Tag Archives: William S. Dalzell

“Faith Healing”; “Indian Culture”; review of “Mayor” by Edward I. Koch (three journalism school papers by Roger W. Smith)

 

 

Faith Healing

 

Indian Culture

 

review of ‘Mayor’

 

 

I wrote these three papers in 1986-1987 for courses in the Graduate School of Journalism at New York University. The topics, which I chose, were “Faith Healing” and “Indian Culture,” for an introductory reporting course; and a review of Mayor Edward I. Koch’s book Mayor, for a course in city reporting. It should be noted that the second paper was on American Indian culture; the term Native American did not seem to be widely used then.

In any profession or avocation where skill is required, no instruction or practice is ever wasted. This was true of these assignments. And, they were interesting ones.

 

 

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A few additional comments.

I had some vague acquaintance with spiritual or faith healing as something that had become popular, but no prior experience of it as a participant or observer. My friend Bill Dalzell, who was interested in charismatic religion, had told me about father Ralph DiOrio, the healing priest, whose home base was in Massachusetts. My friend Bill believed in the psychic or mystical as they apply to the real world and to the body. I believe that he attended one of Father DiOrio’s healing masses.

The healing mass that I attended was on a Friday evening in Bayonne, New Jersey. I called ahead to ask if I could attend the service in a reportorial capacity. I was told that I was welcome to. But, on that evening, at the mass, the priest seemed almost angry that I was there; he was not willing to be interviewed.

The parishioner whom I interviewed for my story, Sal, was a truly nice guy. He was very willing to talk, eager to tell his story. He was with his wife, who let Sal do the talking.

Sal said we should talk in a pew in the back, which we did, he speaking very softly, quietly, presumably because he didn’t want to disturb the service.

In my Monday morning therapy session, I told my therapist, Dr. Colp, all about the healing mass. Dr. Colp, the man of reason and science–he was a non-practicing Jew — was very interested. He did not scoff at what Sal (as I told him) had to say. He said there was reason to believe that what Sal had to say about healing masses having resulted in the remission of his cancer might be valid. This was consistent with Dr. Colp’s envisioning a day when “more is learned about the mind-body interaction,” as he put it in his book To Be an Invalid: The Illness of Charles Darwin.

 

 

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The only interview I conducted in person for my story about American Indian culture was with Yvonne Beemer, a Cherokee Indian about my age who lived in New York City. The rest of my interviewing was done by phone.

I never had met a Native American person before.

I did meet one other Native American person by chance once, shortly thereafter, at a wake. He was a Mohawk who worked in high steel with one of my wife’s relatives, who was a rigger. His first name was Joe, and his coworkers–this was in the 1950s when such things would not have been thought (which they now would be) derogatory or insulting–called him Indian Joe.

My wife made a point of introducing us. Joe (whose last name I was not told) was very receptive to conversation. I was getting into it and was eager to talk with him, but an officious busybody relative of the deceased who was at the wake interrupted us about something stupid and ruined the conversation. (I had read Joseph Mitchell’s New Yorker article “The Mohawks in High Steel” and all or part of Edmund Wilson’s Apologies to the Iroquois.)

I also read (mostly skimmed), with great interest (with regard to the parts of the book I read), a book which I purchased at the Museum of Natural History: Lewis Henry Morgan’s magnificent and groundbreaking study League of the Iroquois. I believe that all this reading came after I wrote the journalism school paper.

The major influence on me, what stimulated my interest in American Indian culture (especially Iroquois culture), was the works of Francis Parkman, which I read in their entirety in the mid-1980s before attending journalism school–particularly Parkman’s The Jesuits in North America, which was a fully engrossing and stark narrative: what the Jesuits experienced, suffered, and went through in Canada. The nobility and ultimately tragic futility of their endeavor seems to be mostly unappreciated and largely forgotten.

 

 

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I enjoyed Mayor Koch’s book. And I liked the mayor. For his feisty personality and as a quintessential New Yorker, though I didn’t necessarily or always agree with his politics.

Some fifteen or twenty years ago, I was walking at midday during lunch hour on a gravel path in Bryant Park, right behind the New York Public Library. Oddly at that hour, there was no one else on the pathway; the park was quiet.

A man was walking in the opposite direction, towards me. Our paths crossed. It was Mayor Koch. He was retired then.

We made eye contact, with Mayor Koch looking at me, for a moment, inquisitively or intently. I felt certain that he knew that I knew who he was.

We were not that close distance-wise (something — as a factor in human interaction — that the anthropologist Edwin T. Hall brilliantly studied in his book The Hidden Dimension), but we were close enough, as I have said, to make eye contact, and Koch gave me a friendly and inquisitive look as if he found or conceived of me to be an interesting person. I should have said, “hello, Mr. Mayor.”

 

 

— Roger W Smith

   February 2020

 

 

 

Scan (2)

frontispiece, Francis Parkman, “The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century”; France and England in North America, Volume Two (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1910)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

good riddance to urban renewal

 

 

 

 

IMG_3427 (3).JPG

former residence of Jane Jacobs, 555 Hudson Street, New York, NY; photo by Roger W.  Smith

 

 

The following is an email of mime from today to Lizabeth Cohen, a professor of American Studies at Harvard University.

 

 

Dear Professor Cohen,

I read the review in The New York Times Book Review of your Saving America’s Cities: Ed Logue and the Struggle to Renew Urban America in the Suburban Age. As I said to my wife, it looks like an excellent and very informative book.

I appreciate what was said about it by the reviewer: that it is an even-handed treatment of Logue.

If I may, I would like to share a few thoughts, memories, etc. with you.

I grew up in Cambridge. We lived on Mellen Street near Harvard Square. My parents moved us to the suburb of Canton on the South Shore in my adolescent years, which was in the late 1950s.

In the 1960s, I recall seeing articles in the papers about Logue all the time. As the reviewer notes that your book notes, Logue was revered and received almost unvarying praise. At that age, being the son of liberal, educated parents, I thought that slum clearance was, unquestionably, desirable.

I was an avid Red Soc fan, I regularly read the sports pages in the Boston Herald. I read many articles stating that it was high time Boston had a new park. It was regarded as not even worth or needing proof that Fenway Park was too small (mainly in terms of seating capacity), old, and shabby. The endless refrain was, when are we going to get our new stadium?

No one remembers this, and Friendly Fenway is regarded by one and all as a jewel of a ballpark. A landmark that will never be torn down.

I moved to New York City for good in my young adulthood. After some adjustment, I grew to love it. I made a good friend who was a nonconformist and lived an alternative lifestyle. He was cultured and articulate but lived very modestly in a walkup apartment with a bathroom in the hall on East Fifth Street between Avenues A and B. He helped me to appreciate Manhattan and to begin to think differently. He was prescient. He said to me, at a time when urban renewal and slum clearance were in the air: “I live in a slum and I like it.” He pointed out that PEOPLE were living in these buildings. (And could afford them.)

I am attaching a photo I took on one of my walks recently of Jane Jacobs’s former residence on Hudson Street in Manhattan. I became familiar with her writings in my adult years after moving to Manhattan. I think she is an example of someone whose plain writing and lifestyle, and lack of academic credentials, may make it likely that she gets less recognition than she deserves (which is not to say that her importance and genius are not acknowledged; and I think she was actually a genius). In my opinion, she is up there with some of the great thinkers and writers who very simply take a fresh look at prevailing opinions and wisdom, go back to square one — or “first principles” — and, in plain language, without overtheorizing — looking with their own eyes — get us to see the world anew. It’s sort of like an Emperor’s New Clothes phenomenon.

How did she manage to defeat Robert Moses? At the outset, I am sure it would have been regarded as quixotic to try. If Moses had rammed an expressway through the Village and Soho, it would have ruined Manhattan — is the word rape too strong?

Jane Jacobs did not like Lincoln Center. I don’t like it either. I recall when I was in high school and Jacqueline Kennedy and others on television were providing a virtual tour of our “wonderful” new arts center, Lincoln Center. I assumed it must have been so, and who cared about the gritty (then) West Side neighborhood where Jets and Sharks did battle? I hate to go to Lincoln Center now. Aside from the concert halls, which I find dark and unwelcoming, the whole center is a horrible place to hang out in, should anyone care to. The buildings are ugly.

Usually, the plaza with its fountain is pretty much deserted, and it’s unwelcoming, as is the Center. The surrounding neighbored now has no life; there are a few rip off restaurants across the street. The few blocks behind the Center (between it and the river) are deadly, or better said, dead.

I go back to Boston occasionally. I was too young to remember Scollay Square before Government Center was built (though people often mentioned it). The Government Center complex has a Lincoln Center-like feel, and I found it very unpleasant and unenjoyable to walk or spend time in or around it.

 

 

Sincerely,

Roger W. Smith, Maspeth, Queens, NY

 

 

— posted by  Roger W. Smith

    November 17, 2019

“You are the politest person I ever met.”

 

 

Those were the words of my late friend Bill Dalzell, spoken some fifty years ago not long after we had become friends. We met in New York City, where I had recently moved.

I remember many conversations I have had during the entire course of my life more or less verbatim. Not every word, of course, but many important, significant remarks I do remember verbatim.

“You are the politest person I ever met,” he said to me.

I recently wrote, in a eulogy for Bill I wrote last year for posting on this blog, that “He [was] …. in many respects totally unconventional. Was a nonconformist. Yet he was one of the kindest, politest, most civil persons you could hope to meet. He was a true gentleman.”

In writing this, I was not (at that moment) thinking of what Bill said about me.

 

 

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At the risk being called a purveyor of racial stereotypes, I think it is worth considering that Bill and I both came from similar ethnic/cultural backgrounds: English, Scotch. The civility and good manners of English people struck me on a couple of trips to England. Teaching true courtesy was something important to my parents when I was growing up. For example, the importance of saying please and thank you. Not just words, but showing gratitude and appreciation. Not making importunate or arrogant requests or demands.

Or, to give another example, politeness to strangers and people of all ages, older and younger. And, when greeted by someone you passed on the street, always returning the greeting. I still can’t comprehend why in New York some people don’t bother to do this or neglect to do so intentionally. In the New England of my childhood, one would invariably respond with a “Good morning. How are you today?”

I have close relatives who were brought up the same way. They have either forgotten these principles or can’t see them when manifested in others. They certainly don’t appreciate them.

I have news for them. I haven’t changed. They have. They have become mean, churlish, and uncharitable.

They can’t credit me as Bill once did. They say, incredibly, that I am an inconsiderate, self-centered, boorish person. What we seem to have in this case is an example of psychological projection, where people vent their own frustrations and failings by finding fault with others. They enjoy making me into a sort of Donald Trump caricature and, having built up this false picture in their minds — and, in their view, having “validated” it by sharing stories among themselves in which I am always doing something boorish or offensive (they delight in telling one another such “horror stories”) — they feel validated. It’s a perfect example of people trying to elevate themselves by denigrating others, using stereotypes that have no basis in reality.

Beware of the narrow minded, petty people who think and judge like this; who can’t see or appreciate people as individuals; who have no respect or appreciation for a person’s intrinsic qualities, for their true nature; and who instead try to tar and feather them by ascribing to the object of their hatred and scorn behaviors and opinions that they have made up.

 

 

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I am still the same polite, considerate person that I was fifty years ago. It’s unlikely that a person would change in such a fundamental matter of character.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith
  June 2019

 

 

 

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Addendum:

 

My eulogy for Bill Dalzell

 

“William Sage Dalzell (1929-2018)”

is posted on this site at

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2018/03/13/william-sage-dalzell-1929-2018/

It’s gone.

 

It’s gone.

They’re gone.

The past. Our lived history. Past times. The particulars. What made them unique.

This past, our past, dies with people. As they pass away. Dies as well as the people themselves.

An era. A generation. Gone irretrievably.

 

 

 

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My friend Bill Dalzell.

I think of him often. Of New York as he knew it.

When the City was affordable, actually cheap. When it was hospitable to artists, writers, and editors; to independent types who loved culture, the arts, and the life of the mind and who didn’t want the buttoned down life.

The New York of art film houses, the Automat, McSorley’s Old Ale House, and the Blarney Stones; of the Metropolitan Museum of Art when admission was free; of the New York Public Library when it was open 365 days a year. When First Avenue bars held Sunday afternoon poetry readings.

When the subway fare was a dime, a glass of beer was twenty cents, and flats in the Lower East Side rented in the 30 to 50 dollar a month range.

Dr. Ralph Colp, Jr., my therapist.

He practiced when psychiatrists did talk therapy and were intellectuals rather than pill pushers; when (as was the case with me) they charged 30 dollars for a session scheduled for 50 minutes that usually lasted an hour; when a writer such as Dr. Colp used a Royal manual typewriter; when a Sunday afternoon or holiday recreation for him and many Manhattanites, such as myself, involved seeing a foreign film.

 

 

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This melancholy, mournful train of thoughts occurred to me today when for some reason or other I thought of Bill, when something reminded me of him.

 

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   May 22, 2019

New York sunlight (and New York joys)

 

 

 

“The grass that grows by absorbing the life-giving energy of the sun becomes [in Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass] a metaphor of ‘the ceaseless springing forth of life from death.’” — David S. Reynolds, Walt Whitman: A Cultural Biography (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), pg. 240

 

 

 

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My longtime friend Bill Dalzell, who for many years lived in New York City, introduced me to so many things when I first came to New York in the late 1960’s.

Among other things, Bill introduced me to cinema and art. We made several trips together to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bill, a New York transplant from a suburb of Pittsburgh, where he grew up, was — like many having adopted New York City as their home, including myself — an enthusiast of all New York had to offer. He knew all the inexpensive, interesting things to see and do in the City.

Bill used to say: “Would you care to hear me sing the praises of New York?” He used to marvel at the fact that so many people of all races and nationalities lived cheek by jowl in harmony. At the richness of culture. At the convenience of things such as getting around. At how much the City had to offer at what were then modest prices.

Admission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was free. The main branch of the New York Public Library was open 365 days a year. The subway and bus fares were 20 cents. So was the Staten Island ferry, one of the fun, vivifying, and inexpensive things he enjoyed doing. (We would get off on the Staten Island side, walk around a bit, have a cup of coffee, and take the ferry back to Manhattan.) A meal of wholesome, plain food at the Automat (where Bill used to love to sit and drink coffee while lost in thought) could be had for less than a dollar. A glass of beer in a bar was 20 cents, and usually every third beer was on the house. Films cost less than two dollars. Rents were cheap. Bill paid twenty-nine dollars a month for a one-bedroom apartment on East 5th Street.

 

 

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Bill introduced me to the paintings of Edward Hopper, one of his favorite painters. (Hopper’s paintings are, for the most part, exhibited in New York museums.) Bill and I, at his suggestion, made a one-day excursion to Nyack, NY to view Hopper’s birthplace.

During our museum trips, he pointed out how Hopper made use of light.

“The light is different in America,” Bill would say. (He had traveled practically everywhere in the world on a limited budget.) By “different,” Bill meant brighter. More brilliant. Yes. Brilliant light. An observation which I do believe to be true. I have observed and thought about this often.

I have come over the years to be myself fascinated by light. Early morning light, daylight, late afternoon light. The light hitting the grass. Different shades of light and degrees of brightness. Summer light. Autumn light. Winter light.

While I would and could never aspire to be an artist — I have no innate talent and only a limited appreciation of the visual arts — I have been taking photographs in the City in parks, on the shorelines, and of houses and streets on my walks, I have posted below some photographs of mine in which an appreciation of sunlight as viewed from ground level is expressed in the photo. I am fascinated by the quality of sunlight in different seasons and at different times of the day.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 2018

 

 

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Addendum:

 

Some relevant information about Edward Hopper.

Most of Hopper’s figure paintings focus on the subtle interaction of human beings with their environment-–carried out with solo figures, couples, or groups. His primary emotional themes are solitude, loneliness, regret, boredom, and resignation. He expresses the emotions in various environments, including the office, in public places, in apartments, on the road, or on vacation. … In many Hopper paintings, the interaction is minimal.

The effective use of light and shadow to create mood is central to Hopper’s methods. Bright sunlight (as an emblem of insight or revelation), and the shadows it casts, also play symbolically powerful roles in Hopper paintings such as Early Sunday Morning (1930), Summertime (1943), Seven A.M. (1948), and Sun in an Empty Room (1963).

Hopper always said that his favorite thing was “painting sunlight on the side of a house.”

Although critics and viewers interpret meaning and mood in his cityscapes, Hopper insisted “I was more interested in the sunlight on the buildings and on the figures than any symbolism.” As if to prove the point, his late painting Sun in an Empty Room (1963) is a pure study of sunlight.

 

“Edward Hopper,” Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Hopper

 

It should be noted that the American landscape painter Winslow Homer did similar things with sunlight in his remarkable paintings.

 

 

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photographs by Roger W. Smith

 

 

1 - Woodside, Queens

Woodside, Queens

 

 

2 - Murray Hill

Murray Hill

 

 

3- Madison Square Park

Madison Square Park

 

 

Madison Square Park 2-23 p.m. 7-27-2018

Madison Square Park

 

 

4 - Central Park

Central Park

 

 

Central Park 11-44 a.m. 11-6-2019.jpg

Central Park

 

 

Central Park 12-38 p.m. 8-5-2018.JPG

Central Park

 

 

5 - Riverside Park

Riverside Park

 

 

6 - Inwood Hill Park

Inwood Hill Park

 

 

7 - Inwood Hill Park

Inwood Hill Park

 

 

 

Isham Park 4-43 p.m. 8-9-2018.JPG

Isham Park, Indwood

 

 

All of these photos were taken in New York City.

 

 

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Posted here below are some famous paintings of Edward Hopper that show his preoccupation with light and his mastery of representing it visually.

 

 

1-hopper-early-sunday2 - Cape Cod3 - stoop, summertime4- Cape Cod evening5- seven am6 - house by sea

 

 

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Edward Hopper’s birthplace

 

 

Hopper's birthplace.jpg

Edward Hopper birthplace, Nyack, NY

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