Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fire On Me Gently

What to say?
What to say?
Another day
Uneasy in the U.S.A.
Queasy to the core
The government
That ten dollar whore
Blowing us down some dark alley
With all the world watching.

I'm ashamed of what's become of us!
Of where we're headed
And not just a little scared
(I'm willing to admit
Like John Lennon being tailed by the feds)
Of some new terrorist threat, real or Fox-fed & spun

And three, two, one..
Welcome to Martial Law, my fellow Americans!
We'll just nip that presidential election shit right in bud.

Because Mr. Bush doesn't NEED to give up the Presidency, no no!

Not when the nation's at threat
And you can bet if there's another 911 a-brewing
That old George W will turn the TV a blind eye
And let the planes, missiles, bombs a-fly
Until it's all over but the curfew
Security lock down, nationwide
Orange alert my ass-cid stomach upset
I see red skies at morning.

Americans, take warning.
The fuel is already aflame
And I'm uneasy
Queasy to the core
Because all they gotta do
Is pour on some more.


[Author's note: the preceding poem wasn't intended to be the song of doom that inevitably came out of me. I was actually just going to write some light little ditty to go with "Flameout," the very cool little movie shot and edited with style by my talented cousin Justin Alessandro. Created out of Justin's video capture of a little camp stove fuel accident on the Appalachian Trail in 2004, Flameout is fun & funny. I hope you'll take a minute now to click the link above and watch it for a little laugh and easing of the freakout vibe that strikes me whenever I ponder the eerie possibilities of our precarious position as a still-semi-free nation under God and GWB. Personally, I'm praying that God is our pilot, not, as the Christians are fond of saying, "my copilot."]

Monday, November 26, 2007

Matthewski, Manhattan, Jack & Me

I flew to the east coast last month from San Francisco for the fourth time this year to promote "Dead Men Hike No Trails" my from-the-gut roots and rock encrusted memoir of my hike of the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail. This time it was to Gettysburg for the annual gathering of ALDHA, the American Long Distance Hikers Association. And it was to be a tough gig.

I had quit taking anti-depressants for the first time in nearly a decade, and I wasn't feeling so hot. But I was hell bent on giving a presentation to this esteemed audience, a new spin on my usual rap about suicidal depression, the trigger reason behind my thruhike of the AT. Alas, I was also trying desperately not to drink, not even a little bit socially, as doing so grievously aggravates the unmedicated depressive mind. My mind, anyway. In my circles of friends, be it hikers or artists or whoever, saying NO to a drink is about as hard as, well, it's a bitch.

On the upside, I was in a generous mood thanks to dear friend and hiker Matthewski paying my airfare so I could afford to invest in a couple dozen copies of my book to sell. Matthewski has some kinda crazy faith in me, or the book, or both, that reminds me of my late friend James Hull's love of the book, or me, or both. Before his death in May of this year, James had likely read 100 per cent of the book several times, and hundreds of his favorite passages many, many more times, to the point of having them committed to memory.

So Matthewski's generosity freed me up to be generous with the books, which I was. I gave away free autographed copies to select seasoned hikers, people pointed out to me as having hiked 10, some of them 20 thousand miles of trail in the Americas and beyond.

To Pat & Vickey Kelly, owners of the hiker-beloved Doyle Hotel in Duncannon PA, I gave four copies for them to sell, about a $100 worth of retail. It was both a small token for a hotel so old and in need of repair and a pretty penny for me, money I should perhaps have earned selling and given Matthewski. But he never would have taken it. It felt good then, to help support what is every AT Thruhiker's favorite old hotel. Pat & Vickey thanked me as I went. Shouting over my shoulder as I walked out the door in haste for NYC, I said, "Thank Matthewski!"

Thanks mostly to my anti-depressant derailed brain, my lecture crashed and burned most miserably. For me, anyway. I had been working on it for days, had come up with so many cogent ideas and convincing points, but when the hour of my scheduled appearance arrived, I found myself woefully unable to organize my thoughts. It was a good thing the friendly faces of several friends dotted the audience, or I think I would have broke down in tears.

And then the weekend conference was over, and I was off to New York City. Longtime friend Mike Strickland had recently moved there to be with his beauty Cassie. I had a good tour guide and a cozy place to stay. And from all that came a poem.

If you read this poem, I highly suggest you go into it with the jazz beat cadence of poet Jack Kerouac ringing in your ears. Why? Because that's what I heard in my mind as I saw New York City and thumbed out the words on my Blackberry, almost word for word as you see them here. [This was my first ever thumb-written poem, and I imagine my last.]

Click below to see and hear Jack Kerouac. Close your eyes and listen to the beat. Then open them, scroll down, and when you're ready, read my off-the-cuff take on New York City, a lyrical poem, a piece of pure gonzo prosidy.


48 Hours In New York City With a Kerouac Jazz-riff Perspective

by Rick McKinney

New York City, Zang!
Wow! What! A! World!
Unto itself, and I, come into it a-new
One august-hot Monday afternoon in October
Laugh, gazing over ice skaters at Rockefeller Square and roar
Sarcasm unheard by most in din of city
"YEAH! Melt polar ice caps, melt!"

Just an hour before, yellow-blazing in
From Gettysburg where at the college I lectured and sold less books than ever
Refusing to sit a table and sign and instead attending the lectures of others and learning
Filling my brain and itchy dreamer’s feet with images and words of hikes the world over
Not caring for book sales, giving a few away in fact to great old hikers
Men and women with ten, 20 thousand miles under their backpack cinch straps

Now with hiker "EZ" at the wheel thru PA and Jersey into
Sight of Lady Liberty and lord! what a rush of
Emotions at first-ever sight of holy grail of America-she,
Her newly refurbished gown and flame bright in tilt of rolling Earth away from Sun.
Then, fwoop! A fast dive thru tollgate of Holland Tunnel and un-der-wa-ter to the island
Bought for a string of beads. Manhattan! Manhattan! Pop!

And deftly dropped by Brookly-born & long & colorful
New York life-lived "EZ"
Curbside in Greenwich Village where waitress Jessica waited often on him to one day be gone and be-come Lange.
Brief decent into sultry subway, then OUT!
Into half-light of skyscraper canyon streets.
It's Radio City Music Hall and old friend from high school Mike meets me,
Stows my bag in office and direct to MOMA we go.

[momentary break in cadence]

In the museum I think it's funny, the scene around Starry Night
All people crowding the space four or five feet back from the canvas Vincent touched, snapping photos they could get off the Internet
instead of LOOKING at it and in-to it

At all the dense clumps
of oil painted color,
At the bare canvas behind.
This latter I do.
And this requires assuming an intimacy with the work, getting in close, close enough to make the guards nervous,
but worse the people who,
by dint of silly human nature, become embarrassed on your behalf, get nervous for you. Ha! Let them, I think, and so..
I drink the blue dew of Vincent's night
Marvel at swirling strokes of brush & pallet knifed-paint, peek in windows brightly lit, My nose nearly to the museum glass, the latter
Requisite I guess to protect this,
The only Starry Night on Earth.
All prints and photos of this painting cannot show
I seek and see with naked eye and love it.

Now comes what I've waited for all my life, or so it feels.
For though I have not daily thought of it, and never did it hold the greatness of dreams,
A short and street-bound grounded tour of Manhattan three years ago left me wanting.
So now, with pull and push of elevator cables & weights it's whooooosh!
Up with the gods, we leave the Earth with eerie ease.
Sixty-seven floors up in the Rockefeller Center the doors open and with them New York,
Still thus far the center of the World, to us anyway.
We here in America, where many think with good reason the dream is dead
But where in truth it's right in front of you, always,
Eternally burning in precise proportion to your own desire.

Anyway, the sun sets with requisite splendor and in the short time it takes for me to go from west to east side of building, to catch a glimpse of Uptown and Central Park
Flash! Wow! Back around now staring west where someone has flipped a switch and all the lights of city grand are on and it’s a rainbow of towering industry and just across the way the flashes of tourist cameras pop and pop again from balcony of Empire State.

Down below and stomach growling
Mike says pick something and here
In New York City, it ain’t like you lack for choices
So I pick Ukranian and Mike wavers, skeptical, but seems to grock that pizza won’t do
So meat and potatoes it is and old world hospitality,
Sweet waitress with thick Slavic accent.

Back at Mike’s we open all the windows
But tonight the city’s an oven, all of it, unseasonably warm
But somehow, for non-native New Yorker me, the heat thrills.
Not normally one for TV, nor a follower of sports at all
I luck into the Yankees fatal playoff blow & Dallas’ one-second comeback win,
All in a matter of an hour before we retire for the night.

Next day we walk ‘cross the famed Brooklyn Bridge
Staring through the wooden slats underfoot at the passage of cars, water, time.
Meditative in the cool gray morning, yesterday’s heat a distant memory now with light drizzle coming and jackets donned
I invent a slogan in my head: “The Brooklyn Bridge, as seen in
(insert the name of any movie filmed in New York City here)”

Visiting Ground Zero I am lost for meaning.
Try and try and all I see is a sad construction site
Sad only because I know what was there, and what now isn’t
Sad because of all the death perhaps but more sad that I cannot attach meaning to what I see, sad because the events of 9-11 don’t touch me here, don’t connect to this place.
Sad as I suddenly realize I am standing beside the newly built Tower 7 rocketing skyward beside me when some guy with thick New York accent says, “One year. It took em one year to put that up. Can you believe that?”
And six years later, shrouded in green and black wrapped chain-link fence as though in shame for slow progress, a crater.
Nothing more.

Across the street at St. Paul's I get more of a feel for that grim day
But it’s a warm feeling here in the chapel where the fireman slept in all their gear
On pews left scuffed immemorial
Every corner of the church that withstood the collapse across the street a reliquary
Table, nooks, alcoves all full of pictures and letters, testaments to loss and love and life.
Yes, here I am touched by Ground Zero but not to tears
Tears fell then and often since, but not today.
Today is my day to suck deep the marrow of this city, albeit fast, but to take it all in
As a writer should, encapsulating, if possible the density of it all into a haiku if need be.

In Central Park I let my film-nut feathers show
I want to see the rock, I say to a bewildered Mike
What rock? He wants to know.
You know the one, the one they’re always sitting on in movies
Once in the park I realize how many piles of rocks there are and relent.
We find a deli, order out and climb up one for lunch.

I have just one more wish
One more thing I want to see, and it’s the Plaza
For half my life I’ve known of the Plaza Hotel
First told to me in gossamer-wrapped memories
By mentor Chris who first called me writer
She who worked there long ago as Conrad Hilton’s personal assistant
And saw it all. And it was much. Tales, some tall perhaps but all based in real life of movie stars and royalty, a dance with a prince that lasted to her death at 80. It was her moment, her time, holding the fort for Hilton during WWII. And if you believe in Heaven, as I do, she’s there still, dancing with the prince on feet that never tire.

But therein lies the rub for me, the melancholy end of things.
That Chris died years before my long-envisioned wish to take her there
Take her back to her beloved Plaza on royalties, all expenses paid by me from the sale of the best-selling novel that never was. The corrupt publisher bankrupt and imprisoned, Chris ten years dead, and now the dream a seeming impossibility forever more as I stand outside this castle now caged in scaffold, unable even to enter the lobby and feel the presence there, her spirit.
And the word on the street says she is no more and tomorrow will be condos.

I turn away from her then and stare at Central Park, dumb at last.
And Mike, in his haste and well-earned stress of all his generous tour-guiding
Tacks off numbers, counts down from five when I do not answer his query: what next?
What next, indeed. I don’t know. I hear his haste, read frustration in his face.
Too bad, I think. Too bad.
For all I wanna do is sit on marbled steps of castle, of Plaza-no-more, and grieve a moment, for Chris, for characters I’ve written into life then left alone in purgatory of prose unpublished/unread, for this, for this, for this. I think of Chris.

That night it’s dinner uptown
Some Italian restaurant, fancy
With Cassie, a beauty Mike met scuba diving in a New Jersey quarry
Who now holds his hand over railing of descending stairs, down into the underground
And twirls in fingers long and lovely the pull string of his sweater hood
Little things that bespeak love, the kind of love I have lucky had
Now want to have again, all the more as I watch them together
And hope they stay – that - way.

Next morning and final hours in Manhattan
I spend my time in MOMA, a twenty dollar entry fee
Now twice free by dint of Mike’s corporate pass from AOL
And walking through lobby of another Rockefeller Tower,
The one that Mike works in,
I catch a familiar face out the corner of my eye
“Larry?” I ask, but the face is unforgettable
It’s the face of early 21st century abandonment art, of participatory art
Larry and his signature hat.
And so it is. In a city of 12 million I bump by happenstance into Larry Harvey.

Larry and Marian and Harley, the triad top of the Burning Man power pyramid.
(Or some such corporate nomenclature that does not now nor ever has held my interest.)
We chat briefly, me knowing them full well from 12 years attendance, their recognition of me hazy at best.
Such is glamor and fame, I guess.
No matter. Serendipity has a glow of its own.
And so I walk off glowing, knowing full well who I am.
Full of all the magic that is this mad city
Known once to me only in movies
Now known for sounds like a subway train’s grinding screech
And smells of fresh-cooked everything and perfume of passersby
Of touch of stone and glass rising skyward to forever and ever

[same cadence, slowed waaaay down..]

Yet mostly, mostly, to me
New - York - City will next time
likely once more be
A movie
come – to – life – a - gain.

(Special thanks to Michael Strickland for his photo, "Starry-Eyed")