Journal. December 4th, 2014. Emergency Room. New York Presbyterian.
What started out a charmed day followed a charmed evening. Wintery grey December dawned on the dark and dreary side of New York City on the 2nd, Tuesday I went to see the exhibition of Leonard Lauder’s primo collection of early Picasso, Braque, Gris & Leger at the Met before meeting with himself to discuss the library project we’ve been engaged in all fall. Reading into my just inscribed catalog in the dark shadows of cross-town bus and uptown train home, I was conscious of the very white privileged proximity my occupation frequently puts me in and I thanked the day, in my generate youth, when I picked up one of mother’s tawdry paperbacks, was aroused by its vivid miscegeny, and was transformed by literature from a supremacist to an abolitionist.
Being in proximity of privilege and being privileged are worlds apart, and navigating the difference can give one the bends. I am, as ever, in need of business. I have been troubled by the bookshop’s falling out of fashion while we’ve been featuring fashion, despite heroic efforts by fashionistas. French Vogue (Harlem: The Fashion Friendly Guide) and Grand Guy photographer Bruce Weber deserve discounts here. The shop itself’s taken an appreciable turn for the better, with new fixtures and new stock rekindling my enthusiasm. Still, I find myself attending the shop more in inverse proportion to attendance and sales. My receipts for two weeks were under $100.00. The quiet’d got eerie. Reservations for the apartment during the holidays cancelled.
The bookseller’s occupation in this epidemic of ignorance can be disheartening. Last week, in a candid moment, I posted on the bookshop’s facebook page:
“I sometimes think the good Lord doesn’t have the best interests of the small retailer in mind.” – Arthur Loeb. Not one customer in a week plus? Just when I got the place looking so fine? I do wish one of you would take me aside and explain something to me.
I’d suffered the platitudes of several fool window-shoppers before poet/pal Layding Lumumba Kaliba made a Black Friday buy of lovely edition of Dunbar’s poems, bucking me the fuck up from touching a bottom that seemed within reach. I’m telling myself not to sweat it. Life Turns Man Up and Down. I wrote the book. My meeting with The Billionaire’d gone well. I’m not out, I’m just down, but I am having to ask questions I have no good answers for.
Toward distracting myself from myself, all the way to midtown and back I am finishing Kyle Onstott’s bodice-whipper Drum, the sequel to Mandingo (some say Haley’s Roots is the expurgated version of Drum), and the big ‘Bama slave revolt at Falcolnhurst is culminating in a blood-bath that promises to turn carnal, and I’m getting it in increments from the C to a D to an A, and cross-town on a 42nd Street bus.
After a noon-time 2 mile-swim under the rain-streaked, bruised skied 42nd St pool’s dome and a steam, I joined my b&b guests, Christine Cotto and Marie-Christine Mallaroni, zé French Girls – as they so charmingly call themselves – from Provence, in the saloon of the Oyster Bar with two of their friends for a late lunch. They are here on their employing pharmaceutical company’s tab, taking English lessons, and they are nuts to talk American. As they are cute (Marie-Christine looks like Kiki of Montparnasse), it is fun, and, as they’ve talked up their lux accommodations behind the bookshop, their language school’s taking an interest in recommending their students to me, which is good business and could be a great help.
From the D to the C at 125th St coming back uptown, the Old plantation House is torched, everybody in it’s burnt-assed up, and Mistress Madame Augusta’s just “managed to slap Lucrecia Borgia into sensibility and between the two of them they led Big Pearl away,” the mammy in tears, me hanging on the edge of strap. It’s ‘Burn, Baby, Burn!’ Needless to say, I am feelin’ it. In the course of reading Drum I’ve missed several stops over several weeks and I’m about to skip my 163rd St stop to finish the book but don’t. I get home, settle myself, I turn on the electronical communicating devices, and, picking the tawdry paperback out the gym bag, I’m back up at The New House, where Drumson, Masta Hammond and the congregated slave owners of a significant stretch of the Tombigbee River hear approaching up from the hollow what “…sounded like the voices of a hundred men approaching, and as it increased in volume he could distinguish individual words that rose above the tumult. “Kill ‘em! Kill the white bastards! Don’ kill de wimmin. I wants me a white woman.” (pg. 499. Drum.1962. My subway read edition of choice is the much abused 7th Fawcett Crest Printing of 1966.)
Damn. This camp classic’s crescendo lives up to some shit. At which point my social media is infotaining me that the Staten Island Grand Jury’s dropped all charges against cop/killer Daniel Pantantaleo, choke-holder of Eric Garner, on film, the father of six, for selling such loose loosie cigarettes nobody can find them. There is no bout adoubt it, things are taking as batshit crazy a turn here in NYC as they are in Onstott’s antebellum ‘Bama!
Such a juxtaposition, such a transition, such impunity, and I am in the throws of prose, pissed as shit, and writing to vent when the bends sets in. As I wrote ‘impunity’ a cold chill came over me. At a cold desk I’d written into a chill dusk and nearly through the local evening television news it’s my custom to watch at 6 pm. I am mesmerized by the NJ kabuki of Liz Cho. It occurred to me I’d best get myself under the covers with cat and checked into New York One before I caught pneumonia. Unlike Liz at 6 on 7, NYOne pre-empted their customary format and, commercial-free, were reporting, in great depth in comparison to their usual shallow standards, the protests from Staten Island and midtown.
As we’d left the Oyster Bar at 3:30 and I got on the train, the Garner decision was made public and protesters descended on Grand Central Station around 4, staging a “die-in” around the center’s clock chanting “I can’t breath,” which is what Eric Garner told the police choking him eleven times before they succeeded. They followed us to Time Square, where they gathered before making their presence known at the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Here it all was on tv. Even Obama, spluttering profunitudes.
My chill passed. I was thirsty and waited for NY One’s black anchor and reporter (generally consigned to the off hours) to take a 7 pm breath to get some water, which I was about to do when I heard the door bell in the bookshop ring. Wonderously, local poet Layding Kaliaba’d been by before I’d got home and bought two copies of Quincy Troup’s Miles and Me from Ad. Now here was a buyer for – heart be still – our exquisite copy of Reg’ Pelham Bolton’s scarce/rare Washington Heights, Manhattan, Its Eventful Past (NYC: Dyckman Institute. Printed for the Author and sold by him at the Bolton Building, 116 East 19th St, 1924). Lightning seemed to have struck twice.
I ran downstairs without shoes, wallet or phone, and engaged client, like me trying to digest this travesty of justice, and the possibility of commerce. My customer (!) and neighbor, David Jackson, works at the UN, where today’s news is of their Committee Against Torture slamming the US record on police brutality, child migrants and Guantánamo, and, as we engaged in both the egregious topics and the retail transition at hand, I went underwater.
Writing the sales slip, I’d tabulated a neighborly discount, calculated the 8.75 tax, realized the phone I needed for the bankcard transaction was on my bedside table, and I fainted dead out. My desk’s chair in the shop’s substantial oak and has arms. I slumped and was out cold. Jesus says ‘Yo”. When I came to poor Mr. Jackson thought he’d been privy to my final moments and called an ambulance. Which turned out to be a good call.
I’d dehydrated. When I came to I was lucid, picked up where I left off, memory intact and with a fair idea of how long I was out from realizing how long the call he’d made must have taken. In a moment I was surrounded by paramedics, plugged in, and questioned. I explained how swimming and oysters may have played a part my bout with the bends and left the vapors of Falconhurst, Ferguson, Tompkinsville and Cairo out of it.
Once home, our table talk, this past couple of weeks revolving around the Michael Brown atrocity in Missouri, was on Hosni Mubarack’s exoneration and consequences of the day’s dangerous turn of events for our familiar concern, L’Egypt. I slept but not very well and woke to a day refreshingly light on responsibilities.
Things is fucked up and me, too. I don’t know about The Whirl but I’ll be all right. I am going to bed with a good book. Call me when there’s a new horoscope.