Wednesday
Feb092011

i only robbed one bank

I only ever robbed one bank. Technically, what I did might fall under the rubric of mail fraud but I still (only occasionally but to this day) will braggingly insist that I once robbed a bank. The deal went down in a large eastern city I will not name for obvious reasons. Statutes of limitations may come and go but I am no lawyer (obviously) and have no more than a minimal desire to tempt the hands of legalistic fate. So I can only say that the story begins with me fucking up my life monstrously in one city and then, when discovered, being dragged back to another city — as if with a vaudeville hook — by my concerned parents. They offered free room, board and psychological consultation at a nearby clinic, all gratis. It was not an offer I found appealing from my dope-perch but it was one I was encouraged to believe I could not refuse. There were implied threats that I no longer can recall but they must have been towering in order to make me go back. Once I got there I refused treatment and immediately began indulging in the sorts of behaviors that had brought me onto my parentsʼ radar screens in the first place. Within 30 days I was asked to leave my new (old) digs. I had to find a job and a pad. I ended up at a place called the Midtown Hotel, an anonymous and deceptively humble name for a structure grandly erected in the 1920s before the Depression and occupying a lordly overview of an upper middle class neighborhood hard on the heels of the corporate headquarters of Americaʼs largest and greatest firm. It was once a midwestern jewel, that neighborhood. That hotel was once comparable to the Commodore or the Stanhope or the Drake. It was still quite nice, at least on the outside. The neighborhood, though, had gone to heroin and, as a new arrival, I should have noticed this immediately and turned and run in the other direction. The truth is, even had I been observant enough to notice the track marks on the pavement, there was, at that time, probably nowhere else for me to run. At first I felt pretty cool living in that neighborhood even though I was not availing myself of the many narcotics that were on sale. The whole area was like a farmerʼs market of drug and weapons dealers and I was blissfully immune to the landmines of their world because I was uninterested and uninvolved (though not unaware). All of that changed quickly. The hotel owner had been employing me at minor carpentry and painting jobs, spackling, electrical, occasionally plumbing. I was a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. Then someone got sick and I was asked to do front desk duty — sorting mail, answering the phone and putting through calls in and out of the 1930s switchboard in the hotel lobby. Walter, my co-worker,  was somewhat jealous. The other parts of the building were truly decrepit, horrific really, and required lots of tedious, mindless labor. Entire floors had been boarded up and closed off to all but us workers who daily fought a losing battle with the rats and the hemmorhaging plumbing and chipping leaded paint. Goldie, the old Jewish lady who owned the joint and who was widely hated in the neighborhood, seemed to like me. I have since come to believe that she was favoring me with easy assignments back then only as a way to fuck with the other, older, employees. She didnʼt like any of them and they hated her, and that most definitely included her ʻhusband,ʼ Bob. My cushy new posting afforded fringe benefits, mainly the oppurtunity to rifle the mail of any former resident too foolish or secretive to leave forwarding information after theyʼd departed the hotel. The days mail also usually included letters addressed to former guests whoʼd had the temerity to die without warning anyone. It seemed to me like this correspondence became mine once I sorted it and ascertained that no one was ever likely to come searching for some missing personʼs missing letters. How I managed to secure myself in this knowledge I no longer remember. What I do remeber is that quite a few pre-approved credit card options were pouring into the once proud, once glamorous lobby of the Midtown Hotel for transients. There didnʼt seem any reason to ignore or destroy these offers, at least not right away. Inevitably, with poverty slithering toward me from every direction, it began to seem almost like a moral imperative to fill out these simple forms and avail myself of some serious lines of credit which would otherwise go unused. Perhaps by coincidence all of the cards were backed by the same bank. When the cards began to arrive sixty days or so later, it was imperative that I quickly come up with a plan for exploiting them and I suppose I did so in a rather hasty fashion. PIN numbers duly arrived by separate mail and the game became cash withdrawls from every possible ATM machine in the city, the more widely spread, the better. Since there were dollar-amount limits each day, the scam would take several nerve-wracking days, perhaps a couple of weeks, to complete. Of course at any time, with surveillence cameras and the like, there was a chance that I would be spotted at the machine and popped like a bubble, like a common junky thief. And I wasnʼt even a junky, not yet. My accomplice was only vaguely aware of what I was doing. He was a tall, stately, black cab driver named Joe Sampson. Sampson had an authorial presence, very intelligent and periodically menacing as in a community theater drama of physical intimidation that played itself out on occasions that seemed to be dictated by the moon and the tides. I knew him because he was a drummer Iʼd played with and he was a valued friend and competent ally but sometimes a little bit crazy. He was very well-read -- mainly politics and the more intellectual science fiction novels -- but still a down-and-out street urchin like almost everyone around back then. Joe drove me in his taxi one thousand miles on one occasion because I told him I would let him get up on stage and play with Rashied Ali, John Coltraneʼs last drummer. I did and he did and it sounded very nice. That summer, though, I needed him to drive me hither and yon cleaning out the teller machines of Southeastern ********* in a concerted and deeply illicit effort to raise enough money to relocate out of town. We drove all over that town in its oppressive heat. We passed ancient factories and modern industrial parks, mom and pop bakeries and cafes and valleys of fast food hotboxes, shimmering in their fog of sunlight and grease. There was certainly never any thought given toward making robbery a career, nor was it ever within the realm of possibility for a fellow like me to actually GO INSIDE a bank and rob it, with or without a weapon. I didnʼt and still do not possess those kinds of steel nerves and brass balls. Nevertheless, I managed to grab a few thousand before I became too scared to continue. My plan began to break down. I wanted out of town and out of the hotel and its 8-hour days of spackling and pounding and moving and lifting and dunning tenants and killing bugs and answering phones but the plan called for staying put until the inevitable half-hearted police inquiries were finished without solution. Only in that way, I reasoned, would suspicion glance off me harmlessly; if I split, theyʼll know it was me. So I stuck with the plan, though it was far more difficult than I had imagined would be the case. Having money made it hard to stay put but I had decided to keep the job and stay in the moldy room. I began to get bored, especially when, after 90 days or so, no police had so much as made a phone call inquiring as to the unpaid balances accruing to credit cards of folks allegedly living in our hotel. Surely the overwheliming concentration of cash withdrawls would have sent up a red flag. I began to get very anxious and very bored at the same time. So I did what any other psychotic criminal would do: I started buying coke. I must admit that the cocaine killed the boredom but only for a week or so, after which it merely served to intensify my nascent paranoia. ʻNascentʼ is in fact not a fair word, not nearly strong enough. During that late summer I first found out what paranoia really was, albeit still in only a mild concentration. It was because of the rat. Iʼm not sure anymore how long I lived with the rat, certainly no more than a few days. The night the beast obliterated any remote possibility of coexistence started auspiciously indeed. That was the morning I overslept ( of course I overslept, I was up all night the night before, shooting cocaine and wondering how to best leave town and finding no answers) and was awakened by a mildy miffed Walter dragging me to the second floor to paint and kill bugs. I answered the door and let him in, oblivious to the fact that there was a large plate of marijuana sitting on the nightstand next to the rust stained Murphy bed which was still folded into the peeling wall; I had slept in a chair during that early morning. Walter glared at me. “Do you really need it, Paul?” he said. Do really need what? Was he suggesting that I was a pothead?  “Do you really have to have it?” he veritably shouted in my face watching for the inevitable fear that accompanies any bust — any finding out —no matter how petty. I began to stammer, grasping at a potential string of words that might form an explanation. That was when Walter slapped my back and started cackling with satanic laughter. “I was just fuckinʼ with you man...” and all that shit. I later learned that Walter had at the time been studying to become a state police investigator and I realized that I probably should have been much more concerned. I put in full hours that day and then a few more hours on the switchboard and then I went out for a Greek dinner. I took a cab, Joe Sampsonʼs: I never went anywhere in the neighborhood, except up to the corner grocery/diner/liquor store on foot. That summer a hooker had been slashed to pieces in the diner and the whole neighborhood was spooked beyond the pale of the normal violent heroin jive. I still walked to the diner, though. But I digress. Returning from dinner and remanding my fresh take-home loaf of Greek bread to the tiny refrigerator, I plopped myself down on the wormy Murphy bed and immediately became aware of a persistent noise. The trap Iʼd placed in the broken out space behind the refrigerator (where a wall should have been) had managed to catch a ...mouse ...or a rat? It was a rat and it was wounded but not dead. I was starting to assess the situation and the coke was not making the outlook any better. The damned beast was caught but not ready to give up. All night long it dragged the trap around with it, scraping the cement floor (which was innaccessible to me) and screeching at a surprising volume. All the while the cocaine angled its way to the center of my aching head like a slow moving bent arrow greased by the cries of the dying rodent. There was, purely and simply, no escape except the obvious one. In the morning I called Sampson and had him take me to the airport. In retrospect it was the lack of police concern that unnerved me and sent me running. That and the rats. I made a pretty good haul, all told, and so did Joe Sampson. On the plane out a beautiful black woman sat next to me while I shivered and sniffled. “You must be doinʼ somethinʼ,” she said, “that donʼt sound like allergies to me.” Indeed. The hotelʼs owner, Goldie, was found dead a few weeks later, stabbed two dozen times. Her gay ʻhusband,ʼ Bob, immediately turned up missing. The hotel changed its name soon thereafter. The money was great but it only lasted a few months. Robbing banks is a tough way to make a living. 

~ Paul K.

Monday
Feb072011

Saint Germaine's

Tuesday
Feb012011

the golem story

in most versions of the story the ghetto is a primarily or exclusively jewish ghetto...in my view this is an irrelevancy...suffice it to say that there came a time of great distress in the ghetto...the great distress caused the residents of the neighborhood (the word i shall use henceforth) to seek the help of a man thought to be wise or holy or above, a man usually depicted as a rabbi...the residents urged the old man to bring to life the golem, a fierce agent of retribution they had heard about in the religious and mystical stories circulated amongst their kind over generations...the source of these stories and their factuality are beyond investigation now, it would seem...at any rate it was said that the old man could bring the creature to life... it may very well be that the golem already existed as a statue or clay figurine...i prefer to think the old man built or sculpted the golem of his own design rather than simply animating or reanimating an existing form...the golem's various pre-existences, real or mythic, are beyond the scope of this version of the tale...i like to think that the old man tried numerous clay and sand and mud and putty based variations and worked under myriad mental and physical states in every different type of weather indoors and out before one magical night when everything was perfectly sympathetic for his creation to begin actually existing...at that point the old man had to answer the golem when asked why his cosmic slumber had been disturbed...the old man had to put up or shut up and it was about that time.

so the old man said "listen, the locals are restless...the other tribes come into the neighborhood and act like they own it...the women get raped, the shopkeepers get robbed and even the children run frightened"...the golem said "i think i heard something about this...it's always the young ones who complain first"..."it's not just the young'uns" the old man said, "the old ones too"..."the old and the young, like i said," said the golem..."what do they want from me?"..."what they always want," said the old man..."they want blood and violence and righteousness and they want you to handle it without hesitation or complaint...they want a massacre that is bloodless insofar as their own eyes and ears are concerned...they want god's fury without knowledge of god which they consider a prospect far more terrifying than rape, murder or molestation...you think you can handle all of that?"...the golem thought about this but not for too long...this was his job after all, from a long ways back and thinking was not an activity he particularly enjoyed..."of course i can handle it," he said..."i'll get right on it."

for months the stalked the ghetto streets plodding, lumbering, lurking and killing any and every stranger without discrimination and with prejudice... he mostly enjoyed the work and found that it served as a sort of escape valve for somnambulant tensions elevated by -- what?...years, decades, centuries, millenia?...he had no way of knowing and almost no sense of time...that lack of temporal navigation however did not shield him from one more pedestrian altogether human reality...namely, that all things come to their end...such was the situation confronting the beast when the last of the greedy fascists had been dismembered and burnt...the golem's ceramic skin was covered almost entirely with dried blood...it was at about this time he began to notice the locals talking about him behind cupped hands and even tossing around the word 'nigger'...he clearly sensed animosity...he went in search of the old man and some sort of dignified death or return to hibernation at least...the old man could not be found...it was rumored that he had absconded with funds entrusted to him by the neighborhood association...he had taken with him one of the younger girls in the neighborhood it was said..there were even rumors of the old man's demise...none of it affected the golem other than to solidify in him the conviction that this one would be a long tour of duty...he began to consider his future even though he had little concept of time...but it was impossible not to notice the young'uns becoming adults and then middle aged adults and then elderly and fragile...there weren't any miscreants to kill and there was nothing to do...he wandered and lumbered and lurked all the while kindling a nascent hatred for those he was enlivened and expected to protect...he decided to become an artist as a way of at least partially satisfying his conflicting responsibilities.

for this reason the golem decamped to a spot outside the neighborhood where there were some shabby trees for shade and a trickling stream through which passed the garbage and shit produced by the people of the ghetto...the stream became for him a seemingly never unstocked store of the raw materials with which to create...art!...the idea thrilled him in its simplicity and its efficiency... so he crafted and built and assembled and painted and sometimes simply smashed materials together in a near orgy of creation in a state of near human joy...he felt for whatever length of time like something more than an homunculus of clay and composite rock...this feeling was the illusion of freedom in all its lysergic insistency and vividness...he came up with clocks and water fountains, moving vehicles and lampshades...he used discarded plastics, metal, bottles, bits of paper and cardboard and cloth...he often used raw sewage in preparing clays and putties...he amassed a collection of objects that drew the attentions of many, many people some of whom seemed to know more about his background than did he himself...he was expecting more of that sort of irritation on the day the kid showed up picking around the easels and pipes and bowls and busts and shelves and rocks and vases and vessels of ever kind initially yet tentatively proffering himself a kind of freelance, no-fee art critic..."some of these are quite good," he said by way of introduction and then, somewhat dismissively, "i take it these are earlier works"... he continued without waiting for a response..."i've actually been watching your progress for quite some time...that is from afar...just visiting occasionally...i like a lot of it and you obviously work hard at it...

"everyone's a fucking critic," said the golem.  "same shit i ran into back living in the neighborhood.  people think they're experts on shit they know nothing about"...

the kid, whose name was bray, became very much a regular visitor, noticing all of the golem's artwork and even getting some of his parents' wealthy friends to buy pieces. the golem used the money for clay and paint and matches. the kid became a daily visitor.

bray began to notice a change in the golem... the artist was becoming skinnier and his skin scratchier...  his ash grey pallor began to turn off-white... bray became worried and complained to his parents. "is there a medical facility nearby that could help him?" he asked... on a daily basis he watched his artistic mentor become quite sullen and unresponsive (the boy was a blossoming artist himself by now, you see)... he approached the golem to ask him simply "what is going on with you?"

the golem sighed over his best and most recent clay figurine... he scratched an armpit and winced -- there was nothing much left of the armpit and he had inadvertantly scratched right through the shoulder.

"all i have to work with is clay," he said... the boy looked puzzled for only a moment... "clay and garbage, and it's been that way for a while now and i can't do much with it than what i've already done."

"i knew something was not right."
" and i knew that you knew," said the golem... "i will give you the quickest and most honest explanation i can."

bray nodded.

"where do you think i came from?" said the golem. he proceeded without asking. "where do you think i've been getting this thick rich brown clay to make these lovely sculptures which you seem so eager to criticize? and why do you think i have been so stoic in the face of your juvenile and untutored criticism?

the boy was entirely undaunted by the artist's outburst... he continued to visit the worksite for months, some said years. he became a connoisseur of the golem's art even as he grew more knowledgeable -- and therefore more critical -- of it. the boy visited sometimes twice a day, always respectful but rarely able or in the mood to buy any actual artworks. the golem was often wearied by the presence of bray but he grudgingly came to appreciate the boy's visits. what no one seemed to appreciate was the fact that the golem was losing significant weight and was thinning commensurately with the thinning of his audience. the day came when bray was his single visitor. the golem was rail thin then and barely able to stand. "where in hell do you think i get the raw material i use for these sculptures?" he howled at the boy in a voice filled with muddled pain, misunderstanding and defeat.

the next day when bray visited he was confused... the outdoor atelier was as it had been the day before but the golem was nowhere to be found... in the center of the camp though there was a small mound of what looked like melted black clay.

 

Monday
Jan312011

nyc

Sunday
Jan302011

the fire breathing dragon

the fire breathing dragon
perches on the hill
dragons are normally found in caves
not this one
this one is not guarding gold
this one rarely flies
rarely raises its scaled wings
to heat the clouds and stir the air
or lift a middle finger to Darwin
who would consign her to a museum
so that tourists from Winona
or Sonoma
or Detroit
could laugh at her terrifying bones
instead
no bones will be found
and so she will be transformed
into pure and deep myth
high on her hill perch
she breathes and breathes only
and the fires burn forever