Thursday, June 30, 2016


Like the little dump of a town I
live in now, 50 years later, the
lower east side had all the ways
and means of a poor person's
paradise/ghetto. Which is why
I liked it, and why I like my town
right here now too; a simple 20
miles off. No pretension, no
make-believe goo-goo about
being or acting like something
we're not. Noises, and curses.
Overgrown kids, just slightly
too big, rolling down the street,
on the side of the roadway, on a
little bicycle, some home-made
derogatory version of what may
once have been a Sting-Ray or
something. Behind them, standing
on the rear-wheel bolts, standing
and above the bike-pilot, is some
12-year old, long-haired, dirty
grimy kid. The two of them,
oblivious to all else, jamming
along. The kid on the back with
a big, shit-eating grin while his
face hits the wind. That was just
today, in fact, right here in Avenel,
down by the Post Office  -  for
now the 'ghettoiest' part of this
town. Kids shooting driveway
hoops, loud bastards with their
firecrackers. My dog, asleep
here at my feet, in the yard,
catches the breeze too. Just
yesterday, back at 10th street,
over by Astor Place, and 4th
Avenue's corner, sitting out
having a slow, early-morning
coffee, same kind of kid goes
down the street, older, bigger,
on some hot-rod skateboard, looks
at me as he approaches, and loses
control somehow, and hits the
ground. Hard, but he was OK.
The skateboard, and this is honest,
literally, goes flying down the street
towards the big intersection at
Astor Place, honest, like it has a
dedicated life of its own. The kid,
and me, are in awe; it's flying,
through two lights and streets,
hitting nothing (early morning,
light local traffic), and only finally
comes to rest by the cones and
pylons protecting the work site
down that way at Cooper Union.
It finally comes to rest, flying a
flip-jig at the barricades. The kid
looks at me 'so great, man, thanks,'
and skitters off down the street
in pursuit of his retrieval. Any of
that could have been right here,
and vice versa. It's the world
I like.
Point is, I guess, I'm not really
going anywhere. The Macadamia
nut that's been presented to me
has been OK. I always laugh at
my own jokes: What do they serve
on an airline flight of Professors
headed for vacation in the islands?
Academia nuts. Everything around
me has always been swirling  and
any question ever asked of me I've
usually come up with an answer for.
It's like a still-life, this living; all
things settled now and set. Is that
the way it ends up for everyone?
I wonder if what we end up taking
with us is just what we were given
to begin with anyway  - as if all
numbers and every equation of life,
in the very end all adds back up to
the same number you started with.
Divine justice everywhere : or
maybe just zero. Ashes to ashes,
and dust to dust. Underneath it all,
and I know this, that still-life of
my familiarity is still there. Where
the problem comes in is how the
overlay of all the new stuff just
takes over. Over at Astor Place, 
by Cooper Union, there used to 
be this arty thing, a sort of big
black cube, tilted on its point, and 
if you pushed it, it rotated. No big 
deal, almost stupid, but it was there
for years  -  blues guys and punk
guys and dancers and magicians,
they'd all come by and do their
little stuff with the hat out. Guitar
stuff all hours. People selling crap
on blankets all along the Cooper
Union base  - the mysterious old
building looming over it all, like
the rancid ghost of some dead
Abraham Lincoln lording it over
a seedy and run-down Bowery
America, wordlessly telling you 
it had somehow turned to filth.
That the dream was over. Now?
It's all gone, and you can't find
a trace of it. The old stuff maybe
is still there, but it's dwarfed now
by these atrocious new crumpets 
of way over-busy architecture. 
Chrome and steel, burnished 
aluminum, all that crap; no straight
edges, everything swirling and twisting. 
They don't even use bricks and mortar 
now. Little would Andy Bonamo 
know, if and wherever he is now, how
it's like the whole entire world 
now is suffering from some 
brutal LSD trip, all on its own.
I used to sit and stare at the
General Slocum Memorial and
just try to think of tragedy, and what
tragedy must be like. But, I realized,
tragedy no longer existed. I was in
a curious, closed-pocket of time.
Especially about tragedy. Little did I
even know, but down from me about
20 blocks they were beginning the
close-to-final aspects of the
Twin Towers, which would
later, much later, be viewed as a
tragedy, perhaps in line with this
Slocum steamship of 1900 or
whatever it was. I didn't yet know
the future. I hardly knew the past,
but they were both there, out before
me; and I was trying to read both.
The Slocum disaster, right nearby,
had killed many Germans out for a
day-excursion. Children, and adults.
They just burned in the harbor, on a
blazing wooden ship. The community
was devastated, and after that most
Germans just packed up and left; giving
up the lower eastside entirely, they just
all went, en masse, up to the east 90's,
a section called Yorkville, and simply
transplanted themselves  -  free of the
awful memory and remnants of that
fire. That's still where you go now,
in NYC, for the German community
and all their foods and cultural
traditions. I was living in the ghost
hole of all that had been theirs. What
really can you do when one day
you're in some oddball smalltown
highway pit-stop on the way to nothing
and the next morning you awake on
park grass, in the heat, with about
10 or 15 other people doing the very
same thing. Indigent. Lost. Sleeping
on open grass. 'To be indigent you
can't be indignant' -  that was another
one of mine. I was at the very same
park again, at sun-up the other morning
(that skatebboard kid day I just told you
about). Nearly the same time of year too.
Travelers around. School out. End of
June. And lo and behold, I walk
over to the Slocum Monument to
bid it a hello, and there again, on the
grass, some 7 or 8 bodies  -  bags,
blankets, shoes, hats  -  all asleep or
just rousing, on that grass. As if the
fifty years intervening had just never
occurred. Everything about the same.
That's what New York was like  -
one little heritage-ghetto after the
other. The Germans left, and then
the Jews came, and then the Slavs
and Poles, and then the Russians.
I wandered about, at times almost
listless, from my concern and
my confusion towards all
that I was seeing.

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