Tuesday, June 21, 2016


How are remarkable things
made, and kept that way? I
often wondered. I'd walk
around and see plenty of
mundane stuff, that was a
dime a dozen and on every
corner  -  but it was the
remarkable stuff that always
caught me up. Sometimes
it was just stunning to turn
a corner and see a window
or doorway that apparently
hadn't been touched for a
hundred or more years. The
wood would be gouged with
a million pressed hand prints,
and the walk-pads and stairs
worn down with the footsteps
and patterns of wear by
hundreds of thousands of
feet. Somehow, wood carries
its planet-love for the species
much better than does plastic
or steel. It speaks better to our
souls, all, for many years on.
I'd find, sometimes, doorknobs
and even entire doors, made
from old and beautiful
patterns of wood, with the use
and markings still upon them
of immigrant kids, plodding
parents working 16 hours a day
to make the needed 35 cents  -
for their family, stuffed in two
and a half rooms at the top of
some rickety stairs somewhere.
Bedding and padding everywhere,
it would come out at night for
use, and the rest of the time was
just stuffed away. Before the
tenement laws, in like 1912
or whenever, before that guy
named Jacob Riis and his
book 'How the Other Half
Lives' exposed all this,
tenements used to be
two-deep on a property.
Some of them were still
around like that, leaning,
abandoned or with squatters
in them, in the middle 1960's.
These street tenements, packed
full with people, would
have  -  instead of a 'yard'  -
another tenement right behind
them. A real shambles; a
double-row of hovels. Laws
were passed over the outrage,
and, in addition, that's how
'air-shafts' got started. The
new laws made it mandatory
that air-shafts were cut in,
stairwells and all, so that
all the crammed-in people
would at least have some
ventilation and airflow;
even though quite often
they then just became
convenient dumping alleys
to heave down bags of trash,
which just stayed there and
rotted in place. I know that
when I got to 509 e11th, the
air-shaft at my rear window
merely looked down on a
narrow slit of crummy light,
with piles of garbage at the
bottom  -  a place I never
dared to go, even for
the cleaning up.
It was, for sure, a different
time and place. And, also, the
squatters weren't necessarily a
bad thing  -  unless you were
some scummy absentee Long
Island millionaire landlord.
They'd buy up all these places,
already run-down, and then
just let them crumble, for their
own detestable real-estate
reasons  -  some crooked
deals with the city  -  so that
eventually the building would
be condemned, some back-tax
bullshit worked out, and they'd
once more have their property
and now with the clear
permission and blessing of
the city to tear it down and
build something new, and
more expensive, and for a
different 'sort' of people, in
its place. Of course, then, all
the families and squatters who
had managed on their own to
at least make it livable and
raise their kids and somehow
'get' their kids allowed into the
local schools (Hmmm, wasn't
that fishy). They'd be evicted,
even given summonses, and
thrown out to the street, just
like that. It was as if all the
interests of the city coalesced
around only what was good
for property owners, landlords,
and profiteers, at the expense
of regular people. I watched
all that, and I knew what was
going on, how it was all
underway to cut the bottom
out of the historic hordes who
had built and settled the lower
east side without making trouble,
even as they were gouged and
cheated and lied to. As I began
realizing all of this, the conflict
arose within me as to what,
exactly, sort of 'city' I'd moved
into. With past history as a guide,
LaGuardia, Jimmy Walker, all
those old Mayors and Police
Commissioners, like Theodore
Roosevelt, who had originally
put Jacob Riis up to the task of
exposing all these horrid
conditions, and then who
worked at reforming them,
it somehow all seemed wrong,
as if, yet again, a big lie was
being perpetrated. Real Estate
interests actually CONTROLLED
the city, and were always hard
at work getting it changed over
to their version of conditions
and profits. It's all still like that
today, yes. To this very moment.
The old city is gone, even the old
city of the 1990's. It's now a
different place entire, and there's
little room for any bottom rung
at all. It's all just too costly; even
by those standards, elite. Plus, a
person, really, has to be crazy
to live there for just the 'wasting'
of all that money in a pretty
miserable and filthy place, when
so much more can be done with it.
But, that was never my problem,
and it isn't now, certainly, either.-
Next to 509, I've already made
mention, was the courtyard and
entryway for what was called
'Paradise Alley', once a grand
old Beatnik bunch of housing,
and then later, by my time, the
motorcycle headquarters, if I
could ever get the story straight,
for what became the Hell's Angels
bunch on Third Street, once they'd
gotten their own place. Here at
Paradise Alley, when they first
arrived, they were transplanted
or renegade Chicago Outlaws
motorcycle club members. I was
told, anyway  -  not that it ever
made any sense. And it never
mattered anyway; I didn't care,
just used to like to watch the
comings and goings, the bustle
and the noise, trying to figure
out what all it was they were
doing. Now, in hindsight, it's
all clear, and easy  -  I've had
my own years of that stuff, and
got to know any number of them,
on all sides, different clubs and
the rest. But that's not part of
this story. In 1967 they seemed
oblivious to everything  -  and
I could never quite understand
that. They never took part in
any of that turmoil of war and
draft and protest. If and ever
they did, it seemed to be for
the other side, the flag-waving
gung-ho goons who defended
that crap, and the status quo.
That baffled me. What were
these guys? Neanderthal men?
They never seemed to get drafted,
but they were always considered
patriotic stalwarts. They never
seemed to take part, yet they'd
end up, now and then, in Life
Magazine or something,
vociferously defending
America, and bashing
heads to show it. Like
liking Baseball, and then
going around killing third
basemen. Baffling to me;
but I never made a
move about it.
The story I got, later, was
that my mother ratted me
out. Whatever; probably
naively, as that was her
manner. The draft board
kept sending her (me)
letters, using that home
address, etc., where I no
longer was, about not
registering for their draft,
failing to report for a
physical, ignoring induction
notifications, any and all that
crap. Of course, nothing ever had
gotten to me, not that it would
have mattered. I was so
deep into the anti-war stuff;
we were running a safe house,
for God's sake, and ferreting
AWOL's off to Canada from
my place, the apartment in
my name. And more, and
other things too. Whatever.
If it had come to me, I'd
have only probably pissed
on the notes and tacked
them to the wall anyway.
Nice old Mom figured, I guess,
it was her duty to let them
know where they could find
me. She said she'd thought
she was 'helping' clear me by
that move. So, anyway, one
day, right along on the
sidewalk over there by
District 65, (see two
chapters back) they bagged
me. Grabbed me and stuffed
me in a car and took me
over to Whitehall Induction
Center  -  which was down,
on the left, about 15 or
blocks, on lower Broadway.
No handcuffs, no pummeling,
no arrest, nothing like that; more
just the momentary apprehension
of a draft-fugitive so that I could
be documented, photographed,
told about the seriousness of
my situation, and given a date
and time for my next appearance
due. To get myself there of my
own volition, under penalty,
blah, blah. It was about three
weeks off. I said, 'yeah' OK,
right', took their papers,
and left. Now, the thing
was, these were really bad
times for anything Vietnam
War connected, let alone
anti-Vietnam and protest
stuff. Word was, if they didn't
like you, or if you pissed them
off, they'd send you right off
to the front lines. (Couldn't
have been true because you
still had to do all that basic
training stuff where they
teach you how to kill, and
rip people's throats out, tear
their balls off, and make them
eat hand grenades if they
don't talk and all  -  even
if they don't know your
damn language, or even
what you're saying to them,
at full volume and with your
spittle shooting at them
as you yell in their face
from its closeness to theirs.
And, then, to boot, you have
to learn how to get their wives,
in spite, have your way with
them, throw them down and
then slit their belly open with
your knife to make sure there's
not another little Viet Cong
Commie bastard growing in
the dumb-shit's belly. Yeah,
see that  -  none of it's nice
but that's American Vietnam
warfare, sorry to say. Go ask
Lieutenant William Calley. 
But, no, he's dead.) Evidently,
none of that is innate behavior,
and the Government has to
teach us, train us in it, before
they send us overseas. It's the
Military, Jack. You'll get over
it. So, no, it can't be true that
they'd send you right over to
die. But, that's what people said.
My point is, these schmucks
had me, all rounded up and in
their possession, yet evidently
had not a c-l-u-e as to any of
stuff I'd been involved in,
and current then too, against
their fine efforts to sanctify
Southeast Asia. If they knew,
they'd have shot me right
then and there.
Now, if you're good kids and
nice readers  -  as I know you
are  -  tomorrow I'll tell you all
about my induction travails at
Whitehall Induction Station,
in late 1968  -  which actually
turned out to be Newark, NJ,
for me.

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