Sunday, December 18, 2016


All things being equal
(which they never are?),
the times of my life in
NYC were by far the
better of times. I was
able to outreach and
find pathways and
formulas for my own
life that outstripped
what I'd been involved
with before. The Avenel
life, and the seminary
life paled; they simply
held nothing with which
to compare or balance.
I have no idea how other
people do this, or did this.
I had no real 'integration'
by which to slowly filter
in or learn the ways of.
It was cold and solid
exposure to me. One day
nothing and the very next
day at home on some
foreign street, making
do. I had no 'dormitory'
or fuzzy college format
to ease me in, no rules
and schedules. Not even
any like-minded freshman
around me, learning the
same ropes. One of the
very greatest of those
resource advantages I
did have was the main
reading room at the NY
Public Library. It was a
truly vast treasure trove;
all things on request, and
grand seating and working
arrangements everywhere.
It was medieval in scope;
ponderously grand. Frank
Zappa it was who'd said,
'Screw college and all
that. If people had any
guts they'd just get
themselves to the
library and learn what
they wished to learn.'
I'd had one or two
discussions about that,
and the people inclined
to degrees and ranks and
titles always countered
with their idea of college's
benefits being in the
inter-action, group-learning,
give and take, and writing
aspects of all the summed-up
knowledge. Stuff, they
claimed, you'd never get
while chumming solo, on
your own. To me, it was
all more like incarceration,
or being stuck on a ship with
people you didn't really like.
Rationality. Rank. Linear
thinking. People used to
ask me what I 'believed' in  -
meaning afterlife and religion
and all that. I never answered
anyone directly, and I always
lied, never saying really what
I was involved with. But I did
used to reply : 'I believe you're
going to have to answer for
your rational and normal
beliefs, that things line up,
that A follows B. It's all
going to get painful.'
Enough said.
By striving for Art, I
kept my wild-child status.
It held no limits, had nothing
by which to keep me in check
or smash me up on the shoals
of some other perversion.
Walking the streets of
New York, I was half
into another world,
another place entire.
I'd find out things, and
then follow-up on them
and get astounded, one
by one, by the turf I was
walking. There wasn't
one person in five
thousand who passed
me who had a clue about
this. The history of New
York, in all its texture
and location, was still
present; about and
everywhere. The ghosts
of all that old stuff
lingered. I was endlessly
When Jacob Leisler, at
age 49, was appointed to
be in charge of New York,
then, (1689), he moved
right up to taking the
reins and setting things
to his own standard. He
never meshed well with
the Anglo-Dutch hierarchy,
who never did much get
used to him. He had
disputes with landed,
early families  -  Bayards
and Van Cortlandts, and
others, as well as the usual
religious conflicts of the
day. 'Popish dogs' and
divells,' House of Orange,
etc. Prominent people
opposed him. Among
Leisler's followers,
however, were the
small merchant men
of the city  -  all those
shopkeepers, craftsmen,
sailors, cartmen, and
laborers of all stripes.
Having his hands full,
by the Spring of 1690,
with arbitrary-seeming
arrests, oppressive taxation,
and confiscations, the tide
turned against him. Up in
Canada, there was a French
War, seemingly threatening
an invasion as well, from
that north. Over the
Summer, the grandees
convinced King William
to disavow Leisler;
whereupon he and
his followers barricaded
themselves in the fort and
refused to surrender. A
contingent of English troops
arrived, and the stand-off
continued for six weeks.
Upon a final surrender,
a hastily-convened court
convicted them of treason,
with this grisly sentence:
that they be 'hanged by 
the neck and being alive
their bodys be cutt downe 
to the Earth that their 
bowells be taken out 
and they being alive
burnt before their faces 
that their heads shall 
be struck off and their 
bodys be cutt in four 
parts and which shall 
be desposed of as
their Majesties shall
assigne.' WHEW!
Right now, as I sit 
here, their place of 
execution was but 
30 feet away from 
me. Little known to 
anyone else sitting
here. And I've just 
been sitting here
chatting with one
Alexandra Pelosi 
(yes, daughter of 
Nancy), who also
is unaware of this
history, which 
proceeded as 
follows, at the
eastern edge of
today's City Hall
Park: "Leisler spoke 
briefly, begging 
forgiveness for 
the errors and 
excesses of his 
regime and 
insisting on 
the purity of 
his motives. 
'This confused 
city and province,' 
he said, needed, 
'more wise and 
cunning powerful 
pilots than any of 
us ever was.' The 
more defiant Milborne  
swore that he would 
have his day of reckoning 
with his enemies 'before 
god's tribunal,' No 
carpenter would provide 
a ladder or a scaffold, 
so one had to be fetched, 
and the executions 
proceeded while the 
crowd sang the 
Seventy-Ninth psalm: 
'Pour out they wrath 
upon the heathen....' 
One eyewitness recalled 
that 'Milborne was not 
yet dead when the 
executioner took him 
down from the gallows, 
and he lifted up his arms 
as if to parry the blow 
of the axe that was to 
cut his head off,' and 
another remembered, 
'the shrieks of the 
people were dreadful  
-  especially the women  
-  some fainted, some 
were taken in labor; the 
crowd cut off pieces of 
his (Leisler's) garments 
as precious relics; also 
his hair was divided out 
of great veneration, as 
for a martyr.' It was also 
reported that the 
executioner cut out 
Leisler's heart and 
gave it to a lady, who 
held it aloft screaming,
'Here! Here is the heart 
of a traitor!' Leisler and 
Milborne, heads sewn 
back on, were buried 
side by side on a property 
Leisler had owned not 
far from this place of 
execution, in the area 
now bounded by Park 
Row, Spruce Street, 
and Frankfort Street. 
Frankfort Street, it is
said, was named in
honor of the German
city where Leisler was
born (Franfurt-am-Maim,
Germany). Hester Street
is named for his daughter.
There was also once a 
'Jacob Street,' named for
him. All these things are
otherwise unmarked.
After WWI a bronze tablet
commemorating Leisler
was placed on a boulder
in City Hall Park, only to
be banished a decade or so 
later by Parks Commissioner
Robert Moses. Yes, him.
As I said, Alexandra Pelosi,
searching history that day 
but two months or so ago, 
sat with me here, some fifty
years after I myself had first
learned of all this. She had
me filmed reading the Preamble
to the Constitution of the U.S.,
for a documentary she was
making. She was searching
out history on her own, and 
on her own terms. For her, 
it all somehow began with
the founding of the USA and
the constitution, and she
remained blind to anything 
before that. For me, all this
vast and blinding history still
lived, I walked among it, and
it was timeless.

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