Notebooks part 13 by Ron Steinman
All thirty or so people freeze as one. I begin to melt them as the heat from my empty words sear their nearly naked bodies.
“I see new friends. And you are all my friends, aren’t you? Say yes, nod in agreement, say yes if it is yes, give your nose a wriggle no, if it’s no. Shake your heads no. From where I stand the ayes have it and that is how it should be. Now hear what I have to say. You’ve stood here long this day and you have listened. You have heard. You have heard my words. You have seen. You have seen me demonstrate the quality of these products. Perhaps you have imbibed the mystery of life. I call you together for the express purpose of allowing all of you to return home with a touch of my bottled sunshine. Many years ago, on this very day I may add, I came across a man on his deathbed. He was an old man, a shriveled man, but a gentle man, once a virile man. He was a stern man. He was a scrupulous man. A fearless man. He was addicted to, of all things, as you are, I am sure, of all things to life. He was the true precious jewel to all he touched. Life. Yes. But he was an addict. He could never get enough life so he tried to invent some of his own. He sowed and he reaped and never regretted anything he had ever done. This is not his eulogy. This is not a eulogy for his followers of which there are many. This is just an expression of thanks. He knew no wilderness. He never wore a hair shirt. Some of you may think this is blasphemy. He was not a Christian. He was not a Jew. He did not embrace Buddhism or Hinduism. He was not a Moslem. He was a man who lived and he died a man wanting to continue living, embracing everything that came his way. He died because he neglected his own discovery.”
I pause to let my sermon sink in. Some older people mumble. They look puzzled. The younger ones wear smiles of amusement, perhaps cynicism on their untested faces. The women anticipate. The men look bored and only mildly curious. A cool breeze rises leisurely from the ocean. It is getting late in the afternoon. The tide has already changed, forcing the water higher onto the beach. My body is drying and caking with salt. I am chilly, dirty, in need of a shower. I wish I could retire someplace quiet and empty where I can be alone. My act has to go on if I am to make any money. They have come for shampoo but they are getting something unexpected. The ‘tip,’ my unyielding front rows, are now the firm root of my audience. People are in place, one row pushing into another. No one can move on their own. They have to wait it out to see where it, where I am going.
“My friends,” I say. “My friends. You shall have the benefit of that discovery because I’m in a magnanimous mood. Yes. I want to do something for you that will make you remember me for the rest of your natural days. And even some of your unnatural ones. I want to make you happy. I want you to leave here as happy as you have ever been. I want you to be happy. I want to relieve your sadness. I want you to walk the eternal green valley before you reach heaven. I want you to experience harps and angels and floating clouds before the real thing comes to sadly interrupt your lives. I want you to share my secret. I see a man in the back shaking his head in disbelief. (There is no man.) Believe me, sir, I’m not going to give you the formula. That would make me a fool in this great free enterprise system we have in America. I don’t own the patent on my product. No one yet can reproduce it. Some of its elements have a habit of changing and once changed, the formula is never the same again. All I intend allowing you to do is to go home with a little of my bottled sunshine. It is harmless. It is delicious. It smells sweet. It is safe for children of all ages. It relieves your aches and pains. No leading health agency sanctions it because the Feds are afraid to touch it. It has great restorative powers. The government is afraid it might put their favorite companies out of business. Step in a little closer. Good. That’s it. Better to hear me. After talking to you and many of your friends so much during the day, my voice is starting to slip away just as that decent, kind and gentle old man’s voice did so many years ago in the moments before his death. Can you see it now? Me, so young, he, so old. He beckons me to bring my ear to his mouth. Oh, it was a sad sight, indeed. I bent my head down and he whispered the magic formula in my already jaded ear. I rose as if Lazarus from the dead and knew that I have been the recipient of a great and wondrous gift. That is correct. That is right. Move in closer.”
They are in the palm of my hands. I reach behind me for a bottle of the hair lotion. It is getting close to when the spot is almost complete, when they will pay me with money instead of applause. They are in my pocket, zippered and sealed, buttoned. They wait for me to pluck them, dice them, roast them. I can feel it.
I continue with my pitch. I have to use it before I lose it, before I lose
them—my people, standing patiently in awe in front of me. I am tired. I’m losing my concentration. But I need their money. I have to defeat the withering, yellow, newly calloused thumb of a god unknown—my personal devil driving me to a place foreseen only by “it.” It is a place predetermined before my time, a place of destiny, perhaps that will eventually make me see my time at its end. There is that negative aspect of my being. And damn it, I start smiling. A great big grin washes over my tense face. My uncurled lips seek their mirror in the eyes of the people in front of me. My eyes become less dull. Even my hair begins to shine as if dipped in oil. I receive the strength to go on with my many lies. I’ll take their money and then I’ll go and think. I’ll think and drink and relive something of what I have left behind. I’ll sniff the airs beguiling stench for solace. And I will love it.
I’m in pieces. I have nothing of lasting duration to tie me together. Is my past enough? I’m too young to have nothing so soon. Is my suffering different in intensity and depth than any other individual? Am I different from any other person out of all the millions who are also lost and wandering? Can I seek after myself in limited time and come up with part of an answer? Part of an answer. I am not greedy. Or is it for me to head forward, deny the past and leap boldly into the future by taking a hot iron and cauterizing my festering wounds that refuse healing from the lack of compassion I feel for myself?
Men and women talk on the edge of the crowd. They are loose cannons, mouths in motion. I have to get them back. There is work to do.
“That guy must be nuts,” says an old man wearing a red handkerchief around a balding head covered in liver spots and moles.
“Yeah,” answers his young companion. “I been here all day. Only once I took a break, a break for a frank. I like them franks with the pickles and onion, sweet relish all over. Only once I left.”
“Did you buy anything from him?”
“Not yet. Maybe this time. Just look at him. Sweating like hell. Like a horse. Pouring out of him like piss.”
“Yeah, a real character, that one,” says a skinny, middle-age woman dressed in faded black cotton and wearing black heavy silk stockings.
“Character ain’t the word. An actor, maybe. But a character, no,” says the old man.
“What’s he selling, anyhow?” asks a teenager, a high school-kid with grease in his hair. Pimples dot his unlined face.
“Shhhh,” says his girl friend. “You’ll disturb him, Jerry. You shouldn’t disturb him. He won’t like it.”
“Crap,” says her boy friend.
“Right. If you disturb him, he’ll shut up and start staring like he is blind or something,” whispers another young man with a pencil-thin mustache and long sideburns. Two-toned white and black shoes covered his big feet. The shirt he wears is white on white with, of all things, a tie also white on white. Dazzling.
“He’s in his third one after lunch. I think he did three this morning. I lost count when I got tired standing here,” says a skinny black woman on the side. “I always carry lunch in my pocketbook when I come to the boardwalk looking for a show. After I ate, I lost count. I always sit when I eat my sandwich.”
“You live around here?” says the old man to the skinny woman. He can hardly believe his eyes, the way she looks, but she excites him in spite of himself.
“During the summer, only. In his third one, he stopped and looked at the sky. He got dizzy and someone got him a glass water.”
“It’s still sitting there,” says the teenaged girl. Her timely poodle haircut is frizzled from too much sun and sand. Her red bathing suit is too tight as it stretches across her blooming body.
“Shh . . .” says her boy friend. Whenever he looks at her, he jumps, startled with what he sees.
“I think I’ll buy something this time.”
“Me too. Son-of-a-bitch works like hell.”
“What’s he selling? I forgot.”
“Does it matter?”
“Who cares? He puts on a show.”
“Some show . . . ”
“I’d still like to know what he’s selling.”
“Lady, for a buck, you can’t go wrong.”
“For a dollar, I can eat two days. Here two days. At home, three days.”
“Don’t bother me with your trouble.”
“A dollar? Is that all it costs?”
“A buck. To the track, I almost went today. A better show and for cheaper, I’m getting here.” A smile.
“Shush,” says the skinny, middle-aged woman with lunch for two days in her pocketbook and a room in a bungalow by the ocean for the summer.
“Look. He’s laughing,” says the girl with the poodle cut.
“What’s he laughing at? I want to know.”
“Go ask him, wise guy.”
“I think he’s laughing at us,” say a pompous, pregnant woman in her late thirties. She wears a spanking new maternity swim suit, the best money can buy, the best that an overjoyed husband will buy. She is new to the crowd. The oversized pregnant woman has an expression on her face that says, she never wanted the damned child anyway, so she’ll take her pampered husband for everything he has.
“We’re going to pay him! Why should he laugh at us?” says the old man.
“Well, he at least looks human when he smiles,” offers the pregnant woman, an erotic sneer streaking across her pouting lips.
“Kind of cute,” says the teenaged girl.
“What do you mean, kind of cute?” says her shocked boyfriend.
“Cute. Cute. Don’t worry, he’s too old for me.” She pats his hand, grins prettily like a child, but the blood beats faster than usual between her legs. She likes him for the moment. She likes all men and boys for the moment.
“He better be too old,” says her boyfriend and that ends that.
“Cute she calls him. Are we here for cute?” says the pregnant woman. “He looks so sad, so sad and so out of it. I never saw such a sad face on such a young man. He’s not too old for me.”
“But he works hard, no?” says the old man.
“Yeah. Maybe. That hard, I would never work. Ain’t worth it.”
“But what’s he selling? Someone please tell me what’s he selling.”
“Oh shut up and eat your lunch,” says a new voice to the audience, and that ended that.
My silent laughter done, I go loudly back to work. Reality floods over me, signaling me it’s time to feed the vulture again. I’ll make them squirm first.
Mon 27 Oct 2008
Notebooks part 12 by Ron Steinman
Posted by rmr under Notebooks by Ron Steinman
Just as with the product, the pattern never varies. When I start calling on people to come see what I have, I watch my crowd slowly build. On most days people are in bathing suits and beach robes. The first few lines of hungry eyes are my “tip.” As the first rows are born I hear myself shouting, coercing, whining, begging, laughing. My feigned, tear-choked, too hoarse voice simulates a whisper as they move toward me. If I am lucky and my timing is on, I can make them move closer to me and listen to everything I say with an inquisitive, hungry intensity. They always think I am about to give something away for nothing. Well, I am, in a sense. Part of me, personal, hating, longing to love and waiting for love in return, goes down the drain with every pitch I make. I auction myself to the highest bidder, waiting for annihilation by the sun-bleached, yellow haired, hard browning, lizard skinned, crawling crust of decaying humanity standing impatiently at my feet.
I go through the motions of calling my flock. I, the Deacon in white, stiff with starch in faded blue cord slacks covering my torn white under shorts. I perspire freely in the intense heat and am soaking wet. My neck itches in a circle. Closed collars and blunt razors make me unhappy because they irritate my tender neck. Though my beard grows fast, the whiskers are soft and almost red, not black or with the feel of Brillo. Weak but gentle shocks come through the frayed microphone cord each time the sweat drips from under my arms to my wrists to the hand holding the mike attached to the portable speaker system at my side. The shocks came as if on cue, matching my heartbeat, in time with the pulsating vein in my forehead.
I see a man slowly lift his elbow and then guide it deftly behind him with finesse and grace. He places it firmly into the breast of a beautifully endowed teen-aged junior Amazon. She stands in a sheath of cloth, tissue paper thin in two-pieces, purple-purple, which passes as a bathing suit. He stands his ground, looking at me, his only expression, innocence. She wriggles in closer to hear what I have to say, her breast working his elbow as his elbow works her breast. I see her breathing change from normal to short sensual gasps.
I often wonder what effect I have on women when I preach the gospel of clean hair, but the chick in front of me is reacting to the guy with the elbow, not me. The newly mated couple come closer to each other. She begins to writhe in obvious sexual pleasure. He grinds his elbow neatly into her taut nipple. His feet stay firmly rooted to the wooden board walk, while he smiles stupidly toward me as if he is listening to everything I say. I feel like saying: Take your elbow out of her young tit, jerk. Leave her alone in public. For chrise sake, take her under the board walk and lie down with her in private on the cool, damp sand away from my jealous eyes. Just be done with your mechanical, spluttering fluctuations and leave the rest of us less fortunate slobs in peace. Jesus, I am envious.
On that particular day, as with many of my days, my crowd, the tip, starts edging from me. It has to be obvious to them that my mind is drifting, not paying them the attention they think they deserve. But the man and the girl remain rooted, held in place by a devil set loose to torment them and me. I realize I stopped talking. Slowly I started again, fervently demanding, knowing insanely that I depend on them, they who ae freely roasting in the sun, standing at my feet, comfortably and vulgarly attired for pleasure. My words and how I throw them out, sound like an Indian chant. “Now here this, now here this. Hya. Hya. Step right hup. Hup. One and ahl, step right hup. Everybody a winnah, no one a losah. All go home with something. Something useful, something you’ll use every day. Everyone a winnah. Nobody leaves empty handed . . .” Apparently it is enough to hold them even under the broiling sun. No one moves.
The silence ends when an impatient mother drops her child. The fat baby lands with a squashy sound, then rolls with a thud, its head bouncing off someone’s flabby-knee and never crashing on the wooden slats by his mother’s feet. It wails with that all too trite truth that exclaims, oh where oh where is my mother’s love? The small boy is perhaps three and he cries well, normal for his age. His mother is beside herself for dropping him and is useless in quieting him down. My crowd moves in closer and tries consoling the mother, a fat woman, wide at every turn, wearing a funny, single piece bathing suit with little pink and blue bows that mark the fullness of her rich, too ripe breast and thighs.
I wonder how some bare feet can stand the heat and splinters of the crumbling wood board walk. Briefly, without warning, a single cloud drifts in front of the sun temporarily blinding its ferocity. I blink several times to bring the crowd back into focus. They are my people now and so like putty. The Atlantic Ocean is calm. I can see very few white caps on the soft, almost noiseless, rolling waves. A tern chatters overhead and drifts high into the blue, near soft-gray thatched sky. Lazily, but with an apparent and avowed mission, it starts a long descent to the water below. Faster and faster it comes and then it hits the ocean, breaks the surface and disappears. An imperceptible second later it emerges wet and empty-billed. The tern does an awkward loop, rights itself and gracefully and nonchalantly flaps itself higher and higher, out of sight.
A man’s whinny voice breaks my reverie.
“Hey, mister. Yeah, you. When do we get the freebie? When? Huh?”
Reality is a pain in the ass. The man is a pain in the ass. If I could zap him to nothingness, I would do it, but I need him.
Once the cloud floats away, the sun returns with renewed intensity. I look down at the people in front of me, most of whom are waiting patiently for me to give them what they think they have come for. They have freckles and blisters on their faces, arms, legs and bodies. Unruly stalks of hair stand on their heads and patches of hidden hair are beneath their clothing. They have good and bad teeth, a variety of eye colors, and I know they have many untapped dreams. There are maybe thirty people standing in front of me waiting for me to start my act, probably waiting for me to fail. They want a show. I am their trained seal, their sheared and coifed pink poodle. I hate every minute of it. At first I mumble, a trick I use to get the crowd to lean in closer, the way they should when I want them to listen and lean on all my words.
I can’t help noticing the man with the elbow. He stands there as if he has nothing to do except distract me from what I should be doing, turning the suckers’ smiles into gold. He is in his late twenties, possibly in his early thirties. His body is strong but already his middle is starting to flesh to premature heaviness. His eyes are tiny and they squint against the glare of the sun. He has a long, sharp nose, thin parched lips and his lips press flatly against his wire-haired, dirty-blond head. His bathing suit erupts with a sizeable erection. It holds in place, jutting out. He does not care.
The girl he leans against is in her teens. Pretty, yet plain, she is strangely homely and possesses the ideal girly magazine figure for that year. She has huge breasts and large nipples. Thick ankles reach upward to thicker, though well-defined calves. These flow toward fully muscled thighs. She has a richly ripe, meaty body. Neatly packed buttocks perch below a small, rounded stomach surrounded by an unbelievably narrow waist. She can grow to fat before she reaches thirty. For now, she will probably provide a hell of a lot of entertaining moments for anyone nearby or for a wandering elbow that happens to find its way onto her body. Her freckled face is proving to be more that just a brief distraction for me. She is so young, and she looks inexperienced. But she is enjoying every moment of his sharp, screwing elbow. I wish I could be down with him. I’d indoctrinate her in a way I deserve.
It is getting late in the day. I have done nothing to earn my keep. The sun floats listlessly in the sky, growling with silent, gaseous, infernal fire. People are leaving the beach, looking for something to eat or drink, seeking a place to release their swollen kidneys with a rush of pleasure. The conglomerate odor of hot grease, sweet custard cream and dense spice fills the air. The edge of my crowd, the floating part of the tip, is under assault by darting, energetic, screaming, and shouting kids hurtling themselves uncontrollably across the boardwalk, their parents nowhere in sight. Their high-pitched screams annoy me and do not allow me to think. I have to get into my pitch mode and cannot.
The man and the teen-age girl are still at it, grinding themselves slowly to ecstasy. Now and then they are jostled sideways so they suddenly are face to face. Expressions of fright cross their normally bland features. They see each other for the first time, the second time, the third time. The shackles of the past reach out and grab them. Lust fills the man’s face. Confused passion drains the heavily suntanned girl almost white. Her freckles pop like black polka dots on a white silk tie. The two people move as if they are in the throes of intercourse, their orgasms almost complete. His hands now rest lightly on her hips. Her hands hold fast to her fleshy thighs. Does she know she is not alone? I think she is aware of his hands, yet she doesn’t care what he does—her pleasure comes first before anything in her life. I see her trying to move away—once, but no more, probably wondering how many notice their open, nearly consummated passion. I watch a race between two untrained, semi-tamed, uncultivated, partly domesticated dogs.
I lean in, my big moment about to begin. The crowd leans toward me. I reach a frenzy, at least in my mind. In that particular, special madness, I draw myself together almost becoming one with myself, a melding of mind and body. I have to sell. I have to make some money. I have to work. Suddenly the wicked sound of a harsh slap, skin against skin, brings me back to real time.
“Just what do you think you are doing?” the voice of the girl says.
She acts like a wilted, teenage passion flower, her true self. I see her try to get away from the man but he will not back away from her. His arms try encircling her waist but she wants nothing to do with him. She moves from him, to get away from him. The man will not retreat from the girl. As a tactic, he backs off a half-step until his hands and arms again go to her waist and he pulls her to him. She lashes out at him again, this time with her small fists, striking him on the head and body. Now the crowd backs off to give them air, give them room to move in whatever direction, emotional or physical, they want to go in the stillness of the humid afternoon.
The man drops his arms from her hips. Tears come to his eyes. A small bubble of blood appears on his broken lower lip. We are all silent, waiting for something else to happen, wondering who will take the next step.
“I’m sorry. I’ll go now,” he says.
He hesitates. Each word has a huge gap before he says his next. The pauses between them are enough for a train to pass through, easily, without the wheels on either side touching any letters in any of the words. His thick voice carries no weight. He is spent. His back appears to bend to the ground, his head hides deeply in his neck. The curl of his body protects him from any feelings he has toward himself as a despicable person. He turns from her, makes his way through the crowd and moves swiftly down the board walk, the hotel shadows casting an eerie darkness over his departing body.
Her eyes flicker at the people surrounding her. Maybe they believe they protected her from any further evil. A wild timbre visibly flows through her body, and sends a shuddering spasm from her feet to her head. Her head then droops to her chest. Blood flows to her face. She is dizzy. Was she embarrassed, ashamed, guilty? None of it matters. None of it applies.
“Stop!” She shouts at his retreating back. He does and she takes after him, running to catch up. Another love affair made in heaven.
I bend down to my supplicants and whisper, “Now my fine friends, it’s your turn.”
All ears perk as one. Some in the back row can’t hear what I say. I lean back on my heels and repeat myself, my voice continuing in a coarse whisper. Still a few don’t hear me. I stand higher, square my round, slumped shoulders and shout at the top of my lungs. It will be the last time for my opening line, “Now my fine friends, it’s your turn.” With the help of my antiquated and shock-filled sound system, everyone finally hears everything I have to say.
“Now my fine friends, it is your turn. So lend an ear. Pay absolute attention to what I have to say. Here we go.”
Fri 17 Oct 2008
Notebooks part 11 by Ron Steinman
Posted by rmr under Notebooks by Ron Steinman
My thoughts on being a pitchman. I work in front of people. I know nothing about them. But I now know exactly what they are and what they are not. Generally they smell badly, as if they can’t afford deodorant. Could it be the weather? They are like leeches. They mooch every chance they get. The people are poor in this neighborhood. People run to me when they hear me call: Come over, come on over here. I have something for everyone. I want them steered here, to me, to my counter. They come as if I’m a magnet. The show attracts them to me and they believe they’ll get something free. When they get something free, they pay nothing for anything extra. The people are thick, with minds that don’t move fast. Usually they make me sick. I throw the poor bastards a bone and then they fall asleep in front of me. I know that’ll never do. I don’t know how to wake them without doing something foolish to make me appear stupid. Then again, maybe I just toss a lousy spiel.
All is aberrant.
So is this damn job.
I now work the McCrory’s store in Newark. Suddenly I can’t escape New Jersey. I spend my first 21 years in Brooklyn and manage to be in Jersey three, four times. I graduate college with high distinction in history and get my first job in Joisey. Is there a message here? Maybe my luck will change. I’m averaging 70 bucks a week, hardly a living. That’s too low. Six pitches a day are all I can manage. I can’t get the crowds to stay once I charm them. I have to do at least ten pitches a day to make a c-note a week. The outfit I’m working for is making a fortune off me and all the other suckers they have working for them
At night when I return to my parent’s home in Brooklyn, I’m getting into the habit of having a drink in the neighborhood joint on the corner a half block from my house. It is a place where “nice” Jewish boys don’t go, especially when they live down the street. I consider myself lucky for having this goy bar to visit. Tonight I saw a man crying, truly crying in his beer. I thought that only happened in the movies or in bad books. See how wrong I can be. I wonder what it is that causes a man to cry, and at times, if not to weep, at least arrive at the point where he wants to weep. I’ll take it a step further. If he doesn’t want to cry but he suddenly finds that he is going to cry, that he must cry to wash his soul of some damage, what does he do to fight himself and not cry? He knows from his upbringing that he must never cry, at least when he’s in front of others. Without doubt he struggles to make sense of an emotion he can’t control. I think that’s a man problem, a problem for men in our backward society. “Boys don’t cry!” I heard that all my life. Still, hear it. “Boys don’t cry!” Hurt or not, inside or out, boys don’t cry. Men cannot cry, should not cry, especially in public, because society doesn’t allow them to cry. It is the one public defense a man cannot use, unless, of course, he is drunk like that man down at the other end of the bar.
July 15, 1955, 10:45 p.m. Soon I hope to be making it, anything, again.
Man, it’s hot. Heat is funny. It makes me want to do nothing, but it makes me erotic as hell. It’s crazy and paralyzing. The hot weather gives me an erection when I sit and write. Wrote Leslie again. Still no answer.
I have to do more reading. All this work is getting in the way of my head. So much is on my mind. Money, future, women, money, future, women. I’m still waiting for a reply from NYU. I hope there’s no trouble. Hope everything works out, but if it doesn’t, well then I can’t allow it to bother me. I’ll be 21 in a few days. Too damn few days. Radio on. The music is great. Balcony Rock. Take Five. Brubeck. Shearing. Too much ale. Birdland Show, Lullaby of—one, two, three, testing. Soon more money. Buy sandals for tired, hot feet.
Brooklyn, July 16, 1955. So agreeable, so new, so fresh, so clean, so blue: Am I? Sigh.
Two years for graduate school and my masters degree. But I have no money. Sailors, whores, college men (bright ones). I don’t care. Who cares?
July 20, 1955. I wrote Carole a day after my twenty-first birthday.
I have to get more bristles and more lanolin. I’m always running behind what I earn and what I pay for supplies. At this rate I’ll owe them more than I earn. I must aim for the boardwalk in Atlantic City. It’s the least they can do for me after all my failures.
Graduate school seems almost certain now. I have to work up a program that will carry me through over the next two years. I’ll go for my masters at night and work during the day. It should work out okay. Father to his son, “Here comes my son the student.” Finally, someone will be happy.
The goods arrived at the store. I now have combs and brushes and lanolin and shampoo. I’ve so much of the god damned stuff, I don’t know what to do with it. I’m not selling enough to make any money so I can’t consider myself a successful pitchman. Can I arrange to have someone in the store steal this crap? Who will be dumb enough to buy it even on the street?
There is so much to do, to see, to hear. There are so many ways to live life, to have action. Does action by itself necessarily denote ant-intellectualism? Man, I hope not. I wish it were easy for me to say, definitely not. Action for a Hindu is much different from action for a Jew, than in the pure sense for a Hebrew. Take that for granted. Action means movement, but movement toward what? Toward learning? Toward sex? Toward arriving at self-satisfaction? Toward knocking at the door of anything physical? Toward existentialism? Toward an intellectual activism of the mind. The mind leaps forward and bounds toward answers that can’t be found by searching within. Sitting. Standing. Prostrate. All happen simultaneously with a flick of the mind’s wrist. Don’t ruin it by lowering it to the depths of ocean slime and muck. Is it a game of semantics? Is it a game of philology? No doubt, a game. No matter what anyone says. No matter what.
Do I love her? Hey, I wonder. That’s the problem confronting me. I’ll either figure it out by hard thought (different from soft thought), or it’ll come to me in a religious flash. Should I trust it if it comes? Her letter will tell me much. Leslie still hasn’t answered but what she writes seems to matter less each moment. I must discover where her mind is these days. I assume she has some curiosity about me, life, us. Does she have a passion to learn? Is there anything she wishes to discuss, to read? Does she want to get in a car and drive someplace for adventure? I don’t think I’m asking too much when I express my urge to know. I know I must wait for her answer. If the signals are right, there should be one coming soon. Signals, right? My imagination is at work. A few more days. A few more drinks. Now to sit back, sweat it and wait.
July 28, 1955. It has become a big day. Carole answered and now I’ve written her another letter. I have no choice but to wait for her answer. If it hits me the way I think it will I’ll ask her to come to New York. This is not as silly as it sounds. It’s not senseless to make plans. Plans put me in a good frame of mind. Though I do plan for events in my life, I rarely make plans that succeed. I may end breaking earlier plans I made or I may act on the spur of the moment, but what the hell. Dave may be right, but I think it’s she I’ve always loved. I’ve been away from Carole for too long and I really would like to hear from her. I would like to see her soon. Carole’s answer to my latest letter remains my most important priority. Her letter must answer my letter and not screw around with what I wrote. Otherwise, we will continue the mess we are in. And she must realize many things about me she refused to see in the past. Our possible impending situation needs a resolution.
I spoke to my boss tonight. He says, with a sigh of resignation, I can have part of Atlantic City for a few weeks. Perfect. Perhaps I can right myself and get out of debt. I’d also like to prove I can do this job, though I realize it has no future. I’ll delay telling NYU my decision until I finish the boardwalk stint. With partial expenses, sun, sand and surf, available chicks and kosher franks, maybe even I can make some bucks and come out ahead. Goodbye Bamberger’s in Newark and hello Mrs. Court’s Rooming House By The Sea.
I haven’t been reading much lately. Carole is too much on my mind. She consumes all my thoughts. And there is the matter of making a living, another consuming passion. This would be a good time to get started again, especially with graduate school staring me in the face. Take at least ten books with me to Atlantic City. Include works on religion. Read about Buddhism, Taoism and Judaism. If anyone asked me why, I would have to say I really don’t know, but with those three religions, I believe there is common ground.
“Why is there any being at all and not rather nothing?” Martin Heidegger.
“Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves.” Ulysses, James Joyce.
“No one need make a spiritual detour to ascertain that he exists.”
The Tale of The Wig, Pio Baroja.
“Brutishness,” I suggested.
“Yes . . . All my brutishness, but he can scarcely read or write.”
“And he has never philosophized on life,” I added.
“No,” Wolf Larsen answered, with an indescribable air of sadness.
“And he is all the happier for leaving life alone. He is too busy living it to think about it. My mistake was in ever opening the books.” The Sea Wolf, Jack London.
“The warbler, swinging
his body upside down
does his first singing.”
A haiku attributed to Kikaku (1661-1707)
Atlantic City, New Jersey. August 7, 1955. These are my impressions of Atlantic City while trying to work a pitch, working a pitch, surviving a pitch.
Dirt from the old wood boardwalk always covers my ankles. Sand fills the crevices between my toes. My sandals quickly become scuffed-raw and grease-stained. But they are comfortable. The rest of me is surprisingly clean, my clothing neat and pressed, smells good. All of me is a mixture of salt and taffy and coarse Jewish mustard, the tastiest in the world.
Before starting my pitch I always sniff the clean ocean air. I love the smell of salt borne on the wind. I cough the fine dust and sand that blanket everything only a few feet off the ocean. When I cough, I hawk and spit brown-stained cigarette saliva from the unfiltered Camel’s I smoke. Then I get down to work.
It doesn’t matter what I sell. My job is to reel in the crowd. Wayne’s syrupy product is always the same richly perfumed, lanolin based, whitish orange colored liquid with less than ten-percent alcohol. I’m positive he bottles it in his spare room. It cost the customer one dollar a bottle and if he buys the shampoo, he also receives a free comb and brush, what we call the teeth and bristle. The free comb and brush are the come-ons. It is that give-a-way that turns the audience on or keeps them away.
Fri 17 Oct 2008
Notebooks part 10 by Ron Steinman
Posted by rmr under Notebooks by Ron Steinman
I’m going to try out for a job as a pitchman. I’ll be selling who knows what in chain stores in New York and New Jersey. First I journey to Flushing to watch a pro in action, then to talk terms. I’ve got to watch two demonstrations to see if I can make it. Then I’ll see the boss man later in the week. My commission will be on gross sales. Strange feeling of freedom and river boat gambling, if I can handle the job. The souls of my parents and friends will curdle when they learn what their favorite college graduate is about to do.
June 15, 1955. New York. I saw the pitch and it was fascinating how my future boss handled the crowd. Beautiful and magical. Hell, it beats being an executive trainee, so I threw in with him and his crowd. With other future pitchmen I went back with him to his apartment on the Upper West Side where he briefed us on our new job. He gets the locations and works out the arrangements with the stores. He works in Woolworth and other chains. Tomorrow I go to Union City, New Jersey. I have to get a small fan because these stores are very hot. The air-conditioning doesn’t always work. We have to inventory the goods on and under the counter. The last guy who worked this pitch, did this job, cut out, quit, and Wayne doesn’t know if he stole anything. I must count all my combs and brushes. I have to estimate, as Wayne says, my bristles. I also have to get into the store’s public address systems. Wayne doesn’t supply a sound system. If I don’t have a sound system, I’ll kill my voice. He started lecturing us about speaking from our chests, not from our throats, less from our mouths. Enunciate clearly. Rid myself of my Brooklyn accent, though it isn’t as bad as some guys I know. If I get the p.a., I’ll have to turn it to the bass, then to two or three on the volume. We mustn’t blow out the store with our pitch, frighten customers away or anger the store manager. I have to call Wayne tomorrow night when I get back from the store and run a tally with him. I must work on my “balley,” the pitch. I have to use a full length mirror and watch myself talk. Some fun. The “balley” is the part of the spiel that brings the crowd to me. While doing my talk, I have to get in as many words and I can, and samples out as I can simultaneously. A one-armed paperhanger, my mother would say.
Pitch the shampoo and lanolin firmly. Hold the bottles aloft and gently. Fill the spiel with surprise. Sure. I shouldn’t move too fast or push too hard. I have to make the five minutes seem fast but filled with fun and facts. Wayne says I have to get a cloth other than black for the counter top. Black is too depressing. Black is a lousy color. Black isn’t even a color. Suddenly I’m also a clerk. I have to do everything for that man and he collects the money, no matter what. Remember to ask Wayne if the stock inventory has to be recorded and find out when he wants the sheet with all the numbers signed.
Get in touch with Dave in Easton to tell him what I’m doing with my honor’s degree in history, almost none of which is modern. Tudor-Stuart England is good preparation for a pitch man. Fun. He’ll chuckle through his glass of ale with the bizarre turn my post college life is taking.
June 18, 1955. I still feel strange putting something down on paper. It’s strange because it probably isn’t a natural act. It hurts when I have to read it back, especially when it isn’t very good. Really bad, like. But it keeps going from the pen to the page, especially when I’m riding the subway, eating in a diner, drinking at a bar. It’s worse when I read aloud. Then my writing has even less meaning. I look for the reason I write. I seek the answer to what propels me to write. Something is alive inside me that makes me want to create. When something makes no sense, it hurts then and it hurts later when I force myself to think of what I’ve done to the page, how I may have desecrated the white space between the lines.
All the small problems hang on as I do my best to hang in. They never borrow time. They present themselves time and again. Sure the big difficulties keep coming back, too, but they never really go away. They never disappear. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Whoopee. The little obstacles often grow into bigger ones and fuse with each other, solder on porous metal. Together they make a whole, a unit of dense hopelessness. A damnable and absurd circle. A squared circle. All my emotions become stopped up, a drain plugged with debris. The water collects above the mesh screen and goes no further than its continuous, downward circle.
Why is there nothing, no one thing, I can be positive about? Perhaps when something starts to work itself out for me I can probably face myself and come to an agreement where I’m going, if I know where I’ve been.
Talk. I’m lonely for some talk with a woman of intelligence. Then again, maybe she should be everything except intelligent. But she should talk, anyway. Crap. That wouldn’t work. A thinking mind works best on a screw-happy body. Dream on. Unsatisfied curiosity, me, struggles to discover beauty, her. Somewhere. Anywhere. A kiss and something more. Or nothing else. A fleeting wisp bathed in bloody gore. What does that mean? A woman. A bull. Ping bang. Couples do come together. They produce. They create. They also can destroy anything in their path. They again, they etc. It’s always the same. The search never ends. In some ways it’s all life. It is fuming, big, fat abstraction. Here today, gone tomorrow. The ultimate cliché. Damn the cliché and balls ahead.
Speaking of that, I met a chick last night named Leslie from Chicago. She’s five feet two inches tall, weighs 112 pounds, is 34-23-35 and that isn’t bad. She has short black hair, bright blue eyes. We had a fine night. We met and we wasted no time getting to know each other. She was willing and helpful. Her body was warm and soft. Her nipples were firm, large and taut. Leslie’s scent was real, delicate, yet musty. She called herself a pseudo sentimentalist but she took me the first time quickly and anxiously. She yipped. I shouted. Then we drank from each other with all the thirst of dying people. Thank you, she said. She told me it is an inadequate way to express what she really feels. It is wonderful, I said. That’s what I felt. Wonder. It has been wonderful, she said, as she cupped my erection between her hands and guided it slickly between her legs, allowing it to ride deeply inside her as if it was jet propelled. When I left her, she told me she would be back. God it was good.
It happened in New York, New York, July 4, 1955. I’ll be dipped. Independence Day.
July 5, 1955. Leslie could be the one, but Chicago is a long way away, too far away. Thus, the only two chicks now on my mind live far away. The latest one is something more. I won’t explain. I cannot explain. But maybe I should try explaining. It’s amazing how everything about her lingers. Just fantasizing about her makes me hot, makes me want to come with little real effort, as if I ever needed much effort at all. Write her and try to keep it clean. Keep it honest, though, no matter what.
I’m at work in Union City. This lousy store is driving me crazy. I’ve sold hardly anything. People aren’t buying. At least they aren’t buying what I have to sell. Nothing is moving. Temperature outside is 93 degrees. It’s not much cooler inside. The air conditioning works sporadically. Shoppers are nowhere to be found. I’m dying here. I can’t make a buck. I can’t even make my nut. If the hot weather doesn’t subside, I’ll subside. I’m having a hard time taking the heat especially when I’m inside and dressed in a shirt and tie.
Letter to Leslie. Dear Leslie. ( Not a bad start.) Hi, nice people. I like nice people when they are better than almost anyone else I know. It may sound strange, but I miss you, though we spent so little time together. As I write this I’m on a bus trying to get back to New York from New Jersey through the Lincoln Tunnel. Thousands of cars crowd the roads. Too many passengers jam my bus. We can’t move in this horrendous traffic. It’s about 100 degrees outside and approaching that inside this metal coffin, my bus. It can’t get any worse. Gas fumes clog my mind. From where I sit I can’t see the sky. A thin film of blue plastic coats the windows to keep the glare of the sun from our eyes. But I know the sky is gray. Soot covers everything evenly. Everyone has a hand on his car horn—bleats and beeps and mechanical groans fill the air. We start moving again so I’ll complete this later when I’m home or sitting quietly in a gin-mill someplace in the real world I call, Brooklyn.
I’m restarting the letter to Leslie. It’s late at night. I don’t really know what to say. Last night I sat and wrote to you. One hour later much of this came but I won’t put it all down on paper because, well, I may say too much. You did things to me during those two days we were together. You were the brightest ray of light to shine on me in a long time. Then you had to leave. Suddenly you weren’t there. Though I knew you were leaving, you left me in a state of shock. Inside I became dark again. One more day with you and I would have been lost forever, permanently. I should be bold with you to get what I want. We were bold with each other. Hot buttered rum in July. Add just a pinch of salt. Dive in without hesitating. You are now too far from me. Our joined surfaces were all too briefly penetrated. We took a ride that was so marvelously sweaty that sometimes it was impossible to hold each other for very long. Each move we made was steamy and punctuated by our cries of joy. It’s more than I can express. A picture. A word. A scene. An event. So much so soon and it came so fast. All the words spill out. They crumble, pounding and trampling each other, compressing, bursting forth, emptying themselves on the page without apparent reason, without sense, without any purpose, but emptying themselves anyway.
I often act without thinking, think without acting. I’ve been writing some of this at work. It’s very slow today. I’m glad. I have a feeling I’ll lose money on this job. Not good. My mind is too full to think about pitching people some lousy, untested product for their hair. I wouldn’t use it on my hair. You had to come into my life and further complicate it. I’d be a fool to forget you, unless, of course, you told me to and then, even then, I might be at a point where I could not. I don’t think anyone else you know could spew so much over this plain white paper. I can’t hide my feelings toward you. Once I commit myself, it is impossible for me to go back on my word. Or hardly ever. My love to you and your love to me, if that’s possible. But you are there and I am here in desolate Union City, not even in New York.
I keep saying, forget it, forget it. Forget the night. Forget her. Deny Leslie’s existence. It doesn’t work, though. My problem is that I want you Leslie. I want to get to know you better, more, always. I want to know more about you, the whys, the wherefore’s, what makes you tick.
Leslie said “thank you for the evening” and she “wished me the best of everything.” Then she said “I will be back.” Somehow I doubt it.
July 6, 1955. I called Dave. He wants money, as usual. He needs money, as usual. Hell, so do I. I haven’t even earned bus fare.
Wed 24 Sep 2008
Notebooks part 9 by Ron Steinman
Posted by rmr under Notebooks by Ron Steinman
“A man’s rhythm must be interpretive. It will be, therefore in the end, his own, uncounterfeiting, uncounterfeitable.” Ezra Pound.
Someone else said “Each line of a poem, however many or few its stresses, represents a single breath, and therefore a single perception.”
And “The poet must forge his rhythm according to the impulse of the creative emotion working through him.”
Some outside reading:
“Rats Lice and History,” Dr. Hans Zinsser
“Post Mortems,” and “Mere Mortals,” Dr. C. MacLaurin.
“Anthropology and Primitive Culture,” Sir Edward Taylor
“Mind of Primitive Man,” and “Anthropology and Modern Life,” Franz Boas
“Early Civilization,” A.A. Goldenweiser
“Racial Basis for Civilization,” F.H. Hankins
“Wandering of People,” A.C. Haddon.
“To melt and be like a running brook that
sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness
To be wounded by my own understanding of love
and to bleed willingly and joyfully
To wake at dawn with winged heart
and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home as eventide with gratitude:
and then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved
in my heart and a song of praise upon my lips.”
The Prophet, Gibran
Idea. Idea. Idea. Idea. Idea. Idea. Damn it, none. Pray it through.
So near and yet so far.
Finders, keepers, losers, weepers.
Political nature abhors a political vacuum.
“Cynic: A snarler, a misanthrope. One who believes that human conduct is motivated wholly by self interest.
Cynical: Given to contemptuous disbelief in man’s sincerity of motives or rectitude of conduct. Characterized by the conviction that human conduct is suggested or directed by self interest or self indulgence.”
Read more of the following and in a hurry.
William Dean Howells
Edward Rowland Sill
Edwin Arlington Robinson
Rip the paper. Go on. Tear it. Leave it lifeless. It’s dead. I have killed it. No one else has. No one else could. It was lifeless anyway, for the moment. For one brief moment I had the audacity, maybe the guts. The courage to transform it, the paper, into a living and monumental entity, is mine for the asking, for the doing. Well, possibly not monumental. That may be going too far. Not monumental to others but to me because it represents something I did, something I feel is more than another person has done. After all, what does another do? In reality, they do nothing. While I attempt to do something I create even if the creation is weak and not as good as something someone else is doing or has done. I, at least, try and don’t sit back to wait for things to happen to me. That would be the easy way, the simple way. It isn’t difficult to be lethargic. I must admit it’s fun. It presents no problems. I can hear the cheers: Way to go! I’ve often thought it the best escape from reality.
I sit and wait during a night’s vigil. The world lies before me. I wait for something to happen. It doesn’t. I must make it happen. I must cause the action when the opportunity arises. Arise, opportunity. Please. It’s the only way I have of testing my true nature.
I’m sitting in a bar in Easton where prostitutes were once available to Lafayette College students in the nineteen twenties. My half-full seven-ounce glass of beer is losing its edge. Empty pages in a book, my book, my notebook. Fill the empty pages—for kicks, if for nothing else. It matters little how many words appear as long as some do . . .
I have to start thinking about a job, any job, since it’s work that will put bread in my mouth, food in my belly. Make a list of employment agencies and go begging for work, any kind of work. There are ads for college grads for executive trainees, whatever they are. They want college grads as trainees in sales, advertising, public relations and promotion. There are openings for recent college graduates in television administration. They have ads and ads and ads—for everything, for anything. “Come and register at our agency,” fee paid by the employer. Sometimes I must pay the fee, me. Lose your dignity, my dignity, and line up at the slave auction. Sell your skills, my skills, whatever they are, to the highest bidder. Enter the land of the employed no matter how hopeful, no matter your dreams. Soon you will be in a place where they subjugate the self as an adjunct to the imperial might of corporate America. Shit. But I guess it has to be done if I’m to survive, especially since I don’t know what I want to do, what I’ll do, how I’ll do it.
When reading short stories or novels, I usually find women, men, buildings, places, drunks (hard and soft), junkies, scenery, stock characters, some thinking people. Duds, all. Almost. All the fears expressed are the same. All the misgivings are the same. All the worries are the same. Hot dog! Am I reading the right books?
When is this nonsense going to end? There is desire but where is the drive? My drive? Even these notebooks concern me. Sometimes they are silly. Often they are unreadable in the original. I write in them, the scribbling flowing over the lines, the letters crabbed or too large, sometimes smeared with beer or ringed from the wet bottom of a glass. I don’t review what I write to see if they have any strength, if the thoughts make sense. Can the ideas and descriptions that fill these many differently sized sheets be anything more than squiggles of ink on the page. I am most inclined to think the notebooks are useless. Yet they do serve a purpose. They use time and they are good for introspection. They are wonderful for show (and tell), especially around women. The small books work in my favor in bars and mainly in fraternity houses when on the honorable mission of bird-dogging, the surreptitious hunt for another man’s chick. The books help create some suspense in my life. They give me the space to write the many questions I enter each time one comes into my head, drunk or sober. The books enlarge on the mystery I face daily. Lately the notebooks have been taking longer to complete than when I started. Is it because there is less to say? Have I recognized the value of quality over quantity? Is it because I have become lazy or am I too busy with other things, such as comprehensive exams, and I don’t have the time to devote to them? Or is it my slow realization they are truly useless. Is what I write without talent? Are they a waste of time? I suspect this musing is premature. I damn well hope so. I’ll have all summer to see if there is anything inside me worth bringing out. My byword for the moment is time. My by-phrase for the moment is I want to see what happens. Am I anticipating fate? Hoping vainly? Hoping against doom? To an extent, everything plays a part. When any one piece of the puzzle becomes the dominant factor, everything could collapse as evidence of weakness or the self will rise like a totem pole, evidence of untapped power. Son-of-a-bitch. Dance to a different beat. I graduate soon and then I’m off and running. I hope I get my second wind. Easton, Pennsylvania. May 31, 1955. It is 10:30 p.m. Time for another beer and maybe some fried clams. Both will be great for my stomach.
June 1, 1955. Easton, Pennsylvania and Brooklyn. “Modern Man In Search of a Soul,” Carl Jung. “The Rebel,” Albert Camus. Old Testament. Numbers R, XIV, 10.
I graduated from college. My parents and sister were present. Nothing special. I just graduated. No school. No future. My sheepskin is still rolled, tied in a ribbon. No job. Nothing. I now have my degree despite everything. And yes, that includes me. I have a near useless degree in history. Oh yeah. Pack up my bags and head home, home to Brooklyn and the end of everything or the start of something new. But, what? Don’t want to teach. I want to make some money. I want some freedom. I want time to think without external pressures. I’m moving home for the duration because I have no place else to go. I don’t feel sorry for myself. I’m just in a kind of limbo. After a week of doing nothing, I’ll start looking for a job, something, anything, to keep body and soul together until I discover what’s inside me.
The graduation was strange. We were all in ill fitting mortarboard flat tops, wrapped in black bird-like cloaks as if we were disguised refugees from a police lineup. I was damn hot. I sweated. My mind wandered and I barely heard my name called to get my diploma. There were the usual pictures. My parents wept as much for themselves as they did for me. Then I changed into real clothing and brought my bags down to the car. We drove home in silence, still unconnected. There was more but that is all I want to say about the day. Perhaps there isn’t anything else that warrants comment. Except. Except I managed to escape the campus without saying goodbye to any classmates. I’ll probably never see any of them again and it’s just as well. I doubt any of them will miss me. Most of them had very little to do with my life. Looking at them seated under those crisp blue, cloudless skies, sitting there in static rows, their WASP selves encased in amber, dressed alike, combed and cut alike, smelling alike, thinking alike, it’s no wonder that I had very little to do with them.
Symphonies and poems. All are beautiful. They bring flights of imaginary sounds to me, to you. They bring songs and pictures to me separately. Yet they seem to come together as they twirl their mystic tops, as they spin and spin. Sometimes they spin ferociously. Sometimes their magic spins calmly, almost like invisible spirits. Imagination, mine and that of everyone else, holds important hope for survival in the world. The final hope, though, is still up for grabs.
©2008 Ron Steinman
Wed 24 Sep 2008
Notebooks part 8 by Ron Steinman
Posted by rmr under Notebooks by Ron Steinman
I can start over. I can build anew, now. I may only be for me. I have no girl, but I will find one—in time. The need is there because women are the greatest tension relievers and sounding boards who ever lived. They are useful and enjoyable, necessary for the house. Here are women at two for a quarter or on any street corner. Take a long look. Don’t touch. Step right up and make your choice. The Last Chance Saloon. Buy a beer. Get entangled with the most electrifying, delectable, enchanting beings ever created— sponsored by the greatest entrepreneur in existence.
“Go away boy, you bother me.”
The way I think is at times appalling. I should be ashamed of myself. You should be ashamed of yourself, is something my mother would say. But I never feel it for long. A long trip is in order. Where? I’ll be an old man before I finally figure myself out and I wonder if all the time spent will be worth it.
My daddy. My mommy. That’s how they want me to think of them. It’s who and what they are and they can’t forget it, even if I try my hardest to erase them from my life. I’m tired of puppet masters. I must pull my own strings. For once. For all.
In the middle of all my anguish I think about Carole again. What is she doing now? How is she doing it now? I miss her. Someday I may find her again. Maybe I’ll even look for her again. When I’m with her, I love her. When away from her, I miss her and I’m curious how she thinks of me even after seeing her and opening myself wide to her a short time ago. She could be in the arms of another now. Then she would have a hard time remembering me, who I am, who I was to her. I must be getting soft, a sentimentalist, a misplaced romantic. It can’t happen here. That’s what they all say. Who are they? It happened once, twice and if we are lucky it may happen a third time. If we are really lucky it will never happen again.
April 14, 1955. Brooklyn, New York. Two-fifteen in the morning. Another late night. Raw taste of beer. Dead cigarettes inhabit my mouth and throat. Shards of tobacco cling to my teeth. Raw taste of ugly emotion.
April 15, 1955. To write or not to write. Stream of consciousness.
A perplexing question. I write. A penny a word. Payable on demand. Balls.
Words: pleonasas, aulic, propitious, contiguous, tired (how did this get in here?), attrition, palimpsest, said (huh!), declared, stated, jejune, valetudinary, exacerbated. Words, words, words.
“The Company She Keeps.” Mary McCarthy. Should shake them up a bit on campus.
How many days until the end? Definitely not mine. How far can the cable car go without stretching the cable beyond its normal tension point? Torque tension drive cannot go without fuel, some kind of fuel. Is there a proper fuel for discourse drive, for the time-honored so-called treasures of shelled, hollow husks of physical beings, if that’s what we can call ourselves? Easy—nothingness.
Luther. Circular reasoning rarely gets participants into trouble, especially with themselves. Circles are circular and not square and when a man enters one of these geometric sets and closes the door behind him, if things go right, there is little doubt he will end exactly where he started. He will also run into the occasional paradox. That, too, is inevitable. Luther locked the door but by virtue of some very neat logical interpolation, he justified his enclosed, locked-in, swinging self. For the illogical, inconsistent thinker he is, he does an unusually fine job of rationalizing divine law, natural law (Scholastic in theory) and the relationship of the church and state. For me, and this is quite unfair, but I don’t care, my inference is again we are seeing the fallacy of simple logic. After all, I am Jewish and he is only Luther.
Carole answered my letter.
History, said Aristotle, represents things as they are, fiction as they ought to be. Tonight I met a woman who said she was born in a police station at the age of four. I think I heard her right. And if she is right, what then? There is something in that someplace but damned if I know what it is or means.
An idea is forming for something that I’ve wanted to do for some time. One man is talking, remembering, reflecting. Or he is reliving the experience in his mind. No. He is not, I think. Not exactly reliving but close to reality or as close as he wants to get. It is difficult for me to formulate the idea. I am tired. I need sleep. I can’t write now. I don’t want to write now. If I write, I will miss my badly needed sleep. The coming weekend might tell part of the story. What story? In truth, it is not the whole story. In reality I haven’t done anything yet to have proven myself. That will wait. Meanwhile, I’ll have to try to work out the ideas floating in my head. This is an important pursuit of mine.
Work on history as I have been doing. Time is drawing near. Try to read what is really important. But isn’t it all important? Discipline is most important.
I wonder how Carole will answer my last letter? It seems I’m always wondering what women will say to me in their letters. Usually they give up on me, figuring something is wrong with me. Or they don’t answer me at all. Some fun. It’s interesting, though, how women, the majority, do not really understand what I say. Or why. They can’t be all that stupid or am I so far above them? Am I? Nah. That can’t be it either. What is it? Am I the bad risk my parents believe? Yeah. I guess that’s it. My arms hurt. I’m, sleepy.
They all look alike, every one of them. There is not one bit of difference between them. Look at them hard. Look at them carefully. Hey, just look. They walk. They swing their arms. They move their feet. They swing back and forth, a step forward, always forward. When they run away from you, they continue to move forward. Faster.
Hey, wait for me. Where you going, huh? Geez, I don’t know but come away with me anyway. We may find out a thing or two.
They went. I watched them go. They are two halves of a whole. One not knowing the other and the other half knowing, which isn’t really anything like the sum of its parts “knowing.” They went: side by side, forward, forward. Always forward. Never backward. Restless. The two always are moving ahead. A straight line.
Are we almost there?
No. We are not.
Are we half way there?
Then where the hell are we?
I’m tired. The journey is too much, too rushed. Please tell me where we are.
I don’t know. I really don’t but, you know, you know I wish you knew.
Let’s continue. We must go forward.
Turn your back on the others and lets get our asses out of here.
On the BMT Brighton line to 42nd Street. I’m going out to play alone fortified by six glasses of beer. Schaeffer is on tap.
Four girls sitting together on the subway, huddled against the varnished wicker seats. They can say more about nothing than one hundred men—at least, from the point of view of one hundred men. They talk. Ultimately they walk and that is good to watch. Still they say nothing, or nothing I can hear them saying. Happy little useful creatures how I wish you were only more so, plus or minus. Four must be a female number. They move with each other tonight. They hold only to each other tightly for fear if they move or separate from each other they will perish from this earth. Clinging vines. Old and new wine. Seething teeth. Huge sides of beef. Coral reef.
Club Metronome at 52nd Street and 7th Avenue. Swinging people, what there is of them. Place is mostly empty but the people at the bar are okay. All of them are at ease, at least on the outside. Hope they make it whatever they do, whatever they are up to. The stage is small. The acoustics are poor. Yeah. Joe DeRies swings as does Vickie Carrol. Don’t press for drinks, I tell myself, because I will soon run out of money. Nurse your beer. Dashes, not words, fill the lines.
Later. What do I know best? Good question because it immediately asks what do I know at all, of anything, of nothing, of something? For my purposes, all for the moment will be the same. I will weed this out another time.
Middle class money.
Middle class ethics.
Conservative home thus begets conservative parents.
Sports. Street sports. Roller hockey. Stick ball.
Brooklyn—When growing up—the neighborhood, the streets.
Brooklyn—The Bigger Kids. The block bully.
Balls. That lousy drunk finally catches up with me after being on my tail for about six or seven blocks. Man, let me tell you, he is one cat I just do not want to have anything to with, ever. It is a drag, like really obnoxious. Sickening. If he ever changes his clothing, even takes a bath, he will become a candidate for a presidential citation from that dame in Washington who runs the Health Department. I feel a saint compared to him. Of all the bums to discover me, he is the worst. He smells like horses. He must have been sleeping in the stables at Prospect Park and Caton, near a rare traffic circle in Brooklyn.
Clash of values. Father and Son. Conservative middle class father. Arguments that never end. Quiet mother who says nothing. Everything implied. Suppressing violent emotions. Son striving for independence. Father stuck in a rut. In the past. Clash, clash, clash. Old world and new world. But old world is not old in reality. It is old world, as derived from old European world. Father says, son do this. Son says, yes. Then, pop! Son decides he wants to do what he wants. His life. Hell with others. Son remains tied to parents and past because they are his endowment. They are deep inside him. There is little he can do to exorcize them. So there it is, the basic conflict between parents and parents, and between son and son. Within themselves. Within himself.
Now the problem is how to resolve the question. Introspection plays a major part in the confrontation. Son is at a point where he is the only one who can help himself. He becomes reconciled to his fate. In any event, he decides to sever diplomatic relations at home and take off to foreign points, points unknown, or something. No longer is he facing a decision about the basic issue causing the split with his parents. School? Choice of profession? It is tied with elementary middle class Jewish psychology, strangling him slowly.
Change is sudden but it has been building for many years. Son doesn’t think clearly how to tell his parents of his apparent, sudden change. He has to approach them carefully and gently but he doesn’t know how to handle them when he does finally face them. He blurts everything in haste, anger and confusion. Shock on part of parents follows. Argument follows shock. There is no meeting of minds. Emotions and perceptions are too far apart. For the moment, the son is also confused, bewildered, bitter, cynical, skeptical. Wildly so. A young man who believes he is wise in certain ways, doubtful in many others, puzzled with most of what he faces. He is fighting everything: society, his friends, girls, his parents mainly, and above all, himself.
After all this, the least I can do is send a Mother’s Day card. Jeezuz.
The street. My street. Streets I grew up on. I walk alone. Abandoned objects are on the street. There are too many things on the street that affect me, the walker. Dirt theme. Impassive. Unmoving. Embodiment of static, of non-dynamic, anti-intellectualism. Pound. Pound. Glorify it. Wind blowing all the garbage. Heavy feet, light feet. Light head—whore for all, mistress of none.
Magnificent. It knows of all things, yet allows no one to know it. Subjected to everything, yet it doesn’t allow others to know anything. It always remains emotionally the same yet it changes continuously, but only in a physical sense. People move over it, walking, crawling, running — over it. The street can care less. It’s the only real unity of life. It’s not in the Dark Ages but it may be Medieval because it’s static, it’s in chains. It has no desire for change but we change it anyway. Progress goes on and it remains emotionally the same. Life rises and falls around it, on it. Wine runs in its gutters. Our blood is heavily cast on it, over it, staining it permanently. Marching feet pass over it, forever. The street has one name, sometimes many names, names created over time, some political, others frivolous. Everyone wants control over it. It wants control over nothing. We use it without permission. Those with passports need not apply. It looks askance at the user.
Man cannot alter its foundation, weather and time withstanding. It’s the sounding board for everyone. All desecrate it. It has no respect from anyone. It does nothing, accepting all comers playing the role of a loyal servant forever in bondage. The great and not so great have walked on it and over it. It’s faithful to each of its owners in turn. Rarely is it worshiped. Consecrating it would be the epitome of all man’s striving. The crowning achievement. The end of all life, love, happiness. It takes everything in its stride.
The trials it has withstood would have been enough to destroy any mortal, any being, anything in creation. It has managed to survive, ready to receive the vicissitudes of life, death, destruction, struggle passion, and red, red, wine. The street never forgets when the wine flowed, when heads rolled, when. . .
May 10, 1955. Easton, Pennsylvania, 11:35 p.m. Why must mysteries always seem to plague me? Is it because I question and therefore invite problems which must fall in the category of the mystery because they remain unanswered? That must be it. Because of my concern, I put myself into situations that perplex me. Perhaps I would be better off if I didn’t think of those matters that could and do generate problems.
If I were a mechanic, a laborer, any man who works with his hands instead of his head, I would not have a life that would lead me to my place in the universe. I don’t have the answer why this is important to me, why I have to discover what that spot is and where it can be found. It’a important. Everything that I do centers on me. Is that wrong? Where? Why? When? How? Etc. I’m upset because I never come up with an answer. Sometimes I think I have the answer. Sometimes I think the answer will be found in others. If so, I would then be prepared to accept their theory. What will happen when a new generation evolves? I can’t believe the new generation or even parts of it will ingest the past. It will go seeking in its own way, trying to fathom its place in this, our expanding universe.
The question of place, of position, seems possible only for those who embrace religion, philosophy (either political or spiritual) or some form of physical escape that often includes self abuse. All, in their own way, are mental crutches. Don’t accept anything too profound. Don’t be too concerned with another’s plight. Don’t give a damn. I can’t be that way. I’m still looking and I’m still unsatisfied with what I see, including what’s inside me. I’m still trying for the brass ring. Maybe I’ll never capture it like other people. Possibly it’s my destiny to search forever, to never solve the mystery of why, when, where and how. Somehow the simple things also count and my goal may ultimately be found in love.
May 11, 1955. It shall come out of thin air. (Sounds like H.G. Wells.) Let it flow for itself. (Sounds like a musician on pot.) Let it bring forth anything that is present and alive in the innermost portals of my immature mind. Flow, damn, flow.
Contrast between something untouched and something touched.
Trying to do a story on someone I know. Explain to him that some ideas come from him but it’s really not about him. Who, then? A man has immersed himself in fear, too deeply in self, in conceit and distrust. Tell him that a good part of the situation stems from him and from others in the same position. It doesn’t reflect on his reality because it’s something that I can only guess. It’s also as much about me as it’s about him, about anyone. Finally, it’s about a search for place, for peace, for truth.
©2008 Ron Steinman
Mon 15 Sep 2008
Notebooks part 7 by Ron Steinman
Posted by rmr under Notebooks by Ron Steinman
Have I exhausted everything? Has everything that grew and might continue to grow, flown the coop? I sometimes wonder, especially when I sit damn patiently waiting for inspiration, for something to happen that will move me off the dime. It’s not really inspiration, but creative genius used to its best advantage. Sure. Nothing comes, and all I can think of is passion. Sex. Passion. Getting laid. Of lying in bed with a woman and feeling her closeness, her warmth and achieving mutual orgasm, if only once, only for a moment. Nothing happens. Still I wait. I sit and wait. I tell myself soon the waiting will be over. Then there will be action on all fronts. No matter how good it feels I am tired of jerking off my mind and body.
Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn— a neighborhood I rarely enter, a neighborhood I hardly know. I walk down the street looking for the right address. I have it on a small piece of newspaper— the white part at the top, the empty part. I finally find it crumbled in the pocket of my shirt. In what is fast becoming a habit, a now familiar scene, I walk up the steps to ring the bell so I can get in. Since losing her, or better yet, since I denied her and we denied each other, I have not been the same. I dated, but I hardly took anyone out more than twice unless they were willing to go down regularly, which sometimes but honestly rarely happened. Slowly I tired of blind dates. Trite, yes, they had become a bore and took too much out of me. I lived by my emotions as much as the next guy. There was no one who could feel what I did, who could sustain the self pity, who could give me the understanding I badly needed. The past is long ago, at least for me at my age. I wondered what she is doing, how she is doing—if she is happy. That and other thoughts go through my head, my searching head. I reach the top of the landing and place my finger onto the raised button. I ring the bell. I shuffle my feet. I’m nervous, just apprehensive. I’d become a specialist on blind dates. I’m a seeing eye-dog that crawls on two legs chained by my own desires and feelings of being lost. Hell, I know I am lonely. I straighten my tie, look down at my carefully polished shoes, an event itself, and manage a self-induced, wan smile. I’m practicing. It has become difficult for me to be Jewish-nice, especially when I have to be false, have to be a phony. Good the whole world could exist that way and good that I knew it.
The door opens and there she stands in all her finery. I have been reading too many Western novels, seeing too many Western movies. All her finery. I, my heart, jumps. No. No. It cannot be. It is impossible. She starts to speak, but she says nothing. It is suddenly a game. She catches my impossible-to-hide signal and pretends she does not know me. We say hello like strangers. We are stiff. I shake her hand like in a French film, not to be formal but only to hold her fingers and feel her warm skin. It has been so long. I say you are pretty. My first words. You have such lovely eyes and your smile is an ad man’s dream. She smiles and says, one moment. She grabs her coat, slams, then locks the door and we fly down the stairs. She hands me her key and says that I should hold it. Everything is formal except those first words from my dry mouth. I couldn’t speak then if my life depended on it. My name is the same but she had changed hers, I thought. Or is it a trick, a game on her part, something I want to believe, knowing her name is really still the same?
I couldn’t take my eyes from her face.
I feasted on her once, twice, again and more. She finally breaks the silence.
It’s been so long, she says.
Bring me up to date, please, I say.
I’ve missed you so much. You’ll never know how much I’ve missed you, she says.
It seems like ages, I say.
And it was, I thought.
Good line, she says.
Ages, I say. Again, to myself. Ages: rock of, concert for. Nuts, I say. Lets say it’s felt like forever.
Forever is a long time, she says.
So is love, I say. So is life, I say. If you want it to be, I say. So is infinity, I think.
Damn them all, we say, almost in unison.
It hurts. I’m the hurting kind, or didn’t you know, I say. I’m a slow healer. The scars are still red and raw. They remain. They still burn. They sting.
She looked at me. You’ve changed again. Always changing, she says. Can’t you slow down and catch up to yourself just for once?
I’d like nothing better but it’s a roller coaster life. My heart is forever in Coney Island.
My mother always thought you were adorable, she says.
Out of character for you. Since when do you compliment anyone? Not your style. Not normal for you.
She moves away just a bit and then smiles her ginger smile. It’s not very hard with you, she says. You are not people. You are just special people. So there. There’s your compliment. Fight me if you can.
I’ll slap you down, I said—not really meaning it. Not hard, but only hard enough to try and kiss your lips away, to regain what we lost — if possible, I say. I want to grab your waist and squeeze until you disappear; pluck your eyes out and mount them in platinum; make a silken robe of your long hair; use your teeth for a necklace; smother myself with the gentle fairness of your skin. Perhaps then I will sleep at night.
Pretty speech, she says. She starts toward me, almost floating. She seems serious, not her usual cynical self. I detect a strange sincerity in her. It is something new. I don’t continue. My voice is hoarse. I am a changeling in puberty, still not twenty-one.
I know you pretty well, she says. Although I haven’t seen you much these past three years, I think back on all the situations we were in at the time. We didn’t know what to do with each other. We were too young and too much in love. I really wonder how well I knew you? It may not have been that well, after all, but still, some things do remain. Some things don’t ever change. You served me once in a way that frightened me. You were too much for me, wanted too much from me.
I wasn’t right or ready for you then, I say. We were both so young and as trite as that sounds, it was and is true.
You were crazy. You asked me to marry you. How would we have lived? We were both still in high school. Neither one of us knew where we were going, what we were doing. So we split up. I found a guy who left me alone. He didn’t know how to touch me, though to give me what I needed. That made my life simple. Then I got bored with him because he didn’t have any imagination, or at least not enough for me. He’s gone. Now I’m back. And though I used dishonest means to see you I hope you won’t run from me the way I once ran from you, she says.
I look at her, locking my eyes with hers. I want to inflict hurt and not be hurt this time but I also want to take what she offers, if the offer is genuine. Her look begins to destroy me. It destroyed me the first day I saw her when she was only thirteen and I was fifteen. Here it was almost eight years later and we still couldn’t separate our lives. My pride vanished when she left me. Vanquished, I tried hiding it but in doing so I tortured myself. I blamed everything on her. My poor work in school. My lapses into rebellion. My awful relations with my parents. My cynicism. My sarcasm. My drinking. The huge chip that I wore on my shoulder, so heavy it almost bent me in two.
I blamed everything on you because I loved you so much. Sure, some if it had been there anyway, the amount impossible to figure. Ignore it. Pay it no mind. I have a fear of really letting myself go. You recognized it years ago. I found an easy excuse to build a wall around myself. I always did everything against convention while inside I suffered because everything I did, I did against my Jewish middle class upbringing. Only lately have some things changed enough for me to break what had become my norm and not feel guilty about it. I was in a chasm for a long time but now I’m pretty well out of those depths. My future still is doubtful because I feel there’s nobody to care with me—at least inside my reality. It boils down to being my own boss, to do, think, feel and act as I please. I enjoy it, most of the time. I figure I’m nuts but I’m trying to cultivate it and use it to its best advantage. And of course, my best advantage.
She looks at me and says, I love you. She says she missed me and wanted me now, sooner than later. I tell her I had missed her terribly. I found her key in her small purse and we turned back to the apartment house in which she lived. We walked quietly, knowing that we were starting something again that this time would have a different middle and end, though the cast of characters was the same as it had always been.
April 12, 1955. Easton, Pennsylvania. One-thirty in the morning. After that night with Carole I must write her the loveliest of love letters. It is as it is and I am now beyond redemption.
April 13, 1955. Another day breaks, only this time seemingly more slowly than the last. It is wet and dreary. The rain, though not heavy, steadily falls, playing its floating dance through space as a nymph on a high. Roofs suck in all the lonely water. Roofs allow the water to fall off so the earth can receive that gift from heaven. All things belong to nature—some directly, others indirectly. All things return to nature, even man, even men. But that is a long time away.
Brooklyn for the weekend and a bad experience.
I try to keep calm when I look at them. It is too late. That’s all I can say. My head is pounding, my hands are wet and all I can say is no. No. My father blows up at me, becoming more angry by the second, angry as only he could get. My mother sits still, as usual. Very still. She says nothing, but she is thinking, I knew, I told you so, I told you so. Nobody, seems to understand, particularly them, my parents. Suddenly I am tired. Too much thinking, too much beer, too much worrying. I am too young to have this burden. It is unfair. You won’t hear me out, he says. How can I hear anything when he shouts the way he does? Instead I turn slowly, looking at them again and tell them as calmly as I can, no. I open the kitchen door and go up to my attic room. Throwing off my coat, I turn on the wall and kick it. The rotting, ancient plaster crumbles from my heavy foot. I take off my shoe and rub my swelling toe. I hurt badly, but it feels good.
For some reason I don’t scream. My throat clogs from despair, my head spins. I sweat heavily, it being moist and muggy. Why me? Possibly these are words to a song. How common. How trite. Others may wallow in their own pity but do I have to wallow and slosh around like the rest? I’m different. I am different. I try convincing myself. Can’t they? No. They. All. The world. It is stinking, lousy, vermin-filled, without sight. They are blind. The world is blind. Only I can see. I cry out. God! Then I stop. God? What has he ever done for me? Where is he when I need him? Faith? It’s for fools. That’s it—a slogan: Faith for fools, faith for fools. Damn them all and their weak need for crutches and walking sticks without pearl handles and long blades secretly enclosed in false outer coverings. I have my own crutch—me. I’ve leaned on them, my parents, for too long, making it high time I move to be on my own. Yes. Nice words coming from the mouth of a milk-fed calf who has been all but fattened and ready for slaughter. Be prepared. This calf may just be a bit smarter than the others. I may escape. My only question—is it time? Time means so very much. Time. Measured by clocks invented by lonely monks who had nothing better to do but to measure time. I hate clocks. The crunching noise under my one shoe, the one shoe still on my foot, brings me up sharp, waking me to reality. I move my leg gingerly to observe, all too late, the remains of my crushed wrist watch lying there dead, never again to utter its incessant, terrifying sound. I understand it, time, perhaps the watch, would return, that it would never leave me. I am cursed with time hanging over me. I become indignant. I’m blessed and I am the blessed, a strong man among the meek. Have I done wrong by denying my parents? Was it such a great sin to sever stupid middle class customs and decide what I wanted no matter whether it is right in their eyes? It didn’t mean anything that there is no resolution. I feel like a pioneer, a hero among men, or at least among my friends. In the eyes of many, especially my parent’s generation, I am about to commit suicide, morally or otherwise. But for me it is moral rejuvenation.
© Ron Steinman
Mon 15 Sep 2008
Notebooks part 6 by Ron Steinman
Posted by rmr under Notebooks by Ron Steinman
It’s easier to take disappointment, a failure, defeat, censure, when you are pessimistic. Praise is more heartily felt when in that state of mind. Praise is the unexpected and it means much more under those circumstances. When you are too optimistic you are hurt and disillusioned if everything doesn’t go the way you want it. Naturally, being too much of the one and not the other causes its own problems. There must be balance between the two states of mind. Realizing that both exist is necessary. Try and strike a mean between the two for one’s own well being and for the sake of others in your orbit. Otherwise, nothing is any good for anyone.
This date is impossible to read on this page. Maybe it is at the end of February. Wilderness rears its prolific head, loosens a yawn, rolls itself around, awakens. Spring is here, so says the almanac. I ask, why don’t we call it winter because the cold lingers? Derived from use, probably some ancient and fanciful term. It comes, anyway, like a breath of something newly born. Call it a rebirth. Once a year. Here we have the second coming enacted every year on schedule. Do we really need anything else? Do we need more?
Easton, Pennsylvania. Early March, 1955. Promulgated. Juxtaposed.
“Our society is not harmonious. It is antagonistic and the state will always be the ultima ratio.” So says Newman sounding a great deal like Hobbes.
More grad school thoughts. From now on I’ll prepare for a position in formal or informal education. Or. I’ll prepare, from now on, for a position in the area of formal or informal education directed primarily toward audiovisual aides.
Objectives: What position do you want?
What position would you like to hold ten years from now? Columbia wants to know this. Also, get advisement sheet for Master’s Candidates.
So again I sit and wait for something to happen. Why must things always happen? Unless things happened there would be no truth and unless things did not happen as things do . . . It’s inevitable. Pick an answer. Assuming I can. March is nearly finished.
It feels different. It’s not central. It’s only peripheral to the center and part of my core. It’s also obviously my massive insecurity. We are all insecure. Few of us are willing to admit it and fewer of us when we do realize it do anything to alleviate the omnipresent situation which presses its incessant self forever inward and, conversely, thence outward. Maybe I should burn all the notebooks. Burn these most revealing thoughts of my most intimate nature. Out of selflessness or selfishness? Maybe out of the realization they are worth very little, hardly worth the paper I’m scribbling on. But I guess I’m chicken to let a part of me go so soon, considering how little I’ve written. For now I’ll continue at the pace I’m recording.
An idea floating in my head is something I call, The Education of a Pagan. Early life. Later life. Once dead or the afterlife. Balls. If only I had more time, some more decent time.
Finished reading James Jones, “From Here to Eternity.” I can’t call it a great book. Very little is great, really, and that’s my critique for the day, especially over a glass of beer. Parts of it moved me but the total impact was tough and compelling.
March 26, 1955. Though I have started writing fiction I am unhappy with most of what I put on paper. I like the ideas but the execution is poor. I don’t know if I can become a writer of value. The act of writing is important to me. Do I continue these notebooks after I graduate? Do I get bigger books? I want to keep filling pages with ideas. Someday they will come back to free me. My thoughts work faster than my ability to write them. My thoughts are many jumps ahead of the mechanics of writing. I suspect the process works the same with everyone. If nothing else, I must find out if I can write. Do I burn these notebooks when I am older? Is that selfish or self-protective?
Notebook entry early April 1955. Easton. I smudged the date and time. I am sitting in a hovel in Easton on the hill, near the college. It’s a dive serving terrible food, bottled beer, mostly Rolling Rock in its green skin. The room, smelling from stale hops has too many sloppy, nondescript people. I refuse to count how many are sitting in here on this early spring day. I, too, am sitting and waiting for what I call some strange, hoped for inspiration. Someone is playing pinball. Bells ring. Buzzers buzz. Greasy American cheese sandwiches are sizzling on a small grill. The television set blares. Voices blather beneath the sounds in the bar. Everything in this place is moving forcefully and with a strange, stark strength. All are in contrast with me, a man not moving, going nowhere fast.
Shave every day. Drink no beer during the week. Eat light and eliminate starch. Drink beer on the weekend. Go to bed early. Sometimes. I must get up early because I have an eight o’clock class. Or is it at seven fifty-five? Try for confidence and not insecurity.
April 5, 1955. Easton, Pennsylvania. A memory of Brooklyn. Real? Imagined?
They caught up to them earlier and wiped them out, neatly. Again they beat me badly and left me for dead. I staggered up from the ground, wandered around, then passed out. My lips were like pulp, my nose demolished, my eyes like slits, bloody and a mess, when I walked into the pool room over the Leader Theater on Coney Island Avenue. A few guys dropped their cue sticks. Others could hardly move. They were in shock. After their brief agony, they ran to me. They carried me over to a pool table and roughly swept the balls aside to make room for me. They laid me out and started working to clean me. I could hardly move. I didn’t protest. I said nothing. Yes, I still lived. Go figure. They didn’t ask what happened. They knew. They lived there with a grapevine more wonderful and efficient than any set of jungle drums. After they managed to piece me together, they got me very drunk, took me to my parent’s home, rang the doorbell, propped me against the door, ran around the corner and watched me fall inside the house as they heard the stunned and terrified scream of my mother.
The next day, word went out to the pool halls and pizza joints to stay far away from me. Anyway, the shape I was in, I couldn’t retaliate for some time.
Meanwhile, things were happening in the neighborhood. A leader of an opposing gang, the gang that beat me, was found almost dead. I had nothing to do with it. His girlfriend had been gang raped; her face slashed. My bunch stayed out of it. To make sure we kept some kind of peace, we signed treaties with just about every clique we found. We were safe if we walked in groups of at least four. We still had to worry about the cops so we started being good boys. The heat was on and for good reason. Many joined the army. It was the easy way out. Two got married. Several got hooked on drugs. Others were caught breaking the law and some went to jail, their lives stretched out in an endless stream of empty days and nights.
As for me, I returned to school.
Far fetched? Don’t be too sure. All of this did take place on the streets of Brooklyn: Foster Avenue, Newkirk Avenue, Ocean Parkway, Ocean Avenue, the numbered streets and the side streets. It happened in the cheap, rundown bars that served minors because they seemed to have most of the money. It happened in the dimly lit pool halls along dying Coney Island Avenue. It happened in the school yards surrounded by chain-link fences deserted by teachers the minute the sun went down. It happened in the movie theaters with their back rows deep in used condoms, bloody, sanitary napkins, the smell of old popcorn, discarded gum and heaps of crushed cigarettes.
It took place one way or another, and it will continue taking place. It’s happening all the time now, only worse, with new twists, new inventions, new fears, new thrills. The past continues to repeat itself.
April 7, 1955. New York. The Chi-Chi Club is in a midtown Manhattan hotel. What the hell was I doing there? How did I get out of there and eventually home? On the subway, yet.
Idea. A car starts. End of idea
Nothing. Nothing. I wished there would be something else in my life. A car starts. Again. A car starts. A plane drones its lazy way across the sky. An excited cat screams its terrifying howl. A door slams its last slam. I walked into my apartment. The trip made me tired. It had been a long trip, too long for so short a distance. I was more than visibly upset. Kings and queens. Fops: Damn them all, each of them. I looked at the guests seated for dinner and smiled politely. Hellos flew, bounced off the walls, settled comfortably in the overstuffed chairs and onto the people like lichen. I knew I was home.
Was it for the last time? Maybe. Though probably not. I went upstairs with my one small bag, threw off my traveling clothing and washed. I went downstairs to eat. Crap. The same junk. Sure it was holiday, whatever that meant, though I knew its meaning, but so what. Where was the steak? No steak. It is holiday. Oh, yeah. I almost forgot where I was. Lose all track of time up there, I guess. A question. An answer. Glasses clink. Go to hell—silently. They couldn’t even make it up there where I spend most of my time. Reason my way out of destiny. Fate. Ordered system. Tension. Stress. Strain, pull and tug. Exit, entrance, entrance, exit. Circles, squares. Up and at them! My mother called for the sixth time. Be polite. Answer directly and quietly. Yes, the trip was lousy. The weather, worse. Note—the well-matched company had no choice but to end hating each other by the end of the line. But cramped buses are always like that.
The crowded room I entered had all sorts of faces: big ones, medium ones, black ones, yellow ones, white ones, brown ones. But mostly they were white faces. I couldn’t imagine how they all got inside that one tiny space. What were they doing there, together, all mixed up, not noticing each other, separated by a kitchen between two big, overstuffed rooms? Each room was the same as the other, yet they were different. One room had the drinks, one had dancing, both had people. Both really had people. Both had dancing. Both had drinking. Both had dining, dabbling, dames, devils, demons, dears, dilettantes. The rooms became so crowded with crowds of people I could hardly move from one to the other.
I heard incessant talk. Hello. Come over here. So what’s new? You don’t really say. No. I don’t, as a matter of a fact. Flowing beer. Cheap whiskey. No water anywhere. I didn’t want to pay the high price for staying. The sexes presented a problem to each other. They played the bar-game called guess who I am, catch me, hold me, keep me, fool, me, etcetera me. Roaring. A ball. A regular, overstuffed incinerator type ball-thing, which, well, you just had to be there to believe. Music in the modern mode advertised in bold neon at busy nightclubs along Flatbush Avenue. The lights were low. Pick your dance: Mambo, the calypso, the rumba, the tango, Lindy hop, jitterbug, waltz, the two-step. Conventional? Yes. Dance? Not necessarily.
Doormen collected money when you entered. You had no money when you departed. I wondered if my foot covered by my sock holding my carfare home would stay covered by my shoe? I had it when I left to return to the listlessness of everyday life and my home. I gasped for air. With floating fingers I struggled fitfully for reality. The wet, fresh winter air slapped me gently in the face on Second Avenue as I tumbled from the loft. Down the steps I went and the soaring cold night hit me squarely on my cheeks and made me blink my eyes in surprise. I checked my balls to see if they were in place. I had two, my most prized possessions, firmly in hand. My right hand, I might add. From habit I looked behind me as I walked and saw nothing but an empty street. I slowly raised my head and whispered inside my clouded mind, never again. I am a great one for kidding myself. I walked away alone, the dark street bathed in pools of light falling behind me as I searched for the nearest BMT entrance.
© Ron Steinman
Sat 23 Aug 2008
Notebooks Part 5 by Ron Steinman
Posted by rmr under Notebooks by Ron Steinman
Someone said, “My friend, never indulge in any follies except those that will bring you great pleasure.”
“Virtue is synonymous with enthusiasm.” Who said that? Was it Galiani or Nietzsche?
A bunch of us jumped into a 1951 Chevy, drove to New York, dashed into P.J. Clarke’s at 3rd Avenue and 55th Street and got very drunk. That’s all I recall of the trip.
How is this for a jawbreaker of a thought. “The earlier 14th century Slavic nationalism of the Pole, Lithuanian and Czech directed against the first onward march of the Germans must be kept in mind when considering the recrudescence of the Slavic nationalism in the 19th and 20th Century, again directed in large part against the Germans.” That comes from a text I happened to pick out of the stacks in the library the other night. The library is my home. The stacks, my refuge.
I’m making an honest effort to do some work. Making Dean’s List again is important. Why is it when you try to be sincere, you meaning me, do barriers fall in place to continually thwart your effort? I don’t know, but someday soon I may start to think the odds are against me, although I realize I have so much going for me that I’ll survive it all despite the nasty bastards who keep getting in my way. Someday soon. I fear I hope in vain. Someday soon.
Letter to the History Book Club.
You probably are wondering why this book, being one of my bonus selections on recently joining your club, is being returned to you so quickly. When I received my first three books for your delicious low price, I decided to naturally read one, A.J.P. Taylor’s The Struggle for Mastery in Europe before I started the others. I immediately inscribed my name on the first page so in the event it was stolen from my dorm I might have some future luck in ultimately getting it back. I then moved into the book and read the introduction. Then, due to a reasonable curiosity concerning a certain major event I went to the index, found what I was looking for and turned to the page in question. Lo, much to my surprise it was missing. The page was missing! This has happened to me in the past with other books but I was even more shocked when I discovered one set of pages repeated twice. Pages 446 and 479 are missing and pages 425 and 446 are in duplicate. I know this is not your fault and I would appreciate another copy of the same book. Payment for the three books is being sent to you under separate cover. Thank you for your prompt attention in this matter. Sincerely, etc.
No mail yet from Bess. That does it. I tried and failed.
My room off campus will cost six bucks a week. That will be one hundred eight dollars for eighteen weeks. The room is at 229 McCartney Street with Mrs. Brown. Pay the rent and start to move my things slowly but steadily. I have to get out of this goddamn dorm quickly for my sanity and privacy.
“Martydom is the only way for a man to become famous without ability.” George Bernard Shaw.
Cut. Scene ends. I’m in no mood to write tonight. I don’t have the emotional strength to hold my pen.
January 22, 1955. First final exam is now over. Cross the date off my calendar. Only five more exams to go.
Bobby is really in a bad way fighting himself and his parents, yet he seems complacent in his misery. I would very much like to see him ten years from now.
Discipline in action— up every morning early.
Time is but a fleeting thing while life is time in passing. Someone must have said that.
Women are strange beasts. They are the one thing man’s ego cannot conquer. I love them all, no matter what.
Music is the supreme relaxer. In any form, it diverts one’s attention from the tediousness of everyday life.
Song, “Getting to be a Habit With Me.” Momentarily reminds me of Carole. It is wonderful how I can look at her almost objectively. It’s a good feeling.
My hands are shaking more than usual. Probably the pressure of the exams period. I haven’t had any ale in two weeks. I can’t wait until this is over.
Still haven’t heard from all those graduate schools I wrote. Maybe they forgot me. Who knows? Ha! That would be a laugh.
Surprise of surprises. Got a letter from Bess and a very nice one, too. I am just a bit relaxed and a bit happy. Damn happy, to say the least, which is the most.
But with it, some depression. Today I spent six dollars for my room, five dollars for books, four dollars for cleaning bills and one dollar for other small items. Now I have eleven dollars left for the week. I still have to get a comb. I keep losing combs. And I need a styptic pencil for the shaving cuts on my tender skin. Take my one good tweed jacket into the shoemaker for leather arm patches. It will add to its appearance and make it last longer.
“The mood and surroundings are air-conditioned Jean Paul Sarte.” Now, who said that and in what context? Can’t seem to remember. Which brings up an idea.
There I am, floating. But why am I in a place like that, I’ll never know. I could have only been in one site and strange as it appeared, I recognized most everything. I looked at my guide and asked him if we were in the right place. Sure enough, he replied with some pique. I haven’t been doing this for too long, but, well now, I am considered an expert. I don’t make mistakes, my friend. I smiled, then laughed. Nerves in action. The test worked. Momentarily happy, pleased because I finally made it. It did not come easy because my work did not lead to an end. It was not conducive to joyful fulfillment. My location is difficult to describe but I am in a black pit with flashing lights. Despite my position, I could finally be an individual and exist among those who cared little for others. I had made it and so I laughed loud and true, thus perplexing my guide who looked at me as if I were not all there. He probably thinks I am out of whack, unbalanced.
That power feeling is recurring in me . . . This . . .
Then you awake and you walk into a real world with its smells, its dark hues, its despair, its ugliness, its haunting air of defeat, its solitude, its loneliness. All are parts of the real world, parts we are unable to escape by closing our eyes. Some of us do escape because we are unfortunate. Again we face the real world increased one thousand-fold by the unreality of the reality. We again relive what has gone before. We cry. We struggle. We are unable to rest spiritually or physically. We envy those who do. But should we? You who suffer know its consequences. You are among those who continuously fight it. Realize when you do, if suffering departs your heart and soul, what then remains? Peace? Only fools know peace. Peace of what? Heart? Soul? Mind? Spirit? They are nothing compared with the very act of existence. Lives are not all struggles. Neither is life all pleasure and love, although some seem to feel it acutely: that is unreality. Those who think only with their emotions are the fools in our system. They continue sleeping. Some say reality is only definable according to the individual. This makes little sense unless I am becoming too dogmatic. When one looks at the world through objectively colored glasses, he can see the truth on the other side. If he cannot, then a new set of lenses or continued sleep, with no chance to wake up, would be his best alternative. He would, under those circumstances, continue his merry way until he is ever so gently, so mildly, thrown to the lions where he will be in no shape to fight off the resulting, life threatening attack.
“A man is nothing but the ensemble of his acts.” Sartre and his obvious emphasis on action.
Love is a sudden sting, the bite of a bumblebee. Love is missing a step going downstairs and falling flat on your puff-eyed, sleepless face. Erotic pleasure is having it all. Eroticism is the fusion of two soldering irons. Love is agony and reverence.
January 31, 1955. I took an upper at five this morning to keep me going while I study. There is no immediate effect, down or up. No lift. After ten minutes I still feel nothing. Another ten minutes passes and I feel no change. I’m waking up, though. Possibly I’ll never notice anything. Fifteen minutes later I feel a small, dulling on the left side of my head. This feeling comes and goes. I’m very cold. The room is cold. Outside it is between five and ten degrees above zero. Thirty minutes later and I’m thinking clearly. The feeling in my stomach is nothing more than my normal morning ache. It’s now twenty minutes later and I’m still awake. I yawn. But there’s no adverse effect. My mind is clear and my body is my body. They say this pill usually works between fifteen and fifty minutes. It should be affecting me now. It’s not. It’s now six in the morning on January 31, 1955. I won’t do this again.
February 1, 1955. I don’t miss her enough to go permanently blue over thinking about her, dwelling on it. I’ll be back in school in a few days, curious and apprehensive, and, honestly, worried over my marks, especially that philosophy course I took. We shall see. I have the prediction marked down someplace, elsewhere, wherever. It might be lower than what I expect. I’m also apprehensive regarding my many applications, what they are doing and when and how I shall hear? I imagine those, too, will come soon. Yes. Everything shall come in due time and under its own volition. Little can speed the march of fate, my fate. It falls where it will and leaves its most lasting mark where it may. Ow.
In these last few evenings I’ve put many words on paper. I use real ink. The ink is black. Words on paper are pretty things. My thoughts have been hasty, confused and I can boil them down to a few choice sentences. Where am I? What am I? Why am I? Why do I think and act the way I do? Why? The puzzle of me is my destiny.
My room is bitter cold. There is no heat after ten at night. I wear my overcoat and stare at the radiator. The bed is so hard a dead man could not tell it is old and stiff like a board. My desk is a bookcase sawed in half. I have three square feet to walk in the middle of the room. A full pack of Camels is to my left. The lighter is to my right. My old, worn watch works and loses little time. The floor is very dusty. Even the creatures living there, demand a rescue. Soon I’ll try to sleep.
Easton, Pennsylvania, still early February. Received a letter from N.Y.U. They want me to write back and ask for an interview at my convenience for their convenience.
Two more marks back. One to go and its solid, an A, Dean’s List, and freedom. Come through, baby, for the folks and me.
Get ink. Get stamps. Bring in Laundry again.
Sell an old textbook for beer money. Get some more dough from home. Tend bar at a frat house or two. Get Valentine cards and save money for transcripts.
Pickup “Russia” by Pares and Tawney, both in the Mentor series.
Buy “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck.
Time for rejoicing. I made Dean’s List again, well above my target and with some to spare.
Back in New York I’m on the subway reading the racing results on page 32 of the World Telegram & Sun, the finals from Belmont, the sixth from Saratoga. I don’t know why I’m reading the results. I never bet, have no interest in horse racing. As life goes its merry way, a fight breaks out. People stop what they are doing. They lift their eyes. They heave a sigh. It’s outside their business. It has nothing to do with them. It’s for the two who keep screaming at each other. They are only doing what they have done in the past— perhaps that very morning. A morning so rudely passed by.
Interview at N.Y.U. On February 15. Write this afternoon to accept.
“The Hunting of the Snark” by Lewis J Carroll.
Read the “Rennaissance Reader” and soon.
White snow falls on dirty sidewalks cracked from wear. People hurry by, immersed in their thoughts. The subway is hot, crowded, dank and musty, though deep in winter. I see soggy shoes everywhere. Once clean fingers, some just washed, now blacked from damp newspapers carried under arms or opened to the sports pages. Where else? People squeeze together into subway cars. The odor of wet wool and damp souls fills the nostrils. The train is like life: It moves, stops, jerks, opens, closes, comes and goes. I look out as I pass houses with their window shades up exposing ruffled beds from the early morning. There’ll be no starched sheets in those homes. Ozzie and Harriet really do only live on television. But mussed sheets are better than none. The train never seems to empty. Passengers sigh in unison.
February 15, 1955. New York. For N.Y.U. When I visit and have my interview: I would like to be in a position where I can coordinate and originate mass media (radio and television in particular) with education and present it to the public. My purpose is to give people a brighter perspective and broader idea of relativity.
Or: I would like to be in a position where I will be able to coordinate educational facilities with the mass media possibly to create a greater perspective and relativity among the masses.
Do I know what I am talking about? No matter. Refine this.
Not a good day. All sorts of the unexpected hit me squarely. I had an interview at N.Y.U. I goofed badly. It’s the only way I can put it. The simple questions asked of me by the head of the graduate study’s department were things I should have known, period. I don’t think, he will accept me into his vaunted course because I lack many prerequisites he seeks. I believe I didn’t impress him. We shall see. He said he’s strict and that he demands utmost fidelity to his structure and beliefs. And I thought an open mind was important for a liberal education.
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