Thursday, May 30, 2013

Washington Square

Friday, May 31, 2013

It is the same place – only different – to which I come each time this thing takes me, the spray of wet from the elevated gush of a found that will call to me long after I have gone to the grave, Garibaldi’s stone face glaring at me across the circle, not just over distance I can traverse with a few stiff strides, but across generations, from the grave of my great great grandfather who fought side by side with him that set his people free the way Washington did ours, and for some reason I do not know or understand, links me to a past I know only from family lore; this place a face of a time in my life when I needed a friend when no other might be found, where I could sit and think and devise a solution other places seemed incapable of inspiring, my life journey circling this circle in an endless spin, a roulette wheel upon which no fame or fortune is made, just some inner treasure I can’t cash in any bank, an answer that is never really an answer, a voiced that makes no sound yet I can hear.

This is the saddest place on earth, the core of my being and the heart where all the hearts I ever knew beat as one, and from them, out of this flood of pain some something important, a fire that I need to keep me alive, so blistering it eats me up from the inside so that this shell of agony, this ache I always feel when I seek this place burns away from me and I can leave renewed, if not always completely enlightened.

A hot day in May

Thursday, May 30, 2013

I feel it against my skin as I walk, a dull hat rising from deep inside me, pulsating with each step, growing hotter and more intense so that heat become and ache and each step become a test of endurance I’m not certain I can pass.
Life is a constant test of courage and character, defining in the end who we are and to what level we rise above instinct. But today, I am driven entirely by the animal inside, the beast who yearns for more than intellect, and my quest is not to feed it, but to somehow satisfy it, pacify it, without hurting someone else.
So I walk, baked from inside and out, as May leads to summer and a scalding I did not expect – the trees blooming with green where weeks ago they ached for release, each bud bursting in some measure of pain and satisfaction I have yet to fee, needing something to rub against and to rub against me, some other external fire more intense that the searing one inside of me – curing this ache with sweat and labor, the huff and puff of breathlessness I cannot achieve alone, the way forest fire fighters fight fires with fires of their own, and in this I need other hands to help stoke it, other hearts to beat breast to breast, other lungs to breathe in when I breathe out, another face to mirror mine about the sheets.

So I walk, aching from the inside out, feeling one fire but not the other on this find, hot morning in May.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I’ve been out of sorts for days, and woke this morning totally spent,
Illness doesn’t come on me all at once, it sneaks up, draining me first so that I wind down like those old alarm clocks and finally, after all the springs are sprung, come to a complete halt.
When I’m most emotional – it’s worse – like when my uncle died or my mother – and I’m so drained I can’t do anything, but go through the motions.
Yesterday, did my bit taking pictures of a parade in Bayonne, but I knew I was working on reserves, draining even more those I would need to get through today, and so, I wake up the energizer buddy with cymbals frozen and every bone in my body broken, and enough work still to do that I’m not sure how I’ll get it done.

And looking at from this place at the yard and at the graying sky that hints of rain, I fall into routine, hoping to squeeze just a little more juice out of these expired batteries before I can get back to sleep and the troubled dreams illness always produces, and the hope in the morning, I will wake renewed

Friday, May 24, 2013

Spiderman vs. Superman

Superman in the meadows

Friday, May 24, 2013

My best friend Frank always told me he hated Superman because Superman seemed without flaw, perhaps as insane as Nietzsche’s version, who assumed that laws were meant for little people, like us, while only shackles on great people like him, and that Superman seemed inhuman to Frank, someone who didn’t cry or feel love, who didn’t care about anything except cheers from the police chief every time he saved the city. Spiderman on the other hand Frank said felt real, someone who didn’t want to feel special, but strived to be normal when he couldn’t. I usually didn’t take a stand, hating Superman and Spiderman equally if for different reasons, knowing that Superman violated everything that human kind was all about, cooperation and unity, while Spiderman got sucked up in his own weak ego, never able to rise out of the personal to embrace the race and work towards common good.
But one night, staying over at Frank’s East Village tenement apartment, I gave both a test, as to which comic when rolled up killed the most cockroaches, shocking Frank the next morning when he found out what use I put them to, pathetically scraping off the remains of roach guts from his precious Spiderman #1.
“How could you do this?” he said, peering over the ruins of the cover at me.
“Easy,” I said, years later realizing that I have spent a life time continuing the pursuit of tearing down false gods, and coming to understand there are no super people landing here from other planets to which we owe some kind of tribute, no Nietzsche super people better than others or above common laws only flawed people painting their flaws into super powers, pretending that a spider bite makes them invulnerable when it only makes us weak.
I was always a little more comfortable with the groups of super heroes like the Fantastic Four, but even they seemed a little too arrogant, a special club I couldn’t get in until I had some weird perversion and a hunger for power – a club Frank always fantasized that we could become a part of, some artistic cult he thought we could build in some remote place, one time even willing to invest in the purchase of a farm near the Canadian border where we might built our own little Fortress of Solitude, each of us displaying our artistic superiority – a dream that never materialized, not because we couldn’t afford the land, but because each in their own way, my friends gave up what truly make them unique, their humanity, and the more remote they became, the more inhuman, and the saddest day of my life was not the day my best friend actually died, but two decades prior to his death, when the dream did, when pursuit of fame became more important that what we contributed, and when he was willing to sacrifice basic human values, the building blocks upon which our humanity is built, for his own special place in the clouds. He also forgot that our gifts (our so called super powers) are only the bottom rung, and that the rest of the trip we had to make by pulling ourselves up rung by rung, and that half the value of reaching the top is how we get there. He was always looking for an escalator or an elevator, laughing at me because I kept both hands firmly on the rung I was on.
Watching him fall off, watching him give up on those things that truly made him great, remains the saddest moment in my life, partly because back when we met, when he was still a struggling artist, he inspired me, giving me faith that I – an ordinary, everyday kind of guy – could do something extraordinary, but because I was a superman, not because I was held back by the rules of society, but because I was a part of the greatest single exclusive club on the planet, the human race, and if what I did made the race better and elevated ordinary people’s out of their pain, or I could document the passage of ordinary lives, I was indeed someone special.
I still miss Frank, especially those days when he and I walked around the streets singing, not for money or fame, but because it changed the world from something ugly into something amazing, cheering people’s lives even when they mocked us.
I remember the confidence man who promised to make Frank a star, taking Frank’s inheritance for a week long session in a second rate recording studio before disappearing leaving Frank with a cassette copy (which I still have) and a lot of empty promises, and I remember seeing the dream die in Frank’s eyes (just as I later saw it die in the eyes of others just like him, who mistook pursuit of fame for art) and I remember thinking how he would never be the same, and he wasn’t.
Me, I’m still clutching to rungs on this insane ladder of life, not sure I’ll ever reach the top or get anywhere, but as someone one time told me, it’s not the destination, that matters, it’s the journey, and hell, this is one hell of a ride – and I don’t need a cape or to get bit by a spider to know how special it all is.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Cold medicine philosophy

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

It’s night time and I’ve had too much night time medicine leaving me light headed as if drunk – a bad time to read Freud, although better drunk than sober – something I should not say too loudly or old Dr. Thomas, my psych professor, would howl. He was such a fanatic, and deceptive because when I signed up for my first course with him called myth and symbolism and got Freud, I got mad, and snuck off to sit in another professor’s class to study Faulkner, getting into a pissing contest with that professor over what things meant in various Faulkner novels – we usually coming out even, which pissed him off since professors are supposed to know more about the novels they are teaching than some self-educated boob from the ghetto.
Anyway, Dr. Thomas got hurt and wanted to know why I didn’t like his class, and when I told him I’d come to study Greek and Roman mythology not so whack job from Vienna, he decided to analysis me, giving up after a dozen sessions when all I wanted to talk about while on the couch was literature, and bringing poems to read instead of symbol-rich dreams he counted out to reveal how someone like me got to be someone like me in the first place, all that repressed catholic morality and indignation at the outrageous of an unjust world.
Freud annoyed me for a number of reasons, but fundamentally because he believed that can never be anything more than what we were meant to be, presuming to think that we are only when we have experienced, and that who we are is defined somewhere in the chemical synapses turning on and off inside of us, the repressed memories of God and country, nuns banging rulers on our knuckles for being bad (a very big part of my unconscious I can tell you), god merely a foreboding father or mother figure that we are destined to murder or fuck, and once set on a particular path destined to stay there for eternity like a record needle stuck in the grooves an old fashioned long playing record.
Einstein, my favorite mad scientist growing up (along with Tesla) defined madness as a skip in that record where we repeat the same thing over and over and think we are making progress.
If both men (white males) are right, then are all crazy, locked into believing what we already learned to believe, justifying what we already think we are, white knight or realistic opportunist, reliving our expectations over and over as our individual records skip.
The hardest part is not so much expecting change (we know we can’t bust out of this role we live) or even accepting who or what we are (we accept it even if we don’t particular like the person we’ve become). The hardest part is accepting people who are not like us and the fact that their reality is valid for that other person, if not for us. The bigger the difference in background and the subsequent moral and cultural values, the harder it is to bridge the gap.
Dr. Thomas never could understand how a street kid like me from a Paterson ghetto could hunger for Jove, lust after Athena or admire Odysseus (who is by far my all time hero), or how Faulkner’s south and his admiration for the fallen woman could resonate so deeply in my heart, nor could he understand that every strip club on Market Street in Paterson was filled with Shakespearian tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, and how sometimes I felt as indecisive as Hamlet, chasing ghosts of things I ached to achieve.
Somewhere else in those noble institutions of college or the street, I learned (if not well) that life isn’t about accepting other people skips in the record, but finding some common ground without making judgments, without using or being used, finding some element of character in another that some how resonates – one skip in one record someone harmonizing with the skip in another. If not, then almost.
Sometimes, it is like two drunks too drunk to see straight or walk far in a world that seems to roll like the deck of a ship at storm, finding that if they lean together long enough to get their bearings they might make out things in the world around them they might otherwise miss, none needing the other except as a brief respite in the storm.
And maybe the haze of a good drunk provides more clarity than staggering around in the presumption of being straight, when no one in this world is free of being crazy, and sometimes, if you lean long enough, you learn to look at more than just the flaws in others or even in the world, and just appreciate that for once in this nutty life time, you aren’t falling down.
This, of course, is my cold medicine talking. Give me a shot of Jack Daniels and it’s a whole different rap.

Monday, May 20, 2013

ill again

Monday, May 20, 2013

I keep thinking of Men in Black II, and of the goddess that creates rain any time she is sad, and how the rain over the last few days reflects the rain inside, as if one could not exist without the other.
We brought in another cat only to have one of the other cats take offense at it, and so increase tension.
Sick last night and up for a cup of tea, I picked up the phone to hear my daughter’s voice – she reaching out because she needed someone she could trust to talk to, like me caught up in that social nightmare of being uncomfortable in a world of aggression, and needing some ally against the dark forces overwhelming her where she lives.
She and I have always been the best of friends, the people we could trust most, and feel most comfortable around, and the most stouthearted, because we are both so similar.
I couldn’t really help her except to listen, which is almost all anyone can do, but listening to her aided me in some fashion though I went straight to bed for another ten hours of sleep I desperately needed, my dreams less dark than her world is or even the waking world in which I wander normally, but troubled dreams none the less, full of anguished voices one of which was my own.
Waking to rain the prospect of work, I am still ill, and still hear those voices crying out.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Back in Secaucus again?

Aftermath of Passaic fire Labor Day 1985
February 18, 1986

Secaucus again, and wet with a wonderful winter rain storm.
How much more romantic can you get?
Sitting here filing out forms for yet another grand insurance plan, I realize all the strange times I’ve had in this amazing institution. This month marks my four year on and off since I finally admitted to myself that I was not yet ready for the big time as a creative writing.
That new years (1982) I resigned from Dunkin Donuts (leaving Phil) to make my living as a writer.
What a bleeping joke!
Two months later I was crawling into the Rutherford store to be interviewed by Bonnie, recommended by Michael Alexander and his girlfriend, Linda.
I was looking for the perfect job that would allow me to study as I worked. But the pattern for self-destruction was already set and I pulled out of school for the semester overwhelmed again by trying to make a living while studying – training came as precisely the wrong time in my college schedule and so I was confounded by film sizes as much as I was by Shakespearian sonnets. Eventually, I found myself in a Fotomat booth, an infamous pretender claiming myself writer, poet and thinker but without accomplishment. And I was caught up with old ghosts, my ex-wife back in my life but none of the money I stole when I first fell in love with her, but instead, I gave her bits of the little bread I made because she was as bad off or worse than I was.
I was always scrambling for hours, leaving my number in each booth in case someone needs me to fill in, a hopeless gypsy in Secaucus today or Hohocus tomorrow, and yet there is a kind of freedom in not being tied down in one booth every day. Sometimes, I even come across old friends, such as Dan Zack working in the Bloomfield Dunkin, or a night guard I worked with in Willowbrook when I still worked the Dunkin there, or even one of the drunken madmen from Wine Imports when we all loaded trucks at night (putting as much wine in us as we did in the trucks.)
But it gets old, and even I know I can’t drift like this forever.
You need predictability. So not long later, I begged for a store of my own and Bonnie – with tears in her eyes – gave me one in Clifton, near where I grew up and where I met Anne (the girl I dated for three years if dated is what that amazingly strange experience was) and Bob Adams became my boss, and from time to time, he still asks me to fill in places, such as here in Secaucus – this booth in the middle of a nightmare parking lot where traffic never stops – and the tiny library across the street where I often flee to get a break even when I really don’t need to use the bathroom.

Stuck in a booth in Secaucus

November 6, 1985

I’m in Secaucus again.
I seem to be repeating myself, an aggravating habit I just can’t seem to kick, time going round and round with the changes so small as to seem insignificant.
Yet there are changes.
My first visit here came near the beginning of the summer. I was Bonnie’s gopher and found myself in a panic after the first ten minutes in this Fotomat booth. The cars just didn’t want to stop.
There was no single-storied building behind me then. In fact, I watched that rise slowly from the ground during subsequent trips here, pile drivers shoving steel beams deep into the earth. By that time, Bob Adams was my boss and he commented on the need of such beams, speculating that the building had to be at least three stories high.
Before that, there was only earth and an old style donut shop called Mr. Donut, with faded pink and blue paint, and rats in its trash.
The donut shop is still there, but has undergone a name change, and perhaps and ownership change, too – only now it is included in the new building along with a line of other small shops, less outlandish, but still reminiscent of the old silver sided diners that Dunkin and other donut stores were based on.
The new building is one of a number of changes such as Harmon Cove down by the water and a perceived need to upscale the town’s image from the pig farms it once had here.
People don’t want to be perceived as poor or even too hillbilly and so they pass laws to keep people from raising farm animals and construct new buildings on the bones of old ones, hoping that the world will think this place is different than it once was, when down deep it can’t be, until this generation dies out.
Other places charge more dramatically by fire – Hoboken most frequently, and where I live in Passaic – with the suspicious fire on my block last Labor Day that wiped out the industrial base of the city and killed a Secaucus fire fighter who had struggled to keep the flames from crossing the street to the building I lived in.
But whatever plan the mayor had after that fire doesn’t seemed to have worked. No Harmon Cove will rise on the Passaic River the way it did here on the banks of the Hackensack. Even the plans to tear down the old Tuck Tape factory a few blocks from my house seem like wishful thinking.
I suppose the master’s of finance do not consider Passaic close enough to the money-rich race track and sports complex the gambling industry built in East Rutherford, while this place filled with pig farmers might more readily get hoodwinked into thinking all this new construction is being done on their behalf.
At night, when I’m driving up the Turnpike from my mother’s house, I see the glow of the sport complex and the glare of lights that fills the Meadowlands, I even see the twinkle of Harmon Cove, an Oz-like place being magically transformed from something real and solid, into something like a fairytale, and even though I remember the stench of the slaughter houses from when my grandfather used to drive through this part of the planet, it seems a more honest scent to me than the stink of fast food I catch these days along the highway.
It’s all personal preference, I guess.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Morris Canal folly

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I made my pilgrimage to the waterfront again today, not the old river, but the mighty Hudson where Liberty State Park is split in two, the Morris Canal and the Yacht basin isolating this small peninsula where I have come more than once for solace, though today, I came on assignment, and felt none of the woes of old days when I needed water of some kind of soothe me.
Although the Hudson is not the Passaic, and does not have the same healing powers, the canal connects them and the pieces of my life, since I have spent most of my time on earth near some faction of the spoiled pre-Civil War dream that northern robber barons hoped would spell the end of the Noble South. The brown water looks as spoiled as those ambitious dreams, filled with the muck and disgust that all such ambition breeds, and yet, it is not without beauty, and even the overgrown places I knew best back in what was once called West Paterson (before some egomaniacs decided they hated Black people too much to bear the same name as the nearby city that had once served as the industrial engine for America) proved pathways for my private journeys. The old Tow Path rock club where the band once played had its roots in this one time navigational route. In one spot, behind an old VFW hall there is even a little wooden bridge over the place where the canal once flowed, although the only time it has water in it is when some powerful storm lifts up the river and drips brown liquid into it.
Even this place at the corner of Jersey City where I came today suffered this fate when Sandy struck and left this place better suited for Noah’s Ark than for anything walking on two or four feet.
Workmen struggle to replace the wooden walkway behind the old Sugar House, as I stroll over land that had been so saturated that even now, it seems soaked, although I know this is the result of recent rain, not the flood that had left all within view underwater.
Other work transpires, not the least of which is that of the so-called Freedom Tower across the river, that mockery of industry everybody praises, but which remains an elevated middle figure to the world it exploits, just as the twin towers had served to symbolize the British two finger salute that meant the same things.
This greed, this wanton ambition for power, this insanity of importance that Americans seek so that they can look down on all the other people of the world remains one of the great mysteries of my life, although I have encountered it on every level, from the hovels of the ghetto to the rich East Side I used to deliver to as a messenger, people who feel so utterly unimportant doing anything and everything to make sure they are more important than some else. No one wants to be last on line outside Club 54 or at the bottom of some Wall Street pile of crap. If they can be even moderately higher on the totem pole, they have power.
A backhoe digs up earth near the Colgate Clock – a sad testimony to what America has become. we have the clock here, but none of the production facilities to which it once been attached – just as we lost the big cup from the Maxwell House factory in Hoboken when I first moved their in 1992. Then we lost the factory, and all the factories, and all the jobs, so that all that is left is the empty ambition of mountain climbers scaling Freedom Towers only to find utter emptiness when they get to the top.
I stare down into the water and see fish stirring there and the reflections of clouds, and something else, deeper down, some aspect of self I have yet to understand, perhaps will never understand no matter how many times I come across this canal, puzzled by the utter failure it symbolizes within eyesight of the rail road that replaced it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Part time (from Substitute Intelligence)

April 4, 1980

She said she only did it when she had no choice, if it was between starving or being fed, or being put on onto the street.
“It’s not that I see anything wrong with it,” she told me as we sat at the bar between her dance sets. She didn’t seem cold or put out by the fact that she was close to being naked.
“I’m not morally opposed to it,” she said. “I just don’t like the idea that I have to make a living at it. Dancing I don’t mind. It takes talent to get up there and do what I do. But most of the time with the other stuff, I just lay there and let it happen, and I’m worth more than that.”
She has a day time job, she says, and wants to make a career out of something, and doing something like that just doesn’t make her feel good about herself.
“I used to really get into it when I started,” she said. “I thought getting paid for doing what I liked to do was great, except that after a while I stopped liking it, and didn’t like the people I did it with either. They didn’t like me much either, and so I got to the point where I only did it when I absolutely had to and figured I could make up the difference in jobs like this or my day job, only neither one pays enough. Some months I get buy well enough, but on those rough months when the landlord comes up and says he wants his rent or else, well, what’s a girl supposed to do?”
I’d talked with other dancers, but they always danced around that side of things, always telling me they never did it, or had other jobs, or else said they were professionals and didn’t care. But this dancer was different, she didn’t mind talking straight, and didn’t even mind that I jotted stuff down in the notebook as long as I didn’t use her name.
“It’s not my real name anyway, but I’m known around in the clubs by it, and I don’t want a lot of people knowing what I have to do on the side,” she said. “I want to be something else someday, and I don’t want this to come back to haunt me.”
“Then why are you telling me?” I asked.
She smiled. “You got honest eyes,” she said. “You want to fuck me all right. But you’ve never offered to pay me to do it, and I appreciate that. Sometimes, a girl likes to be liked for being what she is, not – well – for the fact she can be hired.”
She said she didn’t like men who wanted to change her or help her get out of what she did. She’s fine with who she is. She just doesn’t want to have to depend on that and wants something better, something she can be proud of.
“I’m not ashamed,” she said. “I’m worth a lot more than that, and someday I want other people to understand that.”
I nodded. I knew she was, although I just hoped she didn’t fall behind on rent too much and wind up with the wrong man.
She must have read my mind, patting me on the hand.
“I’ll tell you what, you can buy me a drink,” she said, finishing off the one she already had. “If I get drunk enough, I won’t have to think about it.”
Then she got serious and stared straight into my eyes.
“Just don’t offer to help me, okay?” she said. “I mean that.”

Monday, May 13, 2013

Black hole (from Substitute Intelligence)

April 2, 1980

He stares into blank space, I stare at him, and the dancer glares at both of us for not staring at her – and not tipping.
This is one the dancers who really needs people to look at her, and get peeved at me for my constantly writing.
“Why don’t you got to the library if you want to write?” she asked during one of my previous bouts with her.
“The library isn’t open this time of night,” I told her.
“Then go home,” she barked, only to get the owner – a guy I call Wolfman because he looks like a wolfman with his beard – to bark at her for chasing away business, after which she shut up about it but continued to glare.
This is my second night in a row here, unusual even for me, partly because I don’t really have the cash to keep coming, but can’t stay away.
I can’t concentrate when I’m not in a bar and when the band isn’t working, I need to come here to study or feel at home.
And then there is this guy seated across the bar from me for the second night in a row, dressed in a wrinkled suit and a worn brown leather brief case on the bar next to his drink – next to his too many drinks, staring into space, mumbling something about his job and the faulty something or other he screwed up, and how his life is one big mess, and some such stuff like that, something, too, about his trophy wife too young for him, who doesn’t miss him because she’s off at some fancy social club with her friends and her lovers.
When he was sober last night, some of this makes sense, but tonight, he just mumbles and stares, and the most I can get out of him is some level of guilt, having had lovers of his own, but that he still loves here.
Endings are often terrible because they linger. I’m still not over my ex-wife, even though I haven’t seen her in years, and probably never will be, partly because real love doesn’t end or die, it just doesn’t always have a chance to continue growing.
This guy tried to fill the empty space with other women – mostly prostitutes who give him time, but no sympathy, and a few other things like VD he didn’t want, and now he’s here taking up space at the bar, creating a void around him that swallows up other people, like me, like the dancer, even Wolfman looks annoyed enough to risk chasing his business away.
And me, I worse than he is, staring at him, jotting down these notes, trying to capture a reality I know he wishes he didn’t have to live, and I know just how he feels and still I do it, secretly glad that this time it’s him instead of me.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Modern art? (from Substitute Intelligence)

March 22, 1980

One thing I have to learn NOT to do is bring my art study to the My Way Lounge, or any other place where the go go girls and the bouncers complain about my doing homework.
Normally, I get grief when I bring my notebook here and jot in it, but when I bring a text book from college, they go off the deep end.
I don’t mind the mockery so much as the subject itself – since much of what I do here and when I’m working with the rock band is rewriting class notes. One problem is that the more I drink the less coherent the notes get. The other problem is that some of the art that made no sense looking at slides in the classroom, start making too much sense.
I don’t mind Pollack – even when other art students think I’m crazy for seeing his work at significant. But I have no use for Kandinsky – even if he invented abstraction, or maybe I hate him because he did.
I’m sitting here with beers and shots and my school book open to “Autumn,” with the terrifying number 198 attached to it (to think there were 197 others just like it) and I hate it. At least, I hate it through the first round, and then, those swollen forms floating before my eyes start to pulsate and I start getting warm and fuzzy inside.
I know it’s the booze. But damn, I’m as bad as Pavlov’s dog, associating one thing with another when they really aren’t connected. Too much studying here at the go go bar has also made me react oddly to my art professor, 50 something year old woman who thinks I’m staring at her because I’m in love with her enlightening lectures when for some reason, I keep trying to imagine her topless – oh, the horror! The horror!
Meanwhile, I blew my chance to go to Germany this summer with my history professor – a real radical I’ve come to admire, and who is taking a number of students on a tour of the Nazi and 1920s arts scenes.
This, of course, makes me think of how hot I got over Liza in Cabaret, and how the My Way Lounge here in Passaic is my personal pre-Nazi art scene, even if management doesn’t appreciate my studying blobs of Kandinsky’s paint more than I am the go go dancers.
As long as I keep buying drinks and ignoring the taunts, I can stay, although my art professor did ask about the stains in my text book earlier this week.

T &A (from Substitute Intelligence)

April 8, 1980

God knows what planet this couple came from, but they have no business landing in the My Way Lounge.
The sign outside is clear enough: “Girls, Girls, Girls,” telling anyone on the street what to expect.
It’s mostly men who came in here – old and young, lonely or arrogant, men who need to pay girls to smile at them, or slime balls who prefer dirt cheap chicks they don’t have to buy flowers for or call back later the next morning.
But this couple doesn’t even fit the sort of couple that we do see in here from time to time, when some macho asshole marches in with eye candy looking to impress the rest of us with his (lack of) taste or make some dancer (he dated or not) jealous, both guy and gal completing as to who can fill up the place with cologne.
This couple looks almost respectable, not at all hailing from this side of town, making me wonder if maybe they lost their way and stopped in here for directions as to how to get back, little realizing that no one in here would know the right side of the tracks if we fell over them.
They look around the room – at the dancers, at the men, young and old, and at me with my nose in my notebook scribbling down the details for posterity I can only imagine might exist.
I always feel the need to capture the details of moments like this, how the man’s gray moustache wiggles and how the woman’s red lips puckers at what she sees.
Although painted red, her lips aren’t the same shade as the usual women who wander in her from time to time, those gals burned out on Atlantic City yet not skanky enough for the pay by the hour dives the crack-head girls use.
Their kind come in here to skim off the cream the dancers can’t get, men with money and cocaine who can pay their way, though as Paul Simon once noted, I’ve been so lonely once or twice I’ve taken some comfort there.
Maybe the couple just wanted to get a glimpse of low life here to report back to some higher social authority of what they saw in this den of sin.
But no, I read something else in their faces, some look as unfamiliar in this place as they are, a kind of nostalgia for an old life that makes me realize these two aren’t as respectable as they seem, that they had been here before, she on the stage, he one of us, and somehow connected, and somehow made it out into some other life neither of them ever expected to get to, and for some reason, needed to come back and look at this as if as a measure of the rare progress people don’t normally make, and seeing it only made them look sadly at us, and for some reason, this makes me angry, and gets the dancers’ dander up, too, as if they’d come back to pass judgment, having found salvation most here can’t.
They don’t stay long. They sip drinks, leaving them half full when they get up, and the leave the room feeling sour after they are gone, all of us staring across at each other as if seeing who and what we are for the first time. The room is still dim. But the lights seem to shine on each of our faces, and when the dancers dance, they seem mechanical and made up.
I scribble it all down, documenting it all, but can’t quiet get down on paper how lousy it all makes me feel, half hoping the door will open again, and some of those has-been skanky girls from Atlantic City would come in to cheer us up again, someone who is on the downside of this hill we push our stones up.
But when the door opens, it’s just another sad sack stumbling in from the go go bar up the street, looking to find something here, the other places lacked, when it always the same t & a – I wave to the bar maid for another drink, and put away my pen for the night.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

This sticky web we weave (from Substitute Intelligence)

March 17, 1980

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
I’ve started a new notebook – although not without a few false starts, tearing out pages I know I’ll regret losing, knowing somehow those few things I edit from these pages will be the things I miss most later,
So I begin again, an angel of the My Way Lounge in Passaic, which haunts me with its own history of too many desperate hours staring at go go girls, feeling guilty about it.
Even as I jot this thought down, the dancer glares me from the stage, for writing instead of staring at her wondrous curves, or perhaps she wonders what it is I write – almost all of them do.
I’m here for my fatal dose of inspiration.
And depression since the dancers are hardly immune to this savagery of lust, many more wounded than the men like me who come here to get what we can’t get elsewhere in our lives, using these bodies without acknowledging that they’re more than moving parts.
These places – even this place which seems so innocent as compared to the flashy places up the street – are webs of deceit, designed to ensnare, not merely men overflowing with hormones, but the women, too.
We all hang pathetically on these sticky webs, waiting for something to devour us – not someone, something, since we are all spiders and flies, trading roles when we need to be one or the other.
Everybody is stuck here – even me.
Perhaps I’m more pathetic than all, coming here out of lust not just for the bodies, but the need to witness the pain.
Michael – who loves Rimbaud as if a direct blood relations – keeps harping on about purity of these places, and how lust and violence are real, stripped of all the pretentions that normal society creates.
He’s full of shit.
I admit the “real world” of everyday is loaded down with too many people wearing too many masks, seeking to claw their way to the top of pathetic little ant hills. But this place is just the same, with only different, maybe more simple masks. Nothing should be too complicated here. We all have these basic roles we play in order to draw attention to ourselves, the dancer who once did Broadway, who picks up tricks on the side for cocaine or company, the macho ex-cop who serves as the bar’s unofficial bodyguard, rising up with his rippling muscles any time someone gets too rowdy.
And then there are people like me, who don’t fit the usual stereotype, jotting down my thoughts and feelings and observations about everyone I meet, trying to make sense somehow this black hole of emotional turmoil most people do not care about except as the place on Main Street horny men go to when they have nothing else to do and no one else to care for them.
This place feels dark, even with all of its lights, as if the lights that glow create deeper shadows that swallow whole lives, and the more I try to illuminate it, the darker it seems to get, swallowing my notebook, my pen, my arm, even me.
After a few drinks, I’m as swollen with desire as the next man, playing my role as an intellectual snob, acting by not acting like I’m better than everybody else, when I’m not.
My logic, my reason, my so-called intellectual aims run hot and cold with the weather of my hormones, and life for me is always this desperate balance of maintaining control over that animal side – mind of what? – when if I was as real as Michael claims people are down here, I would simply let myself go, using and abusing the way most of the men do here, making my bid for the night on the dancer I am attracted to with the hopes that she will accept.
The problem is that until I am very drunk, I can’t help but see the wounds in their eyes, even when they laugh with me or at me, even when they give me the cold shoulder that does everything to stir the coals up in me, and by the time I am drunk enough to ignore their pain in the aim to satisfy my own, they have accepted someone else’s offer, and I stumble out into the night with my notebook for company.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Journal Square: when dusk runs out

May 10, 2013

The air grows warm finally, kissing my cheeks as I sit on the cold stairs of Journal Square.
Dusk drips into dark but without the bite winter usually brings.
But everything causes pain at times, the chattering child winter brings, the scalding heat of summer.
Somehow I manage to keep my balance, doing what I need to keep from falling off the edge of what should be a flat earth.
The homeless linger here at the edge of the plaza, clinging to it with desperate broken fingernails, the cycles of heat and cold mapped across their faces like a road map of no planet I want any part of.
But even the worst of these, the most down and out, the most desperate seem to have their own sense of dignity, hating pity as much as I hate heat and cold.
Even begging, they seem determined not to lose that last ounce of whatever it is that makes up human, insisting on standing up on one foot if that’s all they have, some conning me with real or pretended grief, yet still playing the game to win, looking even when they have only one eye to look at me with. But in the world of the blind, they say, a man with one eye can still be king, and here we all are struggling not to lose ourselves when in the dark when dusk runs out.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Is it him this time? (from notebooks)

April 4, 1980

“I’m always asking myself, why I’m here,” she tells me, the way many people tell me things, one of the strippers who sits down next to me at the bar because I’m the only one with my nose in a book and not tipping her.
Her hair shimmers in the bar light as is oiled. Her too-strong cologne overwhelms me, even over the overpowering scent of cigarette smoke around us, men mostly sucking on cigarettes for each sip of their drinks, like little dragons on stools breathing fire until the next dancer goes on stage.
She tells me she feels the earth move under her feet when she dances, and means more than just loose floorboards, it the weight of the room and the intensity of lust she feels.
In her mind, she is alone, although the boy in the denim jacket – who keeps buying her drinks and keeps giving her tips – clearly doesn’t intend for her to go home alone.
She laughs when I point this out.
“He’s only a boy,” she says. “But he reminds me of a man I knew.”
Then she says she remembers that man’s arms around her, lips on her lips, and their parting words.
“He said nothing would happen,” she says, recalling her face and his shape, outlined by his uniform. She said she pictured his weapon,. Even though she’d never see it, and recognized a pride in his eyes she’d not seen prior to his joining the arm.
She was 18 then, he was 21.
“He told me nothing would happen, nothing can happen, and yet it did,” she says, shuddering without saying directly how he died, except to curse “that damned swamp” by which I suppose she means, Vietnam, his body recovered from some slaughter not meant to happen.
She says she dances every night now because she can’t forget, trying to erase his face from her memory by having other men lust after her, but it doesn’t work, she can’t get his face out of her head, his epitaph written in stone or in her heart.
“The more I dance the more I remember him,” she says. “I look out at the men around the bar and they all look like him. But he’s always coming back in boys like this one, none of them half the man he was. But I go with them anyway. I keep hoping maybe one of them will hold me tight enough where I might forget.”
But this never happens, and she keeps recalling that day when he said good bye to her at the fence, a dusty airfield behind him, some sergeant screaming at him to come alone.
“He kept telling me not to worry,” she says. “He kept promising me he would come back. And he does come back. Every night. All of them different. All of them the same. Sometimes I wake up with them and start screaming, because I don’t see them. I see him as he must have been after – you know – after the thing in that damned swamp, blood or something coming out of his eyes or mouth, I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I never see the same man here twice. But there’s always someone. And I always go.”
Later, when he set is over, she lets the boy in the denim jacket take her arm, and I watch over the lip of my notebook as they leave together, wondering when it will all end, knowing deep in my heart, it never will.

At 31

May 12, 1982

Now at the point in life, I should have made a mark on the world, some small notch that says, “Hey! I’m here.”
But if it’s there, I can’t see it, and I go on with some bit of insane despair: who am I and what am I doing here?
I mean, I dreamed about better times than these when I was a kid, and there have been better times – especially a few years ago when Pauly, Garrick, Lenny and June lived here in Passaic.
A regular artists’ community.
But the years changed everything around me, moving my friends away into new marvelous worlds, isolate us with some measure of pain -- but also in bits of personal glory.
Pauly has found his gardens and his library to putter around in, allowing him to plant, read, and do his paintings.
I guess the pain comes with thoughts of the future.
Pauly lives in a fairytale world with gnomes, dwarves and elves secretly whispering words of hope, I don’t see or hear.
Garrick lives within stone’s throw of Pauly, above a glittering lake so breathtaking, It blinds me with envy each time I go to visit him, with plenty of green to hide all of the scars civilization leaves. You can’t even see New York City from the hill top he lives on, and there is only a ribbon of a road leading up to his door – hell in winter, but who cares once he’s settled beside the fire place. He lives with Lenny and June in what to me is a castle, one with thick carpets, large rooms, and a view to kill for.
Lenny and June aren’t rich, but I think they will soon be, feet firmly planted on their road to success, while Garrick, the interloper my labor for his piece of perfection, loading and unloading trucks at his job in Montclair, The New York Times tucked under his arm for his visits to the men’s room.
Hank – whose lack of success has always disappointed me since he has the most talent of any of us – still lives with his parents, while he hates his father, Hank’s mother serves him like a slave, a luxury few could pass up I suppose.
It all seems so transitory, with me living hand to mouth here in the ghetto of Passaic, pay check keeping me from starving – but only barely – and paying most of the bills most of the time, so that I only occasionally have to decide whether or not to let them shut off the phone this month or the heat, or go a week eating pasta.
But as humble an abode as this place is, I love it, it’s mine. And the walls keep out the elements, and somehow I find inspiration here, especially from the river which is a mere block away.
Still I wonder, where should I be at age 31?
Should I have remarried and produced more kids, so that we could all live in some starter house in Totowa with a postage stamp lawn I can mow every Saturday, and a mortgage I have to work overtime to pay?
I’m here alone on my 31st birthday, wondering if the expense of it all is worth the glory I expect to get some day. We are all knights in multicolored armor, but with rust around the joints and wishes leaking out the visors. We live our lives the best we can with what time we have, and as long as there’s a Pauly, Garrick or Hank, I feel connected. We all live on the same dream cloud, making quests from our castles in search of some mysterious treasure we as yet cannot quite envision.
At 31, I think, I ought to see clearer, don’t you think?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Waiting for the train to come

April 2, 1980

It begins, a slow, steady stream of air, breathe! Heart beats. A memory occurs:
I am standing at the station waiting for the 7:30 train. It is morning, dull and close, with a storm in the air, heavy and hot.
The train is late. It is always late, always arriving there just after the buses for town have gone, and I wonder why they (the buses) never wait.
They always leave with a puff of smoke and a sudden lunge forward.
I want to scream: “I see the light!”
But I don’t see the light or the train, only the imaginary look in her eyes. I just want the buses to wait.
I don’t want to have to huff and puff the four miles over rutted roads full of mud and rain – rain which has stopped for the moment, but I fear will return just as we’re too far from anything to take shelter.
But I don’t shout. I just watch the buses leave, their fumes taking longer to fade than their memory.
Then the rain does come, slow and steady, dripping off the cracked brown rafters of the station from the leaks in the roof.
The tracks shimmer like silver threads stretched out into eternity.
And I stand near where the roof drips and stare out along the rails, searching the growing mist for some sign of light.
I am waiting for her face to appear, a warm angel rising out of the cold rain to rescue me, not certain if I am in the middle of a dream or not, feeling my heart flutter.
I still feel breathless for having run all the way here only to wait, dust fighting inside my chest to keep from turning to mud.
I feel filled up with dust and rain, I watch the rain turn the dust on my shoes to mud, and then wash the mud away, washing away the bitterness of life, and then the misty rain turns to real rain, and pours down on everything, blotting out the world, shaping it all into dream, and I wait for her to arrive by train, a train whose light I cannot see in the distance, yet a train I know must arrive, so I wait and wonder, rain dripping over me, turning me into mud, and then into something else, cleansed.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Next stop? (On my way to the Pink Pony)

Friday, May 03, 2013

“This stop is Grove Street,” the phony voice  announces as I travel on the train to Manhattan, trying to find something I lost there this early day in May, my birthday looming over me like a black cloud as it always does this time of year.
I’m traveling to get painful poetry out of my head after days of consuming poems that buzz in me, stinging each time I read them, poems full of truth and agony, some even poems I’ve written myself.
“I need to feel clean again,” I think as the service to my phone ceases once the train goes underground, the poem I was reading blanking out and replaced by “Searching for Service.”
“I need to feel,” I think, reminded of the movie ET and the concept that a young boy and an alien might be connected remotely, feeling each others feelings without ever really touching, except near the end when the glowing finger tip hovers over the place where the boy’s heart is.
You can feel remotely, but never by remote control, through some connection that isn’t always conscious, and often painful when it is, someone’s finger hovering over where my heart should be telling me I’m to blame for feelings that weren’t mine – me thinking the whole time of that scene when the boy sets the frogs free, but is not free of them when he does, connected by feelings that aren’t really his, while far away – across town or across the universe – the alien feels what he feels, painful as that must me, and will also be, always connected, always made to feel the sting of bees or birds or frogs set free.
But in the end, the real question is: which is the alien? The boy or the being from space?
And can feelings, whose ever they are, ever really being alien at all?
“Next stop, Pavonia/Newport,” the phony voices says, and I grip my bag and my useless phone, waiting for the stop where things get real again, where the poems I hear aren’t poems of pain or guilt, but of something else, some deeper understanding that doesn’t get lost in translation, something universal and more forgiving, some point where understanding isn’t so remote.