Sunday, November 13, 2016


At the bottom of Manhattan
well, sort of, westside, of
Varick Street, just above and
west of, the Holland Tunnel, 
at 326 Spring Street, there's 
an awesome, fine, old bar  -
having been there nearly
forever, in NY terms. It
was, a long time ago, titled
with an old neon sign above
the door that read 'Bar' and
below it, 'Inn'. Years ago
half of the neon on the 'B'
was taken away, or burned
out, and it's forevermore
been known as the 'Ear Inn.'
It's a very old, original, early
Manhattan building  -  you
can look it up and see fifty
references  -  and was
originally known as the
James Brown House.
Based on the name of
the grand, old and original
owner, from 1817, who ran
it as a sailor's dive  - at that
time, unbelievably, it hugged
the river. Yes, the Hudson ran
right to its side door. That
same Hudson River is now
at least six blocks off  -
over 200 years of Manhattan's
growth and stretch, through
landfill and all of the diggings
and foundations for growth
that have been dumped into
the river, as footings for
new land, and have increased
everywhere its width. The
James Brown House itself
has not much changed, just
gotten new neighbors all
along the way. It's still an
odd, crusty, and a little-yet-
strange bar and hang-out.
Through the 1990's it's been
only a wee-bit 'gentrified' or
classed up, perhaps. Tables
out front, sometimes. And
inside, each of the tables
have large drawing paper
'tablecloths' and come
supplied each with their
own buckets of pencils and
crayons  - idea being you're
supposed to scribble and
draw while you drink and
dine. Oh wow.
Most people have no clue,
when dealing with Manhattan,
what the original premise and
land is upon which they tread.
It was, originally, only a very
small enclave of river people,
on each side, and up from
the bottom, where the greater,
salt, harbor was and its opening
out to the sea lanes of the
Narrows. That's the same
sea-route in which all those
millions of late 1800's
immigrants sailed their
passages and entries into
the then-teeming metropolis,
which took them in, and
did actually welcome them,
provide for them and put
them to immediate use,
crooked or not. The west
side (the Hudson) was the
side for meat, vegetables
and hard-goods. The east
side, the East River, was
port of entry for all sorts
of fish trade, and ship-builders
too : there were once rows
of ship-building emporiums
all up to Turtle Bay.  Freight
and goods were rolling in
and out of the harbor, and,
at the other side, the newly
opened (about 1830) Erie
Canal, brought goods and
foodstuffs pouring in from
all upstate and inland. The
'new' Port of New York! All
of this has, of course, been
changed over-time so that
pretty much nothing of it even
exists any longer, except in
dreams. Lurid or not; and
mine or not. The James
Brown House was typical:
wharf-side, sailors, brawn,
strength, muscle, cursing,
whores, hookers and homos
too. No holds barred, of any
sort, and each endeavor went
wild. you lived, or you didn't,
by the landlubber's code of
'temporary' restrictions. On
the east side, where now is
the play-toy called South
Street Seaport (all bogus
bullshit), there were endless
dens for dog-fights (to the
death, in pits, and heavily
bet on), and cock-fights,
same deal. You died, or
something did, and someone
else collected. At the James
Brown House, on the other
hand, something or someone
died, whether or not in
someone else's arms, and
YOU collected, of you wee
smart enough. Go the the
Ear Inn some day; see for
yourself. Better yet, tell
me. I'll take you.
The point of my foray here
into the subject of the Ear
Inn has to do, again, with
the destruction of the Twin
Towers. I use to frequent
the Ear Inn  -  to drink, yes,
but also to hang out, attend
poetry readings and writer's
discussions and the like  - a
trove of surly, odd, and
eccentric characters 
always. In the days and
weeks after the collapse 
of the towers, all of that
time, there was a complete
disarray in this part of
the city. Power outages,
water floods, back-ups, 
emergency vehicles,
grand pile-ups of things.
I had brought my friend. 
Donald, down there with 
me and we stopped into the
Ear Inn. They were only 
on partial power, and no 
bathrooms, flickering
generator light, and really
poor water pressure. Asking
to use the bathroom, as he
did, was not a good omen 
for starting-off. The 
bartender  -  a thin, 
blond guy I'd seen a 
hundred times, not very 
friendly to begin with, 
simply snapped when 
friend Donald asked a 
compound  question  - 
innocently enough, I
guess, and naively too, 
of 'what's the latest 
body count, how many 
did they find today?' 
and 'Are the firemen 
coming here to use 
the bathroom?' The
guy snapped. Two-weeks 
of pent-up rage I guess. 
The gist of his almost 
nasty response to Donald 
was : "you people fucking
kill me, coming in here 
from the safety of wherever 
you're from and asking 
stupid-ass questions. The 
'body-count?' The fucking
'body-count' you ask? 
Yeah, they found 20 
more, all splattered like 
that on the sidewalk! Is
 that what you want to 
hear?" It went on from 
there. That's just the gist  
- we didn't really 'respond'
in kind, I just tried calming
 him down, understanding
the situation, and his 
predicament and inner 
turmoil as well. In turn, 
I assessed the insult-factor
taken by Donald, and it 
seemed manageable. 
The whole scene was 
sad, everywhere. What
else to expect. And, yes, 
as we sat there one or 
two fireman came 
through, bathroom
use or not  -  since 
they were fairly useless 
anyway, the bathrooms,
and there were port-a-johns
galore most everywhere 
right then. Everything 
was still white, coated 
with like a thick 
snow-fall of calcium 
dust, or whatever it 
was  -  chalky, 
particulate, and 
smelly some too. 
The entire downtown 
bore an unmistakable 
stench. I never quite 
knew what it was, 
only partially death, 
yes, but much more too. 
It reminded me, all this,
 of some Lynyrd Skynyrd 
Southern-Rock Biker tune 
I'd heard over and over 
about a million times 
at endless biker runs 
and concert : 'Oo-oh 
that smell, can't you 
smell that smell, the 
smell of death 
surrounds you.'

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