Friday, August 19, 2016


It was in 1963, in the
Supreme Court decision
titled 'Abington v.
Schempp' said that prayer
and bible-reading were
unconstitutional in public
school opening exercises.
From 1955 on, in all of my
elementary school daily
classes, I can well
remember the morning
exercises that came over
the brown-wood fabric-
covered, speaker at the
top of the wall, nearly
center, in the front of
the room above the
blackboard (yes, they
really were black back
then, not green). There
would be daily short
readings from Psalms or
Proverbs, by whomever
made those decisions. I
can't recall whose voice
read these things aloud
to us - same voice each
day? The Principal? I
just can't recall. I also
fairly well do recall reciting
The Lord's Prayer then too,
with that extra, added-on
ending verse  -  about
the 'power and the glory
forever and ever amen'
that Catholics never used.
(We were supposed to, and 
had been instructed to, at 
Cathechism, 'stop short' at
that point and not even mouth 
words to that new, evil add-on,
 the'Presbyterian' ending.
Weird how that little bit
of ideology seeped in. I
never remember anyone
objecting to any of this.
Perhaps they just stayed
quiet during it. No matter.
There had to be an 'admit it'
moment here : as a child,
no matter what else may
be said, the morning's
exposure to the 'word' of God,
in whatever fashion, always
seemed to be voiced by
God Himself, some
half-distant, unseen,
sternly booming voice
going on about its holy
and public business. I
never thought twice about
it, as objectionable or even
something worth complaining
about. It just went with the
territory  -  school, teachers,
authority, all of authority's
games, etc. Who cared,
and what mattered of it
anyway? This was all just
more of that unseen and
somehow hallowed fury
and majesty that had
driven our fathers to
war, killing and
maiming. Some kids'
fathers, I saw, were yet
still wounded, padded
up with aching hurts,
shrapnel, bullet scars,
etc. And that was only
what could be seen
-  God only knew (this
same God/voice, I
supposed) what else
went on in their brains,
and how things were
compensated for with
certain behaviors. I
myself had been blessed
with my own father, an
awesome basket case
himself, and not even
from the war! No matter  -
the morning school voice
intoning scripture was
enough to set each day
straight. And then it
was banned - no more
of that. It was all very
weird because they
were all state sponsored
schools  -  government
schools, if you will  -
and they were the ones
who had started all this
bunghole mixing of the
sacred and profane in the
first place  - and then
subjected us to it  -  and
now, all of a sudden, they
get all haughty and
high-faluting about it,
and seriously outlaw the
while deal. I never wanted
it mixed anyway. The more I 
thought about it, I figured it 
was the  Jewish people who'd 
really objected, and who had 
gotten their way. No one wanted
their kids mouthing any other
non-Jewish prayers. To me,
the sacred was the sacred,
personal and inside me,
and I didn't need any
fourth-grade pro-bowler
type telling me about it
all, in whatever way, in
the middle of their
crap/lying schooling.
Man, even when young,
I thought all of that real
easy. What a mixed-up
bunch of parade freaks.
What was a kid supposed
to make of all that anyway?
Here, every day in one of
these little sqwanky classrooms,
the speaker blares out some
psalm or common prayer stuff,
and we're supposed to pray,
all the while, up front, over next
to the speaker, is a large portrait
of the President. Wouldn't
it have been better to have
some Lenny Bruce piped in,
or Woody Allen or George
Carlin, whatever the dates
for all those guys would
have been. '99% of life
is just showing up.'
I'm sitting at some rice-shop
table called The Paradox, with
a guy named Nivick (Nick)
Kasctyn. He says. He's
some Polish or something
guy from right there, over
on 10th or 9th street, born
and bred. He's got the bit
attitude of a warrior, a
little scary, sees all that's
going on, trying to be super
cool, learning from what
he sees. Hippies un-nerve
him, and sometimes all
he can talk about, it seems,
are fighting in the street, and
local 'partisan' wars - with
his way of speaking, the
first time he said that I
kind of thought he was
trying to tell me his 'part
is in wars.' I laughed it
off, just trying to figure
why he wanted to be talking
to me. We get  -  seriously,
a bowl each of brown rice
with sea salt and, on a flat
plate next to it, seaweed.
This was like 85 cents each,
which to me was a 1967
fortune. I went along.
Oh, and tea.  Endless tea.
Pretty cool. Nivick was a
park hippie-type, or trying
to be; one I sort of got
mixed with just from
seeing him nearly every
day. I'd told him I was a
runaway  -  I was but I
wasn't really -  who had just
ended up on the streets
and wasn't sure what I
was going to be doing. He
kind of reminded me of a
Perth Amboy friend of
mine, who had been in
the seminary with me,
Stanislaus Polscyzk. One
of those sort of names,
with 14 consonants
and three vowels. Later
on, actually, in Elmira in
years to come, I knew
another guy like that:
Ron Potrzebowski,
something like that  -  I
always thought he
should have, or his
parents, or immigration,
or someone, just made
it Porter. Names can
sure get funny. Stanislaus
had parents right from
Poland. Little, short people,
who lived as if they were
still there and had never
left. Perth Amboy had
a lot of that, an entire
section  - their own
churches, their own
schools. Stanislaus'
problem was that he just
couldn't talk very well,
bad accent, and some sort
of speech defect besides.
How he ever figured to
be a priest baffled me
anyway  -  they carried
him right through, deep
into the necessary church
and seminary schooling,
promising all sorts of things.
But it was all bluff, kind
of just for the money they
could get for having him
sponsored in. When it got
close, they dropped him like
a ball  -  saying he was
'unsuitable' for his work.
The poor guy was smashed.
When I was at St. George
Press, in the mid-eighties,
he'd stop in now and then.
Always to start over, telling
me his woes and his blues
over what happened, almost
begging me to cry with him
for the way he'd been treated.
I don't know now what ever
did happen to him since then.
Poor old Stanley.
Back to this Nivick guy, he
kept like seeking guidance from
me, as if, only momentarily,
he was ready to be subservient,
and listen to something he
needed to hear. Not that he'd
get it from me, and I told
him. I said my own attitudes
about things were already all
screwed up and that the
America I came from  -  and
I meant it  -  probably had
very little to do with the
America he came from, or
felt he did. I said it was most
likely the same for the two
of us : me, thinking my own
way was the 'American' way
and his was all old and foreign;
and him, figuring me for some
alien from a suburban Hell,
thinking I new nothing about
'real' (urban) America. And
besides, I knew nothing about
what sort of things they taught
in New York City schools
to him, nor did he know what
and how I'd been taught. Was
any of that important? Did it
matter? Was there a difference?
His own group of people (and 
I didn't even really know what 
they were, just ignorantly
jumping to 'Polish' by the way
the rest of the area went), were
among the groups along St. 
Marks Place that had those
food baskets blessed and then
the animals, and all. He was
pretty much an outcast from 
that stuff, having fewer and
fewer things, seemingly, to 
do with his home. Anyway, 
he came and went like the 
wind and I could tell he'd 
never really come to trouble.
There was, in him, some 
certain core set of values 
that remained very  traditional, 
and comforting, for me. 
And, I figured, how bad 
could anyone be who came
from a home where they still
had their bananas and oranges
blessed by the local padre.
The reason we ended up 
in The Paradox that day was
because of me. I wanted him 
to see how cool and totally
 avant-garde I was. He didn't
care, and went right along.
It was cheap, as I said, you
could eat civil and good for 
like 50 cents. It was a
macrobiotic restaurant, 
run by a hippie woman, 
and really they had was 
a few versions of brown
rice  -  varying thicknesses
of hulls, which affected flavors
too  -  seaweed, sea-salt, and
a few other things I never 
bothered over. The place 
was lovely, everyone seemed 
to be either an actor or a 
pretend actor, or some sort 
of perfect, nature-hippie in
process. It was all happening
very fast, all around there, 
but when you stepped inside 
The Paradox, all that crap 
stopped, and it got like 
instantly cosmic and 
timeless to be.

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