Crossing Off the Crossroads of the World


    Our holidays were so desultory, all we lacked were a revolver and remorse to have made it a complete Camus Christmas. Being between jobs let me skip New Year’s Eve festivities. Just as well. I would’ve been ringing out 2011 anger and ringing in 2012 anxiety.

    The whole stretch of cold-weather holidays from Thanksgiving until St. Valentine’s Day darkens my outlook. An extensive slough of despond.

    If it were possible, I’d enter hibernation the day after Halloween and awake on St. Patrick’s Day. Early on St. Patrick’s Day. Was there ever a man less deserving of enduring the enforced spikes of autumnal and winter jollity?

    Yes. The above is an exaggeration. Thanks to the American labor movement my present unemployment is bothersome, not troublesome. The safety net so many Republicans yearn to shred keeps the wolf at bay. Unlike GOP governors, each a mouthpiece for America’s Mr. Potters, I’m quite appreciative of past labor agitators who organized and fought for workplace dignity, be they have been Wobblies, Socialists, or — shudder! — even Commies.

    Better, by their actions those enemies of unfettered capitalism prodded legislators to enact systems which bridged the unstructured days between seeking and finding a replacement occupation. Now, it’s fashionable to knock unions. Especially if the critic never directly benefited from one. Forgetfulness comes through too many fat years.

    Not only have American educators neglected civics, lessons which would’ve blunted those Tea Party boneheads, but straightened out NRA gun nuts about rest of the Second Amendment, as well as nipped Holy Roller demands for individual faiths intruding upon the general public. By failing to remind us of our heritage educators also redacted our history.

    But who reads these posts for harangues?

    I almost wish I’d ventured into New York for New Year’s Eve. Not so much for the 42nd Street moil. These days, entering Times Square is akin to visiting an open-air mall. Times Square is so sanitized the business improvement committee ought to consider vaulting it with an LCD ceiling, a la the Fremont Street Experience out in Las Vegas. Which is how touristy the “Crossroads of the World” has become.

    Before Rudy Giuliani atoned for his own vast failings by denying far less conflicted people their own pleasure pursuits, Times Square was a worthwhile honky-tonk. Until his election the district lived up to its “Crossroads of the World” moniker. To outsiders. “The Deuce” to its hardwired denizens. And those who gaped at them.

    Watching movies from the late 60s/early 70s frightful era, a freaky period that scared suburbanites and all those who aspired for safety first, conformity second and decided lack of cool third, one should wonder how such a repressed phony like Giuliani managed to squash such a plentitude of release.

    During gritty monochrome days and bleeding KodachromeÔ nights Times Square was a worthwhile destination. What’s drawn today’s looky-loos holds zero comparison to those erstwhile attractions which lured adventurers. Prevarication and prurience, outlets for the decent shells binding us.

    Between live sex shows for straights, glory holes for gays, hookers, dope dealers, grifters, cheap bars, and grind houses featuring thumbs every which way movies, that Times Square was the greatest ever interactive display on earth. Best of all, any individual’s immersion was voluntary. Not like today’s mandatory attendances at obsequious assemblies, where, as Milton would agree, heaven is praised though hell is preferred.

    Yet before 42nd Street environs became tawdry, they were gamy.

    It’s preferable to imagine young Rudy Giuliani riding the Broadway-7th Avenue Line (now the 2 or 3) in from his Brooklyn agony address after a hard week of parochial school hypocrisy. Doubtless many a contemporaneous graduate of the former New York City mayor regards those tormented days fondly. Indeed, sexual hang-ups imposed by disapproving clerics or laity while drumming rote into fearful students should only cauterize hearts and skew memories.

    Grubby nickels dropped from clammy fingers into the fare slot allowed twitchy young Giuliani and cohorts of fellow aspiring fornicators escape from close-legged Brooklyn into relaxed Manhattan. The transformation must’ve matched Dorothy Gale’s own blowing into Oz from Kansas. Except Dorothy retained her goodness (and Toto too) in losing her innocence, while Rudy gained knowledge but iced whatever empathy came along for these excursions.

    Where others could indulge shamelessly, Rudy’s background hamstrung him. His formative years wasted learning fleshy pleasures were bad, would direct him hell-bound straightaway, well, that’s the sort of developmental obstruction needing hurtling. How does one accomplish that? Without an exploding skull or becoming Sybil’s male counterpart? I imagine a great deal of self-denial and self-deception and hellacious lying to whoever stared back in the mirror must’ve been involved.

    Like I said, I wouldn’t know. And until I started writing this post I never wondered about it either.

    Anyway, New Yorkers live with a purged and purer Times Square. Frankly I can’t see what draws tourists. All the good stuff has been shoved into the Hudson River.

    I believe the most aggravating part of Rudy’s whitewash was his own selfishness. He became exclusionary. While it was fine for this ostensible family man to demonstrate virtue by condemning fleshpots by day, by night he crept around wooing and pawing secretaries and whatever pickups idled at the Q.T. Inn.

    Spared his equivocal education, I can’t fathom how Rudy exempted himself yet found it permissible to curtail the same sort of morally dubious crawls by bachelors or unencumbered husbands. Too bad all his frolicking saw light late in his term and that extinguished by his standup stewardship during the attack’s immediate aftermath. Otherwise payback questions could’ve been lacerating. Quite so.

    Instead we have Rudy’s squeaky clean bequeath.

    New Year’s Eve was mild here. So mild I almost considered overcoming my reservations, going downtown and watching the ball drop. As a teen and later somewhere in my 20s, my bulk joined other celebrants.

    Back then, despite rumors of incipient mayhem, we who gathered behaved ourselves. Fewer police, only the most egregious trespasses punished, easy access and egress, spirits and smoke generously shared contrast badly with today’s overkill security measures, penned frozen zones, and harshly enforced prohibitions against any beyond the lines joy.

      Live celebration wrung out, prettified, homogenized and neatly packaged for TV, recent New Year’s Eve ball drops have become Anthony Comstock’s and Vladimir Putin’s wettest dreams. Flat instead of fizzling, the actual fun parts have vanished.   What hath Rudy wrought?

    At midnight seminal rock ‘n’ roller Chuck Berry performed at B.B. King’s club. Awhile ago that prospect would’ve been worth an attempt to keep a New Year’s resolution. But now Chuck Berry exists in elongated twilight. Audiences who watch and admire him and his music in Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll don’t realize VH1 runs that movie on a loop. Berry fretted and licked on fumes when the documentary premiered in 1987. These days, an animatronics Chuck Berry probably offers greater response.

    I heard him when he still rocked. Knowing his colorful and eventful history, yet then unaware of how mercenarily he practiced music’s business side.

    He graced us at an Arizona Spring Fling. Maybe the 1979 edition. (?)

    As per Berry, angular and aloof, he rolled into Tucson shortly before sound check. After collecting and counting his fee, he might’ve given his sidemen a glance. Suspect local musicians culled from who knew where, each must’ve been excited to receive pittances to share a stage with this rock ‘n’ roll originator.

    Berry performed professionally. To him, it was one more night in another town. Having been paid, he obliged his contract by playing as competently as possible.

    Competently. Not passionately. Without feeling. He sang Maybellene, School Day and You Never Can Tell, among his hits, in workman like versions. He trickled out just enough of himself to stir us revelers.

    Reaching his set’s agreed upon time limit Berry stopped cold. He bade us goodnight, packed up, turned and never looked back. We could’ve clapped our hands into stumps and cheered ourselves hoarse, only more folding green right there, right then, would’ve gotten us any encore.

    No doubt he had a particular place to go.

    Three decades on, Chuck Berry scheduled a New York stop where he rang in 2012. I’m almost sorry my morbid curiosity impulse insufficient to catch his act. He’s 85. So no more duck walks from him. No splits either. Maybe missed notes and rambling slurred remembrances. Confusing Buddy Holly with Eddie Cochran? It could happen.

    Shouldn’t Chuck Berry be a rock emeritus? I guess I could ask the same about Mick Jagger.

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