September 26, 2009

"The need for a cheap apartment in part led Mr. Carroll home to Inwood in the summer of 2008, in spite of his history with the neighborhood."

In “The Basketball Diaries,” Mr. Carroll used the nosy old ladies on its park benches and the reactionary hard-hats in its bars as a comic foil....

[B]y the summer of 2008, his childhood address at 585 Isham Street in Inwood might have seemed like a peaceful place to write.

The focus of the ground-floor apartment was the desk, a padded cart beneath it to elevate his aching leg.
This part of the story caught my attention, because I have spent the last 4 days — post-toe-op — with my foot elevated on pillows to keep it from throbbing.
There, he plowed through plastic bins of sliced pineapple, a reward for a session of hard work.

The only decorations were a poetry event poster and a photo-triptych of Kurt Cobain. For months, boxes of books remained unpacked and the windows were bare. “He said that sometimes neighbors would smile at him, and he was just sitting there in his underwear,” [his friend Martin] Heinz recalled....

Mr. Carroll was alone the day he died. A neighbor peering into his window apparently saw him slump to the floor and called 911, [his brother Tom] said. (“Classic Inwood,” joked Tara Newman, a friend who also grew up there.)
There is reason to leave the windows bare and to live in a neighborhood of nosy people. You don't have to die alone.


Big Mike said...

I think in the end we all die alone.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think in the end we all die alone.

And also, looking at it another way, all together.

rhhardin said...

Even worse, there you are facing your own death, and some other death gets you.

From Inwood said...

I didn't know the family & am older than he was.

I shall be up there later this week & say a silent prayer for him in the church across the street from his house.


And I don't think I will move back to Inwood to die. I go back to be among the living.

Penny said...

"There is reason to leave the windows bare and to live in a neighborhood of nosy people. You don't have to die alone."

But they may miss me when I close my blinds?

Worse still, they might envy what they do not see.

ricpic said...

Nothing romantic about ending alone in a tiny barely furnished apartment in tight spot Inwood. Nothing at all. Robert Frost was right: provide, provide.

traditionalguy said...

This ia a touching story for several reasons. Carroll tried to beat his relationship with death in all the wrong ways with drugs, music, literature, but in the end it claimed him as its own. I notice that he never had the children and grandchildren that could comfort his loneliness in his voyage towards the unknown world, yet he kept himself very aware of death his entire life until he finally joined it eternally. For some reason I think of him as a good man, although I never knew him.

PatCA said...

It's sad, almost personal. I kind of agree with traditionalguy. The excerpt from his novel sound good. He lived to the hilt, and it claimed him early.

bagoh20 said...

I have no problem with dying alone. Not sharing the ecstasies of life is the problem.

Kirby Olson said...

Inwood is the northern tip of Manhattan Island (north of Harlem). Manhattan Island is about 16 miles in length from Battery Park up to Inwood. The very northern tip of the island appears to still have a lot of vegetation, and tree cover. Inwood however has many stores, but no skyscrapers. It seems to be an area about four stories to seven stories, looking perhaps like what NYC used to look like in the 20s. I was there only once -- just this summer.

I was going in to visit SOHO with Finnish relatives, and they needed to go to the bathroom so we went in and stopped at a Getty gas station, which had a grungy but service-able bathroom. The station owner was a mixed race guy from Jamaica with blue eyes, who kept touching my shoulder as he talked, encouraging me to visit the local restaurants while I was in Inwood.

I think Inwood was a Jewish neighborhood for most of the 20th century. It seemed to be very mixed up with all kinds of people now.

I asked the gas station owner if Inwood was still Jewish, and he said some blocks were, and some weren't. He was a very pleasant man, and I had the sense of a very pleasant neighborhood.

From Inwood said...

Kirby O

FYI when I grew up there Inwood was about 45% Irish & 45% Jewish.

If anyone cares, read something like

City Trenches, Katznelson 1981. (In the ‘50s, the spirit of Inwood/Washington Heights was about equally divided between second generation Irish-Americans & Jewish American refugees from the Nazis & their children. The ‘60s saw a rise in social activism on the part of the Jews, while the Irish were live & let live. Yet the movement north from Harlem of Blacks into Inwood/Washington Heights forced the issue. Most Jews & many Irish left, this being an area mostly of renters, but those Jews who stayed were imbued with “social activism” & chose this community for what was really a battle for urban America. But, the forces of unionism, machine politics, & the need for some peace & quiet where one lives led to the defeat of these self-anointed reformers & community activists. As noted in sociological studies like Beyond The Melting Pot, the Blacks were ignored or excused, the Irish were blamed, & the Jews exonerated. But not in this book.

Interesting sidebar: it proves my joke that I never met a Protestant ‘til I was an adult, most people in this neighborhood, as noted, up to the ‘60s being either Jewish or Irish.)

EDH said...

I'm recalling a lot of these celebrated deaths in the home happen in or near the toilet, don't they?

Fine for the date with destiny, but what about the years leading up to that?

Too much information!

Kirby Olson said...

Thanks to From Inwood for the information, and I will check out the book by Katznelson.

Also, I liked the original article in the NYT.

I met Carroll only once -- in a writing class at Naropa Institute in about 1977 when he had been invited to read. He seemed enormous, but the article said he was only 6' 3". I thought he looked more like he was 6" 8".

The article also said he had hepatitus C. I think you can get them from other people -- it's contagious. It's the same thing that killed Allen Ginsberg.

c3 said...

The article also said he had hepatitus C. I think you can get them from other people -- it's contagious. It's the same thing that killed Allen Ginsberg.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne pathogen. It is generally received from needle contact. Common among IV drug users. Until recently also a problem with tattoo establishments. While it can be passed sexually it is much harder to get sexually as compared to its "hepatitis cousin", Hepatitis B.

Until about 10-15 years ago the actual virus could not be identified and therefore it was called "non-A, non-B" (as in NOT the two most common hepatitis viruses, A or B)

FYI, hepatitis A is passed via fecal-oral transmission, so common in unsanitary water (i.e. third world or flooded areas) or unsanitary food handlers (hence all of these signs in restaurant restrooms about "washing your hands")

From Inwood said...

Apologies, Prof A, I don't mean to hijack this thread, but for Kirby O:

I am, & will alweys be, for better or worse, Inwood Irish. OK, I left Inwood for Queens when I married, but a good parish/neighborhood (Good Shepherd in Inwood, No. Manhattan) was an indispensable part of my life. Too bad I can’t go home again.

For any other Harps, get a copy of The New York Irish, Baylor & Meagher, ed. 1996. (A serious, in-depth, balanced, generally positive look at a people who made a great contribution to this city & country; also very meaningful for those of us who were there & were part of it; the chapter on Washington Heights/Inwood, my native land, is quite balanced on “integration” & reality vs. idealism. Some Irish-American families stayed the course, either because they couldn’t afford to move or because they adhered to some formulary “things’ll get better when they reach a certain state of bad; there’s light at the end of the tunnel”. But for some who stayed, “bad” was horrid. The anguish of an Irish-American family who stayed only to see one of their daughters raped while babysitting must, at some level, reach even those who blame whites for all problems.)

BTW, Inwood is home to The Cloisters, & to two parks on the Hudson River. And one of the finest collection of Art Deco apartment houses. Must see.

For Jewish refugees from Third Reich, it was "Frankfurt am Hudson" or "The Fourth Reich".

And Trivia, Manhattan Island is now about 13 miles long; a section north of Inwood, called Marble Hill was "sawed off" in 1898 or so & attached to the mainland.

And for naturalists, take a look at

Manhatta, A Natural History of New York City, Sanderson 2009, referenced in a recent National Geographic. (Landscape ecologist with The Wildlife Conservation Society, a/k/a The Bronx Zoo, working from maps & with the aid of computers (& some unconfessed but allowable imagination), has reconstructed what he found missing from the histories of Manhattan: what Manhattan was like ecologically the day before Hudson landed; his point is that when one picks up the usual NYC history one may think, literally, et in Arcadia ego, but quickly one is into the story of the Dutch fur trading; indeed; enjoyable & both readable & scholarly, a knowledgeable work of synthesis; lavishly illustrated; a bit too heavy on “Being Green”; the author ends by rashly attempting to predict the next 400 years, always doomed to fail no matter if attempted by a serious historian or an autodidact, by a conservative or a liberal, an optimist or a pessimist, or whomever, witness the predictions about things to come in 1998 at the formation of the current political NYC in 1898.

Kirby Olson said...

Thanks again to From Inwood. I bought the Katznelson book, and shall look up the New York Irish book. I went to see the museum show this summer on the Dutch in New York and saw the Manahattan book but felt it was too heavily green for my taste, as the Katznelson will be way too Marxist, but I'll probably still read them both at some point. I live up in the Catskills and like to poke around NYC in the summers.

Love the Robert Moses display of the city in the Queens Museum of Art!

Thanks again for your tips.

And I guess it helps to place Jim Carroll. Do you think he had to end up so angry, and such a dead ender?

His dad doesn't sound so bad. What was with his mom?

I didn't know him at all really but he appeared to me out of the blue the day he died. Thirty years ago I had met him briefly, and I heard he had enjoyed a piece I had written about Allen Ginsberg about twenty years ago.

I'm still trying to account for the visitation. I don't think I deserved to be visited, and couldn't understand it when I opened the paper the next day and saw he had passed away.


bill sherman said...

The best and most moving tribute to Jim Carroll was written by Tom Clark on his "Beyond The Pale" blog, September 14th.

From Inwood said...


I am not able to comment as fast as I used to because of family health problems.

This is why I've stoped most commenting on this site, tho I read the comments pretty faithfully, albeit a bit late.

Some insight into why some Irish Americans leave Inwoods may be found in the following:

The Studs Lonigan trilogy & the Danny O’Neill quintet, by J. T. Farrell 1932-1946. Studs, clearly a product of neighborhood as parish, is beloved by all Irish-Catholic bashers, especially the Cradle-Catholic-but-no-more-a-Catholic, since he personifies what snarkly is referred to as “the crippling parochialism of …Irish Catholicism, the suffocating middle-class pieties of the relatives who raised him”, but the bashers seem to ignore Danny who escaped the “spiritual poverty” of his parish/neighborhood. And they needn’t have since Farrell believes Danny’s (& his own) escape came through Chicago’s liberal, socialistic culture of democracy. As Farrell grew older he never quite acknowledged that capitalism works whereas socialism doesn't, but he did realize the failure & evil of communism. He continued to write & wrote still great, but less tendentious, stories of ordinary Irish-Americans, which were, not surprisingly, utterly ignored by the critics, who said, among other things that he wrote too many words, despite the fact that the Studs & Danny O’Neill books suffered equally from verborrhea.

Charming Billy, McDermott 1998. (Every Irish-American has a friend or relative like Billy who can be easily ignored as a “loser”. McDermott makes us care about this loser. And in her other books, she is balanced in her portrayals of Catholics. No nuns threatening medieval torture)

All Souls, MacDonald 1999. (Whining victimology re a harrowing upbringing in a seriously dysfunctional Irish-American family with equally seriously dysfunctional Irish-American neighbors in '70s Boston, again similar to some NYC Irish-American experiences, generally accepted as typical by prejudiced observers of the tribe.)

Closing Time, Queenan 2009. (Witty, well written insightful analytical victimology re a harrowing upbringing in a seriously dysfunctional Irish-American family in ‘50s & 60s Philadelphia, again similar to some NYC Irish-American experiences, & again generally accepted as typical by prejudiced observers of the tribe.)

Angela’s Ashes, ‘Tis, & Teacher Man, McCourt 1996-2005. (Three volume autobiography of a poor Irishman who comes to NYC at age 18 & sees that he’d had a really bad Pa who’d let him down while failing to see that he’d had a really bad Ma who’d also let him down. For some reason (to make sure it would sell among the chattering class? Nah), he blames all on the RC Church, even though it supported his Ma & Pa while they sat uselessly drinking & smoking & feeling that the world owed them a living (today, they’d call themselves “victims”). He was taken out of filth & squalor & given “three hots & a cot” courtesy of the US Army, which he scorns, & then a free education by US & local governments which he also finds amusing, when its bureaucrats do not find him amusing or fit for work because of his drinking problem & inability to understand the attendance requirements of its education system. Thus, even with his education & innate intelligence, he fails to hold a steady job ‘til his ‘40s & then continues to drink & ruins his marriage, but, hey, it’s never his fault. Many vignettes are dead on & screamingly funny. (#1 is great, #2lazy, disorganized, & unrevealing, & # 3 much too much whining but worthwhile look at a glib autodidact teaching Manhattan über-rich über-didactics.)

Fred4Pres said...

This should be called why Italians distain the Irish.

Fred4Pres said...

I am teasing!

I will say this though. At church sometimes they would request meals from the parishioners for the priest (mostly because they did not know how to cook). The Irish priests would always say they just wanted meat and potatoes, nothing spicy.

But they always seemed to love Italian food. And they would never admit it.

Come to think of it, the Italian priests never asked for meals. Like most Italians, they knew how to cook quite well.

MPorcius said...

I've been to Inwood park two or three times; it's nice. Once I was there with my girlfriend (now my wife), standing on a high rock, looking down at the river, as the first snow of the season started drifting down. A pleasant memory.

As for McCourt, a real Irishman doesn't blame his drinking and laziness on the Church, but on the English!

word verification: dronymb
A boring dithyramb, as in "The Irish poet recited a dronymb about his days wandering the streets while drunk, lulling us to sleep."

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