68. WATCH THE STOMACH
How is it said: 'Out of the frying
pan, into the fire,' or 'as different
as black and white'? Either one,
and probably a hundred others,
could work. That's how I felt.
Sainted and secure, yet foul and
insecure too. A regular 'damned
if you do, damned if you don't'
scenario. I'm sleeping like a pig
in this sweaty park, and around
me these elders are riding out
their sorrows in a plague of
memory and grief. Too much
for this lumpen proletariat type
to take. I was unprepared. I
walked about in my own little
daze, at first. There was a
bandshell, on the south side
of the park., most always with
a group of polymorphous
Spanish musicians in it,
playing - to no one but
themselves, but playing. It
was pretty good, and I really
liked the percussion stuff :
a guy on conga drums, bongos,
and a regular drum set too.
Guitars and things, no vocals.
Santana-like sounds, on and on.
I often just sat there to listen. I
had my own bongo drums,
brought from home. I had no
nerve about it, and anyway
they were down in the bottom
of this stupid carry bag I had
with me. Always something.
The landscape, I realized, was
all in my mind. In reality, I had
no clue where I was. The thing
about New York City is, it's a
place. All things are 'situated'
in a place-specific geography.
Natives know that. Those
who grew up and/or lived
know that. Outsiders either
just do not know that, or have
never had it explained to them.
I had to structure and piecemeal
things as I went along, essentially
working blind. The only place
history I'd ever gleaned was the
one I'd found myself, through
reading or cheap research. I had
to learn this reality from a start
point I'd never faced before. It
was composed of need, hunger,
anxiety, hygiene, and need again.
Little did I ever realize that, in
about a month, I'd have an
apartment of my own only a
block away. In that respect, I
was quite fortunate. It wasn't
much of anything, but it was a
place, something to land in. Sixty
bucks a month. Five years later,
and a millions tales and stories
too, I'd be looking back at all
this from the perfect, pristine
open acreage of deep Pennsylvania.
It was all so crazy - had anyone
even tried to tell me then that
this was to occur, I'd have
laughed and called them out.
Pennsylvania and all its perfection
was a far cry from any of this. I
doubt that I could have explained
Tompkins Square Park and the people
who utilized it, to any of them. It
was a faraway, other world. Only
once or twice did anyone ever come
even close to asking me about my
previous life, before the farmland
days. It was never direct, and I
never had to face it. Not even
knowing what I would have said
or how it would have gone across.
The days when my father was around,
those were the times it all came closest
to blowing up, because my father
had this tendency to be loose-lipped,
about others, in this case, loose-lipped
about me. He'd start babbling about,
like, 'Well, when I saw Gary's apartment
in New York City I just about flipped...'
and then just think nothing of launching
into some cockamamie tale, usually
at least half wrong, of what he'd thought
he'd seen. I'd squirm, as if I saw a missile
coming in, but nothing ever really hit.
And then, a week later, when he was
gone, I'd get something like, 'Your Dad
was telling me you was once a hippie...'
Close call, but no contact.
All these cow people were funny - it's
amazing to think how lives can be lived
in complete dedication to a pack of sullen,
hard-headed animals needing tending to
twice a day seriously and the rest of the
day in stages. It was as if, once gotten into,
there wasn't any escape. They used to tell
me how, with all those constant demands of
animal and crop things, as farmers, every
day, they'd never gotten away, never gone
anywhere - travel, vacation, cruises,
whatever. If they did anything, now and
then a farmer would go around, collect
what others needed, motor vehicle and
taxes and fees and licenses stuff, mostly,
and make a trip down to Harrisburg (I
was never there), and hundred or so
miles south and west, to do the business
for everyone, right at the clerk's offices or
whatever documents department was
needed. I always thought that was a
pretty neat idea; and it was only very
occasionally, and without much trust
in the future, that someone would leave
the farm in the hands of their sons or kids
for some time - whether it was medical
need or business. I used to sit around and
try to figure, with advertising and all,
what kind of money could be made by
maybe running a 'farm-sitting' or a
'chore-sitting' agency, so farmers
could get away. I'd learned all the
stuff needed, and knew I could handle
it, but things like insurance (what if
something really did go wrong?),
and money for ads and things, stopped
me. But most importantly, the 'trust'
factor, I knew, would kill the idea.
Nowadays, city people do dog-sitting,
and walking 10 dogs at a time on
multi-leashes, doggie day-care, and
all that, but the one thing I'd never
achieve with these country folk was
the trust and confidence for them to
put all their stuff in the hands of an
outsider. Probably just as well.
They'd always see me as someone
new, just 'in' from somewhere, and
not worthy of any real trust. It's just
a certain odd clannishness and the
aspect of a closed society.
Anyway, I never mentioned any of
that to any one; it was all just a
passing idea. There was one funny,
New Jersey, sort of time I went
through. I had always been told -
never knowing if it was true or not,
that at Rutgers Agriculture, now
known as Cook College, there was
a live cow whose right side had a
small, plexi window put in place,
implanted, as it were, successfully,
to allow a viewer to see the stomach
innards at work. Whatever. Students
and visitors, supposedly, could watch
the mastication/digestion process.
I guess it all does sound crazy, but
what did I know. You've heard of
'urban' legend. Well, I guess this
was 'cow' legend. But like a fool
I had enough stupidity to bring this
up once, in a barnful of farmer
types. It took about two hours for
the laughter, at my expense, to
subside. Yeah, sure, these people
would be the first to put their farms
and livestock in my hands for a week.