Again I'm Rowing the Boat Ashore
I'm actually humbled by the experience. I'm trying my best to play my role, the one written out for me here in this in-the-wings-written script The Daily Growler house Shakespeare left here for us to use as a style guide. "Free grammar from parameters!" That's one of the calls around here. "Use all contractions if need be!" It's hard for me to write "just like I speak"--I'm too well trained--you remember the Famous Artist Writing Course? OK, OK, so I used to work for The Writer's Digest to me like UNREAD condition with one of these sweetie-pie rejection slips! This drives me mad. James . Yes, yes, I was in the home office in Cincinnati. I didn't last long. I was given the Q&A column to write and in my first Q&A column I wrote a serious answer to the following, "Dear Writer's Digest, I've written what I think is a daring novel about a World War II secret...I mean this book will rock the world...why are publishers returning it in what look'sUkskam of West Maudlin, Maryland. PS, I've enclosed a sample chapter from this truly, to me, earth-rearranging novel...damn, man, read it! I await your reply." "Dearest James," I replied in my first "A" to a "Q," "Hey, buddy, get a life. You, a writer? Come on, Jim. We here at Writer's Digest have been laughing our judgmental heads off over your (rhymes with "sewer") so-called novel (rhymes with "awful"). I don't even think the best three-named women editorial and acquisition editor types around here would get through three lines of your (rhymes with "sewer") crappy novel (rhymes with "awful") before they'd toss it (did I say it rhymes with "awful" already?--sorry, but I do just love that snotty way of literally putting down one's inferior in the writing world--damn, I almost hit the moon with that one!) in our large office waste basket--it sits directly under our transom, if you understand what I mean--our office waste basket is emptied four times a day--thirteen times on Mondays...where was I?" [Interrupted by wild throes of self-crowing laughter]...I went on for several more cutting paragraphs--and then as I was working on my proofs, I had this brilliant idea, and I grabbed my proofs, and I ran into the boss's office, the Managing Editor, and I said, "Red [not his right name], my man, I got this great idea for a book to publish--how does this sound to your sales-slanted ear, How Not to Write Anything..." He cut me short. "Are those the proofs for your Q&A column this week?" "Yeah, but, I want you to check...." He again interrupted me. "Charlie in copyediting brought me the proofs you were going to submit and then told him to can. Charlie read them then brought them to me--and god-damn it's a good thing he did--Jesus X, man...I mean, Wally, you were going to print that reply you gave that blind writer who wondered if we could turn him on to a Braille writing machine--" "Oh, yeah, Narman the Blind Guy--at first I thought he wrote that he wanted us to turn him "into" a Braille writing machine--cool, hey?, but then I caught my mistake and saw Narman meant "on to" where he could get a Braille writing machine--I thought it was kind of maybe a put-on letter--written by a college kid, so I was proud of that answer, though I did tell Charlie to put it through the shredder." "Hey, we can't risk that this is a college prank--the lady who goes through the mail said he was a real blind writer in Terre Haute--and you were intending us to publish...here, let me quote you, 'Narman, see here now, I have the solution, focus on it: get a seeing-eye dog to take your writings down in shorthand while you dictate it to him or her....' and then the rest of that stuff about the blind guy who got the eyes of a bad but wealthy novelist...." "That was wonderful stuff, yeah, but this book idea I have...." He then picked up the proofs for my reply to James Ukskam, the one I was replacing the blind guy's reply with--the guy whose book I thought worthy of a textbook on how not to write anything. The ME read new reply without emotion. After he finished, he looked up at me and said, "Wally, get the fuck out of here...you're fired. I'll mail you a severance check. Pack your things and get the fuck out of here within fifteen minutes or I'm calling Johnny the Giant.... You're finished in Cincinnati publishing!" I was flabbergasted. I stood there drilled to the floor. I didn't know how to react. I thought I was creating the funniest god-damn column ever in the history of Writer's Digest--I'd put them on a level of sophiscated humor with The New Yorker before it was over. "Wally," the ME hollered, "are you movin' out of here or am I gonna have to move you out of here." I left. My head was drooping as I trundled my box of possessions out the front door and into the streets of Cincinnati, Ohio--Jesus, the Queen City! I moped along the streets for the rest of the night and then I went back to my apartment and Jill, my wife, and before she brought an ice pack and some ibuprofen, I saw an offer in Editor & Publisher for a job in New York City, on West 44th Street, right across from the Algonquin Bar--so since I'm an East Coaster by nativity I sent them my resume and they sent me back an appointment to meet with them so I jumped at the chance and that's how I ended up here in New York City.
I met thegrowlingwolf one kind day in a merry month of May--I searched out his downtown Manhattan headquarters in those days after finding his address in a magazine. I had been working on a book of what I called "journalistic" poems during my off hours from my work in publishing. I had gotten the idea back when I was a kid in San Francisco, my dad worked for the US Mint in San Francisco, the Gray Lady they called that mint, and it was while reading the poems of Jack Spicer, the San Franciscan North Beach poet of the early 1960s, as a kid that I became fascinated with Spicer's idea of a poem, a great poem, just suddenly coming to you while you perhaps were reading the sports page of a newspaper, or maybe the menu at a seafood restaurant--suddenly there's a poem in the lobster being served you. That fascinated me. And since that time, I've experimented with "outside real"-type poetry, the outside real being to Spicer where such poems came from--not from within. So when I got the job in New York, I started writing this book of poems based on newspaper articles I'd start reading and soon feel a poem coming up out of the print--certain words triggering a poetic process--and soon I was writing poems every time I read anything. Here, I'll show you what I mean--let me just grab any old magazine out of this pile here--a coin magazine of all things--I share my office with a coin dealer--so here let me write one of my "journalistically" created outside-real poems here (and now):
When you are rare,
and have handled
some of the finest
Gold Eagles in existence,
I would call that "Buffalos and Golden Eagles"--I still like that way of creating poetry.
After I finished my manuscript, I read it, and reread it, and read it again and again, and I edited at it, not changing the wording, adding a comma here and there--using other words from the same piece here and there though not veering from what was in the magazine from which I was getting the poem. No publisher will publish this, I thought after reading it again for the billionth time. I threw my manuscript down on my desk and leaned back in my chair and my eye fell on my mail and in my mail I saw a magazine, which I plucked out of the pile and pondered--here's the irony of this tale--it was the latest issue of Writer's Digest--yes, I still received my courtesy subscription from when I worked there, though I seldom if ever opened it now--oh, I'd open it up to the masthead and see who was still there and stuff like that, but I didn't read it--a writer reading Writer's Digest for help is like Carl Jung writing Ann Landers and asking her for direction in finding the soul in man--OK, not a good analogy. This time I opened the WD. I skimmed through the pages and was in the classified ad section in the back when this small ad caught my line-checking eye: "WRITERS WANTED by published author and publisher agent wife. We are looking for manuscripts to consider for agenting to our exclusive list of contacts at famous New York publishing houses. We'll judge whether your manuscript is publishable or not for the small fee of $50 for a short manuscript (like a poetry manuscript) or $100-200 for a longer manuscript, like a novel or a nonfiction trade book." There followed a mailing address. It was in New York City. Damn, I knew, I thought, where it was.
The next morning I called in sick to work and decided to head downtown and see if I could find this address. I knew the street. Greenwich Street. Down near where it crosses Canal Street. What thegrowlingwolf would label the BLOHO section of the Below Houston craze just coming into that area--SOHO was up and going and there was a NOHO, but TRIBECA hadn't been created yet--down that way was vacant fields and a couple of hang-out bars--wild places like one I remember the Wolf Man taking me to called Mickey's. All crazed artists and musicians hanging out in there--David Crosley-type rock-star coke heads sipping cold beers right alongside a Frank Sinatra impersonator or a classy stripper from the Baby Doll Lounge a few blocks over east of Washington Street.
I took the C train down to Spring Street. I looked east--I knew what was over there--I looked west--no, I had never been across Sixth down Spring Street that way. That was toward the piers--those old piers were still there then, tumbling down, being left to collapse into the Hudson, to collapse down around all the old pilings that had held up the New York City docks and piers for over 150 years, once the largest port in the USA, maybe the world, all that now being left to rot into the river. The West Side Highway was still narrowly running under the iron roadbed of the old New York Central Railroad whose switchers moved freight cars and coal cars and all kinds of cars in and out of the west side of Manhattan, pulling up the cars from off the several railroad ferries that brought the trains over from the railyards in New Jersey--old ferry piers that were still standing until only just a year or so ago, though now they've been torn down and are gone--all of the Chelsea Pier area (what it's called now) being totally renovated into a riverside park that will run the full length of the west side of NYC--you can now go over there and rent a bicycle and ride it up to the George Washington Bridge--or at least that's what I think their intentions are--I've ridden on the bike paths over there and it's nice--wide enough to handle both the leisurely bikers and the bike-freak hotshots who must ride according to the bicycle biker's manual--you know, with the tight Lycra suits, the fancy helmets, with the $5,000 titanium custom-fitted bicycles.
I walked over west from Sixth Avenue toward the Hudson--and I could see it as I looked out from the high point I stood on on Sixth, looking down Spring all the way to the cold river and beyond.
I walked one long block to Varick--this was the area where most of New York City's printing plants were located in those days--before computers--and all along Spring Street you passed by these printing plants with the bottom floor doors all raised and you could look inside at the big presses running 24/7 printing magazines, books, advertising, signs, everything, and I then came to this Renwick Street, and went past a really shady looking bar called the Emerald Pub--I could hear some Chuck-Berry-like guitar playing coming from the apartment windows right above the bar--and soon I was the corner of Spring and Greenwich Streets--oops, sorry, there, just having to step almost into the gutter to let a stray dog whiz by.
At Greenwich, I spied a coffee shop on the across-the-street-from-me corner, a sweet-looking old Schwin bicycle was chained to the street sign on that corner--I checked it out, then went into the coffee shop and ordered a cup of coffee at the counter. I saw the address of the coffee shop on its glass front door--thegrowlingwolf's address was it looked like only about one door away on that side of Greenwich. Across from this coffee shop was a bar, Munson's, I could see the sign, and next door to Munson's was a private garbage hauler's barn--it had an Italian name, I remember that--remember laughing about how all the private garbage haulers in Manhattan seemed to have Italian names. The garbage place was full of huge big green Mack garbage trucks backed into its stalls, with a couple of them parked back down Greenwich in front of what looked like a big several-storied warehouse. Then I noticed there were two lanky men wearing guinea tee-shirts playing a New York City game where these guys take a Spalding (Spawl-DING here in the city) and bounce it up against a wall--and these two guys were playing the game up against the brick wall street side of the Munson's, on the north side. I had walked right by them, I guessed, and hadn't seen them--then I thought it could have been when the stray dog whizzed past me--
Finally, I finished my coffee, left the coffee shop, then walked out into Greenwich and looked at the building next to the coffee shop, a 5-story old white-painted brick building with huge picture windows and big doors leading out onto an ornate fire escape that climbed up the whole face of that old building like iron ivy--the bottoms of the plate glass windows were filled with chicken wire. It was an old building but you could tell it had been converted into what they had started calling "lofts" in those days, that area being the loft center of Manhattan as the old fabric factories and knitting factories, the iron-front factories of SOHO moved out and their old buildings were converted into artists's lofts--the artists and musicians and writers, whoever, doing their own construction work in fixing up these old factory floors into sometimes magnificently creative apartments--apartments that would later when the condo craze hit Manhattan be rented up by the first of the soon-to-be dot.com rich then Wall Street-twenty-somethings--brokers and lawyers--and these lofts market value shot up from like $400 a month to $700 a month overnight--that then making the worth of your old building if you owned it suddenly near the millions--buildings some smart artists--like Cristos, and actors like Robert DiNero and Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi--bought for $35,000 and later sold them for huge profits--that's when around New York City you started hearing the word "flip" used in the real estate world. Buying a condo new for say $75,000, then immediately putting it back on the market asking $100,000. The demand was there and soon some young folks found out they could make small fortunes by flipping condos--and then developers started constructing huge buildings and then flipping them immediately after they were finished and had started renting.
I went up to the front door of the strange old building and rang the buzzer. A bearded guy in overalls answered the door. "Does anyone named thegrowlingwolf live here?" I asked. "Yeah, he's up on the second floor." He then slammed his door in my face.
I stepped back and looked up at the second floor--a bust of Hemingway was prominently sitting in the big plate-glass window with huge floor-to-ceiling curtains drawn around the bust so you couldn't see into the loft. I found the door to the second floor. It was locked. There was an intercom and a apartment list there. The second name on the intercom was TGWMGW Agency. Voila! I had found thegrowlingwolf. I rang the buzzer. A woman answered it, "Yes, what do you want?" "I was wondering if I could see Mr. Wolf." "No, he's not here." "When will he be back?" "He's around the corner on Spring Street at the Ear Inn." The speaker went blank.
I went across Greenwich to the bar by the garbage hauler's thinking that was the Ear Inn, but no, it was called Munson's. I asked in Munson's where the Ear Inn was and the bartender said, "That fuckin' hippy place, all those fuckin' draft-dodgin' hippy motherfuckers...." "Sorry, man, my dear old mother wanted me to meet her there for lunch--she said it's a fascinating place to watch the avant-garde." "It's dat way--down there." He pointed west. Then he turned his back on me saying under his breath, "Fuckin' hippies...who the fuck do they think they are...."
The Ear Inn. I found it. It was pure at least, a real bar, an old building that looked like if the factory building next to it were torn down it would fall down, too--ironically, it was on the site of that factory building next to the Ear Inn where Donald Trump decided to build his max-tacky Glass House--he had to pay the Ear Inn a million or so and restabilize the old building, a building that thegrowlingwolf later told me--he was researching the building for a book he was writing about it for the Ear Inn--the building was originally built by John Jacob Astor and was part of the first tract housing ever built in New York City, built by Astor and later acquired by the Trinity Church down on Wall Street--but then, I just now realize, thegrowlingwolf wrote a 33-chapter post about that episode in his life [One Spring Morning Off Spring Street]--though he doesn't mention me in that lengthy epic post--
So I went in the Ear Inn and I immediately knew who at that bar was thegrowlingwolf. He was the guy sitting hunched over the bar on which in front of him was a pint of Bass ale, a drink glass full of blue, red, and regular pencils, and a huge pile of what I knew from experience were manuscript pages--he was editing at the bar at the Ear Inn. I went up to him and harrumphed and caught his attention and said, "Are you the guy who advertised in Writer's Digest for writers to send you their manuscripts?" "Yeah, but I didn't think any fool would take that ad seriously. It was really a poem I wrote and placed in the Writer's Digest classifieds--you know, like poetry as ads published in magazine classified sections--I've published some ads saying I was the only veterinarian able to treat full grown elephants in my office in the world. I later would find out I was absolutely wrong about that--a veterinarian in Sri Lanka took care of sick elephants in his home." "So, will you look at my manuscript--I'll give you 50 bucks?" "Buy me a Bass." "OK." "Mister Wailin' Man, bring me a pint of your coldest Bass--and it's on this gentleman here." "Here. Take a look at it...what I'm trying to do...." "Sorry, pal, I don't want to read your manuscript--like I said, that ad was a poem, man." "But that's what my manuscript is...I got my ideas from reading Jack Spicer when I lived in...." "San Francisco. I lived in San Francisco. On Washington first and then in Pacific Heights high up on a hill right above Vince Guaraldi's house when his "Black Orpheus" hit was big and he'd started getting Charlie Brown gigs. I was there when Spicer and Robin and Philip Whelan were sucking each other's dicks. But, you're right, Jack had such strange great ideas--you remember his baseball poems?--and that bastard loved baseball--hey, I know this bar up the street...come on...hey, Wailin' Man," he shouted at the bartender, "lock your eyes on my stuff here; I'm taking this poet up to Mickey's." We left. I sneaked, I thought very cleverly, my manuscript up on the bar on top of his work and then followed him on up the street to this place Mickey's I'd already mentioned.
That's when I got his whole life story--I thought--nothing like any of the stories I've been reading for over 2 years now in The Daily Growler. I first heard about The Growler after The Wolf Man emailed me one day that several of his friends were forcing him to start a blog--he said he wanted it to be kind of a fictional newspaper, like, well, a novel that's actually a daily newspaper, too--like John Dos Passos was trying to do in his USA Trilogy--a great set of overlooked American novels--Dos Passos once a passionate rebelious left-wing dabbler kind of spoiled Princetonian--didn't he go to Princeton with Fitzgerald and Bunny Wilson and that ilk?--who in later life, when he was really old and had a nationwide newspaper column (John O'Hara had one, too, at about the same time--similar story, too, O'Hara a leftie when he was young then becoming a rabid right-winger in his old age) and Dos Passos became a rabel-rousing right winger rebuking all his past leftist leanings.
USA Triology is a great set of American books--comparable to Larry Durrell's Alexandria Quartet--except it is thoroughly American--all the news that is fit to print printed whether we want it printed or not--at that time the US got its news from newspapers--there were 10s of thousands of good viable newspapers across the USA, and John Dos Passos tried to verbalized that news, tried to create tons of real stories and then hang them like a string of X-mas lights all across hundreds of pages of his main-street views of the headlines writing the history of this country at the turning of the 19th century into the 20th century--the century of the avant-garde--the whole triology must be around a 1000 pages. Dos's (that's what Hemingway called him--they were big pals) masterpiece. After it, he didn't write much else--wrote it all out in that series of novels.
And that's what the Wolf Man intended for The Daily Growler--the name inspired not only by the Wolf Man's respect for the Howling Wolf, Chester Burnett his real name, of those days of the early electric blues--the Howlin' Wolf even wrote a song about why he was called the Howling Wolf; and The Growler name also comes from a reflection of thedailygrowlerhousepianist's love of The Daily Howler--an ex-comedian schoolteacher's Website (blog)--a Baltimorean guy who comments on "liberals" (read: Dumbocrats--that's what it says in The Growler style sheet here, "Never spell Dumbocrats any other way") and their troubles and hypocrisies and their losing fight against the right-wing news media--in fact, The Howler had a great retrospect of pig-jowled, self-praising newshound Timmy "Lassie" Russert's life as a line-walking teevee journalist the day Timmy asked his last TOUGH question--"Does your wife wear panties or not? Can you comment on that?"--and keeled over, the good life having gotten to Timmy's ticker and canceled his run on "Eat the Press" forever.
And I remember the early Growlers, how they always had a lot of quotes and downloads of Ebeneezer Spooner, of Robert Ingersoll, and book lists, and book reviews, and poetry, and how it tried to be literary though sticking with the values of the pure American culturalism that started with the be-bop musicians, a frantic mocking of the moldy-oldy past, and the nonconformist writing of the Beats and Henry Miller and the WWII soldier-writers like Mailer and Vidal--and then this character, thegrowlingwolf , exploded out of The Daily Growler wallpaper and began writing so many god-damn words...and I was a hooked Growler--though only recently was I asked to write some comments--so I wrote my first Growler post a few yards back at another sudden departure of the Wolf Man from the scene--and oh, womantrumpetplayer, you so wrong about "Growly" losing his woman--we zip it up at that--and we hope it gets more and more intriguing, more devious--or can I coin a new word, "devilous"? It will become more devilous--and then perhaps there'll be a contest to see if the Wolf Man is powerful enough to pull these parallel lines finally together, make a connection to his other half--his shadow half--and I know, I'll spill a little secret here and now--I'm whispering: I know someone who is filming what I think is a great little filmic idea, a film about a shadow of a great man on a wall while voices are reading this strange poem about the shadow of this great man and the drums in front of that shadowy wall being a woman and the drummer playing her with brushes being a lover--I know that filming is going on--I feel privileged though to be asked to try and write these posts--look out, I'm loving it, I'm melding perhaps--could it be true there are parallel characters as well as parallel lines?
To continue the first time I met thegrowlingwolf--after we left Mickey's suddenly, Wolfie just hopped up and said, "Let's go," and we went, and he was very drunk and was singing at the top of his lungs something about Colombo knowing the world was round-o and how his balls hung to the ground-o--not embarrassing to me, for by now, I knew this guy was a living play, a play with parallel acts going on simultaneously--a lover of simulations--an assimulator--ASS being the key emphasis in the word--words formed into a wolfish-looking human being--and as soon as we got back to the Ear Inn, at the front door to the Ear, he turned to me and said, "Well, chum, guess I'll see ya around," and with that he entered the Ear and I saw him go over and take his seat at his corner of the bar and immediately he looked like he was actually going to do somemore editing--as drunk as he was, too. He'd told me during our escape to Mickey's "Yeah, I do screwball free-lance editing for old cranky cocksuckers like New York nutjob ex-Senator and advocate of using nuclear weapons, old Ham Fish--ever heard of him?--that's the kind of editing I do for a living--and a good living it is, too--these old politician geezers have all the money in the world and pay me out of their fucking foundations--you know all rich folks form foundations to get out of paying taxes--yeah, the Kennedys have a foundation and so do the Fishes."
I turned and started back toward Sixth Avenue and the C train. At least, I was thinking, he'd have to be seeing my manuscript laying there on his work, and that cheered me up and I actually started humming a little bop tune when I heard a loud whistle behind me and I turned around. The bartender from the Ear was running toward me. "Hey, pal, you forgot your pile of papers here." He handed me my manuscript--it was wet--I guess a beer had spilled on it--then turned and went on back to the Ear. Oh well, I thought, that's that, dumping my manuscript in the next street waste basket I saw--in fact, it was the one on the corner of Varick and Spring.
for The Daily Growler