Thursday, February 2, 2017


I've often been
unsettled, but it's
always leveled
itself around me
and brought me
back  -  more an
enabling thought
than a limiting one.
There was a time, at
the old west-side
highway, ice-floe
dead Winter cold,
that I thought of
jumping in. It
could have been
pretty simple, I
guess, but then
for me nothing
ever was, and I
already knew
that. So I walked
away. I guess it
was all for the
better; who
knows? But then
again, who would
know better than
me? My call.
Some people are
just born cruel  -
or twisted or
bizarre. And 
there's no getting
 around it. Once
it's realized, it's 
as if the cat's out 
of the bag, so to 
speak.  There's a 
story about a kid, 
really poor, who 
looked so ragged 
and downtrodden 
that, on class-picture 
day, the teacher 
made him move 
aside, stay out of 
the picture. The 
little poor boy wasn't 
let in the picture. 
The teacher said, 
"Listen, someday, 
in the future, 
after the picture 
has been taken, 
they will say, 
'Here's Joe, he 
a bank manager; 
here's Wilford, 
he's a doctor; 
here's Emma who 
runs an astronomy 
lab.' So, when the 
comes in, I want 
you to just stand 
over there, and 
stay out of the 
picture." So, 
the little kid 
does what he 
is told, and a 
few days later 
when the pictures 
come in, that 
same kid wants 
to order one, just 
like the rest of 
the class. The 
teacher says, 
'Why?' He replies, 
"I'll keep it. Then 
later, when I'm 
grown up, I can 
say, 'that was 
Joe, the bank 
manager; there's 
Wilford, who 
became a doctor; 
and that's Emma, 
the astronomer. 
And that's our 
teacher; she started 
coughing up blood 
and died at an 
early age.'" See 
what I mean? The 
whole idea is about 
learning yourself, 
what you are and 
what connects to 
you. Not everything 
does; and that's 
the amazing part  - 
and once that's 
learned, things 
get a lot easier.
One time I went 
into McSorley's 
 -  just after it 
had started 
allowing, or 
being forced 
to allow in  -  
women. I didn't 
really know much 
about it before 
that. It was an 
old man's bar 
with a lot of old 
New York history  
-  it used to be 
a dairy (like 
Chumley's too; 
somehow that 
'story' kept getting 
passed around, about
old dairies that
were now bars),
and there was 
some legendary 
old proprietor, 
(dead now, and 
then too) who 
used to walk his 
cow around the 
block each day, 
with the milk pail 
and stuff. Over 
time, in all these 
stories, the old 
milk and dairy 
barns somehow 
get turned over 
to beer and 
alcohol. It has 
a lot to do with 
the Irish influx,
 in the 1850's, 
and the Germans
 too (this east 
6th street area 
was once part of 
('little Germany'), 
one of the original 
German settlement 
areas). This place, 
mostly through 
the 1960's too, 
was men only, 
until whatever, 
when it changed 
over. But they 
never did make 
a ladies room at 
first, funny thing
  -  it was just this 
large, busy room 
with huge 
porcelain, or 
marble even, 
urinals, so big 
you could live in 
them, or shine 
your shoes or 
whatever. I can't 
remember if there 
was just one stall 
with a toilet or 
two, but females 
used to, (had to), if  
they so chose, just 
walk in, through 
all that, and 
hope they could 
get into the stall. 
No matter. Studying 
the history of places, 
like this one, it was 
first got me over 
there. I wasn't 
any big drinker 
or anything, but 
my history-snooping 
led me, through 
the dairy angle, 
to this quite old 
NY tavern. Oldest, 
or second oldest, 
people would fight
 and argue all day 
over that if you 
brought it up. 
See, in early NY 
City, through the 
1700's and up until 
the mid 1800's, 
when the various 
Sanitary Commissions 
and all the Inspectors 
and Health Depts. 
and officials and 
all began snooping 
around and shutting 
things down or 
trying at least to 
clean up the 
pig-infested, loose 
animal mess that 
was Manhattan, 
there was such 
a thing called 
'swill milk.' Many 
of the usual treacherous 
and corrupt types who 
ran things, in order 
to make a buck ["The 
term swill milk comes 
from the fact that 
cows were fed swill 
which was residual 
mash from nearby 
distilleries. The 
milk was further 
whitened with 
plaster of Paris, 
thickened with 
starch and eggs, 
and hued with 
molasses."]  : 
That milk, as
adulterated and 
nasty, was passed 
off as bonafide 'milk' 
and people bought it, 
whether knowingly 
or unknowingly, and 
it killed babies, caused 
horrible sicknesses, 
etc. There was such
a preponderance of
'breweries' everywhere, 
in that dirty, old original 
town, that the prevalence 
of this got to be such 
that, due to public 
health initiatives, 
and problems, 
much of it had to 
be shut down and 
regulated, quite 
fiercely. Anyway, 
that's why many 
of these alcohol 
places are often 
referred to also as 
'used to be a dairy.'  
You can look all 
that up; I'm just 
winging it. McSorley's, 
having become a tavern, 
a bar, whatever, attracted 
countless old guys from 
around that area, and 
still does. In addition, 
now, to all the stalwart 
college crowd and 
hipsters and arty 
types, and their 
babe-o-licious dates 
for the nights or 
whatever. It's often 
just a noisy mess 
on weekend nights  
-  crowded, unseemly,
 loud, and brash. But, 
in the sorry daytime, 
still, you can go in 
there and see 
wonderful things  
-  the afternoon 
light slants just 
right, angles and 
shadows, the sawdust
floor, cats and 
dust and tables 
and piles of 
and things 
from a hundred 
years back on the 
walls and on the 
shelves. Old locals 
just waking up, in 
time to start 
boozing again. 
Sorrowful old 
men peering out 
of slit-eyes with 
stories to go. The 
bartenders are 
usually the 
immigrant Irish 
types, slinging 
beers, little mugs 
of like 6 at a time; 
various grades of 
mustards and onion 
and things on the 
tables. People usually
swooning by nightfall. 
Food and drink. I've 
had plenty of fun 
times in there myself 
over the years, but 
when I first learned 
about it it was part 
of my proper and 
serious library and 
book investigatory 
learning abut NYC. 
When you approach 
something like this 
from that angle, 
it always looks 
different and 
takes on a different 
air; you can't just 
see it as an 'attraction' 
or something like 
does someone from 
Iowa who sees it as, 
or the locals either. 
If there's a modicum 
of learning and 
reading about it, 
the entire past 
opens up and comes 
along with it. It's like 
stepping back into 
not just the subject 
but the connected 
references of the 
layers of old time 
and space, and 
all the personages 
and occurrences 
that went with it. 
Can't be helped; 
you just fall into 
that  -  a way-broader 
idea of history, still 
living and never to 
die. So, that was 
my entry to McSorley's, 
and now when I see 
it, or when I enter, 
I am not in the 
same place as 
any of the others 
within. Each 
year, Memorial Day 
Weekend is part of 
'Fleet Week' when 
all these sailors and 
their ships and 
boats are somehow 
berthed in 
Manhattan and 
docked for a 
week-long free-time 
of revelry for the 
sailors. Who are 
usually all goons, 
types from everywhere, 
naive as all get-out, 
with tattoos and 
googly attitudes, 
all overwrought to 
be free and at loose 
in New York City, 
in their whites, 
'picking up chicks' 
and probably getting 
laid too. It's a 
glorious time 
for everyone. I 
see it as pathetic, 
myself, but I feel 
that way about 
anyone for whom 
a big deal is going 
to see a Broadway 
show, first, and 
calling it your NY 
Experience, and 
then doing the rest. 
And doing it all 
in your silly Navy 
whites too. But 
anyway, every 
year McSorley's 
is one of those 
places where 
these guys (and 
gals some too 
now) HAVE to 
be, even for just 
an hour. Mostly 
they get drunk 
enough, raucous 
and defensive 
about themselves 
and their Navy 
jobs and service 
to their great 
country and all 
that crap. I know; 
I've had one or 
three run-ins there 
over the years, 
when you start 
having to watch 
what you say 
because any of 
these All-American 
goons have to prove 
to you, at knife-point 
if need be, (thank 
God for gun-control 
I guess), how high 
and noble their 
is. The girls fleece 
these guys left 
and right, and 
tons of money are
made off the yokels, 
before they pass out, 
puke, or go running 
back to their ships, 
probably worried 
about having the 
clap too. Or anyway, 
that's how it used 
to be, into the 
when I mostly 
gave up on that 
game. But places 
like McSorley's now, 
even they have lost 
all fidelity to what 
they once really 
were  -  simply 
booze joints. Now 
you can't drink 
outside, you can't 
smoke inside, and 
no where can you 
do the two together. 
You call that a tavern? 
People just say, 'why 
bother?' So all you 
end up with are the 
holiday goons or 
the weekend kids.

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