Yesterday morning I made a decision: I was going to start to get up really early in the morning, just after daybreak, to take a long healthy walk. It was going to be my zen morning ritual, designed to get me out into the world, exercise, and generally jump-start a positive energy to my day.
Exactly one-and-a-half blocks into my newly-christened morning constitutional, I stumbled into a still-active crime scene.
Yellow police tape was strewn over a number of bushes in the residential area, a place known for incredibly large, incredibly beautiful, incredibly expensive houses. (It should be noted at this juncture that per the incredibly schizophrenic nature of my neighborhood, where I lived only a short distance away would be classified as “middle-class-but-barely-hanging-on,” and only a couple of blocks away from that would be “desperately poor and selling one’s own blood.”)
Now, usually if something goes down I see police tape draped in front of just one house…but this was like half the block.
And then I see the multiple news vans…the cops on porches…the perfectly coiffed female TV reporter interviewing a neighbor in front of a particularly old gigantic house that looks like something out of colonial days, white and moss-covered and sort of sagging slightly to one side…
And I’m like: this is none of my business. I’m not stopping to find out about this. No. No. No.
This is none of my business. This is my FUCKING NEWLY-CHRISTENED MORNING CONSTITUTIONAL FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!!! I don’t have time for this. I have too many of my own problems. No. No.
Because I know what will happen if I turn around and find out what went down over there…I’ll obsess over it, I’ll obsess, I’ll research every detail of the case, I will inexplicably see patterns where none exist, I’ll inexplicably tie what happened to my life in some wrongheaded metaphorical way, and that’s not what I need right now.
What I need right now is to relax and think positively and contemplate the little Spring flowers.
So I move just a little past all this to the next block, stop, turn around, and find myself walking up to the reporter and the neighbor in front of the sagging giant white house.
I ask the neighbor,
“Excuse me…I don’t mean to pry. But, do you know what happened here?”
“Did you know Jeremy and Jennifer?”
“I know you from the neighborhood. You probably knew Jeremy and Jennifer.”
66-year-old Jeremy Safran, an internationally-renowned psychoanalyst, professor, and author, was found dead in the basement of his home Monday night. Initial reports were that he was bludgeoned to death with a hammer, though later a knife was added to the mix. A home intruder was found by police, covered with blood and hiding in a closet.
Safran had a particular interest in Buddhism, practicing mindfulness in several Eastern traditions. He also co-founded emotion-based therapy.
Looking at his picture on the news, this placid-seeming older gentleman still possessing a youthful twinkle in his eyes, I definitely did recognize him. I didn’t…know him. But I knew his face. He was part of the tapestry of the neighborhood itself, somebody you’d see again and again in supermarkets, restaurants, or just while you were on your morning constitutional.
And then, somebody else came to mind. And this was when I started slouching towards Chapel Perilous (a term popularized by Brooklyn-born philosopher Robert Anton Wilson) once again.
I thought of the man who set himself on fire in Prospect Park only a month ago. David Buckel.
Like Safran, Buckel was in his 60s—internationally renowned in his field (law), socially-conscious, upper middle class, bespectacled and gray-haired and seeming sort of friendly and placid. Safran studied Buddhism, and Buckel self-immolated himself in the “style” of a Buddhist monk protest.
Both roughly in the same neighborhood…my neighborhood.
And it just seemed like “bookends” for me of a weird, tumultuous time in my life when I was contending with so much; when I would wake up in the middle of the night dry-heaving out of stress.
Always there was the struggle: trying to see things more positively, trying to be mindful, trying not to bring things down with my “energy, man.”
Maybe the struggle was part of the fucking problem, man.
I’ve been thinking of moving from Brooklyn more and more. I’ve lived there my whole life.
No, that’s not entirely true. I lived for several years in Queens. But it was literally on the border of Brooklyn and Queens. So according to some government agencies, I was still living in Brooklyn.
I’ve been feeling a weird energy here. Maybe I’ve been feeling it since the big gentrification push a decade previous. Maybe it’s just me going nuts from living here too long. Maybe it’s the Universe’s way of nudging me to greener pastures. Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing the Universe as a way to comfort myself.
I picture in my mind a Weird Energy within Brooklyn that both killed David Buckel and Jeremy Safran. The energy first possessed Buckel and drove him to dump gasoline over himself in the middle of Prospect Park. Then it drew Safran’s alleged assailant—as it turns out, not just a garden-variety burglar but a really big nut-job—to his house.
But why…what is it about Brooklyn itself?
And as it turns out…you know that neighbor who I talked to? Her son was involved in a another high-profile murder case a decade previous. There was this NY Post article pretty much tripping over itself in excitement at the seeming synchronicity.
What is it about Brooklyn?
I feel I can only really get to the heart of “why Brooklyn” once I’m out of Brooklyn. It’s the only way I can really gain perspective on everything. It’s like I feel Brooklyn watching me over my shoulder, frowning disapprovingly, as I write all this—threatening to send me to sleep with the fishes, threatening to throw me out of the food co-op.
Author Peter Levenda has a theory regarding why America is so goddamn crazy. It has to do with the fact that there was this entire culture living on this soil before the Pilgrims; this culture with their own religion and their own gods.
From Levenda’s Sinister Forces Book One:
“It’s in our standing stones, our Anasazi ruins, our Indian burial grounds. It’s the remains of the Old Ones, the original people, the deep ancestors of our forgotten history, the history before Columbus that is never taught in the schools because we don’t know it ourselves…because we don’t want to know, don’t want to know, don’t want to accept what has been proved so many times in the past: that this land of ours is haunted by the ghosts of races who lived and died on our land thousands of years before we came, and of races we ourselves exterminated with fire and sword and virus…
“…We don’t know why there are stones engraved with ancient alphabets, buried in our farmland. We don’t know how they got there, so we file these petroglyphs along with tales of sea serpents and great white whales…in the land of fantasy that is the bull’s eye target of our scientists. And we whisper to ourselves to sleep like the voice-over on a late night talk show while the gloom gathers outside our windows and doors and the dead Indians, the dead Phoenicians, the dead Norsemen chant their ancient mantras to rob us of our dreams.”
Brooklyn ate my father, just as sure as any bear, shark, or Old One from the depths of Hell could have eaten him. Brooklyn: the Destroyer. Am I not being “positive” enough? Am I bringing down the “energy?” Should we just stroll to the greengrocer or a cute little cafe and just “chill” and just gain a little bit of fucking perspective, here?
Don’t ask me to “gain perspective”—I can’t do it here. I’ve lived here for four decades. Chances are, I know way more about Brooklyn than you do. So you need to be silent for just a little while longer and just listen to what I’m telling you here.
I did a “meditation” recently (perhaps not my first mistake), and I asked:
“Why am I still in Brooklyn? When the rest of my family (sans pater familias, of course) got out? Why the fuck am I still here? Even when I was making good money and could have left?”
And the answer I got was:
That I was some sort of “locus” of energy. Me, myself. I didn’t need to “do” anything. I didn’t even necessarily need to “think” anything. But it was just me, my body, a silent unthinking witness, like a…what term did Philip K. Dick use? A “transducer?”
I was like a metal rod driven into the dirt, standing there, just transducing this energy.
But that now it was “over,” and I didn’t need to do that anymore. Now, Brooklyn needed to sort itself out. Brooklyn had a lot of stuff that hadn’t been addressed for a very long time—and for some reason I suddenly think of Amity Island beach from the Jaws movies—but it just wasn’t my “business,” anymore.
My “job” was done. I could leave; more than that, I should leave.
I was needed elsewhere. Which is to say: keep walking, don’t look back, pile of salt, and all that.
Anyway, that’s what I “heard” in my meditation, or what I made up using Strategic Delusion™ so as not to lose my goddamn mind.
Stories: as Jimmy Durante used to say, “I got a million of ’em—a million of ’em!”