Plain in the city

A plain Quaker folk singer with a Juris Doctorate in his back pocket, salt in his blood, and a set of currach oars in the closet, Ulleann Pipes under his arm, guitar on his back, Anglo Irish baggage, wandering through New York City ... in constant amaze. Statement of Faithfulness. As a member of the Quaker Bloggers Ad Hoc Committee I affirm that I will be faithful to the Book of Discipline of my Meeting 15th Street Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Carl - A scow sailor adrift inTomkins Square Park


Tompkins Square Park: Lower East Side, New York. Today, as often happens, Lt. Corcoran told a drinker to get out of the park. And, Carl, ever the gentleman, complied with humor and a genteel wit.

Carl is given a ticket and told to leave the park
Carl is given a ticket and told to leave the park
He watches the echange knowing the outcome
A friend of Carl watches the exchange, knowing the outcome

Who is Carl? Carl was born in a different world, the New York of 1946 - the last days of the waterfront of Anna Christie, the world of bargies and a community who lived in sight of the city but a world away.As Carl tells it, his mother had a hard menopause, and in order to survive, his father retreated to a job on a Trap Rock Scow, a barge towed from up the Hudson River to an anchorage off Staten Island. Carl was then the sole recipient of his mother's temper, so in an act of kindness his father took him, just before puberty, to live in the aft cabin of a scow, a community of a few thousand deck hands living in a floating village anchored off the narrows. One can still see barges moored at Robin's reef, in the lee of Kitty's light, just before the ferryboat reaches Staten Island.

"My father took some two by fours and made a bunk for me, above his. I had a porthole, it was a beautiful view. I became quite a seaman, I might not have been able to splice a hawser, but I was a good sailor." He and his father, worked as did as the other deck hands of the scows, breaking ice off the lines and bending stiff lines, salting the decks, and sweating in the summers. "I lived the life before the mast, so to speak... we had no mast."

He suffered through puberty, gazing at the city from the island of scows which bumped against each other at the anchorage, separated by truck tire fenders. On occasion he and his father went ashore in a rubber dingy. In the winter they had a Franklin coal stove, but often it gave too much heat, so they cooked over two hand pumped gas primus stoves. "The company even gave us an ice box, but it was no good to us, they did not give us ice!" Rain, fog, sleet and storm, fair weather or foul, they worked the scow, living on the end of a tug boat's tow line, or anchored in the upper river or lower harbor around the stake boat, permanently chained to the anchorage -- the center of the scow sailor's community.

Poor old horse
An 1890s tug - a ghost of Carl's childhood.

Then one day, that world died. The tug boat companies tore the cabins off the scows and had their own crews take over.

Barge Grave yard

Up the river for ever

tug and tow
The new world slips down river.

A world ended, and tug boat men had to board scows in rough weather, sometimes paying for the new deal with their lives. And so, the 1950s turned into the 1960s, and there was no place for the scow sailors of New York.

It is hard not to smile around Carl
Officer Torres tries to keep supress a smile around Carl

Officer Torres gives in to Carls humor
The officer gives in to Carl's humor

Tonight, this gentleman, who still dreams of life with his father in the cozy cabin of the Trap Rock Scow, sat in the park confronted by the police car. Lt. Corcran commented on his long hair. "Yes, you are right, I do need a hair cut. Thank you for the concern... I will get a hair cut... Yes, I will not lie to you, I AM drunk. I hope you only give me a ticket, as I don't have my ID with me today. I have to leave the park as well? Well, I suppose I do if I need to get a hair cut... So, I will leave ... and rape a barber." This brought laughter to the two officers out side the car, I could not see Lt. Corcoran response ... and Carl rose and walked slowly out of the park. Few in our neighborhood know where his journey started.

And Carl leaves the park
And Carl leaves the park again

All photos Lorcan Otway - all rights reserved


At 5:27 AM, Blogger SOSY said...

These photographs and your words about Carl are captured and wrought so beautifully and with such tender respect for your subject, his life and attendees-- they humble and open the heart.

At 6:00 AM, Blogger Michael said...

Carl is such an engaging person. We spent 45 minutes last weekend talking about Norwegian explorers who set out for the Arctic and Antarctic. He's bright and he's witty, and the shame of it is that to most of the ham-and-eggers who walk the East Village streets these days, he's just a bum, a wino. They don't even give him credit for being a person. But we know ...

Great shots, Lor.

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.


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