Thursday, January 21, 2016

7715. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 139)

(pt. 139)
So, back home, I hit it good. Slunked around
trying to re-position my inner global positioning.
'T'weren't easy', as you say. Someone arrives home
from a foreign land, used to an entire other language
and cuisine, comfort level and sound level, and then
has to sit right back down on the same planks that
everyone else sits at, watching for where to laugh 
and where to nod. One of the first things that 
happened, as I recollect, when I returned. was a 
weird, out-of-order, NYC Transit strike, led by this
crazy Transit Worker's Union leader, Mike Quill; a
punchy little Irish guy, all guts and fury. Challenging
everything, beating the shit out of John Vliet Linsday,
the ultra-cool and suave art-Mayor of New York City.
That was a war of cultures if I'd ever seen one and I
just loved watching it. Lindsay was from what was 
called the 'Silk-Stocking District', which meant he'd 
represented in Congress the exclusive and wealthy, 
old money, upper East Side. That was home to the 
furs and diamonds crowd - all those culture doyennes 
and auction house bigwigs, 'limousine liberals' as they 
were called. Newspaper names and style tyrants. He 
was gentility and polish, silken-smooth, and he'd run 
and won on a 'Fusion' ticket  -  which basically meant 
he was too good for any of those regular parties and 
party politics and all that Manhattan dirt and mud that 
usually ran things. He was above the fray, austere and 
cheerful. By contrast, Michael J. Quill was a pugilist 
who'd rip your Adam's Apple out first chance he could  
-  just to see if you'd had one and then to be sure he 
got your attention. They went head-to-head. He shut 
down the city, Quill did, in a spiteful revenge war for 
increased subway fares, more money for his union
people, stronger power for the MTA or whatever it 
was then. Up until that time, newspaper strikes (there 
had been two massive instances of those too), and 
blackouts and power failures had been the two things 
that had ever really 'affected' the municipal functioning 
of structural New York. Soon enough to come were
garbage strikes too, and the perennial problems with the
police and fireman's unions. Listening to me, you'd think 
I was a solid New Yorker, even back then in '66 or 
whatever it was. I studied these strikes and issues and 
personalities, and it was all sweet to me. Whatever turn
of the year it was, it was New Year's Eve, at the stroke
of midnight, when they shut down. Ray Szemborski and
I had been assigned to spend New Year's together, in my
parents house, while the four parents had gone out 
somewhere for New Year's revels. I have absolutely no
recollection of where anyone else in my family had gone 
to. Ray and I sat around, in the extended back room, and
just listened to the radio all night, news and talk stuff mostly,
as the real countdown to midnight -   for the transit strike  -
took precedence over the usual midnight strike of the new 
year. It was pretty cool, and the city sort of went berserk, all
these moronic drunk people banging around with suddenly
no more trains or buses to get them home or anywhere. It
was pandemonium, and Michael J. Quill rode it through
like a master. Perfectly humiliating the Mayor and his team.
belittling any talk of deals and new contracts, and swearing to
bring all of New York City to its knees for the power and the
glory of riding his Transit Union to the very top. That was
probably the best New Year's Eve I've ever spent, a real
working night following a breaking, hot issue, taking place
right across the river in a place I knew I'd already love. It
was, as well, probably near the last I saw of Ray in any
close-social one-on-one friend's basis. After that, a month 
or so later, we'd just both gone on our separate ways. He
finally ended up in the Army, in Germany somewhere.
For myself, that was my new baptism back into this far
more tawdry 'secular' life, as it was called. I never set foot
in a church again  -  except for funerals and such. Stayed 
clear. As it turned out, once or twice my mother would have
the local priest, Father Genecki, stop by. She'd then send him
up to my room, where he'd knock on the door to be let in and
then he'd start hitting me with all these questions and prodding 
me whatever new information I'd let out about my current,
Godless, life. He'd try to swing me around, coax me back.
Nothing doing, and he knew it. It was absurd and awkward
anyway, for both of us. To see a jerky priest-type come
slinking around in the assumption that he 'knew' better than
I did about my own personal matters was horse-ass backwards 
anyway. And I could have told him a few things about himself
too, but I wasn't that kind. I had a Bardo Pond poster on my
wall, and other Buddhist stuff around, Blake, and poetry and
art too. He hadn't a clue. For all he knew, Bardo Pond was 
some Catholic vacation spa.
Looking at all this now, in retrospect, in the rear-view mirror,
so to speak, this was pretty restrictive; again like some old dumb
movie all tied up in traditional pieties and the religious-is-good
aspect of everything. Those dime-a-dozen junk films. Who was
it but me most of this had all come down on? First, I get hit by a
train and an entire swarm of religious nuts come down on me
to 'administer' (I love the way they use that word) 'last rites.'
Which weren't so last, because I was told I received them twice
'Extreme Unction' - (gotta' love this nomenclature stuff). Then
they all start praying and having masses and things (I was told)
to bring me around. It was crazy. Whenever it's most convenient,
it seems people really put a plug in for this really active God
thing, the Deus ex Machina of old Greek plays, who will sweep
down and solve any puzzles for you but the rest of the time remain
far and away distant, like a rumored rich uncle. Jeez, that drove me
crazy. When He's not around, it's OK, but when they want him
around to alter an outcome, He'd better get his God-ass there, and
quick. Mostly, that's what cheesy faith has become  -  'Dear God,
throw me that lottery bone.' So, then, good old Ma sends this
FBI-agent-for-God tight up to my room to effect the outcome of
my own damn life. The gall of it all!
There wasn't ever much magic in Avenel  -  it was otherwise
pretty coarse and boring. We made our own excitement  - even if
it meant burning down a factory or a building now and then. There
was one time I remember a couple of guys trying to figure out how 
they could steal a forklift or two from one of those open factories 
down the end of the block. Stupid idea, but they swore they could 
re-sell it for big bucks, wherever it was that one of the kid's father 
worked. To my knowledge, such a heist never happened. And I 
just always figured it was the kid's father who'd planted the germ  
of the idea and put his son up to it anyway. Weird, cracker-barrel 
parents. And there was another time, speaking of those factories, 
when my sister and her friend, Lynn, were walking by the workers'
cars, on the way to school, there when the workers used to park 
along the curb and walk across the street to their job, and they 
passed this one car where the guy was inside, on lunch or break or 
something, doing what he shouldn't have been doing, with a 
magazine. It was a real big deal, cops came, dragged the guy away, 
whatever. Just more of the local color on display. If administering  
Jesus to the religious cohorts of Avenel was your steady job, for sure it 
had to be a tough one. There was a line in some old song that went 
'but I never saw the good side of the city, 'til I hitched a ride on 
the riverboat queen. It was something like that for me too.
I was only slowly growing up, involved in new situations, and
still in the middle of huge bafflement too. It's like when you buy 
something  -  something you have to put together or construct  -  
and the assumption of getting it done, or whatever, seems to all
hinge on the idea that you'll just use the instruction sheet that came
with it; but then you open everything up, and there's no instruction 
sheet. It was like that  -  you're on your own. Now that never bothered
me; I was pretty adept at winging it, improvising, figuring the needed
steps and situations through as I progressed along. Yet, I admit, it was,
and is, a tough way to reach your goal. That's part of the reason kids
stay in school for like 24 years, graduate, post-graduate, doctoral, blah,
blah, all that experiential on-hands fieldwork stuff too. To them, that's 
their instruction book, page after page and year after year, and they're 
scared shitless to have to give it up and get out there in the real world 
to figure things out for themselves. They'd much rather the cradle 
of the 'academy' always under their ass and toes. I had 
already sworn off all that junk.
Just ten years back or so, jumping ahead to now, the second Bush
administration began prattling on about the 'roadmap for peace.'
They meant it mostly as it concerned the Middle East and Israel
and any of those countries there  -  hidebound, ancient, Iron-Age 
bullshit people freely given guns, bombs, swords and the rest, by us 
mostly, to continue their maiming and killing for God. The right 
God, which of course could only be theirs, but of which there 
were at least five versions, seven if you want to count the big, 
myopic, sick-in-the-head Jewish one and Christian one too. 
Each made up. It's totally insane. For me to see the
word 'roadmap' in use for any such notion of clearing or 
cleaning out people's heads is a notion skin to Totalitarian 
nastiness and control the  likes of which has never before been 
seen  -  Orwell, Huxley, and any  other dystopian writer you know 
of thrown in for good measure. It's the very same presumption that 
blew the social world up in 1966. There's no 'roadmap' for anything, 
and it's ridiculous to say it. It simply means 'follow my way, and do  
what I say.' Pretty much a church verdict, that too. I knew I was back
in the dark, real world where people, even in 1966, had shadows
about their eyes at all times. No one knew what to do about anything.
The usual shysters and beanie-heads were always out in the forefront,
pushing things about, then snickering and laughing, while they case
in the dimes they've coerced from others. I was looking out
over a long, dreary plateau populated with money-grubbers,
liars and cheats. That was the world I'd be needing to negotiate,
and I'd practicing all my flips and arm-holds for enough years to
really think I was ready. It was a promenade without a balustrade,
and I was getting set for both the walkway, and the leap.

No comments: