COLUMN THIRTY-FIVE, JULY 1, 1998
(Copyright © 1998 Al Aronowitz)
PART 12: THE BEAT PAPERS OF AL ARONOWITZ
(Photo Courtesy Brett Aronowitz Luke)
CHAPTER TWELVE: THE UNVEILING
I'd already seen the stone long before the unveiling. I'd gotten an advance peek because I come here often. Elizabeth's Gomel Chesed Cemetery, a burial ground squished against the Newark city line. I come here often, not to visit Allen's grave so much as to say hello to the graves of my mother, my father, my sister and my wife. This is where my family plants its coffins. This is also where the Ginsbergs plant theirs.
It's Sunday, June 14, 1998, two days after the Tribute to Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation in Manhattan's Central Park Bandshell had gotten rained out after taking me a whole year to put it together. Rain, rain! Two days later and it's still raining.
Gathered around Allen's gravestone, which is now veiled by a Buddhist green and yellow cloth, are some 30 persons, almost all of them protected by the canopy of a forest of open umbrellas, for the most part dark, somber, funereal umbrellas. One woman arrives late, almost totally encased against the rain in an umbrella that seems large enough to be a golf bumbershoot. As she approaches the crowd at Allen's grave, she uses her umbrella as a tent, keeping it partially closed over her as she walks. Eventually, I see maybe one or two more sporty golf umbrellas, including one with red and white stripes. And Ida, my lady friend, has an umbrella with a pattern of cats and dogs on it.
"See, it's raining cats and dogs," she jokes every time she's forced to open it. I, who carry a $1.75 Tote knock-off, have to put up with jokes like that.
Close to Allen's gravestone, holding the biggest black umbrella in the crowd---an umbrella obviously manufactured for just such an occasion---stands young, pleasant, handsome and golden-voiced Elliot Pilshaw, a soloist at Kolot Chayeinu (Voices of Our Lives), a progressive Jewish congregation in Brooklyn. His umbrella is big enough to shelter Kolot Chayeinu's lady rabbi, Ellen Lippmann, who stands next to Pilshaw. The lady rabbi is obviously pleased, awed, honored and just tickled pink to have been chosen to officiate at the unveiling of the gravestone of such a world renown and historic figure.
Directing the event and standing close by is Bob Rosenthal, Allen's devoted secretary for 19 years, who is equipped with a video camera. I have to make peace with Bob and win his affection. I recently flew off the handle because I felt he was trying to order me around and I accused him of being a minor poet who thinks that Allen died and left him king. Now, I realize I am in great need of Bob as an ally and not as a lifelong enemy. He's the kind of guy who was born to be in charge. He knows how to get things done.
I notice that Bob and Allen's brother Eugene, both standing near the gravestone to my left, don't have umbrellas. Nor does a young bearded poet named Antler from Milwaukee, who, because he's dressed in the colorful plaid jacket and visored cap of the poor Beat poet that he is, stands out like a wart on a nose amid a gaggle of young men dressed in rabbinical black to my right.
Antler'd come into town to read at my rained-out event at Manhattan's Central Park Bandshell, my rained-out INTERNATIONAL CONVOCATION OF THE BEST MINDS (which is what we officially called it) that'd taken me a whole year to organize. And which, despite the rain, had turned out to be exactly what it was billed to be, a gathering of Best Minds from around the world that hopefully will prove to be historic. That Allen and I were at each other's throats when he died was to me beside the point. I honor Allen as one of the gatekeepers who allowed much of whatever wisdom I now command to enter into my mind. It is to Allen that I owe much of whatever expansion my consciousness has undergone. Plus he used to be a hell of a lot of fun to hang out with.
It was with the help of another of Allen's friends from 40 years ago, Amiri Baraka, that I'd convened the "Best Minds" from around the world in Allen's name. As administrator of the Allen Ginsberg Trust, Bob Rosenthal didn't think I had the organization to convene anybody in Allen's name, and that's when I lost my temper, something I now regret. Anyway, despite the empty, rain-drenched mall facing the Bandshell, our INTERNATIONAL CONVOCATION OF THE BEST MINDS had succeeded. Defying an unrelenting New York downpour, poets from around the world had convened on the Bandshell stage to pay homage to Allen and to the Beat Generation. Despite the deluge, they'd huddled deep within the protection of the Bandshell, bonding, maybe without even realizing it, into an unofficial "Best Minds Club."
The attack of the pounding, soaking rain had robbed these poets of an audience that would've been drawn for the most part from the worldwide Internet. Ned Moran of the Avalon Archives, a Rock and Roll Museum in Kent Cliffs, New York, donated and distributed a few handbills in Woodstock and in both the East and the West Village. Otherwise, there was only some radio publicity and some magazine and newspaper listings to advertise the event. We didn't promote the Tribute in New York's media because the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation wanted us to keep the audience down to 1,000 or 2,000 on the vast, empty mall, which might've held maybe 5,000, except the deluge kept the audience down to zero.
So, by the time I got there, a heavily bearded 35-year-old poet named Brett Axel, who drives a cab in Middletown, New York, had stepped up to install himself as master of ceremonies. And each of the poets took a turn at the lip of the Bandshell. Standing with his or her back to the rain-swept expanse of the empty mall, each of the poets performed before the other poets, who'd made themselves comfortable against the dry rear, concave wall of the Bandshell.
With this "Best Minds Club" acting as its own eager and appreciative audience, poets from all over the world and all over America in effect had joined in establishing a new network, leaving me feeling a lot like the lady rabbi, tickled pink. After all, I'd helped promote an event I'm hopeful will one day be regarded as historic. I can see each poet who read at the Bandshell becoming famous in the future as a "Bandshell Poet."
I forget who it was who said poets are the legislators of mankind. I'm jealous of poets. All I can ever be is what I am, a journalist, THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST.
Rain, rain! A friend had baked me a pot cookie, which I devoured just before leaving for the cemetery. Why not get high in honor of Allen, who'd played so large a role in teaching me the benefits of marijuana? Yes, Allen had been instrumental in liberating me from my
Neither Peter Orlovsky
or Gregory Corso
are at the unveiling
middle class chains, but hadn't I played an essential role in Allen's life, too? Last time I was able to talk to him about marijuana not too long ago, he said he still smoked a joint at least once a week. I've quit smoking altogether. I believe any kind of smoke is anti-life, but Allen argued that pot smoke is not that dangerous. What he and I both agreed on is that marijuana is good head food. At the Unveiling, I feel the pot cookie I'd eaten some 20 minutes before starting to kick in.
Bob Rosenthal keeps delaying the Unveiling even though the rain keeps telling us to stop standing out here in the downpour and get the ceremony over with. Bob is waiting for Edith, Allen's 95-year-old stepmother, who lives in Paterson and who has not yet arrived. I tell Ida that on this occasion I'll wait in the rain for Edith for as long as it takes.
I remember those times when I used to drive Allen up to Paterson to see Edith and Allen's father, Louis, a gracious couple who did their best to turn these visits into joyous events. Wasn't Peter Orlovsky, Allen's long-time lover, also with us? He's not here at the Unveiling today. Nor is another of Allen's long-time cronies, Gregory Corso. Also with us on our visits to Edith and Louis in Paterson was my late wife, Ann, whom I think looms just as large or small in this period of Beat history as I do.
Allen remained devoted to Edith and continued to visit her regularly even after Louis died in 1976. I remember bumping into Allen on his way to visit Edith only a few years ago. If you want to get to New Jersey from New York in the worst way, you go via Manhattan's Port Authority Bus Terminal, which is where I found Allen on his way to catch a Paterson bus.
"Have you talked to Bob lately?" he asked. I was the one who'd introduced Allen to Dylan. Allen knew that Bob wasn't talking to me any more, and I suspected Allen liked to rub in the fact that Bob was still talking to him.
"I just talked to him today," Allen continued, "and do you know what he told me? He told me that fame is a curse."
"Tacitus said that to despite fame is to despite the virtues by which it is acquired," I replied.
I was at Louis' burial and I was at Allen's, too. With my younger son, Joel, who'd known Allen since he was a kid, I was here at the grave with Ida, waiting for Bob Rosenthal to arrive from New York with most of Allen's ashes, which Bob'd wrapped in a Jewish prayer shawl. With Allen either a Jewish Buddhist or a Buddhist Jew, some of Allen's ashes were given to Shambhala, the Buddhist organization of Allen's previous guru and some of Allen's ashes went to Jewel Heart, the Buddhist organization of still another of Allen's gurus.
As we waited for Bob to arrive with the bulk of Allen's ashes, my son Joel, who also comes to this cemetery often, made a point of standing in Allen's open grave to see how deep it was. It was just a hole. The grave hadn't been dug for a full-sized coffin but simply to bury some ashes, and what Joel found is that the hole was deeper than hip-high.
Now Allen's ashes lay in that hole, buried next to Louis' coffin. The remains of two poets, father and son, lie side-by-side. On Louis' gravestone is a line from one of Louis' poems:
"Explaining a riddle with a stone. . ."
Not even Allen could've said it better.
Gomel Chesed Cemetery is within walking distance of my apartment, except, as Ida said, it's raining cats and dogs, so we've driven here in her car.
At Allen's grave, Bob Rosenthal hands out copies of the Jewish Mourner's Kaddish and I think I hear Bob make a remark about not wanting to fuck up the Kaddish "this time." At the burial of Allen's ashes, Bob had led the rest of us in a stumbling and not entirely accurate reading of the Kaddish. When I was 15, I recited the Kaddish by heart twice a day for a whole year. I'd walk to the synagogue in the early morning and in the late afternoon to help form a minyan, which is what Jews call their religious quorum, the 10 Jewish men necessary to hold morning or evening services. I had to be there so I could say Kaddish for my father. I'd recite the Kaddish in Hebrew, a language the translation of which I'd never learned, and so I had no idea of what the Kaddish said or how powerfully it said what it said until I read David Hodgson's translation on the sheets Bob handed out:
And so it is
And so it goes
we hear and see
and feel and taste
and we come
and we go
and we leave
behind and gone
the life of here. . .
We here affirm
the grace of love
the hope of living
the gulf of loss
the fear of losing
the missing ones
holding us. . .
hoping as we hold
on to this passing
that some of us
when our name is said
and all this peace
will also be for you
and for me
and we say
Tears are too easily undammed at cemeteries, and my tears begin to flow. For Louis? For Allen? For my own father? Yes, I used to recite the Kaddish by heart twice a day. But that was 55 years ago. I can still recite portions of the Kaddish flawlessly, but I've also forgotten a lot of it. Now I'm reading the English translation and tears are flowing from my eyes.
At the Unveiling, soloist Elliot Pilshaw begins to sing Esa Einai (I Lift Up My Eyes) which is Psalm 121 set to music by Shlomo Carlebach. Many of those assembled at Allen's gravestone join in the singing. I'm not acquainted with the melody or the words, but I try to join in, too. By now, the pot cookie is really kicking in and my 40-year association with Allen starts running through my brain. Now that he's dead, I like to remember the good things about the Allen of his earlier years, not the cranky Allen of his later years. He'd even once shouted at my long-time Woodstock girl friend, Blue, in a loud, harsh, contemptuous and angry voice, "I'M BUSY!" as she stood next to me at a respectable distance from him, waiting for Allen to disentangled himself from a conversation with someone so I could introduced Blue to him. We were at the 1994 Beat Generation event at NYU. Blue'd been anxious to meet Allen, but we both turned and walked away in disgust.
Yes, Allen once'd been a lot of fun to be with. He even used to mock his own sexual orientation. He'd joke about everything, even about being queer. The best description of Allen as a comedic character is the one Jack Kerouac gives in On the Road, which portrays Allen as a clown-figure whom Jack named "Carlo Marx" in honor of Harpo, not Karl. It's only when Allen started turning into his own version of Karl that he began taking himself seriously. But then, why shouldn't he take himself seriously? After all, he'd succeeded in becoming one of the sages of our time. This is what I am thinking at the Unveiling as tears roll from my eyes.
Elliot Pilshaw's song proves premature. Edith hasn't arrived yet. She doesn't arrive, in fact, until later, after Rabbi Ellen Lippmann has begun the service by regretting that she had never met Allen.
When Edith finally arrives, she isn't carrying an umbrella, either, and I become embroiled in an umbrella joust with others who vie to hold their umbrellas over Edith. I withdraw from the competition after I see that someone else can do a better job in keeping her dry.
When I finally step up to say hello to Edith, she recognizes me as she always does and greets me warmly. She is accompanied by her daughter, Sheila Maltz, whom I'd never before had the occasion to meet. When it comes Edith's turn to say a few words to the assemblage, she sobs as she remembers the visits Allen had continued to make to her.
The sheets Bob Rosenthal has handed out contain not only an English translation of the Kaddish but also an English transliteration so that all those who do not read Hebrew can more easily recite the Kaddish in Hebrew. Since the burial of Allen's ashes, Bob Rosenthal apparently has practiced reading the Hebrew Kaddish and when he leads the rest of us in a recitation of it at the Unveiling, more tears come to my eyes.
sh'mei raba. . .
I was only a boy when my father died. For most of my life, I've wished that I had gotten the chance to know him better. I remember the boyhood adventures of driving with him to
During the recitation
of the Kaddish,
I think of my father
chicken farms throughout New Jersey. And I remember him after he got sick. I remember him getting gastric pains so severe, he had to stop the truck and pull over. He had G-I problems. He was a champion farter, but then so am I.
During the recitation of the Hebrew Kaddish, my thoughts wander from my father to Allen, who had helped guide me to my present consciousness, which enables me to see that greed drives the world even though greed is nothing but an alias for the Devil. That greed has led to the raping of our planet. That men would rather annihilate their progeny than surrender profit. I feel as I'm saying Kaddish for everybody!
Hu ya aseh
V'al kol Israel
(V'al kol shalom
V'al kol Israel
To become a lawyer, Allen's brother,
Eugene, changed his name to Eugene Brooks. But Allen and Eugene had remained as
tight certainly as I've always been with my own sisters. The boyhood bond
between Allen and Eugene must've been heightened by the tragic absence of their
mother, Naomi, who'd been institutionalized. Allen once told me she thought she
had wires in her head. Aside from their father, Louis, that'd left Allen and
Eugene largely with only each other to turn to. Eugene had told me he planned to
write a poem for the Unveiling, but when it comes his turn to speak, he chooses
to recite one of Allen's poems, Return of Kral Majales, written in April
of 1990, 25 years after Allen'd been crowned King of the May in Prague. After
which, Allen'd been deported from Prague. And after which Allen'd written
This silver anniversary much hairs gone from my head and I am the King of May
And tho I am King of May
my howls and proclamations present are banned by FCC on America's electric airwaves 6 a.m. to midnight
So King of May I return to Heaven flying to reclaim my paper crown
And I am king of May with high blood pressure, diabetes, gout, Bell's palsy, kidney stones and calm eyeglasses.
And wear the foolish crown no ignorance no wisdom anymore no fear no hope in capitalist striped tie and Communist dungarees
No laughing matter the loss of the planet next hundred years
And I am the King of May returned with a diamond big as the universe and empty mind
And I am the King of May lacklove bouzerant in Springtime with a feeble practice of meditation
And I am King of May Distinguished Brooklyn English Professor singing
All gone all gone all overgone all gone sky-high now old mind so Ah.
At the memorial held in St. Mark's Church only a week after Allen's death, Eugene also had broken down in tears before the audience. That was while reading a poem he had written after his brother's death. At St. Marks, Bob Rosenthal had to finish reading the poem for Eugene. This time, Eugene, perhaps even more overwrought than he was at St. Mark's, is determined to finish, though his words become almost inaudible between his sobs.
"But I got through it," he tells me afterwards.
When Eugene's son, Lyle, steps up to say a few words, he tells how, when he was in grade school, he was taught the evils of drugs by a poster bearing the full-bearded face of his uncle, "and that's why I never took drugs," he says proudly. He can thank his dead uncle for that. I, who once had undergone a "dark night of the soul" resulting from extreme and abusive drug experimentation, join in the titter that runs through the group.
I pick a moment to approach Eugene to say hello. He was, of course, one of those here at the cemetery for the burial of Allen's ashes. Also at the burial was their cousin, Dr. Joel Gaidemak, who also is now present at the Unveiling. We say hello and Joel's son, Sam, comes up to me to introduce himself. Actually, I recognize only a few others in the crowd grouped about the gravestone. I'm told that they include many relatives of Allen. Families are the building blocks of society. I remember Allen agonizing over whether or not he should have babies. Of course, he never did.
Eventually, Lyle is asked to remove the Buddhist green and yellow cloth that veils Allen's gravestone. A sort of grand finale to the ceremony. Engraved on the gravestone:
Irwin Allen Ginsberg Beloved son and brother June 3, 1926-April 5, 1997
Although Irwin was his name on his birth certificate, everyone called him by his middle name, Allen. Allen himself considered Irwin his middle name, according to his brother. Also engraved on the stone is a line from Allen's song, Father Death Blues.
Father Breath once more farewell
Birth you gave was no thing ill
My heart is still, as time will tell
When Bob Rosenthal asks if there are others who want to say a few words, many volunteer. Some I recognize, some I don't. One of those I don't recognize is a woman expert on Robert Blake, a professor at Rutgers, who tells of her experience in meeting Allen. One of Allen's cousins tells of playing hide-and-seek with Allen here behind the gravestones in Gomel Chesed Cemetery when, as kids, he and Allen were taken here by their parents to visit their ancestors' graves. There are Gaidemak gravestones here as well as Ginsberg gravestones. Allen's family has been planting its coffins here for quite a while. The Ginsbergs, after all, once lived in abutting Newark. That's where Allen was born.
Author and documentary filmmaker Regina Weinrich, a friend of Allen, steps up to tell of his generosity. Just after Allen's Collected Poems was published, she says, she invited him to read at Manhattan's School of Visual Arts and, instead of reading his own poetry, he read the poems of Philip Lamantia, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, Philip Whalen, Lew Welch and Gary Snyder.
"And afterwards," she says, "I asked Allen, 'Why did you read only these other peoples' poems and not your own poems?' And he said, 'I wanted to make sure that people knew the poetry of the people that I'd hung out with for all these years because it's no good to me to be one of a coterie of poets of which I'm the only famous one. I want everybody to be famous."
There is a succession of speakers who step forward to tell of their instances with Allen and soon they all turn into one big blur for me. Should I step forward, too? I've got a million stories to tell about Allen. In the end, Allen had written me off as unimportant. I'm still trying to prove him wrong. To him, I was invisible. That's because the role I played was always behind the scenes. I still choose to stay behind the scenes. I decide not to step forward to speak. I'll tell my stories about Allen right here in my BEAT PAPERS. Not until after Richard Elovich speaks do I realize that although I'm not taking notes, I'll afterwards have to sit down and write this story.
Richard, who met Allen when Richard was 16, became Allen's secretary five years later. This was in the years before Bob Rosenthal took over as secretary and Richard reads a remembrance of Allen which makes it sound as if his take on Allen were similar to my own. I congratulate him on his reading and I afterwards email him at New York's Gay Men's Health Crisis Center asking for a copy of what he read so I can quote him here.
Piles of envelopes, unopened mail---"sooner or later will answer" in your crabbed pen. Two years later, your affairs rifled through, but still disordered. . . Years separated sporadic glimpses of you. Intervention with Peter, and later when you told me that you had been to Hazelton, I thought if you knew the word "enabler" twenty-five years earlier there would be no beat movement, all the geniuses, Gregory et al, you PR'ed, would have been nipped in the bud.
I am also impressed by another speaker, Jacob Rabinowitz, who is an old friend of Allen, who is dressed like a rabbinical student and who gives an impassioned reading from The Unholy Bible, his English translation of Ecclesiastes. His reading has a profound effect on me and it's obvious that his reading has a profound effect on many others.
"The sayings of the wise are like spurs," he ends. "One final piece of advice, my child: Writing books is an endless task---you'll never say it all. And studying books will exhaust you long before you know enough."
I can't remember everyone who speaks. And then there is Antler. That's what he calls himself, simply Antler. He'd come in by Greyhound from Milwaukee the Friday of June 12th with Jeff Poniewaz, a poet partner. They were headed for the Bandshell, where they'd
describes the rained-out
Central Park Tribute
planned to do a back-and-forth dialogue that they'd sort of memorized after improvising and rehearsing it on the bus ride from Milwaukee. Arriving at Manhattan's Port Authority Bus Terminal at about 10, they'd walked to Central Park, stopping only for coffee on the way.
"All the way from Milwaukee, it was raining," Antler tells me after the Unveiling. "When we get to New York, it's still raining. And it kept raining for days."
At Central Park, workers there directed Antler and Poniewaz to the Bandshell.
"We came to the William Shakespeare statue," Antler says. "That seemed like a good omen. We looked at Shakespeare a few minutes and then continued on to the Bandshell. There weren't many people there when we got there. Most of the people were in the Bandshell, trying to stay out of the rain. We stayed a while. Then we went behind the Bandshell, where a trellis-like arrangement protected us from the rain. When we came back to the front, more people had arrived, including Bob Rosenthal. Chris Felver, the photographer was there and also Mary Rudge, Ezra Pound's daughter. I'd met her once before.
"Some people stood talking in the rain and then other people came, like Lamont Steptoe from Philadelphia. He had set up a reading for me there once, so that was a nice surprise to see him there. And also Kay McDonald was there. She wrote a book that City Lights published, Zelda, about F. Scott Fitzgerald's wife. And also John Landry, who is a really good poet. I met him at Naropa and hadn't seen him since then. Kay and John had come to the Bandshell together.
"And then people just decided to forge ahead with what they were planning on doing in spite of the downpour and in spite of there not being very many people there. Somehow, that didn't make any difference and so there was a magical and primal sort of poetry sharing. It was just really like a seance with Allen in some ways, with people expressing their heart feelings and reading what they had, manifesting their energy for Allen.
"I remember seeing Mary Rudge reading in the rain. She had a gold outfit on with black embroidery---which was very beautiful---and a scarf which was wet. And her hair was completely soaked and just hanging and disheveled. She really looked bizarre. And someone from a TV program---New Jersey Public something---and they were videotaping. And other people kept sharing poetry. There was Allen's Spanish translator, Esteban Moore, from Argentina and Allen's Chinese translator, Wen Chu-an, who is working on a translation of Howl that is going to be published in China. He was very nice. And there were some people who looked like musicians.
"Because of the situation, Jeff and I altered our plans. We just felt we had to do something different, something just spontaneous. We revised what we did, given what was happening there. I read a poem and talked just spontaneously and Jeff condensed what we had planned to do there together. He did a condensed version somehow. We stayed till 3:30 or so. We had to get a room.
"The thing for me was the fact that although it was pouring out and not that many people arrived, somehow that didn't seem to make any difference because, in a way, it was a pilgrimage for each person to cradle Allen's memory in their heart which went far beyond any event aspect and was a personal private thing between them and who Allen was to them, so everybody seemed to have come already cradling that in themselves. And then once there, there was kind of a mutual regard of everybody else there in the way that seems so basic somehow, just like primal time, people just coming around the campfire from distant tribes all with the same kind of sensitivity and openness to everybody else on the same mission."
The musicians Antler referred to were Christian Bauman and the Assassins, who'd been scheduled to open the show. When Christian Bauman and the Assassins arrived to find that the heavens had made it too unsafe for them to plug in their electric instruments, they improvised an acoustic concert within the Bandshell with only the poets who were there as their audience. When I speak to Christian days later, he is still excited about having met and played for all these poets from all over America and all over the world.
I wasn't the one who decided that the rain made it too unsafe for the musicians to play electric instruments in the Bandshell. Neil Ryan, the member of Tribute producer John Scher's team at the Metropolitan Entertainment Group acting as his boss's on-site manager, made that decision. At 9 that morning, Neil was at the Bandshell with the trucks carrying the generator, the piano, the sound system, the amps, the musical instruments and the tent to protect the sound board.
Neil had spent days planning the logistics and making up the schedule of poets and performers for the Bandshell event. He had been expecting rain but hoped there wouldn't be that much of it. It was Neil's fatalistic recommendation the night before the show that we should try to proceed with it come rain or come shine. We were like umpires who had to decide whether or not to call the game. The rain proved to be too heavy. The water prevented Neil from hooking up the generator and laying the necessary cables.
I awoke at daybreak that Friday morning. I always rise with the sun, except on that morning there was no sun. There was only dismal rain pouring from the clouds. Still, I showered and dressed and put slots into containers intended to be passed through the audience for contributions to cover the production costs. Then the phone rang. Neil was calling on a cell phone from the Bandshell to tell me there was too much water to proceed.
"Stay home and man the telephone," he said. Not until 10 a.m. did John Scher officially OK the cancellation. He also bargained down the day's pay of the stagehands, the rental price of the generator and all the other production costs. In addition, he paid some costs out of his own pocket. He is a fan of Allen and the Beat Generation, too.
In the meantime, my phone didn't stop ringing. One of the calls was from my younger son, Joel, who'd shown up at the Bandshell. He told me that although the rain-splattered mall remained devoid of an audience, poets had gathered in the Bandshell and were improvising their own show for themselves. He told me he would act as my representative and he certainly made an impression on Mary Rudge, who would later tell me how fortunate I am to have a son who "cares that much about you and about what you're doing and will come out and see how things are going and back you up and everything."
"What a great sense of humor he has!" she would tell me. "He was able to come up with some really interesting things to say."
Deciding to attend the Bandshell event "on the spur of the moment" because she deemed it "significant," Mary, accompanied by Natica Angilly, had left Oakland the night before, taking the last available red-eye to Newark. The two have established a fusion of poetry and dance and Natica, who heads The Poetic Dance Theater Company, had performed with Mary at a 7 p.m. reading in Oakland before they rushed to the airport to catch a 9:45 p.m. flight. The plane trip was miserable. They didn't sleep all night. So they were obviously tired by the time they got to the Bandshell.
"We had decided to go to very significant event," Mary would tell me. "We had no concept that it would be raining. The barricades were being taken down by police when we got there, but we hung around a little while. Suddenly people started coming. People had driven all night from Arizona, from Colorado, from all over. They had been on the road, four or five in a car. They came from Iceland, Argentina. One had a tape recorder and was asking questions of everybody. 'Is the American Christian Right trying to obliterate Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Poets?' he asked me. As if the Christian right had brought the rain with their prayers. I was astounded at the question. I'm not a spokesperson for the Christian Right. Everybody was having a good time. They brought bongo drums. One poet was reading in a really rhythmic wonderful way. Everybody started to read in a very spontaneous way. The courageous New Jersey TV news crew showed up with their expensive equipment in the rain and interviewed everyone. There I was on TV looking like a wet rat. Everybody had something to say. Which I thought was a pretty relevant statement for the whole day, which was kind of full of excitement. And Jack Shea, the videographer from Scotland was there, so it got well documented. Nobody believed it would be cancelled because you said it would go on, rain or shine. People just read, anyway. If 10,000 people were there, we really wouldn't have been remembered. In this way, we're all going to remember each other. We care about each other. We're going to stay in touch with each other. When you can focus people together and bring them together and give them an opportunity to meet from all these different countries, that's a really nice thing it did happen. Of course people spent a lot of money to come from all over. But they stayed upbeat the whole time. They never got despondent. We finally left. I got very cold. Sorry we didn't stay around. We'd been up all night."
Mary and Natica, who have performed on five continents, performed for the other poets on the Bandshell, with Natica wearing a costume and a mask of her own making. When they got home, they felt they'd had an adventure.
"It was all in the spirit of poetry," Mary would say.
When my younger son left the Bandshell, my elder son, Myles, showed up to replace him. Myles, a professional photographer who also documented the event, was equipped not only with his camera, but also with a cell phone, so he was in constant touch with me. By the time I got there, poet James Ragan, head of the USC Creative Writing Program, was declaiming his poetry from memory to the assembled poets, who seemed to be having a grand old time.
I'd driven into the city with Ida, a retired school teacher, the widow of a favorite second cousin of mine and a woman who sometimes suffers from unconsciousness with her eyes wide open. As she did on that day. Driving Ida's car, I first picked up Jean Portante at the Chelsea and then Ide Hintze at the Ameritania at 54th Street and Broadway, where I pulled up in a No Parking zone. I was in a rush to get to the Bandshell to make at least a late appearance.
Ida was left in the car while Jean and I went into the hotel to get the dillydallying Ide. But Ida got involved watching a vendor pick the dead petals off roses, so he could sell the rest of the flowers as fresh. As a result, she said she didn't hear the police car behind her blowing its siren and honking its horn. So, she got a million-dollar ticket, which is the price Dictator Benito Giuliani charges for parking in No Parking, USA. I was already annoyed with the rain, so I was not in the best of moods and I started taking it out on Ide for dillydallying. Jean told me afterwards that Ide was waiting for Birgitta Jonsdottir from Iceland, but it turned out he was waiting for his lady friend, who'd gone for a walk. How could someone go for a walk when they're expecting us to come pick them up? I asked myself.
All the way up to the Bandshell, I kept trying to impress Ide with the fact that we do things quick here in No Parking, USA. Gently, I kept laying it on thick. In fact, I was really behaving ungraciously, especially considering that he had flown all the way in from Vienna for this event. He got back at me as best he could by laughing that I didn't even know where the Bandshell was. Which I didn't. I drove past it once without knowing it was there and had to circle the winding park roads to get back to it again.
Ide got his vindication when it came his turn to face the semicircle of poets within the Bandshell. He stepped right up and gave a performance that blew me away. Expressing himself with grunts, groans, growls and other noises, he declaimed like a latter-day Panurge, with gestures and body language but with not a single word.
The sound of rain falling on umbrellas will always remind Antler of the Unveiling. At Gomel Chesed Cemetery, that sound echoes like a chorus in his ears as his poet-partner, Jeff Poniewaz tells of having been taken on a tour of Allen's loft the night before. He noted that in the list of occupants at the entrance of the building, the name "Bliss" was just above "Ginsberg." When Antler steps forward, he reads a poem:
In 1967 when you read with the Fugs in Madison Wisconsin
in gratitude to Jeff & me for letting you
stay overnight at our place,
you gave us
this psychedelically painted telephone---
At this point, Antler digs into a pack held by Poniewaz and pulls out a psychedelically painted telephone which he displays to all as he continues reading:
---someone gave you there as a gift
which ever since we cherished as the
"Allen Ginsberg psychedelic telephone"
and over which we received
our last phonecall from you
thirty years later.
Now we wish this phone could still ring with your voice!
Now we must find other ways to communicate with you
across space & time in Eternity! . . .
At the cemetery, Ida asks, "How come they're burying ashes in a sanctified Orthodox Jewish cemetery? Ashes are not allowed to be buried here. Do you have to be famous to get your ashes buried in a sanctified Jewish cemetery?"
I don't answer her.
It's also Jewish tradition to pick up a stone or a pebble or a rock to place on the gravestone of whomever you are visiting to let others know that someone had been there. But Gomel Chesed Cemetery has been here for many years and is all but picked clean of stones or pebbles or rocks. Tradition in addition forbids anyone from stealing pebbles, stones or rocks from gravestones where others have left them. So people are having a hard time finding stones to put on Allen's gravestone. They seem to be wandering aimlessly all over the cemetery.
As for me, I head for my father's grave. My daughter, Brett, is in town from California with her five-year-old son. She's visiting with my elder son, who has a six-year-old boy. Thinking about my two grandsons makes me try to remember how it was when I was their age, and that makes me think a lot about my father. When I get to his grave, the pot cookie I have eaten has me really stoned.
"Hi, Pop," I say and I break into tears. Uncontrollably, I cry and cry and cry for my father as I have never cried for him before. I cry so hard, I start worrying I'm going to have another heart attack if I don't stop crying. But you know what? It feels good to cry. ##
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