THE ACCUSATION!

by GUEST WRITER VINCENT POMILIO

The pounding on my door jolted me awake. In a semi-stupor, I quickly threw on some clothes and opened the door.  Two burly NYC cops were in the hallway.  

“Are you Mr. Pomilio?” one of them asked.  His tone was threatening.

“Yes,” I replied nervously.   

“This is a summons to appear in Criminal Court for harassing and assaulting Mr. Joseph Stanziani.”

After handing me this formal looking paper, I went to my desk to turn on the lamp to take a closer look.  However, there was no power in the apartment.  Not only was the electricity shut off, so was the gas.  How could this be?  What just happened?

I went down the hall to my friend Joyce’s apartment.  I showed her the summons. She gave me this look of dread.  

“Mr. Stanziani was rushed to St. Vincent’s Hospital last night after suffering a massive heart attack and he is unconscious and in intensive care,” she said.  

“What?  How could this be?  I just saw him last night in the Pizzeria.”

“What happened?” she asked.  

The night before, I went to the restaurant to pay the rent for the month.  Mr. Stanziani was there with his wife Rita closing up for the night. He took one look at me and said, “Who are you?”

“Vince Pomilio,” I replied.  “I’m living in Bess Sherman’s apartment in 5C.”

the author in 1978

“I never saw you in my life,” he said. 

“Mr. Stanziani, I’ve been here for six months while Bess is in San Francisco.  She told you Elliott and I would be living there while she is gone. I see you every day in the halls or on the street.” 

“I never saw you before,” he replied.  “Get out of here and never come back,” he said in a rather angry voice. 

“Mr. Stanziani, I’m only here to pay the rent.”  I placed a check on the table he was sitting at. It was my personal check in the amount of $430.00, the total amount for the rent.  When he looked at the check, he flew into a rage.  “Get out of here right now or I’ll call the police.” 

‘Please, I don’t want to upset you, I would just like to pay my rent.” 

“Get out you son of a bitch.”  

I’m standing there stunned and bewildered.  I tried one last plea.  “Let me pay the rent and I will leave.”  

At that point, he pushed me and started hitting me with his broom.  I headed for the door as he was screaming at me.  He began hurling salt and pepper shakers at my head.  Glasses were breaking and Mrs. Stanziani got into the act.  “Get out of here you bastard,” she screamed.  

Stunned and slightly bruised, I went back to Joyce’s apartment.  Joyce informed me that Joe Stanziani only rented to single women, hated gays and only accepted payment by the legal tenant. By taking my check he would be acknowledging me as a tenant.

Who do I call? What do I do? My roommate Elliott was in Aspen, Colorado teaching acting to opera singers and not scheduled to return for several weeks.  I called him to tell him what had happened. We both wanted to keep the apartment.  Bess also wanted us to keep it since she had decided to stay in San Francisco. Keeping the apartment was a minor detail since I was faced with a criminal charge.  What if Mr. Stanziani dies?  Should I call my parents in Philly?  That was a terrible Idea. I could hear them saying, “Why did you have to move to New York?  You had a nice teaching job here and a great apartment and we are here, too.”  Elliott told me to get a lawyer.  I was still in this apartment with no gas or electricity so the following night I went across the hall to Joyce’s apartment to seek more advice.  She called another tenant who lived in the building. 

Rebecca came up to meet me and hear the whole story.  “The Stanzianis only rent to single women,” Rebecca informed me.  “They never rent to men.  Young women get married, get pregnant and move to New Jersey. Then they jack up the rent for the next young ingénue.  They also bully these young women and scare them. They run this building like a convent.”  

Rebecca said she might be able to help.  She knew a young attorney who worked for the ACLU and might be interested in my case.  I called the lawyer.  He was a nice young man living in Brooklyn Heights and after hearing my story decided to take on my case on a pro bono basis.  A good thing too since the court hearing was only a week away.  

Off to court.  Joyce and Rebecca decided come along to support me in my most trying hour.  {You might remember Joyce from my Thanksgiving story. Joyce was a cabaret performer and at the time of this story she was appearing with Holly Woodlawn, of Andy Warhol fame, in the “Miss Cheese of the Week Review.”  Joyce played Miss Velveeta: “I’m so incredible. I’m even spreadable”.}  

I was nervous as shit. I didn’t really have anything good to wear.  I went with a hand-me-down Harris Tweed sport coat and khakis with a Ferragamo tie a friend gave me for Christmas.  Joyce and Rebecca showed up looking like they were going to Studio 54.  My handsome, frail, overly nice young lawyer looked the part and boosted my confidence.

We get to the court house in lower Manhattan and I began to shiver and shake.  The judge walked in looking like Vincent Price in one of his horror movie roles.  Across the aisle was Mrs. Stanziani dressed in black with a lace mantilla on her head.  Her obese lawyer wore a wide necktie with coffee stains on it. The judge read the charges as I sank deeper into the pew.  

Mrs. Stanziani’s lawyer spoke first.  He told a tale of bad pulp fiction.  He spoke about how I accosted Mr. Stanziani and threw him to the ground as I harassed him and his dear wife and terrorized them with my rent check.  He told the judge that I had caused his heart attack.  I sat there terrified with my arms folded.  The judge looked at me and said, “Young man.  Unfold your arms.  You have nothing to fear here. In my entire alleged mind, I have never seen such a circus.”

My turn.  My lawyer told a very different tale.  As it turned out, my tale was more credible. The Stanzianis were in court every other week trying to harass some poor tenant into eviction.  They were notorious in the NYC courts and the judge declared, “This circus ends here.  This is clearly a case for Landlord/Tenant court.  You have wasted our time here. If I wasn’t such a kind and just man I would put you all in jail, every last one of you.  Get out of my courtroom and settle your score elsewhere.”

A date was set for Landlord/Tenant court.  I had to wait for two weeks.  Joyce, Rebecca, my lawyer and I went back to the Village and had lunch at Pennyfeathers Restaurant on Seventh Avenue South.   I felt ecstatic.  I could go on with my life with this huge burden lifted. The worst is that I would most likely have to move.

A lot was going on with my life at this time.  I was working at the McBurney YMCA in a low level administrative job.  I was the complaint department.  My office faced the Chelsea Hotel.  I was at my desk the morning they dragged Sid Vicious out after being accused of killing Nancy in the bathroom of their hotel room.  What a scene that was.

Elliott eventually returned from Aspen.  We were still living in the apartment without gas or electricity.  Elliott was a very fine actor and landed the role of Renfield in “The Passion of Dracula”, an off-Broadway hit at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Commerce St. in the Village.  

With this criminal trial behind me, I prepared for the meeting at Landlord/Tenant court.  Bess, the woman who had the lease on the apartment, wrote us a letter saying that she was not planning to return and would love it if Elliott and I took over the place.  She also wrote the same to Mrs. Stanziani, now the acting landlady. Her husband Joe was still at St. Vincent’s in a comatose state.  Mrs. Stanziani seemed to be in a better mood as far as everyone in the building could tell.  

Off to Landlord/Tenant court.  This should be interesting.  I didn’t need my entourage or a lawyer for this one.   I arrived at court and there sat this fat, jolly looking African-American judge looking over the notes for the case.   Rita Stanziani came with her lawyer, both glaring at me as they waited for the case to begin.  After all of the lies they told the last time, how dare they look at me this way? How do these people live with themselves?  The judge addressed us and asked me when my utilities were shut off.   I told him that it was the night I went into the restaurant to pay my rent.  

“How long have you lived there?” 

“Six months, your honor.”

“Have you ever caused a disturbance in the building?” 

“No, your honor,” I replied. 

He then addressed Mrs. Stanziani:  “Madam, were you responsible for shutting off this man’s utilities?” 

“Yes, your honor,” the only honest thing she said during this whole saga.  The judge reviewed the notes again and appeared agitated.  He addressed Rita Stanziani and said, “Lady, if you don’t turn this man’s utilities back on within 24 hours, I’m going to put you in jail.”  He then requested proof that the legal tenant wanted me to take over the apartment.  The case was postponed two weeks.  Whew!  I dodged another bullet.

Bess sent a certified letter to the landlady announcing that she would like to get out of her lease and turn it over to Elliott and me.  I was happy to be back in the apartment with the electricity and gas restored.  Life goes on.  At the second court appearance and after the judge reviewed all of the details of the case he asked Mrs. Stanziani if she had any objections to me taking over the lease. She said she did but gave no reason.  In New York, a landlord has the right to refuse leasing an apartment without a valid reason.  I had heard that over the years. 

The judge ruled that I could have six months to live there rent free until I found a suitable place to live.  Great news!  Apartments were easy to find. Six months is a long time. I’ll be okay.  

Meanwhile roommate Elliot was a big hit in “The Passion of Dracula”.  Whenever I had a date and wanted comps, he had them.  I lost count of how many times I saw “The Passion of Dracula”.  One of those dates became a regular thing and I soon found myself in a hot love affair.  

I made good use of my six months in this wonderful apartment, as did Elliott.  He too was involved in what turned out to be a serious love affair.  Three months after the court case was settled, we received word that Joe Stanziani had died.  The mood in the building was like Spain when Franco died.  Rita Stanziani became the landlady and soon she was taking art classes and having parties and was even pleasant to me when running into her in the halls.  I was ready to move on.

Entrance to W.10th Street

{Vincent Pomilio’s work can be seen at the Carrie Haddad Gallery in Hudson, NY or the Hal Bromm Gallery in NYC}

2 thoughts on “THE ACCUSATION!

  1. Wow! Those kind of people! I can’t believe we’re in the 21st century and still facing some “challenges”….

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  2. Thank you for sharing!

    Roberto Xavier Guerrero
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    God’s Love We Deliver provides nutrition therapy, and cooks and home delivers medically tailored meals for people living with severe illness in the New York City metropolitan area. We are a non-sectarian organization. All of our services are provided free to clients and full of love.

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