Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Living in New York City: thegrowlingwolf on Histories

Foto by tgw, New York City, January 2011
President Obama's State of the (Dis)Union Address--MY OPINION:
Pure-dee Doublespeak; in other words: Pure-dee BULLSHIT. As the ex-mayor of Salt Lake City (a guy named Rocky) put it, this speech was Obama's first 2012 campaign speech--and, folks, yes, that's about as much as you can say about it--it was a pathetic, lap-dog-like speech for a man who was given a chance by the world to rule the world back in 2008. As the The Daily Growler has all along warned progressives, liberals, antiFascists, etc., in his book, President Obama clearly stated that he admired Reagan for his ECONOMIC policies (free trade and tax cuts for the rich; no taxes at all on corporations; restricting workers rights to unionize and strike) and his heroes were Wall Street financial geniuses (the reason Obama took hundreds of millions of dollars from them in his 2008 campaign in which he spent the most money, right at 1 BILLION dollars, in the history of presidential elections; the reason Obama continued the unConstitutional Bush-Neo-Con bailouts to the tune of trillions of our openly crooked financial industries, which should include our insurance industry as well since they make more money off their outside investments than they do forcing outrageously expensive insurance schemes on our scardy-cat asses (pardon my everyday American English). President Obama has stayed true to those two admissions--he is steering in exactly the course Reaganomics sent us off on--Reagan's Administration leaving us with the largest deficit in this country's history, a deficit-spending record that held up until G.W.H. "Pappy" Bush smashed it during his ruinous administration, a deficit-spending record that held up until Pappy's worthless, dumbest, and most unconcerned son, G.W. Bush, smashed it to the smithereens (chaos) it's in today. Pappy Bush called it what it is: Voodoo Economics. This is the Economics Obama believes in. Obama is also under the thumb of ex-Clinton advisers because Obama believes the legend that Bill "Big Dog" Clinton left office with a surplus budget and a brighter future for what White people call America.

In Memory of a Great Self-Made Man
Listening to Stuff Smith in a Swoon of Remembering
My Uncle Bob the Robin is sitting in a big overstuffed chair drinking a can of Grand Prize beer. "You wanna know the secret to life, keed?" "Yeah, what is it, Uncle Bob?" "Concentration." "Concentration?" "Yeah, like the reason Hitler put the Jews in concentration camps." "So they could concentrate what?" "No, not that kind of concentration. I'm talking about the concentration of wholes. That's what I'm talking about."

Uncle Bob wasn't an intellectual. He bragged about dropping out of an Alabama one-room schoolhouse when he got too big and too old for the third grade. "I couldn't concentrate on facts just my dreams and my dreams weren't in a schoolroom." "What did ja do?" "I hit the road. In those days you could hit the road. Didn't matter your age. Didn't matter 'bout anything except staying alive and on course." "What cha mean 'on course'?" "When people say something and then tack on, 'you probably knew that, of course'. That kind of of course. Course means the road. When you're on course, you're headed in the right direction."

That's a part of my history. What is history? Gertrude Stein thought history was in the continuing present tense. So do I. History is in the eye of the beholder. What is a historian? Someone fascinated by history? But what history? Whose history? Like the history of the USA? What's the true history of the USA? Does it lie in the customs of the Mongolians who came across on the ice bridge between today's Russia and the former Russian colony of Alaska? Or does it lie somewhere in the legends of Aztec Mexico? Or in the bones and ash fragments of Clovis man or Folsom man? Or how much of it came to the country in the remembrances of the slaves? How the hell do you ever know a true history of anything or anybody? I grew up thinking a man named Christopher Columbus discovered America. I grew up thinking America meant the USA. I grew up not thinking of Mexicans as Americans. I grew up not thinking of the people of South America as Americans. Nor the Canadians. Do you think of Canadians as Americans? See what I mean about history? Do Canadians think of themselves as Americans? We White Americans use terms like Canadian-Americans, meaning a Canadian who has moved to the US...or Mexican-Americans. I like it that Mexicans refer to US Gringos as Norteamericanos; and when I lived in Mexico being called a Norteamericano or a Yanqui was much more seriously worse than being called un gringo. See how confusing our histories can be, even when piled into compilations? And Mexicans and Canadians have their histories, too. Check out the Internet. There are millions upon Googles of millions of histories everywhere you turn. Websites are actually binary webs run by some very seductive spiders offering opportunities of self-gratification if you only go ahead and let yourself be trapped in the Web, once called the World Wide Web. Of course, We Americans (USA type) know the Internet is American.

Like the history my Uncle Bob carried around with him. I knew all about Bob the Robin before I even met him. He was legendary in the family. I knew for instance he had killed a man in Memphis, Tennessee, when he was like 14 going on 15. Can you imagine history as written by a 14-year-old boy? Not a ninny of a 14-year-old either. Rather a 14-year-old who owned and packed a revolver and ran away from Alabama to go to Memphis, Tennessee, a Sodom of a town in those days. A Mississippi River town. A wild town. Cotton. Cotton bales by the thousands on the Memphis docks. A lot of work on the Memphis docks if you didn't mind working side by side with ex-slaves--blackamoors--Uncle Bob called them blackamoors. It took me a long time to get the connection. Uncle Bob liked Blacks. He said they were a trustworthy people, especially if you were on the lam, as Uncle Bob referred to that part of his life after Memphis when he was on the lam for 18 years.

My Uncle Bob is sitting talking, sipping from the can of Grand Prize every now and then. He continues talking in his slow-drawal crawling way. "I went from Memphis first to Little Rock, Arkansas [he pronounced it "R-kan-ziz"] and found my mentor. A Mr. Phipps. And Mr. Phipps was a Renaissance man. Had studied law in college. Was a medical doctor, too. Studied medicine with the Union Army during the Civil War. Read books in German...I've seen him. Had books all over his house and office. My mentor. You've got to have a mentor and Mr. Phipps became mine in Little Rock. He showed me, like a good mentor should, the course...or he taught me the course. Mr. Phipps was a good teacher. He knew, you see, how to concentrate on avoiding the wrong kind of confrontations. He didn't leave his office during the daylight, for instance...because he didn't want to have to bend and bow and scrape to people, you see. At night he could pass among people invisible, you see, but not in broad daylight. I mean he could explain shadowy tricks of staying alive and free to me, and me with a 3rd grade education, mind you, things like geometry and perspective and forward thinking, like you have to do to play good chess. That stuff. After he'd just run it down a couple of times, I could easily grasp it--concentrate my thoughts on it--single it out, understand? Single it out and learn it and then add on the next course. You know you have courses during a meal. Courses in school are the same as courses of a meal."

"How did you hook up with this Mr. Phipps?" I piped up...and the story continued: "I got to Little Rock and headed straight for Main Street where I checked out the second-story offices along the street there. That's where the shysters and Shylocks, the lawyers, have their offices. I'd just dash up the stairs to these establishments and offer my services for stipend enough to see me through until I could work up enough money to move on...to get back on the lam. One of those offices was Mr. Phipps's. He hired me as a delivery boy. You know, like he'd get a wire from one of his clients concerning something they needed from him and he'd then package that something up, usually forms or documents of some kind, put them in a manila envelope, and I'd run them as quick as a fox to wherever in town the client's office was. By now I'd taught myself enough reading, and writing, too, to read those addresses and the directions Mr. Phipps's secretary gave me. One night we worked late. The others left the office. Mr. Phipps called me into his office. He was looking very serious. 'How old are you, Bob?' I told him honest I was fifteen-going-on-sixteen. 'Are you in trouble with the law, Bob?' I suddenly thought I'd better run like hell out of there...except, I didn't have any money--Mr. Phipps paid for me up a week in advance at a boarding house--room and meals--but he had only given me a dollar advance in pay. 'No, sir, I'm not in no trouble,' I said, you know, my voice trembling, my body sweating like a mule. 'You're lyin', boy,' Mr. Phipps said. 'You're lyin' like a sad-eyed hound, son. I like you, boy; you're a good worker and though you're ignorant you're not dumb; in fact, you're a bright one, quick witted. I like you, boy.' He chilled me down and I fumbled around awhile but then thought, dammit, this man seems honest to me, so I spilled the beans to him. 'I knew it, son. I was over at the court house yesterday and saw a bill from the railroad dicks in the Sheriff's office alerting the Sheriff to be on the look out for a 14-year-old Memphis man believed to be traveling west on the Memphis and Little Rock Railroad--wanted in regards to the murder of a prominent Memphis saloon proprietor. The description fit you to a tee, my boy.' I waited to see what he was going to do. 'Son, I tell you what I'm gonna do...you see one of my properties is a sanitarium just outside'a Lil' Rock...nice place...a resting place for the weary.' 'Sanitarium...that's a nuthouse isn't it?' 'Well, let's just call them "the weary"--right now there are no criminally insane in there.' 'Any wolfmen? I don't want nothing to do with wolf men.' I was serious. I'd heard tales back in Alabama about the loboes and lycanthropy and full moons and using garlic and wolfbane...that's right, I knew more big words than most people thought I could possibly know. A lot of the ancient ones in this family used what we called 'dictionary-size' words.

"So, Mr. Phipps, took me out to this sanitarium the next day and they put me to work immediately. Peaceful Grove, it was called. Old mansion. Not bad really. The doctor-in-charge, he was Mr. Phipps's partner in the place, assigned me to a ward as an assistant ward keep. The ward super I was assigned to was known as Cruel Charles. My job turned out to be watching Cruel Charles being cruel. Then after he had dragged the poor bastard out of his cell, he took him down to the concrete pit where Charles would douse him with buckets of ice-cold water. While Charles was 'baptizing,' that's what he called it, the patient, I was told to clean the cell down and check it for bugs, you know, lice, rat droppings, but also contraband. All I found were puddles of piss and piles of shit all around the walls of the small cell. I refused to clean that shit up and when Cruel Charles brought the poor bloke back all raggedy and naked and dripping wet and threw him in the cell with a vengeance, I told him frankly, 'I refuse to clean that shit up in there.' 'That's all right, me boy,' Cruel Charles said, 'Old Quentin'll clean up the shit himself.' 'You trust him with a shovel?' 'No, lad, no. Old Quentin there, he'll clean it up by eatin' it. Saves the place a lot of money.' He let out a yowl of delight. Looking into the dark dank cell, he said, 'Yeah, Quentin, old pal, you'll clean up yere own shit, want you, lad?' We walked out of the cell area and back into the office."

Uncle Bob needed another Grand Prize. "Grand Prize is not the best of beers, you know. I drink it 'cause it's brewed in San Antonio where they have deep well water and German beermakers...a lot of Germans down in and around San Antonio, you know, keed." Back with beer in hand, Uncle Bob carried on. "Yes sir, boy, you need a mentor. You see, turned out Mr. Phipps was right about me working at a nuthouse. He reasoned with me about it. 'Bob, you can always get a job at a sanitarium...they're jobs that aren't that popular...besides no lawman's gonna find you at a sanitarium.' By then I had learned the ropes of being a ward attendant from Cruel Charles...to the point of learning the dispositions and attitudes of the wards under my care...you know, being able to read them...like knowing when they were on the verge of a fit or a spasm attack. Working in the nuthouses made me strong as an ox...it was brilliant advice. I worked sanitoriums after I left Little Rock from Joplin all the way to Pueblo, Colorado."

Slouched down in that easy chair, relaxed, wearing suspenders, the suspenders holding his pants up high on his overripe watermelon belly. Wearing a stiffly starched very clean white dress shirt--"A benefit from working at a sanitarium is you get great laundry service--I mean look at this shirt, starched, bleached, and ironed to perfection. You have got to look good, keed. Wear your clothes with class." Soon he sailed back into his story: "All my stories from the time I left Little Rock have to do with the insane. They actually made me saner...them and beer. I love beer." He pops open another Grand Prize as he makes that statement. "This is shitty beer, this here Grand Prize. Up in Colorado I met these German guys--when I worked in Pueblo, for instance, and they brewed up beer in their store basements--great beer, too. Made the Old World way...that Coors brewery in Golden...that's those same Germans. Sold beer by the buckets in those days. Miners in every Colorado town--silver miners, gold miners, coal miners, lead miners--and on their days off, Sundays in those days, they flocked in droves to the bars and casinos. In Leadville, I learned to drink what the miners called a Bloody George, a glass of beer with tomato juice in it." "Did they have tomato juice back in those days?" "Sure they did, keed. They had canned goods back during the Civil War, keed. Trouble was, they used lead to seal those cans. You ate stuff out of an old can, rusty, you know, there was a great possibility it would kill you. Can you imagine being so hungry you'd eat contaminated food with the possibility of it killing you? That's the point in life where you separate the men from the boys. Gunfighters were that kind of men--their careers were careers of challenging life--you challenge life and lose, you're dead." "Concentration, right?" "You're catching on, keed, you're catching on."

Uncle Bob's time and tales is a unique part of my history, a part I consider unique in terms of the way I remember it, writing it down directly from memory--a fresh brilliant memory of Uncle Bob sitting in that same ole easy chair with the table by it with the lamp on the table and always a newspaper on the table. Yes, you may have as colorful a character as my Uncle Bob in your life, maybe an even more enlightened man say; yet if you don't present him in a certain entertaining spotlite, then your Uncle Bob's not that unique among Uncle Bobs. That's a truth about history. History can become His story...or your story...or her story. Stories. Las Cuentas those other Americans call them. Tales. Tails.
Many of my histories turn out so much different than the histories of others. This is especially true of my history of my involvement in learning, appreciating, and incorporating into my lifestyle the basics of what I call American Roots Music--and, OK, it will include all American Roots Musics--Nortena, Tex-Mex; South East Texas cajun music; South Texas Black blues; Deep Elum Street in Dallas Black blues; San Antonio Western Swing; the original rocking and rolling of young Buddy Holly and Wayland Jennings and Roy Orbison; or Willie Nelson over in Fort Worth; or Johnny Winters and Shiva's Headband in Austin; or Janis Joplin being born down in Port Arthur, Texas; or Hank Thompson and the Brazos Valley Boys working out of Waco, Texas (famous statement of Hank's: "If Bob Wills is the King of Western Swing, I guess that makes me the Queen of Western Swing"); or even Spade Cooley's band--all of these influences in my American Roots Music history.

Gertrude Stein wrote: "Picasso and I were talking the other day." That right there stopped me in my historical tracks. Oh that I could say I was talking with Picasso the other day. I suppose I could have--Picasso lived to be 90--he was around all of the early part of my life--and, yes, he is a part of my history. Gertrude continues, "I always said I never minded living in France. I write with my eyes, not with my ears or mouth. I hate lecturing, because you begin to hear yourself talk, because sooner or later you hear your voice, and you do not hear what you say. You just hear what they hear you say." That last part is good. They who make it history do put words in your mouth--but they can't understand what she means by "writing with her eyes"--that's a part of Stein's history they've never discovered. Critics called her an experimental writer, but not me. Stein let her mind write words, which she eyed as she wrote them--and by eying them, she was able to keep her words in what she called "the continual present." Stein said, "As a matter of fact [history], as a writer I write entirely with my eyes. The words as seen by my eyes are the important words, and the ears and mouth do not count. I said to Picasso, 'When you were a kid you never looked at things.' He seemed to swallow the things he saw but he never looked, and I said, 'In recent years you have been looking, you see too much, it is a mistake for you.' He said, 'You are quite right.' A writer should write with his eyes, and a painter paint with his ears. You should always paint knowledge which you have acquired, not by looking but by swallowing. I have always noticed that in portraits of really great writers the mouth is always firmly closed." [From: A Primer for the Gradual Understanding of Gertrude Stein, "A Transatlantic Interview 1946," p. 31, Black Sparrow Press, 1971.]

History is fickle. That's my point. Even speckles of history are fickle. Even thunderous roars of history are fickle. How do I know my Uncle Bob's history was actually his true actual history? Surely he salted it a bit too heavy--for that flavor, you know. Most storytellers salt their stories heavily--to preserve them, I suppose--that salting a way of illuminating themselves. We are much bigger in terms of our ears and mouths than we are in our eyes.

for The Daily Growler

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