The Digger Papers (August, 1968)
Final City, Tap City:
Crack at the Bottom of It
They grow wherever there is water. From the sea they mostly look white.
Thin concrete skin over bay-shore, lakeside, riverbank. Big barnacles on a
Dome of foul air, full of radio squeaks, TV signals, Radar. Shriek of
Jet. Flap flap helicopter. Foulness flowing into all the very waters that
made them come to be. "Hard, flat, incurable sore, Baltimore."
Inside, the din is unbelievable.
Millions of terrified beings scurry through senseless mazes of tunnels
and lanes and doors and corridors. The senses are insulted. Nose abused.
Eyes revolted. Ears unable to shut it out. Lungs blanketed with lethal
dust. Tired feet.
Everybody rushing about on some little errand somebody forced him to
do. At pain of death. "Faces insane with purpose." William
Designed to protect everything inside from everything outside (country,
they used to call it). Gradually there was no "outside."
Lots of danger, in.
Cities keep getting bigger and bigger and faster. People, inside them,
get more crazed. Lots of them just can't do it anymore.
See them scrubbing that single marble step at the madhouse. Twenty
years and the step is noticeably lower, very smooth. Or the Veteran, they
call him, setting records at Livermore Hospital for the most wallets ever
made in "Leather Therapy." He makes one, and only one, kind of
wallet. Can't get him to go to lunch some days.
He isn't any crazier than any boss. The main difference is, he took it
all on himself, chose a small part of the world where he could work,
without hurting anybody, and made that part of the world clean. He's
beautiful, at most an inch away from making it, and miserable, and lost.
I had a father-in-law, once, a gentle, good, Jewish man who worked his
whole life in City. A newspaper man for Hearst, in Chicago. He once spent
3 days in a phone booth, in a race riot. "Nobody wanted to phone, so
I was safe there. And I could phone my stories in." He couldn't
always dart out to piss, even.
He went with us once on a vacation to the Wisconsin lakes. He was
afraid to take a walk in the evenings: "The deer will put your eyes
out with their horns." I tried to explain my admiration for him, that
every corner in Chicago is far more dangerous, every day.
Unaware of his life of heroism, he trembled in the forest. But he went
out into it, finally. And one fine evening he was lucky enough to surprise
3 deer only 20 feet away. They stared at one another for a moment, and
when the deer stately left, he wept at their beauty.
City boy makes good. Age 56.
"Temperature Inversion" in London 1962 killed 5,000 folks in
3 days. (Warm air is on top, like a cap, and all the poisons get trapped
in there, inside.)
"Mostly old folks with lung trouble anyway or bad hearts,"
they said. Figuring it out, later, they found that inversion for 5 days,
instead of 3, would kill all of London, man and boy. Ten million London
folks done in by the stink they send to heaven.
Or water. Most cities so vulnerable $50 of TNT in the right place on
the aqueduct and no taps drip. Tap City. Millions, crazed, killing for a
cup of water. Huge profits from a bathtub.
That was no-water. Consider too much of the stuff.
Every summer some part of Chicago get 3 inches of rain in 24 hours. No
elevators, no lights, no way to get home.
"Wiped out!" they say. "$5,000 for the game room, not
even counting the pool table. Never happened before."
Every summer of the world. Disaster of the 3-inch rain.
There's a danger too grave even to be named if we stand on ground we do
not know. Most of us stand in City. Few know what that City is.
City is not even ground, but thin concrete on top of ground. Plus human
The Planet, as shown by the anecdote of the deer, is something else.
The Planet simply waits there, gentle and undemanding, until we get out of
the way. Leave a city 25 years and grass, trees, berry vines, will crack
All those hyped-up errands! All those speedy days!
It's even worse to stand in meat and skin we do not know. City destroys
our sense of meat and skin, because City insults every sense we have.
Every organ of sense. Every organ.
Once I was walking with Phil Whalen at 6th and Mission and he had to
excuse himself. I waited on the corner while he went into a bar. When he
came back he said, "I hate to piss in skidrow bars, the floors are
always wet and I have holes in my shoes."
There is such a thing as City, and we have to show what that is. We
have to know what ground we're walking on, or we'll all be suckers and
fools. After 25 years with the Company, a calendar, a hearty handshake,
and permission to get through the gate to talk to your friends.
I always admired Arthur Koestler, and always was enraged by him. I knew
him to be smart, well read, and almost pathologically honest. Also, he
cared a lot about the things I wanted to know. None of this changed the
fact that I knew Koestler was wrong. "Wrong" is a very good
word. Very few educated people still know how to use it.
Just 2 weeks ago I found Koestler giving himself away to my sense of
his wrongness. He says, in Yogi and the Commisar, that we are a
"vulnerable animal, living on a hostile planet."
Clearly this man has never looked at his own two hands. Has never known
the miracle of his human eyes. Does not know that he is the only animal
that can out-climb a mountain (as the north-west Indians do, chinning
themselves on quarter-inch ledges in the rock, till they drive the goat to
where the goat must fall). Can do that, and also swim. Can run with the
halter in his hand until the horse drops dead. Can curl up into a ball, as
the fox does, let the snow cover him, for warmth, and make it through a
blizzard on Mt. Shasta. As John Muir did.
Koestler doesn't know the skin he stands in, the meat he is, and he
doesn't know the ground he's standing on. What, possibly, can he tell us
about anything else?
All we get are reports from various errand boys (at pain of death) and
very accurate descriptions of organized insanity.
Koestler knows he's wrong, he's always cringing about it. He is the
scapegoat, here, not because he's the worst, but because he's among the
best of those who make articulate the European Mind we must (at pain of
Camus and Sartre make the same errors, but have no humbleness.
City is so human. Is it possible that this becomes our Tragic Flaw?
(Seeing City as Mindless evolution, irreversible, Man's way of changing,
Are we doomed to die by City? City for us like Pterodactyl flew his
huge, Dinosaur, carcass with his little finger? Pinky finally 6 feet long
and a web of skin for wing, but everything else was wrong and he cashed
in. Victim of super-specialization.
Is it so with us? "The trouble with organization is it's just like
perfection, the more you have the more you want." Gertrude Stein.
No use wading through Sociological swamps how breakdown of
family-church-community-morals — "We lost our roots" — causes
fidgety kids in the suburb, builds huge head-shrink industry, drives all
to dope. Those folks spent all their time trying to figure out why
it got this way. They never found out, therefore, where it had
got to. Let alone getting to things to do about it.
Obviously, it's all but over. Even if you don't, as I haven't yet,
bring in the Big Bomb.
And what this realization has done is to create a huge number of people
who are Immigrants in their own native land. This may be almost the first
time it's happened. Always, before, there was somewhere to go. Even Moses
could march his folks away.
But this is the full circle. Uruburus has taken his tail in his mouth.
Man has always moved westerly, now is piling up on the Pacific Cliffs, and
Japan is flooding back on us. It is all One. At last.
It's hard to say what to do about it, because it may be too late, and
what small things are being done about it are just now starting. Or say
it: It may be all over already, and it isn't even started yet.
The "Total Assault on the Culture" by Ed Sanders, and by
Diggers, and all who identify with the Hip, will certainly produce a whelm
of beautiful souls, it already has. Whether it will save the species is a
very grave, and doubtful, question.
Immigrants on their own native soil have already established a style
which has much to commend it. We have kicked the habits of Success,
Ambition, Cleanliness/Godliness, Duty, Purpose, Loyalty, Citizenship, and
in some rare and truly beautiful instances, as with Allen Ginsberg, the
loss of European sense of "Self."
Like all Immigrants, we band together to save energy. Jews, coming to
New York, banded together in sixes and nines and bought a Brownstone
house, for cash. They ate together at a common table. Freed of rent and
eating well and easy (you can feed 12 or more people for the same price as
3), they could turn their pushcarts into million-dollar estates.
Today their children get high together. Work little, eat well, ball
like crazy, and use all their energy to perfect their own beings, and to
help the perfection of others.
It may be an ugly word in America, but this is a religious revolution,
just like the first one, and less hung up. Like, everybody fucks.
The worst Persian voluptuary could not have dreamed our most ordinary
Gluttony, greed, lack of compassion, has caused America to become the
most despised nation on Earth. The sad thing is, my Polish Lady tells me,
we were throughout her youth, and still are, or could be, the hope of all.
We face great holocausts, terrible catastrophies, all American cities
burned from within, and without.
However, our beautiful Planet will germinate -- underneath this thin
skin of City, Green will come on to crack our sidewalks! Stinking air will
blow away at last! The bays flow clean!
And there will be signs. We will know when to slip away and let these
murderous fools rip themselves to pieces.
In the meantime, stay healthy. There are hundreds of miles to walk, and
lots of work to be done. Keep your mind. We will need it. Stake out a
retreat. Learn berries and nuts and fruit and small animals and all the
plants. Learn water.
For there must be good men and women in the mountains, on the beaches,
in all the neglected and beautiful places, so that one day we come back to
ghostly cities and try to set them right.
There must not be a plan. We have always been defeated by our Plan.
In all that rubble, think of the beautiful trinkets we can wave about
our heads as we dance!
As we do right now. As we do right now.