Wednesday, August 10, 2016


I used to shift around,
entering churches just
for the comfort and
quiet, and ending up
seeing the interior
architectures and
things. New York
City kept all the
vestiges of its old
past at the ready,
and each of the oh
so many and so
varied churches
still sort of resounded
with a surprising sense
of community. You
know how people say
'New York is a big
place, but it's really
just a collection of
little villages.' That
was always pure error
and just a sort of wan,
public boosterism, but
in some of the OLD
churches, the ones that
served and reflected their
immigrant, and wealthy
neighborhhoods of 150+
years ago, it really was
almost all still there:
tradition, awe, service,
wonderment, grandeur
and the rest. It's hard to
put a price on it now, but
the churches (it seemed)
that had fallen the farthest
were the ones that kept  -
still, in spite of that  -
the soup kitchens and
free lunches. It's still like
that today, although the
mix of the hungry people
is a way different, and
meaner too. Bad attitudes
abound. I don't know what
it is (they're usually younger,
for one thing, and  -  sorry to
say  -  blacker too), but over
forty or so years all the old
guys, the shuffling, broken
and bent, and quiet and
passive as well, have died.
That's an entire other world
now, long gone. It was the
one in 1967 on, that I dealt
with. These new kids and
runts of today would just
drive me batty; they just
want, and take. They're
coarse and they're mean,
with an unsettled, nasty
anger always bubbling.
My old barrel guys  -
a different breed entire.
World-weary and soft, with
a different wave-length, one
where the living past still
spoke. I'd walk along the
stretch of Bowery and there'd
be guys stretched out like
dead along sidewalk and
entryway of any of the
numerous buildings and
doorways. There were a
number of  -  besides the
missions  -  flophouses
and dime hotels. Just a
place to sleep; these guys
would get a little, caged,
sleep area, with water and
washrag and all, and for
a few pennies, almost,
they could sleep a real
sleep. There were problems
with theft : shoes, teeth,
hats, clothing, gloves being
taken, so the little cages
were meant to stop that.
In a bunkbed fashion they
were, but even over the
tops they were caged to
keep one from the other.
It was always a really
weird sort of 'indigent'
politics underway. 'When
you ain't got nothin', you
got nothin' to lose.' Yeah,
try and tell them that. It
seemed as if, back then,
these guys were humble
in their dearth and bad
fortune. Today's version,
by contrast, is loud and
haughty and almost proud
over it, demanding and
acting as if you owed
them something, they
have it coming. It's just
not right, and when I see
them now, it causes me
ill feeling  -  most
probably because I
know and I remember
the real past that they're
screwing up.
None of it matters now, 
but I write about it 
nonetheless. I have 
nothing else to do, 
and I treasure these 
memories as they 
bubble up. I guess 
as I began writing 
about the churches 
here, that all came 
up again. City churches 
were nothing like my 
Avenel churches and 
seminary stuff. Where 
I had grown up it was 
important for things to 
be new and seen as
progressing  -  some 
sort of constant uplift 
on an imagined arc of life. 
In my new location, in 
New York City, nothing like
that mattered. There almost 
wasn't even a sense of 'new'.
Most things were over already
and just hanging on, bare, a 
thread. These tired old churches
were support and sustencance.
Everything was a hundred years 
old, intact and still serving its
purposes. Hell, half the time
electricity and lighting were 
still new and important 
concepts. Plastic was almost
unheard of, as all the wood
and brick of the past was
still up, chipped and old it 
may have been, but the
reverence and purpose of it
all was yet there. In a golden
fashion never seen before,
never by me anyway. I was
all still Avenel-dazzled by
my new surroundings, and
in love with each minute.
The quarrels and the conflicts
I sometimes witnessed, I 
didn't always understand  -  
although I had to admit for
sure, once I saw it all, 
that my own father had 
given me a good start to
the understanding of the
irrationality of blood-fued
and the uncontained, illogical
anger that fueled it. On these
streets, in all those fiery little
neighborhoods and tenements,
all of that still raged. It was
scary, but it was clear too.
Later, I know and read guys
like Jim Carroll and suddenly
know exactly what was 
happening, the air and 
the blood they ran
with and breathed.

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