12 November 2012

Call It A Night

streets of brooklyn:  11.12.12
On days off of school, Mom would sometimes take us to the Milwaukee Museum, which, if it were in New York, would be called The Museum of Natural History.  We didn't have Teddy Roosevelt out there but we did have the Pabst and Schlitz families, as well as an exhibit called, "The Streets of Old Milwaukee."  I couldn't get enough of that display.  It was late 19th century urban midwest and it was redolent of an exaggerated sentimentality, prairie social convention, and what George Mosse would later teach us as good German values of order and patriotism.
streets of old milwaukee, milwaukee museum
Our peculiar expression of "Sewer Socialism" made us very proud.  Victor Berger, the first Socialist elected to Congress from Milwaukee, preceding Meyer London of New York, as well as Emil Seidel, Milwaukee's Socialist mayor (and Eugene Debs vice presidential candidate in 1912 for the Socialist Party nomination) were heroic figures in my youth, their era en-waxed and exhibited figures and ideas, on display in matter or in words for the day off meanderings of suburban school kids looking for time to kill.
victor berger
The Streets of Old Milwaukee have never eluded my imagination.  I think I've always been chasing them.   Depending:  either in the Springsteenian or Homerian sense.

Through the vacuity of the groovy sixties and seventies; the repetitive narcissism of the eighties; the compromised, ephemeral nihilism of the nineties; and into the brutal violence of the twenty-first century naughts--that amounts-to-nothing of a decade of countless lives lost for access to oil on the most cynical one hand and a valorous defense against Islamo-fascism on the other hand (and every opportunist making every advantage in between.)  Some okay music.  A decent local food movement.  Bike lanes. Yawn.

I've never doubted the human capacity to screw things up.  And as a little kid, it always struck me as odd, macabre and monumentally pathetic that a museum needed to display a yellow-leaved lit era, gooey with nostalgia, as just barely out-of-reach.

So time seemed to slip away like polar ice caps, flooding the mind, while angels, like those in Jacob's deram, ascended and descended from here to there--and the other way, too.

The angels laughed at standing-still-time; at men who resined memory.  And so we became, in the face of heavenly mockery, men of action.  Like Father Jacob, with a rock beneath his dreaming head, there was only so long a man could bear to stay in one place, seeking his God, before it was time to move on.    No sooner did Jacob realize that the divine could be found in the vertical axis than he intuited the need to keep driving forward, along a horizontal plane.

In the calendar grid I try to keep current, I am on Jury Duty Tuesday followed by getting in my car Wednesday, driving to Milwaukee, and retrieving from Mom's collection of family treasures a stained maple table and chairs that belonged to her mother; a small, wall-hanging grandfather clock; and a wicker storage chest, which housed afghan blankets knit by grandma and Mom and an enfolded Houdini mini-me, buried, beneath the streets.

I'll show up in the morning at Kings County Court; but because of the hurricane will stay close to home, helping provide further relief to the streets of old Brooklyn, torn, tattered, and much beloved.  We're feeding and clothing people; and wrapping our heads around what it might mean for our synagogue to commit to feed hundreds, daily, for the duration:  til the ice caps melt or freeze again; til the angels go down instead of up; til the leaves moisten, not dry, on the branches; til Hilquit and London and Berger put their feet up on the sofa, relax a bit, shoot a look to Debs, high five one another over everyone being fed, and call it a night.

On the streets of old wherever.

Anyway, a road trip seems so bourgeois.  So profligate.  We ration so as not to fight a war.  Turns out sharing is hopeful.  A sign of peace.

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