indeed. Because by the time the "Transcendence" series was on-line
up and running in more-than-beta form, the raison d'etre for any
discernibly obvious "cultural impact" was eviscerated--and not
by my doing, either.
My rationalization's been: between 9-11 and
the end of 2001, the United States of America was more beautiful
than it had ever been. And ever since the end of 2001, it's been
uglier than it has ever been.
Hey, don't blame me. I'm completely out of this.
And why not? What I wrote in the 9-11 aftermath was meant to be
a hit-the-ground-running harbinger. But it turned out to be a
forlorn orphan instead.
Yet maybe that was a backhanded virtue--insulation from the ugliness,
so to speak. An orphan begging discovery.
But the will to discover was crippled by farce.
And it's beyond people simply being jaded by all the mostly-bathetic
9-11 tributes, including cyber-tributes, out there.
A fundamental problem, perhaps, is that 9-11's primary "aesthetic
beholding" threads (or at least, the "acceptability" thereof)
were cut off early, by the vehement reaction to Stockhausen et
al. So, what really happened? It became a cue for kitsch, instead.
Everything 9-11 touches turns to kitsch, it turned out. The nature
of the beast.
Oh, there was hope otherwise; maybe the last dreamy hope came
with the post-competition Libeskind honeymoon…but in the end,
even the iconic Libeskind got consumed by the kitsch.
So, the primary "vital" continuing debate was political, tedious,
philistine. Because the "art" was too scary. And moreover, the
actual experience was too scary. There came to be a disembodiment
from the real-time "9-11 experience", as witnessed in those genuinely
beautiful-through-the-awfulness final months of 2001.
No parallels to those metaphors of "European Son" and "Sister
Ray", to the Moog Gothic, the Ultimate Splatter, the Horizontal
Well, maybe not anyplace--but what was most complimentary to that
spirit was most matter-of-fact, sober, too prosaic to be "poetic",
and all the more poetic for it. (Joel Meyerowitz's photography
comes to mind.) But it was strictly "of the moment", less "art"
than document; and once its raison d'etre was done, it packed
up and moved away.
When I wrote what I did, none of this pattern was yet clear. It
was too early, too precocious. And maybe that was the best time
to do it--validated by way of gamble, an attempt at seeding upon
Unique in absorbing itself in 9-11/Ground Zero proper, a little
more than what stood there before, and a lot more than what could
stand there in the future. As if even the political debate that
actually ensued after the initial shock wilts before all, small,
And as I've indicated time and again, it was abject, lurid--art
and debasement, all at once. Most culturati are too "elevated"
to grasp; other folk are too shallow.
But it's inherently dangerous. Because as something "aesthetically
beheld", 9-11 is fundamentally Fascist melodrama.
It's the same logic that might declare the Holocaust as the defining
aesthetic moment of the C20--and not without reason.
Maybe that explains the defeat; what might truly do justice to
9-11 is a mode of aesthetic that was (supposedly?) discredited
in 1945. Not stuff like Springsteen or Oliver Stone. It's not
about dignity; it's about depravity. And we've lost the ability
to be truly depraved; or else, the depravity's been degraded (Columbine)
or gentrified (Vice Magazine et al).
We've become too timid, too scared of ourselves. There are too
many post-1945 cultural defaults in place. And by highlighting
the scale of six decades of accumulated timidity, 9/11 seemed
to precipitate the final and perhaps inevitable whimpering groan
of a culturally dominant American empire. Really; it's not just
Though conversely, the Fascism explains the kitsch. After all,
we all know that Fascist art is kitsch by definition, don't we?
But it's interesting to compare that next great American disaster
after 9-11: Hurricane Katrina. Which did inspire
a conventionally "valid" aesthetic response--and that may even
be an understatement; it was the kind of calamity that seemed
incapable of generating bad art. Maybe it reflected
how the powers that be were positioned, but with Katrina, it
turned out, it was the kitsch that wasn't up
to the occasion.
Yet that's Katrina's problem. With inability comes inadequacy.
Somehow, even kitsch-proof Katrina wilts before 9-11.
The inadequacy is in the absence of badness.
But 9-11's problem overlaps. Here, the badness dominates; yet
in practice, it's been an inadequate badness.
Because it's an unwitting badness. It's failure.
Perhaps if there was a difference in my approach, it was in
an intuitively deliberate adoption/application
of the tools of "bad art"--the untested lineage, perhaps, between
Burkean/Kantian theory of the sublime and the Age Of Irony.
Trying to hit that same nerve that leaves us horrifically enthralled/appalled
by all manner of overwrought, excessive bad psychedelia and
exploitation cinema; but on a less shallow, more purposeful
level, like if we truly connected to how that
stuff really transfixes us, we, too, would
become Burkean/Kantians for our age.
Irony gone forensic. The ability to channel the "Lotti Golden"
over and above the "Laura Nyro"--or even alongside Laura Nyro--and
to recognize that in the end, it's all more Lotti Golden than
In this manner, deliberate badness isn't simple kitsch. In fact,
it stops kitsch dead in its tracks.
It's not without precedent, "bad art" as a deliberate gesture--one
thinks back to Dada, especially--yet, as with so many Modernist
manias for "outsider art", it's seldom had the chance to rise
above the gestural level. Indeed, as heirs to whatever Dada
signified, the conceptualist art-world "transgressions" of the
past few decades themselves suffer from "absence of badness"--or
if not that, denial of badness. As if, badness
is a bad thing or something.
But then, the conceptualists weren't facing 9-11-scale spectacles.
Or even anticipating them, much less prepared to respond.
Maybe, once again, as an example to look to, the holy Hendrix
had it best--though it's the Monterey Hendrix, much more than
the Woodstock Hendrix. Right down to the intuition + deliberation
And in my case, from Monterey, it led down to "Dirrty"--affirming
Hendrix as the master of the Xtina's Thong & Pool Water school
of electric guitar. But also affirming what successful bad-art
deliberation really ought to be; a horrifyingly
immediate stick in the heart of "timeless expression". It is
an absolute product of its period, a frightful
freeze-frame of the here-and-now that once was--in this case,
the Early Noughts. It could only be created when it was, and
it knows it. And as such, it resonates with the truer (and typically
forgotten or suppressed) demented soul of post-9-11ness. By
being openly abject rather than merely observational, it's beyond
even that Joel Meyerowitz photodocumentary of-the-momentness.
(Heck, it even knew well enough to treat the WTC in such terms,
i.e. not as something timeless, but as something absolutely
of its time: That 70s Complex. Substituting Bob Guccione's vaseline'd
camera lens for our rose coloured glasses.)
And what did it all beget? "Pioneers Of Modern Design: From Britney
Spears To Christina Aguilera". Architectural history's own 9-11.
Why not? Somebody had to do it. Surely not
those "arts & letters types"; it would be the height of clumsiness
for them to step straight into that maw of deliberate badness.
They need "the distance". They've generated "the distance".
And they haven't the tools to violate said distance with any
shred of conviction…thus, that nagging feeling that somewhere
along the way, they missed something…
So, how'd I acquire the tools, then? Well, some epiphanous moments
later that five-years-later September provided insight…
Toronto's Roncesvalles Polish Festival, a street fair the
weekend after 9-11+5. Saturday evening, 7PM. With the John Paul
II statue in front of the Credit Union serving as a Ground Zero
for all the Polishness that mattered, a cacophony of traditional
music and costumes and folklore, costumed children from GTA folk
troupes running in and out and all about and demonstrating pride
for the homeland and…I was sensing something weird in the music,
something weird in the spectacle. Shearing, dissonant trebly strings;
shearing, dissonant trebly voices. Shearing like metal, erupting
in jet-fuel fireballs and clouds of silvery dust and the eerie
wails of the affected. It was the intensely distorted sound of
crazed dementia: the original Metal Machine Music…
…yet to those of Polish cultural background, familiar sounds indeed.
Associated most with cold-war folkloric propaganda, popularized
by touring dance/song ensembles like Mazowsze and Slask; to all
too many North American boomer/Xers of Polish background, those
Mazowsze/Slask records were a pathological 60s/70s family-gathering
rite of passage.
And as you'd expect, that whole Mazowsze/Slask party line was
a little sweetened-up and overripe and middlebrow as "roots music"
goes: cynically speaking, it would have been "Riverdanceski" but
for a certain Camelot-era archaeological (and pre-electronic,
…well, at least superficially middlebrow and all that. It was
weirder. No kidding about Metal Machine Music; it was almost a
snug-blankety early-Velvets vibe that early Mazowsze and Slask
gave off (and maybe Mazowsze's immortal "Furman" baritone was
the Nico proxy). Somehow, one can understand from the vibe how
this whole Central European zone was prone to Velvet Revolutions
and all that; but in a sense, unlike Czechoslovakia, Poland didn't
need to import all that Velvet Zappa or generate its own legend-mongering
Plastic People equivalents. The old-school fare of Mazowsze +
Slask made it redundant.
And as old-school fare, it tied back to its own eccentric roots--not
so much the actual "folk traditions", as the neurotic 19th/early
20th-century aesthetic-movement rediscoveries thereof, that which
spawned any degree of unsettling Art Nouveau/Symbolist/Expressionist
decadence + a bit of nativist/fascist junk around the edges.
Yet, and especially through the 60s and 70s, Mazowsze + Slask
was a "normalized" all-ages-familiar fixture among middle-class
Polish North American families "with pretensions" (i.e. setting
themselves above all that crass Polkafest-style fare while tying
themselves in with "the old country", and all the old-world "culture"
Ultimately, and inevitably, the family-ritual Mazowsze/Slask went
into eclipse, one would assume a victim of elder-generation die-off
and cultural change. But the whole "cultural change" thing's loaded
beyond mere old-hat squaredom: blame the John Paul II papacy.
The Polish-folklore thing, moving beyond the living-room Mazowsze/Slask,
took a turn for the extreme; akin to a scary ultra-Catholic ultra-nationalist
terrorist-cell call to arms. An evangelical mission, like a kapusta
Colorado Springs--and of course, the fall of communism was the
last straw in motivating that trend. Even a lot of the middle-class
Polish North American stalwarts of yore (or the moderates among
them; y'know, not hung up over birth control, abortion, homosexuality,
etc) seemed frightened away; or maybe it was just the newest waves
of Polish émigrés beating them at their game. And beating them
(and themselves) to a pulp, at that.
And so I witnessed the result of that cultural metamorphosis
that Saturday; all derived from whatever Mazowsze + Slask begat,
but purer, more intense, more abstract--a veritable audio-visual
acid bath of total Polishness. (One can understand from this
abstract dissonance how Poland also became a hotbed of modern-classical
a la Lutoslawski, Penderecki, etc.) And adding to that super-mega-ultra-giga-Polishness
was the overwrought (and clearly popular, judging by the lineups)
gastronomic embodiment in front of one particular deli: metal
tubs of homemade onion-drenched slippery-labia potato & cheese
pierogi, and potato pancakes so obscenely coronary-pellet-bomb
grease-saturated that they practically reversed the Lay's potato
chip slogan into "betcha can't eat more than one". And beyond
all, everybody within eyeshot of this particular
astronomic-intensity Credit Union nexus seemed Polish. Like
all the yups/grups/Richard Florida types were
steering clear, as though they were made to feel "not welcome".
The Polish version of "ghetto".
Blood and biography, though, works to my favour--being there,
and being able to "take it", to immerse myself in the Pole-bath,
I felt like I was subverting the yups'n'grups. And counter-subverting
the Poles through such imported yup/grupdom as fair trade coffee
from Alternative Grounds (the now-scared-away-from-Mazowsze earlier
generations of middle-class Polish-Canadians might prefer Timothy's;
Alternative Grounds scares them from the opposite ex-hippie/Broken-Social-Scenester
direction). Maybe it's all in the straddling of the divide; or
how few if any are capable of doing so…
A day later, same location, a polka act--Grammy-nominated, if
I'm not mistaken. And this time, it seemed,
the yups'n'grups were partying along; it was no longer "ghetto",
it was the acceptable happy face of Polishness to and for North
American outsiders. And that was the whole problem…
According to POMD logic, I guess, the polka is Britney, the "traditional"
stuff's Xtina. (Proof that anything and everything can fall back
on POMD taxonomy.)
Anyway, if one really wants to delve into the most transcendent
dirrty hardcore Polish-ghetto ethos (and, happily, from long before
the JPII-onward era of Poleobnoxiousness), you certainly can't
beat those old Koziolek Matolek stories--who needs Tintin, anyway...
THEN, on September 30th, 2006, came the 50th anniversary reunion
of St. George's Junior Public School. This is where I entered
kindergarten in 1967. This is where I glimpsed the whole world
ahead of me in 1967, the real unvarnished world beyond the family
plastic bubble, the portentous beginning of the rest of my life.
This was…well…my own Ground Zero, step one on the long long path
that'd lead to Ground Zero becoming my lover…
And it happened to be right in the middle of deepest upper-middle-class
Etobicoke. In the middle of Princess Anne Manor, the last of the
Home Smith subdivisions. And a far cry from the picturesque English-garden-suburb
imagery that "made" the Home Smith name in Kingsway Park: "The
Manor" presented itself as the Platonic 50s suburb, curvy streets
and crescents and a variety of conservatively contemporary-styled
brick houses--but on a forbiddingly generous infinity-all-around-you
scale presumably befitting a subdivision answering to the St.
George's Golf & Country Club. What Princess Anne Manor did to
the "Don Mills" planning model was the reverse of Disney-style
"miniaturization": something more akin to a Phil Spector wall-of-sound
treatment--yet with a weirdly earthbound final result oozing with
the derogatory myth of whitebread 50s Etobiconservativism. This
is as heavy and stodgy and leaden as Broadacre City got; if Don
Mills houses zip like a Thunderbird, these ones lumber along like
a Cadillac--and with out even a scintilla of '59-tailfin flair. Even the curvilinear
street pattern clanks along like welded iron bars; none of that
be-bop UPA-animated Don Mills squiggle here.
The symbolic heart of it all? The intersection of The Kingsway
and Princess Margaret Boulevard. Two overscaled residential arteries
meeting at a diagonal-compass-pointed four-way stop, anchored
by one leaden Broadacre-bungalow per corner. That is all. Nothing
more, nothing less. Just an intersection; no lights, no roundabout,
no nothin'. Oh, and lots of Big Sky to match the Big Houses and
Big Lawns. There may be nowhere else in Toronto with such a Big
Sky Country feel to it--but said Big Sky registers as a void. Entropy.
As oppressive as voids get. It's a black hole here--a black, asphalt
hole. That's the heart of Princess Anne Manor--a non-heart. Or
rather, an anti-heart--as though hearts were for sissies. And
maybe, under the circumstances, they are. Anti-heart as Zen.
In fact, Don Mills may not be the most apropos reference point
for "The Manor"; adjacent to the south is the pre-Don Mills proto-exurb
of Thorncrest Village--and perhaps PAM's stolidity was a deliberate
response to the perceived radiant-heated flimsiness of Thorncrest's
"avant-garde" postwar bungalows? Stolid is "best", and even history's
borne that out; whereas Thorncrest's been decimated over the past
generation by monster homes and McMansions, PAM has escaped surprisingly
unblemished (at least thus far, or at least relatively speaking).
Or else, those McMansions and McMansionesque alterations which
do exist (as well as the popular-garden-journal picturesquing
of a lot of those old proudly pesticide-unfree, uninspired-and-what's-it-to-ya
green lawns) assimilate themselves all too well. (As for "cultural
class"; well, whatever truly unaltered original-owner old hulks
definitely have a whiff of the latently Log Cabin Republican to
So maybe that's why Princess Anne Manor always seemed so earthbound:
relative to Toronto, it was the birthplace of the McMansion ethos.
It clairvoyantly arrived at a scale perfectly suited to 00's-style
parvenu-affluent SUV-driving hockey dads and soccer moms.
Suddenly, the void makes sense.
Oh, and it's around here where Conservative Prime Minister Stephen
Harper spent a lot of his youth years. Critics might claim, "it
Still, PAM came into existence in the 50s and early 60s; and
as a product of its period, it best suited a demographic that
might be labeled "Levittown Luxe": stern self-made survivors
of depression and wartime who earned their honest keep, thank
you. (And darned if any special-interest-driven taxing politicians
will lay claim to said keep.) Trouble is, that Spartanness of
outlook came to seem real gloomy, real quick, once the more
leisurely, hedonistic, mass-media-guided 60s+ sensibility took
root; and this happened to be the most psychologically inflexible
environment to, well, "go 60s" in. And that's true either in
the hippy-dippy or the "Playboy After Dark" sense--such is what
you get for eschewing all semblance of Don Mills or even Thorncrest
(or even Humber Valley Village, PAM's immediate Home Smith-developed
predecessor) jauntiness. For the moment, with the greed-is-good
80s, the Valley Girl and 90210 and The O.C. cults and all that
SUV mom'n'dad aspirational devil-may-careness but a glimmer
in the eye, "The Manor" carried its industrial-film 50sness
like a ball and chain--no "revolution" (except of the tax-revolt
sort) was ever going to breach this compound.
And those who'd even try would fester and wither away from lack
of nourishment. "Dazed and Confused"? More like "drab and repressed".
But go a block east of Princess Margaret and the Kingsway, and
there it is--St. George's Public School. One's hope for cracks
of light amidst the gloom ought to lie within the community
school--whether through normal child's activity, or through
its assigned civic function; after all, this is where the neighbourhood
answers to the larger community and the world at large. It is
the paint-by-numbers nucleus of the Clarence Perry-inspired
Neighbourhood Unit: the place to learn, the place to vote, the
place to convene, the nominal connection to each other and to
the Great Beyond. Like, the real heart ought
to lie here; especially if the educators--an implicit kernel
of humanism amidst bleakness--could help it.
Yet the neighbourhood's Spartan gloom still overrode all. School
was never more of a morose Schulzian experience than at St. George's.
Even the trees were kite-eating.
Nevertheless, 1967 was an auspicious moment to enter kindergarten
at St. George's; perhaps it was the 1967ness of 1967, the distant
lingering aura of Sgt Pepper and the Summer Of Love, which made
it so. It was the cue for the neighbourhood's pathological normalcy
and decorum to, well, warp a little.
And when it came to a new generation of students entering kindergarten,
I embodied that warp. I was an ill-communicating, Yellow Pages-reading,
free-form oddity--Asperger's before Asperger's was cool. A dash
of kindergarten psychedelia dropped into the hitherto soaitlaced-it-squeaks.
Which'd ultimately lead to some picturesque school-year side journeys,
including special classes from 1969-71 and an alternative-school
adolescence from 1978-81. (Trivia: me and Stephen Harper finished
in Richview Collegiate the same year--1978. He graduated; I freaked
out and went to SEE School.) Even that kindergarten year felt
a little flakily non-placid and unsettling, definitely of the
fall-winter season that'd bring us "Axis: Bold As Love" and "White
Light/White Heat" (though maybe as such things go, the 5th Dimension's
"The Magic Garden" is more environmentally apropos). But for all
that autistic oddity, I knew where I was, I knew my fellow students,
I "engaged" in some strange offbeat worm's-eye manner. Psychedelic
I may have been; but, it was crossover-hit psychedelia. Maybe
I portended something, but the overriding social and behavioural
decomposition within the school system hadn't set in yet; we were
still "all together", no cliques, no segmentation, etc. As youth,
we were the soul of the neighbourhood. We couldn't help where we lived; we just configured
our environment the best we could…all of us, even the weirdos
And it remained the case through my St. George's years; by Grade
6 in 1973-74 I was an encyclopedia-reading population-memorizer
who was all alone in iconoclastically sitting out Halloween (wearing
silly costumes while collecting unhealthy treats door to door,
yawn, why bother)--yet we remained a collective. I knew my Wacky
Packages; I knew my 1050 CHUM hits. I was "of them", even when
Otherwise, I wouldn't have been at the reunion. The place, and
its cast of characters, had made its imprint.
And that's in spite of the fact that in more than just behavioural
traits, I was never that strictly anchored
to the neighbourhood; it was always part of a "bigger place",
and an often dynamic one. It helped that my family itself only
moved to the neighbourhood in 1967--in context, a young, electrifying,
alien presence. Or that there were relatives, grandparents,
aunts, uncles elsewhere, including back in the old urban turf
near High Park and along Roncesvalles, which I visited (and
followed the car-window path to) often enough so that I was
a downtowner and a suburbanite at one and the same time, at
quite a young age--and from there, looking beyond to other unknowns.
Given what all of that led to--a customized-through-careful-heresy
Jane Jacobite urban-cultural-class consciousness--it's a little
surreal that I didn't follow the alternative-school-type pattern
and altogether reject the mythically strait-laced-evil-suburban-conservative
St. George's past. These were, instead, all just more realms
for me to straddle, rather than reject--unless the straddling
implies a form of rejection: a rejection of excess purity and
complacency, an acceptance of dynamic heterogeneity. And having
witnessed friends and family suffering from being overly anchored
to various specific stifling realms, I can understand. Sure,
I might not personally choose to live here
in "The Manor"; but a part of my past lives here, and so does
a certain beyond-it-all empathy. So, if I was virtually alone
on Roncesvalles in '06 in straddling the Polish-and-alt-cult
divide, you know where that whole thing came from…
I anticipated the St. George's 50th anniversary as a kind of cultural
closure, regardless of how many of "my generation" might be there.
That big necessary Madonna-cliché dose of "This Used To Be My
Playground". However poetically appropriate it may have been,
it was a grey, gloomy, mostly rainy day.
And it struck me: this place was an archetype.
St. George's was the absolute textbook-illustration embodiment
of the postwar North American "public school". Two single-storey
classroom wings right-angled off a central administration/gymnasium/library
area, red brick, rectilinear, in the middle of affluent Broadacre
suburbia--it was too perfect. If not "distinguished",
perhaps--by 1956, this was getting on pared-down hack formula.
(It's definitely no Sunnylea, let alone Crow Island.) But it
became clear how I developed an oddly sensual bond with the
archetype, to the point of university papers and such: it was
in my blood. The perfect (even if to the point of banality)
school breedeth a perfect obsession.
And it doubly struck me, relative to my 9-11 reflections: this
is where, for me, the true horizontal soar, the Silver Tightrope,
was born. With an archetype like this, everything
spreads t/w transcendent infinity. Contrary to the neighbourhood's
implicit conservative constraint, I knew no boundaries.
As for the reunion itself, the environment, predictably, was a
little bit eerie--not least the kindergarten, which has scarcely
changed over nearly 40 years, same wooden coat racks, same everything.
To say it was haunting doesn't get to the bottom of it (how did
the mind behind POMD emanate from this?).
A few old teachers (including the immortal Mr. Kretchman of
"insufferable jabberwocky" fame)--and surprisingly few students
of my vintage there (in one case, now himself a parent of St.
George's students). Others I knew were younger, or older (and
re the older, I came to realize how poignantly small-town-Ontarioish
the milieu of Princess Anne Manor's "founding families" now
seems, especially relative to where Toronto--my
Toronto--is today). But what was more shocking than the lack
of my old classmates now (which can be excused through the usual
grown-up moved-on leading-their-own-hectic-lives reasons) is
what I discovered, inadvertently, while perusing the sign-in
book: how many of my classmates were at the
St. George's 25th back in 1981.
Shocking in that-how old were we? 18, 19, 20? It'd be like the
"Lindsay Lohan" generation of St. George's students attending
the 50th en masse--which from all visual evidence, was hardly
the case. (Indeed, there seemed to be scarcely any attendees
significantly under 40, let alone under 20--much less those
who weren't yet "settled down".)
Why did so many of us attend in 1981? Those
of my year? And why does it all seem so freakishly implausible
now? What happened, demographically, sociologically, over a
Presumably, we had that intuitive "neighbourhood bond". We grew
up with it; we were raised with it; we maintained it even through
our late teen years. And it was a neighbourhood bond defined
through the neighbourhood unit; not a perhaps extra-neighbourhood
bond defined through some text-messaging tribe or subtribe.
Simple physical coexistence brought us together; and it wasn't
old hat, it wasn't square. Not even in 1981--at least, not within
this neighbourhood. The terminal splintering of school cultures
and student cultures hadn't taken full effect yet.
A lesson in civic values? While I'm hardly a strict "cultural
traditionalist", I do admit to missing whatever bonded us together
so--and indeed, it's regrettable that the cause of such virtuous
bonding has been hijacked by those euphemistic "cultural traditionalists",
conservative Christians et al. Once upon a time, there was no
such stigma; it was a value universally held,
and one did not need to choose a sect or tribe in order to create
it through artifice. (Sure, the neighbourhood was
more demographically homogeneous then; but…)
Heck, even I was at the 25th--even though,
as an alternative school graduate, I ought to have rejected
whatever values the whole school, neighbourhood, et al represented.
But now-- 19-year-olds don't go to these things, at
all. It'd be bizarre if they did.
And, ever a realmaddler; I somehow earn the good, natural
old-school-buddy rapport with former classmates who may now have
the kinds of jobs (bank execs et al) that are pretty polar opposite
from where I am today. No snobbery; no jealousy. And with strange
empathy; I find they share a now-rare, innate quality of decorum,
and I'm impressed, really. There are lessons to be learned here.
However conservative I'm not, I'm weirdly not anti-conservative.
I want to keep some kind of enduring social network going with
them. No, really. I do. They're decent people (I guess).
And so telescopeth almost four decades. At the beginning of which,
the WTC was but a vast excavation site. As it was at the end,
for that matter.
And it was all a perfect lead-in into Toronto's first Nuit Blanche,
a spectacle as blissfully dreamy as, well, the Fifth Dimension's
"The Magic Garden". Especially when, in my case, you don't go
until, well 4 or 5 or 6 in the morning--only a small half-day
step from kindergarten at St. George's to Darren O'Donnell's
"Ballroom Dancing", kids DJing with balls bouncing all about,
etc at the University Settlement House…so much better in the
woozy wee hours with Nuit Blanche-ing students and artsies crashing
Interestingly, one old St. George's teacher was actually involved
(as a sidebar to currently being a Gardiner Museum volunteer)
in Nuit Blanche, to my surprise. (Maybe that allegorizes the "cracks
of light amidst the gloom"?) But as far as who else at the reunion
goes, well…anyway, who'd a thunk the autistic weirdo would be
the Nuit Blanche-ing one. On second thought…
Oh, and one big (and rare, given the under-attended lack of opportunity)
shocker from the reunion, though; finding out through unexpected
second-hand that ex-classmate Richard Rosen was found dead in
his New York apartment the previous spring. (Cause unknown.)
Oh, and Ingrid Alt didn't come. Not that I expected her or anything
(though it certainly would have taken the reunion experience to
a 9-11 level of melodrama…)
Oh, and one last epiphany for 2006--a "near-lover experience",
we might call it.
For ages, I regarded my 1984 Polish Summer Of Love as a "type
specimen" affair; something so blissfully perfect at such the
right moment that it couldn't be equaled or approximated. Out
of circumstance, it was the first and last
of its type--and given how Ground Zero ultimately became my
lover, it's probably just as well, to spare the innocent. But
back then, I was the innocent. And maybe it was but the autistic/Aspergers'
glimpse of "the other side"--but, what a glimpse.
Well, as the Ground Zero metaphor implies, sex = death. Grisly,
melodramatic, shocking death. It may have been love; but the
net effect--nothing to do with she, or I--was more like murder.
Its end was like an arrest--prosecution for a "crime" committed,
followed by a long stint in prison. Oh, a productive stint;
but it is prison, all the same. Where even any productive, non-destructive
relationships potentially taking place might be more akin to
"prison relationships"; all about pen-pals and conjugal visits--the
pathetic, anaesthetized coupling of terminally damaged souls,
all within a vacuum. The "young loveness" is forced, or farcical,
or gone. And the older one gets, and the longer the gap gets,
the clearer that is.
But then, the strangest thing. An old friend died in January;
which led--in that same shimmery-poignant "telescoped time"
way as the St. George's reunion, albeit within a left-fieldier
realm--to a lot of reconnection. Among those reconnected-with
was a former girlfriend of his whom--for reasons primarily hinging
upon an instinctive grasp of the Tenth Commandment--I'd never
seriously "considered" before. Though it's safe to say that
if I had been seeing somebody like her 10 or
20 years before, it would have been positively electrifying.
(Whether that's for good or for ill, I do not know.)
Thus, when things took a tentative (albeit unconsummated) step
toward the "serious" between that ex and myself, it appeared--
totally unforeseen --like the stint in prison was over. Like
a fairy-tale happily-ever-after ending --and one that was up
to the Ground-Zero-loverdom challenge, yet. (Especially with
our now being in our 30s and 40s, and presumably older, wiser,
etc. Something inherently less shallow.)
And adding to the dazzle is that the precipice of our near-relationship
coincided with the "twice my age" moment relative to that Polish
Summer Of Love.
It was all sending an extraordinarily intense
message. Like this would loom higher still--and more lastingly?--than
that love of half my lifetime ago. And at a perfect moment when
it was finally safe to do so.
For that reason, I played whatever might've been emerging with
the greatest restraint. Hedging the "love" idea in terms of
universalities, etc. Knowing that this "wasn't serious"--yet.
A serious friendship, maybe, hopefully--a deep bond. Something
which could be a loadbearing platform for something bigger,
But this prospective "thing happening" not only awakened me
to something long-dormant, it got my whole past into flashback
mode. I was reliving episodes, hopes, dreams, travels, journeys,
framed by whatever was portended by this "something bigger".
Or, at least I could have. Even there, I practiced
restraint--like I was frightened of something, something really
Sadly, the "something bigger" wasn't meant to be. There was no
fairy-tale ending. My fright was justified; the damage was done,
the years in prison had taken their toll.
Though maybe because of that, it was merciful that I took the
"greatest restraint" strategy--it did salvage a friendship,
or at least a connection, and staved off catastrophe in the
process. But, symbolically speaking, the collapse of the relationship-in-the-making
felt…final. A closing of a circle.
Even before its collapse, I anticipated it being the last--or
at least the last best chance--of its young-loveish sort; thereafter,
chronology, or the psychological effects thereof, or even just
plain common sense (rats, phooey), gets in the way.
A hauntingly melancholy collapse, indeed. It isn't that I "feel
my age", so much as I feel the age around me. I could wind up
the last person standing; but, that's a lonely place to be, especially
with all the lingering ghosts. Yet to deny the ghosts is a delusion.
Revisiting that St. George's kindergarten was touching enough.
Imagining if she was with me at the time is just…beyond…anything.
But there's a consolation. When she and I reconnected on Boxing
Day '06 (5 years to the hour since my Circle Line tour of Manhattan!),
we discovered that the delusion was mutual. We were both
in a state of flashback-induced madness at the time. (Let's
just say, her now-deceased ex haunts us still--albeit in a most
delightful way. Maybe as a guardian angel.) Which affirmed that
our continuing friendship was real--or at least a constructive,
respectful work-in-progress. And, not without a "love-esque"
element, either--it'd be a shame to blithely throw it away (after
all, something had to start the delusion).
Maybe that's a reason it was "meant to happen" now, rather than
10 or 20 years ago.
So, there's the sun peeping through the melancholia; maybe a necessary
melancholia. Yet, in the melancholia, I discovered a metaphor.
For America. The United States of America.
It's why it (at least as embodied by NYC proper) was more beautiful
than it had ever been, in the immediate aftermath of 9-11. It's
as if America had been jolted awake from a drought, a long spell
of sinking cultural slumber and rot--born out of ill-decision
and environmental circumstance, and nothing to do with any supposed
"Age of Irony" per se. Don't blame 60s radicalism; don't blame
80s televangelism; don't blame anything which sparked any of
that. Blame everything--and call it bad karma,
perhaps. It's whatever turned America into Ugly America.
But all that ugliness seemed to vanish in the jet-fueled angel
dust of Ground Zero. Like something long-suppressed was rediscovered--not
hatred (i.e. of Arabs, Muslims, etc), but love.
Indeed, the hate seemed for the moment like the vulgar anachronism
of the ignorant.
And I felt that love in NYC, Xmas of 2001, through and through.
It used to be a threatening place; no more. Now it seemed like
Prague-after-perestroika --only better; because it was NYC,
after all. It was magical. And it seemed the cue for all of
the USA to follow.
Yet, even that was too much to bear. The damage--the pre-existing
damage, never mind that inflicted on 9-11 --was done. The place
was too far gone--America's years in its own self-inflicted
"prison" (combustion-engined, or cathode-tubed, or whatever)
had taken their toll.
It's a place that feels haunted. Not by 9-11 per se, but maybe
by the 20th century at large--perhaps the Eisenhower era most
of all, but even going as recent as the Clinton era. It's like
all of its past stands floating in some neurotic cross-generational
corporate-logo'd suspended animation from 1955, 1965, 1975,
1985, 1995, or even 1995's nostalgia for 1955. It's spectral,
and frightened. And maybe, in living history, it always was.
No wonder it "went ugly". It's the only way it could sustain the
delusion, by pretending the haunt doesn't exist.
9-11 was a metaphor for America's own melancholy collapse. Except
for those illusional first months, it didn't herald any
renewal--at all. It was the last best chance--and what a chance
it was--but it was too late.
And that may help explain why what I wrote got buried in the rubble.
America no longer merited it.
But oh, those first months. Never mind Ground Zero being my
lover; it ought to have been the USA's lover;
the first such lover in ages, and maybe the greatest ever. They
were looking a gift horse in the mouth. And they blew it.
To think--I witnessed the hope at its very end. Its absolute
very end, right at the poignant epicenter. Within a day the
Ground Zero observation platform next to St. Paul's Chapel opened--that
was the official tipping-point toward tourist-trapdom. That's
when the kitsch began. And no turning back. Ever. Again.
At least I paid my tribute; I salvaged something. I don't know
if America can.
Boxing Day 2006. My gift for her was a jar of Pine Extract ("Product
of Bulgaria"--it's like sweetening your tea with a tree). Her
gift for me was Stephen Davis's "Hammer of the Gods".
If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you.
When mountains crumble to the sea, there will still be you and me.
Kind woman, I give you my all, Kind woman, nothing more.
Little drops of rain whisper of the pain, tears of loves lost in the days gone by.
My love is strong, with you there is no wrong,
together we shall go until we die. My, my, my.
An inspiration is what you are to me, inspiration, look... see.
And so today, my world it smiles, your hand in mine, we walk the miles,
Thanks to you it will be done, for you to me are the only one.
Happiness, no more be sad, happiness....I'm glad.
If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you.
When mountains crumble to the sea, there will still be you and me.
…finished January 1, 2007