Wednesday, November 30, 2016


(part 2 - a thousand ghosts)
So, anyway, I'd go from
Lincoln to Depression  - to
towers filled with lame and
infirm and old and sorrowful.
Families, just then beginning,
Spanish and black too, with
like 5 kids already, each. Old
people dying off, post-war,
sad Jews, and other East
European types, still seeing
fire and bullets in their eyes,
never somehow unlearning
that war. It was horrible stuff,
palpable, you could feel it in
the air as you walked. They
were all somehow lost -
these interior streets and
paths were curved and
smoothed (they seem to
have left off harsh angles
and corners as much as
they could  -  probably
an architectural trick to
lessen the dull monotony
of place). I never knew
or saw anything or
anyone really 'good'
by the usual worldly
standards, come out of
these projects. Don't get
me wrong, probably
there were some  -  you
read biographies of
people and such, and
someday someone will
pop up saying 'I was
brought up in the
west side projects at
16th street....or whatever.
On the lower east side,
another place from this,
(it too had its own huge
sets of projects, much
more so), there were
piles of leftover people
too. I knew at least four
people, old Polish Jews,
running delis and a
diner-counter and things,
who still had the number
tattoos on their forearms
from captivity. Like
dark-blue, faded-ink
old prison tattoos, just
a string of ID numbers
as an inmate, whether
gassed or beaten or
worked nearly to death,
here they were, living
out their time, herein
NYC, in silence and
struggle. But, they
were at least alive.
I wished them
all well.
I never had any of
that exposure in Avenel.
There must have, I
guess, been survivors
around, Perth Amboy,
New Brunswick, somewhere,
- we had synagogues in
lots of places  -  but none
of that was ever put out
to my attention Certainly
not in the seminary either.
We had one Brother there,
an ancient guy about 80
back in 1963  -  Brother
Isadore, I think it was.
We had three guys there,
with names and faces
I mix up. an Isadore,
a Cornelius, and a
Sebastian. I really
forget names or titles
-  this little, old guy
had a big white beard,
yellowed, as it was
around his mouth. He
never interacted much,
never spoke, and only
tended the barn animals
which we kept, where I
got to know him, a little
anyway. He had slapped
this Hitler guy, back
when Adolph Hitler
was in the German Army,
WWI days, and this
Isadore guy, before
being a religious, was
his superior. This
Private Hitler kept
complaining and
demanding, the story
went, more straw for
his bedding  -  so
incessantly that
eventually his
commanding officer
or superior or whatever,
slapped him down.
that was Isadore.
(The Salvatorians
were a German religious
order, based  -  within
the USA  -  in Wisconsin.
Varied numbers of them
would get posted to
Blackwood for a few
years at a time, as
seminary faculty and
management). So, the
German heritage and
history stuff was
everywhere, except
we never delved into
this Nazi and/or
extermination thing
at all. All our taught
History was kept to
ancient and Holy
Roman Empire,
ascendant Christian-Europe
material, the perfect
story laid out perfectly
in this church-history
setting. My brain always
started making all these
connections each time
I'd see one of these
sad-sack cases with
a numbered arm. Like
the guy who worked
at and owned the
Yonah Shimmel
Bakery  -  Jewish
delights, bagels, bialies,
coffees and and all that
stuff. He had one; sad,
sorrowful, tough guy.
It was always hard to
take  -  for me  -  to see
and realize  -  what a
world we had just
burned up, and all
these leftover people
still aggrieved and teary.
Like real bad muscle
ache after a too-hard
day at the gym. (I'd
guess anyway, because
I'd never done that). And
each time I saw one of
these people, the men
anyway, they were tough-
looking guys, real scrappers.
I could never believe that
they didn't fight like hell
to get out of their fate  - and
maybe that's what they did
and why they were still 
around, even in 1967, 
milling down the rough
edges of their old platforms
of sorrow and
I saw women too  -
numbered. But they were
always more discreet, and
sad about things anyway.
Sleeves covered their arms,
usually. There was one guy,
the only one, and the one I
saw the most of, who  -
running his little corner,
morning eatery over by
11th, (my corner), who
looked as wispy and weak
as a kitten. I never knew
HOW he'd survived all that
brutishness. He was about
100 pounds, really slight,
and his skin and pinkish
pigmentation was just as
startling. He always 
reminded me, in his 
way, of being the 'Andy 
Warhol of the Holocaust.'
Sounds crass, I know. 
He had one eye that 
always teared. It was
just always tearing, wet.
He'd dab at it now and then.
He also never spoke, or if
he did it was in the most
minimal verbal fashion
imaginable. The word 'no'
was a long spiel for him.
I felt dead serious sorry 
for that man  -  all that 
sadness. The Con Ed 
guys who'd come in
each morning for their
usual workaday stuff 
never seemed to care
or even notice anything
about him. (There was
Con Ed generating 
substation or somesuch
down at the east end 
of  11th-14th streets. 
That's the one my 
houseful of anti-Vietnam 
agitators had been 
planning to blow up,
before they all got
hauled away). I guess
American Justice
lived in my 509 e11th
street digs too.
All those unearthly streets were
haunted for me; I'd walk willingly
among a thousand ghosts.

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