Tuesday, February 7, 2017


You know, some people 
bay at the moon, watch
every significance of the
sky above them as if it
really mattered to their
lives. I could never much
fathom that either. It
reeked to me of some
weird primitivism that,
somehow in the middle 
of 'world-modern-city' 
I couldn't ever accept.
Being a Druid on the
Salisbury Plain or at
Stonehenge, or whatever,
that's one thing, but
under a statue in Father
Demo Square in the West
Village, that's another case.
(There's also a Father
Duffy Square, at 42nd St.,
and that's another case too).
Funny how NYC, this large,
riling den of iniquity, has
all these revered places
named after 'holy' figures
of the past. The profane
and the sacred, always
mixing it up.
There were times for me
that almost grew scary.
One thing that kept 
happening, and it did 
seem weird to me  -  new
and young and all, to this,
as I was  -  was that each
time I'd be reading or 
learning of something
from the old start-up 
past of old New York 
City, I'd always be 
running into names 
from then, and finding
that they would also
be names from now, 
from people I knew. 
The list was pretty 
long : Bill George, 
Malone, Walker, 
DeLeon, Paul Grace,
Chauncey Depew,
William Ware, Thomas
Preston. Those are just
 a few, last names, first 
names, but it was weird. 
New York being, as it 
were, a nation of 
immigrants all 
starting together 
about 1750, let's say, 
into the late 1800's, 
I sensed or felt to 
sense that so many 
of these early names 
had to somehow be, 
incredibly, forebears 
of the present-day 
people I knew with 
the same names. 
And that was frightening, 
it was scary, because it 
closed some odd, psychic 
circle of tightening 
influence right tight 
about me. It shook me, 
as if I expected (but 
didn't) to meet 
someone of my own 
or my father's name, 
from 1908, having 
done something 
dastardly and/or 
legendary enough 
to negatively have
lived on. I kept
always looking for
the big 'Unity'; the 
one large over-mass 
that would bring 
this together for me.
Omni, the gravy man, 
was feeding a horse at 
the curb. The plastic 
bucket had some 
overflow, there on the 
ground, and two pigeons,
in turn, were having 
a feast. The cold Winter 
sunlight shone to the 
ground, making a 
warmer scene of what 
was. I said nothing but
watched. Omni was a 
friend of mine. He was 
from Scotland, and
had the snotty attitude 
of a tough wrestler, were 
you to take him down. 
Headlock. Full Nelson.
'Don't cross Omni,' was 
all I'd say, 'he'll crush 
you like a walnut broken 
right in two.' The truest
things you'd ever heard 
were true for sure about
Omni. What he was doing 
here, I never knew. 
Horse-carriage rides
through the park? Eight 
Dollars, first twenty minutes? 
Seventy cents a minute, 
past that? Wow. (Now it's
fifty-four ddollars, first
twenty minutes, plus tip,
and twenty-one dollars
for each ten minutes 
after that).
Omni had told me his 
story  -  right off the 
boat, 36 years ago, put 
up that night, by some 
late night transit, not 
just him, but his whole 
family and kin, or 'clan,'
as he put it. To Asbury 
Park, NJ, somewhere. 
That very first night,
the place burned down. 
No one got hurt, but his 
'clan, lost everything
they'd brought. He 
laughed at it now, 'Gave
us a fresh start, once 
again.' He'd laugh at 
that; good omen. I was
glad he laughed, because
I felt that I'd have been
terrified in my boots had
that occurred. What kept
Omni going too  -  which 
I'd never then experienced 
to any extent  -  was bourbon
whiskey, and oranges.
Yes, sounds weird, but
he was a goner for that.
I'd seen him handle all of
it real well, and a few times
I'd seen him so staggeringly
awful and dead-drunk that
I feared for his life. Horse 
and carriage ride or not.
One time at Peter McManus,
which is an ancient scrappy
local bar at 17th St. and
Seventh Ave., I think it 
is, he fell out, just keeled 
over, out on the sidewalk -   
he might as well have been 
drunk. Fortunately, someone
contacted his sister, and 
she did eventually come 
by in a taxi and took him
off, all the while apologizing
profusely for his behavior.
I managed to at least tell her
'no harm, all good, it was
great.' A guy from the middle
of nowhere Scotland, driving
a horse carriage all day, 6 days
a week, with the strange
back-story of landing in
America and getting burned 
the first night here. That's
worth a drink or two.
Peter McManus Tavern was
real old-line New York. The
people, the 17th Street locals
and those around it, had all
those faces that gave away
first or second generation
arrivals. I always loved that
(remember, my years of 
reference for this; I'm 
talking 1967). It's not 
like that anymore,
the faces are all 
different, the noses 
and lips, eyes and 
facial structures no 
longer reflect that 
old strain of 
European input, 
all those ancient 
inter-breedings of 
tribes and secreted 
groups passing along 
the early lands of 
the European 
Mostly nowadays 
everyone looks 
as if they're in 
quarters -   1/4 this, 
and that, etc., 
four times over. 
Asian and Indian, 
Hispanic and Black, 
all that crazy mix 
making a different 
facial set and 
entire. Completely 
different humanity 
make-up. McManus 
and those streets 
there used to have 
it perfectly done, 
for that era. And 
they had the 
local-enough power 
that twice each Summer 
to shut the street down, 
(I guess they worked
with the cops), barricading 
17th Street right there 
by the side of the tavern 
(there was also a 
street-serving window, 
so the boozing never 
stopped) and the locals  
-  real thugs and killers, 
brute, tough, muscled, 
like dock guys, which 
many of them were), 
who all knew each 
other and had grown 
up together  -  played 
an endless game of 
stick-ball, right there, 
in the street. Grudge 
match kind of game. 
As if it were a tourney 
to the death. The 
Saturday next after 
Father's Day, and 
the Saturday next 
after Labor Day. 
No matter the weather, 
except maybe for big 
downpour rain. I 
never remember that 
happening They'd 
play this brutal game
 all day, progressively 
getting more and 
more drunk, of 
course, and then 
boisterous, foul, 
and even rough and 
violent. I'd see fights 
break out, street-stuff, 
with oaths and curses 
and rattled off list 
of everything rude 
you could ever 
think of, and it 
all had to be broken 
up, before a knife 
or whatever came 
out. One the whole, 
they always made it 
through  -  chairs 
on the curb, babes 
and wives watching, 
everyone cheering 
and drinking, arguing 
over a play or the 
ball, or something
they'd find to argue 
over. The funny thing
was, the street is narrow,
thin with four-story 
walk-ups and some 
apartments on each
side - the tightest
quarters imaginable
for this sort of expansive,
long ball, game. But they
always got it done, and
it was always cool 
to witness.

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