I don’t remember how long exactly it took to get from Montreal to New York. All I know is, we always, either by train or car, left at night and arrived as morning light shone on the New York skyline.
This time, Fall 1963, I had Allen Ginsberg’s phone number (OR 3-3638 – I never throw away address books) and, as usual, needed a place to stay for a couple of nights. I’d met Allen just a few months previous and was sure I got to know him well enough to show up and crash on his couch for a weekend. I called from a payphone somewhere on the lower east side. A man answered and I asked for Allen.
“You got any money?”
“Seven dollars and some change.”
“Lend it to me, I’ll pay you pack in a couple of days.” He had to buy dope.
“I need it for a room.”
“You can stay here.”
“Okay. I’ll be right over. Uh . . . who is this?”
Gregory Corso was my favorite poet.
I showed up and gave Corso all my money. We all went to a party – Ginsberg, Corso, Peter and Julius Orlovsky, and me. When we got back I crashed on a mattress on the living room floor, Ginsberg in a big chair opposite, talking to me, inviting me to sleep in his bed, which I politely declined to do.
The next day Corso sat for hours on the window ledge staring out at East 10th Street, brooding. He barely spoke. I picked up a copy of his one novel American Express, which I found lying about and was dying to read. A rare Olympia Press book published in France and impossible to find. We discussed the book for about ten seconds. Corso wasn’t in a talking mood.
Julius Orlovsky spoke continually and asked me about my dreams. Did I dream last night? What did I dream? Julius had just days before been released from a 12-year incarceration in a New York State mental hospital. Peter (his brother) and Allen had gone and signed him out and were looking after him henceforth. Whatever his difficulties, he was not over them and when I saw him again a year or two later he was even less over them – trying to help Peter paint the kitchen in their new apartment, unable to paint beyond one small area near the ceiling by the window as he stood up on his rickety chair, Peter trying to get him to paint beyond that one spot.
I’d picked up Visions of Gerard at a second-hand bookshop for a buck and had it with me the next day, sitting on my mattress reading the first couple of pages. It’s Kerouac’s memoir of his older brother who died at nine – when Jack was four. “It’s a beautiful book,” Ginsberg commented. I never did read the whole thing, perhaps discouraged by the hokey illustrations by James Spanfeller, whomever the heck he is.
Three years later at Mike’s Pool Hall in North Beach Ginsberg told me Corso was just crashing there himself and in fact they’d had a bit of a blow-up over his inviting me to stay without asking anyone. What impresses me, however, is that you could get dope for seven bucks in New York in 1963.