Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Existing in New York City--Relative to What?
Sittin' Here Thinkin'
While eating a banana, needing the nutrition it promised me, I listened to T.S. Eliot reading his poetry. Eating a banana and listening to a poetry that sounded so distant to me, so from another era, read by a complicated man, a man who rejected his birthplace, St. Louis, Missouri, to go to England and become the literary hero he became. And yet in his reading I feel at home and as I eat the banana and listen to him I remember two times I was in St. Louis. The first time as a young child. The second time as a member of the U.S. Army on a weekend pass called a Liberty pass. The first time running away from my mother in the St. Louis bus station and discovering a room full of pinball machines. And I was fascinated by pinball machines, their many voices resounding around that room as young and old manipulated them, some cursing them, some shouting huzzahs as the little steel ball rolled up starlit numbers on their idolatry glass screens, some with half naked Wonder Womans lolled invitingly across them; some with fiery comets racing across them; some with great baseball players hitting home runs across their fences. And a St. Louis policeman found me for my worried mother. A St. Louis policeman found me standing on a little wooden box playing a pinball machine that was fed nickels by a strange man I didn't know, a man who looked like all men in those days, wearing a suit and tie and a hat, all men in those days wearing suits and ties and hats no matter what they were doing and this man looked like my father and my uncles and any of the men from back home wearing his suit and tie and hat. And my mother came up screaming at me and grabbed me away from that pinball machine and I cried and asked Why? She got me into that St. Louis bus station waiting room and she and the St. Louis policeman lectured me on trusting strange men who wore suits and ties and hats and had nickels for little boys like me, tempting to me to come with them into their pinball dream worlds.
And later as a private in the U.S. Army on my first Liberty since I'd been sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, six months back, I and my army pals went wild in St. Louis. We had just gotten our pay, $72.00, and we took a U.S. Army bus into St. Louis and were dropped off at that same St. Louis bus station. And instead of playing the pinball machines, we played the city of St. Louis, first going to the Jefferson Hotel and getting rooms and then heading to the Wonder Bar in the hotel and ordering drinks, me drinking my first ever rum..."You want that with Coca-Cola, trooper, or straight up?" the bartender asked me and I asked him how he knew I was a trooper since I had left my uniform behind and had bought me a pair of corduroy slacks and a long-sleeve shirt and a cheap jacket at the Fort Leonard Wood PX, and he said, "I can tell a trooper from a mile away" and that was that and after too many rums straight up I left the Wonder Bar by myself and walked the streets of St. Louis lost, alone, absorbing the city's night sensitivities, the dull spring dryness, the humid streets that were beneath the brim of the Mississippi River that flowed in its banks that rimmed that part of St. Louis.
My first time in St. Louis I had no idea who T.S. Eliot was. My second time in St. Louis I did know who he was but I wasn't aware of him being from St. Louis as I walked those dry bone and humid beneath the river streets alone and drunk that night of my first Liberty from Fort Leonard Wood in six months. I was walking in a waste land, lost, with, I'm sure, rats scurrying all about me, stumbling down the seemingly going downhill sidewalks, murmuring St. Louis songs, St. Louis blues I knew, that I also knew were being sung and played just across the MacArthur Bridge over the Mississippi River in East St. Louis...because I knew a lot of characters who were from St. Louis, Chuck Berry, Stan Musial, Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs Julius Hemphill...I knew Ike Turner was in East St. Louis...and I murmured St. Louis blues as I rolled and tumbled drunk down that St. Louis street ending up lost in an Edward Hopper-like coffee shop chugging down cups of black coffee provided me by a St. Louis policeman who had found me passed out on the curb like what seemed to be a million miles from the Jefferson Hotel and the Wonder Bar.
"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time," T.S. Eliot wrote. And how true that was that night I was in St. Louis, his home town.
I've currently embarked on attempting to write a biography of my brother and what I'm finding fascinating about the effort is how very little I know about him. He was 15 years older than I was and of those 15 years I'm having to guess at his life, trying to remember tales my parents and he told me about his life after I was old enough to jot them down in my developing brain. So much went on in those 15 years he lived before I came along. And since I don't remember much before I was 2 or 3 years old, those years would total 18, a time when he reached adulthood while I was still a mere child, a baby brother when he was 15; a little brother all his life.
One of his stern insistences in his later life was that he did not want anybody to write a biography of him. And in respecting those wishes, I don't consider my biography of him a true biography and much more really my own autobiography with him as my main subject. It's like a brother's respect for his brother and the influence that brother's life had on his life. If I were writing a serious biography of him I would transport myself down to Texas to Texas University at Arlington, Texas, where his archives are stored and read all the thousands of notes and papers and writings of his and thereby gather at least some facts that I have never known about his life. But, no, I'm an improvisationalist and I am writing his biography from my own memories of him. After my brother's death in 2002, I wrote a song about him in which I called him "a distant relative." In fact, that's a good title for my biography of him.
It amuses me to find out in writing about my brother how little I also know about my parents and their parents. And bringing it closer to home, how little I know about my closest friends, those when I was young and those I have today. How little I know about my closest male friends and especially how little I really know about the women I love and have loved.
I am suddenly so apolitical. The blundering idiocy of Mitt "the Mormon" Romney amuses me in a sarcastic way while the corporate correctness of President Obama leaves me feeling deceived. Mitt "the Mormon" Romney is not a phony. He is being real. Think of the privileged life this dumbass has had given him--yes, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth--and, yes, his view of life is totally opposite that of most of us. While President Obama is a deceiver. He promotes himself as caring for the Middle Class when in reality there is no Middle Class anymore. Both men avoid talking about the Lower Class, the class living on the brink. Mitt because he grew up in the Upper Class and poor folks are an anathema to him. Obama because he knows life on the brink and now that he's been freed from it he doesn't care to go back to it even to confront it with kindness and care. Mitt "the Mormon" Romney is a dumbass, but Obama's not. Obama's a very smart man but he's trapped in this new glory he finds himself treated to; Obama is now a new millionaire and he ain't about to lose that status not now that he's set for life whether he wins or loses this November.
These are the same-ole same-ole choices we have every presidential election year. Mitt "the Mormon" Romney vs. President Obama is no different than G.W. "Baby" Bush vs. Al 'the Bore" Gore or John "the Phony Vietnam Vet" Kerry. Obama's only difference is he was born into conflict and these other characters grew up White, pampered, privileged, and rich.
I'm content to lose myself in my own world, like I'm listening to the music of Charles Mingus now, and allowing the presidential bullshit to pass me by. I will wake up after the election. Whoever's won it won't matter to me. If it's Mitt "the Mormon" Romney, yes, I'll be frightened and aim my escape toward Canada, but I've been that way many times before in the past. I survived Harry S. Truman, Ike "the Golfer" Eisenhower, JF "for Fucking Around"K, Lyndon Johnson, Richard "I Am Not a Crook" Nixon, Gerald "Unable to Chew Gum and Walk at the Same Time" Ford, Jimmy "the Peanut Farmer" Carter, Ronnie "Raygun" Reagan, Pappy Bush, Billy Jeff Clinton, G.W. "Baby" Bush...I mean, come on, do I have to remind you how scary all those political clowns were?
I would hope somehow Dr. Jill Stein would be our next president, but, of course, that's ridiculous hoping, though think about how great that would be.
for The Daily Growler