Monday, February 13, 2017


'Here, where everybody
says that all men are
equal, and everybody
is afraid they will be,
I stood outside of
all things.' Well, that's
what it all felt like
anyway. I admit it
all came to nothing.
I could have been
standing anywhere
to say all the big
things in the world,
and it wouldn't have
mattered. I was a
mole, an underground
being, anything but
a catalyst for others.
As I re-visit places
of my past  -  and I
do often enough,
especially in the
city, because they're
there  -  it all seems
so incredibly different
now. I suppose, as
when you're six years
old and every snowfall
seems like 10 feet,
it's all about perspective.
Direct connection.
When you're eventually
5'10" instead of 4',
you realize you're a
bit above all of that
ground-effects stuff
and things take another
sense of reality. It's like
that, too, with growing
up and returning. New
eyes, taking in same
scenes, but they're
all appearing different.
And, yet, they are
different too. In
my case, a hundred
times different.
Bryant Park different
-  that's the place, in
1967, you couldn't
breath because they'd
steal your breath, and
by 1974 if you went
in there, by night, the
drug dudes would string
you up. It was dark
always. It was a whole
terrain of mad junglemen
and even the cops
had given it up.
It might have been
Hell. That's how I
remember it, and
today's Bryant Park
bears absolutely no
resemblance to
what was there.
The huge concrete
pediments of the
library and park
wall on the south
side, 41st street,
used to seem to
be underground
to me, they were
so massive and
the place was so
dark and dangerous.
Today, your average
three-year-old kid
could be left there
for two hours alone
and it would be safe.
I'm not usually in
favor of that sort
of stuff, because
it just ends up to
be Mickey Mouse
and bubbly-happy
-  and Bryant Park
is like that now too
-  but it least it was
saved, something
of it, from death. It was
so bad it could easily
have been leveled
and built upon as
a solution to the ills,
Instead, they fixed
it, re-did it completely,
and now it's a happy
tourist ground for
4000 people an
hour to stroll, eat,
talk, do yoga (outdoor
classes), music, skating,
Winter ice-skating,
laptops and laptop
stations, and crowds.
International crowds.
And a carousel too.
It's incredible. All
my memories,
however, source
back to my original
days there, and those
are still the ones I
wish for. The ones
I'd rather see. You
can have the present,
it's too generic for me.
I'd much rather be
furtive than festive.
Story of my life.
In the previous chapter
I was writing about the
maritime, sea and water
aspects of New York
City  -  and they were
strong and vital, even
in '67. All the piers and
docks, many of them
functioning, were still
in place then  -  working,
ships coming and going,
freight and cargo, daily,
it was all very busy. Both 
of the rivers down my
way, the southern end 
of the island, and all 
the way up both 
sides too. Corlears 
Hook was still 
making boats, there 
were (there's one 
left now that I know 
of) ship and marine 
repair shops and 
supply shops.
The entire area 
of what now is 
all schlubbed up
as 'South Street Seaport' 
(a big, festive lie), was
 eerie and out of date. 
You could walk 
through there and 
be transported, and 
I mean it, to another 
era without even blinking, 
or believing. It was a 
'ghostland of shiptown.' 
There was a bell-toll 
monument to the 
Titanic, old cotton 
exchanges, slave 
markets, things like 
India House, where 
the dock merchants 
would meet and 
haggle and barter 
over their lunches 
and dinners. (Now 
it's just a rich-man's 
dining club). I can't 
explain more, it's 
just all different, 
and mostly dead 
too. Make believe, 
wanting to wish it 
were so. Pretending 
it is. Vicarious living,
 at the expense of 
nothing at all. 
Everything I knew 
about the place I 
learned from learning 
about it : Swaggering 
Yankee merchants. 
Schooner captains. 
Flying clippers from 
the farthest east. 
Everything seemed 
flavored with 'bootleg 
mayhem and Brooklynese.' 
Movie starlets crossing 
their silken legs before 
newsreel men on the 
promenade decks of 
Atlantic Greyhounds, 
the massive crossing-ships 
of the sea. High-bridge 
tugs, with big rubber 
fronts. Ferry boats, 
sliding slowly west, 
across the Hudson, 
to dingy New Jersey 
destinations with 
aboriginal names. 
A harbor of history; 
Ellis Island, sailing 
ships, police and 
fire boats, immigrant 
hoistings, teary 
farewells or hellos,
wartime troopships 
and contracted 
packet boats. 
Cordswains and 
rigging ropes.
I never minded 
using my time 
for learning like 
this : art and 
creativity, they 
too had to have 
a real basis in 
something. Otherwise, 
as with irony and 
coyness, it just became 
wise-ass art, joking 
and cloying with 
empty emotion. 
Pop Art. Venal Art. 
Art with nothing 
beneath it. Same 
with writing. 
Same with thought. 
I wanted treasure, 
and like any Sinbad 
I was setting out 
to find it by digging. 
Treasure maps be 
damned; I'd dig 
anywhere I chose.
I had to be intelligent
to make my work 
intelligent. It was a
strategy, but it
never really worked 
out. Everything I 
relate here, of my 
own life and time I 
mean, did eventually 
crash-land. Failed.
I lost out. Got nowhere,
and eventually turned 
into, for too many years,
a regular working guy, 
wage-earner stiff. I 
hated every moment 
of that, but I did
it because I was still
learning. One of
those drones, from 
the time when drones 
meant miserable, 
suffering, ordinary 
people : not the
silly things we have
flying around now.

No comments: