Friday, June 24, 2016


New York City has any
number of dividing lines,
hubs, places of activity for
certain, different, sorts of
people. For someone who
lived there, it only took a
minute to catch on, and
you sort of played to your
audience, where you were
going to be, by that. Where
I was, basically, was just
the sinkhole where those
in the 'no money, absolutely'
crowd holed up; like a
drain plug, with all that
stuff clustered around it.
St. Marks Place, at that
point, and as it crossed The
Bowery too, was the crossroads
of the non-world, the black
hole in reverse, where all
that had gotten sucked in
came blown out the other
end. Or so it seemed : People
splayed all around, dripping
from walls and doorways.
The Bowery, at this point, had
only one way to go. It was a
lost-man's main street  -  25 cent
a night bunks, booze, knife-fights,
dead people, passed out people,
all the way down to Chinatown.
At St. Mark's it turned into 4th
Ave, and was then called 'Bookseller's
Row'  -   just an endless, nearly, array
of old, dusty book shops run by
silent and mysterious eccentrics.
This was all before any idea of
Barnes & Noble type book-selling.
No glamour, no glitz, nothing shiny.
There weren't even 'book jackets'
to speak of, in these places. The
books sold therein were mostly
old, dead people's estate books,
tons of them. Nothing like today
at all. Old, investigative tomes,
obscure subjects and sciences,
poetry,  poetry studies, old novels,
versions of all the old classics,
leather bindings, paisley frontspieces,
oddball inscriptions with handwritten
dates and notes from like 1892. It
was weird, and quiet, and, actually,
almost dark too. Cold and dank,
musty smelling. Tables of 10 cent
junk out front. Haphazard at
best. There was, later on, one
book place, at Astor, named
'National Books', and it 'tried'
to be a bit more modern, up
 to date, and outgoing. My
friend, Paul, and I used to go
there, and the owner was the
surliest, nasty guy you'd ever
meet. It was incredible. Without
fail, Paul and he would start
quarreling over something
like 'Why are you such a bitchy
asshole all the time?' Something
like that. What was funny,
always the same and all the
time, was that they'd start
out civil, and actually get in
some crazy conversation about,
say, the use of verbs in early
English Romantic-period
writing, or the presence  of
philosophical continuity in
Emerson  -  crazy, bizarre
stuff of no interest except to
maniacs, and then they'd get
furious with each and Paul
would storm out, swearing
to never again enter the door
of that place. It was funny,
always. Even funnier, Paul
would would then make
plans, the next visit, to steal
a book, from the shelves to
under his coat, just to teach
the guy a lesson. Alas, Paul's
dead now, some ten years
and more. For some reason
I've always had a propensity
for dead friends. Don't know
why. It wasn't the company
I kept, I know that.
I had an actor friend, John
Guerrasio  -  he's still around,
and alive too!  -  though he's
lived in London for 20 years
now. He made a career there,
of American (Brooklyn) accent
voice-overs for commercials.
John says they love that stuff
there, like we do British accents
here on like Channel 13. He's
the spokesman there, by costume
and voice-over in commercials
for 'Genius' Bread'. It's like a
Wonder Bread big brand there.
He gets made up to look like
Einstein, and does his pitch.
You can look them up. Fun.
He lived, back in the 70's and 
80's, on The Bowery, down by
Prince street some. It was a 
nice place enough, but the
location belied its grace  -  the
Bowery was all reputation
at that point. Derelicts and
brawlers for sure. He was
working The Lion Theater
Company, at Theater Row on
w42nd. Pretty successful and
had a few good runs, notices
in the trade papers and ever a
good, strong review in the
NYTimes. 'K'  -  that one was
a story of Kafka; 'Sananda Sez' -
that was a sort of parody of the
New Age Movement. Then he
had a Merchant-Ivory film, titled
'Austen In New York', I think 
it was. It played in a Soho 
theater, downtown. Pretty 
nice. So, between the bookstore
along Book Row and the 
gradual demise of everything 
as you went down The Bowery,
I was pretty stuffed there right
in the middle. I started out
here thinking I'd be declaiming 
between all the different streets
and sections of NYC, as I saw
them and as I ventured out, but
I'm not going to reach that 
point in this chapter. There's
just way too much stuff to talk
about at each step along the way.
People always talk about New York
as  -  instead of a large giant heap
of 'city'  -  a collection of endless
small neighborhoods. It's not that
at all, but it has the idea a little.
Which is why even right now I'm
getting slowed down and tangled 
in moving this piece along.
I had a certain form of dark
wanderlust within the city, as I
was there. It kept me moving about,
always seeing and noting things. I 
was like a stealth presence, always 
moving about and looming, trying to 
see what I could understand about the 
things I'd see. And there were plenty of 
surprising things. I was struck, 
immediately, in spite of whatever
idealistic crap people would say about
'melting pot' and all that, by the strong
prevalence of old-world nationalities and
codes. Parts of old Greenwich Village,
the Sullivan Street stuff, they were
still so old-world Italian that they hardly
even existed in the present. Stuffed into
these little quarters, and stacked in 
tenement buildings hot loud and stuffy, 
they hated the modern day. Thugs and 
brigands, roaming the street, their 
streets I mean, that little 5-block fiefdom 
which was theirs, all that stuff around the 
the old St. Patrick's Cathedral, and the
old Industrial School for Boys, or 
whatever it was, Orphans, Foundlings, I
don't know. (A great, old, red-brick building
across from the cathedral itself). They just 
wanted possession, to have it, and keep it. 
Their turf. They had hated the
infringement of Beatniks and folkies, 
and were known to storm streets and 
bang heads, beat people up, push them 
around some, to make their point. Now, 
even moreso, their strange conservatism.
Funny how it was, where I'd come from
most all of that was over, and everyone
was underway as homogenized  -  new 
homes and neighborhoods, people 
all mixed together. I found this old
Italian neighborhood separatism, seen  
once again, really old-style and  unwelcome.
I thought I'd left all that behind.

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