Omni on the World Trade Center
Total Destruction and then Transcendence September 2001
The Transcendence Continues November 2001
The Transcendence Explodes I March 2002
The Transcendence Explodes II March 2002
The Transcendence Explodes III March 2002
Appendix To The Transcendence: "Bin Laden On The Keyboards, Bin Laden" July 2002
Post-Transcendence: Surfin' USA  November 2002
Five Years After The Transcendence January 2007


Five Years After The Transcendence
by Adam Sobolak

From Lena Friesen's "Carrot Rope" blog, September 9, 2006 http://lenann.pitas.com/

  ...but instead, here's a list [linked from slate.com] of arts & letters types talking about works of art that have helped them in understanding the events of just under five years ago; I don't know why it rankles me that some of them point to works of their own, but anyway....typically Harold Bloom is down on everything, claiming that culture is "numb" - he must be a closet Q107 fan or something. ("Comfortably Numb" was the #1 song on their Labor Day weekend countdown.) One reaction to the events of that day has been linked here for some time, though I don't know if anyone has noticed it, so here it is: I doubt if there is anything else even close to it around, even on blogs that are cold rationalist like K-Punk or Woebot...it may shock you, annoy you, but "Total Destruction and then Transcendence" by Adam Sobolak is unique and vivid, to say the least.

Rare recognition, indeed. Because by the time the "Transcendence" series was on-line up and running in more-than-beta form, the raison d'etre for any discernibly obvious "cultural impact" was eviscerated--and not by my doing, either.

My rationalization's been: between 9-11 and the end of 2001, the United States of America was more beautiful than it had ever been. And ever since the end of 2001, it's been uglier than it has ever been.
                  Hey, don't blame me. I'm completely out of this.
                  And why not? What I wrote in the 9-11 aftermath was meant to be a hit-the-ground-running harbinger. But it turned out to be a forlorn orphan instead.
                  Yet maybe that was a backhanded virtue--insulation from the ugliness, so to speak. An orphan begging discovery.
                  But the will to discover was crippled by farce.
                  And it's beyond people simply being jaded by all the mostly-bathetic 9-11 tributes, including cyber-tributes, out there.
                  A fundamental problem, perhaps, is that 9-11's primary "aesthetic beholding" threads (or at least, the "acceptability" thereof) were cut off early, by the vehement reaction to Stockhausen et al. So, what really happened? It became a cue for kitsch, instead.
                  Everything 9-11 touches turns to kitsch, it turned out. The nature of the beast.
                  Oh, there was hope otherwise; maybe the last dreamy hope came with the post-competition Libeskind honeymoon…but in the end, even the iconic Libeskind got consumed by the kitsch.
                  So, the primary "vital" continuing debate was political, tedious, philistine. Because the "art" was too scary. And moreover, the actual experience was too scary. There came to be a disembodiment from the real-time "9-11 experience", as witnessed in those genuinely beautiful-through-the-awfulness final months of 2001.
                  No parallels to those metaphors of "European Son" and "Sister Ray", to the Moog Gothic, the Ultimate Splatter, the Horizontal Soar--anyplace.
                  Well, maybe not anyplace--but what was most complimentary to that spirit was most matter-of-fact, sober, too prosaic to be "poetic", and all the more poetic for it. (Joel Meyerowitz's photography comes to mind.) But it was strictly "of the moment", less "art" than document; and once its raison d'etre was done, it packed up and moved away.
                  When I wrote what I did, none of this pattern was yet clear. It was too early, too precocious. And maybe that was the best time to do it--validated by way of gamble, an attempt at seeding upon scorched earth.
                  Unique in absorbing itself in 9-11/Ground Zero proper, a little more than what stood there before, and a lot more than what could stand there in the future. As if even the political debate that actually ensued after the initial shock wilts before all, small, petty.
                  And as I've indicated time and again, it was abject, lurid--art and debasement, all at once. Most culturati are too "elevated" to grasp; other folk are too shallow.
                  But it's inherently dangerous. Because as something "aesthetically beheld", 9-11 is fundamentally Fascist melodrama.
                  It's the same logic that might declare the Holocaust as the defining aesthetic moment of the C20--and not without reason.
                  Maybe that explains the defeat; what might truly do justice to 9-11 is a mode of aesthetic that was (supposedly?) discredited in 1945. Not stuff like Springsteen or Oliver Stone. It's not about dignity; it's about depravity. And we've lost the ability to be truly depraved; or else, the depravity's been degraded (Columbine) or gentrified (Vice Magazine et al).
                  We've become too timid, too scared of ourselves. There are too many post-1945 cultural defaults in place. And by highlighting the scale of six decades of accumulated timidity, 9/11 seemed to precipitate the final and perhaps inevitable whimpering groan of a culturally dominant American empire. Really; it's not just anti-American agitprop.
                  Though conversely, the Fascism explains the kitsch. After all, we all know that Fascist art is kitsch by definition, don't we?
                  But it's interesting to compare that next great American disaster after 9-11: Hurricane Katrina. Which did inspire a conventionally "valid" aesthetic response--and that may even be an understatement; it was the kind of calamity that seemed incapable of generating bad art. Maybe it reflected how the powers that be were positioned, but with Katrina, it turned out, it was the kitsch that wasn't up to the occasion.
                  Yet that's Katrina's problem. With inability comes inadequacy. Somehow, even kitsch-proof Katrina wilts before 9-11.
                  The inadequacy is in the absence of badness.
                  But 9-11's problem overlaps. Here, the badness dominates; yet in practice, it's been an inadequate badness.
                  Because it's an unwitting badness. It's failure.
                  Perhaps if there was a difference in my approach, it was in an intuitively deliberate adoption/application of the tools of "bad art"--the untested lineage, perhaps, between Burkean/Kantian theory of the sublime and the Age Of Irony. Trying to hit that same nerve that leaves us horrifically enthralled/appalled by all manner of overwrought, excessive bad psychedelia and exploitation cinema; but on a less shallow, more purposeful level, like if we truly connected to how that stuff really transfixes us, we, too, would become Burkean/Kantians for our age.
                  Irony gone forensic. The ability to channel the "Lotti Golden" over and above the "Laura Nyro"--or even alongside Laura Nyro--and to recognize that in the end, it's all more Lotti Golden than Lee Greenwood.
                  In this manner, deliberate badness isn't simple kitsch. In fact, it stops kitsch dead in its tracks.
                  It's not without precedent, "bad art" as a deliberate gesture--one thinks back to Dada, especially--yet, as with so many Modernist manias for "outsider art", it's seldom had the chance to rise above the gestural level. Indeed, as heirs to whatever Dada signified, the conceptualist art-world "transgressions" of the past few decades themselves suffer from "absence of badness"--or if not that, denial of badness. As if, badness is a bad thing or something.
                  But then, the conceptualists weren't facing 9-11-scale spectacles. Or even anticipating them, much less prepared to respond.
                  Maybe, once again, as an example to look to, the holy Hendrix had it best--though it's the Monterey Hendrix, much more than the Woodstock Hendrix. Right down to the intuition + deliberation paradox.
                  And in my case, from Monterey, it led down to "Dirrty"--affirming Hendrix as the master of the Xtina's Thong & Pool Water school of electric guitar. But also affirming what successful bad-art deliberation really ought to be; a horrifyingly immediate stick in the heart of "timeless expression". It is an absolute product of its period, a frightful freeze-frame of the here-and-now that once was--in this case, the Early Noughts. It could only be created when it was, and it knows it. And as such, it resonates with the truer (and typically forgotten or suppressed) demented soul of post-9-11ness. By being openly abject rather than merely observational, it's beyond even that Joel Meyerowitz photodocumentary of-the-momentness. (Heck, it even knew well enough to treat the WTC in such terms, i.e. not as something timeless, but as something absolutely of its time: That 70s Complex. Substituting Bob Guccione's vaseline'd camera lens for our rose coloured glasses.)
                  And what did it all beget? "Pioneers Of Modern Design: From Britney Spears To Christina Aguilera". Architectural history's own 9-11.
                  Why not? Somebody had to do it. Surely not those "arts & letters types"; it would be the height of clumsiness for them to step straight into that maw of deliberate badness. They need "the distance". They've generated "the distance". And they haven't the tools to violate said distance with any shred of conviction…thus, that nagging feeling that somewhere along the way, they missed something…
                  So, how'd I acquire the tools, then? Well, some epiphanous moments later that five-years-later September provided insight…



Toronto's Roncesvalles Polish Festival, a street fair the weekend after 9-11+5. Saturday evening, 7PM. With the John Paul II statue in front of the Credit Union serving as a Ground Zero for all the Polishness that mattered, a cacophony of traditional music and costumes and folklore, costumed children from GTA folk troupes running in and out and all about and demonstrating pride for the homeland and…I was sensing something weird in the music, something weird in the spectacle. Shearing, dissonant trebly strings; shearing, dissonant trebly voices. Shearing like metal, erupting in jet-fuel fireballs and clouds of silvery dust and the eerie wails of the affected. It was the intensely distorted sound of crazed dementia: the original Metal Machine Music…
                  …yet to those of Polish cultural background, familiar sounds indeed. Associated most with cold-war folkloric propaganda, popularized by touring dance/song ensembles like Mazowsze and Slask; to all too many North American boomer/Xers of Polish background, those Mazowsze/Slask records were a pathological 60s/70s family-gathering rite of passage.
                  And as you'd expect, that whole Mazowsze/Slask party line was a little sweetened-up and overripe and middlebrow as "roots music" goes: cynically speaking, it would have been "Riverdanceski" but for a certain Camelot-era archaeological (and pre-electronic, pre-sample) delicacy…
                  …well, at least superficially middlebrow and all that. It was weirder. No kidding about Metal Machine Music; it was almost a snug-blankety early-Velvets vibe that early Mazowsze and Slask gave off (and maybe Mazowsze's immortal "Furman" baritone was the Nico proxy). Somehow, one can understand from the vibe how this whole Central European zone was prone to Velvet Revolutions and all that; but in a sense, unlike Czechoslovakia, Poland didn't need to import all that Velvet Zappa or generate its own legend-mongering Plastic People equivalents. The old-school fare of Mazowsze + Slask made it redundant.
                  And as old-school fare, it tied back to its own eccentric roots--not so much the actual "folk traditions", as the neurotic 19th/early 20th-century aesthetic-movement rediscoveries thereof, that which spawned any degree of unsettling Art Nouveau/Symbolist/Expressionist decadence + a bit of nativist/fascist junk around the edges.
                  Yet, and especially through the 60s and 70s, Mazowsze + Slask was a "normalized" all-ages-familiar fixture among middle-class Polish North American families "with pretensions" (i.e. setting themselves above all that crass Polkafest-style fare while tying themselves in with "the old country", and all the old-world "culture" that conveys).
                  Ultimately, and inevitably, the family-ritual Mazowsze/Slask went into eclipse, one would assume a victim of elder-generation die-off and cultural change. But the whole "cultural change" thing's loaded beyond mere old-hat squaredom: blame the John Paul II papacy. The Polish-folklore thing, moving beyond the living-room Mazowsze/Slask, took a turn for the extreme; akin to a scary ultra-Catholic ultra-nationalist terrorist-cell call to arms. An evangelical mission, like a kapusta Colorado Springs--and of course, the fall of communism was the last straw in motivating that trend. Even a lot of the middle-class Polish North American stalwarts of yore (or the moderates among them; y'know, not hung up over birth control, abortion, homosexuality, etc) seemed frightened away; or maybe it was just the newest waves of Polish émigrés beating them at their game. And beating them (and themselves) to a pulp, at that.
                  And so I witnessed the result of that cultural metamorphosis that Saturday; all derived from whatever Mazowsze + Slask begat, but purer, more intense, more abstract--a veritable audio-visual acid bath of total Polishness. (One can understand from this abstract dissonance how Poland also became a hotbed of modern-classical a la Lutoslawski, Penderecki, etc.) And adding to that super-mega-ultra-giga-Polishness was the overwrought (and clearly popular, judging by the lineups) gastronomic embodiment in front of one particular deli: metal tubs of homemade onion-drenched slippery-labia potato & cheese pierogi, and potato pancakes so obscenely coronary-pellet-bomb grease-saturated that they practically reversed the Lay's potato chip slogan into "betcha can't eat more than one". And beyond all, everybody within eyeshot of this particular astronomic-intensity Credit Union nexus seemed Polish. Like all the yups/grups/Richard Florida types were steering clear, as though they were made to feel "not welcome". The Polish version of "ghetto".
                  Blood and biography, though, works to my favour--being there, and being able to "take it", to immerse myself in the Pole-bath, I felt like I was subverting the yups'n'grups. And counter-subverting the Poles through such imported yup/grupdom as fair trade coffee from Alternative Grounds (the now-scared-away-from-Mazowsze earlier generations of middle-class Polish-Canadians might prefer Timothy's; Alternative Grounds scares them from the opposite ex-hippie/Broken-Social-Scenester direction). Maybe it's all in the straddling of the divide; or how few if any are capable of doing so…
                  A day later, same location, a polka act--Grammy-nominated, if I'm not mistaken. And this time, it seemed, the yups'n'grups were partying along; it was no longer "ghetto", it was the acceptable happy face of Polishness to and for North American outsiders. And that was the whole problem…
                  According to POMD logic, I guess, the polka is Britney, the "traditional" stuff's Xtina. (Proof that anything and everything can fall back on POMD taxonomy.)
                  Anyway, if one really wants to delve into the most transcendent dirrty hardcore Polish-ghetto ethos (and, happily, from long before the JPII-onward era of Poleobnoxiousness), you certainly can't beat those old Koziolek Matolek stories--who needs Tintin, anyway...

 


THEN, on September 30th, 2006, came the 50th anniversary reunion of St. George's Junior Public School. This is where I entered kindergarten in 1967. This is where I glimpsed the whole world ahead of me in 1967, the real unvarnished world beyond the family plastic bubble, the portentous beginning of the rest of my life. This was…well…my own Ground Zero, step one on the long long path that'd lead to Ground Zero becoming my lover…
                  And it happened to be right in the middle of deepest upper-middle-class Etobicoke. In the middle of Princess Anne Manor, the last of the Home Smith subdivisions. And a far cry from the picturesque English-garden-suburb imagery that "made" the Home Smith name in Kingsway Park: "The Manor" presented itself as the Platonic 50s suburb, curvy streets and crescents and a variety of conservatively contemporary-styled brick houses--but on a forbiddingly generous infinity-all-around-you scale presumably befitting a subdivision answering to the St. George's Golf & Country Club. What Princess Anne Manor did to the "Don Mills" planning model was the reverse of Disney-style "miniaturization": something more akin to a Phil Spector wall-of-sound treatment--yet with a weirdly earthbound final result oozing with the derogatory myth of whitebread 50s Etobiconservativism. This is as heavy and stodgy and leaden as Broadacre City got; if Don Mills houses zip like a Thunderbird, these ones lumber along like a Cadillac--and with out even a scintilla of '59-tailfin flair. Even the curvilinear street pattern clanks along like welded iron bars; none of that be-bop UPA-animated Don Mills squiggle here.
                  The symbolic heart of it all? The intersection of The Kingsway and Princess Margaret Boulevard. Two overscaled residential arteries meeting at a diagonal-compass-pointed four-way stop, anchored by one leaden Broadacre-bungalow per corner. That is all. Nothing more, nothing less. Just an intersection; no lights, no roundabout, no nothin'. Oh, and lots of Big Sky to match the Big Houses and Big Lawns. There may be nowhere else in Toronto with such a Big Sky Country feel to it--but said Big Sky registers as a void. Entropy. As oppressive as voids get. It's a black hole here--a black, asphalt hole. That's the heart of Princess Anne Manor--a non-heart. Or rather, an anti-heart--as though hearts were for sissies. And maybe, under the circumstances, they are. Anti-heart as Zen.
                  In fact, Don Mills may not be the most apropos reference point for "The Manor"; adjacent to the south is the pre-Don Mills proto-exurb of Thorncrest Village--and perhaps PAM's stolidity was a deliberate response to the perceived radiant-heated flimsiness of Thorncrest's "avant-garde" postwar bungalows? Stolid is "best", and even history's borne that out; whereas Thorncrest's been decimated over the past generation by monster homes and McMansions, PAM has escaped surprisingly unblemished (at least thus far, or at least relatively speaking). Or else, those McMansions and McMansionesque alterations which do exist (as well as the popular-garden-journal picturesquing of a lot of those old proudly pesticide-unfree, uninspired-and-what's-it-to-ya green lawns) assimilate themselves all too well. (As for "cultural class"; well, whatever truly unaltered original-owner old hulks definitely have a whiff of the latently Log Cabin Republican to them…)
                  So maybe that's why Princess Anne Manor always seemed so earthbound: relative to Toronto, it was the birthplace of the McMansion ethos. It clairvoyantly arrived at a scale perfectly suited to 00's-style parvenu-affluent SUV-driving hockey dads and soccer moms.
                  Suddenly, the void makes sense.
                  Oh, and it's around here where Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper spent a lot of his youth years. Critics might claim, "it figures".
                  Still, PAM came into existence in the 50s and early 60s; and as a product of its period, it best suited a demographic that might be labeled "Levittown Luxe": stern self-made survivors of depression and wartime who earned their honest keep, thank you. (And darned if any special-interest-driven taxing politicians will lay claim to said keep.) Trouble is, that Spartanness of outlook came to seem real gloomy, real quick, once the more leisurely, hedonistic, mass-media-guided 60s+ sensibility took root; and this happened to be the most psychologically inflexible environment to, well, "go 60s" in. And that's true either in the hippy-dippy or the "Playboy After Dark" sense--such is what you get for eschewing all semblance of Don Mills or even Thorncrest (or even Humber Valley Village, PAM's immediate Home Smith-developed predecessor) jauntiness. For the moment, with the greed-is-good 80s, the Valley Girl and 90210 and The O.C. cults and all that SUV mom'n'dad aspirational devil-may-careness but a glimmer in the eye, "The Manor" carried its industrial-film 50sness like a ball and chain--no "revolution" (except of the tax-revolt sort) was ever going to breach this compound. And those who'd even try would fester and wither away from lack of nourishment. "Dazed and Confused"? More like "drab and repressed".
                  But go a block east of Princess Margaret and the Kingsway, and there it is--St. George's Public School. One's hope for cracks of light amidst the gloom ought to lie within the community school--whether through normal child's activity, or through its assigned civic function; after all, this is where the neighbourhood answers to the larger community and the world at large. It is the paint-by-numbers nucleus of the Clarence Perry-inspired Neighbourhood Unit: the place to learn, the place to vote, the place to convene, the nominal connection to each other and to the Great Beyond. Like, the real heart ought to lie here; especially if the educators--an implicit kernel of humanism amidst bleakness--could help it.
                  Yet the neighbourhood's Spartan gloom still overrode all. School was never more of a morose Schulzian experience than at St. George's. Even the trees were kite-eating.
                  Nevertheless, 1967 was an auspicious moment to enter kindergarten at St. George's; perhaps it was the 1967ness of 1967, the distant lingering aura of Sgt Pepper and the Summer Of Love, which made it so. It was the cue for the neighbourhood's pathological normalcy and decorum to, well, warp a little.
                  And when it came to a new generation of students entering kindergarten, I embodied that warp. I was an ill-communicating, Yellow Pages-reading, free-form oddity--Asperger's before Asperger's was cool. A dash of kindergarten psychedelia dropped into the hitherto soaitlaced-it-squeaks.
                  Which'd ultimately lead to some picturesque school-year side journeys, including special classes from 1969-71 and an alternative-school adolescence from 1978-81. (Trivia: me and Stephen Harper finished in Richview Collegiate the same year--1978. He graduated; I freaked out and went to SEE School.) Even that kindergarten year felt a little flakily non-placid and unsettling, definitely of the fall-winter season that'd bring us "Axis: Bold As Love" and "White Light/White Heat" (though maybe as such things go, the 5th Dimension's "The Magic Garden" is more environmentally apropos). But for all that autistic oddity, I knew where I was, I knew my fellow students, I "engaged" in some strange offbeat worm's-eye manner. Psychedelic I may have been; but, it was crossover-hit psychedelia. Maybe I portended something, but the overriding social and behavioural decomposition within the school system hadn't set in yet; we were still "all together", no cliques, no segmentation, etc. As youth, we were the soul of the neighbourhood. We couldn't help where we lived; we just configured our environment the best we could…all of us, even the weirdos among us…
                  And it remained the case through my St. George's years; by Grade 6 in 1973-74 I was an encyclopedia-reading population-memorizer who was all alone in iconoclastically sitting out Halloween (wearing silly costumes while collecting unhealthy treats door to door, yawn, why bother)--yet we remained a collective. I knew my Wacky Packages; I knew my 1050 CHUM hits. I was "of them", even when I wasn't.
                  Otherwise, I wouldn't have been at the reunion. The place, and its cast of characters, had made its imprint.
                  And that's in spite of the fact that in more than just behavioural traits, I was never that strictly anchored to the neighbourhood; it was always part of a "bigger place", and an often dynamic one. It helped that my family itself only moved to the neighbourhood in 1967--in context, a young, electrifying, alien presence. Or that there were relatives, grandparents, aunts, uncles elsewhere, including back in the old urban turf near High Park and along Roncesvalles, which I visited (and followed the car-window path to) often enough so that I was a downtowner and a suburbanite at one and the same time, at quite a young age--and from there, looking beyond to other unknowns.
                  Given what all of that led to--a customized-through-careful-heresy Jane Jacobite urban-cultural-class consciousness--it's a little surreal that I didn't follow the alternative-school-type pattern and altogether reject the mythically strait-laced-evil-suburban-conservative St. George's past. These were, instead, all just more realms for me to straddle, rather than reject--unless the straddling implies a form of rejection: a rejection of excess purity and complacency, an acceptance of dynamic heterogeneity. And having witnessed friends and family suffering from being overly anchored to various specific stifling realms, I can understand. Sure, I might not personally choose to live here in "The Manor"; but a part of my past lives here, and so does a certain beyond-it-all empathy. So, if I was virtually alone on Roncesvalles in '06 in straddling the Polish-and-alt-cult divide, you know where that whole thing came from…
                  I anticipated the St. George's 50th anniversary as a kind of cultural closure, regardless of how many of "my generation" might be there. That big necessary Madonna-cliché dose of "This Used To Be My Playground". However poetically appropriate it may have been, it was a grey, gloomy, mostly rainy day.
                  And it struck me: this place was an archetype. St. George's was the absolute textbook-illustration embodiment of the postwar North American "public school". Two single-storey classroom wings right-angled off a central administration/gymnasium/library area, red brick, rectilinear, in the middle of affluent Broadacre suburbia--it was too perfect. If not "distinguished", perhaps--by 1956, this was getting on pared-down hack formula. (It's definitely no Sunnylea, let alone Crow Island.) But it became clear how I developed an oddly sensual bond with the archetype, to the point of university papers and such: it was in my blood. The perfect (even if to the point of banality) school breedeth a perfect obsession.
                  And it doubly struck me, relative to my 9-11 reflections: this is where, for me, the true horizontal soar, the Silver Tightrope, was born. With an archetype like this, everything spreads t/w transcendent infinity. Contrary to the neighbourhood's implicit conservative constraint, I knew no boundaries.
                  As for the reunion itself, the environment, predictably, was a little bit eerie--not least the kindergarten, which has scarcely changed over nearly 40 years, same wooden coat racks, same everything. To say it was haunting doesn't get to the bottom of it (how did the mind behind POMD emanate from this?).
                  A few old teachers (including the immortal Mr. Kretchman of "insufferable jabberwocky" fame)--and surprisingly few students of my vintage there (in one case, now himself a parent of St. George's students). Others I knew were younger, or older (and re the older, I came to realize how poignantly small-town-Ontarioish the milieu of Princess Anne Manor's "founding families" now seems, especially relative to where Toronto--my Toronto--is today). But what was more shocking than the lack of my old classmates now (which can be excused through the usual grown-up moved-on leading-their-own-hectic-lives reasons) is what I discovered, inadvertently, while perusing the sign-in book: how many of my classmates were at the St. George's 25th back in 1981.
                  Shocking in that-how old were we? 18, 19, 20? It'd be like the "Lindsay Lohan" generation of St. George's students attending the 50th en masse--which from all visual evidence, was hardly the case. (Indeed, there seemed to be scarcely any attendees significantly under 40, let alone under 20--much less those who weren't yet "settled down".)
                  Why did so many of us attend in 1981? Those of my year? And why does it all seem so freakishly implausible now? What happened, demographically, sociologically, over a quarter century?
                  Presumably, we had that intuitive "neighbourhood bond". We grew up with it; we were raised with it; we maintained it even through our late teen years. And it was a neighbourhood bond defined through the neighbourhood unit; not a perhaps extra-neighbourhood bond defined through some text-messaging tribe or subtribe. Simple physical coexistence brought us together; and it wasn't old hat, it wasn't square. Not even in 1981--at least, not within this neighbourhood. The terminal splintering of school cultures and student cultures hadn't taken full effect yet.
                  A lesson in civic values? While I'm hardly a strict "cultural traditionalist", I do admit to missing whatever bonded us together so--and indeed, it's regrettable that the cause of such virtuous bonding has been hijacked by those euphemistic "cultural traditionalists", conservative Christians et al. Once upon a time, there was no such stigma; it was a value universally held, and one did not need to choose a sect or tribe in order to create it through artifice. (Sure, the neighbourhood was more demographically homogeneous then; but…)
                  Heck, even I was at the 25th--even though, as an alternative school graduate, I ought to have rejected whatever values the whole school, neighbourhood, et al represented.
                  But now-- 19-year-olds don't go to these things, at all. It'd be bizarre if they did.
                  And, ever a realmaddler; I somehow earn the good, natural old-school-buddy rapport with former classmates who may now have the kinds of jobs (bank execs et al) that are pretty polar opposite from where I am today. No snobbery; no jealousy. And with strange empathy; I find they share a now-rare, innate quality of decorum, and I'm impressed, really. There are lessons to be learned here. However conservative I'm not, I'm weirdly not anti-conservative.
                  I want to keep some kind of enduring social network going with them. No, really. I do. They're decent people (I guess).
                  And so telescopeth almost four decades. At the beginning of which, the WTC was but a vast excavation site. As it was at the end, for that matter.
                  And it was all a perfect lead-in into Toronto's first Nuit Blanche, a spectacle as blissfully dreamy as, well, the Fifth Dimension's "The Magic Garden". Especially when, in my case, you don't go until, well 4 or 5 or 6 in the morning--only a small half-day step from kindergarten at St. George's to Darren O'Donnell's "Ballroom Dancing", kids DJing with balls bouncing all about, etc at the University Settlement House…so much better in the woozy wee hours with Nuit Blanche-ing students and artsies crashing out, etc…
                  Interestingly, one old St. George's teacher was actually involved (as a sidebar to currently being a Gardiner Museum volunteer) in Nuit Blanche, to my surprise. (Maybe that allegorizes the "cracks of light amidst the gloom"?) But as far as who else at the reunion goes, well…anyway, who'd a thunk the autistic weirdo would be the Nuit Blanche-ing one. On second thought…
                  Oh, and one big (and rare, given the under-attended lack of opportunity) shocker from the reunion, though; finding out through unexpected second-hand that ex-classmate Richard Rosen was found dead in his New York apartment the previous spring. (Cause unknown.)
                  Oh, and Ingrid Alt didn't come. Not that I expected her or anything (though it certainly would have taken the reunion experience to a 9-11 level of melodrama…)

 


Oh, and one last epiphany for 2006--a "near-lover experience", we might call it.
                  For ages, I regarded my 1984 Polish Summer Of Love as a "type specimen" affair; something so blissfully perfect at such the right moment that it couldn't be equaled or approximated. Out of circumstance, it was the first and last of its type--and given how Ground Zero ultimately became my lover, it's probably just as well, to spare the innocent. But back then, I was the innocent. And maybe it was but the autistic/Aspergers' glimpse of "the other side"--but, what a glimpse.
                  Well, as the Ground Zero metaphor implies, sex = death. Grisly, melodramatic, shocking death. It may have been love; but the net effect--nothing to do with she, or I--was more like murder. Its end was like an arrest--prosecution for a "crime" committed, followed by a long stint in prison. Oh, a productive stint; but it is prison, all the same. Where even any productive, non-destructive relationships potentially taking place might be more akin to "prison relationships"; all about pen-pals and conjugal visits--the pathetic, anaesthetized coupling of terminally damaged souls, all within a vacuum. The "young loveness" is forced, or farcical, or gone. And the older one gets, and the longer the gap gets, the clearer that is.
                  But then, the strangest thing. An old friend died in January; which led--in that same shimmery-poignant "telescoped time" way as the St. George's reunion, albeit within a left-fieldier realm--to a lot of reconnection. Among those reconnected-with was a former girlfriend of his whom--for reasons primarily hinging upon an instinctive grasp of the Tenth Commandment--I'd never seriously "considered" before. Though it's safe to say that if I had been seeing somebody like her 10 or 20 years before, it would have been positively electrifying. (Whether that's for good or for ill, I do not know.)
                  Thus, when things took a tentative (albeit unconsummated) step toward the "serious" between that ex and myself, it appeared-- totally unforeseen --like the stint in prison was over. Like a fairy-tale happily-ever-after ending --and one that was up to the Ground-Zero-loverdom challenge, yet. (Especially with our now being in our 30s and 40s, and presumably older, wiser, etc. Something inherently less shallow.)
                  And adding to the dazzle is that the precipice of our near-relationship coincided with the "twice my age" moment relative to that Polish Summer Of Love.
                  It was all sending an extraordinarily intense message. Like this would loom higher still--and more lastingly?--than that love of half my lifetime ago. And at a perfect moment when it was finally safe to do so.
                  For that reason, I played whatever might've been emerging with the greatest restraint. Hedging the "love" idea in terms of universalities, etc. Knowing that this "wasn't serious"--yet. A serious friendship, maybe, hopefully--a deep bond. Something which could be a loadbearing platform for something bigger, if necessary.
                  But this prospective "thing happening" not only awakened me to something long-dormant, it got my whole past into flashback mode. I was reliving episodes, hopes, dreams, travels, journeys, framed by whatever was portended by this "something bigger". Or, at least I could have. Even there, I practiced restraint--like I was frightened of something, something really intense…
                  Sadly, the "something bigger" wasn't meant to be. There was no fairy-tale ending. My fright was justified; the damage was done, the years in prison had taken their toll.
                  Though maybe because of that, it was merciful that I took the "greatest restraint" strategy--it did salvage a friendship, or at least a connection, and staved off catastrophe in the process. But, symbolically speaking, the collapse of the relationship-in-the-making felt…final. A closing of a circle.
                  Even before its collapse, I anticipated it being the last--or at least the last best chance--of its young-loveish sort; thereafter, chronology, or the psychological effects thereof, or even just plain common sense (rats, phooey), gets in the way.
                  A hauntingly melancholy collapse, indeed. It isn't that I "feel my age", so much as I feel the age around me. I could wind up the last person standing; but, that's a lonely place to be, especially with all the lingering ghosts. Yet to deny the ghosts is a delusion.
                  Revisiting that St. George's kindergarten was touching enough. Imagining if she was with me at the time is just…beyond…anything.
                  But there's a consolation. When she and I reconnected on Boxing Day '06 (5 years to the hour since my Circle Line tour of Manhattan!), we discovered that the delusion was mutual. We were both in a state of flashback-induced madness at the time. (Let's just say, her now-deceased ex haunts us still--albeit in a most delightful way. Maybe as a guardian angel.) Which affirmed that our continuing friendship was real--or at least a constructive, respectful work-in-progress. And, not without a "love-esque" element, either--it'd be a shame to blithely throw it away (after all, something had to start the delusion).
                  Maybe that's a reason it was "meant to happen" now, rather than 10 or 20 years ago.
                  So, there's the sun peeping through the melancholia; maybe a necessary melancholia. Yet, in the melancholia, I discovered a metaphor.
                  For America. The United States of America.
                  It's why it (at least as embodied by NYC proper) was more beautiful than it had ever been, in the immediate aftermath of 9-11. It's as if America had been jolted awake from a drought, a long spell of sinking cultural slumber and rot--born out of ill-decision and environmental circumstance, and nothing to do with any supposed "Age of Irony" per se. Don't blame 60s radicalism; don't blame 80s televangelism; don't blame anything which sparked any of that. Blame everything--and call it bad karma, perhaps. It's whatever turned America into Ugly America.
                  But all that ugliness seemed to vanish in the jet-fueled angel dust of Ground Zero. Like something long-suppressed was rediscovered--not hatred (i.e. of Arabs, Muslims, etc), but love. Indeed, the hate seemed for the moment like the vulgar anachronism of the ignorant.
                  And I felt that love in NYC, Xmas of 2001, through and through. It used to be a threatening place; no more. Now it seemed like Prague-after-perestroika --only better; because it was NYC, after all. It was magical. And it seemed the cue for all of the USA to follow.
                  Yet, even that was too much to bear. The damage--the pre-existing damage, never mind that inflicted on 9-11 --was done. The place was too far gone--America's years in its own self-inflicted "prison" (combustion-engined, or cathode-tubed, or whatever) had taken their toll.
                  It's a place that feels haunted. Not by 9-11 per se, but maybe by the 20th century at large--perhaps the Eisenhower era most of all, but even going as recent as the Clinton era. It's like all of its past stands floating in some neurotic cross-generational corporate-logo'd suspended animation from 1955, 1965, 1975, 1985, 1995, or even 1995's nostalgia for 1955. It's spectral, and frightened. And maybe, in living history, it always was.
                  No wonder it "went ugly". It's the only way it could sustain the delusion, by pretending the haunt doesn't exist.
                  9-11 was a metaphor for America's own melancholy collapse. Except for those illusional first months, it didn't herald any renewal--at all. It was the last best chance--and what a chance it was--but it was too late.
                  And that may help explain why what I wrote got buried in the rubble. America no longer merited it.
                  But oh, those first months. Never mind Ground Zero being my lover; it ought to have been the USA's lover; the first such lover in ages, and maybe the greatest ever. They were looking a gift horse in the mouth. And they blew it.
                  To think--I witnessed the hope at its very end. Its absolute very end, right at the poignant epicenter. Within a day the Ground Zero observation platform next to St. Paul's Chapel opened--that was the official tipping-point toward tourist-trapdom. That's when the kitsch began. And no turning back. Ever. Again.
                  At least I paid my tribute; I salvaged something. I don't know if America can.
                  Boxing Day 2006. My gift for her was a jar of Pine Extract ("Product of Bulgaria"--it's like sweetening your tea with a tree). Her gift for me was Stephen Davis's "Hammer of the Gods".


Thank You
(Page/Plant)

If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you.
When mountains crumble to the sea, there will still be you and me.

Kind woman, I give you my all, Kind woman, nothing more.

Little drops of rain whisper of the pain, tears of loves lost in the days gone by.
My love is strong, with you there is no wrong,
together we shall go until we die. My, my, my.
An inspiration is what you are to me, inspiration, look... see.

And so today, my world it smiles, your hand in mine, we walk the miles,
Thanks to you it will be done, for you to me are the only one.
Happiness, no more be sad, happiness....I'm glad.

If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you.
When mountains crumble to the sea, there will still be you and me.

…finished January 1, 2007





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