Wildlife Panhandlers

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Teaching / Society & Its Pathologies / Social Survival / Evolution /
@ K. before 2004

  1. To write my first novel I was invited to suspend my business, give up my apartment / office, and let my rich girl friend take care of me.
    Before long I realized that Good Old Charlie Brown had let Lucy talk him into kicking the football while she held it for him once again. I fled her luxury resort on Hilton Head and headed for Florida, the only place I could think of accessible to me under the circumstances where I might live till spring with no shelter but my car. By the time I was writing my third novel, I had acquired the kind of canvas tent you drag behind your car: a pop up trailer. It was great: old and ratty: just what a great thinker and writer should be costumed in. (What? Would God recognize me in a Mercedes?) By that time the driver’s side had been stove in and all kinds of parts of the machines’ several interiors were exposed: my dress near perfect. (Jesus had no choice but to accept the crown of thorns: what should his fans look like?)
    When the larder was bare and the tank all but empty, I would head for a frame shop and pressure them into buying some art wholesale: no terms, COD, cash, right now. In business I routinely had $60,000 worth of graphics in the truck: and they were still there. I owned some outright, had a legitimate interest in some. Others were consigned. Their owners would just have to wait: the cash was for gas, for my tent site, and for dinner; not for paying bills. In other words, the cash was for my novel (the owners are still waiting) (and my novel was for you: it’s not my fault if you didn’t accept that gift either.)
    It was with great confidence that I threw myself at Palm Beach for the first time: should be an easy score, and get back to work. But Palm Beach was a bear to sell in for the $75-to-$300-level of schlock I was carrying. I finally netted a couple of hundred, but it was late and I had abandoned my camp site up the coast. So I found a county park – had “Prince” in the name – and set up. After a most welcome dinner I went for my constitutional. The place was crawling with the usual Florida water birds: herons, egrets, ibis … There was an abundance of Muscovies: a duck I hadn’t seen since when and never living “wild” as these were. I paused on a little wooden bridge by a marsh and peered among the reeds to see what else I could see. What I found was an abundance of fresh water fowl that my travels till then had not put me in proximity with: coots, an anhinga … After my next meal I returned to the same spot, a few potato chips still protruding among my fingers. Straight out of the weeds, bold as brass, right up to me, walks the most amazingly beautiful harlequin bird I had ever seen. It was only later after pouring through my Peterson’s that I positively ID’d it as a purple gallinule. Since then I’ve seen gallinules galore, and, by now, plenty of them purple: you just have to be around the right water and you’ll see them. All the time I had spent on the edge of the Everglades, I’d never actually ventured into the Glades or I’d have been plenty familiar with gallinules. Anyway, this purple gallinule marches up to me, and head sideways, fixes me with his eye. I said hello, and he looked impatient: in the extreme. I said hello again, and he rapped me, hard, on the sneaker. A second later, he rapped me hard enough to really hurt. A second after that he untied my shoelaces.

    Porphyrula flavirostris
    Porphyrula flavirostris
    thanx geometer

    note follows

    My mother didn’t spawn any altogether stupid sons. I think I would have gotten it by then. But I didn’t have to. As I stooped to tie my shoe, the purple gallinule fetched a potato chip from between my fingers. He scurried off with it: then returned to demand another.
    Never having seen any gallinule of any kind before those moments I had no idea how common or rare they were. But I was easily speculating that they were very rare: once they were dumb enough to walk right up to humans, dressed in feathers like a whore. Al Capp’s shmoos walked up to you and keeled over for very love.

    Al Capp's shmoos
    thanx wikipedia

    BTW, that girl I’d just fled used to date Al Capp: when she was Miss Rheigold.

    Had they had nice feathers we’d have knocked their brains in if they’d have hated us. A million panhandling purple gallinules could easily have become ten, then none.
    The bird wanted a free hand out of salty grease and wanted it more than she cared about personal safety. (I referred to it as “he” previously: next time it will be “it.” When you don’t know (or don’t care), mix it up.) Within a few more years I’d read about a visitor to the Keys encountering a tribe of pelicans minus their webbed beaks. Dummies had waddled up for a freebie and somebody had sawed their beaks off for them.
    Even someone with reams more than the normal acquaintance with biology and things scientific can make egregious assumptions about alien creatures. (Males do so about females constantly: as do females about males.) I “thought” the gallinule was being “friendly” at first, then “rude.” Finally I realized he was just an opportunist who hadn’t yet run into the Keys kids with their pelican saws.
    These years later I further realize that I’ve never again encountered gallinule behavior remotely like that: and in Highlands County, on my Lake Istokpoga, on my Kissimmee River, on my Arbuckle Creek, no gallinule has ever associated me with free food. I had met a Palm Beach purple gallinule!

  2. I started graduate school while still in the army.
    I did my day duty at Whitehall Street Induction Center. One evening a week, still in uniform, I subwayed up to the Village and NYU and studied Byron. The army released me in time for me to register full time in September and my Masters was well underway. I took a little apartment on East 4th Street: very small, once my girl friend moved in. Walking from Washington Square east toward Second Avenue, by the time I got to Bowery, at least one bum would have accosted me. I’m a guy who let half of his life be wasted by others before I unlearned my Christianity and repudiated my civilization to protect myself: before nothing of me was left at all. And there, I did it again. I’d reason with the bum: explaining why I had no money to spare for him: I’m young I’m poor I just got out of the army I have yet, ever in my life, to be gainfully employed With tuition paid, I don’t know how I’m going to eat myself …
    If I got the ramrod out of my ass maybe I could have unbent and expanded a little: You look like a drunk: why don’t you just say you want a drink? I just had to take a loan: that loan is for me! My father was a drunk. I’m half-way to being a drunk myself. I hate drunks. Get away before I push you into traffic. …

    No matter what I said, the bum just stood there with his hand out.

    the Bowrey
    Da Bowery

    Before too too long I learned that the most energy-efficient answer was a gruff “Get away from me.” If I’d quick grabbed for the purple gallinule’s neck as if to strangle it, the bird and I would have understood each other “perfectly”: undergone the least harm: suffered the fewest hurt feelings …

    Feelings? I wipe my ass with your feelings.
    Tony Soprano to Christopher Moltisanti

    I expressed my frustration to someone in those early days after the army and they explained to me that the bum isn’t listening to words, isn’t following ideas, had meant no ideas by his words other than “gimme.” “So long as you’re talking to him, he still believes he’s going to score.”
    Sure enough. I now believe that had I said, “Certainly, will a check for five mil do?” I could have gotten rid of them so long as the tone was rough, my attitude scowling.
    Actually, even before I received the above tutoring, I was experimenting with a wider repertoire of response. Continue reading below for the point of today’s exercise: or read to the side for a further example or two that I find funny.
    Sometimes I’d key my response to their bait.

    I be hones’ witcha. I’m a drunk. I need a drink.
    You don’t say? I’m a drunk too. I also need a drink.
    The guy perked up. He looked at me as a person for the first time. “Ooo, hang wit’ me,” he says. He opens his street coat. Sewn into the lining was a Chaplin wardrobe of liquor. Quarts of gin, of sherry, of rye … Amazing I hadn’t heard the guy clink before he spoke.
    I’m outta woik. I just need a little something to tide me over.
    You don’t say? I’m out of work myself.
    “Ooo, really? Hey, they’re paying potato pickers $10 a day out on Long Island. Come wit’ me. There’s a car picks us up. Six in the morning. I’ll show you.”
    I be hones’ witcha. I haven’t eaten in days. I just need a little something for food.
    I said, Well, you look like a drunk to me. And you certainly do look like you need food. I’ll feed you, but I’m not giving you any money: I’m just a poor student. But I live three quarters of the way down the block. Follow me. Wait downstairs while I fix you a nice ham and Swiss sandwich.
    “Damn you, cocksucker.”
    No embarrassment: the pretense of wanting food was completely forgotten. The guy was working the corner of Bowery and 4th. I was luring him away toward 4th and Second: where he’d be more like to get eaten than get a handout. There are no fools that far east.

    One more drunk’s pitch story: though it has nothing to do with what I said. This one is strictly what he said. Washington Square Park. It’s not just for NYU: it’s for NY. It’s for the world. Tall black dude. Good enough looking. Dressed for a party: dressed for last week’s party: still bumping around: never found his way home. He’s carrying a banjo. He holds it up for emphasis. This is the only thing I have left in the whole world. And I can’t even play it.
    Actually, that’s Phil’s story, not mine: but it’s from the same period: and I could easily have been there. Notice, the guy was improvising his own stand-up.

  3. Now, the point I wish to make I may not make easily (or well) the first try.
    And it’s now later than I’d planned. The above was fun but it took longer than I’d meant. The point I’d wished to make is that kleptocrats are very much like my brazen gallinule: or like my panhandlers of 4th & Bowery: they’re just dumb critters waiting to get fed or watered, their minds wholly detached from their speech centers and their processing of hearing. Do anything but threaten them with a nuke [note] and they’ll just stand there with their waiting hand bobbing like kelp in a slow tide.
    Illustrations will follow. Meantime, you’re welcome to contribute your own.

    2004 02 08 Time to add a couple: or at least to point out where other illustrations lurk:
    My Catherine just told me a story of being asked for money to get home by a panhandler, giving him enough for the trolley, and then being asked again the next time she passed. Why hadn’t he alredy gone home?

    Already mentioned in Celebrity Disguises: Bogart’s Fred C. Dobbs’ panhandles from John Huston’s tourist in white in Treasure of the Sierra Madre, then panhandles again, and again: each time with his eyes lowered, Bogie only coming up to Houston’s navel anyway. Houston gave him a dollar, then another, but warns him that the third is the last. (If I remember right, that third dollar is the wealth that cleans Bogie up, buys him a meal, and a part of the lottery ticket that leads to the gold: and to their utter destruction.

    Treasure of the Sierra Madre
    thanx stevesomething

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I loved New York so long as I was a pedestrian, a rider of subways, a taker of buses. Once I loaned my student loan to my girl friend so that she could buy a VW Beetle, I hated the Apple. Of course she’d sworn that she’d park it, that she’d repair it, that she’d share the driving, that she’d fill the tires … Of course in fact she never parked it, seldom shared the driving. A car in Manhattan wastes half of your day: and I was supposed to be studying.
    Anyway, we’re driving across Houston Street, me at the wheel. I stop at a light. One of a half dozen bums clustered at the median staggers up to the car with a greasy rag in his hand to “clean” my windshield. “Get away.” He ignores me, smearing grease between me and my view. Then he comes and sticks his hand in the window. “Get your fucking hand out of my face.” Still he holds his hand out. I grab his wrist. Pretty stout wrist for a bum, I realize once I have hold of it. My little fingers from my twig of a wrist, grabbing him, pretending I’m strong, the pretense half-working for maybe another second … “Hey! Let go ‘a me!” The guy was really startled. The other bums are focusing their bleary minds now. There’s a chorus of indignation: it’s not right to grab the trespasser’s hand. He had a right to invade my private space, to muck up my window; I had no right to touch him.

    I hope you’re weaving analogies to what I’m reporting on your own. Beaucoup analogies spin from these illustrations to Knatz.com’s perennial points. Jesus brought what some have said were new messages from God. The people he was addressing stood there with their hands out. They took the miracles without noticing the implications of his performing the miracles. They didn’t recognize the messages to be from God.   Because he hadn’t hit them over the head with them.   Because they hadn’t been trained with the potty that he was a rabbi. Because they’d never heard new words from God before, had no way to recognize the species.
    When Jesus preached to the priests at the Temple at Passover time, they DID recognize new messages: and had to gang up to silence them: by denying that they were legitimate messages at all. Do you have a license to bear messages from God? Show me your permit, signed by the Pope.
    Is it not the case that important part of the “meaning,” the “Christian” meaning, of the story of Jesus is that he didn’t do any of the standard kleptocratic things to ID himself. He didn’t push anybody around: only knocking over some tables and spilling some (oh my God!)   money!   He didn’t draft us. He didn’t make us go to school. He didn’t burn or draw and quarter anybody. Not in the stories anyway.
    Those are religious examples, Christian examples. Other situations are analogous: Lincoln or Gingrich or Long stands up and claims (or is claimed) to speak for the People. Somehow the people are as elusive as God. It’s hard to find real evidence of God standing up and saying, Yes, Moses spoke for me. So did Jesus. So did Ivan Illich. Sometimes even pk gets a word or two right. It’s also hard to find real evidence of the People standing up and verifying Gingrich. Lots of people listen to Rush Limbaugh on radio. Are they the People?
    I had a stimulating conversation with bkMarcus last night in which he reported some Barnard professor’s claim that Antigone was “the first” martyr to natural law. Homo sapiens sapiens commonly buries her dead. The king pronounced that Antigone’s brother couldn’t be buried. Antigone went and buried her brother. OK. So how do we know that burying the dead is legitimate natural law. I see easily that the king’s law was factitious; what elevates custom, even ancient custom, to the status of law? Because some of us say so.
    Just so. I say some of my messages are from God. You ignore them at your peril.
    She says, he says, different. Don’t listen. Ignore pk. Look at him: he’s just a bum.
    Tomorrow, we’re all in the ground and what difference did it make? Maybe none. But will the “no difference” be permanent. What if another few millennia pass, but then suddenly there is a Judgment Day? Will it make no difference then? Will we hold still while God identifies his messengers? Will we acknowledge our treatment of them? Will anyone take responsibility? Or will responsibility have to be forced on us. (Can responsibility be forced? even by God?)
    In the conversation, bk had been iterating the philosophical meaning of “person”: Are you a moral agent? The hurricane beat me up, but the hurricane is not an agent in the moral world. I have no moral gripe against the hurricane. But when Mike Lecroix beat me up, did I have a legitimate gripe against Mike? Is Mike a moral agent? Is he a “person”?

    PS: Stories are good because we can interpret them. Once some official interpretation is forced onto us, then stories are bad.

still editing


Purple Gallinule: I searched the net for a pic of some kin of my friend. The birds I found couldn’t have been more different in personality: minding its proper business: head down, devoted to its world of water, plants, insects. My gallinule had his head up, looked you in the eye: a man’s bird. Another thing I’ve learned since, is that if you annoy these stiletto-beaked water fowl, your eye is exactly the point at which they’ll take it out on you. ‘Gator’s gonna bite? Hold his jaws shut. Heron’s gonna stab? Grab ‘er by the beak. Or don’t go near ’em in the first place. Ah, but the innocence of interstate, inter-habitat tourism: puts yo-yos into mutual jeopardy.

Nuke: Ken MacLeod’s Stone Canal has an anarchist character achieve his own nuclear deterrent to which he then sells shares. That is truly what every one of us needs. Delicious. The kleptocracy then has to watch its step.

I’ve long said: if everyone can’t have one, then no one should have one.


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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