Thursday, July 28, 2016


When I was young, there
was a place in Plainfield, 147
Park Ave., as I recall, that had
a live stock-ticker lightboard
on the side of the building. I
think it was Janney, Montgomery
& Scott, an old-line Philadelphia
stock-trading company. It's long
gone now, yes, lifetimes ago,
and that old Plainfield doesn't
even exist anymore. Little really
did I know about anything, but
that stock ticker meant so much
to me, aspirationally. Difficult
to put into words  -  it represented
an elevated life. Just as, as a kid
on Inman Avenue, I'd walk out
to Route One just to watch the
flow of traffic headed north
to New York City  -  mouth
agape, just staring in the
amazement at all the cars
and people, and the wondering
where they were all headed
and for what 1950's NYC
reasons. I knew then I was
hooked. Well, entering
Plainfield and seeing that
stock-quotes wall rolling
all its numbers, I felt the
same way. The big time
called. I couldn't be
stopped. One time, to
make it even worse, a
friend of my mother's
came to visit our house,
in an afternoon sit-down,
just a few coffee hours,
like women used to do.
I don't know how it came
up or even how I got wind
of it, but this woman actually
WORKED there! In that very
office! I wanted to marry her,
myself, right then and there,
have part of that boast. It
was terrifyingly liberating.
There was a sense of uplift
to be had, for me, just in the
'presence' of Plainfield. As
it was then. It's all so gone
now it's a pathetic fallacy
to even use the same name
for the place. It should probably
now be called El Paso II. Not
'ours' in any way any more.
Old-line Plainfield is what
I'm talking about. I caught
it on the cusp, as it was
leaving  -  rows and rows
of merchant's homes in one
section, a few fine parks
spread about, large manor
homes of the proud, old
class. Huge trees, grace.
There was (still is, if you
can find the ancient signs
marking it, and if anyone
around really cared) the
Van Wyck Brooks Historic
District. Van Wyck Brooks
was one of America's earlier
literary critics  -  one of
those snobs who went
around back then with
intellect and attitude and
founded an industry based
upon a point of view, an
approach to living that we
no longer have. It's all
been supplanted now
with TV, radio and
entertainment geeks,
babbling. But back then
he was about the equivalent
of all that, but with an intellect
and a reference story-board
that made use of all literature
and writing behind it. You
almost had to listen, or read,
anyway. He was some serious
shit, early on. He lived right
here, grew up here, and they
were nice enough to actually
'honor' him for years until the
morlocks and midget-labor
classes moved in and destroyed
all of that. If they even understood
you now, they'd probably think
Van Wyck Brooks was some
sort of local waterway where
George Washington pissed.
Anything we do now to 'honor'
the past ends up dishonoring
it for sure.
He went to Harvard. He wrote
'The Flowering of New England.
He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
The area he lived in, now the 'Van
Wyck Brooks Historic District,'is
now just a dormant shambles  - all
those fine, almost royal, grand homes
in disrepute; still standing, yes, but
many gone. Those left are mostly
broken up into rooming houses now  -
five or eight mailboxes on the front
wall, Mexicans and idlers flopping
around. Once-florid lands and scapes
now just all jumbling together or
brutally cleansed, cut, trimmed
and hacked. No one cares. In 1968,
right there, they took down any
number of homes and built a quite
nice, 1968 state-of-the art library.
It's still there today, the same way
fine, old cemeteries from a hundred
years ago are still in their places :
because no one knows how to take
them away. It's a dump, a video
wall now, mostly for black gangsters.
Truly a horrid spectacle. The
once-modern architecture itself
now looks a shambles, out of place,
strange, distant. No grace, not
inviting in any way. And it's
destitute. Making all that even
worse, they tore more old estate
housing down and built a 'new'
state-of-the-art high school to
replace the old one. A hideous
bunker, a pool of still more
low-lives, slimeball gawkers
slopping along to drug-rap 
school. Daily. Each kid is
now in filth and shambles.
No learning at all. If Van
Wyck Brooks showed up there
now he'd stab himself in the
heart. Twice. It's amazing to
me now, the prevalence of
ignorance and uselessness.
When I went to New York,
part of the reason was to elevate
myself, bring myself up to other,
finer, standards. To a place of
legacy and lineage, honor and
history. Where all good things,
the things of merit and achievement,
writing, art, essays, thinking, poetry,
philosophy, had all come to a
higher plane. I could walk 
within and amid the ghosts 
of that past as they still 
lived in the bricks and 
walkways and walls of all 
I'd see. I was hungry for 
that sort of touch. And I
pretty much achieved what 
I'd set out to do. Then, years
later, I took all that again to
Princeton as a sort of proof-
mechanism, to show myself I
had been right. I found that,
mostly, yes, I had...but that in
those 50 years between the 
very world this was all a apart 
of had itself changed so drastically
that the reference and relationship
no longer mattered. No longer
mattered at all, and even the stock-
tickers were, by then, all gone.
Princeton kept up a wall of it own,
but I found it too to be a slowly
eroding wall, drip by drip, as when
rain water eventually sizzles through
old mortar, and it just all comes
tumbling down, bricks, mortar, wall
and all. Just like happened to Plainfield.

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