Saturday, October 1, 2016


I used to really dig reading
Oswald Spengler's 'Decline
Of the West.' I'd read it in
'Super Duper', walking the
aisles while my wife and kid
did groceries. Can you picture
that scene? When a gallon of
milk was maybe eighty-nine
cents, and a dozen eggs were
a quarter. 'Super Duper' was
the grocery chain's name. Like
'Piggly-Wiggly' down south,
or 'Food Circus' up Syracuse
way. This was Elmira, say
1972, Nixon in the White
House and the world a'zoom.
It was about how, in a very
natural progression, all things
rise and fall, this book by
Spengler was, kind of, like
Hegel's philosophical view
of things too. The West was
doomed as it had had its day.
I guess, OK. Then I'd come
to the little toy-cars, in a rack
by the check-out. Sixty-cents,
and you were supposed to buy
one, on impulse, in line, while
your kid screamed, to shut
him up. I don't think they had
things there for girls, but I
don't remember. It was a
quite different world, with
all that separation, and maybe
they just figured girls didn't
scream out. The cars, upon
inspection (and I found this
endlessly intriguing) were
'Made in Israel', and called
'Sabra' (brand name) cars.
A 'Sabra' is (this is the
definition, not my words) -
"A Jew born in Israel, or
before 1948, in Palestine."
Man, that used to wipe me
out. Just seeing that stuff, 
in words, with the world 
as a running theater. The
whole idea of Oswald 
Spengler's worldview, and
Hegel's too, was organic  -
as natural as any hayseed
framer's field thereabouts;
things rise in growth, 
blossom, and then wither 
and die. Any of these 
farmer-wives strolling
through the aisles here 
would know that, I 
figured. But just
not by those terms or 
by reading Spengler or 
by understanding
what a Sabra was. And
anyway, I'd wonder, 
wasn't it all redeemable 
by work? Like any 
blossom or plant, the
key was to harvest it
at the right time and use 
the resultant fruit or 
vegetable. A good farmer
knows that  -  when the
right moment comes. The
word 'redeemable' I sensed
wouldn't work  -  all they'd
think of was coupons.
We used to buy the cheapest
of whatever we could find.
Subsistence grocery-shopping.
Mac/cheese, dated fruits and
vegetables  -  the little withers
and blemishes found. A deli
counter, where the guy takes 
care and fine-slices your cuts,
all that was unquestionably
out of the question. If this
wasn't a Hooverville, it was
certainly down-times and I
was living inside my own 
Depression. Anyway, I had
to save money for that damn
bus-trip to NYC again. All
the way out past Binghamton,
headed east  -  75 miles just
for that; and then, from 
Binghamton, another 160.
Worse trips in the world, those
stuffed-in-a-bus jaunts. Five 
people at most, leaving Elmira,
and then maybe another 10 or 
so picked up in Binghamton :
some sleaze with his guitar,
a punk chewing gum, a stash
for sure in his case; a single 
mother with a kid in tow, 
dragging it by the arm while 
wailing something about full
price for kids. Probably 
pawn-shop bound, to trade
the kid in for a ukulele and
some cash; some teenage
lickabout, a girl, spaced on
karma and looking for love.
Not mine. Too bad. I always
figured, in so many ways, if
I was a girl I'd'a been a whore.
It's a good deal  - like carrying
all your work supplies, your
freaking factory, around with
you all the time, generating 
cash, setting your own hours
and conditions. No, no, only
kidding  -  I'd sit there thinking
of comedy lines instead of
working the streets.
Back in Super-Duper, the 
ladies were clawing the meats : 
checking out the cuts, talking
to each other about little things,
mentioning names, wondering
about school and kids and shoes.
All the world, probably much
the same   -  the talky patter
of village and town. One 
thousand feet away, on the 
old church lawn, the statues -
of Henry Ward Beecher, one
of those abolitionist guys, 
the preacher, and across the
street the Civil War obelisk
and all that  -  statues and 
memorials to wars and the 
dead. Large, overwhelming
stuff. Super-Duper indeed.
No one noticed and no 
one ever cared. Snow used
to fall in foot-long buckets
and cover everything here,
days and weeks on end, it
all disappeared. And then
would come slowly back. A
long thaw like awakening from
a dream, all this hidden stuff
again exposed. Technicolor
nightmare? No. More just
bass and copper and gray.
The world had different
colors in those older days;
people weren't as garish
or gross. Elmira was a
cubicle, and I was a cube.
Right across the way, too, was
that shoe-store I had in mind.
Not a real shoe-store, just a
jumble-heap of bargain shoes,
discontinueds, seconds  - tied
by laces and heaped, a rising,
huge, mad jumble of dollar
ninety nines. What did they
name, back then, things like
that? Shoe World? Universe
of Shoes? Sole Survivors?
Tongue in Cheap? I forget.
Everywhere were little
park-like lawns. Useless as
all get-out, but a town center 
with a bench or two every 
hundred and fifty feet. No
transportation to speak of,
you were on your own  -  
though there's a jitney service
of some sort now - municipal
stuff, some fat, retired guy
driving a bus shaped like a
duck. Man oh man. All those
dead colonials in the cemetery
behind Sears  -  what used to
be Sears, now it's 'Aaarons
Used Appliance Store (and
Furniture Too!)'. Yeah, three
A's, to be first in the phone
book  -  except there aren't
really any phone books now,
even in an old cook's-town
like Elmira. Everybody's mobile,
with theirs stuck up their ass. 
The kids all I see run around
talking, that's it, and nothing 
more. Who cares about the
cemetery. Sabras? Settlers?
Dead  colonials? Sounds like 
another God-damn music fest 
coming to town. The tattooed
names of bands written
on a jester's face.
One thing was, I used to get
so tired of 'Nothing.' All that
nothing, going all around  -  
like a fevered plague, like 
fire, like storm. Most people 
can put up with 'Nothing', but
I can't. It just drives me nuts. 
Have you ever seen a cow, in a field, 
screwed into place, for five hours 
chewing some stupid regurgitated 
matter from another stomach, and 
just staring into space, big old
jaws and big flat teeth grinding
sideways while all the day passes 
by? And then, at some inherently 
internal and appointed hour they 
know when to get moving and  -  
still chewing  -  stream their way
back to the barn, to be stacked up 
for milking, walking their cow-walk 
through that atmosphere that,
to them, seems to seem so heavy
and thick as to hold them?
Man, for me, I'd rather slit
my neck, once, good, than
have to deal with a
continual Nothing.

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