04 March, 2012

Shipping Out to Boston: The Beantown Massacre (Verse 3 and Chorus)

Harvard makes mistakes too, you know. Kissinger taught there. - Woody Allen

The Harvard Law states: Under controlled conditions of light, temperature, humidity, and nutrition, the organism will do as it damn well pleases. -  Larry Wall 

If I don't trim my shit back soon, I'll start looking like this.
Harvard Bums are extraordinarily polite.

According to Neil, this is due to the fact that the cops will haul anyone off who gets in people's faces too much with their panhandling.  Mostly, they linger around the entrances to certain stores and under awnings and whisper their request for spare change as you pass.

In my experience, though, most panhandlers are pretty polite (with the exception of the Coney Island Stooges) ; because even if your mother doesn't teach you at some point that you get more flies with honey than vinegar, (sometimes a cliche is just a cliche) then life most assuredly will. Even if it's an act. Even if, while you try and play the role, you fantasize about snapping the mark's neck and tearing his head off.

Ok. So that was me working customer service. But the same general rules apply.

We were both a little hungover on Sunday, so we didn't get started until late. The quickly fading daylight was working against us. Personally, I blame the rum. I always have a hangover when I drink it... even the Good Stuff, which that most assuredly was.

But we managed to rally after some conversation, water, aspirin, and Laura's Sloppy Joe's and baked brussel sprouts. Over the course of our conversation, one thing became clear: the grand plans I had for Boston would have to be cut back... ever so slightly.

I have a relatively short list of Writerly Meccas... places that, for purely literary reasons I feel the need to go and just soak it all in... the stuff that helped make the writers and the writing that endures for me. And yes, even though Boston is One Of Those Cities that's historically important... The Tea Party, American Revolutionary War, Blah, Blah, Blah... Lowell, Massachusetts resonates for me a little more.

Lowell is the birthplace and final resting place of Jack Kerouac, one of those writers academes love to hate and many other writers hate to love. He's most well known for On The Road, the book that, if you read it when you're 18 makes you want to quit whatever you're doing and travel.

Of course, it's all carnival now... an economically depressed blue collar town that, once a year, becomes a bastion for hordes of Kerouac wannabes who don't understand the final tragedy of the man or his work. Desolation Angelsis one of my favorite books, and tops the list of my favorites of Kerouac's. (Followed by Mexico City Blues, and Tristessa.) Desolation Angelsis supposed to cover the period of time in his life before he wrote On The Road. But in many ways, it sums up everything about the man – his hopes, his hang ups, and his sense of failure, his idealism, and ultimately, his bitterness.

Idealists are grumpy most of the time, and generally have the greatest cause to be... because the world rarely lives up to our expectations. Because the dream is rarely realized. And if there's a recurring theme in my travels thus far, it's that dreams – although necessary and worth the risk – often don't come true. Or worse, they do, and don't measure up to the ideal.

We could have made it up to Lowell and had a quick look around; but I didn't want to sprint through just to say I'd been there. Neil and I decided instead to go to Harvard. As a former academic wage slave, I thought it was important to go to Harvard Square – the heart of academic entitlement – just so I could tell myself that The Machine didn't beat me.

My relationship with Higher Education... as it continues to be called, though now with a bit more irony and disgust... is nothing short of antagonistic. We understand one another, H.E. and I. As the last institution that failed me, and I believe, that continues to fail most everyone who can't afford to go someplace like Harvard, I end up howling alone about these failures. Because only a rare few are willing to admit I'm right, and most everyone – including the poor bastards who have still made careers out of it – is unwilling to accept the fact that they're slaves at worst and lackeys*at best. 

We walked down the hill and caught a bus that would take us straight to Harvard Square. It's a very pretty place, actually. Well manicured and cared for. Lots of brick. It was a Sunday afternoon, and on the chilly side, but there was still a fair amount of hustle and bustle. As we made our way to the Harvard Campus, Neil told me his story of the Harvard Occupy... when some of the nation's most entitled students – many of them the sons and daughters of the 1% – gathered to camp on Harvard Square to protest whatever it was they thought they were protesting... probably the fact that they don't get automatic A's for simply being accepted to the university that can boast, among it's many luminaries and graduates, former President George W. Bush... proof positive that a rich Daddy and a sense of entitlement really can get you somewhere.

At one point, Neil told me, the Harvard Occupy started to attract non-Harvard folks – particularly the homeless population. This, naturally, could not stand. After all, when a bunch of entitled kids who want to camp and have an excuse to cut class – other than the ones their Daddys give them – nothing works like a short scamp into wretched liberalism. (Which , of course, is allowed in college. Like “experimenting” with drugs and casual homosexuality. As long as you graduate on time and get a real job, what you do between class is no one's business, and, like the long hard tradition of sodomy in secret societies, is never discussed.) The homeless problem is one of those that the Occupy Movement has yet to cope with. There's still a fair amount of middle class pretense among the Occupiers who fail to understand that the very same forces that create homeless and poverty are the very same forces that are robbing them of the ability to have a nice house in the burbs, 2 cars, and three large flat screen televisions.

The Harvard Administration saw fit to close the Harvard Yard. Literally.

Wretched Liberal Dumpster Diving is one thing. But the HOMELESS? ON CAMPUS? Mixing with the best and brightest that private schools and trust funds (and scholarships for the statistically relevant poor kids) have to offer?

Something horrible could happen....

Something like...

I don't know...


No. The potential for class and culture miscegenation could never be permitted.

The common refrain in Neil's dialogue was that Harvard – separate from the students – was the kind of place where the only thing that mattered was The Work. And for anyone who knows better, The Work is something different for everyone. The Work is something sacred; because in the beginning was The Work. And the Word was with God. And the Work was God. And the Work carried on in spite of all -- including a society that neither appreciates nor encourages Good Work to be done. When I asked Neil how he felt when he first got his job on Harvard Campus, he smiled. Then he told me about his initial impressions of the place and how it surprised him that no one who actually worked at Harvard was actually all that snobbish.

“I was the one with the chip on my shoulder,” he said.

The only time Harvard people get bound up, Neil insisted, was when they're impeded from their work.

I don't think I believe it's as simple as that everywhere else; but I like to think it could be.

Neil is one of those guys who always looks for the best advantage; he's smart enough, and multi-talented enough. He says that if there's any advantage to the shit hole economy it's that people will have to learn how to Do Things On Their Own. He says it could be the best time for people who can engineer their own futures.

That's the narrative that feels good. God knows I like it, and or some people it might even be true. I don't know know if it's true for me. But in the end, maybe knowing doesn't matter. Maybe the journey doesn't count on knowing. Maybe knowing doesn't matter.

Maybe it's something else.

Now, when I was wandering around around Harvard Campus, I paused in front of Widener Library, and I even rubbed the shoe of the statue of John Harvard.

It's not really a statue of John Harvard. Rumor has it that the real John Harvard couldn't be bothered to sit for the modeling, so he sent someone else. Which means that everyone who rubs the toe of the Harvard statue for good luck is really rubbing the toe of some heretofore nameless academic. Huzzah!

The image that struck me even more deeply than the veiwing Widener Library... which, thanks to Hollywood, reminds me of  a young and beautiful Moira Kelly

She could've borrowed my razor anytime. Until One Tree Hill. That was just.... just horrible.

and a hairy Joe Pesci

Thanks to Hollywood script writers, literate bums can get laid by exotic beautiful, well-read women** .

was the large number of homeless people huddling in Harvard Square.

If the weather was warmer, I'd think they were waiting out the cold. But it wasn't warmer. And they were there, anyway. Huddling around the doors of the shops where Harvard faculty, staff, and students shop, are the broken, the lost, the free, and the brave. They try and stay warm, politely ask for a small piece of humanity, and endure... in spite of the fact that the conservative hordes and the wretched liberal scamps don't seem to understand that they, too, are part of America... and a part of the American Dream that has never lived up to the idealism that birthed it.

Being on Harvard's campus, though, I  couldn't help but be bowled over. Just a little. It's not a big campus, really. But it's a well-maintained one, and one that started simply with a collection of books and a pile of money. Used to be, that's all it took to start a university. And it's the tension between those two things... knowledge and finance -- that continues to define the problems higher education still has.

It's also the tension between those two things that defines most of our problems as a culture, I think. I won't bore you with the history of literacy in Western Civilization; but I will say this: Democracy would not exist without it. An Educated People are a People who are less likely to be fooled. An Educated People understand the gravity and the freedom of Self-Determination.

But it's also true... and it's becoming increasingly so... that you don't need a college degree to be Educated. Thomas Carlyle said the only true college is a library of books. And Neil, while I don't share his optimism, does have a point: we may be at the one of those rare high water marks in human development thus far where the access to information and the ability to Do is unparalleled.  If we decide to take the risk. If we decide to throw off the old dreams and old metaphors.... like that one called The American Dream, which dictates that success comes from Gumption and from Doing All The Right Things.

Instead, maybe we should find The Work and do it no matter what. Even if it means Doing What Seems Like the Wrong Thing. Because in spite of what we're told, The Work matters. And it doesn't always pay. But it's always necessary. And we should be annoyed when the world conspires against us getting it done.

And sometimes, you end up being a bum and people think you're nuts. But there's enlightenment in that, too. There's enlightenment and there's humanity when you learn to look past what you see.

*For a proper definition, please refer to the Parsons Dictionary of Often Used Words and Phrases.
** In case you didn't know... DOESN'T happen much in real life. Or, at any rate, not to me. Not that I'd object, to being proven wrong, though...

[Thanks for reading! Sorry with the delay on getting this one posted. My next blog... on my temporary return to Mount Carroll and my plans for the next stages... south and west... is forthcoming. 

A special thanks to Nelson Bonner and Jennifer Payne for their contributions to the travel fund. I will be putting it towards necessary supplies and travel costs. My exit window is 3/21 -4/1.

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