So many of those who shaped my life are dead – dead as the airline passengers who fell to earth one Brooklyn Christmas; dead as the woman I saw speared by a falling window pole on 42nd street. Dead. And, so many of the other souls who merely touched my life – they must also surely be dead. They could not have survived their fragile, reckless lives ’til now. I want to gather them all to me and bury them all in Green-Wood Cemetery – there to find eternal rest in a plot guarded by weeping Protestant angels, ivy-covered Civil War soldiers and by me. Their graves, a stone’s throw across the street from my boyhood stoop, will be dug in the sacred soil where Washington’s troops were slaughtered and the American Revolution saved.
I will spend my final days on that stoop staring into Green-Wood, staring into eternity. I will daily tend their graves while intoning Carrie’s poem – “What is death?” Maybe one of my dead will have the answer.
I visit my hometown a year after 9/11 and find it dusty, deflated and more ascared than ever. Paranoia and para-military security guards are everywhere while humor and spunk are nowhere to be found. I search for New York but it is gone. It is gone because New Yorkers are gone. The city has been stolen from the great people who forged it into the greatest metropolis ever known. But, it isn’t planes flying into unloved skyscrapers that displaces those giants who created the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, Central Park, the Metropolitan Opera, Yankee Stadium, Coney Island, the Bronx Zoo, Wall Street, Broadway, the Brooklyn Bridge and Green-Wood Cemetery. No. Their city has been stolen from them by a Left-Right political pincer movement like the one that dumped my insane Aunt Rosa into Times Square.
Here is how that pincer worked – the Left flooded New York with Chinese and Hispanics who became permanent wards of the state and thus Democrat voters while the Right welcomed them as cheap labor. In the 1960s, the factory owners tried to pay their White union-workers coolie and peon wages. The Whites resisted, the factories closed and neighborhoods died. The imported Chinese and Hispanics poured into those formerly union factories that had reopened as sweatshops and they worked there for coolie and peon wages. Simple. Clever. Lethal. Just as predicted to me on the stoop.
I have Obsessive Compulsive Memory Disorder. I can’t escape the past. I don’t want to escape the past. I am drawn to it. I want to live in it. I do live in it. An edge of cobblestone peeking through the pavement, an ancient painted sign flaking on the side of a building, a patch of wallpaper revealed by the swing of the wrecker’s ball propels me back to the New York of Boss Tweed, Babe Ruth or the Mad Bomber. I can stare into snowy Green-Wood Cemetery at night meditating on the tombstones and conjure a horse-drawn Currier and Ives sleigh with harness bells jangling. I see the horses’ frozen breath flaring from their nostrils; hear their hooves striking the frozen Brooklyn earth. It is 1845 and I am there.
The Battle of Brooklyn, the crucial battle of the Revolutionary War, takes place in Green-Wood Cemetery. George Washington loses but manages to escape across the East River while soldiers from Maryland fight a desperate retreating action across the cemetery and down into the swamps of Gowanus, where I will later work. The Marylanders are slaughtered on Third Street, where I will later live. Thus, my personal battles in Brooklyn trace the course of the Battle of Brooklyn.
As a child, long before I know this bloody history, I feel a kinship with the fallen rebels. Oh, I like Westerns but I love “Easterns” – movies set in Early America. I am instinctively drawn to them. I know every frame in John Ford’s Drums Along the Mohawk. I want to live in that time and I’m sure that in a former life, I did. So, I devour everything in my history textbooks about Early America. And, when I walk on the dirt paths in Prospect Park, or hide in a weedy vacant lot, or merely jump over blades of grass sprouting through the sidewalk, I am transported to 1776 and have a musket in my hand and a powder horn on my hip. All this emotional connection, spanning centuries, is forged before I know that I am living on sacred, blood-soaked battleground. It is a psychic mystery of Brooklyn.