Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Good Gray Poet of the Guyland

I was a child in a time of great deprivation. A time when Amy Fisher, Chuck D, and every last damn Baldwin brother had yet to garner fame/notoriety. Which meant that there was only one cultural icon we Long Islanders could claim as our own.

"Who can tell me who Walt Whitman is?" asked my Brownie troop leader of our brown polyester-uniformed brigade.

How embarrassing that only one girl could answer.

How much more embarrassing that her answer was, "He owns the pharmacy."

An innocent mistake, given that the local pharmacy was named for Whitman, by far our town's most famous native son (at least until the Karate Kid catapulted Ralph Macchio to national prominence).

Even after the Brownie troop took its field trip to Whitman's birth place, I'm not sure any of us really understood who Whitman was. When we were older, we read Whitman in our English classes. Every year. And we hated him. Because what eighth-grader wouldn't rather hang out at the Walt Whitman Mall than read a Walt Whitman poem?

A&S does not stand for "Apostrophe" and "Simile"

Unlike Whitman, who dropped out of school long before the eighth grade, I stuck it out and eventually escaped the Guyland to go to college. Imagine my surprise when even up in Boston we had to read Whitman. Imagine my greater surprise when I actually enjoyed it. I called my high school friend Irene to tell her Whitman wasn't boring after all.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "I was there. I read Whitman. I was bored. You were bored too. Don't you remember how we used to cut out of class to go to the mall?"

It wasn't Whitman's fault, I insisted. The problem is that when you bowdlerize the sex stuff, the race stuff, the political stuff, and the war stuff — which our public school did — there isn't much Whitman left. They must have had us reading his grocery lists and laundry receipts all those years.

I like to think that if Whitman had been alive in the 1970s and 80s, he would have been hanging out at the mall himself. It was kind of the Brooklyn Ferry of its day, a gathering place where one might observe the masses.

Oh you acid-washed jeans wearing teen,
Oh you harried mother with stroller,

Oh you security guard letting a young shoplifter off with a warning,

Oh you lamp store sales clerk on a brief
smoking break,
I walk with you all along faux-travertine floor-tiled avenues of commerce

Together we go to the food court, celebrated provider of sustenance,

Together we eat of the bounty of the food court,

Quenched are we by the flowing waters of Orange Julius,
Quieted are we by the injudicious ingestion of Carvel soft-serve
The last hot dog sits lonely beneath the heat lamp,
The man will come along who will eat it

What sturdy youth flock to Spencer's for novelty gifts,

What aging fellowhood seeks out the toiletries aisle of CVS,

The poet walks with them singing their sorrows and singing their joys,

The song of the people rings out from emporia
Attention shoppers we have a special today


Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

this.is.brilliant. (an homage to ee cummings...)

I would love to use your Whitman-esque poem for one of my Thoughful Thursday blogs (full credit to MacaroniManiac, bien sur!)

Macaroni said...

you are welcome to use if you credit. we lawn guylanders come down hard on plagiarism.
as for e e cummings, note that he has no shopping malls named for him. he seems like more of a swap meet guy.

Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...

How could I possibly NOT pay homage to your artistic prowess? I'll even throw in linkage to your page - for free! (Your mall/swap meet comment got my bartering juices going...)

I'll let you know when I do this. Thanks again - it's just too great a piece not to share and share and share!

Lisa said...

Macaroni, this is fantabulous! I found you through the Baroness blog and can't wait to read more .... Barbra Peapod