A SEA OF GINSBERGS
...but more likely you're a Pete in a sea of Peggys.
A SEA OF GINSBERGS
...but more likely you're a Pete in a sea of Peggys.
The Colonel Greenwijk House, Goshorn, NY
Contrary to most of the legends, the real trouble at the Greenwijk House didn’t begin until the late 1970’s. True, stories of ghosts and ghouls had always popped up around the edges of the old house, like bubbles in a witch’s cauldron, but they were mostly just cookie cutter tall tales, local flavor passed down and embellished upon by yarn-spinning aunts and garrulous men in taverns. There was, for instance, the spectral train that reportedly made nightly stops in the desiccated garden behind the house, letting off a pair of hollow-eyed children who cried for their mother. Or there was the ghost of the Lenape indian, Mister Three Owls, who was said to knock on the old front parlor door--the one that had been boarded up when the new addition was put on in the 1790’s--whenever there was a storm due in off the Atlantic. And one mustn't forget the local bogeyman, the Goshorn Snatcher, who grabbed naughty children and dropped them down the Greenwijk well, among other places.
Things took a turn from fanciful to ominous when the Critchfield family moved into the house in 1978. They were a rich Manhattan family, the patriarch had made his fortune in wartime plastics, and like so many others in that era, they claimed to be looking for a quiet home, an abode where they could replace the sound of sirens and the smell of garbage with cricket song and the scent of wild lavender. They said they were distantly related to an old local clan, long died out, though the name was common enough, and infamous enough, in some of the old Dutch colonial cemeteries: Crichenfeuld. The family never failed to put flowers on the grave of the founding Crichenfeuld, Wouter Chrichenfeuld, who left this earth in 1679. Legend has it that he again left in 1698, and again once more in 1704. The first time by pistol and ball, the second time by a hanging followed by a drowning, and the third time by an angry mob who, it was claimed, set the old warlock ablaze. Imaginative stories note that as unearthly blue flames consumed the elder Chrichenfeuld, he danced in glee and giggled like a child.
And so, not long after the 1978 summer solstice, an old man was noticed to be stalking about the Critchfield property. He wore a dark suit despite the heat, and walked very slowly. He was most often seen staring at his pocket watch, sometimes standing on the porch in the moonlight. Occasionally, he’d turn up at the Dutch cemetery, standing over old Wouter’s resting place. At dinner parties and social events, Emma and Allen Chritchfield said the old man was Allen’s great-uncle, Walter Critchfield, who, after serving as a field officer in the First World War, had stayed on in the old country with the Critchfield’s Dutch relatives, marrying and raising a family there. He was nearly one-hundred and two, and as he had no other remaining relatives, Allen had agreed to watch over him in his final days.
That autumn, the trees in the yard of the Greenwijk House burst forth with almost candy colored foliage, electric in the fading sunlight. And then the trees, the shrubs, all the grass in the yard, dried up and died. The old man still stalked the dusty yard with his pocket watch, now followed by Allen and Emma’s two newly arrived sons, who he said, “were home from college.” Then, all the wells in the nearby homes suddenly turned acrid. The neighborhood cats, once so robust and courageous, began to vanish. Those felines that remained were cagey creatures and they seemed especially skittish around Walter, who would look up from his pocket watch at them with what was described as hungry eyes. Power outages on the block became common. Cars wouldn’t start. Phones would ring and answer to dead air. Locals complained of a sluggishness and a sickly malaise in their children. Those who visited the neighborhood, from the mailman to curious townies, tended to hurry past the Greenwijk House, describing a sense of uncanny dread that could intensify to outright terror if they happened to spot the old man, who, it was noted, seemed to walk quite a lot faster than he did when he first arrived, moving with an almost youthful, lusty exuberance. The two sons had by this time “gone back to school,” although nobody saw them leave, and what school they went to was never mentioned.
On the night of October the 29th, the whole situation, whatever it was, came to a head. For years afterward, schoolchildren told the following tale: It seems that Mrs. Boyd, Mrs Eliza Boyd, who used to teach seventh grade before her husband died, and who lived a few doors down from the Greenwijk House, grew exceedingly upset as one by one, ten of her twelve cats vanished. After the second to last one, a tabby named Honeychurch, went missing she shouted “enough is enough!” and went in to her garage. At sunset, she came out carrying a bottle of kerosene and some branches wrapped in rags. The old woman lit her makeshift torch and marched up to the Greenwijk House, stamping across the dry hard earth to stare down old Walter.
It is said that blue flames, shimmering and bright, danced in the October night. The children who tell the story say that you could hear laughter, almost like a coyote’s howl, echoing down into the valley around the Greenwijk House.
November saw the Critchfields vacate the house, suddenly and permanently. Emma’s arthritis couldn’t stand a New York winter, they said. Old Walter had gone ahead to their estate outside of Phoenix, although they didn’t expect him to live much longer.
The next spring, the trees bloomed green again, and the grass grew back. The water in the wells was once again fresh. The cats are back as well, although to this day, they still seem to avoid the Greenwijk House.
make again great again
I wasn’t raised on fast food, and aside from an unending desire for pizza that continues to this day, I never found myself fascinated with it growing up. However, had I been paying attention, I might have noticed the slow fade-out of the golden age of the fast food restaurant. By the 1980’s, it was already over, rendered inert by a changing consumer landscape, oil-crisis recession-era economic hatchet jobs, and general post-Nixonian decay. But the memory of the golden age was still there. On a family trip into the valley we might come across the occasional still-extant Golden Arch of an older McDonald’s franchise, or perhaps an over-sized ceramic mascot, some purple Sesame Street-ish creature or a gilded king, beckoning to us as we drove past.
The food was never good. Taco Bell, for instance, has never had a single item on their menu that wasn’t in one way or another either monstrous or horrendous, but there was a time when the Bell and its fast food brethren at least had some respect for their customers. A sense of showmanship. Once upon a time, they were mini, corporately financed P.T Barnums, dragging wide-eyed kids, parents-in-tow, into their cookie cutter consumer theme parks. “Let’s give them a show, an experience,” you can imagine them saying. “Otherwise, they might go to the Pizza Hut down the street. Or that Sizzler.”
Based on a Dorothea Lange photograph, Los Angeles, 1941
A sloppy pen and ink doodle loosely based on a Charles Marville photograph.
Catfish on the mound...
When I was a sophomore in college, I got it into my head to do a fanzine. Fueled by a steady diet of pizza and ginger-ale from Captain Nemo’s Pizza in Boston’s Kenmore Square, I became giddy with thoughts of the acclaim and accolades my zine-to-be would garner. It would be like the Paris Review of hardcore zines, erudite, knowing, and fun, reflecting my teenaged years as a straight-edge posi kid but with a burgeoning art-rock maturity that I believed my soon-to-be twenty-year old self possessed in spades.
I scoured Lungfish lyrics to find a suitably cryptic name for my zine. Would it be Plague of Particles or Invisible Regime? Either way, it would kick Suburban Voice and Flipside’s respective asses to the curb. It would be the kind of zine that would get you laid.
I decided that Jawbox would be my first interview. They had a show coming up at the Middle East. I bought a tiny reporter’s tape recorder, and got some film for my junky point-and-shoot camera. I thought about all the kids taking hot shit photos at shows, Brian Maryansky, Justin Moulder, countless others, on stage, snapping away, cameras slung over their shoulders like how Gregory Peck held a Sten gun in Guns of Navarone. Sure, that could be me too. Who needs a real camera or expertise or any sense of how to take a photograph that will look good on the printed page? Not me!
It was a heck of a show. This was in February of 1993. I know I saw Drive Like Jehu at the Middle East around the same time, and Shudder To Think as well. I can’t imagine it was all at the same show, though conceivably that bill could have existed--three legendary bands at the height of their powers--in my hazy memory, all three shows exist at the same moment in time, followed the next night by Jawbreaker playing a student performance space at Northeastern, followed by Kingpin and Eye for an Eye at TT The Bears.
It was a long time ago, but I remember them playing Ones and Zeroes specifically. I vividly remember Zach Barocas’s barely contained mania on the drums, a theatrical display of virtuosity, all flailing, rubbery limbs. Kim Coletta smiling and grooving, J. Robbins and Three-Dollar Bill Barbot somehow battling their guitars and coming up victorious.
After the show, I steeled myself. I had snapped a few bashful photographs of the band, but found the activity to be distracting and embarrassing. I was not the machine gun wielding Gregory Peck I’d thought I was. Robbins was loading up his gear when I walked up to him.
I stuttered out that I wanted to interview him for my zine. And what happened next is why I truly and completely will always love hardcore, punk rock music, and the strange little scene I grew up in. There was a moment of honest hesitation on Robbins’ face as I asked him. Like he was thinking, “good god is there a back door I can run the fuck out of an away from this kid? Can I tell him sorry, but no, I have to be somewhere? Is there any conceivable scenario where I don’t have to get interviewed for this kid’s fanzine that will probably never come out or end up being a garbled mess of misspelled words and xeroxed cliches? Can’t I just have like five minutes of peace?” And then he sighed, stood up straight and said, “Sure. Fine, okay. Let me just get a beer. I’ll meet you upstairs.”
Poor J. Robbins. I wish I could remember all the ridiculous questions I asked him, but I can only imagine the patience it took on his part to kindly and sincerely reply to each of them. We met at a table upstairs in the bar/restaurant portion of the club. I was nineteen years old at the time, so it might very well have been an impossibility, but it continues to astound my adult self that I didn’t even try to buy him a beer. They guy was willing to take his time and talk to me, and I didn’t have the presence of mind to get him a beverage.
I told him I’d seen them a bunch of times, which was true. I was a huge fan since their first seven inch. I’d seen them at the Anthrax in Connecticut, and at UCONN with Shudder to Think. I had a gray Jawbox Grippe t-shirt that I wore to death. After a few softball questions, I prepared for my big Woodward and Bernstein moment. It was about the hard hitting subject of lyric sheets. Why did the Novelty LP lack a lyric sheet? What were they trying to pull over on their fans? You’re a Dischord band for cripe’s sake--don’t you know the music is the message? Robbins threw it back at me, polite but firm. That was intentional on their part. Very much so. He didn’t want a lyric sheet--they weren’t a protest band, they were doing something different than their counterparts on the label. I had some sort of lame follow-up question filled with knowing self-righteousness, first they came for our lyric sheets...then they took our freedom, etc, but he had pretty much shut me down.
I know at least that my mom taught me enough to thank him for his time, and then I hustled out of there. The T stops running earlier than it should in Boston. I walked back towards my dormitory on Beacon Street in the biting New England cold. Across the Mass Ave Bridge where the wind whipped off the Charles like a knife.
I never transcribed the interview. I never developed the roll of film. Instead I skipped class, ate a lot of pizza, and played World Cup Pinball until the semester was over. I think I was embarrassed by what a poor journalist I was--or maybe I just lacked the hustle. I’m sure both the camera and the tape are now in a landfill somewhere, buried under twenty-two years of garbage. A golden apple of the past, lost except in memory.
When I was in high school, kids wore Led Zep shirts. I didn't, because I was a self-righteous little snot of a hardcore kid who thought Led Zep was tired bullshit. To me, the Bron-yr-aur Stomp reeked of thick-headed jocks in suburban backyard parties, a red plastic cup of Bud in their hands.
It would take me some years to come around to the popular music of my day and see the artistry in, say, U2's Unforgettable Fire, to say nothing of side one of Led Zep IV.
And but so when I was a freshman in high school, Led Zeppelin was about twenty years out of date. So the metalheads in my class who gave me grief and called me "thrasher" were wearing a t-shirt for a band that was formed before they were born. A band whose best albums came out when they were still gestating within their respective mothers' wombs or twinkling in their fathers' respective eyes.
I would go to hardcore shows and buy t-shirts of bands I'd see whose members were basically my age, so buying the t-shirt of a twenty-year-old band just seemed weird. It seemed cookie cutter and bland and empty of spirit. Book your own fucking life and all that. Disclaimer: I get it now. I'm not knocking Led Zeppelin. There's nothing wrong with teenagers liking them. Houses of the Holy rules. I like hobbits. They're great.
So now, two decades and change later, high school and/or teenagers/young people still occasionally wear Led Zeppelin shirts. Maybe not to the extent they did in the early 90's, but it happens. So Led Zeppelin is now forty-six years old. What I wonder is how do young people think about a wearing the t-shirt of a band that is forty-six years old? It would be like if, in my high school days, some kid was proudly wearing a Hoagy Carmichael t-shirt.
Does the modern young person wearing a Led Zep shirt feel about Led Zep the way an imaginary 1991 high schooler might have thought about Hoagy Carmichael or Bing Crosby or some other antique singer from another age? Or is that 1960's cultural bridge so pronounced that those of us on one side of it will always share a kinship not imaginable with the art and ideas on the far side of it? Or is it just that the consumption of media has so thoroughly changed in the digital age that there really is no difference between Led Zeppelin and Hoagy Carmichael? Or more precisely, is the difference between Hoagy Carmichael and Led Zeppelin like the difference between Beethoven and Bach, just two flavors of the same mildewed rainbow?
As far as the best research can uncover, in 1971, Gordon Henry Jakes (pictured above), a junior lab technician at Kozar Semiconductors in Modesto, California became the very first person to humorously type 5318008 into a digital calculator’s display screen, which as any third grader from 1982 can tell you, when turned upside down, spells the digital approximation of “boobies.”
“You know, they say the average human male thinks about sex every seven seconds or thereabouts, and I guess, back then, I was no different,” remembers Mr. Jakes. “If it hadn’t been me, it would’ve been somebody else--I just happened to record it in our annual joke book the gang in Lab C did every year for the company picnic. So the paper trail is there. History’s gaze falls on me, oddly enough. Sort of like how they say language most likely arose independently in three distinct areas in the world, there were probably a legion of calculator users like me typing “boobies” and giggling all through the seventies. What’s really interesting, is the limited window of this joke. Who uses calculators anymore, really? At least not in the way they were used back in my day. Do grade schoolers still have a Texas Instruments calculator in their book bag? Or even if they do, they also probably have a web-enabled device that, if their parents aren’t careful, will let them access real boobies at any moment of the day. 5318008 can’t compete against that. I wonder if there were similar gags with similarly short windows of historical relevance. Was there some euphemistic pun made about phonograph needles, or butter churners, that made eight year olds of their own day snort milk through their nose as they tried to stifle a guffaw? I’m just glad I got to add my bit to the conversation.”
Back in November, an old friend asked me to paint a watercolor portrait of him and his fiancé based on their engagement photos. Here's the photo...
...and here's my take...