Thursday, October 10, 2013


                                WHEN AT COLUMBIA in 1972  Nadine Gordimer taught at the School of the Arts:
"The natural writer's magic could be honed by a creative writing course, but never created. "Although deadly serious about his desire to write," she (NADINE GORDIMER) commented on student Thomas McGonigle, "he also has a an equally deadly facility." But she was delighted to be proven wrong on him when decades later, she began to notice and enjoy McGonigle's essays in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. [from NO COLD KITCHEN, A Biography of Nadine Gordimer by Ronald Suresh Roberts]             
                And then to really prove my own case I decided to put up what I have been working on as a way to avoid going back to finish EMPTY AMERICAN LETTERS, what might me my last book, a journey about Bulgaria, but to avoid that I have been writing out little voyages of going to Newfoundland and Mexico City with my father in 1973 after my mother died and this lead to what is here:
                        OVERLOOKED OBITUARY FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES about a dead man in Greenwich Village late 1970s
                                    ---rescued editorial doodling---
                        Lock the cemeteries.
                        Only happy people in there: another Paddy joke.
                        Blood stains on the wall-to-wall carpet.
                        Not going to happen to me.
                        Don’t hand us that line.
                        Watch out if you take the hook.
                        Don’t write a love note to dead men: lousy correspondents.
            Charles Conklin,  who everyone called Charlie but who for some or no reason both Lydia and I always called Charles, told me that over there at Donovan & O’Leary Funerals they had the contract for taking care of the corpses, remains if you please, of those who died with identification on them and no one claimed them.
            Had to make a delivery to them of cardboard boxes and asked the man what for?
            Stick the stiffs in them.  And they truck ‘em over to ‘Jersey to get burnt.
            Never keep an ID on you.  Then you leave at least a bunch of pictures behind and get a bit of a hole in Potter’s Field.
            A survival tip.  When you sell your blood, Charles said, be sure to take along a brown ink pencil.  I grew an army of those brown spots.  They need the blood so bad they’d take it out of your balls.  Get that pen.  It gives you a little extra cash.
Never trade near a blood snake, you get a lousy price.  Move down a couple of streets.  Keep yourself clean. Remember your mother saying no one is too poor they couldn’t buy a bar of soap.
            Work, losing work:         Charles and I were walking along 14th Street.  I had met him after work at The Eagle at 9th and 14th.  They didn’t know him there but it was a good bar, he said, bought you back after 3 drinks. 
            He was tired.  It’s been a ball busting day.  The company’s going broke. I tried to tell Manny put us on short weeks.  Spread the work around.  At least we’d all be working.  Nah, we’ll see, Manny says, we’ll see what happens.  Nothing’s gonna happen.  It’s closing down. They say it’s cheaper to work out of Jersey. I can’t go back to that place.  Ten years of my life stuck with my third wife. She worked me over.
            The first leaves, the second won’t, Jimmy Cassidy says, but I never had a third.
            I was a cook, a damn good cook mind you, Charles says, out in a good place on US1 and you do like my veal stew.  So does Lydia, doesn’t she?  I’d sing her any song she wanted.  Lydia I mean.  Not my third wife, she ripped my spine out.  There’s something about Lydia that makes you want to sing a song to her.  She’s always so sad.  Just if I could take her eyeballs in my hands and just throw into the world.  LOOK AT IT.  YOU GOT TWO GOOD EYES.  SEE THE BEAUTY. DAMN IT.  SEE THE BEAUTY.
            I’ve seen my whole world go rotten.  Who do I got? There’s the dame over in Staten Island.  I see her once in a while.  But her hands are so rough like rasp files and she makes me bring a dildo along. That’s all I got.  What can I expect?
            Aside:   [When I worked at The New York Times they still had the morgue and once or twice a night I would go to it and get these little brown envelopes with clippings in them if an editor wanted to stuff in some sentences to flesh out an article:  Lydia was from Bulgaria and I had met her there and I was now living in her studio on Horatio Street along with her nephew and sometimes one or two other people.  An Irish American woman lived next door and sang Irish songs.  On the floor below Lydia a woman kept a bucket of water near the door so evil spirits could drown in it.  And as they say, none of us had any money, really]
            We go to P.J. Kelly’s.  Charles pays back a slouched over hump of smelly clothed flesh.  Pay my debts always. You never know.  I hate this fucking mick bar.  Where can I go?  Smells of piss and vomit, right?  You took me to that fancy place on Bleecker Street.  They looked at me like who the fuck is this old one-eyed freak?  
            But, Charles why?
            Thomas, if only you had seen what I have seen.  You’re just a kid.  Go and try to sell your blood   And then you’ll know.  Feel your eye being pulled out of your head.  You have all these friends so many friends .
            I can’t go to Jersey and drive.  I get by here and I don’t know what I’ll do     when the company closes and it’s going to close.  It all smells like it’s dead already and they just haven’t buried me yet.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
            You just stop sometime.
            Not really.
            Kid, don’t horseshit me.  There’s that dame from New Orleans.  She walks around like a slob but I love her.  If you’re pretty--- show it off, why not?  I wouldn’t mind people looking at me, turning round even, looking at the freak, it doesn’t bother me, really, anymore but I know they have a question: asking what does he have under that patch he’s wearing?  He must be kidding  trying to look with it.  I don’t like their language with it.  Kids don’t know any of the old songs.  They’re missing so much these days.  It was better then. No, it wasn’t.  People will always try to con you with that crap.  
            Can I buy you a beer? 
            You cheap Irish bastard.  All you need is a bone.  Even a dog deserves a bone.  Everybody needs just a bone.  It keeps you going.  You have self-respect.  With a little money in your pocket then you’re a king.   You’re somebody even if you only have a dollar that came out of your sweat.  If it is your own sweat no one, absolutely no one, can push you around.  I don’t care who they are.  I’m a man because I sweat.  That’s when a bath feels good,  good because you deserved it.
            Charles:        T-cut.  Burned.  Some blood in a few slides, a file at the medical examiner’s office, his stomach in a jar for future reference. 
            I’m so tired of awe-inspiring words, Charles says.  Makes me want to puke Give it a chance, kid. We’ve all been played,  played by the greasy spoon.
            Another voice:       Charlie was too emotional.  Poor man.  He wanted to die and went ahead and did.  It was good for him. I don’t want to think about him. Why didn’t I go to the funeral?   Charlie was nice but he’s dead and what do I care?  I wouldn’t go to my mother’s funeral.  What can you do?  When you’re dead you’re dead.
            When I lived on Horatio Street:      No one believed Charles when he asked for a bone.  Drinking genuine depth charges: a glass of beer and you drop the shot glass in.  Does wonders for the shakes.  Don’t  have to slobber the rye over the bar.  Everybody’s eying you, seeing who is going faster.    The eyes go first and then then  the nerves and then the brain and then then taking a bath once in a while.  This in that bar on Hudson Street: sneak in there in the morning before the afternoon guy gets there: he hates my guts.
                                                PART SOMETHING OR OTHER
            Hint of nostalgia:    This sort of party always begins slowly what with Charles having to provide his own food for his own birthday party in The Village Paddock.  You know where it is, across from The Corner Bistro. It became a fish restaurant.  Everybody is dead from back then. Or on the way.
            He had to round up his own guests.
            Background:  Plan the music provided by The Village Legend Al Fields, have him up sitting up there at the piano on a platform near the bar, devoted to horses and baseball, you know.   No patrons watch football.  Babe Ruth on the wall.  Jerry Foley with his white hair treasuring his daily NEW YORK TIMES:  have to know the Democratic schemes.  His sister sits in the bar only in the afternoon: one leg up on a stool next to her own, suffering from President Nixon’s disease: making sure Sally doesn’t pocket too much.  Sally is the day bartender, whose husband is a terminal drunk up in a hospital next to Potter’s Field.  He has his reasons, Sally says. He had been in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain.  Was out of work for years after that.   It wasn’t his fault: like a lot of the boys from the Village he went off to Spain--- they had a conscience, I think.  Sally looks like a pinkish grey walnut
            Party:This is now the evening and Sally is on this side of the bar and Ray has taken over: an old fashioned white haired bartender in red jacket, black tie and white shirt.  Only bartender who knows what a Bronx is.
            Find out for yourself.  Do some research.
            Like the Trinity if you ask me.  A mystery.
            Charles lives across the street next to the deli in a ground floor room.  He doesn’t want to come to his own party unfortified.  He’s mixing wine and whiskey. He had the veal stew cooking.  I have a beer.  He’s worried none of his 3 wives will show up.  Not even his kids.  I called one of their mothers up and she yelled at me.  Maybe his cousin and his sister from over in Bank Street and maybe the dame from Staten Island.  Don’t let on what I have told you about her. She’s sensitive about some things.
            Come on Charles, don’t want to be late for your own party.
            He’s cleaned up the place a little.  Cleared off the dreser top.  The cigarette burns are visible. He has all the empty cans and bottles in a bag in the corner.  His record player is busted.  A couple of years ago it fell off the back of a truck if you know what I mean and now it’s  really busted.  I tripped.
            Charles has lousy taste in clothes.  He tried to give me a three piece pink suit.  He shops out of the back of trucks. His brother is in that racket.  He’s a cheapskate.  I know where he gets the stuff so fuck him.  He still wants to charge me. 
            We have to finish painting this place, Charles is telling me.  The landlord gave him some gallons of paint and we started to paint the place.  But didn’t get too far.  Went across the street to the bar.  He told me you only gotta be careful when painting to cover up the spots people look at: right in front of their noses and in corners high up.  People always look there.  That’s all you gotta cover.
            Charles, let’s be going.  People want to see you.  Lydia is going to be there.  All your friends.
            How I love you bastards.  Even when I was drunk in your place and fell down I didn’t break anything, did I?
            You didn’t, Charles.  That’s when Lydia set up the rule: no walking round in her place, you gotta crawl, less possibility of damaging anything.
            Let’s be going.  I’ll carry the pot and you bring the bread.
            I wish it was more but what’s a bastard like me to do?
            Don’t worry about it.
            It’s always been like that.
            Like what.
            Like you say hate ‘em all but love ‘em all in spite of their fucking selves.
            The Village Legend came up with a large paper table cloth which said HAPPY BIRTHDAY too many times and he even put out some plastic forks and paper napkins and plastic knives.
            Distraction:   According to Danny Byrd, Al Fields is a house nigger and Danny Byrd being a field nigger knows the difference and nobody can fool a field nigger.  Have you ever met a field nigger with no money?   We always got money in our pocket and don’t let no one tell you different.    Danny says happy birthday to Charles.  Danny has a gimpy green eye and a blue eye.  Charles doesn’t like having him here at his party— I get along with colored guys and have always worked with them—sometimes they get the short end and sometimes you get the short end but they get the short end more frequently, you follow me, but Danny’s another sort of something or other but Lydia likes Danny and  Charles likes Lydia but Al Fields The Village Legend , what can I do, he plays the music and we needs the music.
            Charles throws out his arms, we needs the music.  
            Ray is saying, Charles calm down. We’re going to have a nice party for you so you gotta behave. 
            How I love that bastard, Charles says, even Al Fields, even if he is a nigger and a lousy piano player, The Village Legend.  So much for mythology.
            Setting:  Dark mahogany bar and paneling a large mirror with angular black design behind the bottles row on row of a choir, you could say, a large rectangular front room divided half way by a fence of wood and clouded glass.  A juke box at the rear end of the bar, an entrance way with no steps:  Jerry doesn’t want any law suits and then a long narrow room leading to the toilets and office. 
            Everybody was fifty years older than Lydia and I but that was okay.  You get tired of looking at yourself when you go someplace.  The liquor bottles were like a choir and you could see the backs of their heads in the mirror behind the bar… repeating, just what bars are all about, repeating this and that and this and that.
            History:  But people hang around the front room close to the food.  Once upon a time, it was said Kitty, Foley’s sister, the one who’s dead, served meals in the bar.  If you didn’t clean your plate you weren’t allowed back in again, even for a drink. She took it personal,  Her legs gave out and if you can’t cook food then there was no reason.
            They say, whoever they is, Edward Albee used to live upstairs above the bar and now there are two stories about that other guy, James Baldwin, he was in one night with a man and woman: so story one,  a sailor took offense at his sitting with a white women and Baldwin learned the racist nature again of America on the floor of the bar or story two, Baldwin tried to make a sailor and sailor was with his wife, same result:  take your pick.
            A Detail:       Charles had one desperate sad brown eye, even on pay days when there had been a lot of overtime.
            Something else:    Did I tell you the story about the time the bar got robbed and we all got shoved into the toilet by this guy with a gun?  That’s another  story.  An ordinary afternoon in the middle of the week, who would have thought but it was happening all the time, luckily no one got hurt..
            The Party:    Lydia kissed Charles on the cheek for his birthday.   Do it on the cheek where I can see your eyes and I’ll buy you a drink and  she did and Thomas if you do that I’ll kick the shit out of you--- excuse the language--- from here to Hoboken, do you want a drink?
            Let me buy you one, Charles. 
            This cheap Irish bastard’s buying me a drink.
            The food was on the table. Lydia liked the veal stew.  Once Charles fell into a pot of it which he was making late at night, he told us this once, that’s the risk you take in his line of work, you step into a shower, slip, crack your head and are dead and you take a risk if  you take a drink and you take a risk taking a breath, sometimes.
            Charles kissed his sister hello.  I love this girl, he is saying, she took me out of the gutter too many times when I was so low I couldn’t sell my blood.
            His nephew clapped him on the back and his brother shook his hand . 
            Charles will have a (he made a screwing like gesture with his hand) drink into his hand.
            So many people had shown up.
            Muscular buddies from work with wives who never left the house.
            No children luckily.
            Charles didn’t like to see kids in bars.  Drink makes you into a child so why have children present.
            Lydia and I drifted to the back of the bar. Danny Byrd was trying to lay drink on us for some reason.  He succeeded.  Caroline showed up. Charles was kissing her on the cheek as she would, I was told in the funeral parlor when last in the box without eye patch, he said, she would be doing this saying, here’s how to kiss a dead man, you do it well.
            A photographer was taking pictures blurred in the bad bar light so Charles was not photographed
            Charles’s literary remains.     It was his party.  He was lost in the poor light as was his scribbling about the man who was arrested for driving drunk a wheel chair down Hudson Street.
            Charles out on his red and white checkerboard hat and tries to sing Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.  Stops and starts again Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
            Lydia applauded.  Charles had to go back to his room across the street.  He was embarrassed by crying and singing. I went after him.  He was drinking from a small sugared bottle of whiskey.
            I’m so scared he says. But they love you, Charles Who can love a one eyed man?  That’s just self-pity.  I don’t care what it is because it’s what I feel.  People never tell you the truth. Come back to your party, Charles. Have some of your food. Is the stew good?  It always is  Did Lydia like it?  Yes, so come back.  I don’t believe you but people talk, they always talk even about people they don’t know.                  
            Charles did come back and he had another small bottle of something in his back pocket
            Ray was too cheap to buy him a drink.  We sell drinks in this bar even on birthdays.
            We were all broke by then waiting for something to happen. There were a lot of people in the bar who Charles didn’t know and Al Fields The Village Legend said they came to hear him play and let me play my music he said and he played something from the big fake book he kept on the piano, who knows what it was, just blurred into the sounds of people shouting and having a good time. 
            Charles fell against the wall of the bar and looked like he would hit the floor but didn’t:  I don’t hit floors, he was saying, and Al The Village Legend was picking him up and got him seated.
            My muscles have gone out, he says. My sister, I would like to dance with you.  Please.  Charles, please.  What has happened to you?
            I am happy.
            That’s no excuse.
            My birthday only comes once in a decade or something like that.
            That’s no excuse if I had my way I wouldn’t have come but your nephew said you wanted to see me.
            Charles, can you buy me a drink, Lydia asks, and he says of course for you I can buy you a drink and I’m not buying him a drink since he doesn’t drinks screws and Danny Byrd is saying he is buying drinks even for him because he knows I am married to his wife even if he says he’s married to Lydia and no one knows what it all can mean and  Mable is telling me she had been a lithographer for years and is now not working and her husband is dead and here you cans see a picture of him in his casket…
            The end.         I look up and Charles was taken home a half an hour ago
            Again.           Another day later, it must have been around 10:30 AM I was walking by The Village Paddock and Charles was sitting on a  chair in front of the bar.,  He was sitting on a dirty towel with a lot of blood on it.  The phone didn’t work so I came over here and Jerry wouldn’t let me in--- it started bleeding last night, some time, I woke up and there was all this blood coming out of my asshole, what else can I call it, there was blood all  around and Jerry wouldn’t let me in when I banged on his door but said he would call the ambulance... it wouldn’t stop, the bleeding, I don’t know why and Jerry didn’t want me dying---or anything in his place because then they close you down--- you gotta know these things--- at least he called an ambulance and gave me this chair and in a few minutes the ambulance came--- I don’t remember what we were saying and they took Charles to St. Vincent’s and Jerry said you just can’t let people like that into your bar if they are bleeding there is too much to explain.  Jerry took the chair back into the bar.  
            Later I called the hospital and had to say I was a brother  when they told me to hold the line and another voice came on and she or he, I forget which,  said Charles Conklin had died from internal bleeding that couldn’t be stopped.  But that’s unofficial.
            AND.                 So, I guess they burnt him in Jersey as there was no funeral service and no one talked about him.
            Charles Conklin.

Of course I know who Nadine Gordimer is and was and is but for how much longer. 
By placing these sentences here it is as if I had unwound my small intestine and am here eating it in public since editors, publishers no longer call--- as if they ever did, really--- though one or two were faithful in their fashion… and saw THE CORPSE DREAM OF N. PETKOV and GOING TO PATCHOGUE into the world but for now… the immediate now…
I know these sentences are hard to read as they were meant for the printed page, a place it seems now closed for now to me, alas.