Join my army of warrior poets
I moved back to New York City nearly 20 years ago. I packed all of my belongings into a small rented moving truck and drove north from the sprawl of suburban Atlanta to the sprawl of New York City. It was early November when I arrived at my mother’s house in suburban Briarcliff. The trees rained yellow leaves like gold vermillion onto the damp, black streets.
I came to New York to find literary fame and fortune and I’m still fighting the good fight. My enemies are my own laziness and self-doubt and the regular pressures of needing to make a living and feed a family. I have friends who no longer write and are comfortable in their day jobs. I have friends who have found great success as writers and published books. They make me green with envy sometimes but I can’t scream that things are unfair: they worked hard and have been more on the ball than I’ve been when it comes to managing a career.
I sometimes doubt my abilities to put words to the ideas coursing through our lives that will move people and help them see themselves in greater things. I sometimes doubt my odds in gaining success in the creative field and rising to the esteemed literary heights so widely celebrated.
What I do not doubt is my love of creativity and burning need to produce good work. I am confident in my connection to the orgiastic madness that powers the human animal and makes our Gotham such a powerful crucible. I will never question my love of truth and the embrace of human kind’s true carnal nature. I will never surrender my ability to be a black flame helping fellow travelers navigate the cold dark realities of an indifferent world.
Art and creativity make life worth living; it’s how we express the truth of human existence as we struggle to understand it and find our place in the world. I have been very fortunate to have friends who have helped me indulge in reading James Dickey on whiskey-soaked nights in the sultry summer night of Georgia, friends who have written poems that have been turned into songs and that can still bring tears to my eyes to this day, and friends who held Burns Night parties complete with haggis where the party would come to a dead stop to read from the Bard of Scotland.
As I struggled to get a handle on writing fiction, I continued to write and publish poems, and my earliest successes have been with publishing poetry. I have come to the realization that I may be better at writing poems than writing fiction or non-fiction and that I at least owe the form more time and attention than I have been giving it. Poems can be written quickly and can express an idea in its rawest form. It can inspire by telling a narrative story or not. Either way it echoes in the hearts of the reader who feels inspired to do great things. I lapsed in recent years in writing them but I have recently redoubled my efforts to write poetry every night. Last year I also starting finishing and publishing one poem per week through Impolite Literature’s Web site.
This national poetry month, join me in reading poetry, in understanding that poetry is the testament of our civilization. The future will judge the worthiness of our times by our art and literature as much as by our wars and monuments.
I hope to raise an army of warrior poets, to make poetry part of the life of blood and iron that defines our existence on Earth. Join me in making our world great by insisting poetry be a part of it. I stand with sword-pen in hand.
How to be a pedestrian in New York City
New York is a very walkable city. We have horrible traffic that makes driving regularly in the more densely populated parts of the city nearly impossible and a grossly imperfect but extensive mass transit system that makes owning a car in the city unnecessary.
Walking the streets of Gotham is mostly a joy. But there are also a lot of frustrations in getting about on foot, as not everyone is up on their pedestrian etiquette.
I think we can safely exempt tourists from some of the walking rules, because we need their money to keep the city’s economy afloat and many tourists are from far-away places that don’t have the same customs or don’t have the same walking-friendly infrastructure. Lots of American suburbs, for instance, don’t have sidewalks in their residential area (something that threw me for a loop when I moved from Yonkers to Yorktown Heights).
Here are five essential rules for how to be a pedestrian in New York City:
Keep to the right of the sidewalk or stairs. In most countries people drive to the right. The same applies to pedestrian traffic just as it would automobile traffic. Walk to the right and you don’t have weave around a million people going the opposite direction. It’s a very simple concept and usually works well for motorized traffic.
Stay focused on walking. You may be a master multi-tasker when you are behind your desk at work or in the kitchen of your home. The sidewalks of New York are a different place. Do not look read a book or mobile phone while walking. You don’t look like a deep literary soul when you try to read a book while walking, you look just as stupid as a smart phone zombie but twice as pretentious.
Keep your eyes ahead of you and avoid gawking. There a millions of dazzling sights and no city in the world makes for better people watching than our bustling Gotham. It’s tempting to soak in all that’s around you and give in to the wanderlust and marvel at the vibrant life of our city, but some of us are trying to get to work or catch a bus or subway. If you keep your eyes straight ahead and let the foot traffic ebb and flow around you easily, you’ll get to where you are going with much less of a hassle. The bearded strangers trying to make eye contact with you are likely panhandlers and not the next Walt Whitman.
Remain considerate of others. Walking three abreast is OK in some places, but we have limited sidewalk space and if you are traveling in a group, others are going to be moving quicker and need to move around you. Our sidewalk cut-ins are often limited and not as easily maneuvered by people in wheelchairs and the elderly, so go ahead and step upon the curb like the healthy person you are.
Remember when cars and other vehicles have the right of way. Pedestrians have the right of way, except when they don’t. It’s OK to cross against the light when there are no cars coming, but if there are, stay out of their way. Pedestrians who blindly walk into traffic like they haven’t a care in the world are the ones I prefer to see smooshed.
So please be alert. Everything in New York requires thought and mastery, even walking from place to place. Life is too short to stumble through it cluelessly. If you focus on where you’re going you’ll be a happier person when you get there.
A Night at White Castle
Sometimes when I am in Manhattan late, either for a work function or some other reason, I will treat myself to a meal at White Castle and a more luxurious ride home to Flushing, Queens on the Long Island Railroad. Last night was one such night.
White Castle holds a unique place in the sphere of American fast food. It is a small chain that is not widely franchised like McDonald’s or Burger King, and so enjoyed a cult status among greasy food enthusiasts long before the Harold & Kumar films brought the restaurant wider notice. It popularized “sliders” or miniature burgers that many restaurants have emulated.
The low cost of the small burgers brings lots of poor people there, and because of this and the fact that many or most White Castles are open 24 hours a day, there’s often an element of danger associated with the chain. My father grew up in the Bronx in the 1950s and 1960s and said when he was a teenager, his friends would dare one another to eat at one of the local White Castles on Fordham Road.
White Castles are mostly in the Midwest and the Northeast. New York City has at least a dozen spread throughout its boroughs, but only two listed in Manhattan. The more centrally-located one is the one on 8th Avenue between 36th Street and 37th Street. This is very close to Penn Station and a moderate walking distance from Times Square by current American standards. And this part of the city is where many of the seedier elements that were once comfortable in Times Square have been chased. I had come from a fancy restaurant where I had gone for an event for work, and after chatting pleasantly over fine finger foods for a few hours I needed some balance. So there I was.
Entering this White Castle, I saw that there was a man in a wheelchair who was slumped over one of the side counters, passed out. He had the dirty appearance and slumped look of a vagrant, but luckily didn’t smell as bad as he looked. A few people stood near the counter waiting for their food, and a few diners sat in the small booths.
I placed my order and noticed a couple by the soda machines having an animated conversation. After several attempts, the man finally extricated himself from the conversation and bid the woman a hopeful farewell. With the man gone, the women kept up her end of the conversation with no one and everyone. She noted that she had warned people about other people and made good on her commitments to things, as much as I could gather.
While I was waiting for my food, the staff at White Castle decided that the man in the wheelchair had been passed out on the side counter long enough and that it was time for him to go. Staff at the White Castle are usually friendlier and more competent than their counterparts at other fast food places. Maybe they pay better or maybe they have better or more interesting clients. Anyway, the White Castle worker very gently started to move the man in the wheelchair, who woke up and started making noise.
“Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!” The guy in the wheelchair was making noises like a truck backing up as his wheelchair was moved back. “Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!”
Once he saw he was headed for the door and out of the restaurant. He began to protest. “Hey! Hey! Hello!? Hello!?”
At this point, we heard from the disembodied voice of White Castle’s remote security. They monitor White Castles through security cameras at remote locations and will sometimes remind you that they are watching and recording all proceedings. One time at this White Castle a man was there with Wendy’s food and the voice told him to leave and threatened to call the police. He didn’t leave.
Now though, the voice wanted to remind the wheelchair guy that they were there. “This is White Castle security monitoring, recording all proceedings at this location,” said the voice over the public address system. “All proceedings are being recorded by White Castle security.”
A helpful customer ran ahead and opened the door for the man in the wheelchair, who mumbled and complained until he was outside on the sidewalk. He later recruited a departing customer to push him around and I saw them going up and down 8th Avenue.
After a wait I got my food and sat watching people walk by outside. Every once in a while someone will do the White Castle Peek, the act of carefully looking inside the White Castle to see if it’s safe enough to go inside. One nervous woman doing this decided to come in and order food, but she never lost her nervous demeanor. She moved around frequently as if to throw off the chances of some unseen assassin ready to shoot at her from somewhere outside.
I sat in a small booth, methodically making my way through my too-large order of burgers. I had an outside soda on the seat next to me, lest the disembodied voice of White Castle security call me out on it and tell me to leave or buy a soda from White Castle (White Castle offers Diet Coke, which tastes like ass; I smuggle in some Diet Pepsi for taste and sanity).
I finished my meal, threw away my garbage, and headed out the door. On my way out a staff member wished me a good night and I wished her the same, a rare moment of fast food camaraderie not available most places. I walked on into the New York night, sated and satisfied.