Friday, June 17, 2016


When I was 10, 11, 12, there
was a player on the Detroit
Tigers, baseball team, third
base maybe, I forget. His
name was Al Kaline. That
always amazed me, because
it was the same as the word
alkaline, the test-strip, litmus
papers, used to test for acidic
vs. alkaline properties. I'd
spend, after that, a lot of time
writing down various word
combinations to which that
would apply.  It was always
difficult. Years later, in
passing through the string
of towns along Rte. 6 in
Pennsylvania, I came across
Tobyhanna, PA, and instantly
realized it worked for that.
Toby Hanna. Too bad about
the ending 'H'. At that point
I didn't care. Enough to drive
me crazy  -  like 'Saying all
you know doesn't mean you
know all you say.' I guess I
just liked stupid stuff like that.
As: Walter Sickert's invitation
to a departing visitor: 'You
must come again when you
have less time.' Winston
Churchill's story about the
man whose mother-in-law
had died, and, upon him
asking for instructions on
how to proceed, was told:
'Embalm, cremate, bury
at sea. Take no chances.'
When I lived at 509 e11th,
down at the bottom of St.
Marks Place, at #77 also
lived the eminent poet, W.
H. Auden He had a decent
enough small apartment  -  
quite surprising for a man of
his literary stature and renown.
I don't know if you've ever
seen photos of him  -  he was
a heavy smoker, and had a
dried and deeply-lined, old
face, because of it. Always
wore suits  -  real crumpled,
old-line behavior. Gay as all
get out too, which of course
was part of the odd charm.
He lived there with Chester
Kallman, his companion and
lover of many years. In this
same building, in 1917, had
lived Leon Trotsky, editing a
dissident newspaper, and,
also in the 60's here, lived
the artist and otherwise famed
beat-character Larry Rivers.
It was an old-style, small
building, better some than the
usual tenement-row stuff. In
the front were  -  which I always
loved and appreciated  -  two
pedestal lion-heads, or some
creature like a lion. They'd
been there many years, and
the New York pollution, over
those years, had been at work
sizzling the limestone or
whatever stone they'd been
cut from, away. Like the
figures on the Washington
Square Arch, which also had
sizzled and diminished in the
NY air. At Auden's place,
because they were only
waist-high, the erosion was
quite visible. Since that time,
though they are still there,
apparently someone has
re-stucco'd them, or something,
and not very well. No matter,
today's world hardly knows him
anyway  -  outside of academics
and a few anthologies, he's lost
his glow. Lots of good things
about him though  -  very
generous to others in need, but
he always wanted it kept mum.
Veddy British, that, I guess.
That's kind of how bad the air
was, the pollution of New York
City, back then  -  when It actually
still was a manufacturing town 
and every little loft and walk-up 
and small factory and loading 
dock loft produced something, 
something special and precise 
or unique and curious. Camera 
lenses and cases, garments, 
bags and hats, leather goods, 
shoes, all sorts of the small
and not so small business 
things that went into a thriving, 
tangible metropolis. The kind 
back then when the black 
table-top phone always was
ringing, on someone's desk, 
and switchboard lobby girls 
were always chattering and 
switching lines. When people 
double parked their large, 
black cars and ran up three
flights of stairs to get 
something and rush back. 
Trucks and cars and carts, 
all piled up together. The air 
was so thick with smog, you
could cut it. I remember the
thickness of those 5:30 
weekday evenings  -  the 
dull grey pallor of both the 
air and the faces of all the
tired, raggedy people. My 
friend visiting from California, 
back then, once complained: 
What's wrong with all these 
people? They all look sick.'
I had another California friend, 
Ed Rudolph. He was at the Studio
School for a little while, maybe 
one term, I don't recall. There's
a funny story connected to that. 
About 1976, whenever it was, 
when President Carter instituted 
the 55mph speed limit nationwide, 
ostensibly because of some 
harebrained crisis-assumption
about the USA running out 
of gas, I told him my theory of 
what was going on. The end of 
the American era had arrived, 
yet the 'people' couldn't yet
accept that, being used to 
the unlimited growth ideas 
of an ever-expanding country 
and national might. A Manifest
Destiny of right and power. 
Now, having run out of 
everything, and with no 
new places to go, the
politics of Washington was
in a frenzy to keep people's
ire and wrath from bubbling 
over. The solution? CUT the
speed limit back to a really
dumb 55  -  so if takes people
longer to get anywhere. That
would make them think we
were still growing and 
expanding, such vast and
time-consumptive distances.
Maybe they'll still think we
got new places to go!
Anyway, that was my theory 
- and Ed loved it. He took it
back to California with him, 
wherever he was going 
(he lived at 303 Missouri 
Street)  -  maybe the SF Art
Institute, I forget. But he said
that whenever and wherever
he brought this idea up  -  
classes, gatherings, parties,
or just sitting round with
friends, it was a monumental
smash and he never had to 
buy a drink! Everyone set
him up with drinks for having
presented such a cool idea.
Go figure.

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