Sunday, June 19, 2016


Eighth Street changed into
St. Marks Place, about at
Cooper Union and Astor Place,
actually the same street, just
an altered name, to St. Marks
Place instead of the usual
and expected east Eighth. In
NYC, Fifth Avenue is the
dividing line for things being
east or west. Anything west
of Fifth Ave., is, say, 'West'
21st street, while on the east
side of Fifth Ave. that would
be 'East' 21st. The 'westside'
has everything running down
to the Hudson River, facing NJ,
and the eastside has everything
running down to the East River,
facing Brooklyn and the outer
eastern areas and boroughs. That
all ends up in New York Harbor,
where the rivers run in the salt
waters of the ocean and the
harbor. The fresh water Hudson
runs down as fresh water, and
mixes. The East River, being an
estuary, runs fresh but rises and
falls salty with the tides as it joins
the salted ocean waters, and in
that way too picks up a lot more
of the salty-water content. It is
also swifter moving and more
channeled. Uptown, in the area
of the east 90's, it also mixes
with the Harlem River and other
waters, in some turbulence. In
the early days of NYC, those
troublesome currents and the
hazards of navigation there 
gave it the name Hell's Gate. 
The actual name, 'Helegaat', 
was given it by Adrian Block,
early Dutch explorer ('Block
Island Sound', the location
in his name, still exists), from
places in his native Holland,
(there are 20 of them there) - 
all shipping locations where 
varied currents/eddies met and 
swirled. It meant 'Bright Spot',
or 'clear passage', but over
the years here was Anglicized,
because of the treacherous
and overlapping swirls and
currents, and the numerous 
wrecked ships, from the name
he'd given it. Hell's Gate it is:
bedeviled sailors, whirlpools
and dangerous rocks. In 1885
the largest-ever, before the
atomic bomb, blast took place 
there as years of blasting cleared 
the riverways of the dangerous
outcroppings of rocks. The 
most famous wrecked ship 
there, from November 23, 1780, 
is (was) the H.M.S. Hussar  -  
an overloaded privateer loaded 
with booty, gold, slaves, and 
soldiers. Some say the riches 
and treasures are still beneath
the mud and water. Today, and
in 1967 too, there's a park there
(Carl Schurz Park) nice walkways
and overlooks, and a few bridges 
Triborough Bridge (Brooklyn,
Queens, and Bronx, 1936) and
Hell Gate bridge (1917). I used 
to just randomly, sometimes, 
hang around here, bicycling 
to the e90's, just to watch the 
ship traffic and the freight 
lanes of tugs and barges. The 
river traffic was still quite 
heavy, and all bore the 
unmistakable brand of
movement in silence. From 
a short distance off, I'd 
watch, and very little of 
the river-surface sound  -  
that you'd imagine was 
happening  -  came across.
Especially in the damp-chilly
fogs, it was ominous and 
quite engaging. Back then,
really all you'd see lurking
were the oddballs and cranks, 
the mysterious ones, huddled
in their cloaks and jackets. 
Not like today, no, when it's 
all filled with happy-stylish 
joggers, walkers, dog-people, 
ball-kickers, and collegial
picnickers and those who
frolic in suit (or, even,
'en suite').
Let me get back to where I
started: At the conjunction
of Eighth Street and St. Marks
Place, crossing Broadway, 
I'd always pass District 65.
It was a truck bay building  -  
I'd pass it like twice a day  -
which was the headquarters 
as well for what was labeled 
'District 65'. There were 
always guys hanging around  -
the usual grunts and cigarettes, 
khaki work clothes, boots and 
occasional beers, and there 
was a large liquor store across 
the street, as well  -  big time.
Back then I was unsure what
it was and what it meant. I 
just accepted it, and the 
guys who hung around it 
as I passed through them.
Back then, again, you need
to remember, there were still
great divides between the 
'normal' or regular worlds of
everyday people, and that 
'other' world of what were
called, basically, 'creeps, 
longhairs, hippies, fags and
homos.' Well, I was in that
category, and our numbers
were somehow growing daily.
These workaday dudes, had
they a mind to, could have 
clubbed or rustled me, in
passing, as they wished and
at their whim. It never 
happened, though back 
then everything was always 
on the verge  -  construction 
crew guys beating on hippies 
and protesters, or truck guys
pouncing on fags. You had
an entire array  -  even the
most delicious, whoriest or
fetching looking protester 
babe was apt to get pummeled
or felt up and jostled, for just
being what she'd selected to 
be. That was the 'Freedom'
of which the Vietnam cats
were all up in arms over.
Nice to say, but best you
dared not exercise it. And, 
hey, anyway, 'shut the fuck 
up.' The whole city, it seemed,
was bifurcated back then over
these issues of war/peace, 
straight/hippie, wise/dumb, 
even. Everywhere one went,
the streets were angry over 
something, with people 
seething one way or the other.
The closest I can come to it is, 
a few years back, that whole
Zuccotti Park thing with the
Occupy Wall Street crowd. It
was lot like that, but on a
citywide and much larger
scale. So, anyway, back then 
I used to think this District 65 
place was a Teamsters or
truck-drivers hall where
everyone was ready to smash 
my head off. As it turned out, 
and I learned later, District 
65 was actually an 'enlightened'
union hall, of  (you can look it up)
university people, museum and
publishing folk. I'd had it all wrong,
and how weird was that. See how
little I knew? I passed it nearly
every day, to and from, walking
around, and had misunderstood
somehow the entire idea. If you
read the link above, it was really
more an 'ideal' than even an 'idea.'
All this stuff I'm mentioning here
is, right now, 50 years back. I was
17, and for me it was year One.
No other questions entertained.
My world was brand new, and 
now it's all gone and finished; 
the things I make note of here  
have mostly disappeared, and
certainly any latter-day interpretations
of them would never 'get' them; the
concepts I'm speaking of bear little
relationship to the world of today.
It's so hard for me to fathom, but
yet all the past of Me that I hold
in my head and hands is worth
more to me today than any of the 
billions of today's dollars' worth
of the shipwrecked lunacy said
to still me in the mud at the
bottoms of the rivers hereabouts
from yesterday. Any yesterday
other than my own, peculiar
yesterday, of which I still sing.
Mostly, nowadays, when people
talk to me, I have no idea what 
they're even talking about. I can't
much focus, don't understand or 
see them clearly, and just walk
away, perplexed at whatever just
transpired. It all makes me scared,
silent and reticent to even go out.
Tough break. I guess I'm still living
in the concepts of what once were.

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