Thursday, February 9, 2017


When a man sets
himself out for
learning, he's got
to take that learning
as it comes; the good
and the bad of it are,
after all, merely the
opinions of others,
at that point. No
dissembling then  -
as you take in, so
you will learn. Or,
as John Adams put
it, 'You cannot learn
with a closed mind.'
My favorite of the
Adams clan was
Henry. He was quite
the guy, and though
never a New Yorker,
he carried the spirit
of the place, as I saw
it. And he cared not
a bit about carrying
on any of that Adams
family public service.
John Adams, John
Quincey Adams, the
others, and then Henry.
The real one, the serious
scholar, the one who
wrote. He had his own
meanings, and his own
troubles, but I really
liked it all, as I saw it.
He was set on finer
things, and greater.
If you ever stumble
upon a copy of -
'The Education of
of Henry Adams,' I
daresay buy it once
and read it twice.
I stumbled on it only
by the merest chance,
in a kind of backward
move  -  and once I
stumbled on the book,
I wanted to learn all
ABOUT the book,
before it. To see where
it had come from. What
was behind this thinking.
That was study enough
- looking behind the
book, as it were. I
first found it in one
of those quite typical
Fourth Avenue, Book
Row book stalls  -
an old, copy from
the 1920's. That's
the way most books
back then were found.
I'd haunt these old
bookstores and stalls.
Half-lit, no glamour
(the 'Book Industry'
a it exists today  -
with all those
glamorous covers
and book jackets
with photos and
all that  -  didn't
exist then. Books
were quiet, and
you'd hardly know
from one to the
other what or which
they were about and
by.  These were
mostly old, estate
libraries and stuff,
broken up, sent
away after a death
or a family dispersal
-  real old-line stuff
from the old New
York City brownstones
and mansions once
about. They reeked of
the mustiness of time.
I felt like I was poring
over books that Hart
Crane or Eugene O'Neil
themselves may have
once pawed through. It
was elevating.
These old cavernous
places were wonderful -
half dark and half lit,
they were quiet
and deep places
within which a
few old guys who
looked as if they
never set foot outside
would be tending to
things. I guess they
walked home or 
rode transit, in 
their long coats 
and tophats and 
serious leather shoes 
and real shirts and 
sports jacket. But they 
otherwise looked 
un-worldly. There
was no talk. There was
little interaction.
This was serious
and quiet work,
far more than it
was 'commerce.'
The books, from
just a scan along
the shelf, mostly
seemed interchangeable
-  squat, dark, cloth
covered, imprinted
on the spine perhaps
for title and author,
in a gold-gilt or
some black ink
on a lighter gray
spine. The categories
were fluid. Lots of
old dusty tomes,
poetry, musings.
Rossetti, Swineburne,
Walter Scott, some
of the old Russian
guys, Turgenev,
Gogol  -  stuff
like that. There
was little lightness,
certainly no humor
or comedy books,
except perhaps
those old mannered
British comedy
passes for levity
that didn't travel
well, Addison and
Steele maybe,
Jonathan Swift.
Philosophers, etc.,
but all was pretty
yet naive and not
bold in any way
as things get today.
Sex stayed in the
'sex' books  -  it
wasn't mixed into
normal everyday
plots as it is now,
with every sixteen
pages someone taking
something off and
having a go and then
telling you about it.
Nothing spectacular
or ghoulish, all that
new stuff was not
around then. This
was, remember,
back when, and
even in books and
reading, a man
could be a man
and make no
apologies for it.
There was no time,
no clock. I'd sit at
one of those little
tables at the end
of the rows, kept
 a'lit by a green-shaded
lamp, and  -  after
grabbing three or
fours things of
interest  -  sit
there and read,
turn pages, think,
see what jumped
out  -  at any
point in these
crazed old volumes
any spirit or genie
was apt to rise up,
and sweep me
away. Back, back
to something,
somewhere other,
a place owned
by that book
and its past. I
would have gone
too, gladly. In
these places, you
could sit steady for
three or four hours,
studying, reading,
writing in your
own notebook,
whatever. These
guys little cared,
and no one ever
bothered you.
Me anyway.
The more oddball
sections were
off in the even
darker corners,
and held in thrall
their even weirder
clients  - strange-eyed
little men, dazzling
over something,
intense, craning into
a small book, leering
or grinning, google-eyes
spinning. It was a
new frontier at
every turn. After
your time, or when 
you were done, 
hours later, (no one 
seemed ever to care),
 you could rise and
leave or you could
give the guys three
or four dollars for
your selected books,
and they'd take it. No
thanks, no smiles,
just a transaction
as dark as charcoal,
and still. The whole
place was atmosphere
heavy, and nothing
moved slow, but
I found, because
everything was both
new and underway
to me, that it was
impossible to have a
closed mind about
anything. Any of those
books, or ideas, or
concepts, I ran across  -
all that George Santayana
stuff, and Whitehead
(it seemed there was
a time-period where
those names, older and
more solid, but dense
and boring as hell, kept
showing up too) would
continually ease something
additional into my head,
which new thing, then,
would connect to
something else. I
can see now how it
was a sort of 'Internet'
of the mind, early on;
not that I'd have known
the term or the idea or
connection then. All
things were open-ended.
I'd, in addition, get mixed
up reading other things too,
more current stuff, oddly
enough, and things I had
no real particular interest
in : Arthur C. Clarke, Anthony
Burgess, Aldous Huxley, all
more fringe matter to me.
But, because nothing was
closed off, I'd just keep
plodding on. I stumbled
onto 'A Clockwork Orange,'
for instance, and was jarred
awake in reading it, to the
realization, not for the
storyline or the activity
presented, but, in a
writerly sense, (reading
as a writer, the 'action' or
pace is less important then
studying the over-riding
'means' and placement by
which the author gets to
'place', or  premise and
location), by the idea
that it opened in my own
mind. It was fascinating
in its way : The main
character is a beastly,
vile guy named Alex
who, with his little band
of thugs, make their way
along breaking into homes,
terrorizing people, even
raping the wives they
find, in the presence of
their husbands, one or
both of whom end up dead.
They'd be blubbering happy
over all this, with their
own little language and
talk, ways of doing and
seeing things. They finally
get apprehended and the
story stays with Alex,
who is entered into
some sort of therapy
to change his behavior.
His eyes get pinned
open while he's forced
to watch these horrid
scenes of violence
and sex, while, I
think it is, an electrical
current is lightly run
through him  -  behavior
modification or
something, so that
he'll physically be
repelled later by
and with these actions.
Any, that wasn't my
point. What I caught
right away was Burgess's
better idea of 'clockwork
orange.' Which is an
organic thing, natural,
wild and real  -  one
which CANNOT be
compelled into schedules
and time and the boxes
of the otherwise 'rational'
and ordered world we
pretend to see. He'd
captured the concept
quite well, in the
whole idea of a
I used to think, and still
do, in recollecting it all,
that these old bookstores 
and places had never let
in the 1960's in any way.
They were still set back 
in the 1930's or 20's. 
As I said, I fully expected 
to be able to see and 
greet Hart Crane and 
Eugene O'Neil in their 
ways and books. It was 
just the strange, errant 
feeling. Nothing stirred. 
Time and space were 
dark, and somewhere 
else. Everyone was 
always smoking too, 
odd as it seems  -  
guys with pipes, and
 cigarette people, 
furiously pacing 
their lungs out to 
death's walk or 
whatever. The 
smoking used go 
with thinking. 
That's gone too. 
People don't do 
much of anything 
anymore  -  one 
big sameness has 
set in. 
 Two final points 
and I'll let this go  -  
because it's not 
working and because
it's probably a bore by 
now: these oddball 
old book places all 
had one bathroom. 
The assumption was 
male, I guess, though 
there'd be women
 around too. The 
bathrooms were 
rooms, with a toilet 
and a sink, maybe a 
mirror and a jar  -  
these rooms were 
just jammed in 
somewhere towards 
the back  -  by the 
corner or rear wall, 
wherever they'd 
throw in a 'bathroom.' 
Each of them had, 
high up on the wall,
 the water tank for 
the toilet, with a 
chain pull for flushing. 
Unlike today's modern 
toilet where the tank 
is at floor level, right 
behind the bowl itself. 
This was a square box, 
of wood and steel, 
filled with eater. 
The chain pull 
would rush the 
water down, through 
the pipe, effecting 
the flush.  It was a 
cool, and old, thing.
 Neat chain-pulls, 
with things hanging 
on the end, like a
 lamp-cord, each 
with different ends. 
The gravity-flow 
of the water would 
do the task, and 
another water tank 
out on the roof, 
with gravity-flow 
too, would refill 
the tank for next 
use.What was funny 
was that  -  years later  
-  in a crime movie 
or a Godfather movie 
or something, this 
very thing is shown, 
upon which someone 
has planted (hidden)
a gun for the guy to 
come in and get 
when he says he 
has to 'go to the 
bathroom.' He 
comes out, then, 
with the gun blazing
and does everybody 
in. It was amazing, 
because I knew 
exactly what was 
going on, the scene
and the very act. I
felt as if I'd been there.
Past that, I can't put 
much, because this 
chapter has gotten 
me really screwed 
up. Henry Adams, 
weird thoughts, bad 
and servile memories. 
My closing thought, 
back to Alex and 
Clockwork Orange, 
is that  -  another 
input from these 
readings  -  we don't 
have the gumption 
to kill people anymore. 
One of the lessons 
to be learned from 
Alex. We'd rather 
spend 30-50 years of 
a life sentence, tens 
of thousands of 
dollars each over 
a lifetime, to keep 
and coddle such 
an errant character, 
a criminal who is 
a prisoner who, in 
turn, makes us 
prisoners to him. 
The book's a 
good example of 
this waste. Had 
we the manly 
courage of old, 
to just do things, 
these people would 
be swept out of our 
way, and good riddance, 
the next afternoon after 
their apprehension. 
And that's the way 
it should be, instead 
of us presenting to 
them the vast, dark, 
library of their own 
time and being to 
linger on, for nothing 
really. Henry Adams, 
it was, who bravely 
said, of Robert E. Lee, 
and the Civil War: 
"I think that Lee 
should have been 
hanged. It was all 
the worse that he 
was a good man 
and a fine character 
and acted conscientiously. 
It's always the good 
men who do the most 
harm in the world."

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