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And Folksy Middle
I hung out in the West Village, the Whitehorse Tavern, over on Hudson, practically on the river. Drinking was my regular habit, had been since age fifteen. That was the 1950s. Sometimes I’d venture east, the East Village. Somebody would always try to turn me on with their damn pot. Ugh. Drinking was bad enough.
(Drinking could get you wrecked in the gutter; pot could get you busted, deep into jail.)
(It wasn’t pot that got my friend Myron into jail, however much of it he smoked; no, it was heroin: when he went to Engand, legally registered as a junkie, then registered again under a second name, and again under a third …) [2014 13 16 I’ve cited the wisdom that the “point” of any addiction is “to run out”: you’ll run out of heroin all the quicker if you keep upping your dose. Once upon a time a human could live on say a gallon of water a day. Flush toilets mean we throw away a couple of gallons of water every time we knock a cigarette ash into the toilet. During a water crisis in NYC in the 1950s the NYTimes published a “statistic” that left me sputtering in denial: every New Yorker used “x thousand” gallons of water a day (the solution was for restaurants to no longer offer customers glasses of water unless they asked for it!) I said No way, my buddy said Oh, yes: you personally may not have squandered the thousands of gallons, the Coke Bottling Plant did it for you, washing all those bottles, consider the cars going through the car wash …]
Now I was a jazz nut. (My jazz friends had given up on passing me the reefer, never did show me the needle.) There was far more jazz over on the east side that there was on the west. So what was I doing knocking back the ‘arf’n’arf’s with the Celts? Guys off the boat from Glasgow, I couldn’t understand a single syllable. I don’t know. But one thing is vivid: one time I went to shake hands with Kenny Burrell, on Avenue B: you know his guitar. Ugh. I still feel a chill half a century later. Ultimate cool, the dead-hand handshake. I’d rather grope a dead oyster.
I just streamed a DVD called Hava Nagila, the Movie. I watched Jews at the International House dance the hora too in the 1950s. This flick showed Bob Dylan playing Hava Nagila badly, boringly, an insult: Jew to Jews. I can’t retch at my memory of Kenny Burrell without also retching at my memory of Bob Dylan. When Dylan’s first album came out I became a fan, almost as avid as for Ramblin’ Jack Elliott: he was right in the Guthrie tradition. Dylan’s guitar was almost as energetic as Elliott’s and was far more accomplished than Guthrie’s own. But then something happened, something that left me puking.
No, I didn’t mind when Dylan got his big red Harley, and marked his turf by parking it precisely perpendicular to the Gas Light every night on Macdougal Street. No: it was in the Gaslight: my army buddy Phil and I, with that girl attached to us, that girl who said we, the three of us, were like Jules and Jim, she being the Jeanne Moreau part, I remember everybody’s name but hers. Anyway, she wanted to invite Dylan to a party. I was nominated to do the actual inviting, me, no-nerves pk, though I was in the damn army uniform on the occasion, pacifist-helpless-draftee in a culture blind to philosophy, deaf to protest. I go up to Dylan. Dylan is ignoring the person already trying to talk to him, now he’s also ignoring me. No, no, that won’t do: Paul takes Dylan by the shoulder. “Later this evening, there’ll be a party,” I start to say, but no, I’m speechless, the dead oyster. My fingers disappear into Dyland’s shoulder like they would into cotton candy, or into the Pillsbury Doughboy. There’s no flesh to his flesh, no muscle. Even the bone isn’t bone. Ugh. I recoil. And every note of Bob Dylan since then makes me recoil afresh. A zombie. I’ve touched weaklings before, but Dylan set a record.
Well, anyone can go nuts, can die, can fall apart, can join the Krishnas. But in Dylan’s case, the whole world seemed to go with him. Beats me. Phil still liked him, Phil liked him all the more, even though Dylan never did come to our party. (It wasn’t our party anyway, some friends of that girl, down under the Manhattan Bridge.)
The Whitehorse was way west, almost on the river. Alcohol culture, very literary. Verbal. Avenue B was almost on the other river: very dry in my reaction, very drug: the downers, depressants: heroin, barbituates. The Gas Light was Macdougal Street, not far from Fifth Avenue, splitting Manhattan down the middle: coffee, and pot, tourists and folk music.
I spent 1958 in the Si Como No, right next door to the basement that would become the Gas Light. But by 1962 no one knew me in that connection any longer: I was wearing a damn army uniform, a conscript, protesting to the deaf.
Woodstock came later in the 1960s. Hilary and I were in the Catskills that weekend but a couple of miles further into the mountains, Elka Park, very conscious that we were not at Woodstock. Ah, peace.
Funny, there’s Knatz drinking with the Scots and the Welsh, Knatz, with a name so German it’s almost “Nazi”: but I wasn’t the only incongruity. The White Horse was then owned by Ernie: German as you can get without being in Berlin. But Ernie served the Celts. And when he drank with the Celts he drank Haig and Haig Pinchbottle! Now that‘s Celtic.
Funny, when I started attending the White Horse, 1958ish, Dylan was much on everyone’s mind; but it was Dylan Thomas, not Bob Dylan. By 1962 only a few of us knew that there was a Bob Dylan. By 1965 Bob Dylan was the only Dylan. We were better off in the ’50s. I don’t say well off: better off.
I’m isolated, broke, broken, I don’t know who else has done what But it would be fun to make an ethnic map of Manhattan. I’ve just done this rough draft but it’s verbal. My Atlas (big, fat coffee table atlas) has wonderful cultural and history maps, which languages were dominant in North America, where, when? I could easily follow with an uptown / downtown chart; uptown / cross-town … I love the ethic villages downtown NY: China Town, Little Italy … Wall Street, Village … Everyone knows Harlem: Take the A Train. Everyone knows the Bowery was Irish, the Five Corners was everything … Does everyone know Yorkville? The Old Heidelberg … Wonderful.
I first habituated The Old Heidelberg because it was the only restaurant I had ever heard of that served beefsteak tartar! If you’re going to eat raw beef (or raw fish!) you’ve got to really trust the restaurant. But once there I discovered that they had every possible German beer, some on tap! Berlinerweisser I already knew, Spaten Clubweisse was new to me and vaulted past all others.
I love not altogether fitting in to all of those places. Jeez, in the Si Como No: upstairs were the Italians, born there; downstairs, semi-basement to basement, were the hippies, some of whom were also drunk.
Front & Back
I want also to scribble something on this culture knocking on neighbors’ front doors versus the sometimes simultaneous culture of natives routinely knock at the back door. Jan, in her big Victorian house in Broad Cove, Nova Scotia yesterday had someone approach her for the first time at the backdoor, as though he were a friend, or neighbor: a native! (Well, actually, he is: from Halifax.)
Reminds me: so many Americans don’t know: We all know, the whole world knows the standard pic of the White House: How many of us realize that that’s the rear! not the front! of the building. Southern mansions always faced the river! Visitors, peers, not the slaves, came by boat: like the Tudors in England. The White House is on the Potomac, not on Pennsylvania Avenue. But we’re street people, automobile people, not boat people, not plantation neighbors; we come by Pennsylvania Avenue.
Druggie East Village
There were plenty of pot smokers in the west Village and in the mid-Village, but I sensed it as dominant in the east Village. 2014 12 16 I’m here today having noticed a typo or two while scanning old files for mention of a disgusting memory involving east-druggies. Now I remember: stories about a particular female junkie, Tamara, are told at a different blog (an anonymous blog, a sex blog, a blog where I don’t identify myself as pk. But it’s an east-Village druggie story so I’ll insert it here.
I was introduced to Tamara in the Old Reliable, the East 3rd Street bar, very east Village. She was a natural blond, daughter of the mayor of Portland, who hung with the schwartzers, became a junkie, beautiful girl, blond hair dyed jet black, who had twin boys, clearly from a black father. Some son of a bitch recruited sucker pk to help Tamara kick the junk. I was such an idiot in 1963 I really thought I could help: and also come to think I could get my pecker wet in that disgusting whore: risking spreading who knows what microbes to my poor Hilary. Anyway, my job was to watch Tamara for twenty-rout hours, monitor how many barbiturates she swallowed, make sure she didn’t inject any H: a fucking fool. So I’m attached by the hip for one day to this utterly beautiful girl. Tamara says she has to do a laundry, for her poor neglected bastard childred, their mother this disgusting junkie whore. She gathers up an acre of dirty diapers, and I follow meekly along as she takes her sack to a public laundomat. Here’s my point: this damn woman shoved all those diapers into a series of public machines without first shaking them down a toilet! I sat there stunned at myself as well as her as the dumb machines tumbled suds with turds: a public laundry polluted with shit! I’ve never been able to use a public laundry since then without cringing at my, and the public’s, ignorance of what was in that machine an hour ago.
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