Thursday, February 2, 2017


Supposedly the last
words of Casanova
were, "I have lived
as a philosopher, and
I die as a Christian."
I never new if that
was true or not, but
it always seemed to
me to be, first-off,
pretty late-in-life,
on his own part, for
that sort of switch.
Kind of cheating, in
a way. But, based on
my own Christian
education, whatever
it was, I also thought
it was probably just
what they've always
deserved  -  always
with their talk of the
all-forgiving God,
with no reservations 
and with your only 
task being to profess 
that faith and all 
is forgiven. What 
else was the use of
anything? Someone
with a fairly debauched 
life crawling back to 
them at the end of 
their life, claiming 
a conversion and 
thereby affording 
to themselves all 
that last-moment 
forgiveness and 
salvation which 
this Christian 
God would extend 
to pitiful humans. 
On the other hand, 
you had some 
regurgitant ascetic, 
always praying and 
humble, doing 
good works, sweating 
and slaving all his 
or her life for 
Heaven's purposes, 
and, at the end, 
he or she gets 
the very same 
thing? It seemed 
as if  -  by their 
logic, any fool 
could jump to 
the front of the 
line whenever 
they felt it was 
time, putting aside 
all the blood-curdling, 
nasty and brutish 
life they'd been 
leading until then.
Consider Hitler, 
with his final words, 
'OK, God, I'm in. 
I truly believe.' 
It just never 
seemed correct 
enough to be real. 
Another thing 
I never got to 
the bottom of 
was if and whether 
other people thought 
of things in the
manner I did - 
all this give and 
take about religion 
and fate and 
mannerisms and 
history and such. 
I never knew if 
it was just me, 
unique to me 
anyway, or if 
it was the sort 
of thing all 
mankind is 
constantly living 
with. I kind of 
hoped that was 
the case, but 
if it was  -  at
the same time 
 -  I really 
thought it was 
a bum deal for 
everyone. Some 
of the people I'd
meet just seemed 
like regular, nice 
people  -  and I 
could never 
even imagine 
them dealing 
with a dark, 
questioning side. 
As time went on, 
I visited Chinatown 
more and more  -  
the real heart of 
Chinatown, like 
in the guide books, 
Mott Street, Doyers, 
Pell, old-line stuff. 
I never sensed any 
of the strange, 
dark brooding 
there. The sort 
of thing that was 
within me didn't 
seem to exist there. 
I had someone 
once tell me I 
was the most 
'haunted' person 
they'd ever seen, 
that I came across 
to them as haunted. 
That was weird to 
hear, and it rang a
little true, although 
I couldn't understand 
why it would be 
apparent to another. 
Anyway, Chinatown
never presented me 
with any 'haunted' 
characters. It was 
different and startling 
and strange  -  with 
sorts of weird habits
and things everywhere. 
The cultural difference 
was vast, and that 
allowed a complete
anonymity. Food, 
tea, people in 
clumps  -  Chinese 
people seem very 
social, tight with 
their own kind, 
sitting around 
together, always 
yapping that 
sing-song language 
of theirs. I even 
learned a few words  -  
for oddball things: 
'too expensive,' and 
of course the dumb 
things like 'how 
are you?' and 
'hello.' Not that 
they were used 
much, but it was fun. 
 At this time, the 
borders of Chinatown 
and Little Italy, as it 
was called, were 
bleeding into each 
other as Chinatown 
grew and the Italian
section began 
shrinking. Those 
people, the Italians,
had a tendency 
to eventually become 
successful and 
move away, to 
overdecorated places 
like Staten Island 
and parts of Brooklyn 
(or into he Witness 
Protection Program)
-  with houses and
little lawns, space 
for cars and the rest. 
As they did that, 
they left a void, and
that was the void 
that the Chinese 
needed, and quickly
filled. There were Italian 
restaurants around too, 
and still are; it's just
that the area is, overall,
smaller now. Back in 
that day, when it wasn't
all plastic and false,
you could still get 
a plate of spaghetti 
for something like 
.85 cents, maybe a
year or to later a
$1.25, with a meatball
too. There were all 
sorts of dumb little 
pasta joints. There 
was one place called 
'The Blue Grotto', real 
mysterious and 
blue-lit, with half-lit 
tables and a long bar. 
Pretty cool. There 
was another place 
called 'Luna' which 
was white, concrete 
walls that looked 
like they'd been 
shaped and molded, 
papier-mache like, 
of concrete  -  all 
rough and pimply 
finished. It was 
low and busy and 
dank, with a couple 
of different rooms 
within, and waiters 
and stuff. Noisy. 
Either one of those 
places, still Italian, 
could lead you to 
expect some mafia 
gunman to burst 
in at any time, up 
to something. And 
then of course, there 
was Umberto's Clam 
House, where it 
really did happen. 
Joey Gallo got shot 
to smithereens right 
there where he sat  
-  with his family 
and kids all around 
him. DOA for sure, 
extra red sauce on 
your spaghetti that
day. No charge.
Umberto's, by the 
way, was  -  no 
offense Mario 
Chiccolini  -  a 
really butt-ugly 
place. Gross blue 
and white tile panels, 
bad decor, it all 
looked some out 
of control 1950's 
kitchen where 
they'd expect 
you to eat and 
shut-up. There 
was an outdoor 
dining area too, 
for good weather, 
that ran around 
the front of the 
place, equally 
ugly. From the 
street you'd 
look at this 
place and just 
keep going. I 
went there with 
a friend once and 
he left his camera 
behind. Go figure. 
We went back about 
20 minutes later, and 
they had it and gave 
it back. I figured, 
if not stolen outright, 
it was going to be 
dismantled in case 
it was explosive 
and set to blow. 
In a place like that, 
it could happen.
Back then, where 
Umberto's was located
was at the last spot 
before it began being 
Chinese. Kind of a
bad run-on sentence.
They've since moved, 
and Chinese stuff has 
usurped a lot of that area.
Luna is still in place;
the Blue Grotto, last I
saw, was closed up.
There's development 
and new buildings now
in places where before
there was nothing but 
parking lots manned
by killers, for some $14
for ten minutes, starting.
That's all gone now, and
I don't know what the 
visitors with cars do. 
It all used to be dead-stop 
traffic, always; all those 
little, cramped streets.
The two cultures met
and merged, it seemed.
even with conflict here
and there  -  they were
each equally tacky and
bad with decorations and
taste. Horrid. Filthy pet
and parakeet stores next
to 'fine' Italian eateries
with linens and greeters.
One place was a trinket
shop, with gross, nasty
tee shirts outside, for 
sale. Italian themed. One
had a woman in an apron,
at the stove, cooking, with
one hand done the front 
of some guy's pants 
next to her. Her husband,
I guess. The caption was,
'Now, THA'T'S Italian!'
Yeah, I'm gonn'a wear
that to the next Knights 
of Columbus cook-out
for sure.
Italian people there were  -
I wouldn't call them 'haunted'
but they were laced with a
major dose of powerful 
emotion, something that
came through in their
emotional voices and 
loud vocal ticks. They 
sounded like brutes , even
the women. If they weren't 
hairy and ugly, they were 
tough and anxious. The 
women, I mean. A real 
'get in my way and I'll 
have to kill you, bunch.'
And that too was, yep,
just the women. The
guys, mostly they were
born with bruises and
bullet holes already
built right in. Yeah.
it was something.

No comments: