Saturday, November 19, 2016


I first read James Joyce
when I was about 14. It
didn't really mean that
much to me, but I read  -
'Dubliners,' that odd
and quirky book of
collected Irish short
stories. I guess they
were short, though
each read as if they
could just go one
forever. The one that
caught me up the most,
and they most all did,
was 'Clay.' About a sort
of fastidious, orderly,
servant girl at a Christmas
gathering. Kids playing
a game involve her in it,
and the small story then
revolves around the events
which ensue  -  awkward,
telling, and mysterious.
It took me a while of
follow-up to realize that,
in games of this sort, the
inclusion of pliable 'clay'
was meant as a symbolized
suggestion of death  -  
although I'd not have 
thought that. Lonely death. 
An isolated and sorrowful
death. Pathetic death. I 
would have just gone with 
the idea of shapeless, 
formless, and pliable, clay.
Yes, well. I stayed with
it all. James Joyce never
'bothered' me, and I always
thought I stayed with him
because I 'got' him. The
alternatives anyway,
speaking of pathetic,
were the usual TV
American junk of
Leave it To Beaver
and Walt Disney, so
I was ahead anyway.
Then I, ever so slowly,
moved my way towards 
'Portrait of the Artist As
a Young Man.' The title
of that one was enough
to engage me. But, as I
read it, at that age,
seminary, mid-teens,
my mind was all
twisted up already
anyway. That book
never much clicked  -
it was too full of the
tired and the dark for
me, all that Catholic
crap and those dark,
Irish curtains and people
with various frothy
angers and ideas about
things. Issues everywhere.
I've re-read it, over all
these years, 2 more times,
and it's a better grip now.
Something I can hold,
and mend, and understand.
And then, of course, and
in short order, I was caught,
almost as title-by-parody,
by Dylan Thomas and his
'Portrait of the Artist As a
Young Dog.' Welsh doings,
a young boy, growing up.
But much different. Raw.
A but smutty here and there,
for back then, with fun and
a shoulder to the wheel. Then,
after that, I did read 'Under
Milk Wood'  -  that, of the
books here mentioned, is the
one that really made the
pictures in my mind. The
crossover parallels came
alive for me  - all backyards
and clotheslines, Summer
mornings and Moms. It's
difficult to explain, but
that's the one that did it.
I don't know if everyone
can claim, or 'say' they can
('claim to claim?') that this
or that specific thing can
be marked as the start of a
life-period for them. But, for
myself, I can very seriously
attest to a number of things
which can be certified as
definitive, beginning moments:
Why I write. Why I paint.
Why I read. Why I think.
All that sort of gibberish.
Leaving my childhood
home, shaking all that
Avenel dust off from me  -
soul, body and spirit too  -
meant everything. I began
it with the seminary, and
ended it, eventually, 
completely transformed 
yet right back where I 
started, and better for it.
Words a'torrent. I like that.
It really should be a town
name for me. My place.
'Words a'Torrent, NJ'
Getting into NYC was like
breaking open a lock  -  but 
on a door to a room which
held unknown forces and
riches too  -  things I'd never
dreamed of. There was, just
then, an entire, older world 
and way of living and reference,
just disappearing, just passing 
away.  It's hard not to think
about it and just get tired.
I look back now on events 
and I still get amazed at
the idea that I was present at
a time when so many things 
were happening, half of which
I wasn't even aware of : The 
Singer Building coming down,
the Old Post Office, all those
blocks for Lincoln Center, the
area once called San Juan Hill
because of all the Puerto Ricans
who lived there, the expanse of
all that World Trade Center area
and the construction underway,
the ending of all those ferries
and the ferry services and slips 
on either side of the island, 
the almost-destruction of
Grand Central Station, and
the just finished destruction of
the old Penn Station and its
replacement by the rats-nest
warren of bland Penn Station
and Madison Square garden 
there now. I used it, yes,
every train trip, but never
gave it a thought, never 
meditated on it as the new
place it was, a mug-hole 
made to be a sickly
replacement for the old 
glory of Penn Station, 
which I'd used and seen
and gazed at in wonder, as
a kid on trips with my
grandmother.  All the
rest was new  -  1960's
balderdash new; the 
coming of the new 
awnings, the arrival 
of all the new shades
and curtains of the 
world we live. I was
squeaking by. I was
coming through.

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