Saturday, October 22, 2016


So, now it's the 'modern' day
and I'm still me but only what
I am now, not what I was then.
I remember, back at Elmira
College with my German
teacher, Christina Rosner
having trouble with that
phrase. I actually called
her out, stopped her
discourse on that  -  she
was in the middle of
something from Goethe,
Schiller, or Max Frisch,
or Durenmatt, or Von
Eschenbach, or one of
those German crazy guys.
There was a bunch of them.
It wasn't Frisch or Durenmatt,
really, because they were
way too modern, and not
truly 'German' either  -  but one
of those old guys had made
some crack about 'this modern
day', and their particular point
of view about something. I
piped up that I thought that
was invalid and a foolish
thing to say, in that every
person, no matter where
and when, is living in 'this
modern era' or 'age' or
whatever it as  -  and that
for me to hear of some
supposed 'notable' spouting
off like that didn't seem so
notable to me. Everyone
only lives the times they
are given, and it's always
the 'most modern.' I was
ready for a fight and a
rumble  -  from her and
the other kids in the class.
But nothing happened. She
was most agreeable to my
point and thought it was a
fine observation, and no
one else seemed to care.
I remember another time,
we had a visiting Exchange
Student, from Berlin or
somewhere up there. She
was one day given the floor
to talk about her country
and divided city and the
entire situation she'd grown
up under. It was interesting.
Then, having just studied
about Weimar and the 'Weimar
Republic,' etc., someone asked
her about the new capitol city,
'Bonn' and how that came to be,
etc. Then they asked was sort
of 'German' was spoken in Bonn.
She scoffed, laughed in disdain.
Turns out, as I learned, making
Bonn the capitol of Western
Germany, as the Allies and
occupations parties did, was
looked at with horror. It was the
German equivalent of making
some little ten-mosquito swamp
town in Alabama a capitol here :
considered backward, uneducated,
'southern', and hick, She snickered,
and just said, 'Why...why, they
speak 'Bonn,' of course.' Meaning
a dumb, heavily dialected, hick
German. Funny stuff.
I may have mentioned before, how
both in New York City, at that
Burroughs fete, and here in Elmira
too, a lot of the people I met had
money  -  and thought nothing of
it to fly off at a moment's notice
to visit the Adriatic, or Florence,
or Tripoli. It was all just easy and
natural. It sure made for some
curious and jaded points of view  -
about things that were all still
deadly serious to me. And there,
yes, even there, in Elmira at
what was like five years after
all that NYCity stuff, it was
completely all still ringing
in my head. As it turned out,
having money, or not having
it, made a huge difference in
one's life  -  your outlook, how
you did things, and, of course,
what you did too. It probably
was never meant to be but
there was always a connection  -
wherever I went anyway  -  with
the two. People with money
were always educated. They
reeked of at least two generations
of college-educated, degree-laden,
grandpas and grandmas. The
learning and money from it just
already seemed to run in their
blood, and nothing about that
was ever questioned or mentioned.
I always wondered what that
meant, or if it was just me, or
whatever. It really was like having
a foot up on things already. It
was a foot lost to me. Yet, it
became an added burden too,
for in trying to get up or get
along in that world, I had to be
always conscious of what I was
doing or saying. Not that I
faked anything, but I had to be
sure my factor of 'authenticity'
was always backed up  -  with
the requisite information or
reality behind it. Fact of the
matter was, and this still hurts,
yeah, that I flunked out of this
group real quickly, or quickly
enough anyway  -  either most
because I didn't apply myself,
didn't start making those
connections and references
needed; or that I simply didn't
have the talent enough to do
it. I never dwelt on it; I never
much thought about it. It was
'application', and I pretty much
just didn't 'apply' myself. I look
back now, at July '67, and realize
that an entire crop of people
arrived there at just about the
same time I did  -  not dropping
names or anything, but three do
come immediately to mind -
Patti Smith, from Deptford, NJ,
or Delran, whatever it was,
Pitman. Sam Shepherd. And
Robert Mapplethorpe too.
I've read some things Patti wrote,
about the bookstalls of Philadelphia,
back then, and figure we probably
crossed paths there too. She 
stole books; I stole time. Anyway
they, and others, stuck with it,
found their ways clear enough
to get on that boat and ride it
through the shoals. They made
the break, and got he break. That
never happened to me; it never
even occurred to me that it 
would. I was too, too, far gone, 
the outsider. I wanted none of 
that. When I walked the streets 
of that city, I walked in as
close to the walls of the
buildings as I could get. They 
all probably went to the curbs 
and walked.  I'm always 
reminded of Gene Kelley
and his 'Singin In the Rain' 
sequence. For me, it was 
more 'Sinkin In the Rain.'
So then, right then, I start trying
to remember what it was I was
doing and why (and how) I'd
gotten myself to 11th Street like 
this. ("Poetry is crisis, reflected
upon calmly?'). What was my
task this scene, playing over 
and over in my mind like some
subway of possibility running
round and round through my.
It was Emerson who had said  -
some weird words I'd gotten 
somewhere  -  'Upon my saying
what have I to do with  the
sacredness of traditions if I live
wholly from within? My friend
suggested they were just impulses
from, maybe, below, and not from
above, and i said back to him that
they do not seem to be as such to 
me but if I am the Devil's child 
I will then live from the Devil, 
for as I see it no law can be
sacred to me but that of my nature,
for the good or for the bad. Those
are but names readily transferable
to this or that and the only 'right'
is what is after my constitution,
and the only wrong is what is
against it.' I didn't quite 
understand that when I first
came across it, but I marked it
and I kept it within me. I have,
since, yes, marked myself a
failure, but have always kept
those word with me, 
and intact.
But what is this 'Life' anyway but
a fragment of possibility, whatever
of it is given to you? And with that I
sat myself down, and in addition was
 almost as exhausted as I'd ever been.
Two months of deprivation and
 crummy sleep and eating. The
run-down feeling that consumes.
I was getting paralyzed, with the idea
of finding something to hold me, a 
food to keep me, but only in New York
can you find a candy store on every
corner and nothing to do with it  - 
sometimes a body even gets tired
of stealing; one small thing after
the other, grabbing from a display
tray or sidewalk shelf  -  some
stupid merchant's platter of
fruit or candy or vegetable, and
running off like a fool. But. It kept 
me going, sometimes. Penny-ante
useless crimes, while others each
Friday got the rally large paychecks 
from their really big crimes. I'd see 
them each payday, walking big and
then running off to their Long
Island estate homes or their Park
Avenue uptowns. Driving their 
big-ass crawly cars along the or
tired roadways, metal clunks
or shiny new  -  all soon bent up
from every infraction against
space there could be.  People used
to drive more, even just the
regular everyday jaunts from
the expensive uptown to the
workaday downtown. Big Caddies
and Lincolns. Maybe Buicks.
Nothing foreign, much. There 
wasn't any of that yet going
around in 1967. it was a different 
world. Today? Driving's impossible,
and no real New Yorker does it.
The drivers I'd see would hunch
down and just drive away, with
some last words running through 
their workaday brains : ('It's the 
sound of Phoebe that stays on my
mind. Can't shake it. Nor the smell,
the scent. Her storybook voice and
the little tales she tells to keep busy.
The sound of Phoebe has become
what runs my life these days.')...

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