Archives For January 2014
The best dream I ever had brought me joy. (My best friend of more than twenty years died. That’s not the dream; that’s real life.) The dream: The phone rang, a wall phone. I picked up and heard Matt’s calm, cheerful voice saying hello. How are things there, Mattie? I asked. Pretty good, he said (that was always his highest compliment). So glad to hear that, Matt, so glad that things are pretty good on the other side . . . and that dream was vivid, the voice, the clarity of the message, and the peace that stayed with me . . . long after wall phones, “(to think they’ve given him a phone in heaven).” i
In Book of Dreams Jack writes “All that we lost will come back to us in heaven,” and Jack recalls the sad days after his young brother died, “In the general family lostness, here, it’s like night Gerard died and the yelling relatives in the upstairs bedrooms” when “I must have thought it was the end of the world.” ii And Jack clues us in on his feelings “—and I wake on this bed of horror to a nightmare only life could have devised.” iii
The prose poetry starts on page one, “OH! THE HORRIBLE VOYAGES I’ve had to take across the country and back with gloomy railroads and stations you never dreamed of—” iv Maybe we never dreamed of, but we certainly accompanied you on those voyages, many times . . . “on the most awful fognight and rainwild walls of sea shroud ice haunted ships with tragic rigging wheel and keen in the drownable bay . . . and it’s always reassuring nourishuring to know in this dream the maniacal angels do gather in one lit spot.” v
All is not “dreamglooms,” vi there’s charming writing, too, “I’m late and walk up and down the corridors smiling realizing for the first time that I don’t have to go to high school at all because I’m a great writer . . .” vii Ah, to not have to go to high school, now that is a dream (having survived my own high school nightmares recalled in CBGB Was My High School) and to not have to go to school because you’re a famous writer, wow, that certainly is a dream come true. And Jack’s dreams go back to high school, Maggie Cassidy and the old Lowell gang.
It would be remiss not to mention that several dreams refer to inappropriate behavior toward young girls. That complicates the book, but in the words of Terence nil a me alienum puto, (I am human therefore nothing human is alien to me). A dream is a dream, not a reality acted upon. (Note: this is not an endorsement, merely a signal. Children need to be protected, end of soapbox.) But the sensitive Jack also writes about “little children doing novenas,” viii so such is the ebb and flow of one poet’s mind. The writing is raw, gentle, rough, original, a reflection of the fully human, fully flawed, lamenting man.
i Kerouac, Jack. Book of Dreams. (San Francisco: City Lights, 2001), p. 200.
ii Ibid., p. 25.
I might not get the date right once in a while. I try to be more accurate than other journalists, which is not that difficult. You have to distinguish between what happened and what the situation was.
You can’t be objective when you’re dealing with passionate situations, politics and so forth. I guess you can, I never have. For instance if you were objective about Richard Nixon, you would never get him or understand him. You had to be subjective to understand Nixon. You have to be subjective to understand the Hells Angels.
A Strange and Terrible Transition
Following the publication of Hell’s Angels, Hunter S Thompson had earned the respect necessary to write for The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Pageant and others. Then, with the publication of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in 1972, he cemented his own strange reputation. Between these major events, he began to write for Rolling Stone, who would publish serialisations of his Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the original articles that became Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. His articles for Rolling Stone documented his running for sheriff of Aspen on the Freak Power ticket, and many of his other crazy escapades. Jann Wenner recalls Thompson’s first appearance at Rolling Stone’s headquarters as wearing a perm wig and carrying beer, suggesting again Thompson’s desire to making an impression.
So by the time Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 was published, Thompson was a legendary figure in his own right, with notoriety rivalled by no other journalist. It became difficult for him to attend press conferences, because the questions would inevitably be aimed at him, while his ‘fortified compound’ in WoodyCreek became a point of pilgrimage for fans.
There was no doubt then in the minds of his readers, and even in the minds of those who had never read a Hunter S Thompson book, that his life was exactly like he presented it in his novels. And it is with this infamy that a new era emerges in his writing, marking a shift from an exploration of events through the presentation of himself as the comical centrepiece and the event or idea as the background, to direct character assassination and the use of his notoriety as an angry man to bend the truth openly to present a feeling that captured a person.
It appears that after Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas his work becomes more journalistic, yet less accurate in many ways. He takes on politics, especially following his unsuccessful sheriff campaign, and does so as a reporter. His adventures become second string to the action on the political circuit, yet the action on the political circuit takes place through his warped eyes.
In 1968, Thompson was invited onto Nixon’s campaign bus, and told that he could talk to the politician about ‘nothing but football.’ Nixon was well aware of Thompson’s reputation as a sports reporter and football fanatic, and the two apparently talked about football for some time. This conversation suggested to Thompson that Nixon’s brilliant understanding of tactics and plays allowed him manipulate everything to his political advantage.
Later that year Thompson went to Chicago to cover the Democratic Convention and, despite his press credentials, was beaten by police batons and thrown through a plate glass window. Thompson claims the event turned him into a ‘cold-blooded revolutionary’.
The two events are pivotal in Thompson’s writing career. The first introduced him to his nemesis, Richard Milhous Nixon, the man with whom Thompson became synonymous, and the second was a personal encounter with the injustice of state oppression.
Of course, if we are to ignore the fact that these events are known because they were described by Thompson himself, then we can take them as keys to his shift in style. His apparent intimacy with Nixon allows him to tell us things about the President that are never proven and explained in great depth. And Thompson’s style of reporting from this point on becomes significantly more vulgar as he begins to insinuate and make unfounded and comical attacks on politicians, unprovoked seemingly, as perhaps unprovoked as his attack by government forces in 1968.
 Bulger, A., ‘The Hunter S Thompson Interview’ CultureMarch 9 2003
5th ANNUAL DENVER NEAL CASSADY BIRTHDAY BASH FEBRUARY 7th
The Fifth Annual Neal Cassady Birthday Bash will take place on Friday, February 7th at 8:00pm, upstairs at the Mercury Café located at 2199 California in Denver.
The Bash features music, poetry and reminiscences celebrating the birthday and life of Neal Cassady. Reared on the streets of Denver, pop culture icon Cassady was the archetype Beat writer as well as the protagonist of
Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” He also was the driver of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters bus for the “Acid Tests.” Throughout his life Neal exuded a style and distinct Denver “cool” which cemented his stature as a true American original.
The 2014 Bash will feature Cathy, Jami and John Allen Cassady presenting a special tribute to their Mother the late Carolyn Cassady who died in 2013. In addition, poet, cannabis advocate and founder of the 60’s White Panther
Party John Sinclair will fly in from Amsterdam to perform with his Blues Scholars. And to conclude the Bash, the David Amram Quartet-augmented by Jazz power couple Richie Cole and Janine Santana-will play a full set of Jazz in their only Denver appearance. A friend and collaborator of both
Cassady and Kerouac, David Amram’s integration of jazz, ethnic and folk and film music has led him to work with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Pete Seger and
many others. The New York Times noted that the eighty two old Amram was “multicultural before multiculturalism existed.”
There will also be free birthday cake! Tickets will be available at the door and are on sale now at BrownPaperTickets.com.
Denver’s self-described “unnatural son” Neal Cassady would have been 88 years old on February 8th.
In 1995 a scholar named Jorge Garcia-Robles wrote a long essay about William S. Burroughs’ time in Mexico, partly based upon interviews conducted with Burroughs and people that knew him during his time there. The essay was well-received and won the Malcolm Lowry literary essay award, and Garcia-Robles became the leading expert on the Beat Generation and their ties to Mexico.
Unfortunately this reviewer doesn’t speak Spanish and had to wait a rather long time for the book to be translated. Eighteen years seems surprising for such a highly regarded text to be translated into English. Having waited so long to read this book, and having had it sent all the way from the University of Minnesota (where it was published by the university press) to Cambodia (where your humble reviewer resides) just compounded my excitement.
From the moment I opened the packaging, however, I was disappointed. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – and you shouldn’t – but in this case the cover is just plain ugly. The repetition of one image across the front seems lazy, the text is hard to pick out, the spine colour doesn’t match either the colours on the front or the back, and the back cover makes it look like a children’s book.
But, as I said, one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
Once you open the book, you can see some thought has gone into the layout, and it is mostly visually pleasing, although I would suggest that the text size and line spacing again make this appear like a children’s book – albeit an attractive one.
But I will stop criticizing the design now. That’s neither the fault of Garcia-Robles nor the book’s translator, Daniel C. Schechter, and, after all, some of Burroughs’ own books had ugly editions and that didn’t detract from their quality.
My ultimate assessment of this book – which I have put off now for too many paragraphs – is that it’s more or less unreadable. As I mentioned previously, I do not speak Spanish cannot pass judgment on Garcia-Robles, who by all accounts is a wonderful scholar and an invaluable contributor to Beat studies. So I have to say that the fault lies at the feet of Schechter, the book’s translator. The man appears to have had a tough task set out for him. The original Spanish – I’m told – was a playful, lively, and inventive narrative that fused the culture of Mexico with the research that the author had done. This has simply not come across in the English edition. My guess, as someone who does have experience in translation, is that Schechter has been too literal and too exact, and the result is very awkward and irritatingly inconsistent text. It feels at times as though the publishers simply fed the original text into Google Translate and barely spent an hour tidying up the resulting gibberish. After only a few pages, I found myself dreading the next paragraph as it had become such a chore to read.
In some ways, too, it appears that different writers have written different paragraphs or even chapters, as the chopping and changing of Schechter’s narrative continues to jar the reader. It becomes particularly convoluted when we move into chapter two and Burroughs’ arrival in Mexico. Once again I will give Garcia-Robles the benefit of the doubt and assume that his text read well in Spanish, but in English it’s nothing short of embarrassing:
Mexico City, mid-twentieth century. Maaamboooo… ah uh! Caberets everywhere, brothels on every corner, a vibrant nightlife. Big on the scene was Perez Prado, the pint-sized Cuban inventor of the mambo, with a face like a seal’s and a Luciferesque beard, deported for playing the national anthem in mambo style. Never mind: nothing could stop the fiesta. Cha cha cha… ah uh! It was madness. Aaron Copeland visits the Salon Mexico and is enchanted by the dance hall; the muses descend and he composes one of his greatest symphonic works. Miguel Aleman allowed everything. Hell, we could go all night, the clubs never closed: Ciro’s. Catacumbas. Las Veladoras. La Rata Muerta, Waikiki. Leda. Lola. Tato’s. The culture of the blowout – anything goes. The Mexican Revolution had played itself out, and everyone was fed up with packing pistols and taking up arms. Civilization, senores, civilization! And partying hard. Enough already with the revolutionary ideals, banditry dressed up as a noble cause. Mexico wants peace, progress, cosmopolitanism… ah uh! More madness. Girls girls girls.Tongolele wiggles her hemispheric hips. Ninon Sevilla, the Cuban firecracker, she of the enormous mouth and huge ass, the perennial bad girl of the movies. Su Muy Key, Kalantan, Mapy Cortez, M.A. Pons… glamour gals, happy Afro females, sweat-glistening models, caressable lubricated specimens of the torrid tricolor night. Aaaahhhh uh!
Here Garcia-Robles is attempting to describe Mexico City around the time of Burroughs’ arrival by conveying through prose the vibrancy of the culture and the sentiment of the people. In English, however, the result is a confusing mess of words. It goes on for another few pages, in some ways becoming worse and worse as repetition of phrases are used increasingly out of context (“aaaahhhh uh!” soon becomes as common a means of ending a sentence as a period).
Alas, while Garcia-Robles appears to have consulted some useful sources and provided a solid run-through of Burroughs’ time in Mexico, the book’s focus is too much on capturing the atmosphere rather than actually getting information across to the reader. Granted, the details of Burroughs’ own escapades already can be found in Ted Morgan’s Literary Outlaw and his thoughts on Mexico are pretty much stated in his collected letters, but there should be room to elaborate. Instead, the bulk of the book is given over to sidenotes and diversions. The author appears more interested in transporting the reader back in time and into a very specific place than to give a detailed account of this important period in Burroughs’ life. That’s not to say that there aren’t great nuggets of information hidden away, but this reviewer feels that Garcia-Robles’ book offers little more than existing biographies.
However, despite the many negatives in this review, and the use of the word “unreadable”, the book is not entirely without its merits. Certain sections, where the text is simple and to the point, are interesting and enjoyable to read, and add some background information to the story of Burroughs’ time there. For example, there is a short chapter on Lola la Chata that is engrossing and more or less devoid of the bizarre quirks throughout the rest of the book. The problem here, though, is that most of it isn’t directly related to Burroughs or his time in Mexico. It’s a footnote that overshadows the actual narrative. The section even ends with the acknowledgment that Burroughs never met la Chata but that he was interested in her, and ends with the dubious assertion:
No doubt, Lola, from the heavens, would smile contentedly upon learning of Burroughs’ interest in her.
There is also a lot of information on Burroughs’ charismatic lawyer, Bernabe Jurado, and even a short essay by Burroughs himself about Jurado.
Also of interest are hard-to-find photos, mostly relating to the death of Joan Vollmer. These might disturb some readers as two of them feature Vollmer’s body after she was shot in the head.
Altogether the English translation of The Stray Bullet should be a wonderful contribution to Beat studies, but instead it falls flat on its face. Any valuable information is obscured by crude writing and digressions. I am assured by friends that the Spanish version is indeed worthy of the praise it has garnered since its publication, but I stand by my unusually harsh judgment of Schechter’s translation. This book is virtually unreadable.
So Beatdom #14 (the movie issue) is now on sale. All your friends are talking about it. You’re seething with a jealous rage. You can’t check your Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr because of all the talk about the sexy new issue of Beatdom….
Well, that means it’s about high time you took the leap and got yourself a copy of the world’s favorite Beat literary journal. Here’s how:
#1 – Buy it on Amazon. This is the link for a paper copy. Don’t forget to leave a review. It’s not easy to get your publication noticed as a small press, and reviews really make a difference.
#2 – Buy it for your Kindle. There’s no getting away from it – the paper copy looks better, but can you beat instant delivery for only $0.99? Also, Kindle saves trees.
#3 – Why not get both? If you buy the paper copy via Amazon, you are allowed to download the Kindle version for free! Now that’s a sweet deal, right?
#4 – Send $12 plus shipping ($2 us; $6 international) to davidwills258 [AT] hotmail [DOT] com or wills.david [AT] gmail [DOT] com via PayPal. Please remember to add your address so that we know where to ship the magazine. If you have any questions about your PayPal order, please e-mail editor [AT] beatdom [DOT] com.
“We love neither father nor mother nor wife nor child, but rather the agreeable feelings that they give us.”
-Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
I’ve not seen the sun for over a week. Most days it’s simply cloudy, but other days a thick fog hangs over the valley. Time seems to slow down in gray weather. The distinction between day and night is more subtle, going from dull to dark and back again. My mood reflects this pattern. Coffee helps. Coffee and red wine and weed. That’s what a man needs to get through a winter in the Pacific Northwest. That and television…
The other week it snowed. The people here are not accustomed to winter weather. Schools were cancelled for a week. Many of the cars in my building’s parking lot stayed put for days, not so much as cleaned off. It was practically a state of emergency.
I dusted off the Red Rocket and went for a drive. I had the unplowed highway virtually to myself. There were cars off the road everywhere. I witnessed a 5 car pileup at an exit ramp. Scores more vehicles had slid off the road. The snow didn’t finally let up until 2:00. I drove downtown looking for a place to grab lunch but nothing was open. The people would be complaining about this weather, no doubt. The people always complain about the weather. They complain when it’s too gray, when it’s too white, when it’s too hot, when it’s too cold, when it’s too dry, when it’s too humid.
Snow days are magical, though. What else can so arrest daily life, get people out on the streets, examining their daily surroundings with wonder? The powder lingers on the trees, the buildings, the cars, and everything is transformed. Hiking the butte behind my house I gazed out over the city and saw it anew. The distant hills had greater shape and depth, the open spaces stood out starkly from the wooded ones. It was like being in a black and white photograph. I felt like an Ansel Adams subject. The road traffic had all but died down. People were cozy and warm in their homes. Everything was quiet and serene. The sun made an imprint against the clouds to the West as it disappeared, a weak, sick thing, and that was all I saw of it.
Kids were sliding down the hill in the waning light. I continued past them to an old cemetery that sat on a piece of hillside sloping down to the North. I found a sled partially buried by the snow. No kids were around, so I decided to use it. It took a couple of runs to establish a good trail. After that I really got some speed. On my last run I flew down the hill, narrowly missing a big pine tree, and launched over an embankment into the cemetery. I spilled out onto the powder and lay gazing at an inscription on a headstone. “John Williams: 1935-2003. Beloved Father, Husband, and Serviceman. Your legacy is your love.”
Bullshit, I thought. Still, not a bad place to be buried. A sign above a trash can indicated that there were still some plots available. $300-$600. An eternal resting place for less than the cost of a month’s rent. I keep hearing that it’s a buyer’s market.
I lay in the snow for some time among the dead, watching the white stuff settle and fall to the ground. I thought about life, about dying. The cruelest aspect of our situation is not death. The world is so cruel because once you discover what you want to do forever, the things you want to keep forever, the people you want to love forever, the world takes them away from you.
I walked back to my place in the dark. A few days later all the snow was gone and the gray was back.
People who proudly announce that they don’t watch television…or own a television at all…are just trying to appear superior. I could understand this if television were eschewed in favor of autodidactism or spiritual growth. But the reason usually cited by the anti-television faction is they don’t want to be “brainwashed” by the tube. Instead, they would rather be brainwashed by their friends. They think that socializing is inherently better than television watching.
Whether it’s out in public with the herd or in the privacy of your own home with 250 channels, you’re going to be subjected to lots of commercials, noise, and idiots. At least when it’s on TV you can hit the “mute” button. And let’s face it: our friends bore the shit out of us. We know all of each other’s stories. The principal benefit of meeting new people is that you can tell a story without the other person rolling their eyes and thinking, “Not this old goddamned chestnut again.”
At least television shows have new episodes. You and your friends keep doing the same shit, talking about the same shit, over and over again. They’re just too goddamned like you. Most of the people I know aren’t half as interesting as Walter White, Tony Soprano or Don Draper. And don’t give me that “but it’s not real” crap. The ratings sure as hell say it’s real.
One of the TV shows that’s really got me hooked is Everest: Beyond the Limit. On this Discovery Channel program New Zealand mountaineer Russell Brice leads expeditions up Mt. Everest. Each season details the struggles of a group of climbers who are attempting to summit the 29,029’ Himalayan peak. For most of the climbers, reaching the summit is a lifetime goal. To attain it, they spend what for many is a lifetime’s savings. Ascending Everest under Brice’s tutelage costs upwards of $50,000, about average for an experience that can run $100,000+.
In a world where 40% of the world’s population lives on less than $2 per day, reaching the top of the world is a pursuit reserved strictly for the most privileged among us. Living out your dreams isn’t cheap, don’t you know?
Not that the poor would necessarily want to climb Everest even if they could. The people most naturally-suited to an Everest summiting are the Sherpa, a native Nepalese ethnic group. These are the lithe, brown-skinned men who pave the way for Everest dream-seekers. Native to mountainous Nepal, Sherpa are ideally adapted to high-altitude conditions. Save for technology, they hold every natural advantage over foreign climbers. One can easily imagine Sir Edmund Hillary’s Sherpa—Tenzing Norgay—stepping aside so that the New Zealander could plant his flag and become “the first man to reach the summit of Mt. Everest.”
The physical preeminence of the Sherpa as mountain climber is well-demonstrated in Season 2 of Beyond the Limit, when David Tait, himself an accomplished mountaineer who has been to the top of Everest five times, attempts the first double-traverse of the world’s highest peak. At Base Camp of the south side, preparing for the second traverse, Tait bows out, conceding that accompanying Sherpa Phurba Tashi (who’s been to the top of Everest 21 times), was the superior climber, and that Tashi would have to delay his own glory in order to afford Tait his. Said Tait in a later interview: “I was trying to achieve a first, but to have done so would have been at the expense of the world’s best (Phurba Tashi) whom I would have had to ask/order to follow me – despite being twice as capable.”
Tenzing Norgay, Phurba Tashi, and other Sherpa may very well have become Tibetan monks if they hadn’t become mountaineers. For thousands of years the Sherpa lived in the shadow of Everest. Not once did they climb it. They didn’t even attempt, and I would wager they didn’t even consider, venturing into the high peaks of the Himalayas until European mountaineers arrived.
Physically getting to the top of the mountain is a Western concept. The monks in the valley below—sitting silently, stilly, with breaths slowed, mind emptied—they too seek the top of the mountain. Only it is a Spiritual Everest. And a relative bargain at that.
It seems that every year on Beyond the Limit somebody is attempting to set a new record: the first double-traverse of Everest (Tait in Season 2), the first man to both walk in space and summit Everest (Scott Parazynski in Season 3), the oldest American to reach the peak (Dawes Eddy in Season 3). The record-setter who stands out the most to me, however, is Mark Inglis of Season 1, who became the first double-amputee to reach the summit of Everest. Both of Inglis’ legs were amputated below the knee after he suffered frostbite during a climbing accident on Mt. Cook. Although he made it up Everest successfully, Inglis suffered frostbite to three of his fingers as well as the ends of his leg stumps, resulting in further amputations.
The man with stumps who climbs Everest on titanium legs is comparable to the sufferer of a terrible ski accident who gets back on the mountain or the shark-attack survivor who surfs again. Each of them demonstrates that people never learn their lesson. We double-down on the mistakes of the past. We only get more stubborn.
Inglis, the great hero, the wonderful inspiration, the hard-headed jackass, was criticized for failing to aid a fellow climber, David Sharp, who had bivouacked overnight on the mountainside at roughly 27,500’ after making a late-afternoon summit. Sharp later died, becoming one of more than 200 to lose their life on Everest. Most of the bodies remain on the mountain, serving as a ghoulish reminder of mankind’s hubris.
Fellow mountaineers rushed to the defense of Inglis and the other 40 climbers purported to have also left Sharp for dead on that May 2006 morning, saying that high altitude climbing has its own ethics. Explained Inglis, “Trouble is at 8,500 meters, it’s extremely difficult to keep yourself alive, let alone keeping anyone else alive.”
At least one prominent mountaineer, none other than Sir Edmund Hillary himself, does not share this philosophy. Hillary said that, “I think you have to have your priorities. If the priority is just to get to the summit and let another man die, okay, you do it. I think the whole attitude towards climbing Mt. Everest has become rather horrifying. The people just want to get to the top. On my expedition there was no way that you would have left a man under a rock to die.”
The commercialization of Everest has been blamed by Hillary and others for not only the single-mindedness of the climbers, but also overcrowding on summit routes and the degradation of the mountain. Writing in National Geographic, mountaineer Mark Jenkins notes that:
Everest has always been a trophy, but now that almost 4,000 people have reached its summit, some more than once, the feat means less than it did a half century ago. Today roughly 90 percent of the climbers on Everest are guided clients, many without basic climbing skills. Having paid $30,000 to $120,000 to be on the mountain, too many callowly expect to reach the summit. A significant number do, but under appalling conditions. The two standard routes, the Northeast Ridge and the Southeast Ridge, are not only dangerously crowded but also disgustingly polluted, with garbage leaking out of the glaciers and pyramids of human excrement befouling the high camps.
Hillary first ascended Everest in 1953. 60 years later, people have managed to transform the best view in the world into the world’s tallest trash heap, replete with frozen shit and corpses.
A brave soul goes where no man has gone before. Then the crowds follow, befouling the place and cheapening it. I guess that right there pretty well sums up the human race.
Jon is tall, handsome, with curly brown hair and a permanent boyish grin on his face. It’s easy to make him laugh, but what he likes best is really inappropriate jokes, preferably racist ones. Like this one: “How do you blind a Chinaman?” “I dunno, how?” “Put a windshield in front of him.”
Jon almost spits his gum out. He’s always got a piece of gum going, probably to hide the booze on his breath. He’s a good drunk driver, though. Drunk driving is a skill that doesn’t get enough recognition. We hand out awards for brutes who throw the furthest and run the fastest. An accused rapist just won the Heisman trophy. Why not a little recognition for the guys who can drink a 12-pack and still get home safely?
“Why did Hitler kill himself?” asks Jon.
“I dunno. Why?”
“He couldn’t pay the gas bill. Wait a minute Eckert, you’re not a Jew, are you?”
“I don’t think so. But there are rumors of a Jewish aunt on my father’s side.”
“I knew you were a fucking Jew.”
We always start at the same bar on 5th Avenue. Jon’s a regular at the place. I’ve always wanted to be a regular at a bar, but I lack the commitment. I don’t like being recognized. I feel safer in the company of strangers. I’m not interested in being remembered, in having a legacy. I don’t want you to remember my name.
People pick up on this vibe. All the cracked ones, the weirdoes, the foreigners, manage to single me out. They cozy up next to me and tell me the most bizarre things. You can’t make up the stuff they tell me.
Jon has a jones for the bartender. He’s explaining his theory on women. “Listen, they want to fuck you as much as you want to fuck them. You’ve got to declare your intentions early on. No chick wants to sit at a bar and talk about goddamned astrophysics or literature, Eckert, at least not right away. I mean, while you’re there yapping about Middle East politics and the legacy of Ariel Sharon she’s thinking, “Jesus, are you going to try to fuck me or not?”
Maybe he’s right. Women always talk about wanting nice, sensitive guys, good talkers, then they go ahead and sleep with the cute, funny guy. Perhaps feminism will advance its aims further when women admit that nice, sensitive guys actually make them sick.
As Jon works his magic I go out for a smoke. I don’t smoke, but the best conversations are often had with the smokers. I bum a cigarette off a burly bearded guy with a black pea coat. He’s going on about his stepdaughter, what a stupid, liberal little bitch she is.
“She eats her own poop,” he says. “But hell, she’s only a teenager.”
Like I said, you can’t make this stuff up.
Jon’s out for a cigarette. His phone keeps ringing and he keeps letting it go to voicemail.
“Fuck,” he says. “It’s my old lady. She’s waiting at home for me.”
“I thought you said she was going out with her girlfriends tonight.”
“She did, but she came home early. Said she was having a miserable time. Now of course she wants to ensure the same for me.”
Jon’s old lady is from Slovakia. She hates the drinking. He has to hide it from her. He’s not very good at hiding it from her. If she only knew about the other women, too.
“What are you going to do?” I ask.
“We’re out now and I’m already in the shit because I won’t come home. I might as well have something to be in the shit for.”
Translated, that means we are going to get very drunk tonight.
And we do. We go to a place with pinball machines and drink cheap draft beer while feeding quarters into the slots. A woman at the bar tells me about the cyst on her ovary. It’s a big one, apparently. She’s moved back in with her mother.
“Well,” I say, “you’ve got two ovaries. It’s not a total loss.”
To my surprise, she laughs. She’s probably sick of getting sympathy. Sometimes you’ve just got to unload things. I wonder where are her friends are, leaving her at the bar alone with her bum ovary. That’s one of the catches with friendship. You don’t just befriend a person—you befriend their arms, legs, kidneys, heart, nose, pelvis, femur, their bile ducts, their balls, their ovaries…
Next we go to a place with a live band. We drink Irish Car Bombs and several beers. Jon pays for it all. He sells paint for a living. He can’t make very much money, but he’s one of those guys who’s always picking up the tab. The drinks arrive like clockwork. I am quite drunk at this point. Jon seems to just be getting started. He’s drinking with a purpose. I am drinking for lack of a purpose.
Our final stop is The Casbah, a strip club over in Springfield. Springfield is the yin to Eugene’s yang; the Staten Island to its Manhattan. Strip clubs aren’t really my thing. I find them humorous rather than sexy. I can’t imagine getting an actual hard-on over the women. They are merely something to watch, like television or pigeons in a public square.
I overhear an old man telling one of the girls that “someday, things will turn around for you. You’re a good kid, I can tell. I have a nose for people. This is just a temporary thing for you.”
I feel like telling him to shut the fuck up and bury his face in her tits. These girls don’t look like they’re paying their way through college. They are not future doctors or lawyers. They’re dirty Springfield strippers.
Some Asian guy is getting fresh with one of the girls. Jon steps to her rescue. A fight is brewing.
“Come on, let’s get out of here,” I tell him. “It’s not worth fighting over a stripper.”
“I told Angel I’d give her a ride home,” he says. “Ling Ling is her boyfriend.”
We meet Angel in the parking lot. She’s there with an…associate. They live together in a house “a few miles from here,” according to Angel.
I don’t know how Jon can drive. The road is racing past me in streaks of colors and lights. It feels like more than a few miles. The car smells like perfume and booze and sweat, like stripper. Jon has the radio up very loud, too loud, but I’m glad because I don’t have to talk.
It takes us about 20 minutes to reach the house. When we arrive there Jon invites himself inside.
The girls go to their bedrooms and change. Jon opens the kitchen cabinets until he finds the liquor and takes a swig off a bottle of J&B. “Here goes,” he says, and he goes and knocks on Angel’s door. It opens and he disappears inside. I sit down on the couch and turn on the TV.
The roommate comes out of her bedroom wearing a blue, tight-fitting silk bathrobe. She sits down on the couch with me. She has nice hair, good lips, but on the whole she looks quite regular now that her makeup is removed and she’s not swinging from a pole.
“Anything good on?” she asks.
“Not really,” I say.
I hear the distinctive sound of a belt buckle hitting hardwood floor.
“Do you want the remote?” I ask.
“No. It’s a lot of pressure having to choose a show.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Do you smoke?”
“Do you mind if I do?”
I go to On Demand and select an episode of Beyond the Limit.
“Would you want to do it?” I ask her. “Climb Mt. Everest.”
She seems to think about it as she blows her smoke up towards the ceiling.
“Yes,” she says finally. “Would you?”
“Yes and no. Maybe if it weren’t so crowded and polluted. I can’t imagine traveling all that way, spending all that money, just to stand in line at the top of the world.”
“It’s a very guy thing to do, climb mountains.”
“I know plenty of women who hike.”
“I don’t mean it like that. I mean to have to get to the top, to have to conquer something.”
Angel begins moaning.
“I think it’s a rich guy thing to do. You never see bums on the top of mountains. They’re always downtown or in the parks,” I say. “Do you want me to change it?”
“No. I like mountains.” A pregnant pause. “Sometimes, I imagine mountains while I’m dancing. I’ll be up on stage, doing my thing, but in my mind I’m in the Alps or the Rockies or the Himalayas. It makes me less self-conscious. I’m actually a very shy person. I guess it’s like picturing people naked when you’re giving a speech. Actually, just tonight I was using the mountain trick. Some disgusting fuck was sitting up close to the stage, drunk, leering, making me get real close for the dollars so that I could smell his sour breath, see the hollowness of his face. I imagined myself bending down at a mountain stream to fetch water, looking up at big, snow-capped mountains and sky all around me instead of fluorescent lights and exposed pipes and smoke and ceiling fans. I heard bird songs and wind instead of Scorpions. My boss is picking up on something. He told me that my dancing lacks passion. ‘What you’re selling is the idea that the man is the only man in the room,’ he said. Well, they get their fantasies, don’t I deserve mine? I think to myself that if I had been born a Heidi or a Tibetan woman or shit, a mountain goat, that life would be simpler…”
A big ash drops from her cigarette onto her robe. She brushes it off, takes a long drag, blows the smoke up to the ceiling.
“Oh my god,” she says. “I’ve never told anyone about that stuff.”
“I know,” I say.
On the ride home I pass out. I awaken as the car smashes through a “Do Not Enter” sign. There’s no time to yell or brace ourselves or even be scared. The car skids through a lane of oncoming traffic and ends up sideways in a deep ditch.
“Fuck,” says Jon. “Are you all right?”
“I think so. You?”
“I think so.”
“What are we going to do?”
“Get the hell out of here. There’s no way out of a DUI if the cops come.”
“Good idea,” I say. “My place is closest.”
We climb out of the car and start in at a good trot back to my place. It’s about a two-mile jog. The roads are coated with black ice and we slip and fall many times. By the time we get to my place we’re pretty beat up and exhausted. The crash and the run sobered us up quite a bit. It is 3:34 AM.
“I’m going to bed,” I say. I give Jon a blanket and a pillow for the couch. The poor bastard has to be at the paint store at 9:30. Then there is the matter of his car in the ditch. There is also the matter of his angry Slovakian wife…
More than friends, what a man needs is drinking buddies. Contrary to popular belief, drinking alone is not a sign of alcoholism. Just lonerism. But when you drink alone, you have nobody to share in the misery of your hangover with the next morning. This, I think, is the proper context for friendship. Friends are necessary because they allow you to see that other people are as bad at living as you are. Nobody has this “being alive” thing figured out. I don’t know anybody who has their shit together in a cosmic sense. None of my friends are doing well, not really. They drink too much, smoke too much, feel bad too much, don’t have enough love, or else have too much love—or the wrong type of love. And those who seem to have it together, who have mortgages and spouses and children and pets and belief systems, they’re the most clueless of all.
No, a man does not need friends. A friend can keep him from losing his mind. Sometimes this is a good thing, but most of the time you’re better off losing it. Too many people are trying to stay sane when they should be going crazy. The “rational,” scientific mind is turning the world into a flaming bag of shit. “Progress” is a hoax. Bugs will inherit the earth. I’m learning to live like a cockroach, a rat, a fungus while waiting for the end of history. Are you on the right side?
“At the time I sincerely believed that the only decent activity in the world was to pray for everyone, in solitude.” i
Nastasya Filippovna Barashkov is a madwoman or did she just read too many poems? ii
Lear on the moor of woes, sinful and sorrowful, sorrows heaped one after another with only the Fool as companion
“. . . why ask questions or tear hair or weep. . .” iii
Prince Lev Nikolaevich Myshkin is The Idiot
“Dostoevsky of Czarist Russia, a Saint,” iv who stood before the Hans Holbein painting Christ’s Body in the Tomb “as if dumbstruck . . . riveted” v
Lizaveta Prokofyevna is Mrs. Epanchin
Ivan Fyodorovich is General Epanchin
Aglaya Ivanovna is Miss Epanachin the Youngest
Gavrila Ardalionych is Ganya
Rogozhin is wicked
Ginsberg, “I’m Prince Myshkin” (holy fool)
Carl Solomon, “I’m Kirilov” (nihilist) vi
I am Kulchicovsky “in the lost alleys of Russian sorrow. . .” vii
I AM WHO AM viii
And who are you?
During a storm at sea, Jean-Louis heard the words:
Everything is God
Nothing ever happened except God ix
And Jesus said, I am the Resurrection and the Lifex
ego sum resurrection et vita
(In memory of a beloved young man)
i Kerouac, Jack. Desolation Angels. (New York: Coward-McCann, 1965), p.355.
ii Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Idiot. (New York: Knopf, 2002), p.569.
iii Kerouac, Jack. Desolation Angels. (New York: Coward-McCann, 1965), p.5.
iv Kerouac, Jack. Mexico City Blues (New York: Grove Press, 1959), p.55.
v Dostoevsky, Fyodor. The Idiot. (New York: Knopf, 2002), p.xiii.
vi Mitchner, Stuart. (March 13, 2011). Living in Dostoevsky: Joseph Franks’ Acclaimed Biography Was Born in Princeton. Town Topics. www.towntopics.com
vii Kerouac, Jack. Big Sur (New York: Penguin Books, 1962), p.11.
viii Ex 3:14
ix Johnson, Joyce. Minor Characters: A Beat Memoir. (New York: Penguin Books, 1999),p.140.
x Jn 11:25
Yesterday, on 9th January, Amiri Baraka passed away at the age of 79. He was an influential and highly controversial figure, who was at times associated with the Beat Generation and Black Arts movement.
In the 1950s Baraka went by the name LeRoi Jones and worked as a poet associated with the Beats. Living in Greenwich Village he was friends with Allen Ginsberg and gained fame for his poetry and jazz criticism.
Later he came to identify with Malcolm X’s black separatist movement and rejected links with the Beats and other predominantly white groups. He gained notoriety for passionate and often violent works of literature, such as the play “Arm Yourself or Harm Yourself,” as well as for his outspoken anti-white sentiment.
In recent years Baraka caused public outcry with his poem, “Somebody Blew Up America,” which was commonly derided as anti-Semitic, and led to him being forcibly removed from his position as poet laureate of New Jersey.
Still, like those other Beat poets whose work offended and ultimately changed the world around them, Amiri Baraka came to gain recognition for his work, and will continue to influence the culture for years to come.
Beatdom was fortunate to speak with Baraka in 2013. Read the interview here.
“He [Cody] decided to start reading books in the library so he would never be a bum, no matter what he worked at to make a living, which was the decision of a great idealist.” i
The Paterson Free Public Library, also called the Danforth Memorial Library, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1905 and designed by the architect Henry Bacon—the same architect of the Lincoln Memorial; this was Allen Ginsberg’s hometown library. Paterson was founded by Alexander Hamilton as the country’s first planned industrial city on the banks of the Passaic River shortly after the American Revolution. The Great Falls of the Passaic provided energy to industry, such as silk mills, (“. . . paterson williams the carlos poet, so carlos he makes a shroud out of a mill . . .” ii). The present-day library is more than a place for reading and computer use, it is a community center, a community shelter—busy with local residents, many in need of a warm place on a cold morning.
The reference department (local history, author collection, and reference material) holds books on Ginsberg as author and subject (some are non-circulating, others are found in the nonfiction section), and librarians are eager to help. I was given a folder with old newspaper articles, local boy makes good—pages yellow with age. Curiosity prompted my visit, to glean something of young Allen’s hometown, and perhaps gather a bit of local history and color. After all, Paterson is a source of material for two original and highly successful American poets: William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg.
My mission at the library was in search of Ginsberg, but a staff member introduced me to a slim book House Calls with William Carlos Williams, MD by Richard Coles. Thomas Roma’s black-and-white photos provide a vivid look at life in Paterson, a window onto Ginsberg. (Find the book on WorldCat Library.)
A main marble staircase and old oil paintings of the Great Falls grace the library’s interior. It was apparently an impressive and relatively new edifice when Ginsberg was a boy. However, its glory days are gone and the building seems in need of resources an ailing city library would need, additional space and renovations and modernization. A security guard occupies the main entrance. When I called to make an appointment with the reference department, I was specifically told to park in the lot. “It’s safer there.” Paterson has a high violent crime rate.
In jest, Allen once thought—as one might about one’s hometown—in Paterson, “they don’t know nuttin’ about nuttin,’” iii (locals and local politicos might like to respond to that), however, most patrons going into and out of the library recognized me as a stranger and extended a neighborly “good morning.” I caught a vibe in Paterzen, Pater’s zen, in downtown, heavily populated P-town this morning, in “blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning” iv at the first public library in “nowhere Zen New Jersey,” v and Allen would have dug it, too, and being the world citizen and accomplished idealist and shaker and mover he was, maybe he—a man of letters and the academy—would have found a way to boost his old hometown library.
i Kerouac, Jack. Visions of Cody. (New York: Penguin Books, 1993). p. 56.
ii Kerouac, Jack. Visions of Cody. (New York: Penguin Books, 1993). p. 292.
iii Morgan, Ted. Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012). p. 133.
iv Ginsberg, Allen. “Howl” from Collected Poems 1947-1980. (New York: HarperPerennial, 2001).