Sunday, August 7, 2016


138. ROVER
Living in Manhattan without
a car of any sort meant there
was a limit to what I could
do  -  I mean the normal stuff
I'd grown up with. Getting in
a car and going somewhere.
At first I didn't even think
about it, because I'd never
had a car of my own back
in NJ anyway (didn't get
one until later, when I
salvaged some Avenel Street
guy's Renault about to be
hauled off to the junkyard.
It was sitting out front of
92 or 94 Avenel Street with
no plates or anything, and
some sort of note on it said
it was waiting for the tow
truck to be taking it away.
The junkyards were just
down the street  -  I put
my own info on a piece
of paper on the window,
telling the guy that if he
was junking it I'd take it.
He called me up a little
later, and I got it. It's not
often you get a halfway
decent car for free). As I
was saying, not having a
car in NYCity never bothered
me at all, and I never really
even thought about it until
I realized how cool it was,
time after time, to see Philip
Guston, famous artist and
all, pulling up again to the
rear of the Studio School
to pick up a few things,
with his family and dog
already in the car (a Rover
2000, British car; nothing
to do with the dog or
dog name, but funny in
context), for their pretty
often and usual trek up to
Woodstock, where they
had a house and studio.
He'd come in and just
zip away in the car. I
used to wave goodbye
and just watch them pull
away  -  thinking how
free and wonderful it all
seemed. Of course, car
ownership and the rest
brings with it a hundred
other duties and details  -
insurance, license, plates,
gasoline, etc. That all takes
money too, and I had none
of that either. It's funny
how we 'pattern' our own
ways after the things we
and end up wishing for.
My entire reason for being
there was to be the very
opposite of all that, so it
struck me as a bit odd,
and, as well I was certainly
never one to be 'envy' driven.
What did I know? He was
a big-time and famous artist,
with a history and a past, he
probably had millions. Who
was I to be scoping him, and
his ways and station, out.
Any of that responsibilities
and debt and family stuff I
was watching was still a bit
off in the future for me.
All things get confusing.
You get going, you think
everyone's civil, the world's
all right with you. Mostly,
if you feel that way then it
probably is  -  but sometimes
things simply come out of the
blue then and just blast you.
Like disease or cancer or the
draft or a divorce or you get
run over or mugged. Any
of that stuff, in New York
City, you had to be careful
about. I'd seen enough, and
heard enough too, and soon
enough, to know that it
happens. In 1967 there was
a lot of street drama going
on. You'd go into, say,
Chinatown, and it was a
whole other place with laws
of its own and its own
enforcers of things too.
Guys with weird looks, on
the lookout. Every so often,
at the Studio School, there'd
be someone who bagged a
good, cheap rental, 2 or 3
rooms, and they'd be in
Chinatown. Mostly it just
never worked out, and
they'd be out of there in
a few months. It was all just
too foreign, even for NYC.
You had Irish guys, and
Italian guys, blacks and
the rest, but they all then
seemed somehow to 'know'
where to live and where to
keep themselves. Again, it
wasn't like today when, most
often, even the crummiest
places slowly get 'gentrified'
and the skinny, tattoo'd hipster
types start taking over and
moving in and changing the
rents and the 'ambiance'
with their clubs and movie
places and cafes. There was
none of that back then. Places
were true to their cores, and
that was that. You start to be
pushing too much 'ambiance'
and you soon-as-not end up
in an 'ambulance' because
some local would bash you.
Especially the Italian guys
or the Irish guys, who ruled
their streets like an iron hand.
You didn't mess.
So my mental attraction 
I had to corral a bit  -  
especially over this car 
thing. It wasn't me, yet.
But I sensed there be a 
role for all that, someday. 
I always liked cars-as-design, 
so I kept close-up to different 
models and engines and 
the rest. One of the greatest 
NYC tie-ins for me, for 
two Winters at least  -  
and it always baffled 
me  -  was this maybe 
1953 Hudson Hornet 
that just sat and sagged 
at the Fifth Avenue curb, 
on the west side of the 
street, about 10th or 
11th street, in front
of one of the two churches
churches there, 'Church 
of the Transfiguration' 
and, I think, 'Fifth 
Avenue Presbyterian.' 
I watched that car in
every weather, covered
in ice and snow, or in
sweltering heat. It never
moved, the city never took
any action about it, the
streetcleaner went around
it, and no one seemed to
ever care about it. For me, 
it was a wonder :  that was
the very same car portrayed
in Jack Kerouac's novel,
'On the Road'. Dean Moriarty,
Sal Paradiso, all those guys
running their crazed antics
back and forth across America
in Hudson Hornets and 
Cadillacs. It all seemed so 
perfect, and it all rang so 
true. It somehow connected 
me to a lifeline, a true-blue, 
real-life connection, inside,
to the writing and traveling 
and devil-may-care view of
living that I knew was there
and so wished to grasp. It 
was in my blood, this car, 
fat, bulbous, idle, abandoned,
and just there. Someday it
would all be mine.

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