Tag Archives: Facts

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

 

 

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SUNDAY

I am upstairs in this new place we have down by the river, upstairs earlier today when the morning is almost the afternoon.  We are at home for about two hours after the eight o’clock Mass where we provide the musical entertainment, and after that, we stop off at the house of Tom Bolton, a retired state trooper, who lives a few doors down from us with his wife Dee, and their two dogs, Lillian who is a well mannered Chocolate Lab approaching a dignified age, and Garda Siochana, a youngster who is learning her manners, slowly, very slowly.  She just goes by the name of Garda, though.  Tom’s son, who is also Tom Bolton, named her.  It is probably because he is a Sergeant on the Nashua P.D., a pretty sharp cop who teaches at a local college and up at the State Police Academy. That, and the fact that they are Irish. Garda Siochana is the official Irish name of their national police force.

We bring them communion after Mass every Sunday because Tom has a motorcycle accident about ten years ago which almost kills him and leaves him not able to ride a motorcycle any more in addition to not being able to do much of anything else, including pee standing up.  Motorcycles will do that to a person. It is a fact that my sister, Stephanie, does not come to my wedding in St. Patrick’s Cathedral to Sheila Marie Teresa Welby back on a nice summer day in July in New York City, at 11:00 sharp in the morning, because she is in the surgical ward at Bellevue Hospital.  This is because she gets the big toe on her right foot cut off in the drive chain of the motorcycle owned by a friend of mine as they are about to come home from an evening celebrating that she will get the exclusive use of the bedroom that her brothers have now left.

We get the phone call near midnight, and my parents rush down to the hospital in a cab.  I stay at home and keep vigil with my friend Tom Sheridan, and fill a garbage can with empty beer cans.  Next day, after the ceremony and the reception, we begin our honeymoon with a visit to my sister in the hospital where Sheila delivers a piece of wedding cake and gives  her the bouquet.  And, as a direct result of that, I like to think, Stephanie marries Frank Morse a few years later who is a policeman in New York City, but is not attached to the motorcycle squad.

My friend Billy Chase, who we call Charming Billy, because he was just that, and has two blue eyes that don’t hurt the impression; two blue eyes like a soft summer sky, or a robin’s egg, and a voice like the feel of a cool silk pillow case on your cheek, was a cop for a few years in Watertown, which is a town next to Boston.  It has an arsenal that becomes a mall; an updated example of swords becoming plowshares.  One afternoon we are sitting in a car watching something that is supposed to happen not happen, and telling each other stories.  This is a thing to do to pass the time, after you have discussed everything else. He tells me that when he is a rookie cop in Watertown he is riding with an older guy one night when a call comes in about a motorcycle which loses a fight with a telephone pole, and would they like to go over and make sure the pole is all right because nothing else is.  And, when they get there they see that the motorcycle is scrap, and so is the guy who was riding it.  Only the motorcycle has all of its parts, but the guy is missing one of his.  The part missing is his head!  And, every thing for a few yards all around is covered in the guy’s blood like a fire hydrant blew its top.

“Go find the head,” the old cop says to my friend. “I’ll stay here for the fire department, ambulance and the wrecker.”  So Billy says he gets out of the car and goes off looking for the head which he does not find where he thought it would be.  It is not anywhere in front of the headless guy for a few dozen yards, or on either side for a few yards this way or that way.  He walks past his partner who throws him a questioning, “What’s up?” look from his seat in the car where he is sipping his coffee.  Is a head that hard to find?  And he starts looking down the street on both sides for the missing head.

Which head he finally locates about a hundred feet away on the other side of the street.  Off the road.  Under some guy’s boxwood hedge.  Still wearing the helmet.  “I found it” he yells.  His partner motions him back to the motorcycle.  When he gets there they talk, and wait.  One guy sitting in the car drinking coffee.  Billy leaning against it outside the car.  The head is where it landed.  The engine arrives and they leave, soon.  No fire, no need.  The ambulance comes next and two guys get out.

“Most of him is there,” Billy says pointing to the mess partly on the bike and partly not, staining the street and sidewalk.  They walk a couple of feet.   Make a few remarks.  Then one of them says, “Where’s the head?”  Billy,says, while he points down the block, “Back there about fifty feet under the hedge.”

The guy says, “Fly ball?”  Billy looks at him.  “Was it a fly ball or did it take a hop?  Any brains or blood on the road along the way?”  Billy says no.  The guy’s partner says, “He fouled out, then.”  The four guys laugh. The sanitation guys show up shortly and hose down the street after the dead guy and his head are bagged and taken to the ME for a medical ruling of death by fouling out.

Billy tells me this story again at least twenty years ago while we are drinking in a bar one night during some bullshit conference in Newport, which like most conferences is really an excuse to get drunk with your friends in a place where you are close enough to walk to a comfortable place to sleep.  Only this time he has added the detail about the cause of death.  Stories have a life of their own, I think.

When I am upstairs after bringing communion to Tom Bolton who, I swear to God, had his head sown back on his shoulders. I’ve seen the scar, and the tattoo he had put on his neck, a zipper.  I think of the story again.

I get the book I went up to get and come back down here to read it.  “Damon Runyon: A Life” by Jimmy Breslin.  I always like a story by either of these guys.  They were like farmers with the facts.

I never asked what happened to the helmet.

Time Passes

A fellow I know used to tell me that I spent a lot of time on the “atmospherics” of a situation, and  ignored the cold hard facts.  I do.  But then, “cold hard facts” of themselves don’t make a good story, and I like stories.  In a sense everything is a story, and God the story teller.  But we can talk about that another time.

I suppose it’s the demographics that are the cold hard facts…

I remember reading about certain places in Arizona years and years ago when Arizona was still a desert and had not been turned into a bone dry tropical paradise by sucking all the water from the ground from the edge of the Arctic to our border with Mexico.  These were places which advertised themselves as retirement communities, and drew a lot of folks, all old asthma sufferers I guess, from the smog covered Northeast to the clear dry eternally blue skies of whatever smarmy thing the developers of aplace called it; if you weren’t Jewish, I guess, and duty bound to head for Miami and the humidity and flying roaches.

I always wondered what it would be like to live in a “planned community”.  I lived in the Bronx, as random and erratic a place as may be found on earth.  Then, about fifteen years ago, I visited one of these places in New Jersey, with my wife Sheila, may she rest in peace.  We were paying a call on her aunt and uncle.  It was in some bit of New Jersey that was neither sea shore nor oil refinery.  That should pinpoint it for you.

It was a big place with lots of little houses.  It was incredibly three things: neat, quiet and empty.  I got an eerie Stephen King kind of feeling driving down the street that the world had ended and Sheila and me were the only ones who were away from the phone when the call came to pack up and go.

Then I thought, “This is New Jersey, for crying out loud, crooks in every nook, corruption on every corner and no major league team, except if you count the New York Giants and the vandals who play basketball for a living.  There’s gotta be at least a few FBI agents around.”  And I also thought, “Arizona must be full.  They must have run out of walkers and commodes, or else nothing like this would make it to New Jersey where most of what grows is garbage dumps and seagulls that live off them, and extra lanes on the Turnpike so more people can get through the place at exponentially slower speeds.”

We had a nice visit, but I couldn’t wait to leave this anteroom to the funeral parlor.  I remember telling Sheila that it was like being at a wake and talking with the dear departed who sat up and served coffee, a very weird feeling.  Driving out of the place…and the drive was a series of gentle curves at the top speed of fifteen mph, like a go cart ride in an amusement park…not a carriage, nor a basketball backboard, nor an open garage strewn with bats, balls, lawn mowers, grills and all the other mess of normal life did I see.Blue, White, Green and Empty

The little snap shot you are looking at now is not from that day.  I took the picture a few days ago in Shrewsbury, a town just to the east of Worcester, MA.  We happened to be staying at the home of some friends for a couple of weeks.  They were two lovely ladies in their 80’s, not an unusual occurrence these days.  Of course along the way they had accumulated the usual assortment of equipment failures and shortcomings that I find myself gathering, and that was our reason for being there.  We were the “sitters” while the husband of one was traveling with a couple of the children and a small herd of grandchildren on vacation in Switzerland.

It is a planned retirement community for active people.  I think that’s how the brochure would would describe it; The Meadows at the Orchard, or some such, a real Fruitlands.  On arriving I was thrown back in time to that place in New Jersey, immaculate, neat, quiet and empty.  Of course it wasn’t empty.  It just seemed so.  And was so good at seeming so that it might as well have been.

I took the picture from the porch at about 11:ooam on the first morning after we arrived.  I could have taken the picture every fifteen minutes around the clock for two weeks, and except for the weather nothing would have changed.  On that first day two cars drove past the front of the house, and about five people strolled along the street.   Of course there were no cars parked on the street (except the one we drove there in).

Across the street from us was a Commons, an open space about a hundred yards square rising gently and crowned by a graceful gazebo at the center.  Mariellen and I sat there reading one afternoon and were joined briefly by a neighbor who was walking her small grandson, visiting with his father and two brothers.  The little boy was a magnet for my attention while his grandmother eagerly asked us all about ourselves and why we were there.  She left, soon, when he got bored, his father and brothers came, and all of them scooted away, away from the quiet and the neatness.

We met the husband, the grandfather, who was not happy his wife said, living there with nothing to do.  Of course, the rules don’t allow “doing” , of most any normal kind anywhere on the grounds.  That kind of thing can get carried to absurd lengths.  I watched, early one morning, a woman walking behind her Bichon Frise with a tin plate to catch her pet’s “doings” before they hit the ground.  But, then, what she was doing was, at least, something.Time Passes

In the kitchen of the house where we stayed the sun shone against the wall through a skylight and skirted the big clock.  Here it is at about 10:05 am one morning, its light and the hands on the clock the only things moving, the muffled noise of the rest of the world blocked by the double windows and the central air.

I sat one morning watching the rectangle you see march down the wall until it began to inch along toward the table.  Almost an hour had passed, according to the clock.  But that was the only way one would have known, that and the almost imperceptible movement of light across the blank wall.  Outside nothing was “doing” much.

I am aware that I could rearrange the last sentence above in a more conventional order.  It might give you the facts.  It wouldn’t, though, convey the atmospherics.