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Circumambulating Tompkins Square Park

BY JACK BROWN |

Dedicated to Allen Ginsberg, who circumambulated Mt. Tamalpais and Tompkins Square Park

Twenty uptown blocks to the mile.
Five times around. Three miles. Every Covid day.
Takes forty to fifty minutes. Depending on
the squirrels. Early dawn. Transition from
dark to light. Nudging 6 a.m. Walking
counterclockwise from Ginsberg’s on Seventh
to Tenth to Ginsberg’s on Twelfth Street.

1st Lap

No squirrels. No birds. Avenue B. Across from
Charlie “Bird” Parker’s old digs. In the paddleball
courts. Two guys boxing. Working the pads.
“Pop. Pop pop. Bam” Other side of the wall
woman pursues a lime green tennis ball.

Turn corner to Tenth Street. Good pace.
Past the library. Closed for COVID-19.
Building a friend once owned. Possible C.I.A.
operative. Trusted friend of the boys — past the
Boys’ Club — who lived over the Polish baths.
Hit men for Arthur S. Flagenheimer a.k.a.
gangster Dutch Schultz.

Legs supple. Asian woman doing tai chi
on concrete field where skateboarders hone
their tricks. Left to Avenue A. Across from
Stanley’s old greasy spoon. Kept half the
neighborhood alive on credit. Where I sat next to
the “Pope of Dope” Michael Caesar. (800-WANT-POT)
Slapped his prodigious belly. “I take my bullets
well. Hah hah.”

Cranking to the corner of Seventh and A. Cops
from the 9th Pct babysitting the statue of
Samuel Cox. Under threat from the cancel culture.
One down.

2nd Lap

Rained last night. Canopy of trees along fence and curb
provide open air tunnel. Walked in light rain other mornings.

First squirrel. I pop the plastic top. Say “Good morning”.
She approaches. I lean down. Offer the Almond and
keep stepping. Across from Vazacs. Famous horseshoe
bar and liquor store. I chew a peanut. Toss crumbs in
the Seventh and B entrance. No birds. But this is where
sparrows and doves reliably dance at dawn.

Avenue A outside Tompkins Square Park. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Here comes the clockwise woman walker in black.
A regular. We “Good morning.” Both masked up.
Gates still locked. Six o’clock troopers arrived in “yard.”
10th and B. I turn corner. See “Little Silver” looking
for me. I detour. Pop the top. Drop two shelled peanuts.
Keep stepping.

Behind me. Another early bird counterclockwise runner.
We “Good morning.” Asian woman done with tai chi.
Hand scattering seeds and nuts to birds and squirrels.
Park denizens know who we are and where they can
find us. And they do.

Catty-corner NW beyond the old Hi-Ho Cyclery.
“Brownies.” Pink Cadillac cowboy. After-hours all-star.
Host with the most.

Back on A. Roll nuts to two squirrels. Put one in low crook
of sidewalk tree I know squirrels frequent. Chew peanuts.
Regale sparrows with beak-size toss. Turn the corner with
a wry nod to the old drag spot Pyramid Club.

3rd Lap

A long-legged dude slots in on Seventh. Good pacer.
If I get close I can draft behind. All is well. Until knowing
squirrels appear. I stop. Pop the top. Drop nuts. Legs
gains yards. I chase and chew. Throw a few to the expectant
flock. Distance expands.

Avenue B outside Tompkins Square Park. (Photo by The Village Sun)

This continues. I gain admirers and lose ground.
Ah but it’s worth it. A homeless man caterwauling like
he’s constipated. Moves down from 9th to St. Mark’s.
Lives in a shed erected for curbside pandemic service.

4th Lap

Creatures out and hungry. Stop. Pop and drop. Fall
further behind Legs. Distance nearly one crosstown block.
Across from legendary Ray’s Candy Store. Heads toward B.
I arrive. He’s nowhere to be seen. Done. I’ve outlasted him.
St. Brigid’s Church. Once set to be sacrificed to developers
by the Vatican. Saved by a rich man rumored to be
dodging divorce payments.

5th Lap

Now I get down to business. Keep nuts in hand.
Along the black wrought-iron fence. Once I found
a penny from 1913. Back in the day when Emma Goldman
roiled the neighborhood and rocked the world.
Downtown side I witnessed a well-dressed man relieve
a woman of her watch at knifepoint. Uptown a band shell
once hosted concerts. Venue for provocateurs. Incendiary
fireplace. Aggravant to authorities. Squirrel “Stubby”
missing most of his tail bounds ahead like a rabbit.

Passing an elm tree. Split during a recent storm. Stood for
a century. Maybe two. Safe harbor for birds and squirrels.
Overseeing trauma, turmoil and tranquility.
Waiting to be carved. Become art. Join the “Howl” festival.
A cardinal chortles above where Miky Pinero slept on a bench.

I complete the circuit. Cut diagonally past the NYPD car.
Head for “The Yard.” 10th and B. Little Silver awaits more nuts.
Hangs on my leg while I do pull-ups.

5 Comments

  1. elizabeth gaynor elizabeth gaynor October 23, 2020

    Love this! Lovely commentary on wild and human life around tompkins sq and joys of repeating and getting to know both.

    • JackDog JackDog October 23, 2020

      Elizabeth: You might like to read/revisit “Cirumambulating Mt. Tamalpais” by
      fellow walker and beat poet of Ginsberg. Good perspective and contrast with TSPK.
      Jack

  2. elizabeth gaynor elizabeth gaynor October 23, 2020

    have u joined fight 2 save east river park? know others who might or best – someone w/ $$ like savior 4 st brigids?

    bulldozing of east river park is slated 4 november!!!

    • JackDog JackDog October 23, 2020

      part of class action brought/appealed by Arthur Schwartz.

  3. Gojira Gojira October 23, 2020

    Fabulous poem, thank you, Mr. Brown.

    I thought I was the only one in the EV that still remembered Stanleys, source of many a fine cheap meal, glad to see it’s not so.

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