Tuesday, April 26, 2016


"He wished he had never
become detached from the 
place he was born, wished
his feet had remained planted
on that beloved ground, wished
he could have been happy all 
his life in those childhood streets, 
and grown into an old man there 
and known every paving 
stone...every story." 
That's a decidedly effective and
thorough evocation of place and
memory. I liked it a lot. In the
prologue to 'A Death In the
Family', the author James Agee
has a piece entitled, 'Knoxville :
Summer of 1915' that's, I'd say,
just as good. Agee's piece knocked
me dead when I first saw it. It was
brought to my attention by an Elmira
friend and co-worker named Sue 
Watkins. She was in the original,
very tight, group from which all
those Jane Roberts/Seth sessions
brewed, and she remained ever an
enthusiast. Sue is still around,
upstate in one of those towns, 
and she's written, herself, a number
of books, recollecting and retelling
those Jane Roberts, Rob Butts, and
Seth, days. We were reading, as I
recall, about 1971-2, Ishmael Reed,
'Mumbo-Jumbo' together, separately
but then we'd discuss it together the 
next day, as we were supposedly 
'working.' That never much happened.
Sue invited me, a few times, to the
sessions, but I always stayed away  -
mostly because I was shy and afraid
of that whole crowd. It was only later,
and with Sue gone, that I actually
got 'involved', which wasn't much
anyway. My visits and stuff to Jane,
in her newer house, occurred later 
only because, as town-neighbors, I
knew where it was and she always
invited me in.
In trying to piece together things 
for my own use, I pick up feelings
here and there, for different things,
and then that strange mosaic again 
becomes mine to assemble, or 
re-assemble. Funny thing was, 
Susan Watkins, for all that she
was and for as much as we knew 
each other, she never much 
'interested' me. I guess I mean
in the male/female chemistry 
sense. Sometimes that happens;
she was just an information vessel
and not much else  - divorced,
2 year or so kid, living alone. She
did eventually get a boyfriend  -  an
artist/craft guy who actually sold a 
piece of his own design to 
Hammacher-Schlemmer, when 
they were just a NYCity store, 
and I think long before they went 
catalogue with their sales and 
stuff, and - of course - nothing
on-line (kiddies, kiddies, there 
was none of that in 1972). His 
thing  -  and I've seen lots of 
variations on the idea now, 
and - in fact - in Red Hook, 
Brooklyn there's a waterfront 
museum of nautical stuff that
has one as a diversion  -  was 
made of metal, about 6 feet long 
or more and about 10 feet high. 
It was one of those idea things 
where a chrome ball starts from 
up top, and rolls down these 
chutes, and along the way hits
or causes other things to hit, 
bells and buzzers and this or 
that which then flies or twirls 
or makes noise and runs into 
something else while, eventually 
and at long last (like this sentence)
it all finally gets to somewhere 
else at the bottom, having caused 
water to run, bells to clang, a 
spinner or two to start turning 
and lights to be blinking. It was,
basically, a crazy-man's toy, if
such was the sort of thing a
crazy-man would be desiring.
I think, in the 1930's these sorts 
of things, in comics, or the 'funny
papers' or 'funnies' as they were
then called, were called 'Rube 
Goldberg' contraptions  -  after a
cartoon character who would, in
order, say, to fetch a pail of water,
have one of these sorts of oddball
contraptions that did a hundred other
things which, in turn, eventually
fetched the water  -  by levers, pulleys,
and other things. Same idea, old tune.
Anyway, that was Sue's boyfriend.
I never met him, but I used to joke
that, in order to meet him, I'd first 
have to meet him, and then her, 
and then him, who would lead me 
to her, and then finally to him. Just
a funny contraption, but of people.
So, as much as there maybe could
have been, or even maybe she 
sought, there was no emotional 
attachment at all. She was logic 
and procedure; I was wildfire and 
abstraction. Somehow, in the 
middle of all that, was Jane Roberts
and all her Seth material. Anything
could have happened. It was the
beginning of the '70's, and people
really did sleep around, even in
Elmira. There were weird things
everywhere. 'Swinger' parties, wife
swaps, husband swaps, threesomes,
all that. I saw it happen often  -  my
friend Nelson and his wife Kristin,
besides the unending pot smoking,
were always working on side projects,
so to speak, and whenever the fondue
came out, I knew something was up
in that room. This was only Elmira,
NY, a dumb-shit little backwater 
place. It wasn't swinging London or
Plato's retreat in NYC. So, if the
things I saw in Elmira and Corning
were to be magnified out, to New 
York and elsewhere, I can only 
imagine the extent of all that 
pumping and grinding. I always
felt Sue to be on the verge of that.
Thankfully, it never happened.
We could talk endless Norman
Mailer, but I could never bring 
myself to say 'I'll nail her.' 
(That's a rhyming humor bit).
All that sex and emotion stuff has
always bothered me anyway. Maybe
not the sex so much as the emotion, 
or perhaps the other way around. I
can't be sure. It just seems to be a 
lot of work to get to something 
that can then really screw-up a 
loving friendship, or whatever. 
The sorts of people who are partial
to that always just seem like fly-traps 
to me anyway, no matter where. 
Not to be coarse of course, but it's 
as if some sticky part of them is 
always out to catch whatever it is
that may be flying by; just for
their own ego and vanity. It gets
really tiresome and unpleasant to
see. Same old crud, and a half-hour
later, all the smoke and mirrors 
being over, it's on to something 
else. I'm probably way wrong; 
what do I know. Anyway, 
betrayal sex, even if the excuse 
is drunkenness and stupor, can 
really ruin a place for a person.
So why ruin it? I know I wouldn't
ever want to run from town to 
town, always relocating, so as 
to say or remember, or not, 
what I'd  done there, or there, 
or there, and whose lives I 
screwed up. I'm just too 
quiet or too meek for
that stuff.
It comes with my sensitivities.
Ithaca was like that too; in 1972
the smoke was still clearing, at 
Cornell, from all that rebellion 
and university takeover and 
shut-down, all those crazy, 
ranting kids, SDS, Yippies, 
anti-war militants and Black 
Panthers too. It was crazy and 
to the point that you simply 
never knew what it was people 
wanted anymore. Everything 
was indirect, and being shouted. 
Who could expect to find clarity
in any of that. In addition to
that, the land around it all was
crazy-queer farm-folk country.
Everyone has guns and rifles, 
on a tear, at any point, to prove 
they knew how to use them. All
that angst and anxiety, and none
of it understood. Dead kids in 
barns and haylofts? Crazed rural
maniacs strangling girls while 
having their way with them? Just
then throwing them away like 
rag dolls? It didn't take any fictional
horror-story writers there to tell a 
story. All you had to do was read
the Ithaca Times, or the Ithaca 
If you've ever been to or seen
Ithaca, you'd know  -  it is built
on a rocky, hilly terrain, basically
rugged and steep, though very
pleasant. All the country-town
stuff is at the bottom, on a big,
flat plain  -  stores, bars, all that.
Ascending all those San-Francisco 
type hills, on a smaller-scale, at
the top is all the Cornell University
and Ithaca College stuff. Miles of it.
Beautiful and spectacular. There are
gorges and waterfalls, overlooks and
vistas out, down, towards Cayuga 
Lake. The two parts of the town hardly
concur on anything, and just maybe
'grudgingly co-exist for commerce.
(It's a lot changed now, and the 
roadways and things down below, 
where the stores are, have much 
been turned into pedestrian plazas 
and no traffic zones, and all the 
big, new, box stores now crowd the
fringes. Like anywhere else, I suppose).
Back then amidst all the burn-outs and
wasted and destroyed people, addicts,
folks trying for recovery, etc., we'd 
found this Zen Buddhist place where
all these people stayed. They were 
lodged there for cleansing and for
their own purification. Drying out.
It was the creepiest, quite, weirdest,
place I'd ever been  - like a society 
of robed and quiet mutants. Like
some bizarre movie from the future.
They made and did all their own stuff,
and sold everything, for pennies, out
front along the entryways  -  honey, 
hippie shirts and jeans with appliques, 
weavings, pies, soups, sandals. It was
strange and incredible. Beautiful girls
from wherever, guys with shaved or
tonsured heads, or long, perfect hair,
in robes, silent as silence can be. It 
was pure meditation, and it sort of 
gave you hope for the rest of the 
world, if things ever got to that 
turn. Purification could, or might,
anyway, happen!

No comments: