Street Prank

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Personal / Writing / Journal /

The reading ain’t easy, but you may find it worth it. Unpleasant thoughts and memories and lessons may serve survival better than pleasant ones. The following story from 1957 concerns events connected to a fraternity initiation that became injurious. I told the story orally then, scribbled it in my journal in 1990, digitized it for K. nearly a decade later. Now I rescue it to my pKnatz blog.

Good Gosh AMighty! 52 years old (1990ish) and I try looking into Russell’s Principles of Mathematics for the second or third time since giving up on his Principia for the third or fourth time. I see a mark or two in the Intro so I must have read at least that much of the Intro before. But this time, it’s easy. It glides. Yes, Yes, WOW, exclamation points get added to the margin. And then I’m shot between the eyes. Finitism. The basic epistemological questions of my life, the ones that the establishment in my experience has always simply turned its back on without answering. Can’t answer? don’t hear? don’t understand the question/objection? don’t know. but here it is, with a name, a history. evidence that others before me had made it. and formally, not just sort of like Carol Emshwiller in [her story] Mr Morrison. Or the guy who discovers that he has no nose in Mind’s I. Not only that, Russell sees its implications and doesn’t simply turn his back on them! Has the guts to admit that the disastrousness of the consequences has no bearing on a theory’s truth.

… the disastrousness of the consequences
has no bearing
on a theory’s truth.

Posting to pKnatz blog I do stylize some of the text: making titles of works bold,
italicizing short titles, and some concepts, for emphasis … Fixing some typos, a few spellings; but I leave my helter-skelter grammar. occasionally acknowledge upper case … leave some of the “style.”

Sees the improbable solution: only “a complete theory of knowledge” could answer or test it. But of course the establishment never volunteers that it lacks such: though to give it some credit, it’s seldom loud in proclaiming that it is “totality.” Neither does it censure those who would so attribute it.

Now I certainly claim no such thing for myself; neither do I believe that knowledge is impossible: Finitism isn’t my creed. I only wanted the teachers to touch that base. They never saw it there even when shown.

BUT: and if there’s any single reason why GB [Gregory Bateson] is so important to me, it is that it’s the first giant step I ever saw toward such a theory. One can go with this, it explains a zillion times more, doesn’t dismiss anything as the enemy beneath contempt, and is [Bateson’s reasoning] a jillion times more humble.

Simultaneously, I’m rejoicing about how much I’ve expressed to Brian in these past couple of weeks, but also recalling the despair accepted as chronic a year ago that there are certain truths I cannot possibly communicate to him, or illustrate or identify facts for, because of the one recess into which he will not look with adult eyes and that I promised to cease or to try to cease bringing up.
[I’m sorry, but you must understand: bk was kidnapped from me, by Hilary, in 1973, when he was five years old, approaching “school” age, so I, the deschooler, the offerer of cybernetic record keeping, social networking, community databases, as a solution to tyrannical kleptocracy, would have nothing to say about my own son’s schooling! Sometimes he & I communicate well. Sometimes he understands me better than anyone. And sometimes he closes all connections. Not long after the above was written he put up a wall between us for years: my crime? to ask his friend about his health: you see, he’d gained a lot of weight! and didn’t want it noticed.]

Simultaneously other JD [“judgment day”] permutations are parading: JD as a series of ss [short stories] in which J [Jehovah, God …] is this or that logico- philosophical type. When he’s [ie, god is] a Finitist, the whole of Eternity is spent failing to prove the first point: that Adam, the first in the dock, is a Man.

Simultaneously I’m thinking about the tale I didn’t include in any of the id files. the knatzs’ tendency to fight whoever or whatever is tying to help them. Hilary [my wife, bk’s mother] responding to love as if to attack. bk too. They can’t both inherit it from me. ‘Cause H[ilary] had it when I met her. But we’re not alone. And then my mind is back on College Walk, and then on Broadway and 115th in 1957. The Platonic Original inappropriate response to aid. [Ah, we reach the beginning of the target story, at last.]

Memory kissed yesterday’s report of the unwritten Neighborhood Free Fuckery [a pk idea for a story from the 1960s, again anticipating my Free Learning Exchange (and the internet)] to bk, the first time it was even put, in any part, on “paper.” And of course I never wrote the story of that night. A week after I’d announced that it would make a good story, DeJong [dorm neighbor, buddy] comes and hands me his execution of it. [I told deJong my idea for a story, he came back and showed me that he‘d written it!] Sheesh, what bull shit. “I love you,” the narrator calls down into the sewer. [in his version, but of course you don’t know the story yet: whore falls into the sewer, breaks her leg, nearly rapes the cop trying to rescue her.] But it wows Prof. Nobbe. [writing prof, deJong fan] I had no impulse to fictionalize it: just to sort of dreamy report it.

So, thirty-three years later:

It was the first semester of my sophomore year. Fraternity initiation time. Had nothing to do with me. I had circulated for a beer or two the first semester, then yielded only to Walsk’s [freshman roommate] entreaties from SAMmy the second. What were the Jews chasing me for? Now it’s my third semester of such shit, and until the following happened I wasn’t even aware that this was the night for fraternal climax, unaware that the wooing had been going on. It’s midnight or so. I’m walking across College Walk [Columbia’s main pedestrian way: West 116th Street, closed to power vehicles for decades], back toward John Jay [dorm] having just gotten off the uptown subway. I don’t remember where I’d been: I wasn’t yet a regular at the White Horse [tavern in Greenwich Village]. I’d seldom go to the movies in those days. Birdland hasn’t yet closed [famous jazz nightclub, named for Charlie Parker]. I was never at the latter nightly. Nor weekly. Not quite. Just more regularly than anywhere else. Maybe Basie was in town [Count Basie band]. It seems to me I must have seen Basie ten times more regularly than anyone else those couple of years before Birdland closed. On the other hand, if Basie was in town I’d be getting in much later. But that’s speculation. I don’t know where I had been. Downtown. And now it was time to go home: too late to do any studying: home to feel the tiniest, most resistible, sense of waste of the expensive excuse I had to be in New York and eating while unemployed. If the assignments were all more than I could do no matter how hard I worked in one day and night, then how this time was I going to cram it all in a few hours before the final? Didn’t know. Didn’t much care. It was time to crash.

Before I get quite to the Sundial [center of College Walk, Columbia’s social center as it were] two Black women come staggering from Amsterdam Avenue. I guess I was the only male in sight, cause they come straight for me. Umm, skinny little me. Did I back up? Shuffle sideways? I know I neither fled nor advanced.

CU College Walk
thanx CNN

In this pic the sundial, the center of College Walk, is just above Alma Mater (the statue)’s head. Low Memorial Library is behind the camera, Butler Lirary is dead ahead (the southern, 114 St border of the main campus), John Jay Hall, my dorm, is to the far left.

Now, I had been smooching pussy with my eyes, dipping my fingers in it, since barely past toddlerhood. By the time I was ten I had probably had my hands on and in more cuny (Bowdlerizing K. 2016 07 29) than some non-celebates in their whole lives. But, simultaneously the Christian, I was still technically a virgin. Once past puberty, the dick stayed chastely outside. In fact it generally stayed buttoned away. A habit I paid dearly for as detailed elsewhere [my blue balls story: migrating to an anon blog]. But between Dot in the seventh grade and the Presbyterian red head from Astoria that coming New Years Eve, not even S [a favorite teen girl friend, a chaste petting partner] had once touched it. Her mons bumped at it but with four layers of fabric between. And her own two layers stayed on her bottom no matter how far my hand was up her coo.

So, still on the Broadway side of the Sundial, these two bodies come reeling at me. I’d no doubt had a couple of drinks myself, but Shaish! did they reek of booze. And other smells I wasn’t used to: not just black female; adult female! drunk female! The shorter, fatter one stank and reeled far more than the other. Shorty was also the aggressor. “How about a kiss, Honey?” I stand my ground but flinch away with my face. Then I realize that her sally was a cover, a feint: was she really going for my dick? My God! she’s there. And I didn’t flinch that away.

A mistake. All those years of holding back. Not testing what Jane’s [a high school date] reaction would have been had I whipped it out and stuck it in her hand or waved it in front of her face. I had avoided Carol A., the last to have wanted to view it routinely, since the sixth grade. Avoided her like the plague. Yielding to a nice feel of Carol (and simultaneously, Dottie B.) only when safely with the other Carol, Carol B., my wholly unlusted for prom date, with whom I went quite rigid of body (not at all of member) when she sent overtures.
[I’d been in a club with Carol B when Carol A, my sixth grade buddy, and Dottie, her buddy, stood flanking me. I put my arms around them and let my hands fall till I had both of them by the buttock. Verry nice. Boy, did this high school senior feel like a big shot! There are no initials after names in the originals.]

Yep, Carol A. used to gaze daily as the wand stood inexplicably on end, but I don’t believe she ever touched it. [summer after the sixth grade: Every day she wanted us to take our clothes off, we’d climb down off the garage roof and go into the garage. I always had an erection: a phenomenon I was just becoming experienced with. But I’d tell Carol, “It doesn’t usually look like that.” “What does it usually look like, she’d ask, but I was never able to show her! It always leapt up before I could expose it.] I don’t believe I’d wanted her to. It was all visual. I don’t think I touched her when she took her pants off half as much as I had the Bonnies and Heidis et alia of the past [grade school “doctor” partners]. No, the last to grab it had been Dot M., just after repeatedly refusing to. There I was safe with Joe. I think Dick had gone home, embarrassed that he had showed up uninvited, having somehow heard that Dot was having a birthday party. [The party was Dot’s trap for Joe, but he wasn’t interested.] Present and all. All dressed up. While Joe and I were just dressed the way we spent everyday. Neither had Dorothy dressed or even bathed. As I was to learn in a way new to me. Joe absolutely wouldn’t let her touch his. “You can have this one,” I’d offered. “No, No, No. Joe, Joe, Joe.” And then her hand was in my pants and I was struggling not to faint. She had pinched my nuts on the way.

So boozer goes for it. Yoi. My knees sag inward. Stupid c- has given the fruit a very ungentle squeeze. I pitied even the dead chicken carcass being plucked by that set of beefy pincers. Had she gotten the dick and not my nuts I believe it still would have sent me sagging. “Five bucks,” she says, “for both my sister and me.”

By which time I’ve got my hands covering my wretchedly spasming groin and have backed up. But come on, Knatz. What ever she did to you, remember, you’re cool. And I fought to keep a froid face as I declined, politely. Then comes the stream of “motherfucker, faggot, …” But they’re moving on toward Broadway.

I’m past the sundial and angling down the steps when a crowd erupts from the quad. Drunk, loud, aggressive. “Where the fuck are we going to find a whore?” one complains. Was it because I hated these boors that I suddenly decided to be cooperative? Quick directions and the platoon was off. One or two though laid back a bit to thank me. I received an explanation as part of the thanks. They were pledges to Greek XYZ. This was initiation night. They’d been beered and paddled, whatever, and sent on a scavenger hunt. They had gotten everything: a fifty cent orchid, somebody had known about Time Square; the Wall Street Journal from last February 12. They even knew where, last thing, they’d collect the NYC manhole cover. But no whore for the brothers. And they’d already been all over Times Square.

I decided to wander back toward Broadway to see if they caught up with the merchandise they would become merchandise to. They hadn’t had to. Sister and sister must have felt the hoofbeats, because they had turned back. It was still on College Walk that I saw the really drunk one counting her prospective wealth with her finger, losing her place and beginning again. “Ooho Wee, fi’ dolla, ten’alla, fiteen’alla, twenny dolla …” while big sister looked to swoon with happiness. One of the times she lost count was when her finger punctured the air in my direction. My gestures subtracted myself from her accounts. She didn’t at first recognize me. I doubt that she knew how disabling her ardor would have been even to a willing consumer. She had given up her summing by the time they all headed off toward 115 Street. “Tweeny’fi’ … ooo, lots and lots of fi’dollas.”

The pronunciation was nearly identical a couple of years later on 125 Street, just a bit west of the Apollo. The most pathetic whore I have ever seen. In broad daylight, she broadcast her offer at a volume that carried it far past her own NE corner. She was old, dirty, ugly, disheveled, spastic with drink yet with no hint of grace if sober. “I suck yo’ DICK fo’ fi’ dolla.” Repeatedly she cawed this to the wind, to the store fronts, to the flank of the bus that passed just as her face came momentarily to bear in the direction of the wide street after a twirl or two around the lamppost at last succeeded in keeping her clinging but still on her feet. A repetition, and she hung there bobbing, staring blearily at the crowd as though we disbelieved her.

And another reflection from many years past: how adult the college freshman appears to the high school student and to himself. Yet the sophomore will see the beany coiffed cherubs and think: what are these children doing here? A few weeks later the beanyless fraternity initiates maraud the streets like footballers the Saturday night they’ve won the championship. Down in the Village it was fortunately only once a year or so that we’d all have to flinch and say: Uh oh, here they come. Fag, hippy, and just plain visitor alike. `We’re men, right? No? You wanna punch in the mouth?’

I remember squirming with Christian discomfort, and more than a little good Christian cowardice, moral more than physical, the first time I ever visited Greenwich Village. My high school pals suggested it, and in we drove in Almer’s dad’s company’s hot ’55 Chevy. Great: I loved everything about NYC, but had never been to the Village. We get there, and my buddies go crazy. First, they want a whore. Short of the wreck on 125th St, how would we have known one? She would have had to wear a sign. Well, they do wear signs. She would have had to have one we could read. No whore? Then they want to bash faggots. “Hey, where are the faggots?” they were screaming from the car. All over. But again, not one of us knew the signs. And I would have concealed the knowledge had I had it.

Ah, the most pathetic fag I ever saw held his chapped mouth over a long stemmed rose on Sixth Avenue just off 4th Street. He was boxed on something. Frail frame levitating in a scimitar curve, blunt no doubt, while a crowd gathered around him. Him we would have recognized.

Now here’s cool Paul: walking home after an evening of the most sophisticated entertainment, Miles or Basie or Brubeck or whatever it was that he had done that night. And here’s the first whore he’s ever seen in his life. How could he tell? Cause she’d had poked his privies and given a price. And the initiates? They were given a map.

By the guy who had himself only that minute been given one impossible not to interpret. The first such recognition in his life, and, he is sure, in any of their lives. Cheesh, the guys had just roamed Times Square! Maybe one out of five women they saw … Maybe nine for ten. Maybe ninety-nine out of a hundred. By the time you get to Cully’s point of view in Vegas, you err in the other direction and call it one hundred percent.

It’s only another month or so later that Myron and I leave the Composer Room. Much as I had enjoyed listing to John Mehegan, sitting at his table, being in the inner sanctum, having Mingus shuffle by to mumble his good night, weaving over us, “Sheee … mo’fo … sheee … mo’fo … gu’ni, John” (Mehegan barely raises a finger. Professional cool. Me? “Night, Mingus,” I cry), this is the time I had looked forward to. Having Myron to myself. For at least the half hour it will take us to get back to Morningside Heights. I had never been alone with him to just talk. But we’re not three steps down W 58 Street and Myron is looking at the woman approaching. She’s a goddam adult, for chrisake. Thirty, or thirty-five. A haggard twenty-six, at least. Myron has flagged the taxi that wasn’t even passing till that second. He holds the door open for the approaching woman. Rain coat. No make up. She says “Thank you,” very nicely, and gets in! “See you, Paul,” and there goes my conversation with the genius. All of just turned sixteen, and he knew. I don’t see him for weeks, and then it’s all just telling me about how she kept sucking even after he had come. The first time I ever do get to talk to Myron, even after (ahem) sharing an apartment with him for a semester, it’s years later and he’s an exjunkie, exjailbird, very ordinary graduate student. Uttering coherent sentences, but ones only ordinarily worth hearing. When I’d first met him, his sentences were hardly coherent, but man, were they killers. Only later realized he was quoting the soon to be murdered Bobby Fractor half the time: “Like … you gotta … Listen . . . BETWEEN the notes.” But i hadn’t met Bobby yet.

Anyway, the pledges have gone to become brothers. I run into I forget whom and we head to Riker’s for coffee. It’s three or four in the morning. The wind is blowing a mini-cyclone of trash that confines its wandering to the limits of Riker’s big front window. I should check this out from the other side of the glass. Time to crash anyway. My opening the door must have disturbed whatever was holding the litter spinning. Though it starts up again. I skirt around it to see it with the street light behind me. Who’s coming up 115th, still counting? It’s actual cash she’s got in her hands now. Her sister is in the same mellow heaven of wealth I’d last witnessed. I don’t think she’ll tweak me now. I hold my ground. Think I’ll say something congratulatory to them. So far, they don’t recognize me. So far, they don’t see me. Both sisters had been boozed, but I wonder about the mellowness of the big one.

They’re within ten feet of me, beginning to tuck their treasure away before they get to inhabited Broadway. I see it as filmed by David Lean. Something from the not yet made Lawrence of Arabia. The slow telephoto of Omar Sharif’s galloping approach to his well. For all the one’s brutish everything of before, their stagger is now lyrical. Big sister is weaving a head taller than her banker.

Suddenly, before my eyes, big sister is much taller. Piggy sister’s head is at the other’s waist. I can recollect its plunge, still counting, savoring, past her bosom as it continues its descent: shrinking to thighs, passing knees, ankles, and … She’s not there! I’d never seen, I’d never imagined, anyone disappearing like that. Time slowed even further in my bewilderment. Big sister’s eyes grow wide. The moment was absolutely silent. Or my mind could register, fumble with, only one input at a time. I stood there without a clue, looking where I had been looking, at the two heads of vertical space where two faces had been. Perhaps those long moments took only a hundredth of a second. I hadn’t moved my eyes. Then sister is starting to look down. I’m shifting my eyes. And I hear, hear as memory as well as hear, the Whoosh, the bump, the Ooof on steel, the bouncing and bumping, the scream, the plosh of flesh, the impossibly sharp crack of bone, the splash.

Sister starts to buckle. Now I see it: the open man hole. Sister’s ankle is turning at its brink. She’s catching herself just as I’m ready to leap and push her back. I’m thinking: open man hole, the fraternity scavengers, one of them had said they knew where they’d claim the final souvenir … Then big sister is screaming. Her screams are in the open air; moaning up from not yet perceived depths echo the screams of Piggy. I hold my arms out to keep people from walking near. I don’t know if there are any people near to guard. I’m only looking at the hole, down the hole, as I get closer. Some foul mist is rising with the screams. I see a cross-conic of light penetrate a few feet of the top. A ladder of steel rungs descends like an infinite series into the dark. I’ve never looked down an open manhole before. It’s deep. Very deep. It goes for ever. I can’t believe how deep it is. It’s maybe only a second since I was first able to move after seeing her body swallowed. It’s just beginning to occur to me how long it had taken to hear the splash. I don’t know when I heard the splash. I can’t trust my processing. Actually, I was probably thinking faster than usual. So fast everything seemed to be a vast glue.

“Somebody get a cop,” I called. “Keep back from the hole, Sister,” which the latter was doing on her own. Or rather she was on her knees, looking in the dark, calling to her sister.

And things started to return to “real” time. Big sister was secure. I was secure. I looked around. There were people and they were respecting the hole, craning over to look. “Did anyone call a cop?” I ask. Someone gestures to the occupied phone booth nested between Riker’s and the Robber Baron’s. Or Take Home, if that’s what it still called itself after the renovation into a fancy deli and mini mart. Riker’s became Sutter’s Book Store, then I forget what after Chris went out of business.

The cops came within a few minutes, time racing then. It’s cool autumn as well as predawn. The one cop shucks himself out of his outer cop coat, simultaneously wrestling himself free of big sister’s grotesquely physical entreaties for help. His undervest puffs insulation from an untailored arm hole. All his batman-cop junk still festoons his belt and shoulders and pockets as he starts down the ladder, not too slow for all his bulk. I doubt that he was taller than five ten but must have carried two thirty-five just in flesh. I see this or that kind of shit slime the plaid of his frayed flannel shirt before he has drawn below the wedge of light.

Piggy’s screams are ardent but discontinuous. She could, should, be unconscious. But seems to be only for intermittent seconds. Big sister’s howl is continuous.

The true depth of the hole wasn’t apparent until we had a long couple of minutes to trace the cop’s descent. The second cop is keeping everybody back. Sister is hopeless, but not an apparent threat to chute down on top of the rescuer. I yield maybe a foot. My squatter’s right is respected by the cop and the crowd. Crowd? Maybe a dozen others by that time.

A shadow of beam rises from the cop’s flashlight. Now we hear him begin his assessment, much interrupted by Piggy’s tortured enthusiasms. She’s got at least two bad breaks. No room to get her into a bosun’s sling, too narrow to keep her clear of the walls hauling her up. He’ll have to fireman her.

“Oh, save me,” Piggy is screaming louder than ever. If we can hear her like that up on the sidewalk, what decibels are assaulting the poor cop?

We hear him struggling with her. We hear him start his ascent. And everyone there not drunk or stoned or blighted with bestial stupidity can decipher that a blasted eardrum is the least of the cop’s problems.

“Save me,” Piggy is shrieking. “I fuck you,” blubber, “I suck you,” blubber, “I eat yo ass. Save me.” Blubber. “I don’t charge you nuttin.”

I didn’t think it was in any degree funny till quite a bit later: but we hear the cop struggling to keep his grip on her in all the crap. He must have been a third of the way up before we hear an ultimatum: “Keep your hands off me or I’ll drop you.” A bluff, I presumed. Moans only from Piggy thereafter. He could have belted her one for all I know: like a lifeguard the failed swimmer who threatens to drown both of them.

It was a long time of huffing and cursing before his hand gripped the lowest rung visible. His filth smeared brow caught the light before her rump became apparent for what it was. The standby cop’s help is grunted aside until her rump comes almost level with the sidewalk. Her one hand gripped her carrier’s sleeve by the biceps. The other arm hung useless, shaped funny. Another rung and I could see the jagged thigh bone jut not just through her flesh, but through her clothes! That bone was the only thing I didn’t see slimed. Shit smeared her cheek right to the edge of her mouth. Still working, and I mean working, from the hole, the rescuing cop took care to see her gently secured onto the sidewalk before hefting himself the last few rungs and out. Some of the now mucky money still showed from where Piggy had been stowing it. I can’t imagine any cop ever better or more gladly relieved of a burden. Immediately, he begins stuffing his shirt back down his pants, tugging his fly into place. I’ll never know how much of his disarray was from her trying to reward him down in the pit.

These decades later I picture something I don’t think occurred to me then: some portion of her earnings floating away far below.

I had lost track of big sister. She had been removed to the squad car. Even at her sister’s emergence she remained back. Both must have figured out that the cops were best left to their business.

An ambulance was there. I hadn’t noticed it arrive. White coats were taking over. So far as I can tell, I was the first person there, the first person to act in any way. Not that I did much. It wasn’t me climbing down the ladder. But by then I was just another rubber neck. I didn’t hang around till it all dispersed. Emergency flags were placed to guard the still open hole. Somebody told me the hole was still open later that day. I’d told neither whores nor cops that I knew what had happened to the steel cover. What paroxysm of Columbian paternalism would have quivered to life had I? But no: Paul: the observer.

Back at John Jay Hall I ran into DeJong. He’s still up, just gotten up, or maybe I go and wake him. And I tell him the story. “I outta write something about that,” I say. Fat chance. And not many days later he slips me his silly story of it with the narrator calling “I love you” down the hole.

Parallel Experience
2017 02 22, sixty years later

This entry is so bolixed over the decades, telling it, editing the telling, I really should restart from scratch.



About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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