been professional show girls, dancers and performed in the circus, in their day. Show business was in their blood, they never left it. My mother was a local actress who performed to great applause and awards in the Pittsburgh Playhouse, The Odd Chair Playhouse, and the Beverly Hills Playhouse, all for a song, as they say. My mother's family were from Ireland and Scotland, and Catholic.My grandparents immigrated to New York, settled in Brooklyn and my mother was first born in 1924, the oldest of three, poverty was a way of life. My father was born in Pittsburgh to Polish/Russian immigrants, in 1924, the last of 3, Jewish, and grew up in the Hill District...dirt poor.....but now he was a very successful siding guy and owned his own business, as well as a business where he took gamblers and their wives to Las Vegas, for gambling Junkets. Everyone knew my father at The Tropicana. And I know this because I went there many a time with my friends. All I had to do was mention my father's name and we got in anywhere, comp, comp, and more comps! But in March of 1976 my parents were going through a horrible seperation with the intent to divorce, still unusual in 1976, and especially in Pittsburgh. Sadly, my father was so bitter, he took his millions and ran off with his secretary, leaving my 51 year old mother to foodstamps and welfare to survive. In a town where everyone knew everyone else's business, and many knew my parents, my mother and us four kids(my 3 siblings) had a great deal of anger and shame about this. I was called to come home from Los Angeles, where I had been going to college since 1974. I had a wonderful dear friend Reva, who I knew from Pittsburgh, and her and I shared an apartment on Sweetzer Ave. not far from Sunset Strip. We didnt have alot of furniture but we were happy! I was working part time as a waitress in a diner type restaurent. My father, who certainly had more money than anyone would or should have to worry about, started to not pay for my college.I called my mother to ask what was going on. My mother told me the bad news, that he had left, taken all the money and we were truely on our own. She asked me to leave college immediately and come back to Pittsburgh where I would have to get a job to help her, and help supprt my youngest brother who was still in high school, age 17. I argued with her that I had mid-terms approaching and I was working and I had an apartment with Reva, that I had my own life now and couldn't just up and leave it...but it was to no avail. My mother needed me and basically, that won out over any rational thoughts of a life of my own. I told Reva when she got home from school. We both were attending Santa Monica City College. We had gone to Pierce Jr. College out in the hinterlands of Canoga Park the year before, and were so glad we got into the city, and all the wonders of two 19 years old, let loose in L.A , in the heydays of the mid '70's could experience together. Disco was king and we made sure we got into every club going, even though we were underage. L.A. as well as Pittsburgh had a 21 year old law that made sure no one under that age would be allowed in..however, we were sassy enough not to let that stop us! But all that would be leaving me soon, as I told Reva the sad news. It was with an aching heart and alot of anger at my father that I went back to Pittsburgh. Not before running into my ex boyfriend Glen, at school on the day I had to withdraw from my beloved classes. I loved what I was learning...psychology, writing and poetry, film and all things that made you think. I loved philosophy and art, music, too. My Major was English Lit with a Film Minor. I wanted to be a writer, you see.