Married student housing was, and probably still is, located at 60 Haven Avenue, a part of Manhattan that is the island at its narrowest, just south of the George Washington Bridge. The building was, and probably still is, far taller than anything else in the Washington Heights neighborhood. My wife and I lived on the 22nd floor with excellent views to the south, east and west. From the living room one could see all the way past the verdant shire of Central Park to the twin towers of the World Trade Center, where I would be working not too long after writing the letter below, the third installment of letters from a string-tie folder of letters labeled "summer of 1988 to the spring of 1990." This letter like the last is addressed to a friend who was living in Madrid teaching English.
During the holidays the medical complex cleared out. My wife, as she always did during Christmas and summer, traveled, while I, as always, stayed home with the cat. Downstairs and up Haven Avenue half a block was an excellent small deli; one could always get a good chicken cutlet sandwich on a hoagie roll as well as quart bottles of Budweiser, Miller, Coors and Colt 45.
Beware. There's plenty of preening below from a schoolboy who is chock full of Bukowski and suffering from cabin fever. I don't think I fully grasped what Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is about on the most basic level and concomitantly what it means to be chivalrous -- be true to your word. My confusion in this regard presaged decades of woe.
Green corduroy topcoat -- that's what Gary was wearing when I ran into him on the street of 168th on my up to Broadway and the subway and another workday and another Friday crossed off the calendar. I shivered in my 49ers hat and Harris Tweed and looked on at Gary's quarter-inch-length beard growth and all his high tide and good cheer, he, with just one more exam to go and then off to history-making Berlin for eight days, a solitary life-exuding hipster outfitted in a pretty Arabian cap and handsome green corduroy topcoat (not new cardboard-like corduroy but corduroy that has been sweated on and loved in and cleaned and toiled over and sweated on and loved in and then cleaned again). He looked like Mendoza -- bubbling, effervescent, giddy, boundless Mendoza back from Morocco and Spain and habitats of sand and rail -- but with one exception: he was clean. He was clean, and therefore, not too much real. Where Mendoza was jock itch, hair grease and dirty Levi's, Gary was spotless, colorfully immaculate and snifter scented -- he was the Bloomingdale's, the Macy's version of the world beat globe trottin' get funky middle-twenties young man boho. But that was enough, especially seeing that green corduroy topcoat: it was the nail in the coffin, a symbol for my distraughtness, a searchlight of trust and hope and joyfulness cutting through the fog that was me. Oh my. There I was slinking off to my office job in the below-freezing morning looking like a vampire at daybreak and out of the pale blue I'm intercepted by a happy-as-happy-can-be green corduroy elf. What a slap in the face! What a stake to the heart! All I could do was simper and shuffle my feet and think about the time when I used to be full of life, when I giggled and bubbled with the best of 'em, when happiness and hope were part of my day and distraughtness was beat by two aspirin and a catnap. Finally he left, telling me that he'll be back on the 23rd and that we ought t'get together for Christmas dinner. I say sure, I'll be around. He says we'll have to smoke some weed. I say sure, and tell 'im that I hope he spanks the monkey while I sit grinning in his living room. Then I'm off again, slinking to the subway, worried that I might be ten minutes late for work.
Oh what a grievous ungreen unreal mess worklife is.
This Saturday morning while puttering around the bedroom I found some of Ashley's discarded yarn. One fragment was ruby red, a prodigious clump, the other was emerald green, a smaller share. I gathered 'em up in my palm and clutched tight. What should I do with 'em? I thought about throwing 'em away. But that seemed anal and unromantic. What could I do with 'em? Bookmarks? Desk ornaments? Ashley would just tell me to toss 'em out. So I marched into the bathroom and popped 'em into the toilet. The yarn floated nicely, resting on top of the water and executing little lazy pirouettes -- red on green, my own Christmas decoration. I didn't get to appreciate it for long though because Ashley called me out into the living room to sweep the floor. In about fifteen minutes I had finished sweeping and had to take a piss (I'd been drinking a lot of coffee); I walked into bathroom, lifted up the toilet seat, and let 'er rip. Mid piss I looked down and realized that my yuletide achievement was groaning and boiling in urine -- I had forgotten that the yarn was in there. No problem; it felt good, like this was the way it was meant to be. I sharpened my aim and really shot the fragments to hell; I submerged 'em completely: red and green crawling down to the mouth of the cave. I flushed and they disappeared, violently. Totality, yessiree.
I wanted to tell you that I've recently finished reading SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT. It's nothing special; it's pretty good though and it does seem to be consistent in theme with the rest of this doggerel. Recapitulation is a heavy burden though and one that's made considerably heavier when drinking quarts of Miller (because they had no Coors at the deli) that keep foaming up and shooting out of the glass and onto books that rest innocently on the table; that and the fact that work looms large and unhappy and eight hours away (it's close to midnight); but Ashley has left for Oregon and I'm alone and Snuz is asleep and I'm working on one of the last Cubans and as Miller says in THE AIRCONDITIONED NIGHTMARE, "God is Love"; so put all that together and here goes. Well, come to think of it, it does seem like too much to do right now. But I was going to say something along the lines of this: THE GREEN KNIGHT is exactly about what I was beer-dribbling on in that last letter I sent to you: time and sin. Time is sin, the possibility to sin. But where I was convinced that there was no way around this, Gawain shows that there is, and that's by being timeless -- he doesn't sin (he does fuck up once though by accepting a girdle from a devilish queen in the hope that it'll protect him from a deathblow of the Green Knight's ax; so he isn't truly timeless; anyway, it's all ideal, it's all written -- that's the best we can hope for). You know the tale? The Green Knight comes stomping into Camelot on New Year's Day and offers anybody that wants it the first punch. Everybody who's anybody is there in Arthur's big feast hall slugging down wine and exchanging gifts when the Green Knight bursts in and makes his challenge. The catch is that a punch is not a punch but an ax blow to the neck. Gawain, a nephew of the King, jumps up and accepts. The Green Knight has just one condition: that in one year's time -- next New Year's Day -- the knight who accepts the challenge will travel to the Green Chapel (nobody in Camelot has ever heard of the Green Chapel) and receive a return blow. Gawain agrees, thinking that the guy is a shithead; that he'll chop of his head and that'll be that. The Green Knight hands Gawain the ax and Gawain swings with mighty force and the Green Knight's head falls to the floor and bounces underneath a table. The Green Knight steps forward (a giant man all garbed in green) and picks up his head. People can't believe their eyes. Gawain is shitting his pants. Nobody makes a sound. The Green Knight, his head in the nook of his left arm, jumps on his horse and clatters out the door hooves sparking. That's where the story begins. And Gawain has to spend the next three-hundred-and-however-so-many days shitting his pants and getting ready to die.
We turned our backs on academia. Thank God and let's make it count because you can't go back home.