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Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Below I offer an email sent to me by my friend Rafi Rodriguez. Rafi's a young fellow who recently began working as a trainman in the NYC subways. The tale he shares is amazing for several reasons.


On Friday night there were major delays on the One line at 2:30 in the morning because I was saving a man's life. I had been operating down the line when upon leaving 110 St. noticed something odd on the middle track running next to the track I was on. From a distance it looked like a garbage bag, but it moved a bit and for some reason the idea that it might be a dog popped into my mind. I slowed the train as I pulled along next to the area where I had seen the moving object. What I saw was a man curled up on his side; his back was to me and he was wearing a gray shirt covered in blood. I immediately stopped the train and called control to get some EMS down there and get permission to go down and check to see if he was okay.

After control made sure all the trains in the area had stopped and were sending help, they finally gave me permission to go down to the road bed. But before I could, the man had actually dragged himself to the front of my train. The sight of him covered in dirt and blood, tears running down his face, screaming for help lit only by my headlights scared the living shit out of me. Using whatever strength he had left he pulled himself up onto the train as I unlocked the storm door in the front. He collapsed at my feet, hugging my legs and crying. He told me how he'd been stabbed twice in the back and how he had been lying there, thinking he was going to die, and how all he wanted to do was see his wife and son again.

I moved the train to the next station so we could discharge the passengers and await EMS and police. While I was making sure that all the other passengers had left the train, the man had dragged himself out of my cab and was screaming for me not to leave him, at which point I ran back to make sure he stayed awake. He kept grabbing for me, wanting some kind of human contact. So here I am sitting on an empty train with a bleeding man wrapped around my legs, and I'm just trying to keep him talking so he doesn't pass out. I talk to him about his wife and his son, I talk to him about his job. Turns out he fixes computers. I tell him I just bought a new one myself. He asked if it was a Dell. I lied and said yes. He mumbled how it's a really good computer and I made a good choice. Needless to say, in his current condition he couldn't fix my sound driver problem. But it was enough to keep him going till the EMS finally showed up and took care of him.

I never asked what happened… how he got down there, or who did it to him. I was more concerned with getting him help, but I think part of me was also afraid that even speaking of these actions might cause perpetrators to appear! Silly, I know, but it was still there. I never even asked his name, I didn't think of that …I don't know why. i just kept calling him "sir." Well, Mr. Victor Vasquez was cleaned up and taken off to St. Luke's hospital. I don't know how long Victor was lying out there by himself, bleeding in the dark, scared as all hell, just wanting to see his wife and son. I wonder how many trains passed by and didn't see him, or just didn't bother to stop. I didn't get a "thank you," I didn't even get a "good job "or a "job well done."

When, after a half an hour of taking care of Victor, I finally got my train rolling again I was met with nothing but angry people waiting for a train. They cursed at me. They threw stuff. Even the people at the station I was sitting in waiting just kept asking how long we were just going to sit there, or they just watched poor Victor laying there crying, at which point I yelled at them to get away. Nobody cared, but I know I saved a man's life last night.

What can I add to that? Only that the combination of pride (the last line, for instance), honesty (confessing his own fear and resentment), humor (the 'puter chat) and decency (the whole fucking thing) is vintage Rafi, who in his mid-twenties is as fine a man as I know. Contrast this with the all-too-unsurprising coda regarding the commuters.

Observe the human race:
Criminal scum, brutalizing a father who's only trying to get home to his family.
That terrified and agonized man, desperate for assurance and help, longing for his loved ones and raging against the dying of the light.
A mob of obnoxious, piss-ant commuters, concerned only with their own convenience to the extent of abusing the one man willing to help another.
That one man who gives a shit, trying to do the right thing despite his own confusion and fear. And doing it.
And of course, EMS on the job.

When I was a kid I rode the 5th Avenue bus each day, and one afternoon a straphanger suddenly clutched at his chest, gasped and fell down. After the initial hubbub, I noticed a good number of my fellow passengers sighing and checking their watches. An early lesson.
If I'd been in Rafi's shoes (unlikely, since he works for a living), what would I do? Probably faint like a goat.

Lesson? None here. Rafi never intended this for public consumption, but I wanted to put it here as a slice of life and a "thank you" to my friend, on behalf of all my fellow goats. In a world as horrid as this one, it's worth remembering that people like Rafi exist. It's an honor to call him my friend.

I'm thinking of suing. Here are the genuine, verbatim liner notes from the new Annie Lennox album "Bare." They printed these right on the back cover.

"This is just by means of a small description to illustrate my thoughts and feelings about the particular image I've chosen for the album cover. This album contains songs that are deeply personal and emotional. In a sense I have 'exposed' myself through the work to reveal aspects of an inner world which are fragile...broken through experience, but not entirely smashed. I am not a young artist in their early twenties. I am a mature woman facing up to 'core' issues. I don't want to represent myself visually in some kind of cliched, airbrushed, saccharine kind of way. I want to reveal myself as I am. For me this is a powerful and courageous statement. I have never been known to 'toe the safety line,' in terms of how I represent myself. As an artist, I need to be take break the mould when necessary. The 'posture' of the image refers back to the earlier days of Eurythmics with the 'TOUCH' cover, only this time I have now turned to face the audience eye to eye, as it were. I am as 'BARE' as the title suggests, though not entirely exposed. The image is timeless, genderfree, and racially ambiguous. I could be a statue, a ghostly apparition, or an Indian saddhu. The false lashes represent the artifice of 'performance.' The colour has been drained from my mouth (where the words and sounds issue from) to saturate the title with redness (signifying lifeforce and anger). I hope it makes sense to you. Love, Annie."

OK… compare that to the following, printed on copies of the deluxe "producer's cut" edition of my cd MAGIC BEANS.

Here's something in the way of a sense toward a thumbnail encapsulation of the emotions and conceptualizations yours truly brought to bear regarding the artwork adorning this compact disc. On this collection I made songs about which I feel strongly. You might say I've used the medium of music to "reveal" many ways in which I've responded to the slings and arrows of life and its impact on precious parts of my secret garden of self, which is more resilient than one might expect and even welcomes the chance to "hang a moon" in this creative manner.
I am not some combo of performer in her teens no more. I'm a gentleman of a certain age, boldly assessing crucial issues. It would do me a disservice to offer an image of myself which did not eschew fol-de-rol, the hoity-toity and the humdrum. For that would be a flibbertigibbet of "nangnang!" proportions.
In my opinion, by facing such choices as bravely as I have, I've become an inspiring and heroic figure. Let's face it, I've never been one to accept notions of the "same old same old" for granted nor "be a good boy" in the eyes of those who would behold me as either or neither.
As a ceramics enthusiast, I have to "pour the slip" carefully into "the mould" before hitting the kiln. As a scuba diver and mother I feel the responsibility to not be other than me… to boldly go… the few, the proud… with nary a taint of bullshit. For this is the cloth of which such as me are cut. From.
The "rendering" of the "painting" on the "cover" is an allusion to the halcyon Skels era with the fondly and universally remembered "Be With That" cassette J card, 'cept now it's a cd and I'm a solo act and instead of a guy with a fez and a cigarette it's a fairytale kid with his tongue protruding, as if, so to speak, he was climbing up or down a beanstalk with his tongue "sticking out." The guy/kid is/are me, but now I am in an entirely different - and I'd say generous and guileless - frame of reference, to coin a phrase.
I am gently cupping, in a sense, my "MAGIC BEANS" in my hand, if you will. It feels really, really good. Mmmm. The picture is iconic, eternal, instructive, histamine-blocking and sexually irresistible. What am I? A ring-tailed lemur, a trio of slain civil rights activists, a can of DAK ham, a bout of colitis or some fist-jolly west village leatherboy? I am all of these and more: for after all, I am large; I contain multitudes. The sack I carry represents "Sacco and Vanzetti" The Vanzetto inside the bag represents 3 bucks a pound at today's market prices. That ain't hay. I'm a little pale and peaked, feeling an itching in my nose (which I use for breathing and for smelling things) representing a possible allergic reaction to the very legumes (beans… which are good for your heart; the more you eat the more you fart) that produced the stalk (to follow a celebrity or love-object in a threatening, harassing manner) to which I cling (peaches in syrup, reprezentin' strong island, yo). It would be really fucking cool if you dug where I'm coming from.
Peace, Sport

See what I'm saying? Whoo-ee!

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

In the gloaming, 17th and 10th …a sky blue-black as Superman's hair. Everyone's just gone in for the night except for teenagers -- in suede vestments anointed with Avonic unguents -- heading off in the general direction of trouble. Over now is a usual day's happy ruckus. Ice cream bells shingshinging, waves of kidly screams from atop the King Kong truck's great see-saw crescent, fat mothers in full window-lean titspill hollering for "Ant'nee" to "get ova heah NOW," stickball bats clattering aside after 2-sewer hits, the obscure chants of little girls skipping across chalk diagrams. After another day of all that, the street quiets down, all whirring window fans and a treble polyphony of television sets… 7 available channels if you don't count uhf.

This is any random summer night. It's not idyllic; what it is is unladen. Life has not yet been dried out and done in as far as I can tell; I'm as filthy rich with tomorrows as anybody ever was. It even feels that way already, and though I am but a boy unburdened by any true vision of the dark ahead, something tells me to stay alert and enjoy all that I can take in. I dawdle alone on a street now largely abandoned, with one more important thing to do before getting inside, where for a couple of blessed months there's no homework to avoid. (Homework is the deepest insult imaginable. They want your TIME. Doesn't matter what something means or doesn't mean; they want your TIME and they want your fuckin' SMILE. They always will. They'll be at you hammer and tongs from now on, until they've used up the one and warped the other.)

I have learned a secret. The other night in front of our home …ol' 606… I caught a glint off a neighbor's car, which he parks in almost the same spot every night. A beam from a streetlamp on the opposite sidewalk struck the taillight, which then forwarded the memo to my beguiled eye. I got up close… I dunno how come… knelt at the curb, closed one eye and pressed the other one against the dark glass. With one knee on the sidewalk and one in the gutter, shifting my point of view back and forth, angling up and then down, I finally saw it: a eruption of red… nah, Red… nah. RED… a Vesuvius of candyapple refractorescence flooding my vision. Several shades of glowing red… no, many shades… countless shades… so beautiful. So… Red. Go grab your Roget's and look up the word RED. See all those synonyms and specific hues? That's what I saw… all those. I saw red. Red red red.

I was a kid with his face smushed up against the back of a car, legs akimbo, digging the sheer redness of a… a taillight.

The physical contortion was pretty uncomfortable, so I drew back to stretch and take in the ordinary sight of an ordinary night on our ordinary Brooklyn street. Lovely, but ooh that red! Another peek, then. I had to find the angle again. It had to be just right in order to get the full radiance, but once achieved… wow! Not only was this sight magical, but the process entailed a feat of pointless precision satisfying in itself. It wasn't long before Mom called and I had to scurry home, but I'd have to investigate this phenomenon further.

Unfortunately, the car was not parked in that precise spot again over the next few nights and, try as I might, I couldn't find an angle that allowed any view other than that of the bumpy glass surface of a nondescript car part. Crass reality: ever the turd in the puchbowl.

Today, though, I noticed that the car seemed to be positioned pretty much exactly as it had been the night of my carmine epiphany. It's not like I'd waited impatiently all day, but as soon as evening came on I hoped the others would wrap up the games of cocolevio…*

(*Cocolevio: books and websites - consulted in the ACTUAL present, not the "past-present" device of this entry - refer to this street game as Ringolevio or Ring-O -Levio. This may be true, but on my block I never heard it called anything but "cocolevio." Perplexing.)

…and congarilla…**
(**Congarilla: no citation of this street game could be found under this or alternate spellings. It did exist, though, and that's no lie. Confounding.)

…early so I could get a jump on the bumper. Now's the time. I can tell that conditions are better, but it all seems so dependent on what may turn out to have been a one-time-only convergence of factors. I hunker down at the magic oval.
Some shifting and re-angling. Bupkis.
A move of the entire body so that I'm more curb-sitting than gutter-straddling. I lean in and decide to get serious about geometry the way some guys do while shooting pool or skipping stones across a pond with people watching. Aaaannd….
FLASH! Red! Glorious Red! Look at that, willya?

There's no question but that this is the newest in a series of "passageways" I've been stumbling across lately. These are portals into different kinds of perception, which can't be called "supernatural" but are surely visionary. For example, It has come to my attention that some music should be listened to flat on one's back with each speaker placed about four inches from each ear. Classical music: long, long works with no words. I have a record by a composer named Ligeti, and that's the stuff. Not 2 minutes in, the world melts away and one's body loses all sensation. Strange sights fill the head unbidden. The trick is not to zero in on anything… just to "zero out" and let the music's essence establish itself, send out its shoots and transform all. Instead of just hearing music you can roll around in it. I'm thinking this must be similar to tripping on acid, but there is no chemical agent other than what the brain itself generates. Thoroughly reliant upon the flow of sound and my determined avoidance of focus, the state is as delicate as a soap bubble. It's a gift that I need to protect from the world and my own world-drenched thoughts.

Such as:
"Man am I gonna get beat tomorrow when I show up without my homework!"
"Why do I get boners all the time?"
"I hope Bobby and Brian ain't getting all mixed up in drugs."
"Is God going to send me to Hell?"
"How can I get hold of R.Crumb comix?"
"Why am I so weird?"
"This Sunday I'm gonna walk up and tell her I love her. I'll do it!"
"Grandma's dead."
"Man I hope my world-drenched thoughts don't invade the bubble…."

The "music trips" have already inspired related techniques for enhancing certain pleasant circumstances and for surviving certain intolerable ones.
A ferinstance regarding the latter: psychic "relocation" during the frequent administration of physical torture by the good teachers of Holy Name School. Become an abstract thought removed from the body. Stare straight into Mr. Castaldo's eyes and never acknowledge any sense of the pain he aims to inflict. Hold those books on your outstretched arms as you squat, as instructed, on the balls of your feet. And stare at the bastard.
Stare him down like he can't touch you. Let your eyes do all the talking:
All this for showing up without homework?
You're a grown man?
A grown man does this to a kid for skipping homework?
Look at me.
I'm a kid staring back at you.
You lose.

One hopes that adults like that are rarities, but one expects otherwise.
Behind this apparently precocious cynicism lies a deeper and deadlier delusion bred and nurtured by terminal romantic narcissism: one expects eventual cosmic validation that, yes, there are far weirder things than staring into taillights on summer nights. You, young seer, will prevail over the full-grown Torquemadas.
Wrong. Nature and nurture have infected this boy with toxic concentrations of pixie dust and vanity. But I'm years away from complete defeat, and we're here to celebrate possibility while we still can. Besides, it's summer.
Cue sitar!
Look into that taillight!

The gemlike kaleidoscope facets soften and blur. Hard angles reveal parabolas …these become arches and curves. I am now looking into a cavern of glowing red rocks. Let go further… a river appears… lava lite wax, bubbling. My peekaboo vantage opens up until I'm surrounded by the red world. I'm swaying like a flame in it as living things appear all around; crimson bats flap about the scarlet stalactites and lazy cherrybomb bears loll on the opposite shore of the river. The more I stare, the more I see. The less I think, the more I imagine. Holy Moses, is this cool.

That's enough. Mom is calling. It was only a minute or so, but I was lost in bright red time and it could have been 4 hours. These portals don't want your time; they want to GIVE you time. I'll be back. I walk into the living room with my head zatzing like the antenna on a bumper car. Everything's fine. The folks are watching Gene Barry chase somebody. Maureen has already put Petey to bed. Brian and Bobby are off somewhere in the vicinity of trouble but they haven't dragged it back here yet. Grandma's dead, but I believe in heaven. Gonna listen to Shep on the radio and then tell Grandma ( in the nightly report I promised to pray up her way forever onward )of my red dimension.

I'll return to the taillight in nights to come, and hit it lucky as often as not. I'll even let a few other kids in on my secret. One will simply reject it as Murf being deliberately weird as usual and what kind of freak wants to stare into a dirty car taillight anyway? Dick.
The other will see the effect, and sorta admit it's kinda cool. But I doubt he'll ever see the bats… maybe because he can't. Maybe he doesn't need to or maybe he has his own thing that I wouldn't quite "get." This is OK though. This sort of respectful acknowledgment is friendship. You walk along the riverbank with your 6-foot invisible rabbit… there on the other side you see some other person who thinks there's a stegosaurus beside him. You nod at one another, smile and keep walking.
What you don't do is turn to your 6-foot invisible rabbit and say "that idiot over there thinks he's walking a dinosaur! Haw haw!"

But there are some who do just that, and I already know that you can be very, very cautious about who you show your dreams to and still wind up with a long list of your gone dreams and who killed them.
Time taken, smile shattered. World-drenched.
Yonder come:
Sarcasm and censure; the sneer and the fallamooka.
Custom and cool.
Insult and antagonism.
The freeze-out… the crucifix.
The glory of man's imagination.
But not yet.

Someday the car will no longer be there, or I'll have grown tired of the red world, or something. I'll have absorbed it into me fully or outgrown it, never to return, likeToyland in the old song. Or It'll just drift away like summer, and even the promise I made Grandma. In any event, I'll have completed my involvement with the taillight and that'll be that. It will not have been robbed from me. I'll only tell other people about it years and years from now, when it's too late for them to ruin everything. By telling them, I'll be reminding myself of something very sweet, meaningless and gone.

I dunno what they'll make of my tale. Nothing, probably.