Monday, February 20, 2017


The long reach of
a life, a single life, like
the water surrounding
an island, will both
completely encompass
that life, and free it.
Often were the times
I would steal away to
the waterfront. Like
Melville's Ishmael,
I'd walk to the very
edge and simply stare
out to sea. Not for me
alone so much of his
heavy words rang out.
'Dark November of the
Soul,' and all that  -
rather it was just the
breakaway from
confinement that
enticed. Like a 
too-tight coat or 
jacket constricting
the shoulders and 
arms, there were 
times when living on 
land was just too
confining for the
light I'd see.
The Staten Island Ferry,
at that time I think, was
five cents. For that tiny
amount, unlike now
when it's free but you
have to disembark at
each end and wait to
re-embark on the next
ferry, you could remain
on the same boat for as
long as you chose, and
just ride back and forth,
over and over  -  night
or day. One fare. There 
were certain ferry riders
too who actually did 
this. It was a haven. 
Especially at night : 
deep, chilled, river 
fogs, cloaking the
waterway and
allowing only the
passing glimmer of
harbor lights, other
boats, and the lights 
of the tankers, tugs, 
and work-craft. And
always, somewhere as
you passed, the lit lamp
of Miss Liberty, fogged
in or cleared, opening
out the harbor. The eye
could see far then. I
would just sit there, for
both the return trips and
the departures, back and
forth, in a sort of floating
study-room; with the clang
of the gaggle of chains and
gates, and the little waves
slapping the bottom of
the big-beast diesel ferry.
I would thrill, each time.
at the end of the NY bound
trip, to the approach of
the crowded and massed
buildings at the bottom
of Manhattan and the
sometimes raucous, the
almost crash-land, of the
ferry into its docking berth.
Two much turbulence, the
wake of another large craft,
a little too much speed into
the docking area, and the
pilings and the very pier
would gnash and grown
as the ferry smashed its
way in, with its people
aghast at the turmoil.
I think back now, and it's
all so funny what solitude
means. What the 'solitary'
aspect of life then was.
That's all gone now : today's
version of this same scene
would  -  I am bold enough,
and sorry enough, to say  -
involve idiots. Involve a
hundred eager-festive
moron hands with
hand-helds and cell
phones and the digitized
means of recording the
scene, while retaining
nothing at all, and
experiencing less. Life
is dead-matter now, all
comatose and made stupid.
Life now seems to 'go on'
while people are busy
doing other things. The
distracting annoyances
of an everyday.
For what? For what 
gets passed on? 
Absolutely nothing  
-  the style and the
art and the moment 
of the craft have become
the craft itself. Finalized 
and fitfully comatose, 
the people witness now
their equivalence of the
moon-shot landing onto 
the crevices of nothing 
at all. Yet, they cheer it 
on and continue with 
their vapid babble and 
thrustless thrust. Like 
bad sex in a water-machine.
From within the cabin 
and confines of the 
Staten Island Ferry,
which probably held
200 people, if filled, 
and with its 24 or so 
automobiles, if fully
stacked  -  (this was 
back when they 
allowed cars on
the ferry. Since 9-11 
that no longer goes 
on. Long time ago 
already)  -  the entire 
trip when properly 
observed took on 
a feel and rhythm 
of its own. First, 
there was the ceaseless 
hum and power-sound 
of the large diesel 
engine pushing 
this through the 
waterway, no small 
task, and one which 
took much power; 
riders had the choice
of all the indoors here, 
with seating and 
coffee and snack bar;
itinerant musicians 
set up with their 
saxophones or guitars, 
plodding away, 
over-topping the 
noise, or trying to, 
and collecting thereby 
their nickels and 
dimes and quarters. 
Those outside, on 
their open-air boat
ride, took one sort 
of trip -  exciting, 
nervy, energetic  -  
while those who 
stayed in cabin 
enjoyed their own 
equivalent of 
transport through 
strange territory 
with a sort of 
mumbled, boring 
and very 
auditorium sitting 
amid badly-painted 
walls and worse 
posters and notifications. 
The surly, the drink,
 the dead or near-dead, 
riding their forever, 
they too were 
usually perched 
in their corners 
cursing the mob 
or sitting out the 
frenzy in their own, 
more odd, frenzy. 
While children 
wailed and mothers 
tried keeping peace 
with pretzels, 
mustard and hot 
dogs handed out 
to the brats.
It was all like passage,
like a steerage compartment 
on a simplified immigrant 
crossing. You paid your fee
and you took your bag, often
not knowing from where
you'd left or to where you 
were headed. Gendarmes
there were, but they were
heedless of most things.
As a passenger within,
to gaze out the window
on a cold, Winter night,
or better, late afternoon,
meant seeing the pace of
land against water. The eye
did get accustomed, in
almost some  bio-rhythmic 
way, of the speed of the
 craft as it skirted the 
water : nothing ever 
seemed straight and
a viewer too would soon 
feel accustomed to the 
slow twirl of the ferry, 
against the fixed visual 
of the land off starboard, 
or whatever  -  the turning 
and the passage, and thus 
the speed, became visual, 
translated back, into 
sense and information 
and feel. I often tried, in 
this way, understanding 
my own relativity against 
the hard matter of the 
world. As we passed Miss
Liberty's graceful hulk, at
speed, I'd see the channel 
behind her, the Kill Van 
Kull, in passing, and know 
was born, right there, 
but unsure where  - as all 
was churning, in a turn, 
swirling some in a 
boat-board frenzy of 
water-speed and 
water-fix. All things 
standing still, while 
apparently moving 
together. Enough! Enough, 
thought I, of this mental
gaming. Just live! Go on, 
straight out! People lining 
up for their snacks and 
baubles nearby made me 
realize that  -  though I may
have thought so, this was
 not really the place 
for deep thoughts.

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