Monday, October 19, 2015

7312. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt 47)

(pt. 47)
There was a stretch of one of our blocks called 'Madison' 
Avenue. Forget the name, I never knew where it came
 from  -  it certainly could not have been the New York 
reference; just would have made no sense, probably 
some developer's daughter was named Madison, 
even though in the 1950's most people didn't have 
that kind of name. No one was 'Madison. If you were 
a girl, mostly you were Jane, Mary, Theresa, Kathy, 
Ellen, Eileen, etc. The era of today's version of names, 
the second and third-tier of reaching for names, was 
not yet prevalent. No Jenna Omega Marcy's here; let 
alone Kamiesha or Whuokavara or Meroiah. I've seen 
them all, way too convoluted and dense. (My father 
always said he'd named me after Gary Cooper. I'd 
think, more than that, it was Gary, Indiana.  Actually, in 
my art-days NYC ways, did exist, was successful, with 
that very funny, self-concocted name, Robert Indiana. 
Then people began naming their personas after places 
too -   more funny stuff. John Denver. There was also 
a Village Voice writer who called himself 'Gary indiana'.
And of course, you always have those fake 'blues' fools, 
made up by white boys strumming a guitar, and always 
named 'Slime'. Kansas City Slim, Memphis Slim, Cranford 
Slim, (he's about 40, white as a sheet, plays at Crossroads 
Bar, in Cranford or Garwood or somewhere. Can't 
successfully blow his nose, but pretends to be a great 
local bluesman. 'All My Troubles, ooh waah'). Everyone 
always wants to be somebody else, I guess, a cute, 
made-up play person with no gravitas, just cool irony.
We kids, we never knew any of this stuff  -  I don't 
know how 'worldly' anyone had to be to mesh well, 
but at that point in our Avenel lives, we weren't. Later, 
people like Phil Posseil, Franky Strohlein, Harry Witt, 
they had garage bands and kick-starter music stuff, 
but at least none of them tried the 'Avenel Slim' 
gimmick. In my own, crafty, cornfield way (what a 
little rubble-strewn, Avenel, hick I was!) I took the 
idea that making great plans, shouting from the 
rooftops about them, mercilessly devoting time and 
energy in making contacts and connections and 
show-and-tell stuff in order to 'prove' the attestation 
that you can be what you say you are, that it can 
 work out, is a fool's game. If there's something 'there', 
it's going to come out one way or the other  -  what 
you instead need to do is make sure you honor that 
 inner code, that responsibility, first, of bringing out 
that which is. Producing, amassing, and working 
'deliberately' and with slow, plodding deliberation, 
the finished work of which you yourself (and only 
you yourself) are conscious of and know-to-feel is 
a'borning within. It really can't be done any other way. 
All the  other stories you hear, the 'sudden' discoveries, 
the accidental and major finds, they don't just happen. 
They've first been prepared for, silently, in hard work 
and drudgery. A Confederacy of Dunces (Toolen) to 
Gone With the Wind (Mitchell), they all have their 
little tales and myths behind them, but in reality 
what they were, outside of anything else, were 
the end-product of steely, plodding, steady 
determination and value and work, within hardships 
and toil, no matter what else. That shines, first 
and foremost, like a diamond in all the dreck 
around it. Don't listen to the noise. It's just noise. 
You must, instead, just say 'I was born for this', 
and do it. That was my viewpoint anyway.
Peter Whitaker (Petey) was a  wild, crazy kid 
who used to terrorize everyone, the local girls, 
my sister's  little clique among them, in that 
small, grubby woods behind the old Avenel 
4&5 incinerator (gone now, no more burning 
trash). Yelling at them, screeching, running, 
lofting pebbles and things in their direction. 
He was just all crazy-energy, angry and 
vociferous, and really present and up-front 
about it. That little patch of trees went right up 
to Inman Ave.  -  he was often in there, like a 
wild, jungle-animal, just going at any person 
or group (of kids, I guess) who short-cutted 
through there. It's funny how 'Developers' go  -  
they use up the land needed by them, and then 
at all the endings or little oddments of triangle 
or leftover space they just leave things; so that, 
 upon arrival, one can often still get a glimpse of 
the scrub-woods or grassy and weeded lots and 
places which once stood. They go unused, that 
is until others begin getting the idea that they can 
dump or leave refuse or park a truck or wagon 
there. These little forgotten spots, in a most intensely 
human fashion, and one which I've always loved to 
see  -  because they act as witness to the Human 
presence, the primitive habit within us and which 
has never left us, tribally, archaically and almost 
intuitively by survival  -  eventually get worn paths 
through and upon the areas people walk  -  usually 
 cut-angles, shortcuts, straight-line paths through
 or even around things. The human propensity 
both for habit/repeat and for walking/travel come 
to the fore. This is the primitive, wild world within 
us coming out. Even a 'Developer' cannot stop 
that. Peter Whitaker, it always seemed to me  -  
wild-child, crazy kid  -  somehow was able, as 
an 8 year old, to dwell perfectly within that  -  
he was the wild wolf, somehow, of that small 
patch of woods. He'd run around screaming 
and yelling, verbally accosting people,a wail, 
a shout, 'I'll kill you!' 'I can rip your arms out!' 
'This is my forest!'  -  and then, one day, after 
he had this horrible accident, and after a long 
recovery, he became quiet, reserved, no one 
knew what to do. Here's the little tale of Pete 
Whitaker : He'd walk around, eventually, with 
a blind-person cane, and glasses, never speaking. 
It became pretty sad  -  strange at first, but then 
just sad, to see a completely transformed and 
silenced blind kid where before this wild-child 
 had been. No one ever really spoke of it. I knew 
we never really did  -  among my sisters and her 
friends, it became legendary, Before all this, I 
knew him pretty well. Then, when he had his 
accident and returned months later blind, he 
was a totally different person. During this time, 
his father was the Museum of Natural History 
archeological and archeology digs safari guy. 
He'd go on trips and come back with bones, 
essentially. He was particular and precise. Odd 
fellow. I don't remember, or can't, if this stuff 
was after or before my train accident ocurring. 
He and his family went to Florida for a vacation 
(obviously Petey was the child, of whom I'm 
speaking. I mention the father only as father)  -  
back then, I don't know if there was Disneyland 
and all that crap, but they went to 'Florida'. He 
fell, from high atop a diving board, to the concrete 
below, really tragic, and came back, months later, 
blind  -  with a big scar and stuff on his skull, but 
otherwise OK. As I've also said, it completely 
changed him, totally, personality wise. I suppose 
this was about 1957. Perhaps second grade for 
me. And then, frankly, it wasn't but by maybe age 
10, that I seem to have lost all awareness, touch 
and contact of him. from a kid on Monica Court 
named Robert Noon. We were all wee friends 
(across the street from Jimmy Englert, and next 
from Dennis McCaffery). That as well goes for 
Robert Noon  -  early on, again at about age 7, 
he invited me to a party in his basement  -  his 
 birthday or something. It was , to my recollection, 
another one of those very very first times I'd been 
 invited to and went to something like this, alone 
and on my own. I was frightened to death. I 
remember freezing in place behind a cellar 
support post, while all others around me talked 
and went on like friends. It was almost sad, 
 especially now as I look back. I remember 
there was a girl there too, also from Madison 
Ave., Jeanette Small, I think was her name. 
I was totally infatuated with her. And she had 
an older sister too. But I didn't move, just was 
completely out of it and probably anti-social. 
I was a lame youth. Madison Ave, that little 
strip of a block adjacent to the newly-built 
church was a weird street too  -  a real bunch 
 of oddities lived there. It was a small, straight 
line of a  street, connected to the new church 
building. As a street, it always seemed lifeless 
and dull, with nothing ever happening  -  anyone 
we 'met' from that street, friended or whatever, 
it was never 'on' that street; they were always 
someplace else, or else on ours. I often sensed, 
somehow, that that street was probably a last, 
leftover opportunity for the developer to get 
another twelve homes in on the plans  -  a 
last, straight-line of a street, connecting to a 
 pre-existing section leading Avenel Street, 
and, of course, as well the safety of the two 
churches (Catholic and Presbyterian, already 
there). It worked, yes, but the street just never 
came to life. It's funny when things are artificial 
 contexts,  put-together pastiches of place; 
nothing which ever grew over time or took on 
a natural 'rhythm' of the people who lived there, 
amidst streams and woods and shallows. 
That was three-quarters of a century ago, and 
the same thing has happened ten million times 
over since  -  hills and valleys combined. 
People defend it all by saying it provided 
life and place for kids and families and 
 generations. OK, so what if it did? That's 
like the same people who speak of how all 
those pigs and cows brutally slaughtered 
for meat and the rest should be thankful 
to us because at least, because of it, they 
lived. If we had no need for them as 
slaughter-product, they'd never 
have been given a life.
Whatever, I can't let, or won't let, this stuff drive 
me crazy. It easily could do so. I have to preserve 
myself, and to do that I have to stop dwelling 
 on things of this nature. Supposedly  -  but that's 
like telling Cezanne to stop making harsh and 
angular lines in portraying his world. Funny thing 
about Cezanne actually -  a very weird and telling 
view, which startled me and had my total 
understanding as soon as I read it  -  Paul 
Cezanne had a feel for artifice. The 'greenness', 
say, of a painting was meant to show the 
greenness : everything in the picture was treated 
with the same importance or lack of importance, 
every slab or flick of color mattered as much as 
every other, that's how the painting made its shapes, 
and how it mattered that it was a painting  -  
something made. Cezanne had wanted people 
who saw it to see how it was formed out of paint, 
made of color, made of surface, before they even 
thought about trees or a lake. Artifice was what 
made the place in the picture  -  as well as the 
picture  -  truly alive. That way, through Cezanne, 
we knew it was telling us no lies, it was 
not deluding us, it was real.
That stunned me, privately anyway  -  it drove 
right to the heart and matter of what  I was 
searching for. All my work and art, I knew then, 
would have to be detailed and made so as to 
present the trueness of the 'represented' reality 
with which I was working. All these homes and 
places, all these silly places like Avenel, what 
suburban, low-class domesticated and developed 
woods and vales they were, they themselves, 
unwittingly and in ignorance, were nothing more 
than artifice. They were being built as artifice, 
yet people took them seriously, as if for real. 
Years later, through Pop Art and all that crap, the
idea of, the irony of, 'Artifice' as concept would
make people millions. It would self-manufacture 
an art industry, one of perverts and doyennes, 
sleazeballs and puppeteers, who would cling to 
and hang onto the mess they created, the muck 
and the mire of their own entrails -  all those Brillo 
boxes and naked kisses, those splash paintings 
and big dots and rocket ships and spaghetti-headed 
people : Robert Indiana, Larry Poons, Robert 
Rauschenberg : worked; it worked because, 
again, they were doing it at one level  -  with a 
philosophical underpinning, an art-history 
referential  imperative behind it, but those 
viewing it, the know-nothings, the society folk, 
the hipsters viewing, buying, gawking, partying 
to it, they knew little of that behind-the-scene 
theorizing. They were as ignorant as newspapers. 
My take on all this pretty much settled upon the 
idea of the 'artifact'  -  I guess, in my way. 
It's part of where I got stalled. I found myself 
unable to deal with the, let's call it, 'fakery' 
(artifice) needed to seem to care about, and 
play the form-game with, those people in 
position who made or broke the personages 
of their dumb little industry of Art. Just couldn't 
do it, for myself, or with them. Merchandising 
one's self, it always seemed to me, was not 
doing one's 'art'; the time spent was lost. And 
rearing it's own ugly head, in the midst of all 
this, was 'irony', that very dreaded disease. 
American culture at that point, having caught 
up to its own gist and presence, had begun 
merchandising itself, fully aware of the 'wink-wink' 
aspect of the self-referential and anti-historical 
(through play) ironic aspect, from that point on, 
of everything it did. Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35, 
anything by the Beatles, any Dean Martin Celebrity 
Roast, any TV  cavalcade of star-studded humor, 
Laugh-In to Carol Burnett, Pop Art to dance and 
theater, song and speech  -  all had turned to a 
wickedly broad sense of irony, inimical to itself 
and all of art history at the same time. Inbred. 
Going nowhere. Dedicated to the dollar. 
Exploited by jewel-mongers, media thieves
 and disingenuous moguls. Fake art.

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