Wednesday, May 23, 2018

10,827. RUDIMENTS, pt. 324

RUDIMENTS, pt. 324
Making Cars
While the Hudson River itself
ran hard and steady along the
West side piers and boat traffic, 
the fearsome east river, with its
estuary-tidal reverses and mixes
and its proximity to the harbor
flush into the ocean, was, by
contrast, a feared obstacle,
rough to navigate and filled 
with mishap  -  eventually 
leading up to, past Corlears 
Hook and then 'Turtle Bay' 
(present sight of the United
Nations, and where Yasir Arafat
of the Palestinian Liberation Army
(PLO) once arrived, by water, with
his pistol on his belt, to address the
United Nation's General Assembly,
Sept, 1974, I think it was.'), then to
'Hell's Gate' a point of turbulence.
If a less-than-perfect river pilot 
was going to lose or wreck his craft,
it was at Hell's Gate where it would
happen (where the Harlem River
meets the east river in a great rash 
of currents and eddies and river
obstacles). Like opinions, when
wild currents clash all Hell is
apt to break loose. Oftentimes 
I'd just sit there, outside these
busy wharf areas, and watch 
the men as they worked their
ways up and down the area. I
was able, I was sure, by reading
their faces, to tell the success
or not of a workingman's life.
Some seemed jarred and 
disgruntled, dragging through 
chores instead of work. Many 
years later, I ran across a guy
was often hanging around my
workplace, at one of my jobs,
one of his main questions, of
anyone he'd meet (so much
so that I got tired of hearing it)
was. 'Are you happy with you
work? Do you like what you do?'
No one really knew what this
old retired guy wanted, but the
question always threw them.
He'd just say, 'That's very 
important. It means good health,
that you like what you do. Don't 
do it if you're not happy.' I'd
eventually say, 'Charlie, cut
it out.' Maybe he was right,
or maybe not, and it really
didn't matter  -  if you need 
money for life and family, you 
sort of just have to do what you 
have to do. It was like that with
these guys too  -  I'd see fishmongers
all tired and grubby, and I'd see,
as well, some of the most happy,
light-to-the-touch cool guys you'd
ever imagine. It was a world of
differences, all working, somehow,
together. Gentile and Jew too. 
You'd think they be at war maybe, 
or hating each other, but a lot of 
Jewish guys were fish-mongers 
too. Many oddball fish things make 
up Jewish cuisine, and even holiday 
fare  - all that herring, in all its 
variations, creamed, pickled,
etc., and the rest. Like any other
merchant, they'd fight and
haggle over 4 cents. You sit and
wonder why. 4 cents a pound on
400 pounds of fish, 30, 40 times a
day, it figures to add up eventually.
That's what these guys, all of them,
were about  -  the price and the
haggling, the cutting corners, the
shirking weight, whatever they
could get away with. Both sides, 
ready to wrangle. And then, once
it was over, the slap on the back,
the 'fuck this, let's go get a cup of
coffee,' they'd walk off talking a
streak to each other. Business 
forgotten  -  until the next time
and the next haggle  -  but human 
trust, in the meantime, made.
Things were quite old down around
there. Buildings sagged. Collapsed, 
even. There were a few bars so ancient
in NY terms that you'd be afraid to
sit lest the bricks would unsettle and
come down on your head. To this day,
a few are still there. I see them, they
stand, thy do business, and with food.
Cats and rats and all the rest of that
rodent brigade were everywhere.
They opened up, once, one of those 
very old buildings, for tear-down, 
and once the basement was uncovered
all that was seen was this massive
black movement. I swear. Thousand
of rats, at once, awakened or whatever.
They were everywhere, awaiting again
their noxious nighttime forays out. It 
was gross. And they were, mostly 
anyway, flame-torched instantly.
The Fulton Fish market's daily 
commerce, its 'work,' was usually
over by 2pm; the rest was
cleanup for the next overnight  - 
the fish boats, oyster and clam  
boats, and the rest, they start  
rolling in near 10pm and quickly
the night's work was underway,
for the 5am commerce that 
began as snappily as a whip. 
Trucks would begin piling up 
an hour or two ahead of
time, parked  - while their
drivers would drink or eat, to
wait and pass time, in any of 
he dive-bars or places around. 
New York City, believe it or
not, was a really big drinking
town; almost traditionally so, 
that everything was sealed 
or discussed over beverage -   
alcoholic or not. It's still like
that  - an amazing amount 
of bars. and all that waiting for
everything. (I'd think, if there
was to be a new world war or
conflagration, the principals
involved, as representative 
leaders, would do best, in a 
New York fashion (like Trump?)
to just sit down somewhere
around here, have a few beers 
or whatever, and then bellow 
and challenge and threaten 
and push. Amid all the stupid 
bombast they want things would
certainly get settled. I call it 
striving for 'the 4-cent solution.' 
Peace-pact and new comity),
So, anyway, whatever fish 
company or guy they each 
drove for, the representative/buyer 
for that company would show
up by 4 or 5am and begin the 
process of the day's buy, and 
then the truck would be 
ice-loaded or refrigerated,
and the rush of the early day's 
deliveries to restaurants, fish 
stores, supermarkets and other 
retailers, would begin. All 
those years I worked in 
Princeton, with all its
fancy restaurants and food 
establishments and sushi joints,
I'd see the small, refrigerated 
trucks, from Samuel's Fish 
Distributors, out of Philadelphia, 
every day. And I knew exactly 
the process they'd all gone 
through, except in Philly and
not New York. Same deal;
probably different rodents.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

10,826. RUDIMENTS, pt. 323

RUDIMENTS, pt. 323
Making Cars
When they threw those fish,
the way they caught them was
like cradling, not catching. It
was more the entire arms were
used, not the hands alone; the
airborne path of the fish was
approximated and that's where
the cradling arms would be. I
never knew how they did it  -
one is certainly not 'born' with
such a talent, so along the way I
figured there must be numerous
misses, fish to the floor, or fish
that slipped away during the
catching motion. It guess they
'wrote them off' as instructional
losses. The fish themselves were
always wet and slippery; nothing
was ever let to dry out and, in
fact, one of the entry-level
fish-market jobs was as a 'hose
boy' as the category was called.
I almost did it for a while but the
guy was gruff and not so keen
on me  - for this job at minimum
wage or near to it (maybe $1.25
an hour, then), you'd get a hose
and be told to keep busy going
around misting/spraying everything
so as to keep it all moist.  You had 
to wear slop boots, and some guys
had plastic rain jackets on too. There
would be buyers walking around,
checking the fish, looking closely,
touching scales (both kinds) and all
that - all pretty weird because I was 
sure it meant nothing at all  -  the
haggling over prices per pound, 
volume discounts, payment terms
and restaurant quotas. It was all
business, and there were very many
small-sized refrigerated trucks
around (usually as early as could
be, 5am). A lot of noise, a big,
echoey chamber, water hoses
and the noises they made, and carts
and metal shelves, and trucks and
horns. There were a hundred things
to do a minute  - loading trucks,
crating or uncrating, moving
things. Day work was easy to
come by, but I hated all that smell
and slime too much to get involved.
Any day-work I ever took, and I
did, always was on the west side
but I hated the meat stuff too, blood,
and vegetables and all that was
taken care of; my favorite and most 
constant things were the nearby
truckyards and the westside wharves
and piers. That was much more fun
to me, and I'll tell you why when
I get to it.
There are old photos of NYCity in
which you can see all the tall sailing
ships of those early days tied in
along the numerous waterfront
freight houses, counting houses,
pier warehouses, and ship repair
yards, chandlers, rope merchants
and the rest. An entire bevy of
commercial enterprises dedicated
to the great East River docks of yore.
There were also, in profusion,
whorehouses, betting parlors, dog
and rat fighting pits, buildings
dedicated to both, adding in
drink, rum, filth, slop, mayhem,
moneylenders, brokers for slaves
and humans. The street was as if
in a perpetual shade, with the grand,
tall, ships and their long, pointed
fronts jabbing over the street from
where they were tied. Strange people
wandered everywhere  - Africans,
Jamaicans, Haitians, escaped, and
not, slaves, criminals, murderers
on the run. Police protection was
minimal and mostly the two
differing police forces fought
themselves and fought the fire
brigades too  -  which brigades,
early on, often were the law,
or thought they were and acted
as if. Albany had imposed one
police force on the city, and the
Metropolitan Police Force  -  made
of locals, and mostly brawling,
Irish and not, immigrant thugs  -
maintained their own constabulary.
It was war, in the name of Law.
And, sad to say here too, a woman
found here was assumed (careful
now) to be good for, and there
for, one thing only. Runway
and abandoned children, and
street urchins roamed in packs.
Eventually NYCity formed the
'Children's Aid Society' to try
and round them up, feed and give
comfort to them, and maybe even
some learning. All it ever really led
to was them becoming newsboys,
newsgirls, corn and chestnut sellers
on the street (the 'hot corn girl' of
New York Street legend was a
famed icon). Still abused and
used, and neglected  -  just in
different ways. Most often, boys
grew some and just ran off to sea
on whichever ship they could get
on. A few years later, they'd arrive
back, worldly, wise in the ways of
crime and infamy, and oftentimes
turned into pirates or brigands
as well. Along the wharves there
were 'piracy offices' for people
looking for work  -  watching what
entered and left the harbor, they
selected (and took orders) for
goods later to be stolen at sea  -
a line of work and opportunity
for budding pirates and certain
swashbucklers of note. Look
up 'Blackbeard' some day, and
see. Schools for sea-crime.
Those early days must have been
grand. 1967, still grand enough,
was much different and that year
was the cutting edge of the new. It
was about that time that hard-brained
schemes starting popping up, like the
'theming' of areas, historic 'preservation'
(anything but), Rangers and society
officers, and even docents and guides,
under the auspices of 1970's things
like 'The South Street Seaport' faux
museum and operation, which in
about 5 years had merely become
a name only. In all other aspects
it was a shopping mall (multi-level
and fairly high-end), [funny, I just
wrongly typed that as 'shipping-malls'] 
a series of eateries and restaurants, 
national-name taverns and party
places, with all the usual panoply of
souvenirs and touristy gimmicks
for folks from Idaho, Kansas, and
Indiana  -  who took their big-day
there as a real New York City
humdinger experience.
The rest of the Fulton Fish Market
and the piers and the seaport itself
was endlessly fascinating  -  and
important too. Right on up to
Corlears Hook there had once been
an entire channel of maritime repair
shops, re-rigging shops, retro-fitters,
barrel-makers, lumber yards;
everything those old ships needed.
Portside repairs during the layovers
were a big deal. Around 1967, this
was just beginning to dwindle  -
obviously as the entire shipping
industry had changed, sails were
long gone, and freight was handled
differently. I caught it just as the
'sense' of the old was whirling away,
but the fish market people yet
inhabited that world and the world
of their own quite nicely. Things of
'wood' still existed. The little bars
and eateries had wharf-front, large
windows allowing you to just sit
and stare out to the harbor. No one
bothered you; people came and went.
Old, grimy regulars, pattering about
their newspapers and shipping
journals; cigar guys, older, sitting
mute and totally engrossed in
whatever held their minds 
together, or not. There was a 
seven-foot giant of a guy. I'd 
see him often  -  he lumbered
around like a mystery, knowing
people but acknowledging none.
I often wondered about him and
thought he probably held a
million stories, tales of fire and
woe. Is it a drawback, or a plus,
I'd wondered, to be more than 
seven feet large and be on a 
ship? You either take up too 
much space, or you are valued 
for strength, brawn. and potential. 
I never knew. But, at the same
time, it was all conjecture because
I never even really knew if he had
been a sailor-guy in any way.

Monday, May 21, 2018


Sometimes things grow out of control,
overly large they go, redefining their
own category of being. Rats the size
of bulldogs, say, or terns that look 
like pterodactyls. I love a surrealistic
world; together, all at once, now.


Ice cold canapes and a long line
to pay. Wow, this is living. I feel
like a Captain Queeg turnabout,
an Ahab on the twirl, a brand new
Jumping Jiminy gag-guy sailing.
This place cost two million to build.
What a nice 'pavilion' this turned out
to be. 'Do you have any more of the
crackers with the salmon, please?'
I love living large large on other
people's money. This is a good
age in which to be living.


There wasn't much : This locket
was left open to the photo of a
child. I looked to see. No one I
knew. It's sometimes sad how 
memories are sold in the wide
open cloud of an antique-store 
window. Would the price be
too high to re-live this life?

10,822. RUDIMENTS, pt. 322

RUDIMENTS, pt. 322
Making Cars
Some nights I used to walk
on up to the trailer park and
junkyards and just get to Route
One and stare out at all the cars.
Mostly the ones going north,
because I figured, or imagined,
they were headed New York City
way. Going south I never much
cared about. All the Jersey Shore
stuff, the beaches and the boats,
none of it meant anything to me.
It was a big deal to my father, yes,
and when really young (me) he
dragged me there with him often
enough to go crabbing and fishing
and bring home whatever we'd
caught. Most often it wasn't very
much, but every once in a while
we get flooded with fluke or
flounder, crabs, for cure, and
on really good days, bluefish.
Bluefish catching was like
gold to him. (I never got that
'what did you catch' thing. It
was more like you 'catch' a
cold. Fishing or hunting you
really don't 'catch' anything
unless you kill it first). So, sad
for me, and way beyond any
comprehension was how any
right-minded human could revel
in the gagging, suffocation, slow
death of a bunch of wriggling,
sorrowful-eyed fish. Crabs were
even worse  -  at least the fish
died and only then you did all
the cutting and cooking and
stuff to them. Crabs ended up
being boiled alive  -  teeming
hordes of frothing crabs being
slowly killed in boiling water.
yeah, right. I hated the hooks
and all the paraphrenalia; the
boredom and the waiting; the
talk between bouts of nothing.
What do you do  -  even as a
kid  -  when what you're being
made to do bores you stiff?
That's one of the injustices of
youth  -  you get stuck in school
or church, pretty much always
against your will, and when you
do get time they still prank you
into something else. Like idly
killing fish.
No matter; beside the point. I
was interested in North; screw
the sandy south and all the beach
bum stuff  -  my aunts and uncles
all had houses down that way, and
they could keep it all, for what I
cared : boats, barbecues, pools,
jingles, and jangles too. Somebody
like Springsteen or one of those guys,
they milked all that boardwalk and
Madame Fortune-teller stuff, in
my eyes, for nothing. There was
never any underpinning to the
premises of that alienation, except
maybe for hedonism, which I
abhorred, and seashore, honky-tonk
booze, which I didn't do. For the
real dark and heavy-thinking stuff,
you needed a real city. The rest
was just pretend, and fluff.
So my tremolo went north, played
the northbound lane, ran the white
line all the way out, past the junkyards
and the GM Plant and the coffee factory
and the airport, past Newark and over
the skyway, right into the Holland
Tunnel. And no, it didn't take you
to Holland, boys and girls, it took
you instead to something more real.
I never pine for home, even though
maybe I write all that Avenel stuff
like it mattered. I just do that, like
I never went 'fishing' fishing, but
I tell the stories about it  -  because
I was there, just hated all that stuff.
At the end of Inman Ave., my street,
the junkyards and the trailer court just
piled up, real quick. Cars and trucks in
heaps, getting squished into scar-metal
blocks, or taken apart, or just sitting
there for years in gasoline and rust
puddles of gloom. But that was all
me. All.
The only way up was out  -  northbound
please. I'd sit and watch the stream of
lights passing and wonder about nearly
each car  -  where they were headed,
how'd they get to that point, the pure,
breakaway freedom they possessed
to go at all, to anyplace. In the mid 60's
cars were all different than now. They
often ran really badly  -  poorly jetted
or bad carburators, exhaust leaks, old
metal, sagging shocks. People ran
everything they could, down into the
ground or at least until it died. The
foreign car contingent was around
too, but nothing like today. It was still
pretty rare, seeing an Alfa- Romeo,
or a Jaguar, an XKE, something
like that. Mostly cars were still of
American manufacture, large, tall
broad and wasteful. People headed
into NYCity made me proud just
looking at them. I'd think about the
horizons they must have started out
at  -  those Illinois and Pennsylvania,
and Georgia plates. It was a whole
section of people, on the move, and
it all made me wonder. About New
York. It seemed like everyone came
from somewhere else  -  all those
people I'd read, their stories and the
books about them, they all filtered
in, probably many right past here.
It was amazing. Route One back
then was the main artery for any
movement in, from a wide spectrum
of places, and it would bring people
right past me. God, stop and pick
me up, please! I was always paining
over this stuff. What grubby festitude
was here all around me : Like broken
concrete or a crumbling facade, these
little faux-suburb junkheaps of places
seemed to hold nothing for me. Any
items of interest, anything they once
may have held, had long been filtered
away, betrayed and lost. I was stuck,
or surely it felt like that to me.
Slowly but surely, I was working on
my getaway and my changing of the
world I inhibited. I knew it would take
time, and that would just have to do.
Once I finally made it into there,  
Holland Tunnel and all, I immediately 
got to know it lock, stock, and barrel.
Like gold, remember, it was MY
bluefish! Caught and baited by me,
but to catch ME, wriggling and happy 
on the line. Funniest thing was, I
soon learned, along the lower westside  -
Washington Market and and Gaansevort
Market, each name for the streets they
were on, was the central marketplace
for the city's meat, vegetables, and 
produce. That was the westside. The
eastside, along the East River was
fish  -  Fulton Fish Market, endless
fish vendors and suppliers, East River
fishing boats, up and down. I used to
go to both sides (each too was crime
infested, and each with their own sort
of criminality); learned them both well,
and absorbed everything I could. On
the fish market side, by Fulton, there
were a number of super-shady diners
and dives. Filled with cranks and
eccentrics. You could learn a lot.
Lastly, here, one interesting fish note:
There were guys there, fish workers,
cutters, filletters, (I made that up, for
'those who fillet fish'), those who 
weighed, sorted, and displayed, they'd
throw, and I mean heave, entire 20
pound fish, freshly caught,and  dead,
I could only assume, to each other,
between each other, as if they were
loaves of bread, or softballs  -  20
or 30 feet maybe, 15 or 20, I don't
know, just lobbing fish around for
their next chore. It was so weird, so
wordlessly fascinating too. I'll go on
next  -  about how everything was
washed, sopping wet, glistening and
never gloomy, though always sad.
The kingdom of the dead/dying fish.