Tag Archives: William Dalzell

when a man is tired of New York …

 

 

“I suggested a doubt, that if I were to reside in London, the exquisite zest with which I relished it in occasional visits might go off, and I might grow tired of it. JOHNSON. ‘Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’ ”

— James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.

 

 

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Does repetition imply, mean, or equate to: Boredom? Weariness? Dullness?

By which I mean repeated experiences under known circumstances, such as what one experiences when one lives somewhere for a long time, or a lifetime.

Some people think that variety is the sine qua non. (“Been there, done that.”) They are constantly seeking excitement in new venues.

This is not necessarily, or not always, wrong.

But consider the following reflections of mine, based upon my own experience in New York City, where I have lived for nearly fifty years.

 

 

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I have my favorite haunts: the New York Public Library (the research library) at 42nd and Fifth; Central Park; the Staten Island Ferry; the Strand Bookstore; Grand Central Station; Carnegie Hall. I discovered these places — and also discovered how much I liked them over time — through word of mouth though my own peregrinations and repeated visits.

I know the best routes to walk. Just which ones produce the most pleasant “jaunting experience.” Which Manhattan avenue to take, for example, depending upon my mood and other circumstances. The best ways to get from Queens or Brooklyn to Manhattan by foot, with the most pleasant (and, conversely, least pleasant) avenues, neighborhoods, or bridges to walk on or through.

I know who are the most helpful reference librarians at the New York Public Library. I know that the main reading room is the place for me and have a favorite place to sit there. I know which entrance is best to use and where the elevators are.

I know the best items to choose on the menu at one of my and my wife’s favorite restaurants (which, of course, reflects my own preferences).

I know how often and at what times Staten Island ferries run.

I have other favorite places and establishments. Continually going to them works for me, and it will work for you.

 

 

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I first met my lifelong friend Bill Dalzell, who recently passed away, in the late 1960’s when I was employed in Manhattan. I was new to the City, and it was one of my first jobs.

Bill, like most Manhattanites, had been born and raised elsewhere. He had come to New York City in the 1950’s, at around the same age as I was when we met.

Bill absolutely loved New York. (He did, at a later age, move elsewhere.) He was always singing its praises.

The things that appealed to him about the City also appealed to me. The sense of freedom — no one watching you and (possibly) expressing disapproval of your activities; the fact that you could live alone or be alone — that it would not be considered abnormal* and you could find plenty of things to do alone and keep you interested even if you had no one else to do them with; the walkable streets; the awesome cultural resources (films, theaters, museums, and libraries).

Bill had his favorite haunts: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Thalia and Elgin movie houses, the Staten Island ferry, the automat. Years later, having lived in New York almost continuously since then, I have my own favorite places and things to do.

Bill loved to go to The Metropolitan Museum of Art on weekends. Admission was free back then. Upon arrival, he would go to the cafeteria and sit there for a couple of hours with a cup of coffee, in contemplation. Then he would visit his favorite exhibits. He said that the museum seemed like a cathedral to him and that going there was his equivalent of going to church.

He exulted over the fact that the New York Public Library’s main branch was open (then) 365 days a year, even on Christmas Day!

 

 

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Inner peace. Contemplation. That’s what you experience when you are comfortable somewhere (such as the Met Museum cafeteria or some other place, such as a park bench or an automat), as was the case with Bill musing over his cup of coffee; when you feel you belong. Being comfortable with the externals, from repeated experience, you can relax and not worry about them. And, in New York one often gets this feeling: that you belong there as much as anyone else. Besides a feeling of belonging, the comfort comes from knowing what to expect. And being able to anticipate pleasure, which is almost a given.

What is it about such places that makes one want to return again and again?

One thing I would assert is that it’s an automatic thing — sort of like (to use a buzzword) being on autopilot. Once you start going someplace a lot, you feel, naturally, at home there. You know how to get the most out of it. You know just what things about it you like best and how to savor and enjoy to the fullest those things.

Let’s say it’s the library. You will have your favorite divisions and rooms (in a large library like the main branch of the New York Public). You may know of certain staffers who are particularly helpful. You may like certain places to sit or even certain corridors and stairwells to use.

Say it’s the Oyster Bar Restaurant in Grand Central Station. You know which entrees you like the most and which of the available draft beers, and what they cost. You have your favorite waiters. You know where and in which room you like to be seated, and whether at a table or a counter (and then, which counter? there are more than one). You know which point of entry from the labyrinthine Grand Central Station is most convenient.

In Central Park, there are certain walkways and paths I like to take.

I know which points along the Brooklyn Bridge I like the best (the boardwalk, for example); the best ways to approach it as a pedestrian walking in Manhattan; the most fun things to do (talk with people or just observe them having a good time, which one can enjoy vicariously; take pictures; sit on a bench on the boardwalk, etc.).

The Strand Bookstore? I know where I want to browse. I know when it is open. I know how the books are arranged and in what sections.

The New York City subways? (I didn’t mention them before.) I know the best routes which involve the least hassle, the stations and lines to avoid and those that I prefer.

So, FAMILIARITY is a big factor.

As is REPETITION.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 2018

 

 

* Regarding the delicious sense of anonymity associated with living in New York — of being part of a crowd but not singled out — an experience I once had when living elsewhere seems relevant. I worked for about a year and a half at a psychiatric hospital in Stamford, Connecticut, a city not far from New York. One spring day, when walking home from work, I stopped in a park that was on my route. I sat there for a while — I think it was on a park bench — in contemplation. It was a leisurely walk home. The park was not crowded, as a New York City park usually would be, but it was not empty by any means.

A couple of days later, the head nurse on my ward said to me, “I saw you in the park the other day.” The park was about a half mile from the hospital and she had probably passed it on the way home. I could tell that her remark amounted to mild “disapproval.” She felt it was odd to see me sitting by myself in a park. If I had been with a friend or coworker, she would not have had thought anything unusual.

“After the Supper and Talk”

 

 

This poem made me think of my recently departed friend Bill Dalzell, and of our talks during his last months.

 

 

AFTER THE SUPPER AND TALK.

After the supper and talk—after the day is done,
As a friend from friends his final withdrawal prolonging,
Good-bye and Good-bye with emotional lips repeating,
(So hard for his hand to release those hands—no more will they
meet,
No more for communion of sorrow and joy, of old and young,
A far-stretching journey awaits him, to return no more,)
Shunning, postponing severance—seeking to ward off the last
word ever so little,
E’en at the exit-door turning—charges superfluous calling back—
e’en as he descends the steps,
Something to eke out a minute additional—shadows of nightfall
deepening,
Farewells, messages lessening—dimmer the forthgoer’s visage
and form,
Soon to be lost for aye in the darkness—loth, O so loth to depart!

 

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

 

 

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Having finalized the arrangement of Leaves of Grass, Whitman published a supplemental volume of prose and poetry with the autumnal title November Boughs. Many of its sixty-four lyrics and what Whitman labeled its “poemets” … were added as an “Annex” to the 1888 edition as “Sands at Seventy.” These verses reported his cheerful bearing as he faced physical deterioration—solemn-sweet announcements of his readiness for death, and cheerful expressions of farewell. … In the prose preface “A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads” (1888), Whitman wrote: “In the free evening of my day I give you reader the foregoing garrulous talk, thoughts, reminiscences,” and suggested that, alive or dead, he would ever aspire to talk to the living reader. That sentiment is beautifully developed in the bittersweet vers de société masterpiece ”After the Supper and Talk.” Against the onrush of the ultimate night the poem shows the Whitman figure striving to the very end to preserve his voice—the same “garrulous talk” he had referred to in the introduction to “A Backward Glance”—the “talk” that embodies his life force and his spiritual selfhood. He feels that his words alone will perpetuate him in the mortal sphere. Standing at the “exit-door” of life but loath to leave for the unknown, he clings compulsively to the warmth of human hands, to the music of human voices, and to the sound of his own voice. Although he hopes that his poetic voice will endure into the future, he wishes to prolong his mortal vocal powers as long as he can. In order to achieve dramatic distance, and perhaps to cushion the shock of his impending death, the poet employs a rhetorical device that is rarely found in his poems. He refers to himself in the third person and pictures himself observing from a distance the vanishing figure of the mortal Whitman. His reluctance to depart from the House of Life is expressed in a series of death-related metaphors. And as a master of participials, Whitman constructs a verse that (except for three lines contained within parentheses) forms an uncompleted statement, so that his departure, as he might have wished, seems to be postponed indefinitely.

 

— Harold Aspiz, So Long! Walt Whitman’s Poetry of Death

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith, March 2018

“I went to the school of New York.”

 

 

 

“A whale ship was my Yale College and my Harvard.”

— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

 

 

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I was talking on the phone today with my longtime friend from my first days in New York, Bill Dalzell. He told me something that his dear friend Edwin Treitler once said to him. Ed Treitler, who recently passed away, was an artist, writer, and spiritual counselor/healer.

The quote, which struck me forcibly and rung true, was short and pithy: “I went to the school of New York.”

The school of New York. Herman Melville would have perceived instantly what this meant.

It rings so true when I consider my own experience.

 

 

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I had a very good education, for which I am very grateful. Then, I went further.

I moved to New York City right after graduating from college, and my education really began. Or was on a new plane. Something like that.

I had never seen a really good film. Had never, I believe, patronized an art film house. Had often frequented bookstores, but had never seen so many used bookstores cheek by jowl with so many interesting books, including many by avant-garde writers who were usually not taught in college.

I had never read so intensely and deeply before in such weighty works. I had never met such intellectually stimulating people. Many of them, most of them, I met in totally offhanded and unanticipated ways, in places where you would not expect to find someone smart and interesting, often in the workplace. (It reminded me of Theodore Dreiser’s friends in his early Chicago days; see below.)

I met many such persons in my early days in Manhattan: a poet who it seemed had read the whole corpus of great poetry — and knew all those currently active, including the New York School of poets (and who took me with him to poetry readings in Manhattan) — and practically every important work of literature from time immemorial, ranging from Roman poets such as Juvenal and Sextus Propertius to the most recent and challenging fiction by writers such as Thomas Pynchon … a printer who was thoroughly immersed in mysticism and the visual arts (and whom I tagged along with to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney; from him I became acquainted with painters such as Edward Hopper, whom I had never heard of) … and so many people whose ideas piqued me and who submerged me in new areas of thought and “mental adventure” and who introduced me to books, painters exhibited in the City’s museums and galleries, filmmakers, and such that I would probably never have learned about.

The true intellectuals, I find, are often buried in the woodwork, are in the back office or hunkered down over a desk doing drudge clerical work (as was I).

I had such stimulating conversations with people I met at random in taverns and at work, or with their friends. Almost none of them were well off, and most were at a stage in their lives where they were starting out and did not have impressive credentials, or were perhaps older but had never become credentialed. They were barely making it. But they had a deep passion for ideas, the arts, and culture.

I instinctively took to such a milieu as a duck to water. I bathed in it, drank of it. I grew immeasurably intellectually. I became sophisticated culturally and intellectually. I became a hundred percent better informed, better read, better educated.

 

 

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It has been said that New York is like no other city in the world. For me, this was true. There is an openness to ideas there, a wonderful tolerance, an acceptance of people without any expectation that one must conform. Loners are accepted. (I was afraid I might be perceived as a loner when I first came to New York knowing no one.) Eccentrics are accepted. People of all ideologies and belief systems are accepted, and of all backgrounds. Stimulating conversation by highly aware, well informed, intellectually alive, and intelligent people is the norm.

Cultural sophistication comes with the territory. The arts are almost upon you, so to speak, are omnipresent. It’s almost impossible to be in New York and not to be aware of them and influenced, liberated, and exhilarated by them. New York broadens you, stimulates you, educates you anew. And keeps right on stimulating and educating you.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   November 3, 2017

 

 

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Addendum:

 

In his autobiographical work Dawn, Theodore Dreiser portrays an individual he met as a young worker in Chicago during the 1890’s. Dreiser was employed in the warehouse of Hibbard, Spencer, Bartlett & Company, a wholesale hardware firm, at a salary of five dollars a week, as a “box-rustler” and “stock-piler.” A coworker whom Dreiser befriended and who fascinated him was Christian Aaberg, a Dane. Dreiser describes him as a “little rickety, out-at-the elbows, shambling man, with a wrinkled, emaciated, obviously emotion-scarred face, who at forty or forty-five and after God knows what storms and rages of physical and mental dissipation, still had about him that indescribable something which for want of a better word I must speak of as breeding.”

Aaberg was of little or no value to the firm, for he could do no hard work and the powers that were could not trust him with the more complicated, though less strenuous, task of filling orders. As he himself admitted, he drank and dissipated here as in the past and often wondered aloud why it was that … the firm stood for him. … He was shabby and sickly to look upon. Yet … there was that strong, seeking, vital light in his eye at times. … within two or three weeks we were fast friends intellectually, and there followed a series of conversations on life and character, the import of which has endured to this day.

He had read—God knows what! —everything! And he it was who talked to me of Ibsen, Strindberg, Grieg, Goethe, Wagner, Schopenhauer. He would talk to me by the hour, as we piled pots and pans or buckets of bolts or rivets. of the French Revolution and the great figures in it, of Napoleon, Wellington, Tsar Alexander, Also of Peter the Great and Catharine of Russia, Frederick the Great and Voltaire, whom he admired enormously. But not the silly, glossed, emasculated data of the school histories [italics added] with which I had been made familiar, but with the harsh, jagged realities and savageries of the too real world in which all of them moved. And, again, of Greece, of the age of philosophers, logicians, playwrights, sculptors, architects, statesmen, warriors. He revealed as much as any history could—why it was that Aristotle was the first of the organic and realistic thinkers; why Heraclitus would always be remembered. He also told me why Socrates had been compelled to drink the hemlock; that the cross was originally a phallic symbol; elucidated for me the mysteries of the Egyptian temples, the religious festivals of the Parsees, Chaldeans, Assyrians, Persians. … When I told him that that our family was Catholic and I still went to church, he smiled. “You will come out of that,” he said. “You are already out and don’t know it?”

 

— Theodore Dreiser, Dawn: An Autobiography of Early Youth, Chapter 61

the foot philosophy

 

 

 

Dear Diary:

I was sitting in a terminal at La Guardia Airport waiting for a flight to Buffalo. The area was hot, crowded and stuffy. People were sitting wherever they could.

I dozed off. When I opened my eyes I saw a nun sitting at a table across from me. She was looking at me.

“I do not know what path to follow,” she said.

“There are many paths,” I said. “Just choose one.”

“I don’t know why I am reading this book,” she said.

“Because it is a distraction,” I said. “And we all need distractions.”

“What should I do now?” she asked.

“Just put one foot ahead of the other,” I said.

And then my plane was called.

 

— Raymond Vegso, ““Metropolitan Diary: Many paths,” The New York Times, February 5, 2019

 

 
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I made a lifelong friend, Bill Dalzell, when I first moved to New York in my twenties.

He was a self employed printer then, living on modest means. He lived simply and was unassuming in appearance and manner.

He never cared about externals and has always dwelt, all day long, every day, in the realm of ideas. All of his ideas are his own, although he reads avidly, partakes of religion, and draws on inspiration from others, both in books and his circle of acquaintances. (He no longer lives in New York, but we keep in touch.)

He believes absolutely in the spiritual, in mysticism, and in bona fide psychics such as Edgar Cayce.

 

 

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As I have said, or at least implied, above, my friend Bill lives by intuition. Once, in the 1970’s, we were in Albany together. Bill was staying with friends of his living in a small town nearby. We were taking a walk together and had just started to cross a large recently completed bridge with a pedestrian walkway. Bill turned around. “I don’t feel right about it, walking over this bridge,” he said. There was no discussing the matter with, no gainsaying, him.

Bill told me once or twice about how he used intuition — or mental processes of a non-rational cast that were even more elemental — to make spur of the moment decisions when in a quandary.

Say he couldn’t decide which bus or train to take, whether to go to a museum or the cinema, whether to walk uptown or downtown. He would go wherever, instinctually, his feet took him, follow his feet.

“I call it the foot philosophy,” he said with a smile. (He has his own philosophy and will develop his own vocabulary as necessary to go along with it. He calls cats “fur people.”)

 

 

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I had an experience today (September 9th) that brought the foot philosophy to mind.

I was going downtown on the number 4 train. I was intending to get off at the last stop in Manhattan, South Ferry, and take some early morning photos of New York Harbor.

The subway car was pulling into the City Hall/Brooklyn Bridge stop, which was three or four stops before my destination. I’ll get off here, I suddenly thought. I don’t want to go all the way downtown. I’ll get off here and walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. I exited and started walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, with the intention of walking both ways.

About ten minutes into my bridge stroll, my wife called my cell phone. She wanted me to be available for an activity she had forgotten to tell me about the night before. We hooked up in Brooklyn and took care of a task that needed to be taken care of, at that moment. We spent a pleasant and very productive morning together.

My friend Bill would call it ESP.

And be pleased.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

  September 9, 2017; updated February 2019