Saturday, February 11, 2017


There were always
things of passing
interest that used
to catch me. I tried
to retain them all,
or as much as I
could. In the earliest
days of this nation,
for instance, all it
took was 600 people,
within some area-
wide connection
to each other, to
then qualify for
a post office.
Probably, out
in the wilder areas,
you could also
incorporate and
make up your
own town. That's
where all those
weird small-town
names came from :
Smithburg, Laceyville,
Langston Hill. It was
so basic it startled. I'd
be walking the city
streets where, in some
places there were 600
people per building.
I always wondered
how the government
and those people dealt
with all that.
There was (is) a place
called the 79th Street
Boat Basin, out on the
Hudson, along the upper
west side, at Riverside
Drive and that area. It
allows house-boats,
and is a sort-of
permanent berth
for any number (or
was, anyway  -  it's
still there but has
since been cleaned
up a lot, gated and
given security and
all that) of eccentrics,
and strange people.
They lived at the
very fringe of the
idea of Manhattan
-  they were often
beatnik types, scarf
and beret sorts, artists
and writers, rich, crazy
old people, hopping 
between boats with 
a cocktail in hand,
with even a real
Popeye-type or two
thrown in. Anyone
could sit there; there
were benches about,
at the entry areas. I
would now and then
talk to a few of the people
living there, yachtsmen,
let's say. They were
always interesting
but I never went
onto the wharves
or any of the boats.
It never came to
that, and I remained
wary of some of
the people I'd see
-  homosexual gents
mainly, I guess, is
what I'm saying.
Couldn't be bothered
with that whole
routine again. One
too many Chauncey
Wigglesworths for
my taste). Those guys 
are always cloying, 
always after a make.
Malcolm Forbes, tyes, the
 famed rich guy, used to
keep his yachtthere
as well, 'The Capitalist
Tool', I think it was
called. He'd occasionally
be out on the water,
floating about or
returning, from a
harbor cruise. Better
than a taxi, and quicker,
to get around. It was
all as if the old call
of the fundamental
birth-Yankee was
operating beneath
all this : New York,
in its way, like Venice,
having risen from the
sea. All those huge
buildings and pilings
of stone and granite,
glass and steel,
reflected back
onto itself in the
most impressive
and miraculous
manner. Navigation
was the underpinning
of all that Manhattan
had even been. If
Leif Erickson had
never sailed in past
Sandy Hook 800
years previous, so
be it, but by 1600
for sure there was
already a steady
form of boat traffic.
Billowing sails and
mustering mariners,
all a'bustle. South
Street berths, the
Battery, the forts
and little islands
in the harbor, with
their gun emplacements
and thick, brick walls.
The upper bay, all
those portions of
connecting waters
rolling down from
upstate, to Liverpool
in 13 days; 18 knots
out on the water,
and even Honolulu
could be had in
82 days.
The naturalist John
Muir said: 'When we
pick up one thing in
the universe we find
it hitched to everything
else.' This was so true
there, and then. I was in
a maritime universe,
bounded on either side
by water, movement
and the rise and flow
of tidal currents, boat
traffic, ferries, fog-horns,
tugs, garbage scows,
freighters, cruise ships,
and fire-boats. It was
not a big stretch to
realize an entire water
mind-set anywhere along
the island, and once you
got that 'island' idea into
you head, everything
changed. The piers out
at the ends of Christopher,
Jane, and Perry Streets, that
entire area, were natural
outpoints for sharing the
Hudson River's heart and
soul. It was everywhere;
that river smell, the breezes
and the moisture, and  -
in the Winter  -  the
constant and biting cold
of the river-cooled air;
seemingly never warming
up. I've mentioned before
ice floes and the sounds.
On the other side of the
island, rounding out the
picture, was the East
River. It was different
in its respects  -  more
saline thus less prone
to solid freezing, more
turbulent and murky too.
It was, as an estuary, tidal
in its effects of the ocean
waters out past it  -  into
the broad and wide New
York Harbor and out
to the Hook at Jersey.
Sandy Hook. Just ten
or so blocks up the
East River, New York
City had its own  spit
of land called 'Corlears
Hook' which was all
dedicated to boat-building
and all the  industry and
work that went with it
 -  sailmakers, ship
carpenters, rope and '
twiners, iron foundries
for anchors and chain,
wooden beam and board
mills, and more. The
whole and entire city
industry was based
there. For years.
There were ships
and boats everywhere
and, back on the Hudson
side as well, Robert
Fulton worked and
tested his steamships,
various versions
that failed, blew up,
or went nowhere.
Even the water-front
of Perth Amboy,
some mere 12 water
miles off, had testing
sites and foundries for
Fulton's use.  (There
are plaques there now
that attest to this, though
all that boat-working
is gone). Edward Holland,
as well had his submarine
works and all the tests
and tryouts here, at
Manhattan's west
bottom. (I used to
imagine the Holland
Tunnel at one end
or the other, bringing 
me to the land of
wooden shoes.
Alas, not : merely
named for John
Holland, that
was all).
Remarkable stuff :
people used to fish 
right there, at the 
end of Cherry Street, 
where the footings 
and pilings of the 
Brooklyn Bridge 
came down into 
the water. There 
had somehow 
been made this 
weird little beach 
thing, most by 
accident, and a 
person could 
enjoy a real 
basking time there. 
People fished, or
walked about, or 
just hung out. Sea 
gulls and sea birds, 
the weird drone 
of the Brooklyn 
Bridge, tires on 
steel, sound, boats 
going by every so 
often. I don't know 
what anyone ever 
caught, nor what 
they dd with it once 
caught. But it was a 
nice space  -  all that's 
gone now. Fences and 
parking areas have 
taken it all over, 
and mostly you 
can't get anywhere 
near the water. I 
don't even know 
how the Mob guys 
dump bodies nowadays; 
certainly no longer 
from there. I'd sit 
there sometimes, 
whenever I could 
or felt like it, and 
the fish mongers 
and wholesalers 
would start rolling 
in for the Fulton Fish 
market, when the 
new daily catch came 
in, off the boats. 
Hundreds of strange 
little Jewish guys, 
bargaining boisterously 
over fish and price 
and weight and size 
and scale. I'd guess 
three hundred of 
New York's finest 
Hebraic ghetto delis 
and fish shops were 
supplied, swiftly and
easily, but with that 
constant braying 
of an almost Yiddish 
cat-calling. Small 
trucks, freezer cases, 
refrigerator trucks, 
Queens, Jersey, Long
Island, everybody, 
all at once. Guys 
would throw fish, 
like pillows, from 
one to another, 
catching them as 
easy as you and I 
breath. The 'catching' 
was a sort of wet 
cradling while the 
person's body who 
was catching sort 
of moved with the 
momentum of the 
thrown fish. On 
the whole, it was 
a flow more than 
a stop-catch. I 
always thought 
it too was all very 
nautical  -  the 'catch' 
and the 'flow'.  It
had to be done just
right. Whole, big, 
shiny, fat fish, taken 
off big fish-hooks, 
five or six at a 
time, hung by 
the gills, and 
each fish flung 
like a jaunty 
air-bound missile. 
There'd be muscular 
Spanish guys 
shouting and 
hollering, stabbing, 
jabbing and cutting 
fish, quick as lightning, 
scraping scales, trimming, 
whatever they do to 
make fillets. It was
bright as light and 
brought to life. 
Running. Hoses, 
water, noise, 
shouting, radios, 
music, cars and 
trucks, food trucks, 
shiny, wet bricks 
and cobblestones, 
traffic overhead. 
There were fish-mens' 
diners and coffee shops, 
places where they just
hung out to pass the 
time, before they 
had to leave again 
after load-up, or 
whatever. Domino 
tables, spare chairs, 
everyone just 
looking out. Not 
too many black 
people, but some. 
And no women, ever
that I saw anyway.
1967 had a different 
world thing always 
going on. Hard to 
imagine. There was 
one place I'd sit, 
'Frame's Chowder' 
I remember it as  -  
just a little dive 
that served stuff. 
35, 50, 75 cents, 
assorted fish soups
and whatever, breads 
and rolls and oyster 
crackers and coffee. 
Who knows what 
they got, from where, 
to put into their fish 
soups and chowders  
-  probably all those 
cuttings I'd see. It 
was good, and there
 was always a bowl 
of crackers around 
to just chow down 
on. There was always 
some old guy or two, 
in a hat, old-style 
stuff, always 
someone who 
knew it all about 
everything : Just like 
it used to be; How 
we did it; What's 
gone wrong?;
 All the same, 
just like now. 
These fish guys 
were just like 
the book guys
on Fourth Avenue, 
I wrote about in 
the last few chapters: 
dark and mysterious, 
with a business at 
hand that I could 
never quite 
figure out.

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