Friday, July 14, 2017

AMERICAN ECLIPSE-August 21, 2017


  When I was a young hippie living in Woodstock in 1973 my wife and I used to go to Kingston and get food stamps. We both worked, but we were still poor, and eligible for government assistance, so took advantage of our God given American right to a hand out. I felt guilty and not just a little like a failure at 22. Already in our early 20's we were sucking on America's teat. In 1975 we moved to Haight -Asbury in SF and continued our social parisitic paradigm. In SF they accepted food stamps for everything- smokes, beer, condoms. It was paradise. Then I started working a little more, making a little more money and decided that soul sucking trip to social services was unnecessary and I stopped. We could make it on our own and we did...for the next forty years.
      I don't know how my first wife is making out financially these days, but I hope better than I. We lost touch yours ago. But for me, I'm back sitting across from Mrs. So and So, filling out forms and trying to get help. This is my trajectory. I went to college, got a few degrees, worked sporadically as a carpenter for forty years, established myself (to a degree) as an artist, never sold anything, never had health insurance, never was seriously ill and as I'm now losing my sight due to advanced glaucoma I waited until I was 65 to get medicare to get an operation that hopefully will save my eye sight. On paper I'm a retired man on a fixed income (social security) with a sight threatening disease asking for help. My social worker looked at all my forms and frowned. "You are fucked." she said looking up at me with a sympathetic smile.
   Thank God for people like this woman. In my naivety I was under the delusion that the U.S. government would never let a poor man losing his sight actually go blind due to lack of insurance. Boy was I an idiot. Mrs. So and So calmly informed me that America cared little for their elders and  veterans. They were more than willing to let me go blind and then provide me with a seeing eye dog and thousands of dollars in care to compensate for my blindness, but unwilling to pay for an eye operation. "You have to get Medicaid." she told me. Those days of food stamps for cigs and Coors lite came rushing back. I had no choice. This was my world.
   I know a lot of people who live in a different world, in the art world. Some do very well. Others not so much. All my long career i've wanted the approval of and admittance to the art world. I've never needed it, but i can honestly say I've wanted it. I was a eager immigrant.  I know it's stupid, but there you have it. I'm weak. I pity people that need it  in order to do their work. I can't imagine how heartbreaking that it is. I've seen artists crumble and give up when their galleries close, not having any idea how to operate without the support system. The art world kills artists. Luckily I'm not one of those. But I am as susceptible as the next schmuck when it comes to ego, vulnerability and need to pay my bills and now, at the very least, need to SEE. In this the art world has been, and will be absolutely no help. And now I think I can finally say I don't want their approval or their help. And it's not out of bitterness, rather a sense that this is a world, a planet I will never set foot on. I wish them well but they are on their own. I want nothing to do with their fake, crumbling facade. I'm moving on, accepting of my fate and my poverty, I'm going on the dole, getting medicare, food stamps and whatever this government will afford me under a repressive Republican regime in my little world. Bad as they are in general, Mrs. So and So- specifically is wonderful and nicer and more empathetic and helpful than any citizen of that glittering, flashy,  high walled, world across the roiling seas, just out of reach on the horizon.  I'm slashing the sides of my raft and pulling it back onto the beach.  See you around. I hope.    

Monday, July 10, 2017




     Now that the red, right  and blue holidays are over I can go back to work on (F)ancestor. Shewho did a great graphic cover layout and at this point I think I could get away with saying the book was a success, had sold out and move on. But  then I wouldn't be able tell you what I found. I looked up the word fetishize- "have an excessive and irrational commitment to or an obsession with (something)." There it is- even the parenthesis. Somehow I've turned this following of the ancestral family into a fetish. And it's only getting worse. But're gonna love this.....
    Last wed. I spent the entire afternoon in the Rochester (the town not the city) Historical Society, a gentle hum of the air conditioner in the background as Rich Rider laid out the Osterhout family tree branch by white branch. Let me remind everyone that up until about a year ago I had absolutely no interest in who my ancestors were. I thought the  entire "search for your roots" was lame bullshit invented by the mormons, enjoyed by bored housewives and old bachelors. I know what you're thinking. Yes, I am an old bachelor, but still the Osterhouts (outside of immediately family) were to be avoided. I was  content to know that my siblings and nieces and nephews, and greats talked to me and cared nothing about any of the Osterhouts past my grandfather. And now look at me. I've completely geeked out on this ancestry rant and there's no turning back.
   So now as the genealogists confirm all I suspect, I dive deeper. 10 pages into google starts to reveal hidden gems buried in the internet, meta-data, deeds and wills. One inventory of Johannes Osterhout Jr., Indian guide and owner of a lot of crap goes like this: 1-clock, 1-cow, 1-gun, 2-old sleds, 1-petticoat, 1-lady's saddle, a goat, three sheep a "Tommy Hawk." Another Osterhout cousin Johannes Snyder leaves in 1789, his "Negro wench Floor to his loving wife..." Slavery is practiced by the northern as well as the Texas Osterhouts who take it well into the 1860's and the Civil War. So there are also Osterhout slave records. You can't avoid or reconcile it.  I plow on. Then somehow I stumble across a book written by Prof. Harry Bradshaw Mathews- "African American Freedom Journey in NY and Other Sites." It's a find. There's a record of delegates at a "Colored Convention"in Albany. And written on that list is C. Osterhout from the town of Hudson. My sister  had her DNA tested. Unless I'm adopted (which is looking unlikely) hers matches mine. A big white slice on that pie chart. No African. No Indian. Our idea of ethnic was a marrying a German Palatine. So how could there be a black Osterhout? Slavery.
    For the next three days I googled "Colored," "Black," "Negro," "African-American." "Afro-American," Osterhout. And then I hit pay dirt. Roland Barthes. Right? What the fuck? Famous French semiotician and know it all, Barthes is going off on one particular photo in his book "Camera Lucida." Carlo says you don't pronounce the "e." Roland is describing a kinda blurry and bleached out 1926 photo by the great Harlem Renaissance photographer James VanDerZee. With the language of "punctum,"and "studium," and "Mammy," Barthes does his photographic exegesis. And as I dig deeper I find scholars picking apart Barthes and it's here I find a gold nugget, no a diamond, buried deep in between our roots, a shameful, yet fantastical treasure unearthed by my "obsession with (something)." Another intellectual and expert on photography, Shawn Michelle Smith lets us in on who are in the photo, while calling the long dead Roland Barthes on his coded bullshit. It's the matrilineal aunts of the photographer James VanDerZee, another old Dutch family name, David Estelle and Mattie Osterhout. James VanDerZee joins Gandhi in the Osterhout family photos. We weren't all hillbillies.