Monday, May 11, 2015

SAINTS AND SINNERS

Long ago, I read an article in The New York Rocker daring to suggest that salvation could be found in the locations some of us frequented in our desperation to find release in rock 'n roll. Could a kind of saint, or perhaps even Jesus himself be discovered in these dives?

I was one of their patrons, moving back and forth in the strange dialectic of its time from the conservative restrictions of a corporate secretarial job to the weekend exhilaration of the thumping, dissonant, arrogant insistence of what has since been condensed into the word 'punk.' At first blush, there was only the largely indifferent population of students from the nearby learning institution, but the jukebox melody that was a favorite captured my imagination, promising much more. I moved through this bar, and eventually more, in an inevitable dreamlike state. Here was the ignored underbelly of daily routine, both the fear and fantasy of what might take its place. The music gave us certainty. If we were bold enough, we devoured it; it made us all stalkers of the unknown.

In the long history of the Church, desert monastics searched through empty days, finding in this silent focus evidence of spiritual oases. The redemption elaborated by saints was a withdrawal from the world, a hermetic ism that promised security if only we could face away from urgency.

In the exact obverse, we went defenseless. In our determination, we trampled what was expected in order to encounter life head on. The surprises that ensued changed history, and is always the case, this groundswell only reached public awareness after the initial excitement had transformed itself into philosophical and artistic statement. The discovery of anyone living on this edge was the excitement of the edge itself in all its excitement, and our desert was a romantic insistence on crossing over its boundary. If one was in despair, one need only be bold enough to take a final risk of living or dying.


Covered in glitter and dog poo, we had our sadhus, those who had given up on convention. What had become a self-conscious construction of trendiness was eradicated by defiant guitar chords, insulting in their spontaneity. In our intoxicated fandom, we crowded around these stages, looking for the spark of redemption.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

THE GLOBAL SEX TRADE

Once, while still in The City, en route to some unremarkable location, I fell into a state of shock passing the street hookers who had positioned themselves on 10th Avenue alongside what I can only imagine was the welcome heavy traffic of the West Side Highway. It was a young, shapely, attractive woman who remains in memory, wearing an elastic waist thong, gartered stockings and high heels. These women had remained unperturbed by law enforcement, no doubt because they were not an obstruction to local residents.

Further, in my skid row courtship with my late Ex, I would listen to the stampede of street hookers up and down the stairs of the Elton Hotel. I don't know what would set them off, but I did once witness a passer by solicit their trade, and was struck by the brashness involved in being one of their Johns.

To get to the point, globally, the sex trade, rather than just the cottage industry of the street, has become big business, including the availability of sex vacations. These would inevitably include the Asian peninsula, where I can only guess prostitution is nothing more than a common, acceptable way of life, for those pushed aside as the brackish residue of globalization. Women can be rooked, abducted and then trafficked across borders, with the returns of a villainous, unregulated income for those in charge; but always by the ancient and unending need men have to put women into subjugation, offering money in exchange for the intimacy of their sex organs. It is only in Western society where the fantasy of the high end hooker can have some basis in reality, turning what might otherwise be considered sordid into a business proposition. (I couldn't pass up the temptation of reading Xavier Hollander's The Happy Hooker when it was first published in the '70s.)

So instead, here I am, in the 21st century in a mid-Hudson city riddled with crime and prostitution, saddened by the occasional woman in dowdy dress in freezing weather, perhaps looking for $15 to turn a quick trick. Too, for protection, prostitutes also tolerate a male figure in the background, taking their chances that the relationship will be a mutual windfall and not something than will compromise their safety or quality of life.


There needs to be more than one answer to this worldwide double standard. While marriage is considered the benchmark of stable society, it only masks the insatiable need for a greater license in pursuit of sexual gratification. The prostitute, otherwise frowned upon, upholds the standard of the woman unbound by considerations of convention, promising unconditional acceptance, and opening the door to the unqualified encouragement of the sex act.

Monday, March 16, 2015

American Medecine

    At my last chiropractic appointment, I jumped up out of my waiting room chair to share a sudden thought with the receptionist.  We only bond with or understand one another when we're sick, I explained.  Or, as I've often ruminated, we're eager to help one another die, but don't assist each other in being alive.
     There is no dearth of talk show features on the latest medically identified disease or the narrative of someone's survival of cancer or other life-threatening illness.  In the ultimate symbiosis of life and death, we provided the throwaways of Guantanamo with state-of-the-art technologies in a final sentimental apology for having imprisoned them.  I once worked with a woman with whose relationship I struggled. She did make the effort to visit me in an intensive care unit, but regularly shucked opportunities for simple gestures of social interest.  I have what could possibly be considered a macabre empathy with those who live in extremis, i.e. isolated in prison cells, politically persecuted, stranded in starvation or caught in the snares of war.  I'm unafraid of being perceived as callous at the nausea I feel with the endless parade of bald children who suffer from the side effects of chemotherapy.  They, at least, are from families affluent enough to afford treatment.  I'm unwilling to shove aside my emotional involvement with people tottering on the brink of extinction to reach out in spirit for those who have merely suffered some interruption to their complacency.
     Then there is the other angle.  Of late, I've evolved almost a kind of embarrassment at visiting medical offices.  In the barren landscape of my social life the thought has begun to intrude that in keeping these seemingly endless appointments that they also provide a kind of sociability and good will.  It's too easy to get on board the campaigns of the American Medical Association.  As part of my participation in the local mental health community, I've been subjected to endless moralizations about cigarette smoking.  Besides the fact that I'm more concerned with the financial devastation poor people expose themselves to, I'm impressed with the hypocrisy with the associated issues, including second hand smoke.  I remember a time when a simple opportunity to smoke recreationally in drinking establishments was still inside the law.  What about the kind of moral destitution that leads to addictions?  What kind of even simple gestures have been made to address the desperation of those caught up in the routine demoralization of either poverty or the ennui and alienation of suburban shopping mall culture or the stranded rich? People should be allowed to kill themselves slowly or dramatically, in my never very humble opinion, rather than be subjected to the sentimental swill of moral inculcation.
     Anyway, I'm of the mind these days to excuse myself from the scare tactics of advanced imaging and medical procedures designed to produce evidence that the chances of your life coming to a conclusion are mathematically increased.  What's the point of extended your life if it's not worth living to begin with.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Once upon a time...

Once upon a time, some of us would gather at the Sheridan Square newstand (when there were still such things) and wait in the early morning hours for the drop off of that week's Village Voice. In those days, apartments would go for under a hundred dollars, sometimes well under, and you could easily pick up a new life where the old one left off.
     Usually a fresh coat of landlord-supplied paint would cover up the fact that you were in some way indigent and living marginally.  Then, as you began to settle in and get your bearings, you would accommodate yourself to the toilet in the hallway and the bathtub in the kitchen.  Life wasn't so bad.  After all, you had your autonomy.  You were free; you didn't need to grovel in the marketplace of money and show yourself off with the results.
     Sometimes the relocation to The Lower East Side, aka East Village, was to meet up with friends and associates already in residence.  Other times, it was to connect to the electrical currents always surging around discoveries in the arts and unending experiments in new ways of living.  It was in the '60s and through my associations at City College that I first discovered the East Village.  My mother had warned me against 'the commies', but I soon found my way to the radicalism of the south campus cafeteria and that was when my life began in earnest.  I eventually found my way to the New York Federation of Anarchists and would journey from my parents in the East '80s to dinners on streets numbered in single digits.  I remember distinctly macrobiotic meals with grain so stalwart that I would have an entirely unexpected bowel movement the next morning.  Also, for the first time, a woman with an eye catching ankle length skirt who did artist's modeling.  Who ever heard of such things.  Too, a copy of the East Village Eye caught my attention, the first ever of the underground press.
     Transitioning through the sixties brought me into the turbulence of the revolutionary antiwar movement and the beginnings of women's liberation.  The East Village became a vortex of a global paroxysm of what could be, rather than the tired remains of what had always been in place.  Now I am a homesteader away from the megalopolis of New York City, with the lingering memory of what has now receded into the past.  The East Village went from the hallucinogenic floral explosion of the sixties into '70s New Wave, leaving in its wake a residue of gentrification and a brief proliferation of galleries in the '80s.  In one of the last visits I made, I was astonished that this excitement had relocated to an outer borough.  Despite geographic dislocations, the diaspora of risk-takers will never spend itself to a conclusion.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Further..

I'm reading Mistry's A Fine Balance a second time, and only last night noticed that after a gap of some ten years, I was waiting for certain details to make a reappearance.  To wit, Omprakash's affliction with both head lice and tape worms; and too, the horrible emergency government round-up resulting in forced labor, and the sad denouement where the two main characters become beggars.
     I was saddened by the contrast between the distractions I seem afflicted by in developing a reading habit and the ease and analytical insight I've come to enjoy watching movies.  Every film seems to break down into easy, directorial segments, making my future destiny as a film director believable (ahem).  Anyway, I think all of this constitutes a pleasure zone, i.e. when we have the luxury of sinking into an experience and let it take over.  For after all, the fiction writers enjoy their craft, otherwise why...
     

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rohinton Mistry

I'm unsure how to handle blog posts on anything more frequently than monthly, but I'll try.
     Reading A Fine Balance, and this for the second time, my train of thought heads in the direction of a writer's awareness of what works...and doesn't. Although I must say, all of Mistry's craft has its desired effect.
     The last episode dealt with a political rally.  Endless buses picking up endless shanty town dwellers, if not of their own volition, then with some not-so-gentle coaxing with police batons. As the thousands assemble, the pageantry begins and the hot air balloons dispense their cargo of rose petals, sometimes reaching their destinations of stage and crowds, sometimes missing the mark and providing some local goatherds with an unexpected blessing. What is impressive is the dishevelment and mayhem of the subcontinent of India.  Shocking to the Western reader is that despite the chaos of the struggle for survival, the human prevails.  The routine of emptying one's bowels at the nearest assembly of train tracks is no more than the writer's opportunity to elaborate dialogue, and the sordid search for a place to hang one's hat an opportunity to provide details of the sordid accumulation of debris and trash that a slum dweller simply takes in stride.
     Now what do I do to end a post?  Sudden death?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

I'M BACK, AND RECOUPING LOST GROUND

Picking up a pencil, it seems, in order to write a blog.  My life has been dishevel and in arrears since last winter, and things have gotten behind.
     What did I want to write about?  It was March, the end of Lent, and on Easter weekend there were a number of documentaries on the Holy Land going back to the time of Jesus.
     In one notable moment, Jesus was shown rubbing his thumbs over the eyes of a blind man.  I liked this Jesus:  he was kind of frumpy.  His hair made him seem like he could've been a homeless man in any American city.  I reflected on the classic image of Jesus in commercial depictions.  Vidal Sassoon...was this his stylist?!
     I suppose it was from that moment that I formed a different conception of this man's life.  Yes, he was in all ways unremarkable, unremarkable except that he healed the sick, made the blind to see and raised the dead to life.  A man so unremarkable, in fact, that in the end there were no misgivings about delivering him to the same gruesome execution reserved for thieves and blackguards.
     This, then, is the revelation of the Christian faith, now no longer a mystery.  How unremarkable we all are until the moment when we can see one another, relieved of dross and cloaked in glory.  I further reflected, in avoiding the conventional obsession with the crucifixion, that surely it was the resurrection and not his death that constituted our liberation; but then, what about those of us who have abased ourselves with mayhem and butchery?  Alas, being nailed to a cross couldn't be avoided.
     Buddhists don't have a gory revelation at the center of their theology, only frightening ones.  I think fondly of Mahakhala as the deity who kicks our asses if we somehow upend the Dharma.
     So it remains a mystery how we are redeemed from suffering by being made to focus on it.  But then, is there any worse destiny than to not be forgiven?  Isn't this what hell is made of?