So….You Have To Cook ‘Em Alive?

Hello Everybody,

Tuesday night, I met up with two dear friends of mine, Chris and Janet.  They’d gotten married earlier that afternoon at New York’s City Hall.  They’d been together over twenty years, but only until last September did they decide to take the old legal plunge.  You know, I’m thinkin’ they got a real chance at this.  Here’s to hoping it lasts!

Chris and Janet, in front of “the real life” City Hall of New York!

“It was very interesting,” Chris said.  “You go into a big room with a bunch of other couples, then a very big black man stands up front, and with a boisterous voice and big hand motions announces, ‘BY THE POWER INVESTED IN ME BY THE STATE OF NEW YORK I NOW PRONOUNCE…’ It’s pretty amazing.  There were young couples, old couples, gay couples, couples living in shelters carrying all their belongings, and Asian couples with the brides decked out in gold-lame dresses and crazy makeup and hair.  There we all were…getting married at the same time.

On my way home that night, I decided to get out of the subway in Brooklyn and walk the rest of the way.  Moving through the cold night air, I meditated on Chris and Janet and the other newlyweds – the eclectic mix of Americans tying the knot.

Celebrating Dia de Los Muertos in Sunset Park

I meditated on it as I walked through Sunset Park, past its bodegas and restaurants with Spanish marquees in bright primary colors.  On 4th Avenue the Chinese hood spills into the Latino hood.  At a Chinese joint Latinos ordered in Spanish, then the clerk shouted the order in Chinese to sweaty cooks who then commenced to prepare a totally non-Chinese dish.  “FRIED CHICKEN AND FRENCH FRIES WITH HOT SAUCE TO GO” sounds American whether it’s shouted in English, Spanish, Chinese or Jive Talk.  There are quite a few Chinese joints on 4th Ave. in Sunset Park, their marquees also in shining bright primary colors.  Similar.  The Same.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year in Sunset Park

I meditated clear on into Bay Ridge, where I passed my favorite Mexican food joint – operated by a Chinese guy.  Then I walked passed Frank and Eddy’s deli, a great old Italian joint where an Asian dude named Daniel hooks me up.  Next, I walked by the deli where I can get a damn good Philly cheesesteak sandwich prepared by a Yemeni short order cook.  From there, I crossed the street toward the bodega where I get a cup of coffee most mornings, served by Tommy, a Brooklyn bred Irish/Italian fellow.  He’s always on the phone, and after I thank him and he wishes me a good day, he resumes his phone call, speaking fluent Farsi with an old school Brooklyn accent.  Finally, I made it to my apartment, lay my head on the pillow and contemplated the Great Ethnic Stew that is New York City.

Then next morning I got up to meet my friend, Osha.  We were heading out to Give-the-Thanks with Tom, an old friend of hers out on Orient Point, Long Island – way out on the edge of the USofA.  As I walked to my subway stop, I passed by a road crew.  The workers were a bit pissed off, jabbering about how they have to work the day before Thanksgving.  They jabbered away in English – every Irish, Latin and Asian one of them – but they seemed to be alright with their day of toil.

China and Mexico side by side and happy.

“Hey, least it’s mothuhfu$%in’ ovuhtime!”

At the steps descending to the subway, I passed a man pacing in a little semi-circle and speaking on the phone.  He was well into middle age but had the concerned face of a little boy.

“I mean…I’m entitled to it, right?  I been working all these years so I’ve been paying into it, ain’t I.  I mean, that’s how unemployment works, right?”

On Thanksgiving afternoon, Tom drove us out to where the Long Island Sound meets the Atlantic Ocean.  As I walked about the beach I looked out as far as I could see.  3,300 miles of ocean, then Europe.  Nothing in between.  I imagined that if my eyes were stronger, I could see clear to the Old World.  I may have even squinted and tried to see, but alas, my vision isn’t strong enough to see so far.  I can’t see back into Time.

The Atlantic Ocean, with the Old World in the background…way, way in the background.

And seeing that far really would be staring into Time.  Because if I could see Europe from that beach – and the  rest of the world, for that matter (for those who still believe the world is round) – I would see the uncooked ingredients of America.  I would see every single nationality that makes up the USofA, even past the white ingredients of Europe and Britain, to the yellow, red, black ingredients…all the colors that make up America, in their natural habitat.  I would gain, instantly, a perspective that would allow me to gaze upon America with a little more clarity.  I would understand that things have to mix thoroughly before we can take The American Stew off the stove.  I would understand that it’s hot in the pot, and no cooler for anybody else, and I would be a little more understanding, a little more patient, a little gentler with the other ingredients.  But again, I can’t see across an ocean.  I can only see the ingredients up close in the great big melting pot of America. as we bump up against each other on the subway, the street, a stairway or elavator, a line at a meat truck…somewhere.  But we burn like hell together and blend – sometimes violently – together.

It might as well have been like this.

We had turkey, clams and lobsters for thanksgiving dinner.  It was my job to plop the still living lobsters into the boiling pot.  It was a much more difficult task than I thought.  One of the lobsters spread out its claws and tale, bracing itself against the rim of the pot and refusing its fate.  I didn’t know what to do.  I glanced over at Osha and Tom, both shucking clams as if it were second nature.  They said nothing, but gave me a look that said, clearly, “Quit bein’ a sissy and shove ’em in the water.”  So I did and I’m still rather disturbed by it.  But that evening I found solace in the wonderful aroma of so many things cooking in the kitchen.  So many ingredients being chemically broken down by heat, then fusing together to form something fine and tasty.

I inhaled the beautiful aroma, closed my eyes, and on the backs of my eyelids I saw all us Americanos swirling around in the great big pot of boiling water called America.  I saw us breaking down chemically, ceasing to be what we were, and fusing together to become something new and delicious – never before tasted.  And it was ok for us to change into something new…it wasn’t like America was dying.  It was merely change.  America is the pot of boiling water, and will stay America, no matter what ingredients are put into the pot.

Charlie Chaplin starring as the “Little Tramp” in the movie, THE IMMIGRANT.

I kept my eyes closed and witnessed a sudden history of the United States.  Not of wars and God given Imperialist undertakings, but a more accurate history of the States:  The History of the Immigrant.  I saw an immigrant who came over here and worked from sun up to sun down at a very hard job for very little pay so that his or her children would have a better life in America.  The Immigrant somehow found time to fall in love – maybe get married at the city hall – and have first, second, third generations, all the way to you and me.  Others spat on our relative, cursed our relative, and shouted out to our relative that they were stealing their jobs.  Our relative cleaned off the spit and abuse at the end of a very long workday of building a railroad or a brick building, toiling in a sewing shop, cleaning trash of the street, working somebody else’s cattle, farming somebody else’s fields, serving breakfast lunch and dinner all day long to somebody else, or toiled in some other version of hard labor.   Our relavtive lay his or her head on a pillow at night and the next the next thing they knew it was morning.  No dreams – they just got up and lived the same day again.  Dreams were for their children.  The Asian immigrant cooking in the Mexican food joint stands on his feet from sun up to sun down for his children to dream.

Or does he?  Is he doing it for the his children’s future, or simply go through the motions and accepts a life of toil, soaked in grease, as one bill comes in after another, and he skips one payment to make another?  Is he only making payments now, with never any cash left over to put away for a college tuition for his daughter who works the cash register after school?    Does he lay his head on the pillow at night, after a few hours of stupid idiocy on the TV?  Does he toss and turn in bed, unable to understand why he’s so unhappy?  Does he spit back at the assholes who bark their food orders at him – those who also hate their own lives but also can’t quite tell you why?  Does he bark at his daughter every time he sees her?  Does she hate her father, perhaps embarrassed by him, even ashamed of his hideous backwardness?  Is the daughter ashamed to dream?  Can anybody dream anymore?  Will his daughter have to get meningitis, or get hit by a car, for him to remember why he works so hard?  Will the daughter have to drift into a coma just to dream?

I open my eyes and I’m back in the kitchen.  Tom and Osha have shucked the clams and moved on to other things.  The aroma was even richer, palpable in the kitchen’s atmosphere.  I smelled so many things, but I couldn’t smell one single thing.  That excited me, because that meant it was almost time to eat.  My stomach growled as we set the table.

Great recipe, but it has to be cooked at high, high heat.

When all of the ingredients in the Great American Boiling Pot finally dissolve, we will fuse together and will make one fine tasty meal.  It will be so nourishing.  No one will be able to single out one nationality – it will be a new and exciting dish.  The Child called Our Future will sit down at the Great Table, where the American Meal awaits to be devoured.  As The Child sticks the fork in, it will say, “I am thankful for this meal, prepared by those who loved me.  Amen.”

Later that evening, with a full belly, The Child will lay its head on a pillow.  And The Child will dream.

Until then, it’s on us to take the heat together.

Adios, zai jian, bedrood, ciao, so long blood and take it easy, my fellow ingredients…

It’s A Winter Wonderland, Dammit!

Hello Everybody,

New Yorkers packing it in to please Boss Man.

A few mornings ago, I got off the D-train at the 42nd Sreet/Bryant Park stop, on my way to work.  Upon my approach to the exit, a bum was crawling under the turnstiles.  I could smell him from several feet away – the  smell of an uncleaned pen in a zoo.  His chest scraped against the dirty floor of the station, his chin an inch or two away from the footsteps of other New Yorkers scurrying about, on their way to work, or wherever else a New Yorker might go.  But probably to work, because most had that look like they were about to lose their job, and OMG, right before Christmas…how Dickensian.  So they scamper, scamper, scamper – jumping into a subway car just as the doors closed.  The extra minute earlier that they get to work is gonna show Boss Man they got drive.  And Boss Man likes drive.

New York Bum.

But the bum didn’t have that look.  He didn’t have any look.  His eyes weren’t looking into this world.  He was looking into that other world, and he and others who know what that world is don’t speak English anymore.  They babble out a language only the Invisible People understand.  The Invisible People welcome them, don’t turn away from them, don’t turn their nose up at them.  As I neared the turnstiles, the bum got up off the floor and collected the colorful pages of a newspaper that he would undoubtedly weave into a coat of many colors under which he will lay to seek warmth.  Facing the turnstiles was a women dressed in black and singing gospel songs.  A series of pamphlets were spread out before her on a real blanket.  She sang, beautifully – old timey songs about Jesus – but not once did she look bum’s way.  But he didn’t mind, he wasn’t looking at her either.

After work, I walked The City for a bit, which I do from time to time to clear my head.  However, it’s Christmas time, dammit!  Walking The City at quittin’ time is not a path along the waters of Enlightenment.   I passed through the congested area around Macy’s Department Store on 34th St., a log jam of humanity and bad will.  Or maybe not bad will, but no will at all.  The shoppers that moved in and out of the giant store with beaten eyes – blank, going through the motions without questioning.  That’s what American’s do during Christmas time – they go shopping after work, when it’s crowded, wait in long lines, get angry, push and shove, maybe yell a little at somone who makes $20 less an hour, then resign themselves to a mysterious dissatisfaction of life.  Finally, they leave Macy’s, with that vacant stare, bouncing like driftwood off the other robots who aren’t programmed to question tradition.  I flow with the fleshy current, amidst the aroma coming off the meat carts and out of manholes.  I couldn’t help but feeling the Christmas season came early this year.  Then I remembered, it did come early this year.  Thanksgiving is just a week away – a week earlier than last year, or all the previous years since we broke bread with those kind and well-behaved savages so many years ago.  That’s so wonderful for our poor, gentle, sweet economy, getting that pesky day of thanks out of the way earlier.  That means an earlier Black Friday.  Those brilliant folks at Wal-Mart are having Black Friday on Thanksgiving Thursday, because why wait?  Why not lure the masses tryptophan narcoleptics to shell out their cash on National Thank You Day.  Thank you, Wal-Mart, thank you.

Holiday Joy?!?!

Night had fallen by the time I got to Bryant Park. Christmas lights shone like electric candy in the trees.  The park becomes something of a winter wonderland during the holiday season.  Little wooden booths are set up and in them merchants sell their wares of clothing, jewelry, leather goods, candy, and knick-knacks.  A happy little village.  In the middle of the park there is an ice skating rink.  Many, many people slide in a circle with either a smile or the look of death…depending on how well one can handle a pair of skates in a crowd.  Everyone moves in one direction, as if they have to, with no power of their own to stop, or consider going in another direction.  They dared not to even question it.

The park is crowded and festive.  I noticed a curiosity, however.  There were no bums in the park.  Bums are just as much of the New York Holiday Institution as the buyers and the sellers.  Bums are helpful to the buyers and sellers – to help them remember that Thanksgiving has not yet arrived, to help them remember there’s a heaping load of thankfulness that comes before the Great, Manic End-Of-The-Year Buy Out.  And after the Great National Turkey Overdose, the bums are there to help the buyers and sellers remember that Christmas is about a guy who invented the Golden Rule.  But then I saw one, then two, then three, then many, many security guards – all wearing neon green coats with SECURITY printed on them – patrolling the Winter Wonderland, and relieving me of the burden of that curiosity. Their job was to make sure the buying and selling carried on without blemish – looked as pure as the driven snow.  But there wasn’t any snow to compare it to.  It was still too early and warm for snow to stick.

Easy yet bustling Sunday Holiday Commerce.

On Sunday I walked through Union Square, which had a Winter Wonderland set up in it, too.  More of the same booths were set up – selling trinkets, clothes, chocolate, coffee, clocks, etc.  It was occupying the space that Occupy Wall Street used to occupy, after it was banished from Wall Street to Union Square, where the free speech was to be shouted, yet out of ear shot of the Wall Streeters.  Now Occupy Wall Street on Union Square was gone and Capitalism flourished in its place under the Sunday sun.  Many, many people moved like cattle in a shoot, through the small walkways between the boutiques.  People were bundled up in scarves, hats, gloves, enjoying the devine atmosphere.  Statues of war heroes, politicians and angels stood in through the park- touting the stature of immortality – over the mortals who only wanted their fair share of life, liberty and happiness, before the Work and Boss Man on Monday.  They shell out their cash, buy Stuff in hopes that Sunday may move a little slower.

Mohandas Gandhi – Calmly, wisely taking the path outside of Capitalism.

I left the Winter Wonderland and went to get a look at the statue of Mohandas Gandhi on the edge of the park.  I always thought Gandhi’s statue was a little out of place in Union Square, amidst all the figures of Americana and Christianity encased in bronze.  But he’s there and he’s captivating, in his little cloth wrap, humble spectacles, on his bare feet, holding his walking stick.  He also dons a smile that, to me, clearly conveys a pure understanding that nothing lasts forever, and that that is ok, that nothing on Earth should last forever, and that forever belongs to that other place beyond Earth.  That place that can’t be seen for all the Stuff…that only the likes of bums can see.  The back end of the Winter Wonderland runs just beside Gandhi’s statue, as if he is shut out of – uninvited to the festivities.  At first it looks like a slight, an insult to the non-violent humble leader, until I reassess the whole scene, and see it’s a choice.

I’m invited to wander that Winter Wonderland.  I am in a social class that is allowed to occupy its crowded walkways – I’m encouraged to spend, spend, spend.  I’m a bona fide College Educated Day Laborer. I can exist in American society, as long as I understand the Dollar.  As long as I keep my eyes focused in it’s world, work in it’s world, the sellers will let me buy, and I will be spared from a life of newspaper quilts and Invisible friends.

Sunday night a bum approached me on the subway.  I had my guitar with me.

“My young man,” he told me, “practice that thing until it’s the best thing you do.”

I smiled.  He didn’t ask me for any money and I didn’t have any on me – there was no money in between us at all.  Just before he left me, I told him, “Be well, buddy.”

And he said, “And you keep the faith, young man.”

I have, on more than one occasion, been in a subway car when a bum defecates in his trousers.  The other passengers, collectively, squinch their faces and hold their nose.  Then everybody joins in the exodus to the next car.   But I try to stay in the car.  Don’t get me wrong, there shouldn’t be a statue of me for being a selfless humanitarian – most times I get up with the rest of the passengers.  But the few times when I have stuck it out with the fellow, when I get to my stop, I walk above ground, into the cold air with a little more levity and peace in my soul.  And that makes feel good about myself.  Nobody should have to smell like shit alone.

Be Thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving…

Bad Weather, Bad Neighborhoods and Butoh

Hello Everybody…

Mermaid Avenue in Historic Coney Island

Last Tuesday, I went to Coney Island to help out in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.  I’d received an email from a volunteer group to assist in demolition and cleanup up.   But when I got to the rendezvous point on Surf Avenue, I was hijacked by another group that needed volunteers to go door to door, floor to floor, in a housing project to make sure its elderly and disabled tenants had someone to help them get food, medication, etc.  I was whisked into a small car with a lot of people and dropped off at a housing project further down Surf Ave.  This housing project had a real pretty view of the ocean.

The view may not have been on too many people’s mind, however, in the bona fide disaster zone that Coney Island has become.  Power was down in most domestic buildings.  Streetlights were blinking irregularly.  The storm waters deposited tons of sand all over the community.  Bulldozers piled the sand into huge dunes, but sand still scattered about in the wind, burning the eyes.  National Guard trucks sped along the streets, kicking up more sand.  The smell of fuel and natural gas was in the air, watering the eyes.  Trash blue in the wind – collected against fences.   At one point a fire erupted out of a manhole in the middle of the street.  Not until a fire arrived did me and the other volunteers take our eyes off that.  Long lines of Black, Hispanic, Russian and elderly people stood in long lines where the Red Cross or FEMA or churches were handing out clothes and food.  Their eyes were set in a blank stare to that place where only the cold, hungry and tired can see.  Their eyes burned too, I bet.  But I’m sure they were willing to deal with it.

People dealing with it.

The first floor of the housing project was inhabitable due to the flooding, so we only had to tackle the 2nd thru 24th floors.  Lucky us.  Yes, lucky us.  Because all we had to do was go up and down the stairs and knock on doors, unlike the Black, Hispanic, Russian and Elderly folks who lived there.  They had to carry carts of food, water and clothing up the stairs.  Many were out of breath, resting in the stairwell, mustering the strength to climb the other 10 or so floors they had left.  They would laugh and say something like…

“Dear Lord, please get that elevator a workin’!”

Their positive attitudes were inspiring, but they did look at you funny when you told them…

“Have a great day!”

They held that look on you until you were certain you were an idiot.  But they didn’t hold it against you.  Not at all.

They didn’t.  Really.  Because floor after floor, people thanked us so much for simply “caring” enough to check on them.  They thanked us in English, Spanish, and I think the Russians thanked us, too.  When it was all said and done, we only helped a few people, giving them flashlights, phone numbers to field pharmacies and nurses.  But what they needed was heat and we couldn’t give it to them.  They needed water, but if they could walk, we couldn’t get it for them.  They needed power, and we couldn’t give them that, either.  But so many tenants stepped across their doorway and held our hands firmly, and said something like…

“We’s just glad they’s somebody that care ’nuff to come over and check on us…”

That feeling of being an idiot subsided, a little bit.  People freezing in a concrete housing project that looks and feels just a little less like a prison have a way of making you feel at home when they smile and thank you.  And it’s impossible to refrain from feeling truly grateful for what you have.

On my way to my warm home, I caught this conversation between a twenty something couple.  She was a Russian immigrant, he was rough Brooklyn, born and bred.

She:  I’m sick of this America shit.  If I win the lottery, I’d go to South America – maybe back to Russia.  Live in a little house, grow my own vegetables.  My little girls can pick cotton.  You could come with me.

He:  I’m born here.  It’s all I know.  So, that’s what you’d do if you won the lottery?

She:  Yeah.  I’m mean I don’t hate it here…but there’s just SO MUCH…it’s TOO MUCH comin’ at you.  I want something easier.

He:  You know, you can grow vegetables and your girls can pick cotton right now.  That’s what poor people do.  That may be simpler.  But it ain’t easier.  It’s just as hard as it is here.

She:  The lady runnin’ my shelter spies on us.  She snuk up on me when I was going to the the bathroom.  I almost hit her with the roll of toilet paper.

He:  They don’t turn the lights off where I’m at.  It’s just like jail.

Diane Sawyer was not playing a drinking game. She was overworked.

When I got home, Super Tuesday was in full swing, all across cyberspace.  The Conservative news outlets were confident Mitt Romney would win, and the Liberal news outlets were certain President Obama would be re-elected.  The hideous news anchors were explaining what President Obama could do for Americans, what Romney would do for Americans.  It all hinged on which way those silly undecided states – Ohio and Florida – would swing.  Oh, the tension, the excitement.  Facebook posts and tweets on the Twitter were a lightin’ up over the suspense!  People were so funny, so happy, the day was finally here.  But they were so nervous, too.  OMG is their guy gonna win?  Stay tuned, America!  It was the grandest of reality shows, grander than plastic infused mafia wives, trashy Jersy girls, or drunk housewives, drag queens, ‘gator hunters, Klondike miners, hillbilly hoarders, and even Donald Trump, who was jealous and angry.  But he’ll probably cool down, because NBC is still giving him millions of dollars for one hour each week to shit out his false reality.

“Did you hear they used to have elections before electricity?”

I tried to keep up as the networks called states in favor of the President or Romney.  And I tried to be American and approach the election like a football game, like an episode of Dancing with the Stars, or Glee, but I just kept hearing that conversation I heard on the subway…and I kept seeing all the faces of the people out on Coney Island.  They seemed a million miles from the election.  So I powered down and went to bed.

When I awoke, democracy had prevailed.  President Obama would remain our president.  I believe it was a victory for America, not because I think Obama is a savior and will lead us to the promised land, but because he is responsible for the rise in the percentage of voters, over 60% for two elections.  I would love to see how America is represented if we can get to 85%…hell, we the people may actually have representation then, and the efforts for coporate/military totality may finally be conquored.  Obama’s legacy is that he got people to the polls, and that’s enough to go down in history as an American hero, in this Age of Lethargy, anyway.  He’s got the Black, Hispanic and Elderly vote…becuase they feel he is on their side.  And I believe he is.  He even got more of the evangelical right to come out and vote against him.  They gave it the good fight and lost.  But everybody wins when more people vote.


But all the American Woopdie-Do was little help to the Black, Hispanic, Russian and Elderly out at Coney Island on Less Than Super Wednesday, because of a massive snow storm that blew through later that evening.  The biblical snowstorm hindered the relief efforts in response to the biblical hurricane and I’m sure more than a few of the people I met out there were severely disappointed with The Almighty.  And, I’m sure more than a few could give a shit who won the Presidency.  It’s hard to really care about such spectacle when you’re digging through a cardboard box of coats and the only thing you can find to fit has flowers on it, is pink, and you’re a black man who has to wear it to his freezing apartment that is not a home so much as the government’s “project.”

Coney Island is ALIVE.

But hope has been abundant in New York this week.  Inspiration has been abundant.  Democracy has been abundant, too, though I’m not talking about Super Tuesday and all the drinking games it spawned from the policy wonks and quatroano politicos.  The people have been well represented here in the Big Apple because they’ve been representing themselves.  The unfortunate have let groups of goofy white merrymakers into their homes in so called bad neighborhoods to say hello and attempt to offer them relief.  The fortunate have come out in droves to attempt that relief.  They weren’t waiting for a politician to make the country better, THEY were making it better.  Out on the American street, the White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, elderly, disabled and poor, poor, poor have ventured forth from the rubble and looked each other in the eye, and acknowledged themselves as human beings.  If a group of humans can do that, they can easily be Americans together.  A disaster can wipe away all those “things” that that Russian on the subway was talking about.  That Brooklyn boy was right, picking cotton ain’t easy, and nobody’s lives are easy.  But a disaster can lift humanity to such a level higher than individual toil, so high it’s easy to see that we are in this big shebang together, that we are one.

Butoh under the train.

Saturday night, my friend Osha took me to a warehouse space in Long Island City to see some Butoh performers.  The place was located under the elevated train.  As the train roared intermittently, women performed Butoh, a Japenese performance art where the artist moves excruciatingly slowly, yet seamlessly.  Their actions are broad, sometimes absurd. They do not speak, but convey tremendous emotion through the expressions of their faces.  I love Butoh, though sometimes I paw out in the air for a fast forward button.  However, I’m always glad I stuck with it, and followed the emotional arc of the performers.  Good Butoh is like watching a moving painting.  And, you don’t realize it’s changed you until it’s over.  It’s a simple craft, but it ain’t easy.  You – the audience – have to put in the time, and in many ways, the performance is about what’s happening within you.  Some things are worth commitment, even if they are moving at a painfully slow pace.

Be well…

After the Storm

What we found, after the flood.

Hello Everybody,

Last week I waited for the elevator with a lady who was so mad because the elevator was all the way up ON THE SECOND FLOOR.

“This is ridiculous, I don’t have all day!”  She exclaimed.

I said nothing, but I wanted to punch her repeatedly until she lay bloody on the ground.  I’m not terribly proud of that thought, but I had it, and held if for several days after.  It wore on me over how impatient and, quite frankly, out of touch she and others like her are in this city.  People literally act like children when they don’t get what they want, when they want it, here.  The age of instant access has got us behaving like babies with a urine soaked diaper.  Just take a look at me when I try to send an email via my hand robot (my smart phone) when the wireless drops (yep, count me in as a baby eau du urine).

It would take a damn hurricane to get that impatient lady off my mind.  Well, a hurricane came.  Sandy roared through Metropolis like a banshee with rabies and a bad rash.  Thoughts of punching ladies in elevators, along with all meaningless thought, disappeared, vanished, like so many things did during this terrible storm.  My thoughts, when the wind kicked into high gear around 7pm on Monday were only about flying glass, flying roofs and high ground.  What if the roof goes, what do I do?  Go to the hallway.  What if the hallway goes?  To the stairwell.  What if the…

I weathered the storm at a friend’s loft apartment in Greenpoint, the northernmost neighborhood in Brooklyn.  The wind whipped at the building, shook the walls, and the roof swelled, giving off very unnerving creaks and pops.  Around 8pm, the wind started to come through the brick wall.  I can only describe this as THE F#$%ING WIND CAME THROUGH THE BRICK WALL.  That was when my friend and I decided to camp in the expansive living room, her eyes and mine constantly glancing at the window at the other end of the room.  For about three hours, I wasn’t sure the windows would hold, and several moments during that time I thought the roof would go.  But the windows held and the roof stayed put. At some point we got used to the wind, which was bad, because the wind would die, and you wait, just wait, just wait, then it comes and dig your nails into the couch cionush, or the arm of the friend with which you weathered the hurricane.  But all things pass.  The wind died down, and sleep was rather easy to come by, until the smell of smoke came through the brick wall.  However, I got used to the smoke and managed slumber.  How luck was I, to be sleeping while others were losing there homes in a terrible fire in Breezy Point, Queens.  I woke up after the storm.  The people of Breezy Point never slept, and they’ll probably never get used to smelling smoke.

Dark Empire

The next night the subway was still down so I decided to walk to my neighborhood, Bay Ridge, in south Brooklyn.  It’s a 9 mile jaunt through the heart of Brooklyn that I managed to make 10 miles because my hand held robot ran out of battery power (silly robot).  But I wasn’t mad, didn’t complain.  I was safe.  I’d weathered a storm, and I was somehow restored the patience I had before the robots took over.

I walked down Flatbush avenue, through the Hassidic community.  Old and young men, yarmulkas and long curls of hair from their temples, fluidly moved down the street.  They were all dressed in the traditional garb, black suits, white shirts, some had porkpie hats.  Only rings or a watch, or eyeglasses, gave them their individuality, in regards to their appearance.  But they all had the look of cautious calm as if they were saying, “Yahweh, please don’t give us more than we can handle.”

I turn South onto Vanderbilt, through Clinton Hill and walked among caravans people walking together to their neighborhoods.  All seem to have the same look and vibe, a little laughter, but no one was taking for granted the peace to be felt.  The winds were calm, that was all they needed for a definition to the term “Joy.”

I turned here and there, many trees were down, millions of branches scattered along the way.  Everything glistened with moisture.  Brooklyn smelled like wet leaves and mud.  I turned onto 4th Ave and began my ascent to Bay Ridge.  Members of the Latino community in Sunnyside huddled together on street corners and outside of bodegas.  They all had the same look as if they silently saying, “We are safe now, but, no mas, Dios, por favor?”

Fractal Imagery

I got home.  No flooding.  Still had power.  My feet and my back ached, but I saw Brooklyn in a way I couldn’t have planned.  I was lucky.  On Saturday, I had to go into Manhattan, so I decided to continue the walking.  I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time.  I got lost in the fractal imagery of its cables.  It was so mezmerizing.  The huge granite towers that support the suspension cables were giants wading in a stream.  Each tower has a tiny little American flag atop them, which to me, is what America is all about.  Huge bricks, real things, put there by immigrants (real founding fathers) and the children of immigrants (everybody else, including you and me), with only a little of the Myth of America fluttering above.  Real America is the bricks and cables, it ain’t the songs of our history.

An American Street

But enough of that.  On Sunday, I rode into Staten Island with a friend.  Her brother’s house was gutted by the storm and we helped him scoop his and his wife’s, and their two children’s, belongings – their home – out to the street.  Hundreds of houses were gutted.  The homes, the rubble – once the safest place these people could be, where they could shed worry and fear – was piled high on the street, taller than a person.  Down the street as far as I could see.  Bulldozers came, scooped up those piles, dumped the homes into a truck, then dumped the homes into a huge dump pile by the ocean, to be landfill upon which the homes of others would most certainly be built.

Someone’s Home

Military choppers soared through the beautiful blue sky, constantly.  The National Guard came by asking if we needed anything.  Then, car after car of regular people came by, offering coats, water, warm food.  It was a highly emotional scene, but not hysterical.  Those that lost their homes haven’t begun the real crying, the shock is still high and they are just trying to survive right now.  What was so emotional was feeling and absorbing the generosity of those giving, and the gratitude of those receiving.  It was all so simple, humble and kind, but truly profound.  New Yorkers are beautiful people, hell, people are beautiful people.  My friend’s brother, Seth, stood next to me while we ate free donuts.  He was  weary, wearing the same warmups he had on the last few days, and was holding a coat a good samaritan gave him.  He looked at me, then at the ground which used to be a lawn but the grass was long gone.

“Well, I bet my neighbor won’t mind if my dog pees in his yard now.”

His neighbor probably wouldn’t, because that neighbor happens to be staying with Seth at Seth’s parents.  There’s a lotta good people out on Staten Island.  And as blown wide open as it is out there, it is a prime example of another attribute of that Real America, where people put the make believe life down and take care of their neighbors no matter what.  In Real America, people don’t fight for what’s theirs, they give.

Woody Guthrie, un-blind lover of Real America.

Real America doesn’t fight for freedom, it gives to achieve freedom of the soul.  It’s hard to write a song about that kind of freedom though.  Wait, no its not, Woody Guthrie wrote plenty them.  I guess they’re too hard for a marching band to learn.

But enough about that.  I don’t have any regrets in life.  But if I was to relive the moment with the old lady complaing about the elevator, I wouldn’t fantasize punching her into hamburger meat.  Nope.  Instead, I would put my hand on her shoulder and smile.  Then I would suggest she, in turn, put her hand on a stranger’s shoulder and smile.  It won’t just make her feel better about herself, it will be her salvation. In Real America, we’re not afraid of strangers, we crave to know them.

A safe harbor, for you, for me.

Whatever storm you are weathering, I wish you safe harbor…