Saturday, May 28, 2016


I didn't always know 
where to turn, and a 
few times I was quite
on my own. There 
were features of life that 
were constant variables 
to me, and in those years 
everything was still so 
close together that it all
sometimes frightened me. 
Just think, still young, in 
about 10 years all sorts
of things had been 
'smushed' together for 
me in making up my 
growth years. Resulting
in one, long, strange 
moment. Like unending, 
slowly unreeling change.
At just 8, a train wreck
that nearly killed me; a 
long recuperation when 
everything was all mixed 
up; then seminary years; 
than the end-misery of
that last period of trying 
to finish my local high 
school, to where I'd been 
dumped unceremoniously 
after seminary; then my 
epic and life-changing again
jaunt throughout the streets 
of NYC, basically as a bum 
and an art student combined; 
and then this almost fantasy 
escape to another world and 
way, in Columbia Crossroads, 
PA, and then Elmira, NY. 
And I wasn't yet quite 26.
It was a lot to assemble. To
deal with, I guess could be
said as well, but I liked to
call it 'assemble'. Life is
just a mash of raw material,
thrown and jagged, put
before you. It's then up to
that 'you' to build your wagon,
so to speak, from it all and go.
I always also used to think how
dreadfully wrong things could
get, how mistakes that were
made would haunt. Again, that
Destiny banging up against
Fate thing would trip me up
solid. It's much like today, in a
way  -  looking at humankind
and a computer keyboard; the
'backspace' key is suspiciously
close to the 'delete' key  -  the
simplest swift error and you've
hit the wrong one. But at least
they ask you  -  a message bloc
pops up, to 'affirm' it a second
time, and then approve. Would
only that life were so, or mine.
Sometimes I not only rue the
flashlight, but the batteries that
keep it running as well. A great
and grand suicide wouldn't
necessarily be out of the
question  -  but it's just too
messy and too much noise and
-  as I've always put it  -  I do
want to see how this thing
ends up. (I've a mission in
mind and it fills my cup).
Back when I was in New York
City, in the very beginning, I
simply lived on the streets. It
was very hot out, the kind of
hot that ripples those streets and
makes all the bottle caps, when
there used to be bottle caps, sink
into the tar  -  along with pennies
and all sorts of other odd things.
There was a complete archaeology of
tar, always underway. Everything
was hanging open, doors, 
windows, passageways. Air
conditioning was still pretty 
rare. In fact, for most of the 
lower east side it was non-existent. 
People just went outside, or sat 
in what they considered some 
sort of airflow that cooled them. 
High-floor kids five stories up, 
camped out on fire escapes. Big 
old adults, on rickety chairs out
front of tenements, with wet
towels around their necks. For
myself, and as it turned out,
amazingly characteristic, my 
first periods of time there were
spent sleeping, fitfully, but 
sleeping, either on a bench or 
on the grass-ground at Tompkins 
Square Park. It didn't rain, or I 
don't recall any bad weather,
at all. There was an old rest-room
building at the northeast end of 
the park, and it had running water 
and a sink too. I don' remember 
a spray fountain anywhere out 
in the park, but there may have 
been. This would have been 
Summer '67, right after school 
was done; I considered it as
graduation, but certainly not 
from school, more like, fortunately,
from one allowable world straight
out to another. There were old
old people around  -  a hundred 
sad, old, dazed Jews, leftover 
from all those days of pograms 
and concentration camps and 
death mills. Hitler, Stalin,
at some point they all crossed. 
These people were, at this time, 
still plentiful and all still stunned. 

They'd just sit in this park, and 
other parks too, wherever they 
could. Broadway also, uptown, 
had a center bench-lane island,
and there would be swarms of 
them there as well. All heavily
dressed, some with canes. Hats.
Ladies in clunky shoes, and 
shawls. It was amazing, and 
a sad, really sad sight. A 
brutality that sizzled and 
lived on all around them  -  
not to be communicated 
to others. They only spoke
to one another, it seemed,
immersed as each was, yet,
in their own nightmare 
still running. They filled in 
each other's sentences and 
pauses. There was always, in
the air around them all, some 
bizarre combination of 
resignation, surrender, regret 
and disgust. Something like
living on, in a gray overtime 
of too much seen and too 
much recalled. It was a
silence that spoke volumes.
You have to think of this 
through my eyes : I was just
a kid, an outside-land kid, 
untested and with no 
exposure, walking in to, 
and reacting naturally to,
sights and sounds unknown
to me  -  unexpected as well, 
and often demanding full
explanations : The guy 
behind the counter in the 
little eatery at the corner,
what were those numbers 
on his arm, exactly, and 
why was his one eye always
tearing. He ran the place alone,
tirelessly. At 11th Street and
Second Ave, coffee and a corn 
muffin, with butter, 25 cents. He  
never spoke. His face was always 
red and his eyes, almost pink,
appeared to have no lashes,
just the barest of pink lids.
I too was lost, in a fire so
vastly different from his,
from all theirs, but lost
nonetheless. This all
threw me, for a big loop,
and for a long time  - I had 
to find ways, new ways, of 
thinking and understanding. All 
of what had gone before me,
everything presented to me, and
which I once saw as real and
commonplace, I suddenly realized
had been both false and
exceptional too. I needed
to find a way of combining
that false past with this
new present.
I found, much later, a
Japanese concept, with
a word 'kintsukuroi'. It
means 'golden repair'. It
is the art of restoring 
broken pottery with gold
so that the fractures are
literally illuminated  -  a
kind of physical expression
of the spirit. It celebrates
imperfection as an integral
part of the story. Something
not to be disguised. The
artists believe that when 
something has suffered
damage and has a history,
it becomes more beautiful.

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