©1999 A.D. Sullivan
|Silence in the Street||A.D. Sullivan|
|The Ripmster Legcy||A.D. Sullivan|
|Cultural History||M. Alexander|
|Professor Ripmaster's Cross||A.D. Sullivan|
|A Truly Alternative Candidate?||Terrence Ripmaster|
|Railway Fire||A.D. Sullivan|
|Mallows for Seline||Vasilis Afxentiou|
Silence in the Street
A quiet creeps beneath the noise,
hissing of night,
crawling along the Latino quarter
with uncanny ease,
between the rail road tracks
as if in a cage,
a silence creeping over the bones
of the city, easing in and out
mail boxes shattered, doorbells uncoiled,
avoiding the well-lighted places
where doormen might
a silence that rests between
the ruins of flat-tired chevys,
romps along side the wandering hounds,
bounces with the patched
rubber balls of poor children,
stepping aside as policemen patrols,
dancing over the glitter of broken glass,
testimony to some furious prehistoric event
out of which the silence was born,
the memory of silences that have come and gone,
silences buried in the hurried beeps,
trash heaps, spontaneous insurrections,
creep, creeping, creeping
over the snoring bums covered in wine,
over missing-wheeled laundry trays
melted scars of fallen ice cream,
over chalk scrawls written by children
or would-be saviors, over the factory smoke,
the smoke of dope,
the perfume of overly friendly ladies,
creep, creeping, creeping
through the door ajar,
into the ruffled bed,
into the kitchen cabinet,
the bathroom mirror,
creeping along immune
to the cool wind or dark shadow,
to the lives and wants,
to the cold water flats,
to the memories and dreams,
to the broken bones,
to the broken hopes,
creep, creeping across the tracks,
across the bridge,
rising with the sunset, setting with the sunrise,
immune to the call for help,
the cry of hunger,
the scream of pain,
immune, but not immune,
silent, but not silent,
as loud as the work whistle,
the come and go of shuffling feet,
the drip, drip, drip
of water from the tap,
ending in a single moan
from a single man
seated in the corner of an empty room,
staring at nothing.
The Ripmaster Legacy
It's hard to get away from it. Terry Ripmaster started the thing while he taught at William Paterson College, the rest of us tagging along with a mob, so excited that the 1960s could be taught that we never thought to ask why anyone would bother.
What was that old saying: If you could remember the Sixties, you weren't there?
In some ways, Terry missed the important parts of the 1960s himself, attending the university at Ann Arbor when the Port Huron Statement was being crafted -- he unaware of the fact at the time.
"All I wanted to do was get through school," he told me once. "I never occurred to me that something as monumental as that was going on around me."
Later, Terry took up his masters at Columbia, just at the time when the radicals were taking over in 1968.
"But I was married with a kid and couldn't afford to get myself mixed up in all that," he once said.
Yet he had, somehow, found the time to get his head broken open as a Freedom Rider during his undergraduate days, and get himself tossed into a Southern jail.
When he got to William Paterson, however, he found the sleepy teachers college ripe for radical reform, and became the center of the hip movement, inspiring hundreds over the years.
Now, after he's retired, others have taken up the cause, others who indeed had little or no recollection of what the 1960s were about.
I met Raymond Frey in the late 1980s. He was running as a Republican for council in West Paterson, and recognized me from campus, asking after Terry, whose classes he had attended. At the time, I was working as a reporter for the local weekly, and kept to myself my questions about how a many like Frey could respect someone as radical as Ripmaster and still become a Republican. After I moved on, I heard Frey had quit with local politics. Early 1999, I got wind of him again, as reports drifted back to me from western New Jersey, where there was supposed to be a professor at a community college teaching a class about the 1960s.
"He comes to class wearing black canvas high-top sneakers, jeans and a denim shirt," the new account related. "He shows videotapes of such classic sitcoms as Green Acres and blares music out the window of his second-story classroom."
I thought the writer was talking about Terry, and I was stunned when Frey's name appeared instead.
"I just decided to -- like they say -- let it all hang out," he told the reporter. "I've decided to break the mold and home some fun. I'm hoping my students will remember this class forever."
The story did not mention Frey's debt to Terry Ripmaster, or how much he loved the man when on Campus, enough to duplicate many of the techniques Terry had developed over the years, such as plastering the campus with advertisements for the new course, including the door of the president's office.
Perhaps Frey did not have the gumption of his mentor. Terry had once walked into the office of the college president, leaned on the bastard's desk, and staring straight into the older man's eyes exclaimed: "The one satisfaction I will likely have is to out live you!"
Terry Ripmaster had seen the campus build a fascist state around him, fought it tooth and nail, and retired later satisfied at beating it back.
I was sad that Frey made no mention of the man to whom he owed so much, and someone who until a few years ago, had taught in retirement at the very same community college.
I suppose for Terry, imitation equals a kind of immortality, even if no one mentions his name.
As if that wasn't enough, yet one more student from the 1970s stole Terry's idea, dragging it the other way across the Hudson River to the campus of New York University. In fact, Joel Lewis was yet one more of those who professed great love of the old professor, and seeing his name attached to the curriculum at NYU made me realize just how much Terry had influenced us all.
Joel even took Terry's class name calling it "A Cultural History of the Sixties." Perhaps he's kinder than Frey, whispering Terry's name now and again in the midst of blasting music, giving the old professor the credit that is due.
(for Terry Ripmaster)
A famous course we entered
in order to relax, drink beers
and watch the teacher clown about
the middleclass vrs. the radical,
about a time we thought we knew
from the television of our childhoods,
only to see, instead, the CIA bullet
explode Kennedy's brain, again and again
like an over-ripe watermelon.
We heard the painful, visionary
feedback of young voices gone harsh
in rhetoric, young trying to be heard
over the body count. I had thought
I knew the old albums after
listening to them backwards
and forwards, listening for clues,
but I had not truly heard.
That semester, John Lennon was shot
and the teacher cried to himself
with his back to us, while he played
a whole side of "Working Class Hero."
He told me once, in tears, he thought
I hated him. But, man, when they shot
your hero in the streets of Dallas, Texas,
when they shot your hero in New York City;
when they shot you, too, man,
they shot me, my murdered future,
my martyred childhood.
I love you, man.M. Alexander
Professor Ripmaster's Cross
A.D. Journal: Feb. 1, 1985
You could get depressed, seeing how hard Professor Ripmaster works these days, struggling to drag up a conscience in a class without soul.
He looked older to me than the few years of not seeing him justified, parading back and forth across the front of the class like a man drawn on a string.
Perhaps only the last few months made him look so weary, he relentless in his effort to get a rise out of his students, each staring back at him as if they were made of stone.
Michael and I marched right in, different ghosts from a different past, sitting down in front to listen to his diatribe, watching the proud man bash his head against a wall of modern apathy. The crew got its lessons from TV.
THE YOUNG OF AMERICA HAVE BEEN BRAIN-WASHED BY GILLIGAN'S ISLAND!
Or soap operas
Or the Seven O'Clock News.
They have Dan Rather on the brain, telling them in no uncertain terms what is truth: communists in Nicaragua, God in the
White House, though no one seems to have evidence to support either claim. And here, they sit staring at a man as if he was a screen, passing judgement on how his performance pales in comparison to TV's.
We had watched him as much in our day, listening to him spout on about Thomas Jefferson, and how modern education left out the true details about the author of our Declaration of Independence.
An educational system that shaped us and trained us to believe in Good Ole American values.
Yet it isn't a plot so much as a divergence in interest, as the new world comes to place too little value on the individual human being.
Machines spit out credit. Machines issue dollar bills. We have serial numbers on our teeth. We have serial signatures on our manure.
We have faulty pictures of Jefferson, Hoffman, Marx and Paign. Modern students can't relate.
After the students went, we shared an embarrassing silence with the old professor, as he came down front and sat with us, he seeming even more weary now than before.
Yet he laughed a little, gaining a little strength from us, we bringing out that hopeful other time when students still cared, a spark in him that had once inspired him to join SNCC, that had gotten him busted, got his head broken.
He says he hasn't a clue where the New New Left will rise from. Certainly not from the stony faces that confronted him, though he brags of the stack of letters he has received over the years from students like us who have written to thank him for opening our eyes.
Have those letters grown thinner over the years?
I do not ask.
He says he lives in the country now, has a dairy farm, claiming he should have made the move 15 years earlier, before the streets of Greenwich Village emptied, before the old underground buried themselves to keep themselves from dying in FBI custody.
Big Brother has inherited the earth. Big Business grows bigger and bullier every day.
He says he wants to retire, but alas, he won't say when.
He says he ought to give up, but never does, an ember of fury glowing forever inside of him, inside us all, as we all caught it from him.
And in that moment, after the lights of the school podded down, we could almost see it lighting our way along the concrete paths back towards where our cars were parked, warm, permanent, alive and furious.
A Truly Alternative Candidate?
by Terrence Ripmaster
Adapted from his 1996 column
I'm announcing my candidacy for President of the United States right here on the web page of Scrap Paper Review.
I'm sure no one in the national media or are will take much notice. But it's incumbent upon me to state my qualifications and policies.
I'm a retired school teacher and an erstwhile writer. I have always agreed with that old radical Abbie Hoffman that our national presidential elections offer us the evil of two lessers. The only qualification I can honestly present is that I've managed to balance my own checkbook.
I'm also the first candidate to seek the presidency who is not a Christian. I'm a secular humanist, which should, if I'm elected, make me the first such president. If elected, I'd sign an executive order to have "In God We Trust" removed from our bills. We secular humanists don't think that God should be equated with money.
I'll have a hard time gaining any attention because I don't belong to any political party and will take no funding from anyone. I've put aside $30 for phone calls and $30 for stamps. I will allow the media to interview me only on Sunday between 2 and 4 p.m. after I have completed the (Times?) crossword puzzle.
I don't mind disclosing my income. The IRS knows what I make and I have never made any attempt to hide any income or cheat on my write-offs. In fact, except for a mortgage payment, I don't have anything to claim.
If I'm elected, I'm staying right here in (New Jersey). From what I've read, running the White House is very expensive. If world leaders want to see the American President, who we read, is the most powerful person in the world, they can make a short trip to Warren County. Think of what it will do for local businesses!
Everyone seems to be interested in advocating a new tax system. I'd allow all those who work at regular jobs to have two week paid vacation. They can go to the Jersey shore or Disneyland. The rich, who already take many vacations each year, would have to pay $50,000 for each vacation. That would, it seems to me, balance the budget in a year and leave the rich plenty of spending money.
Crime is a big issue. I'd close down our jails and prisons and tell all those criminals that if they do bad things, they must work in a New Jersey Turnpike toll booth for the rest of their natura lives. If that fails, we will force them to be school teachers. If this works, the police can begin to help people who are stranded on the highways instead of arresting them.
As for constitutional protections such as the freedom of speech, I will allow presidential candidates to run four-year campaigns in which they can say anything they want about each other and me. As far as freedom of religion and all that, let them have it.
I know that you are concerned about how I'll work with the Congress. The answer is simple. I won't. They can meet as long as they want and pass whatever lawyers they wish. I'll sign the ones I like and veto the ones I don't like. It's as simple as that. Those who don't like the laws we pass ignore them or hire lawyers to help them beat the rap. I don't see how I can change that.
You should know that I don't like wars. For all those who want to fight wars, I plan to allow them to use some vacant islands off the west coast of the United States. We will collect rent while they are fighting their wars and thus, wipe out the national budget.
Finally, I'm not married. Thus there will be no First Lady, as they call her. This will eliminate media coverage on what this woman says, wears and wants to enact, to say nothing about her limo service. What do you think? A secular humanist, unmarried, who wants to live in a small town in New Jersey. That's not exactly presidential timber, as they want, but what the hell, look at the other candidates. No calls or donations please.
It isn't the sky falling
but timber of the old rail town
as flames lick the ancient cross beams
poles for messages long gone to rot
with streets too narrow for SUVs
parked on either side
the dusty, dismal paved cobblestones
over which fire houses are strewn
flames flickering overhead
the stench of chemical burning
inside the old box cars,
Spanish Passaic lined on the smoke free side
staring in wonder
as if witnessing a fireworks show
not the end of their lives.
Mallows for Seline
by Vasilis Afxentiou
Seline woke and said nothing, just lay there in the sheets, watching Dino carefully but not daring to make a sound for fear he would wake up. I am with you, he seemed to be saying, I will be with you from now on. I will be with you, Seline, forever.
Seline turned over and closed her eyes.
"You do not know how to give," he had said last night. "You try, but do not know how. And you must learn what you want in return."
What was an artist doing in Athens without a job? What did she lose that she was searching for in a country only vaguely familiar to her?
Memories. Ah yes. And endless stories: Parents who uprooted themselves and her from the island, many years back, to find a sure job and a decent life across the Atlantic.
She had memories of running and playing by the water, memories of feeding herself and smelling the sea breeze, hearing it rustle through the pink and white flowers of the holyhock and the flat green leaves of the vine on the warm portch, and learning to swim and dress herself, even memories of learning to fish and sail.
Seline Politou, once stuffer of fish, once assistant to her marine taxidermist father on a coastal village of the island, lowered her thorough-blue eyes, and overcome lifted the covers off herself and sat up on the edge of the bed.
With effort she got up.
Back then her father and she would turn dead, empty-eyed fish into handsome, live-looking, trophies that customers hung on their walls, for friends to admire, but eventually neglected. Seline now mulled over the many things she neglected, had not learned ! from the aberrant stares of the angled 'prizes'.
The shower's warm water made her tingle. She closed her eyes, leaned back and opened her mouth. She spat out the refreshing stuff several times as the troubled night almost faded in lieu of what the day had to promise.
But what did it promise?
She slipped her jeans on, and went to the canvas. She didn't wake Dino up, but brought with her a mug of Nescafe' and settled in the chair. The pungency of the black brew briefly dispersed the persistent sleepiness in her head. She had seen the place again and again.
She saw herself give a hefty shove to the deserted, wooden quay and row till she was well away. Then turn and look back. She savored the crisp, stretching splendor around their sea side home with the slumped, patched red roof, the airy porch, the flowers, the table. But for the vision inside her, she would never see the place that had first nurtured her again--a disco/restaurant now took its place. And she wanted to so much, more than anything else in the world. But her fingers today felt thick, clumsy, undisciplined. The tips were blistered with splotches of colors and the thumb cramped from fatigue.
"How are your strokes proceeding?" Anastasi had asked her at the studio the other day, giving her a pat as she stretched the knotted muscles of her back.
He had looked at her with those knowing eyes, weighing and regarding, as he stood in front of her, twice attempting to say something that he did not.
She enjoyed watching his curiously delicate manner. He used his large hazel eyes to tell more than his tongue--but that morning she pretended to busy herself preparing, not looking at him for long, for she knew he was probing her. She had even evaded their usual patter.
"You're not well?" he had finally said.
"Not very. It'll pass."
He put the stool and foot rest in place, shifted ebulliently with brisk, spirited movement. And he paused a little. He did not sit immediately, but delayed this moment of focus. He relinquished himself to it as thoroughly as to his muse. He was never hurried at this particular stage; he never rushed at this point. It was, she thought, a kind of liturgy in him, just as if he was performing, he was undividedly surrendering.
Yet Anastasi could be as utterly grave or severe. He taught as an evangelist man preached. It was for this thoroughness, she imagined, that she felt esteem for him.
Seline now raised the brush...
...The pristine break of day was balmy and bright and promised good voyaging. She took a hefty whiff of iodine, and her boyish bust bulged. The sail fluttered a bit and she pushed the tiler out to trim it. The bag swelled with salty breeze. The skiff leaped forward hissing as it skimmed the gentle brew like a gull's wing through air. The boat cleaved the sleek bay in two, tacking into the draught. Bit-by-bit the cove receded and soon melded into the checkerboard of gold-brown fields in the backdrop. Ahead spanned kilometers of sparkling Aegean. The small boat pranced onward banging on the ripening crests, lifting a coruscating spray and dozens of little morning rainbows...
...the reverie then scattered into glimmering fragments. She laid the brush back down on a desk scattered with sketches and empty white sheets of paper, a copy of Chosen Country by J. dos Passos, and Mary Magdalene portrayed weeping.
She had heard Dino get up.
She shut her eyes. The tiny garret closed in on her. A sudden vortex made her slump to one side. She caught herself from falling just in time, and sprung her slight, lean torso up straight on the uncomfortable chair.
Two years, Anastasi had said. Two hard years for the eye to break in. "Don't give up," was his favorite infamous statement, "you come to me with a perfect sense of proportion."
She whiffed the heavy blue smoke meandering into her cubby-hole study from the Gauloises Dino was smoking in the kitchen. Her throat tightened and her nostrils pinched. He was making Greek coffee. Its rich fragrance mingled, somewhere along the way, wit! h the silty wafts from his cigarette and made her head whirl. Oblivious to her discomfort she could hear him murmuring/singing, "Take my hand/Take my whole life too..." to himself--the King was The King for Dino.
She sat there listening to him sing. His torso yielded slightly, his back bowing a little with the lyric. Tall and nimble. Crude and rasping, the timbre seesawed, and she pondered what it meant. What was going on inside him to make this harmony come out?
She turned away and listlessly stared at the only two paintings in the apartment, one was an Andrew Wyeth and the other a Norton Simon. They represented her wealth and were sent by her father, who had bought them in Astoria six months after Seline had departed from her home.
She had crossed an ocean and a sea and had been living since her arrival in the ancient neighborhood of Plaka in a house of post-classical architecture that vaunted better days right after the war. The family was moderately wealthy and an old Athenian family, endorsing the old ways, trying hard not to be assimilated by the onrush of world changes fostered by satellite television and her media-nurtured generation. From childhood Seline had known that her future was already planned out. She would be sent to! college, earn her degree, and marry a man with a solid profession, perhaps even somebody like her father. But all that had changed when one morning she left her home with rucksack bearing down on her thin shoulders and trust in a calling.
And I will love thee still, my dear,came the Burns' hyperbole in the form of a tv commercial for scotch whisky from the kitchen where Dino sat.
Till a' the seas gang dry:
Till a' the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
They had been together for almost a year, then she was twenty-three and he twenty-five. He was like nobody she had ever met before. He didn't worry any more about the years ahead than did cattle in green pastures. There was a primal manner in his air an! d a puerile spontaneity that uninhibited her. He had a careering way about him, like a twentieth century gladiator, all was intense sport, love-making, drinking, prancing his shiny second-hand Harley as if he were Marlon Brando and she the counter waitress.
His family had been killed in a train disaster when he was four. He had been on his own since he was twelve, when he had done away with the source of his obstacles by hurtling over a glass-strewn wall. The opportunity had come, just before Christmas dawn! , another inmate and he had scaled the shard-sowed barrier to freedom, bloodied and frost-bitten. Nightmares of the orphanage shattered his sleep often.
A garage owner had offered him a job and Dino had taken his courage in both hands. Though he was still a boy then, he grew up fast to become a man. Yet the strong arms transformed to comforting wings at night. She could have let her life surrender into ! his, and part with all that tortured her, walk away from her own honeyed trial, into the tangy freedom his world promised...
Meanwhile the canvas stood waiting. Elegantly and emmaculently silent, skillfully tormenting, crafting her pain, like picks etching away in her heart. It ignored her and the fever in her hands. Two years had passed four months ago, and still the hues did not fit--clashed like cymbals. The colors dragged slowly, sluggishly, producing a cacophony-- rebellion in parody. There were days when she painted adeptly, but few. She could not account for it; if she could only do that. Dino's deep, black eyes--she could feel it--were upon her from where he sat, this minute. She could sense their moot, fixed look. It had been a bad night, last night. A bad night for love and dreams. There had been depression in the dark of the room, a! tiredness she felt more often than not. He had finally left her and gone to the other end of the bed, and she had lain alone and silent, and sirocco-warm tears ebbed out of her, scouring the hours by.
The night faded once more whence it came.
She massaged the thumb muscle to lessen the stiffness. Veins stood out like winding blue worms on her forearm and on the back of her hand. She dipped the brush into the dish of solvent.
A straight dark line like clotted blood scarred the once soft tissue behind the finger nails. Pigment from the repeated scraping at the palette--a vice, an exercise in maintaining the wounds fresh and visible. All credits of the craft. All the visible signs of hard, diligent work. Texture no.
Dino brushed by her on his way out. She smelled the tobacco on his clothes. He halted and stood by the door not speaking, then closed it behind him.
"The canvas is like a man," came Anastasi's first words that decisive March noon. Seline's first lesson about love had begun. "He will want and want some more. You will hate and love him. Give yourself to him and he will give everything to you. 'Love! is, above all, the gift of oneself',' someone once said."
Anastasi had then begun to paint. Seline's last minute doubts dissolved with certainty. Each undulating stroke charged a longing that had so long been left yearning for its mate. The colors mingled and blended, entwined and braided, melded and plexed and fused weaving a dulcet onomatopoeia plenishing her every pore, progressing so ever softly turning, spinning longingly sheer spring air into a depth that had no end. The dappling of the tints echoed on, ignoring, conquering time. "The moan of doves in immemorial elms/And murmuring of innumerable bees--do you see him, do you see Master Tennyson's sigh in the strokes? You are in love, no?" Anastasi had remarked, putting the brush down.
But the canvas before her today seemed unconcerned, aloof, like Dino. Both promised ecstasy, both wanted her soul. But she had not the strength to serve two masters.
When she had awaken that morning it was a comfort to know that the entire day would belong to her to be alone. But by the time she got through mixing the easels, even the light burden of the brush was too much for her. She had not slept much during the night, she realized, for her eyelids drooped more often than not. She had a drifty feeling that made her dreamlike and lose herself.
"Rest if you must,/but don't you quit." came Cushing's words from the poem Anastasi had drilled into her memory two years before.
Finally, she put the palette down. The morning sun rays dabbed the wall next to her with a craggy segment of column from the Parthenon beyond. She found herself glide into oblivion on the chair. She dozed. She was overwhelmed by her dreaming of her mother, and felt happiness.
She was seldom like this, not ever since she had met Dino. But now, like a torrent, the cumulated snags in their relationship suddenly all deluged upon her, and she was surprised that she did nothing to stop the onset. She recollected afresh the quarrel the night before, recalled the options remaining--put to her; about the painting, she could not remember what had been said to be wrong with it; possibly it was not the painting; she did not know. She retained only the oppressive, mostly mute, suffocation of Dino's demands.
Now, at this recollection she began to tremble for an instant, uncontrollably, and gasp for more air to enter her lungs. It had been a turbulent episode, the worst; like an Aegean August gale, with only a hint of warning, that drowns one unsuspectingly.
She was sinking, she told herself. She was feeble against his wants--whatever these were. And perhaps the giving on her part would never quench the needing on his....
The fingers felt better. She dipped the brush once more and waited. And the vision came again, this time urging and stronger than before. She picked up the palette and gave, yielding herself to the strokes. There was a knock on the door that she did no! t hear.
She was solely aware that the mellifluous strokes did not come from the brush but from her. Like heartbeats, they were as much hers as her heart's. A presence was there, completing a metamorphosis. Unlike before, she knew, the threshold now was scaled, ! the union of her and her dream realized. She painted, all of her, and did not stop her care because now she could not. Like the pulsing in her chest, her will no longer participated in its existence. A being had been freed, and free it reigned over a kingdom of two. The knocking stopped, the footsteps died softly away behind the closed door, and the room glowed in the autumn morning with Seline and her island home, her very own place in the spring, to look at and be close to wherever forever.
c/o A.D. Sullivan
271 Terrace Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07307