New York Avatar
No. 1, March 29, 1968

I've been coming to New York a long time now, ever since, in fact, I was born, an event which took place just across the bridge in King's County Hospital. That time it took me about three years before I made it to East 91st Street where I lingered briefly before going south with my family to Florida. Quite a while was spent down there, passing the time while my father died, getting into the school thing, constantly having my overly fair Irish skin baked by the sun, but once in a couple of years I'd land up back here for a visit. Of those visits I remember Bloomingdale's, the Egyptian rooms at the Met, the Steeplechase at Coney Island with the magical horse ride on rails ringing the building, the zoo, of course, where I became involved with a white cockadoo who learned my name after what must have been thirty of more excursions to the Bird House, sailing my boat in the Central Park pond, double-decker buses, believe it or not, on Fifth Avenue, a robot man at Rockefeller Center as well as the strange spectacle of my Aunt Nannie climbing her way up the stairs to her apartment backwards (she smoked too much, I remember).

Yet the moments most evocative of that time were those spent looking at a map of New York over the sofa in my Aunt's apartment. It was an unusual map and was intended, I think, to render graphically the history of New York. At the foot of Manhatten Island stood two Indians and a fellow in Rembrandt clothing who were exchanging beads and pieces of paper. On the Hudson sailed a four-masted ship, while up in the vicinity of the Cloisters (represented as well) two armies were fighting it out. History, however, was not the sole concern of the map, for along with the Cloisters there rose the Empire State Building and most of the other major concrete features of the area. In any case, I spent hours lost in that map, smelling at the same time the delicious odor of chocolate which daily drifted in from a neighborhood candy-maker. As to precisely what I saw, I cannot really say; who can account for the reach of a child's imagination.

Wherever I want on those childish trips around New York may be forgotten, but the mood itself lingers to this day. If, instead of Indians and Dutchman, I saw only a park and the rivers when I actually visited the Battery, it did not matter very much. After all, that view can eclipse anything of the mere fantastic. Yet I always carried along the image seen on the map, so that the edge between reality and the graphic representation was pretty well blurred — in other words, neither one or the other was completely before me, understandable, I suppose, for one who had an early age succumbed to the myth of New York. And New York is that, a myth, more than a conglomeration of buildings, or a particular cross-section of history and geography. It has to be. How in the world can its endurance be explained otherwise? Surely this enormous insult to plausibility must be mythic. Either that, or it is a vast refuge for the possessed presided over by a demon keeper diabolical beyond reckoning. Of the two, I'll say the former, that New York lies somewhere between fiction and fact, somewhere between the queer map and a rat scurrying along a trail of milk toward a baby's crib. So I define myth and use metaphors to describe the indescribable.

It is certainly the myth of New York that calls me back again and again. Out there in the hinterlands of America, where relative sanity prevails, where sometimes even serenity is found, I have turned, hesitated, always resisted, but nonetheless answered the siren's call that too often changes men — me — into swine. Why riskness pigness when it's possible elsewhere to be a man? I have no answer, unless it be that my interest is always in what I can become, be it pig, or man, or god — and thus, the myth, although what constitutes godliness in New York may merely be the preservation of a sense of humanity, if it is ever anything else. And again — thus the myth: that in the texture of symbols and history overlaying the sewer called New York there may just be room for a sense of humanity, as absurd as it may seem amid the most incredible collection of brutes in existence.

Certainly the last time I left the city, about two years ago, I had little doubt about my status and swore at the time that I had had enough. But after a year or so of almost unbroken ennui, than another of such intensity that I often thought myself mad (I was probably was and still am to some degree), a few tumblers fell and the door swung open again. I think I said damn.

Whatever I said, the decision was made and suddenly the burden was on me to do something about it, a scary in any situation, but this time I would be returning with a newspaper called Avatar in tow. Now that's not a light piece of baggage; it is in reality much more than a mere newspaper, it is a spirit grown atop a hill in Boston.

Of course, what flourishes in Boston may easily wither in New York — nearly all else does, so why not Avatar? That is the question, one which will be answered before spring is out.

I don't think Avatar will wither here. If I did, we would have stayed safely in Boston where the winters are long and cold, but where genuine warmth truly exists. Believe me, not I nor anyone else in on this affair is particularly interested in suicide. That's for romantics, and they went out the window with Hoxie. Still, the danger is there. The window, that is.

Understand please, that I am not just talking about the flimsy thing called Avatar. It may be the handiest object that demonstrates our spirit, but it is hardly the spirit itself. Should the newspaper die — and we will do everything we can to prevent that — well, it would be a loss, but we can always get into something else.

I speak instead of our community which we are now stretching considerably. In many ways the advent of a New York Avatar is primarily a testing of the elasticity of the bonds formed on Fort Hill in Boston, a place for me somewhere on the perimeter of paradise. So, stretching a metaphor while I'm at it, leaving Boston for New York is getting pretty close to the Land of Nod, on the east of Eden. And even should the paper succeed in a conventional sense, it would have to be considered a miserable failure if its soul be killed in the process.

What precisely that soul is can only be seen in the paper itself. I cannot describe it, other than to state the obvious: that its nexus is Mel Lyman. In turn, to describe Mel Lyman is also an impossibility, unless I were to exhaust the language of its more exotic words, including some of the most raptuous as well as a few of the most pungent. I'm not about to do that, since I have neither time nor room for volumes: About all I can add is: skin your eyes. Read the paper. Read our magazine. Read Mel. Read Eben's meditation on the opposite page. Read. Look. Listen. Then...

Laugh and kill, laugh and kill,
play and work then laugh and kill.
On a cold and sunny day
take a friend out far away
take him where the fields are turning
light a match and set them burning
tie him to a log to die
smile so he will wonder why
drive back home and go to bed
dream about your friend that's dead.
There's a lesson, one from Melinda, an especially rarified creature who lives on the Hill in Boston.

Which at least breaks me out of my solemnity, a state I have always found pretty uncomfortable, that is, except when I'm living in New York....

Brian Keating