Wednesday, September 14, 2016


Back about whenever, when I
hit NYC, it was Robert F. Wagner
as Mayor, and this crazy guy
Michael J. Quill  -  a punchy
little Irish guy  -  head of the
Transport Workers Union,
Adam Clayton Powell, Herman
Badillo, Malcolm X, and
others like that messing with
the heads of New Yorkers.
Then came John Lindsay, a
little later. On every midtown
street-corner there were surly
Black Muslims, Nation of
Islam, Elijah Muhammad guys
trying to hand out/sell their
little black-revolution/power
newspaper, 'Elijah Speaks'.
There was a major power-play
going on back then between
the followers of Elijah Muhammad
and the breakaway groups of
a different 'violence' level and
outlook, of Malcolm X. He
eventually did get assassinated
on stage, on Feb 21, 1965, at
the Audubon Ballroom, while
speaking. Someone yelled out
'Nigger' and the firing commenced.
It was a controversy for years,
if his own people had sacrificed
him, if plants were used, for
security, under pretense of
support but really there for
Elijah Muhammad, and
stepped aside at the moment
they were most needed.
Guns. Big issue for a long
time, festering. Later it was
the Black Panthers who
took up some of that cudgel,
with their 'Black Power'
routine and ideology, and
tried slamming it all shut.
That was all yet in the
future  -  to be. The streets
hadn't yet burned and
been overturned. Newark.
Harlem. Cleveland. Watts.
When I used to work Newark
streets, and New York, those
black guys were always coming
around pushing their newspaper.
They were militant, yes, but they'd
pretty much sell to anybody.
What got me the most was how
these tendentious 'revolutionaries'
always managed to dress like
insurance salesmen or bible
salesmen. Suits and ties and
all that. I guess they figure the
'look' was everything, or they
wanted to emulate in dress that
which they sought to destroy.
Beats me, always did. If you
go to the streets of Philadelphia,
it's still like that  -  they're much
more, and still militant and in
your face there  -  going car to
car at lights, and even selling
dollar bottles of cold water,
sweet potato pies and such,
seemingly homemade  -  little,
single-pie plastic wraps. But
they still dress like Mr. Ewratz
in Office 24.
In NYC, Micheal J. Quill soon
enough shut the whole place
down, I think it was like New
Year's Day, 1966, first day of
Lindsay's administration; not
real sure. No trains, buses,
subways; the whole place was
a mess for a long time too  -
he was a punch-drunk brawler,
leading a strong-arm union of
tactics and fighters too. I
think they gaveled their
meetings to order with a
beer bottle (my joke). The
city was in an uproar over
this, and Quill just kept
upping the ante. Then there
were newspaper strikes,
garbage strikes, all sorts
of things coming due.
Everybody had their
hands out to swipe
down this Lindsay guy.
He was the new Mayor,
upper east side, 'Silk Stocking
District' it as called, representing
the rich and powerful as
their Congressman, now
their Mayor. Yeah, he was
probably untested, not
used to this roughhouse,
street politics, and they just
all started to beat the crap out
of him. 'Fun City' (his slogan)
be damned. That was the
tempest, and the temperature,
of New York City at about the
time I arrived. Seething.
Problems, heat, hippies
soon to be. If the water had
been turned off one morning
for the entire island, I would
not have been surprised. New
York was a huge union town,
infested with vested interests,
people on the take, wanting their
double-dip salaries, vacation 
homes, huge pensions. The whole 
place was crooked, and you just
hung with that and went along, 
or you got nothing. If your father 
and your uncle were firemen, you 
damn well were too. If they were
cops, so were you. Like legacy
enrollment in those big, fancy, 
white universities: if your dad 
went to Yale, by jiminy you were
going to Yale too.
All my life before, Avenel
and Blackwood, I'd always
sensed a weird kind of
unsettled, internal, nervous
energy in people who
were unsatisfied. Like
the nervous energy of
people who like food,
have to try everything,
always want to eat. There's
no satisfying that. It was like
that everywhere here  -
pacing,  fast-moving, on
the run, people jamming
food and lunch on the run.
Insanity goes up on trial,
and even the judge is drunk.
I never saw any of that in
Avenel. Things were
different. It wasn't by
any means a small town,
more just a highway
way-station on route
to whatever road you
wished to nowhere.
Trailer parks, turnpike and
parkway criss-crosses, all
nearby. Some straight-line
whacko roadway right to
NYC, your choice of
tunnels or bridges. Pretty
much Paradise for felons
on the run. People on the
move, bagmen for overnight
bank-robbers. It was, otherwise,
all easy breaks for me  -  I found
a certain harmony within my own
life. It might not ever have looked 
like much to anyone else, but to me 
it was like living in a vast, free,
research library of my very own.
I had to balance all of that
with my own innate goodness
-  which wasn't really given a
chance but didn't really wish
to die either. The cruel and the
foul seemed everywhere, and it
was a quick and sudden addition
to the factors of living I'd been
used to. Funny how there was
a church or three of most every
denomination on almost every
long street, but you''d find scant
evidence of its presence in every
day life unless you looked to
those haggard and lame still
left over; old folks around,
ethnics, hanging on. It was
hard getting used to  -  an 
absence of values almost.
Tough for a bleeding heart,
an emoter, like me, and it took
me a long time to get coarse.
I was never cruel or foul to
anyone. In New York City
that kind of thing can get you
in trouble. You need to have 
that option of punching back.
In some sense, it's just a huge 
slum, was then and still is, 
of people looking to take 
advantage, run with something
grip you hard and proverbially
rifle your pockets. Only the
strong survive : I guess
that's old saw is true.
A part of my brain stayed in
my 'hometown.' And I knew
that. As much as I tried expanding
my thinking, being some bigger
deal Mr. Cool, I was, inside, the
same old little me from that
chiggered wall in front of 4&5.
I didn't dwell on it though, but
like at night when you close
your eyes, and something starts
drifting you away : for some
it's the 'Swanee River' of dreams,
or he catacombs, or old Egypt,
pyramids, or gondolas or a
baseball stadium. For me it was
always, pretty much say, that
dumb little Woodbridge Theatre,
on Main Street, watching Invaders
From Mars, or Journey To the 
Center Of the Earth, or some 
really slipshod Hayley Mills
movie. I used to love her when
I was young, and she was too.
My friend Ken Kaisen, his
father would drive us there, 
on some Saturdays for endless
showings of whatever the movie
was that day, in his big gigantic
Oldsmobile Holiday, 1956. I
never really saw much in Kenny,
(he's dead now), but we were
fast friends for a long time. He
was rigid and precise with logical
thinking and ordinary stuff. I
was, at his side, the Wild Man
Of Borneo, by comparison.
But we were fast friends for 
like 5 solid years. I guess it was
my leaving town, going off to the
seminary, in '62, that changed it
all, everything, for everyone else
too. I lost touch with all my chums.

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