Phillip Giambri aka The Ancient Mariner, NYC Coronavirus Malaise

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I have met Phillip Giambri at a reading in upstate New York eight years ago when preparing for a reading at NACL – that isn’t a chemical formula as you would be tricked into thinking but the North American Cultural Laboratory housed in a former church where there are scheduled plays and readings. Laura Moran, a performance poet, had invited me to take part in the reading that night in late August 2012. Phillip and I bonded instantly. It was obvious that he had Italian origins so that I decided to make a private reading – before the public one – for him and performed for the first time a poem of mine in Italian and English. That moment we became friends. Later on, I invited him over to read in Romania. And we published one of his fine stories in our review translated by me into Romanian (see at https://www.fitralit.ro/23-03-2016-11-septembrie/) about the terrible events that shocked the whole world on September 11th 2001. I invited him once more to honour our review and to write for us about how he feels in a fiercely coronavirus-stricken city, New York City, where he lives and that he loves so dearly. This time we publish his text in its original version. (Peter Sragher)

***

Overview:

Returning from a writer’s conference in Texas with my lady in March, I develop what I assume to be a severe cold complicated by seasonal allergies. Sick and alone at home for ten days, I recover to find the world I knew disintegrating around me. Thinking that I may have had a milder case of coronavirus, I am grateful for surviving but find that I’m unable to resume the post-retirement life I’ve been joyously living as a writer/performer.

I can no longer dine out, socialize, perform in clubs, or roam my neighborhood on daily adventures. I’ve lost my gym, and the friends I’ve made there over many years. I leave my apartment infrequently in search of non-meat foods that I can eat. Today, leaving a market, a homeless woman spots yogurt in my clear plastic shopping bag and says, “Can I have one?” I hand her one. She looks disparagingly at it and says, “Lo-fat vanilla? Is that all ya’ got?” and suddenly I’m apologizing for not offering a better selection, “That’s all they had. Sorry, it’s not my favorite either.”

Not cooking, I exist on smoothies, PB&J, and tuna sandwiches; things I haven’t eaten in a long time. I guess college-dorm dry ramen packs are next. Perhaps the most uplifting is the generosity of neighbors who leave bags of homemade bread, soups, and fruit pies by my door without note or comment. Home cooking is back in style in the East Village. I’m grateful. Nightly, I clap/salute front-line workers at 7, watch movies while sipping a vodka on the rocks, and retire early. My heart grieves as I observe the daily body count escalating beyond comprehension. Each morning brings a repeat of yesterday and each day melds into a hazy ambiguity. That other life now seems a dream or fantasy; hard to imagine or grasp as once real.

I exist on smoothies, PB&J, and tuna sandwiches

Trapped in a looped rerun of “Groundhog Day” with no apparent exit, my lover and I remain segregated and alone by government decree, in separate parts of the city, each fearing we’d infect the other. Separated since mid-March, our relationship now exists solely by phone, Facebook, or Zoom. Can any love survive under such deadly and depressing circumstances? We wonder aloud and hope for the best.

After a lifetime attempting to meditate and failing, I’ve unexpectedly fallen into a form of it during my quarantine. I spend countless hours in a seemingly suspended state of disconnection that I believe to be a product of my Navy submarine service during the Cold war where I was conditioned to disconnect from emotional distractions and to focus only on my assigned mission.  It worked fine in the military but isn’t working well here at all. I can successfully disconnect emotionally for hours but haven’t been able to focus on writing, reading, or any important artistic endeavours that had motivated my life prior to the pandemic. Corona Malaise overwhelms my imagination and cripples the muse who provides the words I write.

March 9, 2020

Full of false braggadocio, foolish enthusiasm, and having no real idea of what was about to happen:

“Fuck Corona Virus. I’m gonna’ be 79 soon and I’m pretty sure I’d rather die quickly from that than leaky colon cancer and a colostomy bag. Too old to give a SHIT! Literally.”

Corona Malaise overwhelms my imagination and cripples the muse

March 12, 2020

I find it quite astounding that average people don’t have enough toilet paper at home to last two weeks. It’s not like this virus causes diarrhoea and you have to crap twenty times a day. WTF?

March 25, 2020

Now that the shit’s goin’ down, who ya’ gonna’ call … two NYC born and bred Italian Americans with the balls to speak truth to power, the brains and honesty to speak truth to frightened Americans, and the decency, empathy, and genuine caring that make our orange POTUS look like what he really is, a stupid coward who tries to bully his way out of everything. YO! Thank you, Andy and Tony. Forget the cannoli, bring the ventilators.

March 29, 2020

Funny how quickly my world changed. Gentrification now seems like such an irrelevant and naive topic for conversation. A sudden tectonic plate shift in new priorities dominates everything and everyone’s perception of a newly emerging reality. „Nothing is lost but it changes.” – Anais Nin

We’re street smart and we ain’t dead yet!

April 5, 2020

Why I love NYC: 7:00 PM St. Marks Place erupts in clapping, banging, and a very loud heartbreaking Bill Withers’ „Lean on Me” blasting from somewhere.

„We’re coyotes. This ain’t the first or the worst we’ve seen. We’re street smart and we ain’t dead yet!” – from The Amorous Adventures of Blondie and Boho (Two East Village Dive Bar Coyotes).

April 13, 2020

Love survives the pain. Hang on.

 April 18, 2020

Watching „One World Together” and am so moved by the workers, artists, and corporations who are struggling and yet are supporting the WHO with large investments and donations while our faux president is trying to defund them and other corporations are getting billions in bailouts sucking the remaining life from our failing government. No hope left for Democracy in this failed Republic. So sad to see this in my lifetime.

Love survives pain.

April 22, 2020

Sad watching the actual end of life as I knew it disintegrating before me. What will the world become after this shitstorm ends and governments completely failed us? Have we learned anything or will the Political/Corporate Empire win again and continue to destroy life on this planet?  „Earth Day” has become the new corporate slogan to make greed and environmental destruction acceptable to vulnerable idealists. They sold us all out. „The Awakening” will probably not happen and everyone will go back to the same old shit that got us here. Sad for us all!

April 24, 2020

Who are the Real Heroes?

I enlisted in the Navy when I was eighteen. As a result of dangerous and life-threatening incidents in the Submarine Service, I learned to be a responsible adult because everyone’s life depended on the honesty, skills, dedication, and performance of everyone else. No fakin’ it on a submarine. You either measure up or shipmates can die. No “fuckups” allowed. I learned, grew, and became a “qualified” submariner. I left the Navy a richer person than the immature teenager who wanted to get away from home and get laid. I never really considered myself brave, selfless, or heroic, I just did my job and tried to be sure that I wouldn’t be the one who fucked up and killed 120 shipmates or broke down and cried when shit got bad. I was honestly more afraid of that than of dying. No hero, me.

We are now confronted with a horror of unimaginable magnitude and a federal government that refuses to commit to its responsibility, I find my beloved city and my state in a situation where healthcare workers, EMTs, firefighters, Police, Sanitation Workers, Transit Workers, janitors, bodega workers, and all the other “essential workers” who’ve labored at minimum wage and daily endanger their lives and the lives of their families to protect us, save us, and provide us with the basics of daily survival are left without the equipment and staffing they need to protect themselves and their families. They work in horrific situations that I can’t even imagine, lacking the tools they need to save lives, protect themselves, and their families. Their lives are now lived in fear, exhaustion, and isolation as they watch fellow New Yorkers die terrified and alone. Who in their right mind would sign up for that?

Who are the real heroes?

I am humbled yet again by the selflessness of my neighbors who go to work daily trying to save lives and protect my sorry ass. At this late stage in my life, I can only attempt to salute the real everyday heroes who do it without any promise or prospect of reward. We bang pots, clap, and make noise every night at 7:00 pm to honor their sacrifice knowing that our government will not respect, equal, or match our appreciation for their sacrifice. YOU ARE OUR REAL HEROES! I’m just a grateful grumpy old Vet who isn’t worthy enough to shine your shoes. The woods are burning and you are asked to fight the fires with garden hoses. Shame on our government for failing you.

April 25, 2020

At this stage, most New Yorkers have lost someone they know. With a flat line around 450 deaths a day, the nightmare goes on.

April 26, 2020

I haven’t cooked for years. I eat out. I love eating out. After forty-eight days in quarantine, I’m fantasizing a lot about sitting in one of my favorite local restaurants, ordering a Manhattan straight up, savoring a mouth-watering meal, and ending with a double espresso and dessert. Will I ever see that again? Who knows? One can dream, can’t one?

Most New Yorkers have lost someone they know

These times once again harken back to my days as a submariner. Reaching the end of a sixty-day patrol in the North Atlantic, we received word that our patrol was being extended because of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Food rations were getting critical after a few days of the extension and after a week we were down to coffee, pimento cream cheese spread, and powdered French onion soup. Things were getting bad but submariners have a way of always coping. In the days long before politically correct, most naval ships were heavily decorated with foldouts of nude women from Playboy and other “nudie mags” of the era. Our crew started fantasizing about food, glorious meals, mouthwatering delicacies, and desserts of every kind. Soon, the “nudies” were all replaced with beautiful color pictures of food and sumptuous meals clipped from magazines and hung everywhere, even more so on the walls of our Mess Hall.

When our emergency extension finally ended, we returned to Scotland, and restocked our freezers and food lockers with filet-mignon, lobster tails, canned crab-meat, and other incredible delicacies we had been fantasizing about those long hungry days. The food photos were replaced once again with our favorite centerfolds.

Comment this day: This horror will end, we will all rejoice for a week, and then go back to the same old stupid shit we were doing before. „Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

April 27, 2020

Top Manhattan ER doc commits suicide, shaken by coronavirus onslaught.

April 28, 2020

If all was good in the world, The Blue Angels would have flown by and dropped a few tons of testing swabs but I guess this wasn’t about helping; it was showbiz.

Just received in the mail a well-made, washable, protective mask from „Big Sexy” in Los Angeles, CA. The only „Big Sexy” I know moved from NYC and returned to her hometown in Australia a few years ago. Whoever this „Big Sexy” is, thank you from a grateful New Yorker in the thick of the soup here.

Joke of the Day: First, we hear alcohol may prevent the virus… now research suggests the opposite. Then we’re told heat and humidity has no effect but wait… direct sunlight might quickly kill the virus. So, if you come across an old guy standing in the sun in front of a building on St. Marks Place, intoxicated and naked, leave me alone… I’m conducting important medical research.

April 29, 2020

NY Times: Dozens of Decomposing Bodies Found in Trucks at Brooklyn Funeral Home

The funeral home director said that he used the trucks for storage after he ran out of space in his chapel. “Bodies are coming out of our ears,” he said.

May 2, 2020

St. Marks Place is pretty busy today with about 1/3rd of the people feeling they don’t need masks or gloves. They’re mostly thirty-somethings and under.

”Bodies are coming out of our ears”

May 3, 2020

On 1st Avenue in East Village NYC. Hipster joggers beware.

May 5, 2020

In this pandemic, New Yorkers are acting the way all Americans used to act in times of peril and disaster. I’m proud to live here and so very happy I live in a state where we’re not being forced to go back to work in a contaminated meat-packing plant because we’ll lose our unemployment if we don’t. Never liked this governor but he rose to the occasion and put the needs of his people above his political agenda, unlike Old Orange Face whose re-election plans are to try to revive the economy by tripling the amount of lost American lives. The Statue of Liberty is weeping.

La Palapa on St. Marks near 1st Ave has a line outside waiting for Cinco de Mayo takeout orders. The security guy was handing out free t-shirts to everyone in line. Nice gesture neighbor.

May 17, 2020

Really? No masks on you Millennials hangin’ in front of takeout bars on Sunday night without safe distancing? A mask around your neck is not a mask. Is the plan to kill off all of us old Boomers? Good luck with that. We’ve survived worse shit without getting trophies just for showing up and Keith Richards is our mentor. Fuck ya’ll.

May 26, 2020

Yes, the deaths are going down in NYC but why do I keep hearing of more every day from friends and families? It hurts.

May 29, 2020

This is not the America we studied in Civics Class. Maybe the problem is that we dropped Civics class in schools and the following generations never learned or understood clearly who and what we were/are supposed to be. We are not and never were Red States and Blue States.

The Great American Experiment in Democracy has failed

We are the United States and yet we find ourselves permanently split into angry factions and on the brink of becoming a third-rate banana republic. So sad to watch the American Dream fade not just for us, but for the whole world that aspired to be us. We blew it. The Great American Experiment in Democracy has failed. Shame on all of us. We should have been better than this.

May 30, 2020

Peaceful protest march tonight from Tompkins Square park marching west on St. Marks Place with drums beating, signs hoisted, and passing under my window. Looked to be 200-300 or maybe even a bit more. Seven police walking along the sidewalk together keeping an eye on things. Nice mixed group of mostly younger folks. That’s a positive sign.

May 31, 2020

After watching hundreds of peaceful protesters march along my street last night I awoke this morning to reports of „rioting and looting” on 2nd Avenue near my block. I couldn’t believe that the people I saw last night would engage in rioting and looting. This morning I went out and toured the „riot” zone alone 2nd Avenue. First stop was the Verizon store on 2nd near St. Marks Place. I hope the sign that was posted there is true and that this was not my neighbors. Next broken windows were at Moishe’s Bakery and the last I saw was at Apple Bank, the former site of Fillmore East. That’s the only damage I saw and it seems very deliberate in the choices of damage; a large national communications company, what was for years a landmark Jewish bakery (flashback to Kristallnacht), and a bank. Rioting and looting doesn’t seem to have been the objective here but rather sowing hate and dissent. I truly hope it was not my neighbors who would do this. We’re better than this.

BLM

You were that time then.
This time is mine now.
You were not my voice.
I am now my voice
I will be heard
and this time
you will listen.

June 2, 2020

E. V. Grieve on Facebook: Windows were smashed at the Gap Women, Kmart and Starbucks on Astor Place

June 4, 2020

When I served in the Navy Submarine Force, my life was in the hands of black, brown, red, yellow, and white brother submariners. We were friends, we were combatants, we were shipmates and we had each other’s backs when shit got bad. We trained, we sweated and we bled together. We came together from all parts of the country; we came from all religions. We were a

Racism is never okay and should never be tolerated

society unto ourselves. We worked as a team, a well-oiled machine. We had each other’s back

That was what we did. The only color we saw was Navy Blue We were and always will be brothers. Racism is never okay and should never be tolerated.

June 6, 2020

I still remember when American soldiers were ordered to fight enemies on foreign shores, not fellow Americans here at home. With all of the highest-ranking retired military condemning this administration’s coup attempts, I can’t fathom how anyone who ever served in the military can still support such anti-American „wrecking ball” destruction of the constitution and the rule of law.

Dreamers

How did we get to this place?
We were a nation of dreamers
We were a nation of idealists
We were a nation of accomplishment.
We were a nation that valued the rule of law.

But we are a nation that dreams only white dreams.
We are a nation based on consumerism not need.
We are a nation based on capitalism, not charity.
We are a nation that values the rule of law for US, not all.
We are not the United States imagined by founders
but we can be
if we start again
and dream a different dream
a fair and just dream.

June 11, 2020

Until today I was just another dive bar Coyote prowlin’ the neighborhood in my disposable blue CVS protective mask. Now I’ve joined the Saint Marks fashion elite in my new handmade protective mask with original graphics by local artist Sarah Sweeney. Her friend makes the masks and Sarah provides original graphics. They’re offering these very cool, stylish, and original masks for $25 with ALL of the proceeds being donated to the ACLU. Sarah’s on Facebook if you want to message her and get one. They’ll probably be collectibles in a few years ‘cause she that freakin’ good.

June 14, 2020

These Times

Dreadin’ these times
yet wedded to these times.
We shook the bottle ‘til it blew up
and we still ain’t grew up.

Now we screamin’ at the system
that we allowed to become us
‘til it’s eaten the core of us
yet we all still suckin’ on its tit.

We are not the victims,
we are the cause.
We’ve been bought, sold,
and delivered
to the highest bidder
while Mitch the Bitch
spins the wheel
and everybody loses.

June 18, 2020

Well, the Zombie Apocalypse has arrived but not with the expected grey-faced, returnees from the dead staggering toward you with arms outstretched and ready to kill you. No, it turns out they’ve come cleverly disguised as Millennials and Hipsters staggering in front of bars with takeout designer cocktails, wearing masks around their necks, if at all, and not bothering to socially distance, not caring if they inadvertently infect and cause the death of some local geezers. Scarier for me than those B Movie zombies for sure.

June 20, 2020

After weeks of news coverage showing large crowds lining my street not social distancing, masks around necks (if at all), drinking takeout drinks from local bars and restaurants the Governor of NY was furious and threatened to remove liquor licenses for any establishments serving drinks and allowing customers to loiter out front partying. It worked. This week most bars and restaurants posted signs saying that they’re no longer serving alcoholic drinks and/or posting signs that loitering is not permitted. My next-door neighbor posted this amazing picture of our deserted block with available parking spaces on a Saturday night in Summer. Last Saturday the street and sidewalks were overwhelmed by young partyers and traffic jams.

June 25, 2020

Identity Theft

Months of isolation, distancing,
lack of interaction with others,
watching daily death tolls mount into absurdity
and catastrophic national political failures
eventually caused me to emotionally disconnect;
for self-preservation, I guess.

No new life experiences
other than loneliness and despair
have slowly eaten into my identity
and the perception of who I am.

Music and photo were always a means of
connecting to memories and emotions
but they now seem detached
as though they were someone else’s
or that I read about or saw in a movie or play.
I still see them in my mind or in pictures
but they no longer belong to me
or connect emotionally.

When this pandemic ends
and life enters a new “normal”
will I emerge with a new identity
bereft of past life experiences
beginning life anew at 79 years old?

I hope that as I emerge from isolation
and engage with others in the new reality
that I will be able to reconnect
to the me that was
and enjoy the memories of past life
experiences, emotions, and loves
once again.


Phillip Giambri left home at eighteen and never looked back.  He’s seen and done what others dream of or fear.  That’s how he lives and that’s what he writes. He lives in East Village, NYC since 1971.

His 2016 book Confessions of a Repeat Offender is a compilation of his performance stories and poems.  His 2017 chapbook Love Borne in Retrograde is a collection of love poems and erotica. His work has appeared in From Somewhere to Nowhere: The End of the American Dream (Unbearables Anthology 2017) Eternal Snow:  A Worldwide Anthology of 100 Poets withYuyutsu Sharma, Home Planet News (Issues #2 and #5), Sensitive Skin Magazine, Artists in the Kitchen, “Walt’s Corner” (The Long Islander), Silver Birch Press, NewYorkCityTalking.com and the prestigious Revista de traduceri literare (Review of Literary Translations) no. 5 (Bucharest, Romania).  He has been featured in a 2016 New York Times story/interview, The Villager, Chelsea News, and in 2017 on WBAI’s “Talk Back” FM radio with Corey Kilgannon.  He was also a featured poet at the historic Club A in Bucharest, Romania. 

Phillip produced and curated a popular monthly spoken word/poetry event, Rimes of The Ancient Mariner for five years, is Associate Producer Off-Broadway production of “Intrusion” (Written and performed by Qurrat Ann Kadwani), as well as special collaborative events with other artist/performers; Barflies & Broken Angels, The Nickie, Jameson, and Fred Show, What the Hell Is Love?, The Losers Club, Are You Dangerous, What Were the ‘60s Really like? New York Story Exchange, and 10 Penny Comedy Show. www.AncientMarinerTales.com.

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