Death and Renascence

Excerpt from Chapter 4

Tally: An Intuitive Life, All Things That Matter Press

PJ described the hours and days that followed. “There was a terrible clacking noise beating on his eardrums. Loud. Sharp. Penetrating, like metal against metal, woke him. When it moved away it came back again, stronger, louder, more tortuous than before. How could he bear it? He cried out, ‘What is that noise? I can’t stand it. Can’t someone stop it?’”

A nurse answered, “It’s only a power mower. Someone outside is mowing the lawn.”

“Make them stop it,” he pleaded. “I can’t take it.” But already he could begin to take it. After all, it was only a power mower, a man mowing the grass. The sound became normal.

“What is this?” he cried out. “Where am I? What am I doing here? Who are you?”

With her calm and matter-of-fact voice, the nurse answered, “You were out yesterday for a long time, out cold. Now you’ve had three blood transfusions and you are alive again. Take it easy. Don’t worry, just rest.”

He thought, “How awful. Yesterday I was dead. My God, what a silly sentimental speech I made.” When he woke up and saw that he was alive, it repulsed him. “Why couldn’t they have left him alone? Why couldn’t they have let him remain dead?”

He wrote:

There was really no place in the world for him now. He was not a newborn baby. He had a man’s body, a man’s consciousness, a man’s load of experience, memory. How could he accept life?

He had died and those damned doctors were probably patting themselves on the back, bragging about how they had saved him.

Damn them. Why didn’t they let him die?

He hated with all his strength the life he would now have to begin to live. He turned his face to the wall. He was horribly shattered that he had to live again. His family could have taken more easily the consequences of his death. Now, he, himself, would have to live with them, while they lived with a man who was no longer a husband and a father, but a specter returned to harass them. He buried his face in the pillow. He did not weep, or mourn for himself, dead or alive.

“The Father and Husband died on the operating table forty years ago. I could not continue my former life, could not be the man I was before my death.”

“You said you’d lived past your destiny.”

“Yes. But I had to accept that I could not regain my death any more than deny myself alive.” He was a skeleton, but he was alive. “I had to learn to live again, and find new reasons to live.”

In “Tender Branch,” he quoted the Book of Job:

“For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down,
that it will sprout again,
and that the tender branch thereof will not cease.”

“So when I physically died on the operating table, I was reborn, innocent as a newborn baby, but with the memory of a grown man. But death had taken away all my guilt and replaced it with innocence.”

***

PJ, in yellow cut off shorts and ravaged wicker sandals, was sitting on the corner by the restaurant with his Fair Weather Gallery. People passed by and I heard one of them say, “Look, the Old Man of the Village.”

He would not put a price on the drawings and designs.

“Art is priceless,” he said. People failed to understand that when they took or received a piece of art they were supposed to offer a contribution to the artist, so the artist could keep on working. PJ continued to be mystified by people who took a piece of work and simply walked away.

I sat down on a folding chair next to him, picking up one of his paintings and resting it against my legs. Across Greenwich Avenue, where the Women’s House of Detention once stood, a garden was in full throttle. “I didn’t know if you’d be here,” I said. “I took a chance.”

“The fragile thread is woven from these intuitive acts,” PJ commented.

People sat at the sidewalk café. Again, the owner waved to PJ, who smiled back.

“Intuition is the motivating force behind our actions. It’s natural to respond and act intuitively, and unnatural to think about acting.”

PJ evoked many different responses on the street. Some people thought he was a bum, some thought he was crazy. But others, artists, printers and writers, Village residents, would stop to chat, recognizing him.

“I wanted to talk to you about The Document.”

“Do you want to ask me questions about The Document?”

“Is it a journal? What kind of thing is it, exactly?”

“The Document was begun one year and two months after he split with his wife. The purpose was to identify the ghost of Vivian’s husband because he had been reborn and didn’t have an identity. So the documentary writer decided to take this new born, fully grown baby and ‘make a man out of him.’”

“How do you identify yourself?”

“The first thing was that Vivi’s husband had an idea of one man and one woman. He didn’t know how he was going to get out of love with Vivi and he had just had a hot love affair with JJ and she had rejected him. The whole thing was a terrible mess.”

“You had an affair?”

“It was a big whoop-dee-doo affair that was supposed to take the place of losing Vivian. What it led to was a big deception on my part and on JJ’s part, too. She deceived herself that it was love and that I would marry her and things like that. The affair lasted a year and she decided she would reject me and give it up, it was a sudden thing. This was a tremendous blow to my ego. So that was when the document writer picked up and began trying to get me ordered in a line. He wrote for the ghost to read, that after all, a man could love as many women as he wanted to, as would let him and it didn’t have to mean sex in every case. That was the birth of the great lover.”

Over the years, he had created new identities, new reasons to live. He recorded all his “deaths and renascences.” Some identities were sequential and others simultaneous. Several of these identities were female. The most constant, perhaps continually renewed, were The Writer, The Artist, and the Professor of Love.

“You can die of an overload of guilt and hostility,” he summarized. “I died of an overload of guilt many times and was reborn with the innocence of a baby.”

“Didn’t N.O. Brown say something like that? About a new man, reborn into a second innocence?”

Yes, he nodded. “As one identity succumbs, a new one has to be created.”

In The Document he sought his motivations and evaluated the use of his time and the consequences of his behavior. “And in those early years I lived my life intuitively,” he said, “although I did not know it then, making choices which were completely unconscious, but which all together moved my life in a certain direction. We may not know it, but we make decisions based on what is valuable to us, and these small unconscious decisions cause us to go in one direction or another.”

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Tally: An Intuitive Life, Excerpt from Chapter 1

PJ_1979“But by God, two people have met in the maelstrom, by the fragile thread of human involvement, and intuitively (shall I imagine it?) become one.”

Chapter 1, Entangled

It all began with an invitation, this intersection of lives. Rogue invited me to meet him in Greenwich Village. We came together on the corner of Greenwich Avenue and West 10th Street.

Rogue’s dark eyes had a deep inner glow, his smile a wild spark. “I need to prepare you, Erin, for what you’ll see.” Rogue’s voice was hesitant but melodious. “PJ was a recluse for some time before I met him.”

Rogue took out a key and opened the side door of a three-story colonial building. Steep stairs led along the outer skin of brick wall to the upper floors. Rogue’s sandals and my sneakers fell lightly, but the stairs creaked with age and neglect. A narrow hall with a rickety wooden railing stopped at the only door on the top floor.

Rogue’s call was laughing, tongue-in-cheek, but I heard a note of euphoria. “PJ.”

I followed him into a Village garret stripped bare of any amenities.

“I’ve brought someone to meet you.”

A tall, gaunt man with a bent hawk nose and intense blue eyes peered at me. His whimsical smile was wreathed in a white beard and curving mustache. His white hair fell back from his forehead and almost to the collar of his light blue dress shirt.

The garret was every artist’s twilight nightmare. Walls were scuffed, doors scarred and furniture scourged down to the flesh. In the cluttered front room, art claimed every perspective.

PJ’s long bony fingers swept over drifting stacks of books, papers, paintings, typewriter ribbons, photographs and found objects, all jumbled together, everything melting into some other form, a rebellious lack of form. “Dali would have had an idea of the melodramatic squalor in which I live.”

I looked about in amazement and distress.

“This is how I’ll end up.” Rogue cupped his chin; his smile a concupiscence of anxiety and merriment. “I’m drawn to old age because I want to know how it all adds up, or does not add up, at the end.”

Two World War I gas masks hung from a post by PJ’s bed. I wondered aloud to Rogue, “For a pair of lovers? Or paranoid lovers?”

PJ hovered near a battered desk and primordial Royal typewriter. Behind him, bookshelves lined the long outside wall. Typewriter paper boxes were stacked on them.

I picked up one box. “What is this?” I blew the dust off.

“That’s The Document.” He passed a hand over the collection. “My lifelong stream of consciousness work.”

Inside each box were hundreds of pages of onionskin paper filled with words, single-spaced and in a tiny font.

“For the first two years,” he said, “everything I wrote was rationalization. After that I wrote to renew my innocence.”

In the aura of a fading Village, with PJ’s guidance, Rogue and I began cleaning dirt and debris away, clearing a space around PJ’s bed and desk.
As we began to make order out of the rubble, the deeper we dug the more the vivacious past leaped out. I sorted through photographs of PJ as a young man, his wife and daughter, and old postcards, pamphlets, letters and theater flyers.

I showed a small handout to Rogue:
It is raining love in Greenwich Village (one time the capital of romantic love). Like autumn leaves falling, pieces of yellow paper flutter down to settle in doorways or on sidewalks. About three inches square, they bear, printed in large letters, a dirty four-letter word. Under it is a very artistic monogram: PJ. What other can the obscene word be but: LOVE (a word of limitless obscurity.)

I was puzzled. Why is love an obscene word?

There is a rumor going ’round that anyone, collecting a thousand pieces of these litterings, on delivering them to the WORDS office will get the prize of a thousand (useless) dollars.

PJ (the provocateur of this misdemeanor) confronted with this rumor, smiled, and spoke with love: We’re out to litter the world with love. He continued with a grin, No one can deliver a thousand pieces to the WORDS office because we are underground. No office. We seek litterers all over the world. We have the small papers, printed on one side: LOVE/PJ. These may be handed out to people wherever gathered, parties, theater lobbies, bank lines, buses …

“Those are his Love Tokens,” Rogue said. “In the early 1960s, he left them around the Village, in bookstores, cafés, for anyone to pick up. It was a kind of performance art. That’s when he was the Professor of Love.”
I shifted to look at PJ. He had been watching us in silence. “Do you know how The Old Man met Rogue?”

“No,” I said, loudly, realizing he did not hear well.

He folded his long body into a straight-backed wooden chair. “One Christmas Eve I went out in a terrible snowstorm to a poetry reading at St. Mark’s Church in the Bouwerie. Rogue did the same thing, independently. And there we stood on the steps of the church and read together that the night’s reading had been cancelled.”

He invited Rogue to his garret for a glass of wine. That was how the relationship of the Aging Bohemian and his equally bearded protégé began.

“Are there coincidences in your life?”

Yes, I nodded.

“There were in mine,” PJ said. “It’s incredible how my life became entangled with others, seemed to work in and out of others.”

Summer brought Rogue and I out to the streets. We strolled through the ways and byways of the Village, east and west, spending eight or twelve hours at a time together. We were the new Bohemians.

After wine, tea or coffee at O’John’s or The Riviera, and stopping at cafés for salad or hamburgers, we visited PJ. We left him to attend poetry readings or search for delectable pieces of text in bookstores, ending the night in bars upscale or dive where poets, writers and other vagabonds played pool, parodied their own and other’s poetry, and fell down drunk.

Rogue and I became friends very fast, more rapidly than I ever had experienced before. We talked for hours about poets and poetry, and at the outdoor cafés he introduced me to poets and writers. The weeks were filled with new people, images, sensations and a feeling of lagging behind in taking it all in. I was saturated. Rogue never seemed to stop or rest.

One afternoon, we decided to meet PJ. I got off the subway and waited for Rogue. On the next corner we could see PJ sitting outside with his Fair Weather Gallery. On days when the weather was good, he set up his artwork on the street near his apartment, by the library or in the park.

“Let’s circle around,” Rogue said, “and come at him from different directions.”

So we circled around the block and walked up to PJ at the same time from opposite directions as if by coincidence.

PJ looked from one of us to the other, and laughed.

Rogue and I left PJ in his garret and went to Rogue’s place, where he made coffee and I looked through his bookcases. He read parts of a novel by PJ called World’s End. It began with: “The world’s end has come and gone, and no one is the wiser.”

The book sounded like an original folk masterpiece. It was very intellectual, but not in the scholarly sense. He detailed the history of “intellectual leadership” in the world from ancient times, to its first weakness, and current decadence.

In another piece, for modern times and minds, PJ had redefined the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. They were: the hospital, the telephone company, the power company and your choice of bureaucracy.

In his late 70s, PJ was beginning to bend from the weight of so many years and thoughts warping about in his head like spaceships carrying aliens and exiles. His chest and shoulders curved from trying to turn round on himself, to go back or flee, to see what wreckage he had left behind, at the same time to advance towards death.

“I’ve lived so long, looking like death, because I keep so close to it that death forgets I am here.”

Tally: An Intuitive Life is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble: Paperback $16.95 (check for discounts)  and Kindle $5.99. Tally is in Amazon’s Matchbook program: you can buy the print book and get the Kindle for only $1.99. Barnes and Noble paperback $16.95 and Nook $5.99.

Dancing on Mars by Lucinda Shirley

Dancing on Mars by Lucinda Shirley is one Southern woman’s “Odyssey.”  This book, published by All Things That Matter Press, is available at amazon.com and barnesand noble.com in paperback and ebook format, as well as from the publisher. Read more of my review on Goodreads at: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/582518519