Monday, August 8, 2016


Back in seminary school,
the early 60's, maybe 1964,
one thing that always stuck
in my brain  -  formative
time stuff, like being 12
or 13  -  was men's
deodorant. I could never
figure that stuff out  -  not
so much the why of it, that
was plausible if not silly,
but the concept itself and
how anyone would ever
come up with the idea,
and the names. Yes, I
know all this reads now
as strange and silly, but
look at it from my own
young perspective  -  world
opening up, adults and
parents and the stuff they
worry about. It caught
me up in numerous fields
too, which you'd never
think of: language, words,
science, social assumptions.
And the whole idea, back
then, of society  -  what
exactly were we aiming at,
what sort of society was
all this meant to bring us?
First off, after I checked into
it, 'aluminum sulfate' or
somesuch was the effective
ingredient  -  the skin and
body reacts so severely to
it that your body, in the
affected area, actually
recoils  - the sweat glands
pinch themselves shut for
five or 6 hours  - so,
whoopee, your underarms
don't sweat! Wow that's
great. If I cut my nose off,
my nose won't run either.
What monstrous edifice
of clang-gangling thought
ever came up with that
concept? And then they
name it Right Guard?
What's that supposed
to mean? Or suggest?
Is there a 'wrong' guard
here being superseded?
I think not. And then, in
an even weirder use of
word and concept, a
competing product to
this is called 'Arid'.
Arid? As in dry? No
moisture? Like a
desert? And then, that's
not enough, they run
a product next to it, a
bit stronger, I guess,
for the extra-sweaty
types, or maybe just
for liars, who sweat
anyway, called 'Arid
Extra Dri', yes, using
that spelling. I had to
gasp as I sat back and
to figure out the theme
of all this new living
-  America was for sure
headed somewhere; some
fantasy dream-scape of
the ad-man's imaginings,
millions of people being
led by their noses to the
edge of some sort of as
yet unknown cliff. And
everyone sure seemed to
be enjoying the ride :
in station wagons with
panoramic glass roofs
and George Jetson parking
garages taking the place
of Fred Flinstone rock-yards
and stone quarries. It all
fit to a tee.
I knew it probably didn't 
really matter much, but the 
formula and the equation of 
the situation, to a kid like me, 
had some real meaning, and 
was not superfluous in any way. 
It was as if all this was so obvious 
I was unable to believe no one 
else saw or reacted to it. It just
seemed wrong. The seminary
had a little store, for stuff like
that, and everyone was always
so fussy about it all. It was
already queerly female : all
that cleanliness stuff, showers,
and worrying about your clothing
and odors. This was a seminary,
for Christ's sake, (no pun 
intended), I'd think to myself,  
not a finishing school. My own 
little Eton or something, all
those starchy, queer boys. It was
a struggle for me, at all times to
clarify the situation, for myself,
make it straight, make it right.
I tried to read my way out.
I read Heart of Darkness,
by Joseph Conrad, in about
9th grade  -  on my own. It
wasn't a seminary-mandated
course read in any way, but
they had it in their library. I
was voracious in my reading
habits. I got all caught up in
that book, especially after
learning that Conrad had
some specific ideas in the
writing of it : his own native
language was Polish, but he
wrote the book in English,
and it was published in
Blackwood's Magazine,
serialized in three parts,
and then as a book, by
Blackwood Publishing.
The seminary just so
happened to be in
Blackwood, NJ, so
that conjunction of t
hings made it special too.
And then I learned that,
to mimic the dense of
the jungle and all
that hacking away
through the thick growth,
he used himself a very
difficult and 'dense'
form of language
and structure. The
book portrays an Africa,
wild and primitive in
its ways, and seen and
explained through white,
colonialist eyes, etc. Not
that I myself noticed any
of that or was affected by
it  - I just liked the very
senseness of time and place
of which I was just writing  -
but in 1975 an African
writer caused a big furor
over  book for just that
reason, saying it should
not be considered great
at all and should, in fact,
be dropped from the
reference lists about
African continental
writings. "Can nobody
see the preposterous and
perverse arrogance in
thus reducing Africa to
the role of props for
the breakup of the
European mind?"
Heady stuff. "Offensive 
and deplorable; blinkered 
with xenophobia." Chinua
Achebe, from Nigeria. I
admit, back then, to never
even giving a thought as I
read the book to the sort
of viewpoint Achebe was
putting forth. To me, it
wasn't anything about nations
or colonialism  -  and I guess if
that's the level at which Achebe
took it, or the only way he could 
'read', as an African, as he was, 
that was his dealing. Not for me.
It was some grand psychological
symbolism to me, a novel, from
another mind and another
language and way of thought 
entire, and ti spoke to me of the
dark forces within each of us, or
within me anyway, and those dark, 
advancing powers that try to tame 
and overtake the individual who 
possessed it  -  a real heart of 
darkness, a stark struggle within.
Say what you will about Conrad, and
about Heart of Darkness, and all the
rest. That was it for me.
From all that, five years 
later I'm sitting in some 
weird basement on 8th Street 
still reading. There was a
bookstore right up the street,
and another around the corner.
My world was made, and set.
Back in the old days, English
aristocrats used to take the
Grand Tour' of the continent 
to experience all of the supposed
antiquity of Italy and Greece.
I did the same fr myself by
rutting down in New York City.
It was all I ever wanted, and all
I'd ever dreamed about  -  the 
doing and the being there. 
It was mine. My own dark,
African continent of the mind
turned real and tangible. They
all faced abroad. I faced within.

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