Category Archives: A Sad Fact

ANENT THE TALKING HEADS (and other fools who believe too much in themselves.)

There was no such thing as a Government Plan when I was a much, much younger person. 

One’s eyes, one’s hopes, were not directed toward the SOG wherein all hope is now supposed, perhaps soon to be required, to be placed.  No such thing was bethought as cradle to grave care from it.  It all began to change shortly before my arrival when two cars, garages, pots and chickens were first promised us, and it was hinted in speech and song that woe, worry, sickness and ignorance would give way to Heaven here at last. 

Happy Days!  But, not quite yet.  We had not that what? That purity, the “election”for the gifts to be ours ahead;  for that thing called Health Insurance, or Auto Insurance, or, for almost every family I knew in my part of The Bronx, Life Insurance. Nor were the thought to be quite needed by most.  We still had feet to walk with, hands to work with.  But, we would learn.  We would learn…and want.

Not that it matters, but I remember as a young fellow first hearing the term Life Insurance and being confused.  You may think about my reason for confusion.

Bank accounts, if they existed, rarely amounted to more than a few hundred dollars. Shoe boxes under the bed, or in your mother’s bureau was what mattered most when it came to family finance. And, as far as I knew when compared to now, problems were fewer. I wonder why, sometimes.

Now, the shrill voices of discontent and the fraudsters (and people beaters) of progress, the elevaters, the redeemers, of the race, the species, the world, the cosmos, by God (those among them who believe there is one), like wild horses in a Western (are they still made?), stampede ahead on, to take a line from a once popular Irish song, “on the road to God knows where…”  Driven by only God knows what.  Though I suspect it is the conviction that they are god.  And most of the grimy believers in the dry dust behind plod grimly on.

I read a short thing the other day, a kind of comparison between how two Englishmen thought the world might turn out: the guy who wrote 1984 and the one who wrote Brave Knew World. The one looked into the future and saw what the Soviets were doing; everything in shades of grey, way beyond 50, which has been realized in North Korea,  in China.  Other forces proceed in their own strange way to their own version of a parousia places like Afghanistan, where that strange and terrible phenomenon called islam has taken hold; and whose thousand years plan is to take over everything, or kill it.

That other was perhaps a bit more correct, seeing into a future like ours, a place where no one matters but “ME”. but with a much more invasive and evil genetic twist, which we seem to have changed into simply medically induced death at both ends of natural life. And that, for no other reason it seems than “Because”.


I am about a third of the way through a book by a little, old and frail German fellow, Joseph Ratzinger. He’s a a good fellow, sharp as a tack, who dresses funny. That may be why a lot of folks don’t take him seriously. But, despite his decidedly Medieval sense of fashion, as is said, “Good things, etc.” This book I mentioned?  This little thing is good. It’s full of stuff some people call, “Money Quotes”. Here is one. It’s near the beginning. Hell, everything is near the beginning in this book. You could take a flight across the country and you’d be finished before you reached Illinois. Anyway: “From the very beginning Christianity has understood itself to be the religion of the Logos, to be a religion in keeping with reason. When it identified its forerunners, these were primarily not in the other religions, but in that philosophical enlightenment which cleared the road from the various traditions that cluttered it in order to turn to the search for truth and to turn toward the good, toward the one God who is above all gods. “

This whole thing, this “mishegoss” which is a polite Jewish word for the madness, or better yet silliness, now going on, which most of us think is civilized behavior, began a couple of hundred years ago in France with the Enlightenment and such silliness as that very stupid little slogan about us and how many things we can measure. Every time I think of it I get a picture of five year old boys out behind the barn measuring their “dinkies”.

It is exactly the same thing as is taking place today in DC, and in every other legislative body in the country, at any level, especially the lower ones; but most publicly, and tragically in the SOG because of its influence and effect on the rest of us. And, neither do I wish to pass over the, what were once called for some too long ignored good reasons, the institutions of higher education; and our information sources, all of them which, with the exception of a few dozen Catholic schools and publishing establishments have relocated to Gommora, and are, in the very same way a totally drunk idiot may be said to be doing it, printing junk.  And teaching it..

This ain’t a Gloomy Guss talking. Nope, it’s me who has seen and been in the middle of, for my working life, the incredible mess we are in. The only way out is what the little German guy suggests at the end of his book: “Begin with the folly of faith, and you will attain knowledge. This folly is wisdom, this folly is truth.”

The only truly happy, and wise people I have ever met are former drunks, former drug addicts and and former Democrats.  They may be best compared to the folks who made it into the lifeboats as the liner went down; or had decided on a walk in the country the day the bomb fell.  That kind of happiness is more than happiness.  Thankfulness.

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GRAB A SEAT! MAKE YOURSELF COMFORTABLE!

Once said, not so long ago, that was done. My father’s son, I much preferred sitting to standing. Well, truth to tell, I never really “sat”. I sprawled. I was made for a sofa, but much preferred an Easy Chair, even one that might have held two of me; one that need climbing, up, into.

That we then. I notice it has become quite an undertaking to sit down recently. First I must gauge the chair’s height to determine if I can indeed sit down on, or into it; and then its depth from front to back. Or, is that not properly the length?

Is it a soft or a hard seat? These are questions of no small importance, my natural padding having gone into retirement several years ago. Sitting on my hands in some instances is the only way open for me.p

If the chair is arm less, poor thing, what are the aids nearby to assist me in a soft landing? My own aids, that is arms and legs, to assist me in a soft and safe one at not as dependable as earlier. I have in the recent past almost completely missed the target. It’s little comfort knowing I cannot miss the floor since I no longer bounce. And, if I am alone, regaining verticality, which may not be a word but you know what I mean, is no small project. I have crawled like a rubber boned infant the width of a room, the length of a hallway, to reach that dangerous posture.

It occurs to me that I should no longer attempt such daring expeditions as sitting down, on my own. That is unless I am met somewhere along my descent by a helping arm, and at its end by a soft landing. Oh, and something for my sore back between mine and the chair’s.

Imagine This!

Some folks may not like this.  So what.

IMAGINE THIS!

I sit here, now, imagining

That nothing was or is.

That nothing ever  mattered

Nor nothing ever will.


Imagine there’s no people

Nor light, nor darkness too,

No time or anything to do.

 

Imagine if there’s never

Nor ever will be you!

Just kill yourself then, Brother

And make it all come true!

 

Oh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhh!

 

It’s just a dream that’s all

And we’re all imagined

Shadows on some wall.

A wall that’s just a shadow

At the bottom of some cave

Where no light’s ever entered

Nor nothing’s made or saved.

 

Oh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhh!

 

Imagine what you cannot do,

Nor never thought, nor never will:

No God, no stars, no planets

No one to love or kill.

 

It’s just the perfect answer

For all the things we love.

Or hate if that’s your fancy.

Below or high above.

 

No heaven high or hell below,

No safe earth in between.

Simply nothing!  That’s the riddle

And the answer, don’t you see,

The Cheshire’s smile does mean.

 

Oh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhh!

 

My song’s about now over;

Well, really not begun.

Never really warbled

And never really sung.

Like a rainstorm in the desert

Or sunshine in the night

Drowning burning devils

In new agonies of fright.

 

Ah, ahhh, ahhh, Hahhh!

 

peg 06/11/2018

 

 

 

WHITE HEAT

One of my enduring movie memories is of the last scene of White Heat, a Cagney crime epic about an evil little monster; a guy who doesn’t care about anything except getting his, whatever he may think his is, or ought to be his, no matter how he gets it.  I grew up with, went to school with, worked with and arrested guys like the Cagney character.  Is Trua Mor!  The world is full of them.  They come in all sizes and shapes, appearing in the oddest of places, at the strangest of times; and professing, quite often, their friendship and good will.

The Cagney character was not like that.  You knew him for what he was, a bad fellow through and through.  But, it was a piece of fiction, that thing, and Cagney was playing the villain.

I haven’t much more memory of the film than the scene of Cagney atop a huge gas tank screaming out, “Look, Ma, I’m on top of the world!”  He empties his gun into it, and then the thing goes off.  The film ends.  And, I suppose, the world is a much better place.  At least, that’s what we are supposed to conclude.

If my memory is correct, his mother was a foul thing, too, who supported the beast she had borne in all he did. Yes, some mothers are like that, in so many different ways.

This was what I was thinking of while reading an article that appeared today, yesterday, last month, it doesn’t matter, really, in the New York Times.  That rag’s like Poor Johnny One-Note; and Cagney’s character type, an obviously sick and twisted man, rarely appears in it’s many pages; at least not so crudely displayed.  Nevertheless, it appeared to me as I read what I read.  How odd, I remember thinking, I should be thinking of an evil thing destroying himself and the world he was atop.

How odd.

The “gala” in question, which occasions what follows, was something at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City called Heavenly Bodies – Fashion and The Catholic Imagination

Anyway, Ross Douthat wrote the article that The Times printed. He’s a Catholic, and a kind of conservative fellow, if you have never heard of him before; so you would be right in thinking that the article I read was about some bad things being done by good people, and them finally getting a clue that what they were doing was, well, as my Aunt Violet, may she rest in peace, would say, not in good taste.

You would be wrong.  Dreher doesn’t hit them with a forty gun broadside, as he might have. Maybe it’s because he’s writing a piece for the New York Times.  You know the folks who run that thing, and the kind of folks who read it.  They’re like the thing itself, paper, fragile, thin, good mannered and delicate. But, very good for wrapping gifts, or fish; both paper and people.

He does throw a tomato…sort of.  Here, you read it, and tell me what you think.

Cardinal Dolan (Big Tim) was at the “Gala” Dreher writes about, along with a bunch of other swells and usual suspects fiddling while Rome burned right before their eyes.  You can bet Timmy was as hearty and ebullient as ever.  So too was the famous Jesuit James Martin, the twitterer of note, there, mixing with the swells at the orgy.  I imagine him as a butterfly before the flame.  I’ll bet he’s a good dancer, and a “safe” one, too.  He’d probably make a bundle on a cruise ship in the Carib; Mass in the morning and a fox trot with the old babes at night; all good clean fun, ad majoram Dei gloriam, don’t you know.

One other guy had a few words about the whole bloody thing, this Ross Douthat guy who does not write for the NYT.  His reaction to the whole matter is here.

He’s not as sweet on Catholic chic as his colleague, and definitely not as sweet as  the Jesuit journal America, whose reporter gave the event a Vogue treatment.  Of course, what would you want?  It was fashion, really, and culture!  And, fashion and culture in this instance and many another of similar meaning and purpose resemble, for me at least, and a lot of guys I grew up with, nothing so much as Necrotizing Fasciitis.  Faith? Religion? Prayer?

Well, not here.  Not now. Well, possibly with the possible exception of and exclamation about the color of the fabric, the silhouette of the gown, the eyes of the model and how such things got started way long ago; and, well, were really from another more simple age.  So, maybe never.


Many years ago I attended an exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in DC.  There was a rare appearance of some painting or other by a Dutch Master, the real painter not the cigar.  Thousands of people lined up to see the thing.  And after a long wait, they did.  So did I, from a distance like the song says.  It was in a big room, and far away; a little thing surrounded by the true believers in beauty, and art and stuff.

I looked, but mostly at the “swells”, and left.  There was a low, almost prayerful murmur from them, and some ever so reverent pushing to get near the “icon”.  But, it was near noon, and I was hungry, and I knew this crowd wasn’t breaking for lunch soon, or possibly anytime when they could huddle, massively, reverently, before a little painting of a young girl, and whisper prayerfully about beauty, talent and genius.

Back in the corridor I struck out for the cafeteria, walking almost alone in that general direction, following my nose, a few other folks, and wondering about what I had just seen, and why I let things like this make me want to throw rotten eggs.  Along the way something caught my eye.  It was behind glass, a small piece just to my left.  I stopped because it was unusual, a cup, a chalice to be exact; a gold chalice covered with jewels.  It was beautiful..  According to the sign it was the chalice of the Abbot Suger, he of the Abbey of Sant Denis over in France.  You’re not sure you recognize the name?  Here, let me help.


Abbot Suger comes to us via 12th century France.  He is responsible for the beginning of Gothic architecture, was Regent of France for a few years when the king, a guy he went to school with at the Abbe of St. Denis, just outside Paris, where he was named the abbot and started the Gothic style while remodling the crumbled old abbey church.  Along with that, he instituted a number of clerical and monastic reforms, bringing them back to a better observance and understanding of what their work as clerics was all about, and why it mattered.  Stuff I have no doubt the Cardinal and the dancing Jesuit I mention above are, no doubt, much better able to discuss than I will ever be.

I thought about Suger, his chalice imprisoned now in a little niche in a museum filled with trinkets, baubles, stuff and well dressed gawkers.  I felt sorry, really, for that lovely chalice behind the glass then, somewhat in the same way that sorrow came over me when reading about the “dress up” at the other museum in New York.  And, I wondered most recently if that fellow whose sacramental blood that imprisoned chalice once held would have schmoozed with all the “big players”, or would he have done something like he did in His “Father’s House” long ago.

I have been thinking about that chalice imprisoned behind glass in a cell along a corridor in Washington; thinking about it and crowds swirling around a tiny painting only yards away, and the other crowds, the ones playing “dress up”, and smiling, glad handing Cardinals, and slithering priests in a well organized and very, very expensive mockery of the good, true and beautiful; all of it in the name of that most frivolous and ephemeral and essentially useless thing: Fashion.


Back to Cagney and gas tanks, and suicidal explosions…  I can’t get over the fact that there is a connection in my mind among the White Heat scene, the violent, spectacular suicide…the anti-hero’s chosen reward, the pinnacle of his career…the humbling imprisonment in what is literally a hole in the wall of a sacred work of art from the age which gave birth to the beauty of Catholic worship, and the beauty of gothic art and architecture….and the parody of faith, art, and worship at that “thing” in the museum.  

One museum reduces a beautiful instrument of faith to an afterthought, a comma in its story of civilization, when it is actually the vessel of salvation, more precious for its use, and beauty, more sacred to memory than every museum in every place.  

The other fills itself with fools, and their foolish pastimes.

Well, there are museums, and there are museums.  In one sense they might be thought of as very classy garbage dumps, or attics where are stored things like the cup Grandma Squonk kept her uppers in every night.  That’s right alongside Uncle George’s old Victrola, and the bell clapper from Berry Lane Methodist; all that was left after the fire.

And, then there is the other kind: daring, edgy, popular, filled with all of the things that have altered and illuminated, or will, the tired, the bored and the blind; things like a jeroboam of urine containing a Crucifix, or “The Holy Virgin Mary” , the real title of an ugly eight fool tall horror covered in elephant dung worth somewhere in the millions.  

Of things like this are such evenings made which capture the presence and approval of our high and popular clergy, all the right people and the madding crowd ever in search of something new, something fascinating.

No wonder, then, the churches are empty, while the dance floor is filled, while the cocktails never run dry; nor does the wine steward need ever worry.

Perhaps the only true thing is found in the fiction of the film, the only honest thing. There we learn again the rewards of frivolity, of “chic” and eventually of sin and evil; in the end death, always.

Memento mori. Vita brevis breviter in brevi finietur.

ps: By the way, one can get a pretty good knockoff of the chalice for $62.73 from Walmart.  I might just send one to His Eminence Timmy, The Cardinal Archbishop of The Big Apple. He could use it while doing that thing Catholics do.

My Best Friend

MY BEST FRIEND

 

When I was a kid growing up in the Bronx my best friend was Eddie.  He was so much a part of my life that I would tell my parents and my sister and brother each evening at supper what Eddie had done and what he had said during the day.  So detailed and so intense were these stories of our daily adventures and Eddie’s leading role in them that my father began to call my friend Eddie Sez’; primarily because of the wisdom I believed Eddie possessed about all thing “Kid”.

 

He came from a family of six children, four boys and two girls.  In my family we were three, two boys, and one girl.  Of course we had parents.  My father was a letter carrier, once known as a mailman, and my mother was a House Wife, once a profession, now not.

 

Eddie and the rest of his family lived in a ground floor apartment in the front of our apartment house.  It was a six story walk up, built in an age, somewhere around 1920, when anything less than ten floors was thought unnecessary to require an elevator.  Eddie’s apartment facing the front looked out on the street, Bailey Avenue, which, when I was a child, was the longest and broadest street in the civilized world, cobblestones paving its length and breadth, and trolley tracks bisecting it.  Perhaps as many as twenty times a day, cars would whiz by bound outward to the world.  And in the evening, cars would line the street at great intervals.  Some of them were even locked and their windows were rolled up.

 

On the other side of the street, looking west to the edge of the world, a plateau spread in both directions for dozens of yards before falling off down to the tracks of the Grand Central railroad, whose Northern Division ran north to the pole for all I knew, and filled the air with the sound and smoke of “industry” and “commerce”, from its long freight trains and huge black belching engines. We kids all loved playing down in the railroad yard, walking along the tracks, and on top of the third rail; throwing the stones used as ballast at rats, cats and birds and at the long lumbering freight cars on the trains moving in and out of the city almost every day.  Eddie could throw a stone further than most of the kids I hung around with.  But, he stayed away from the third rail stuff.

 

That was because Eddie’s father who we learned was named Barney, or, sometimes, “Star”, used to work for that railroad until, in the legendary past, he was injured jumping from a locomotive to the ground at the end of a long day.  Eddie told us he hit the third rail.  The injury resulted in a weakness and palsy which was with him for the rest of his life; a life he spent at the window of his living room with a pitcher of beer to hand staring out at the world going by.  He never stopped his shaking hands unless he was taking a mouthful of beer.  All the kids in the neighborhood came to know him as “Shaky”.

 

Frail and bent, Shaky would walk from his house to the corner tavern each morning, The Kingsbridge Tavern, owned by Angie, a little man whose head barely cleared the level of the bar when he stood behind ready to pour; and once there, Shaky H., for that was his name, would buy himself a quart container of beer from the tap.  He may have been Angie’s first customer every day.  And, firmly and steadily clutching the newly poured container to himself, Shaky would walk home, enter his apartment and take up his seat.  Once or twice more each day he would repeat this appointed round in all kinds of weather, faithful to the work.

 

Eddie’s mother was a tall and quiet woman.  I don’t think I ever knew her given name.  She was always Mrs. H., and is still when I think of her.  All of the women were known that way, by their married names.  They were Mrs. Lastname, even when we were grown.  And the men were Mister.  And, except that my father used Eddie’s father’s name and unless I had heard him using it in his conversations with my mother, I would never have known Barney “Star” H.’s full name.  Mrs. H., whom I cannot remember seeing outside the house, would sometimes lean out of her kitchen window and exchange the news of the day with some of the other mothers who might come outside with toddlers and children not yet in school.  The street was our playground, the curbstones our toilets, because when tiny, going back upstairs, three, four or five flights of them, was not only difficult but hazardous.  Anything could happen.

 

We lived on the same side of the house as Eddie, in the back.  Our windows faced a wooden fence, erected we kids thought, by someone who hated kids.  Because beyond that fence was a vacant lot full of weeds and wild flowers, rocks and stones and sand.  Like any vacant space to a bunch of kids, it was a perfect place to play.  And since it was a playground, the only one at all in the neighborhood, the fence never stayed up for too long a time.

 

Every day in all kinds of weather this area, which came to be known simply as The Lot, was the venue for all sorts of games; from a form of baseball, played with regular balls and bats all the way to wads of newspaper or clods of earth as balls and tree branches, sticks and hollow cardboard tubes if nothing else was handy, as bats, to the kind of ordered chaos that is known by all the kids I’ve ever known as, simply, Play.  There were names, of course, and rules, boundaries, sides and positions.  There was everything the world above us required for the danger and drudgery of “work”!  When playing with the girls, one of whose games to play was called House, boys were always “going to work”.  This involved leaving the girls and going away…somewhere.

 

We also played war.  We even had a navy of sorts in the form of two large rocks in The Lot, way over in deep left field.  One, named K-880, could be a submarine, a battleship, a troop carrier, a swift destroyer or anything one wished it to be, and sometimes more than one type of vessel.  Very rarely, it was a tank.  The other one, named Flat Rock, was always an aircraft carrier…or a place to sit and eat lunch between games.

 

On the other side of The Lot, at the crest of a small slope, was Heath Avenue.  That was where The Heathies lived.  They were ancient enemies.  One was born hating the Heathies, though not as much as one hated The Crescents, all of whom were savages and probably cannibals.  War against The Crescents, who lived near the firehouse a few blocks away, had always been going on since first the earth was cool enough to walk on.

 

I learned, as I grew older that the Heathies and Crescents were called such because they lived on Heath Avenue and on Albany Crescent.  And, I went to school with several of them.

 

I don’t remember when we actually met, Eddie and I, and became friends, but I am pretty sure it took place when we were both very young fellows, perhaps toddlers.  So, it can be said with some truth that we knew each other in fact before we were really grown to consciousness.  Eddie, when I was so very young, before school began, was a part of my life; as much I suppose as my brother and sister, my parents and certainly more than the other relatives I saw, none of whom lived near enough to walk to for a visit.  And, I grew up when walking was the primary means of locomotion in the city for folks like us; walking or the bus or trolley.

 

Eddie was older than me by almost a year, and taller, better looking and leaner.  He was also more naturally athletic, excelling at the games we played like baseball, football, stickball, and basketball, in the playground the city built when we got older.  Until that time came, though, we had other games; games of our own invention like Running Through and Best Faller and Tarzan.  These we played while forming our skill and talent for more complicated games with rules and boundaries and positions.  Rules, by the way, were great occasions for arguments which sometimes lasted longer than the game itself, and often led to simply tossing the game aside in favor of something more active than yelling.

 

Running Through was a version of football.  When there weren’t enough kids to field two decent sized teams, we would play Running Through; a game where one guy with the football would try to run through, around, over, or dig under, all the rest of us without losing the ball or breaking anything.  We all took turns running through.  And, it had the advantage of having no rules.

 

Best Faller was another game, a war game.  We played that game by attacking a “machine gun” nest occupied by The Japs or Nazis, or both.  Everyone rotated through the nest and killed the attacking GI’s usually running downhill at breakneck speed (literally).  The best faller in each attack got to attack again with the next group while the others, eliminated, sat on the sidelines and screamed.  There were no real winners.  It was simply a game where we all got dirty, and tired, and yelled while thinking about war and glory, glory and war.  Danny Valuzzi was always a gunner. He was the only guy with a real toy rifle.  The rest of us had broomsticks which were also spears, or stickball bats.

 

The city’s playground and a public school, PS 122, ended our games of Tarzan.  They filled in the lot we used for it.  And that was because it was a good twenty feet lower than the surrounding terrain.  Tarzan was played on swings of rope, dumb waiter ropes we had taken from the dumb waiters and tied to branches on the trees reaching out over the depressed ground that was Tarzan’s, a watery tangle of weeds, garter snakes, mosquitoes and salamanders, mud and most forms of urban debris.  We would swing out over this primeval mess and see how far we could go and safely fall into the muddy mess below; without drowning or breaking something.

 

We also hunted for snakes and salamanders in the good weather, bringing them home to live in the bathtub or kitchen sink…for a while.

 

Eddie was good at all the games with certain exceptions.  He didn’t like to play the kind of things we played across the street in Tarzan’s.  I also don’t remember much his presence in the hikes we took, walking up the railroad tracks to Van Cortlandt Park a couple of miles away and hunting for snakes and squirrels and frogs and other stuff that really interested kids. Snake hunting was fun, but hunting squirrels with stones we had taken from the railroad was the best fun.  I got pretty good at knocking a squirrel of a branch high in a tree.

 

But, I had to be careful to empty my pockets before entering the home.  My mother, if she found stones in them would know that I had been out, and probably far away, hunting some small animal with my friends, and, of course, walking on the railroad tracks where I could get killed at any moment.  I never gave that much thought, though.  Kids, before the age of ten or twelve probably don’t give anything much thought.  At least we didn’t.  We just did, or didn’t do what came to mind; and when we were finished with that, we did something else.

 

 

As I said, Eddie was a good athlete, an excellent pitcher, with a good fastball and a mean curve, whether throwing an old tennis ball, a “spaldeen” during stickball games, or even basketball when we played, under the watchful eye of the “Parkie”, the guy who handed out equipment and kept the brooms and stuff in the Parkie’s House just inside the entrance to the playground.

 

The Parkie also ordered us off the swings, basketball backboards, slides, wire fences and other stuff we shouldn’t be climbing on or jumping off; though he could only do that when the park was open.

 

We were growing older and becoming bolder; doing risky and dangerous things. For instance, we went swimming in the Harlem and Hudson rivers; at that time little more than open sewers.  Mothers warned us not to go swimming in those places because if we did we would surely get Polio and die or drown.  And so, we developed the habit of opening a fire hydrant and taking a cleansing bath before going home.  Of course, there were times when no amount of water would remove the brackish smell, and we got a beating.

 

I never saw Eddie in the water, anywhere.  He never swam in the Harlem, or the Hudson river; never took the bus with a bunch of us to Orchard Beach in the summer, so we could get a layer or two of skin burned off, or swam in Charlie’s Hole, little more than a mud puddle in Vanny, our name for Van Cortlandt Park.

 

But I gave it no thought.  He was my “best friend”, not my only friend.  And then something happened.

 

One day, it was just Eddie and me.  We were playing in the Foundies, an old construction site on our block that consisted of the crumbling remains of an apartment house that never got further than the basement.  My mother would have killed me if she knew I was there.  The previous summer I’d cracked my skull open falling from one of the walls, and the year before that, I’d nearly burned my big toe off playing with some railroad flares that Danny McGrath, an older kid, had and was sharing with me to celebrate July 4th.

 

Anyway, Eddie and I were doing something when we were joined by a “little kid”.  Little Kids were the ones “coming up”, the next generation, the rookies, anywhere from three to five years younger than us.  This was one of them, some boy from another apartment house on the block who wanted to play with us.  Eddie knew him and suggested we play “war” and he would be our prisoner.  Now, this usually meant that the prisoner had to do whatever we told them and try to escape.  And here things started to go bad, really scary bad.  The kid did “escape” and Eddie chased him down, brought him back to the “prison” and dumped him on the ground.  Then he told the kid to take off all his clothes so he couldn’t escape again.  The kid started to cry, and Eddie just got mad at him, took off his shirt and pants and threw them over a wall.  The kid stood there in his shoes and underpants and cried.

 

Eddie had never gotten mad, never lost his temper, never went ballistic.  I was the one who did that.

 

I was getting scared, too, because my friend was really angry with this kid, who was wailing.  “Let’s get out of here,” I said, because we were going to get in trouble.  And, getting in trouble was as bad as things could be when you were about ten years old.  Eddie listened to me and decided to leave but warned the kid not to tell anyone. Then we left.

 

Of course, it took the kid about ten minutes to get himself back together and tell his mother what and who.  Not too much longer after that my father found me out in front of our house and dragged me inside, where he took off everything I had on and beat me until he got too tired to swing the razor strap.  He didn’t speak to me for a few weeks after that.  My mother dragged me over to the kid’s house by my hair and made me apologize to him and his parents.  Then she dragged me back home and threw me into the bathroom where I would probably have stayed for a week or two if we had another bathroom in the house.

 

It was not the worst thing I have ever done, but it is the thing I remember most vividly.

 

I didn’t see Eddie for a while.  As a matter of fact, I was forbidden from hanging around with him.  That too passed, and Eddie and I re-joined the kids, picking up where we had left off.

 

We were getting older, and noticing more.  One of the things we were noticing was the presence of girls.  They had, of course been there all along, with doll carriages, and jumping ropes and other stuff.  But, up until recently we had considered them merely obstacles, things like stray cats to be run off.  Now, we didn’t mind them so much at all.  They were nice to look at, and, sometimes, even fun to talk to.

 

There was no pairing off quite yet.  But when it came, and come it did a year or so later, my friend Eddie was among the first chosen.  He was, I suppose, what could be called an “Alpha Male”.  And, the girl who picked him was every bit his match.  Her name was Barbara.  They stayed a “couple” for several years, I think; so much so that even some of the mothers began to expect they would marry some day.

 

It was not to be, though.  And, it had to have been Eddie’s fault.  As he grew older, and entered his teens he began to change, as did we all.  But there was a difference, I think, sitting now a million years away from the places and events.  Eddie did not seem to want to be the kind of kid the rest of us were, do the kind of things we did, nor play, any more, the games we played.  We saw less of him. And that began at around the time of our very short and losing war with our implacable enemy The Crescents.

 

Who can remember the reason most wars have started?  Do they need a reason, after all?  All I knew is that we were going to fight the Crescents, a big, dangerous tribe of tough guys.  On the day of the fight, which took place in a lot at the end of our block, they sent their best, about thirty fierce and “plug-ugly” guys whose knuckles dragged and weapons clanked.  We managed to muster eight guys, and the only “weapon” we had was a paddle ball paddle, like a thin plywood racquet ball paddle, only flimsier.

 

We were destroyed.  Eddie took no part in the combat.  And the only reason he gave me when I asked him was that he didn’t want to get dirty.

 

I’ve never been able to figure that out.

 

When high school came, Eddie went off to De Witt Clinton, a city school, and most of us went to one or another of the five or six thousand Catholic High Schools in the city.

 

We saw each other from time to time, and we spoke from time to time, but there was less in common than there had been; and I never could tell why it was so.  The legal age for drinking at that time in New York was 18, and with my friends I took full advantage of it.  As a matter of fact, we had been taking advantage for several years; training for the “big event” so to speak, in the same way kids have been doing it since forever I guess.  Eddie never did.  He played elsewhere at another game, a game I never learned.

 

It must have been in my senior year, waiting for graduation, when I ran into Eddie early one morning.  The sun wasn’t long up and I was headed home from Toolan’s, a bar, one of a half million in the neighborhood.  I ran into him just outside the door to our apartment; he leaving and me coming in.  We smiled and spoke briefly.  He had left school, he said, at the beginning of the year, and was looking for work somewhere.  I don’t remember what he said he was looking to do.  And, then we continued on our separate ways.

 

A few months earlier one or two of the fellows I hung around with had told me about a party they were going to.  It was at an apartment in another neighborhood, Washington Heights, a few miles south of us across the river in Manhattan.  It might as well have been in Lapland.  I stayed home.  But, afterwards they told me I had missed a great time.  The girls at the party were unlike any of the girls we knew.  And, Eddie was there, they told me.  He was especially there with one of the girls.

 

I saw him only once more after that story about the girl with whom he was at the party; the girl I later learned was carrying his child.  He looked sad, and older, much older.  I don’t remember what we said, what we talked about.  I just remember that it was the last time I saw him, already an old man.  I wish I could, but I don’t remember our last conversation, or where he went when we parted.

 

He just drifted away.

 

The last thing I heard about my best friend Eddie was that he was working as a porter and utility man in an apartment house in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Manhattan, and had married the woman he had gotten pregnant.

 

That was more than 60 years ago.

It’s A Record!

You know, there’s probably a few thousand folks around the country thinking that; and perhaps a few hundred thousand folks around the world (God, I hope it’s only that many.) thinking the same thing.  Somewhere north of fifty is the body count, and a couple of hundred people in every hospital for miles around waiting to see if they’ll increase the count.  And, there they stand, on the corner watching, worrying, waiting, counting, and, perhaps, grimly smiling in their best “I told you so!” manner…

Some V.P. at one of the TV stations lost her job because she simply gave voice to what was going through the minds of not a few people.  “Somebody’s got to pay!  Somebody’s got to be responsible!  Why not “them”, the ones who believe in all of this stuff, anyway.  Live by the sword…”

I mean, what’s the problem?  We set a record for cripes sake!  So, we lost a few one toothed rubes.  What was it that guy said, the English one a couple of centuries ago, about Irish babies?  Same thing.  Who dies doesn’t matter.  What matters is we set a record, or, better still set a record and in some way “provide a benefit to the country”.

And, as usual, there are plenty of folks who, understandably upset at the method employed for record setting, are calling for more gun control, calling for the government to step in and prevent such things from happening again.  They did the same thing when the last record was set in Orlando a couple of years ago, and before that when some teenager in Connecticut  set the Youth Division Record in his school a couple of years ago.

Be that as it may, though, it is the truth that all of these folks died not because guns were allowed out in public and got over eager, or carried away by “record fever”; as if they were in some competition;  some Orlando versus Las Vegas thing.

No.

Put a gun down and it stays there; stays until hell freezes over.  The next gun setting a record for body count, whether it’s rubes or boobs, lawyers or liars, will be the first.

You see, that isn’t the problem.  Motive is the problem, and guns, inanimate objects, mere tools that they are, are incapable of forming a thought, however twisted it may be, or developing a motive.  Do we remove hammers from carpenters who bludgeon their wives, children or co-workers with them?  No, we remove the carpenter from the hammer, and either execute them or lock them up for life.  Hammers remain in circulation.  More are made every day, and sold to anyone with enough money to buy them.  And knives.  And bricks.  And sharp spades.

The current and latest record holder is dead, but, I will bet a ham sandwich that like them, the other two I mention above, he was as mad as the Mad Hatter; “barking mad”, frothing at the mouth mad.  And, I will bet another sandwich that absent guns, he would have done what he did with matches and kerosene, or a hammer, a bow an arrow, or, as is becoming a trend around the world, a large truck on a crowded street.

I cannot understand what drives some folks into a rictus of fear driven indignant frustration, what has them wide eyed and sputtering about the need to control guns.  Is it the desperate straits we’ll be in until the last gun is safe behind bars, or melted into something really useful, like a door stop;  and, possibly, until all present gun owners, many of whom were probably fittingly present in Las Vegas the other night, are sent to some quiet place for re-education?

Well, yeah!  And there’s the rub.  It will never happen. But, some folks won’t stop crying and trying.  Well not some, but an awful lot of folks; the brow knitted, hand wringing, teary eyed, do gooding, banner carrying, folks with a cause.

Yesterday I got myself into a discussion on a “social media site”.  You know the one.  Maybe you’re a subscriber, too, along with a couple of billion other people. Just shows you how much spare time there is in the world.

Anyway, folks were going on about guns, and how they cause all these deaths, set all these records, and no one seems to do a darn thing about it, seems to want to keep them out of the hands of screw ups all over.  They always say, “Write a law, or change one, and let the government control what guns there are, or anything else, how many there shall be, and who shall use them and when and where and how.  One of them had written, when I asked why should guns be controlled the following, and my response appears below it:

 “Umm, because people with guns who take a life seem to have more rights than their victim. Seems obvious to me…. right to own and carry a firearm gets talked about way more than the right to assemble in a public or private place without threat of violence.”

I answered this way: “I don’t own any guns, never have.

But I was issued a gun, and carried it for 33 years. On more than one occasion I was glad I had the use of it. And on many more occasions I was glad I had possession of it. It was a magnificent argument winner.

I also know quite a large number of men and women, and children, who own and use guns. Not a one of them has caused an injury or death to anyone else by gun. And there are millions of people like them.

Many, many more people are killed by automobiles each year than by guns; killed by leaping from bridges and tall buildings than by guns, killed, dare I say it, by abortionists, than by guns.

Yet we have not outlawed cars, bridges, tall buildings (or sleeping pills, or cigarettes) or abortionists.

Perhaps, what we really need to do is outlaw pre-meditation.

Then we have only to solve the problems posed by cars, bridges, buildings, pills and tobacco…and, of course the current bette noir, opiods.

Shall we outlaw knives because thousands each year are injured or die by knife? How then would we carve Tom Turkey? And pillows? Shall they be done away with to prevent the death by suffocation of demented elders or annoying spouses?

I offer a revision of the “Guns don’t kill people…” line: Guns don’t kill people, sin kills people!

Outlaw that!”

My interlocutor answered: ” Only one of the items you listed has the sole purpose of inflicting harm upon another living thing. Can you identify which one?”

How shall I answer? Do you know which of the many things exists solely to harm other persons? Cigarettes? Abortionists?

 

 

Training A Wolf: “Do you Know Knowledge?”

I read an article this morning about the state of the nation, more or less, in which the author, a former newspaper man, mentions meeting a young girl long ago, a runaway, who responded to his cautionary words about the perils of being so young and so alone in the wide world, so at the mercy of its less than honorable denizens, with, simply, “I knowed that.”

Why are runaways so damned smart, or desperate?


A long time ago in New York City my partner Richie had an informant; a tall slim fellow, more a wolf than a fox or coyote, who had moved down from deep in the wilds of Harlem to the newly target rich environment of the East Village.  It was the “Summer of Love” and a great migration of runaway fools, in spirit and intelligence more resembling sheep, or better yet, Al Capp’s “Shmoos”, than human beings, had come down from Westchester, Greenwich and other rich enclaves in and about “Near Connecticut”.  They were the acolytes and devotees of Timothy Leary; tuning in, turning on and dropping out in slums and hovels and , well, “shit holes”; once occupied by their European immigrant grandparents, and now probably owned by a few of their enterprising uncles and cousins or their business partners.

I suspect many of them never made it back home, dying in one way or another in what was then a wasteland and is now, in all probability, just a more expensive and “trendy” wasteland, with better drugs, and better dressed wolves.

The Shmoos who survived are today’s mayors, congressmen, film producers, authors, entertainers, TV hosts and editors; the rat tailed elders of the tribe.  There have been several generations of Shmoos since, many of them available for viewing nightly;  running around lighting fires and throwing things when not screaming obscenities and demanding absurdities.

We moved among them, my partner Richie and me,  in part something like Game Wardens, something like herd dogs, and, in the end totally ineffectual.  It is hard to keep the flock safe when it insists on bending it’s neck to the wolf.

Anyway, back to the Wolf from the ‘Hood.  I cannot remember his name, but Sylvester keeps presenting itself.  So, I will call him Sylvester.  He is more than likely dead.  Wolves have short lives.

Sylvester became Richie’s informant because, well, wolves are clever animals, and becoming an informant is, really, only a part time occupation.  Most of the rest of the time, one is free to be a wolf and do what a wolf does; look for sheep to eat.  We know that. The wolves know it, too.  They know it very well.  In fact, “wolves” become informants to thin the pack, and from no humanitarian motive, no feelings of charity for the sheep at all.  Sheep are merely prey.

In the course of our association with Sylvester the Wolf (he would be very proud of that name) he gave us enough information about other wolves to remove some of them from circulation for upwards of five years; which made Sylvester happy and satisfied our supervisors and several prosecutors.  But, there came a time when we needed to “straighten Sylvester out”.  He was complicating the intricate and delicate arrangement we had with him by becoming more than a “source of information”, a term we actually used to describe cooperating wolves.  He was , we learned, actually participating in “Pack” activities.

And so, we called him aside, tightening his leash so to speak, and training him to be a better wolf for us.  Part of this required us telling him about the word “conspiracy” and its meaning; that one could actually gather with other members of the pack, and learn what they planned to do with the sheep nearby, and when; but one could not actually do it.  To know when and how something was to happen, and who was going to do something was what we wanted.  To do anything that would help it take place was to be an active member of the conspiracy, and that was something neither we nor the wolf we had wanted.  After long instruction the light dawned, and Sylvester understood; as much as a wild animal was capable of understanding

“Conspiracy,” he said.  “That be when you knows knowledge!”  Well, yes, we told him; and then tell us.  He smiled a wolfish smile.  I shuddered, at the grin and what I imagined was going on in his wolfish brain.

I was not too concerned that Sylvester would be reduced to penury because he could no longer do what he “knowed” would happen with the other pack members.  He had other means, which involved other forms of sheep hunting; particularly among the young ones who “knowed that”.

After a year or so we lost track of Sylvester.  Maybe he was killed by another wolf.  It happens.

I do not mourn him.

From time to time, though, I think of him and I wonder if he is in another place and finally “knows knowledge”.  I presume the what he has learned has not been good news for him.  And, you know, I sometimes wish it hadn’t turned out the way I think it has.  Sylvester the Wolf had not a few redeeming features.  So do we all, even Shmoos.

I will reserve my opinion on mayors, congressmen, film producers, authors, entertainers, TV hosts and editors; the rat tailed elders of the herd.

Here is a link to the article I read this morning:  The Catholic Thing