Tuesday, August 1, 2017

9801. RUDIMENTS, pt. 31

(Making Cars)
I had plenty of experiences and stories about the
living quarters, when I first got to NYC. I went
to a few tenement places, looking for rooms.
Some of those were so horrid you wouldn't
even go there to die. I had no clue about what
to expect, or even what to do about the urgent
subject of finding somewhere, eventually, to
live. As I wrote about, at first, after just doing
the homeless routine from the beginning of July,
sleeping in Tompkins Square Park on one of
the knolls there where there were always 10 or
12 other hippie reprobates and some Spanish
people too, doing the same, (there was like
conga music, or whatever weird Spanish
calypso kind of sound that was, going on at
the bandshell most all the time, and lot of these
poor folk just lived outside, it seemed - kids, 
babies, people playing musical instruments
all hours), I met up with that Andy Bonamo
guy who let me sleep on his floor or the
outdoor overhang at his place on 2nd Ave
above that old Yiddish theatre, already
written about. But before that, I met this
guy I only knew as Pettibone and he took
me to see his place at 6th and Ave. B. Later
he told me his first name was Mark. A hoot.
Two floors up, the long staircase with one of
those lamps at the top, the kind with the exposed
lightbulb always too bright to look at and too hot
to touch. Ineffective, except for throwing bare
light. No finesse at all. Pettibone lived here alone.
All around him, on the landings, the other tenants
were ancient  :  70 year-old widows living out their
spaces. Always seeking help :  faucet leak, noise
from something, radiator clanking, vacuum not
working. Too feeble to walk about, some of them
never even left their rooms  -  a grocer kid made
deliveries; someone brings them the mail. Pettibone
got hit all the time : 'Mark, can you get me a paper?
Mark, can you fetch me a loaf of bread and some tea?'
Drove him nuts, he always said  -  like someone
yapping on a way too long message, a grating
telegraph voice that just never shut up. What
could he do except hope mostly they never saw
him going out. Or coming back, for that matter. 
(Neither did he ever explain to me what a telegraph 
voice was. Now I'd say maybe he meant a message
machine, but they hadn't been invented yet. Hmmm.)
Forget abut bringing home a girl : the whole thing
was just too much trouble and too much swirl. He
made it work, just because he already had the place
and didn't wish to start over, and it was cheap. But,
it was kind of a wreck  -  a few holes in the walls,
some wires pulled through or out; everything was
stopgap, or looked like it was just added yesterday,
by a tinkerer. I mean, how old was electricity by
then, already 75 years maybe? The addition of
wiring and bathroom stuff too (I guess these places
originally had been built without any of that) was
all added in, and poorly, amateurly. It was pretty
amazing, like living in 1884, but pretending it
maybe could be 1924 because you had a few 
lamps and some kind of electric toaster that
didn't blow the place up, and you no longer
needed to step outside to your your personal
business. Finally, somewhere to pee! Yep, that's
how nuts these places were. There's a 'Tenement
Museum' now on Orchard Street. They let you in
for like 18 bucks and show you all this stuff, the
'typical' sample apartment for immigrants and all
the rest of that; their version of everything is like
some stupid Sunday-school version (well, it's 
very Jewish, so I guess it would be Saturday, and 
a shetl, or a schul. However that goes). Everything
is prettified and sentimentalized  -  what wonderful,
quaint poverty and hardship! Whatever they're
thinking, they never visited Pettibone's place,
believe you me. Think of wherever you lived, and
picture it without wiring, and without a bathroom,
and then imagine all that stuff being put in only
way later. Wiring is usually, when building, put
inside walls, in insulated, fireproof, metal
channels. Plumbing and drains and sewage pipes,
same thing. But not here, everything was just 
hanging exposed, on the living-space walls, 
where people lived. It was all after-the-fact 
additions; wires everywhere, tacked up, leaky
pipes, and from other apartments too, dripping
their sewer water and drains, right through.
Grossest crap in the world.
Down in the basement, the basement apartment too,
Miranda lived   -  a last name, a guy, some Spanish
hick who was the Super. As it was delineated, the
job meant he was supposed to fix things, be on call,
ready to help. Though little of that ever happened,
it little mattered. Miranda was the guy you had to
tap to get anything done, but it was never easy. Most
things seemed to take five bucks just to get him to
listen. Believe me, he wasn't unique, the city was
full of them. At 11th street, the 'Superintendent' there,
the guy we never paid except in drugs, was also the
rental agent. It was with him I had to sit down to
pretend negotiation, to get my 60-buck a month
dump, plus the extra month up front, and I fully
expected ten other hidden charges to pop up, but
they never did. Pettibone bitched about Miranda;
my guy, I never said a word. (I forget his name
now). But once again, Andy Bonomo stepped in
and took care of all that. He was an operator for
sure, as I mentioned in those earlier chapters.
Don't know where I'd have been without him, but
I could never figure why. He presence was just
too perfect and on-time, and all the stuff he
did was always momentous.
The thing right here, about the lower east side in
Aug '67 (fifty perfect years, I realized, from today
exactly. Looking backwards is certainly surprising),
was that the transition going on was so total and
amazing. It happened right before my eyes. There
were hordes, in 1967, still of elderly war veterans,
concentration camp victims, like that restaurant guy
at the corner with the little coffee counter and rolls
and buns and oatmeal. Total area was probably
70 square feet. The guy was old, quiet, scared shitless
all the time, his Polish skin was white, his forearm had
the camp numbers tattooed on; I'd see them each time
he extended his arm for whatever, reaching. And
I never knew what to say to him. No one prepares you
for that. What do you say to a concentration camp
survivor? Go ahead, tell me. In 1967 you'd still see
groups of them  - waiting to die, aging, on park
benches and in the sun. They didn't seem to care,
or ever get hot. Always a jacket or even a coat. 
The old guys just stared ahead, the ladies always 
talked. Jabbering on and on, to each other; short, 
squat, chubby little ladies, sometimes with rolled 
stockings, or even an apron. Anyway, what I'm 
trying to say is that they were all dying off; 
these survivors. They were as doomed as any 
of us, death always beckons, but all the shit 
they'd had to go through to get to where they 
were right there, it just never seemed worth
it to me. It had to be shell-shock and nightmare,
constantly, in dreams or not. Gas chambers, 
death everywhere. How could anyone live 
with all that, and then to boot, live in the manner 
I'd see them living. It had to be ten or twenty a 
day were dying off, and as they did the entire 
freaking new freak-culture was there to fill
the void, move right in to the vacated apartments.
The changeover of cultures was amazing. History 
was no longer alive. History was dying, daily; 
and so few knew the stories left behind. I always 
thought that was the biggest tragedy, and 
maybe why we've all turned to shit.
History was shameless.

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