Tuesday, October 4, 2016


196. HOW LONG 
You know how, last chapter,
I wrote about falling down,
playing dead, in front of my
mother. Another thing I used
to do, and it always affected
her, like it was voodoo, was  -
after JFK had been killed at
age 42, for no reason I'd tell
her I also was going to die at
at 42. Just like that, a simple
statement. I had absolutely no
reason for it except to goad her
on, and I laughed it off. Anyway,
he was actually like 45, not 42, 
but that was never the point. 
She'd always get all serious, like it
it was bayou-voodoo or a curse
or jinx. The damnedest thing 
was, the year I turned 42, I 
freaked myself out. Power of
suggestion or whatever it be,
I said 'Holy shit! I'm 42; uh-oh!"
(Be careful what you wish for,
blah, blah)...Anyway, the one
thing I always took from this
was the strange primitivism 
of my mother and her beliefs.
Yes, a part of me now wants to
say it was 'lovable' and 'tender'
and cute. But also weird  -  in
that she placed great stock, 
herself, in what, by contrast, 
I would consider, and did,
voodoo and primitive stuff : 
doctors, priests, rituals, omens
and church stuff. Doctors and
witch doctors, all rolled up.
When my own mother was 45,
on her table was already her
supply of 'Over 50' pharmacy
pills. I never asked, but I
figured it was her insurance 
policy, pill by pill, to jump the
starting gate. Why not?
Once I left for parts unknown,
all that was over. I pretty much
lost touch with the innards of
my 'family' life for years. You 
need to figure, anyway, I was
pretty much a stranger. In 
the hospital at age 8, for like
forever, coma and the rest, 
scrunched but good by a train;
then at 11 off to the seminary, 
and that was that. Home again 
for a bit at age 17, and gone 
again at the close of that high 
school year. NYC bound, 
cutting loose, no more nothing.
I had three much younger sisters
and a brother who never really
even got to know me. All they
ever did see of me was some
fake-dead clown on the floor,
freaking out Mama.
Once I got to Pennsylvania, 
they'd occasionally come 
visit, yes. Once or twice, my 
sisters stayed, for a week or 
more; Summer time visits. 
They loved it all, and fit 
right in with the local 
farm kids  -  it was fun
all around. I enjoyed them
being around, and there
were various adventures 
which are still talked of.
Even very different people
can mix it up nicely. The
Pennsylvania kids would 
say 'wa-ah-ter'. My sisters
always said 'warter'. That 
was a big joke always. 
'What? It gives you warts?'
they'd scoff. Same with other
words too, our 'roof' to them
was 'ruuuf'; our 'creek' they
managed as 'crick.' Other
things too. Let alone the
eating a big-meal in the
middle of the day, or 
drinking raw milk. 'You
buy milk?' they'd ask. The
kids were always flustered. 
I just watched everything, 
and enjoyed it all from a
I tinkered with things, or tried
to, but once again was between 
worlds. My first days there it 
was bitter cold and black. 
When  the sun went down, 
over the west hill out front  
-  which meant it went down
early because the Winter sun
hit that hill by three  -  it 
turned into Klondike stuff
real soon. Days on end; 
Wintry frozen air, always a
light snow or some form of
crystallized water in the air,
a fine ice-mist of fog. I'd 
never experienced any of 
that before. You just kind 
of stay put, after dark  -  
just not moving around 
much. Winter anyway. 
Frozen ponds and ice on 
things. A real neat seclusion.
Right now, even today, I can
experience all that  -  it's a
sort of using-the-head 
approach whereby I can
duplicate that silent 
seclusion right here, 
in my Jersey Winters
in this very back room
in which I write. It's all 
mental. It's cold here, but 
never the same, except in 
my head  -  it's exactly 
alike and I welcome it.
I can still find the silence
and seclusion, and the same
dread and presences I had
then. And I welcome them  
Take me, please. Those 
become the most productive 
times of my life.
I never pretend at dying now;
it's all too close. Mom's gone,
no one to fool around with on
that count. I gives me the 
shudders to see it too near.
What can I say? I stopped
buying green bananas about
two years ago. You need to
be around when they ripen.
Nor do I get any of that
'automatic renewal' stuff
with magazines and the like.
I'll renew it all myself, gladly.
Like the presence of Life in a
roomful of the dead, I like to
keep separate. These 'memories'
and written accounts of them, 
mostly, are one of the ways I do
it. After all, what else have I 
ever really been 'committed' to?
Nothing but self-selected tasks.
I hate everything else  -  doing
the bidding of others, and for
their benefit. The business world's
a huge scam, lies and perplexities
abound, slippery, smarmy guys
waltzing into hairdressers or
men's dens to be groomed and
buffed for business. The guys
with the nails kill me. Clear-coat
buff and polish. Give me a break
and then count the pennies on the
counter, because I know exactly
how many were there before.
I'd rather tend to cows.
Out there in Pennsylvania, right
off the bat, I knew  was into
something quite different. There
was a time when, to clear my 
head of bookishness and all 
that learning and complication
of speech and thinking, I sought
to do nothing more than dig holes,
burn things, and chew tobacco.
Hands-on stuff, and nothing
else. The open-fire barrels and
the trash fires right on the 'lawn'
(which wasn't), was a mainstay.
Working on every car for ten
miles around, cleaning carburetors
and fixing water pumps. There
were a hundred different tasks, 
at any one time, to be doing. The
air smelled perfectly farm-sweet,
and I found there to be nothing
greater than that sound of one's
own country voice being heard
as you spoke  -  a lone resounding
presence, rolling out over a 
meadow. With the person next 
to you, or whoever you were
talking to, giving it right back  - 
absolutely nothing else around
except for two voices, kindred
or not. Another startling thing,
almost physical, was the way
a gunshot resounds in real-time,
over land. Absorbed by things,
but still rolling out as it unfolds.
I loved all that stuff. Anywhere
along my own dirt road, you 
could hear the approach of
a car, I swear, two miles off.
Just remarkable stuff.
I'd walk out, in slog-boots, 
and just take out through the 
woods, to come to a clearing just  
for the wonder of it. Stopped dead 
in my tracks by joy. Everything all 
around me was so massively right; 
the world had existed for millions of 
years, and all these centuries of 
humanity too, and  there I was, a  
speck now on the surface of it.
Untamed and listening to no one.
If that was the meaning of life,
I'd attained it. If it was not, I'd
make it so anyway. Down the
road a'piece, if I wanted, I
could go to the Baptists and
listen to all their puffery, trying 
to, in the midst of all this, tell me
what and how they'd determined
the days of creation: what was made
the first day, and the second, and 
so forth. A regular goons list
of idolators, in the middle
of a wide-open world just
calling out to them.

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