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The Center for Algonquin Culture
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WHY I (Still) LOVE NEW YORK
(in spite of the pollution, noise, expense, and lack of tall trees)

Some of My Most Memorable Moments as an Algonquin in Manhattan
By Evan Pritchard author of Native New Yorkers

 

In Native New Yorkers, I wrote about my connection to the Algonquin people, and to the Munsee Indians, the original owners of New York City. I described their philosophy, foods, fashions, and ways of speaking, not to mention their trails, forts and villages. From what I can reconstruct from historical clues, it seems there was bustling commerce and culture in New York City amid a pristine toxin-free environment. The people for the most part were free and happy. It was a nice place to visit, and also a nice place to live. All of which raises the question, "What happened?"

For at least the last hundred years of that long history, the city has been obsessed with money and power, filled with dirt and toxic materials that get on your skin, tainted with smells that make your eyes water and nose burn, crowded with buildings and people of all shapes and sizes, amazingly expensive but unfit for most animal habitation, and very short on living and parking space for trees, humans, and even cars.

The book Native New Yorkers, I further noted that "The Algonquin had strict rules concerning the use of the land. The bottom line, later adopted by the Boy Scouts, was, "Pack it in, pack it out." "Leave the land as you found it," "Leave no traces." This means that every hole in the ground should be filled up after you're done, that everything should return to the earth." Some may take that as a criticism.

If applied today, we would eventually have to fill up the subway holes with the excavated dirt, much of which was used to expand Ellis Island and create landfill to expand Manhattan. Maybe a more practical idea would be to have more community gardens like the one at Houston Street. These things cannot be accomplished overnight.

With all due respect to the ordeal that the city has been through recently, perhaps there is room for self-reflection as the people gather to rebuild; let's take a fresh look at what we have and try to make it better. This does not mean I don't still love New York! Like the vast majority of its dwellers, I want to make it a better place to live, and I think the Munsee had some excellent ideas.

New York as a whole is very stressed right now, as Post-Traumatic Syndrome sets in. Native New Yorkers is meant to be a healing experience for readers who love New York, a look at it through Native American eyes. Imagine Lady Liberty lying back on the analyst's couch as the psychiatrist says, "Tell me about your childhood!" Native New Yorkers is a book about the innocent Native childhood of this beloved city, and how it transformed itself into a powerful tyrant and admired leader among cities over the course of several hundred years.

It is not completely an upbeat story, it is one that needed to be told. But if anyone wants to know, I do love New York. And if they want to know the wellsprings of my devotion to that noisy anvil of dreams, they only need ask. It comes from the dream-like experiences that only New York could have provided me. For all its faults from a holistic perspective, I am forever in its gratitude for its inspirational power. Moving there was the ordeal that shoved me toward manhood in the European sense.

I am not a Native New Yorker in the modern sense, only a native person who moved there in 1978 or so. Let me go back to my own childhood so to speak, a more innocent time.

I arrived at the shores of New York City at 23, without money or influence. Talk about being an unknown, I only knew two people. It was my idea of a "vision quest." Indeed, I fasted-involuntarily-for three days once that first winter. It all started when someone "gave me a ride," to New York, promising to help me settle there, and then dropped me off on the Henry Hudson Parkway, right in traffic. I went to see an acquaintance-banjo player at Sing Out Magazine, and later that evening landed on Staten Island not far from where New York's first immigrant, Verrazzano, landed in 1524. I lived in a basement, and while I was out, playing music on the street, (a priest once placed "bread" in my box literally) someone threw away all my belongings, thinking they were junk. I worked as a foot messenger for people like Saturday Night Live, and was a moving man for an eccentric writer who wouldn't tell me her name. Within a year I was taking a bow at Lincoln Center, but had to work the next morning as a picker in a cold storage warehouse for minimum wage. My subsequent adventures in The Gritty City were full of similar paradoxes and contrasts. Here are some of my most unforgettable moments, most of which could happen to anybody at any time, but they are memories that made me say "I love New York!"

Walking down Broadway in the snow at midnight from 57th Street to Times Square with playwright Arthur Miller and his wife Mirabai, discussing the craft of playwriting. I had seen him at a party, and was embarrassed I had only a tattered coat to put on. When I reached in the pocket there was a copy of The Crucible I thought I'd lost. I handed it to him and said, 'Wow, look what I just happen to find in my pocket!" He said, "Well I just happen to have an autograph! Want to take a walk in the snow?" How can I not love New York after that?

Walking up Broadway from Juilliard at 66th with Ned Rorem, author of The Paris Diaries, the only man to win the Pulitzers for both music and literature, digging the "dirt" about the music world. He said, "At your age, plagiarism is the highest form of flattery you'll probably get!" He was right. I was 25, and it was.

Going to the 1966 Worlds Fair with my parents. We walked by the press room of the now-defunct Herald Tribune, and I was given a copy of the Sunday Tribune on Saturday, as a gift. The essence of New York! Held in my hands! I was an insider! These guys made the news before it happened! It was at that moment I got the bug to move to New York and go into publishing. A dozen years later, after going to music school, I made the move. Seven years later after that I started Resonance Magazine, peddling it door to door to different magazine shops in Manhattan. I published my first writings about the Algonquin people in my own magazine, and it got a lot of attention, leading to a lecture at Columbia University, which led to writing No Word For Time, which led to writing Native New Yorkers. So if that man hadn't handed me that paper, I probably wouldn't be here today.

Sitting in the bleachers at Yankee stadium about once a week in the late 70s cheering on Thurmon Munson, Ron Guidry, and Goose Gossage. Scouting for World Series tickets outside Yankee stadium late at night in the rain. I was about to pay the money when an invisible hand stopped me. It turns out it was a miserable game, which the Yanks lost. Another baseball miracle.

Cheering at Shea in 1987 the night the Mets clinched the NL pennant, on my birthday. Cheering at Shea the night the Mets scored ten runs in a row against the Braves in 2000, capped by Mike Piazza's grand slam. It was generally acknowledged as the loudest cheer in baseball history. I thought I'd go deaf. A "Little Big Horn" for the Braves who stole one of our songs, it was the turning point for the Mets that led to the first subway series in forty some years.

Coming to visit New York City in 1974 from the Colorado Rockies, hitchhiking. What a contrast in landscape! I remember walking down Wall Street and other canyons in western "cowboy" apparel, and people called, hooted and yodeled down from third and fourth story windows at me. Everyone was "right friendly." People gave me good directions and good advice, but there was no place for me to stay, so after going without sleep at Grand Central for a night, I moved on. Watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the cold as it floated up Broadway, and running into Donald Trump, as far from a Squanto experience as I could have, but still making me smile.

Being in Times Square at New Years' Eve, watching the confetti come down like snow in the colored lights. I had a similar experience in a blizzard once in the Adirondack Mountains, but there weren't a million people standing next to me.

Meeting Frances Stelloff at ninety, talking with her about her life. She was the New York literary light that sponsored Dylan Thomas, (my namesake) and brought Ezra Pound and James Joyce to New York. I developed her and her cat into characters in a novel set in a bookstore just like her own Gotham Book Mart.

Sitting on the stool at the White Horse Tavern that Dylan Thomas used to sit at.

Going to a party as a last minute idea and experiencing a PRIVATE performance of La Boehme by half the cast of the Metropolitan Opera, who happened to be at the party. By coincidence I was the only non-cast member who showed up. My ears rang for days. It was so loud in that little room, it was like a musico-dramatic sweat lodge.

Performing Jacques Brel songs in French at a French café on the lower east side. It turned out the owner had been friends with Jacques Brel when he really was "alive and well and living in Paris," and told me stories for an hour after closing. I was star-struck.

Meeting "Luke Skywalker" David Hulse on the street after seeing his performance as "Amadeus" on Broadway. I gave my son the middle name Luke Skywalker after the character. When he was six months old, he was riding on my shoulders as I walked down 5th Avenue, who should walk up but Carrie Fisher, aka Princess Leiah, who stopped to communicate with him in an alien tongue and lots of facial expressions. I wanted to say in a deep voice, "You have a sister, Luke!" a line from the movie. Naturally I was tongue tied.

Attending the Simon and Garfunkle Concert in Central Park. The sound system was amazing, and the crowd of half a million was mellow! A communal ritual and an "I love New York" experience.

Seeing the Dalai Lama speak in Central Park. I loved handing out leaflets for my first Native New Yorkers Workshop before the event. There were at least a quarter million people, all sitting quietly together in peace! What a testament to New York's spiritual potential!

Going to talks by great spiritual teachers from around the world. Listening to Darshan Singh, surrounded by his grandchildren. Meditating in Staten Island with the Jainist master Muniji, who said of me "he medeetates good!" Talking to Bawa Jain about non-violence at the U.N., and over dinner; meeting with the Sakyapa Lama Deshang Rimpoche at the Tibet house, who gave me a golden Buddha; watching Marianne Williamson and Robert Thurman debate on male vs female spirituality at an Open Center sponsored conference on death and dying; walking into a church and hearing a mesmerizing discourse on Unity teachings by actress Ruth Warrick; a chance meeting with Lama Dorje at the U.N. (an advisor to the Dalai Lama who lives in New York) laughing with him for a half hour then sitting through a conference with him, nodding together at the best parts; attending a wedding service, or pageant rather, at St. John the Divine, officiated by the Reverend James Parks Morton, for two clown-musicians-who proved that there's a thin line between sacred and silly; waving to the Lubavitch Rebbi in his big van and getting a wave back; Meeting the black Baptist Minister Rev. C.T. Vivian (who discovered and promoted Martin Luther King) and talking about Algonquin non-violence traditions. He said, "I must be an Algonquin Indian!" A year later we did lunch at the Interfaith Center; all this and countless other encounters with people on the street whose eyes were illuminated scriptures, leads me to believe that New York is still a spiritual as well as economic capital, a trading post of esoteric ideas.

Exchanging quips and barbs with literary reviewer Rex Reed at a party for "All My Children" stars at Ruth (Phoebe Tyler) Warrick's penthouse. I said, "Ruth Warrick's poetry is….epigrammatic!" Rex was tongue-tied. Ruth Warrick retorted, "Look it UP, Rex!"

Working at G. Schirmers (actually off Fifth) store as manager of the instrumental department in 1979. I sold a ukulele to Tiny Tim. He told me how everyone tries to steal his ukulele wherever he goes, for souvenirs. He had some sad stories, and some very long hair, probably longer than any of our Algonquin guys. He also has a higher voice. We didn't do lunch. Sir Lawrence Olivier walked in and wrote a check for something. We had to call an autograph shop to find out if the check was worth more as an autograph or as a bank note.

Attending the world premiere of David Diamond's monumental Ninth Symphony at Lincoln Center, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Back stage, everyone wanted to talk to…..Lenny. A rude woman walked up to David Diamond (soon to be America's foremost composer) and said, "Excuse me mister. Where's Lenny? I wanna see Lenny Bernstein!" Diamond said to her most elegantly, "Oh, he's at the end of the OTHER line!" But Diamond had his fans and he loved them. One day while I was walking down Broadway with Dr. Diamond, a woman came up, perhaps an Asian tourist, and yelled out, "Oh my gosh! Aren't you David Diamond the famous composer?" Diamond replied, 'Why yes I am! It's ME!" and spreading his hands gave a big happy smile. After the Bernstein event, I was very happy to stand and listen to them talk about HIS music.

Walking into the Loeb Center at NYU in 1983 to look around, and finding myself at intermission at a concert by the Dave Grisman Band. I was amazed how good they were, and eventually I found out who they were as well. Standing outside a little café in the Village and listening to Peter Tork entertain, formerly of the Monkees; Seeing George Martin talk about Sgt. Peppers' at Town Hall; Walking through the John Lennon memorial at "Strawberry Fields" in Central Park and hearing people sing his songs; spontaneous "Beatle-Caroling" in the East Village with friends late at night; Watching independent films from NYU at St. Mark's Place; Watching Hollywood films being made on the streets of New York, Romantic Movie, Wolfen, Manhattan by Woody Allen, and others. Watching the Nixon resignation speech at the Terminal Bar and Grill near Grand Central while passing through New York in 1974. A drunk yelled out "Yer a crook! Get off the TV ya bum!" New Yorkers are not always impressed with high offices. Watching the Bucky Dent home run on TV in that same bar in October 2nd, 1978. And I'll never forget the day a maurading gang broke into my 1957 Rambler wagon and fixed my glovebox for me! How could I not love New York?

 

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