First Job

November 22nd, 2023
Corner of Côte-des-Neiges and Sherbrooke

Aside from a couple of false starts, jobs that didn’t work out, and a summer job or two, this was where my work life began. I ran the mail room, the copier (which consisted of shiny paper and chemical baths), a Gestetner mimeograph, and other paraphernalia. I coloured the windows pink to show where the realm over which I presided was located. The mail room.,-73.5818514,3a,75y,329.47h,92.76t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s7pUT1mfPNw81c4jz7h4ZNw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192?entry=ttu

1 comment »

Abie, a dog

October 9th, 2023

My lifelong dream of a dog of my own came true at last (though I wouldn’t know it till later) when Mitzi showed up at Dick and Catherine’s with a couple of pups just weeks before I headed North into the unknown. To Galley Bay.

“What the….?  Jeez, you don’t want dogs!

It was their home and their life but I was constantly donating unsolicited advice.  Besides, what was I going on about?  I loved dogs. And another thing, I took one look at those two cute little fuzzy guys and named them right off the bat.  They looked kind of Jewish with their little gray beards so I named them Abie and Max, after my mother’s brothers.  Max was a girl so I declared that it was short for Maxine.

I continued advising, “Well, okay…but maybe just one dog.”  

So Max was sent to live up on the Sunshine Coast, somewhere.  We ran into her one time, on Long Beach, I think, a few years later. Abie became a handsome dog but Max had become gorgeous, a belle, a real chien fatale.

It was soon after the dogs showed up that that bill bissett came by and told us about Galley Bay.  He’d been there with a half a dozen others, including Carl Bloom, whose parents owned the land and who had, in fact, pretty much grown up there.  Bloom senior had been professor of economics at U.B.C. and, having retired, moved down to California.  Carl, bill, and the others decided to invite everyone in the known universe to join them in starting a commune on the place.  Dick and Catherine packed up their son, Beorn, who was about three, and the remaining dog, Abie, and headed for Galley Bay.  I suspect that Catherine might have also taken my copy of John Coltrane’s Lush Life with her.

By the time I got there Dick and Catherine had taken off, separately, for god knows where.  Beorn became part of the pack of orphany kids who ran around the place and I took a special interest in him, becoming a kind of surrogate pop.  In fact he usually called me “daddy” or “my other daddy” or something like that.  He often slept in my chicken shack, when Marian wasn’t around, I made sure he got enough to eat and I wiped his ass when necessary.

Abie had likewise joined a pack of orphany dogs and, in particular, he had a special buddy in a wiry mutt named Red.  He also enjoyed hanging out with one of the goat kids, Skipper, so I got to see a lot of Abie.  He and Skipper’d chase each other around and butt heads and stuff.  One morning I walked into the kitchen of the main house where a solemn discussion was going on.  I thought maybe someone had dumped DDT on the garden or drained the well.  Turns out Abie and Red had killed a chicken.  Old Man Menard, who everyone looked up to because he was an older, experienced rural type and I despised because he was an older, experienced rural type was pontificating:  “Once a dog kills a chicken he’s hooked.  Can’t be cured.  These dogs have got to go.”  What the hell did I know about these things?  I couldn’t say a word.  An hour later Abie and Red were gone.

Abie went to live with a kid named Louie in Powell River.  Louis had spent a little time at Galley Bay but I think there weren’t enough drugs around for his liking so he went back to Powell River.  His place there became a convenient stopping off point for trips to and from Vancouver.  Usually one had to spend the night there either way.  These stopovers were always interesting.  Usually there were a bunch of whacked out teenagers hanging around the place and one time, I remember, there were five or six kids who had just eaten some kind of rat poison that was reputed to have psychedelic properties.  Within minutes these youngsters had gone farther into outer space than man has ever dared go.  They babbled incomprehensibly and puked hither and thither and, finally, I went out to sleep in someone’s car.  As I was dozing off I opened my eyes in time to see a face dispersed across the windshield, twisted utterly into a look of grieving madness.  I rolled the window down a bit because I though he was speaking to me.  It turned out he was speaking to unknown life-forms on another planet.  “Mizzer bleech wallum bagt call borneo, marawalkd night?”  What could I say?  He was probably right.  A few days later I heard these kids all went back home to their parents in various parts of the country.  I think they all became investment counselors or dentists.  Miraculously, none died.

Another time I passed through with Mitzi.  I met up with her in Vancouver and she was coming back with me to Galley Bay.  Her son, Sean, was one of the orphany kids up there and I’d sort of been looking after him a little, too.  I had yearned to get in Mitzi’s drawers for years.  There’d been nothing to indicate this was ever likely to happen until we showed up at Louie’s.  Louie was actually a really sweet and generous juvenile delinquent.  Soon as we walked in the door he said, “You guys can have my bed.”  So we took our clothes off and had Louie’s bed.  A night to remember, also due to the young chick that was hanging out that night.  There were a half dozen of Louie’s cronies there and, one after the other, they brought her into the bedroom where Mitzi and I were molesting each other and fucked her on the floor at the foot of our bed.

A rather nasty scene there, all in all, and one which Abie, I could see, found depressing.  He was bored and miserable, and neglected.  The injustice of his exile gnawed at me.  When Mitzi and I set out in the morning I told Louie, “I’m takin’ Abe back home.”

“Yeah, sure, okay,” he replied.

I looked over at Abe curled up in a morbid heap on the floor and said, “C’mon Abie.”  He shot up and followed me out the door and never left my side for fifteen years.

I never had any intention of claiming Abie as my own dog.  But he stuck with me.  First thing, when we got back to Galley Bay, I tried a trick I heard someone talk about.  I tied a long rope round his neck and gave him lots of slack as we walked out towards where some chickens were hanging out shooting the breeze.  Everything was cool for the first few minutes but then some crazy power seized Abe’s mind, heart, and soul.  He took after one of the juicier looking hens.  I waited till he was about at the end of his rope and then I yanked him back hard as I could.  He spun in the air and fell over in a puff of dust and I reeled him in.  Then I whacked his ass.  Then I whacked his nose a while.  I felt horrible doing it but it was that or deportation, again.  Then I untied him and he ran off and hid under the house for the rest of the day.  That night he comes knocking at my chicken-shack door.

Well, all the dogs lived out in the open, hanging out together and sleeping in big dogpiles to keep warm.  “What the hell are you doing here?” I asked.  I shut the door and, as I discovered later, he slept right outside the whole night and every other night.

When I finally left Galley Bay for the last time Abie followed me down to the wharf.  I got in the boat and he jumped in after me.  I threw him out, and he jumped back in again, crying for dear life.  I asked someone to hang on to him while we shoved off.  When we got the middle of the bay they let go of him and he jumped right into the water and swam after us.  When he’d caught up I pulled him out of the water, won over by his deathless devotion.  “Alright, Abe.  C’mon.”

Comment »

Theory of Searches

September 27th, 2023

Everybody and everything was on the go. As explained in the Theory of Searches, in the right location point, if you stayed put long enough, everyone would find you, and in the summer of 1968 you didn’t have to stay put for very long.

That summer a lot of us found each other at Galley Bay and almost daily another boat, such as the one that deposited me here, slid up to the wharf to discharge a wild assortment of visitors. Some who’d stay an hour or so, some for a few days or weeks, and some who would never leave. One day the Pinchots showed up. A pair of brothers looking for land on which to build a commune. They understood computers (as few did then) and spoke of an advanced technological society from which they’d embark upon their revision of the world. A new age. With them were Bill Heine and his wife, Ellen. They were a little older than the average Galley Bay visitor, probably in their forties and Bill also sported a trim crew cut in a time of long hair. features which had them pegged by some as probable “narcs” which, in time. proved to be damned ironic. They were pretty well ignored at first and, as for me, I pretty much ignored everyone that showed up, anyway.

Bob Carpenter was up there, too, and, as far as I could tell, was about the best musician on the place. He sang folk/pop tunes in a Dylanesque style, accompanying himself with solid guitar licks. He played no complicated solos, but his singing had emotional strength, and was in tune. Every day around mealtime everyone drifted back to the main house. Bob generally arrived first, setting up shop in the large living-room with his guitar, playing and singing. Often as not, a few others’d sing along or join in with flutes, recorders, or whatever. Half a dozen women would be in the kitchen cooking. Meals were fairly routine and unless someone had caught a salmon that day, in which case we feasted. Otherwise it’d be brown rice and fresh vegetables from the garden. The babies got to drink fresh goat’s milk.

Early on I took over the goatherd’s job. Though I will no doubt remain ignorant till my dying days of the ways of natural, that is to say non-downtown, living, I became something of an expert on goats. We had a little herd consisting of a king billy and a few nannies and their kids. I was struck by the difference between the sheep and the goats and this difference served me well as an analogue for humans. The sheep produced wool without any idea that they were doing so and seemed pretty damn stupid about everything else, too. The goats produced milk and sold it to you. The sheep had to be pushed around because they could never figure out what they were supposed to do, other than eat. You had to win the goat’s trust and then they’d follow you, if they felt like it. The goats were smart and even had a sense of humour. I loved hanging out with them, as did my dog, Abie, who’d fool around with the youngest kid, Skipper, butting heads and chasing each other around.

After several weeks residence at Galley Bay I’d devised the following system: Before going to sleep I prepared the potbellied stove. Some crumpled paper on the bottom, followed by fine kindling, bigger kindling, and a couple of pieces of firewood on top. Then I prepared the one-cup espresso pot on top of the stove. When I woke up all I had to do was toss a match into the stove on my way out to the goat barn. After milking the nannies and letting them out to roam for the day I returned to my cabin just in time to hear the final burps of the steamed coffee erupting into the top chamber of the pot. Then a couple of smokes with my espresso as I sat on the front step and watched the glorious day begin.

I realize now that throwing a lit match into a small stove filled with combustible materials and then taking off for 20 minutes to a half an hour every morning was a mad thing to do but in those days and in that place I was the king of the ignoramuses and the angels must’ve been looking after me or how can I possibly have survived?

It was almost a perfect life. All I needed was to get laid once in a while and it’d be heaven. I must confess now, in my old age, that though the lack of clothing seemed like a perfectly natural way to go, free and beautiful, in fact all those naked gals, many of them pretty damn voluptuous with their perfect young breasts glistening in the sun, had me as horny as old Jumbo, the king billy goat. Both of us jacked off frequently.

But, oddly enough, though I’m sure there must have been a fair amount of fucking going on day and night, my only sexual episode was on a trip to town where Marian, Wendy, and I got stranded overnight at the ferry landing at Earl’s Cove. The only shelter was the solitary restroom which was just large enough to open up a sleeping bag on the floor. We made a mattress out of two of them and the third was our blanket. By now we were so used to nudity that we three stripped without forethought and got into bed. Not much happened but by the time we got to Vancouver Wendy and I were in a hot alliance that lasted about three days. I should also add that Wendy was among the most opulent the large breast factions of Desolation Sound.

It would be unjust to construe my tit fetish as only a male preoccupation. Once I overheard Marian and some of the girls debating the various alliances, or factions that had formed among the women. As’ll happen in any large group of people sides had formed over various issues. Marian summed it up: “What it boils down to is the big tits versus the small tits.”

One late afternoon, as mealtime approached, I was drifting over towards the main house when I was stopped in my tracks by the guitar music I heard seeping out through the chinks and cracks of the aging lumber. If this was Bob Carpenter he must have made a major musical breakthrough on the order of a chinchilla learning to cakewalk. I could not believe my ears. Charlie Christian chords and a flurry of boppish eighth and sixteenth-notes made my hairdo flip. I walked in to find that old “narc” man, Bill, wailing on Bob’s guitar as the hippies stood about in happy confusion. Minutes later the gals in the kitchen announced dinner and as everyone straggled away I uttered my first words to Bill. “Shit, man… what the…?”

It wasn’t till later that we continued that conversation. “Well, I played a little guitar at one time.”

“A little guitar? Jesus, that was hot, man, incredible. I’ve been dying to hear jazz for months. That was a shot to my soul.”

In all the time I knew Bill Heine I never again saw him pick up the guitar. I must have begged him a thousand times. He always refused without explanation, as though there was some dark mystery behind it all; as though that one time I heard him he’d simply forgotten himself for a while. But in the course of the next couple of months (or was it only weeks?) we spent countless hours together, talking talking talking. When someone showed up with a portable battery-operated record player we requisitioned the thing and took it to my chicken-shack where I had managed to lay my hands on only one record, Coltrane’s Lush Life. We played the thing endlessly through the night till the batteries finally croaked while we talked about Jazz, New York, and all the mad characters of the time, a couple of whom I knew , but all of whom Bill knew. He seemed to know everyone and everything. I don’t remember where he was born but he showed up in New York sometime in the late forties, just about the time I was being born nearly four hundred miles to the north, in Montreal.

He knew the Pinchot brothers. They had millions it turned out. Some of it they brought with them in cash to buy this land they were looking for. When they came up from California they sent airfare to Bill and Ellen so that they could join them, get out of the City and kick their habits. Ellen came from Midwest wealth and once had a promising career as an opera singer but blew it all years ago when she got hooked up (and hooked) with Heine in New York. She was slowly going mad and I almost never saw her. She seemed okay at first and I liked her well enough but gradually she took to hiding out and I saw her less and less.

The amazing thing for me was Bill Heine, veteran of bop city and bop life, was perfectly at home in this wild world of rivers, trees, and oceans. He loved to fish and sometimes I’d go out with him, leaning back in the dinghy or rowing a bit, while we talked. He told me about Lester Young, who introduced him to reefer sometime in the forties. It must have the beginning of his walk down the road to junk. This was just one of many incidental facts of his life that came up in conversation. He never made any kind of point of talking about the characters in his life’s story though some of these names held powerful meanings for me. I know there were at least a couple of letters between Bill and Allen Ginsberg at that time.

HERE > I was with Bill when I met another character who was to make a huge impression on me, perhaps even to the point of having changed my life. Nancy was a woman I’d heard tales of but had never seen. She lived down at the bottom of the Malaspina Inlet, alone except for about thirty goats. One of the tales I’d heard was about the night she was woken up by the sound of a cougar going after one of her animals. She grabbed a rifle and went after it, tracking it through miles of dense, sopping wet, night forest. I can’t remember whether she shot the thing or not but, either way, she headed back home and went back to sleep. The next day she met Jim Cochuck, another loner whose farmhouse was a few miles in the direction the cougar had taken the night before. Nancy told him about it.

“Nancy, you must have been soaked and freezing. Why didn’t you stop by for a cup of tea?”

“Oh, but I wasn’t dressed properly for visiting.”

This woman had chased a cougar in the dead of night through miles of rain-soaked woods with a rifle in hand but would never dream of paying a visit on a gentleman, no matter how cold and miserable she might have been, unless she was properly dressed for the occasion.

One day Bill and I took the small boat with the five horsepower Seagull outboard attached down the Malaspina. He wanted to do a little fishing and I remembered seeing a small island, more like a big rock actually, that was completely covered with wild rosebushes. I had decided to make rosehip extract. I’d read that you couldn’t beat rosehips for vitamin C. Bill dropped me off on rosehip island. An hour or so later he was back with no fish. I tossed my bushelful of the rosehips into the dinghy and climbed in. It was starting to rain.

“Let’s go down to Nancy’s till this rain blows over. I been wanting to meet her, anyway,” one of us suggested.

“Yeah, me too. Let’s go.”

First thing to say about Nancy is she has to be the most hospitable woman on earth. Two dingy strangers show up at her door without warning and she lays out a spread of hot coffee, and fresh-baked cakes and strawberry tarts. I was ravenous by now and kept stuffing myself with tarts. More kept appearing while Nancy told us her life story. She’d never married, had no kids, and her only living relative was a nephew who’d show up now and then to make sure she was still alive. I’m guessing she was about sixty and had lived on this place half her life. She showed us around and I got to meet some of her goats. This was a real treat for me as I’d become quite a goat aficionado by now. I told her that I was in charge of the Galley Bay goats, that there were only five of them and that it was my only chore. She had close to thirty plus an immense vegetable garden and all the other work that goes with running a house on a small farm.

“Must be an incredible amount a work running this place alone,” I noted.

“Yes, it is.”

I wondered how she could ever get away from here, what with animals and all to care for.

“You ever take a holiday?”

“I haven’t had a holiday in twenty-five years. My nephew keeps offering to look after the place so I can have a couple of weeks vacation. Maybe one of these days I’ll take him up on it.”

“Where would you go?”

“Go? Why, I’d stay right here. I don’t know of any place I’d rather be.”

I was floored! I thought Nancy must be the happiest person alive, to be exactly where she wanted to be and whose idea of a holiday was to take a break from all her work for a few weeks to enjoy where she was even more. I thought of everyone I’d known who slaved day after day for something other than what they had, for a place other than where they were. Things and places that would never exist.

The rain, though light, kept falling and now, too, the sky warned of darkness. It was late afternoon and we knew we had to leave at once. Back in the dinghy we fired up the Seagull and aimed ourselves for home. The sea was against us as was the rising wind. Ten, fifteen minutes later we were almost halfway home and the sky turned black, the wind and the sea swelled. Bill was getting nervous but I was getting terrified. Soon we vanished into total darkness, just barely able to make out the shore as we danced up and down in the growing swells. It seemed like we were hardly moving, though we knew we were because soon the land on our left disappeared completely as we emerged from the strait. Out in the open everything got even wilder. Howling winds, raging seas, the works. I knew I was a dead man. Bill and I faced each other in the boat as he handled the motor, desperate to steer us in what seemed like it might be the right direction. Suddenly I saw his jaw drop and his eyes bug out. “Hang on tight,” he yelled. I grabbed my seat. All of a sudden we were in midair. In that instant my life flashed through my mind, just like they said it would. Then we fell, slamming into the water as my seat was rammed against my ass, sending a shockwave up to my terrified brain.

I don’t know why Nancy’s tarts weren’t in my underpants by now. The land’s edge that would lead to home and safety kept vanishing and reappearing till, finally, we could make out the faint glow of kerosene lamps as we passed into the bay and up to the wharf. I heard Bob’s voice and guitar, the loveliest music I’d ever heard. He was aboard the steel-hulled tub that belonged to some recent guests and in a matter of minutes Bill and I were in their cabin smoking cigarettes and gulping hot coffee. A joint was passed around and Bill acted perfectly calm, as though nothing at all unusual had happened. I sat quaking in my water-logged jeans, holding on to the coffee mug for dear life.

I loved Galley Bay. Often I lay, even went to sleep at night, atop the Bounty because the view of distant mountains was best there, and the gentle rocking of the boat was pure heaven. Nothing in my life had prepared me for such splendour. I knew in my heart I’d never leave. But it wasn’t the first, nor the last time, my heart deceived me. In my bones I remained a city boy. I never passed up an opportunity to go to Vancouver.

Ellen got crazier and crazier. Some kind of paranoia with maybe some other manias thrown in for good measure. She had nothing good to say for anyone and thought everyone was out to get her somehow, including Bill. She stayed out of sight and when you spotted her she was usually spying on you from behind a wall or some furniture. Maybe that’s why Bill decided to leave, to go back to New York. The visitors with the steel-hulled tub gave up on their Alaskan fantasy and were heading back to Oregon. Both Bill and I were on that boat and after arriving in Vancouver we said goodbye to each other for the last time.

Comment »


September 26th, 2023

It started raining, which is not surprising. I forget the season I’m in, they’re interchangeable in this city. Cold summers, hot winters…whatever – it rains. Umbrellas pop up everywhere and though I can’t recall ever hearing of anyone blinded by umbrella spokes I’m dodging them angrily. Why the fuck don’t they just wear hoods, like I do? My jackets, my sweatshirts, all have hoods. Handy to hide in, too, should the need arise. If I see an enemy approaching I can pull my hood down tight over most of my head. Far as I can tell I have no enemies but you can’t be too cautious. I jam my hands into my jean pockets and charge head-first into the rain.

I spot a girl in the doorway of Beano’s Haircuts. I note her lanky good looks and frizzy hairdo, heavy with rainwater, hanging over her face. She sees me, too, and once again I reckon the months since I last felt the brush of a girl’s skin against my own hairy self. There’s a tingling behind my fly. Of course, it’s all very hopeless, but as I pass she grabs my arm and pulls me out of the rain. “Lissen, this guy’s following me. Pretend you’re with me a sec.”

“Who is it? Someone you know?”

“My boyfriend.”

Well, yes, of course. I’m glad to help. I’ll fuck her in the doorway if it does the trick. Or marry her. She jabbers a while, I guess to look like she knows me and then takes off down the street. I look around and there’s no one in sight that appears to care one way or another whether she lives or dies. Is she nuts? Probably. Why am I so attractive to lunatics? I muse upon this topic as I venture forth once more into the rain. I realize I’m hungry and should have had a bite with that coffee so I stop in the Laundromat for an old magazine to read while I gulp down a sandwich or something at the next diner I see. An old man rushes out of an invisible doorway in the back yelling, “Hey you dumb punk those are for customers.” I have a full and detailed defense ready but it would take too long to deliver so I rush out and walk fast across the street to Bernice’s Fast Lunch. Soaked by now I flop into the first booth with my wet, old Newsweek.

I scan the menu and wonder why it looks so familiar. Somewhere some printing outfit decided what choices I’d have at mealtime. It’s the same menu coast to coast. Why do I need to even look at it? It’ll be either a burger, a BLT, a clubhouse, or breaded veal cutlets, depending how flushed I feel, no matter whether I’m at Bernice’s in Vancouver or the Bongo Rest Stop in Northern Michigan. It’s always the same, just like the newspapers. Same news, different names. Still, I scan the choices. The waitress strolls by and slides beside me into the booth. What the hell’s going on? I look up and see it’s Her, the doorway damsel-in-distress.

A truck pulled over on the Michigan highway leading up to Mackinaw City, and Canada beyond. I climbed up and into the rider’s seat, slamming the door gratefully. “Thanks,” I said, throwing my pack into the bunk behind me. As he pulled back onto the asphalt the driver, a chubby man about fifty with stubble and a red shirt under his nylon windbreaker, reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a card a bit bigger than a business card and handed it to me. It said, in fat handwritten letters, “I CANNOT SPEAK. PLEASE TALK TO ME.”

I stared straight ahead, through the smoke-filled air in the cab, through the bug-splattered windshield, into the dust-speckled atmosphere, at the onrushing ribbon of asphalt with its frenzy of yellow dashes speeding by, at the flight of trees, poles, and billboards disappearing beyond the peripheries of my view. I watched the future roll under our wheels and become my past. I heard the whine of wind and engine wail, grieving lost time. I was Jagannath rolling on, over the corpses of lost love, failed hopes, disappointment, and wasted chances; into an unfolding glorious future.

I couldn’t think of a thing to say. Tongue-tied, dumbstruck, mute. Speechless, voiceless, wordless. I ached to speak but couldn’t even find where to begin. Miles rolled beneath us in thundering silence. Tell a joke? My life story? Recite a poem? What? I suppose I could have told him about the previous night in the Nowhere Hotel, going to bed alone in the middle of nowhere and listening to We’ll Sing in the Sunshine booming up from the bar and the sounds of Americans getting drunk and happy and how I woke up in the morning and saw my arm lying on the bed and wondered why it looked like just an arm, nothing that belonged to me in any way except as a memory of an arm. The strangeness of it like a block of ice in my brain, following me out to the road where I stood for less than a minute till the first car to pass stopped for me.

She sits beside me in the booth, says “Hi”, as though we’re old pals, fucked in a doorway once, possibly were husband and wife. The waitress appears with poised pad and pencil.

“You wanna coffee?” I ask. She nods. “Two coffees and, um, a BLT.”

“You gonna have something to eat?” the waitress asks, looking at my secret wife.

“Just the coffee.”

She seemed so tall in the doorway but now appears to be about a foot shorter than me, thin and breastless with sharply featured face, huge eyes, and wet hair hanging down in random strands. I decide to fall in love with her.

As it turns out, I’m very good at falling in love but terrible at actually loving. And even worse at being in love with. When our coffees arrive she moves around to the opposite side of our booth. I ask her a series of questions, questions concerning her name, whether or not she ditched her stalker, where she’s from, etc. I try to make out her breasts, but fail. I consider her gray sweater and decide that the manner in which it is draped over her upper body has, somehow, concealed two lovely yearning papillae. I recall how misleading clothes can be, how Valerie, who seemed a bag of bones, revealed a body so glorious it haunted me for years when she got out of bed to get the phone as I talked to her in her room. Imagining my new friend is easy. I can see her skin, smell the fragrances arising from her miscellaneous regions, hear the pop of my pecker pulled from her pulsating pudendum, smell the cooling coffees beside our Epicurean mattress. Suddenly I grasp that the coffee I smell occupies the abandoned mug across the table. She never answered a single one of my questions. She fidgeted there a while and then was gone. Probably a junkie or just an ordinary maniac. I recognized at once that my life had reached yet another dead end.

Back home, Ross informed me that Jessie, (who was later to attend Woodstock and accidentally become an immortal, if anonymous, icon of our culture by having her picture wind up on the album cover, draped in a blanket, buried in the arms of a stranger) was despondent due to having just been dumped by her man, John. So Ross and Lissa were taking her camping for a few days up to Robert’s Creek. For the cure. “Why not join us?”

I had nothing to do. I’d just started a new business so the idea of skipping town appealed to me. I hated camping but what the hell? Within hours we were on the Horseshoe Bay bus, the Langdale Ferry, and soon trekking across the stony beach looking for a good spot to spend the night. Ross and Lissa babbled non-stop about every natural feature of the universe, pointing out certain birds, trees, etc., each of which they knew personally. They loved nature, it seems. I was more interested in every natural feature of Lissa, a tall and supremely gorgeous example of god’s handiwork. Ross, a shortish and witty guy, and arty in the bargain, I liked a lot but I’d have happily killed him to get into Lissa’s botanicals. Besides, he was too short for her. When she dumped him a few years later he became a scientologist. For now they chatted amiably while Jessie stared at rocks despondently and I made stupid jokes, since I knew nothing about nature.

Within minutes of settling into our campsite I discovered that I’d lost my cigarette papers so, after trying to roll a cigarette in some cardboard I found on the beach, I went immediately to sleep. First thing at dawn I walked back along the beach directly to where my pack of Export Aquafuge papers lay. I have always taken this as a sign that I have some kind of paranormal finding skill, despite the fact that I’ve lost enough Swiss Army knives in my life to defeat the Iraqis. I enjoyed my metaphysical cigarette while waiting for my companions to find me. For the next few hours we roamed the beach, after our breakfast of ranch-style coffee and some crap out of cans. The talk continued in the same vein as the night before until Jessie turned on me:

“Why the fuck don’t you shut yer damn mouth? Yer a goddam idiot,” she explained. I instantly forgot every word I’d said. I had no idea what set her off. I could understand she’d be in a lousy mood but what was this all about? Generally, I think, we were all having a mediocre time only I hadn’t been aware of it since it’s about what I expected, anyway. Camping! I kept my mouth shut while Ross tried to calm her down. Lissa was hunting for some kind of intertidal lifeform down a ways from us. I sat down on a log.

“Maybe we oughta just go home,” Ross suggested. Jessie agreed and they called to Lissa. I sat on the log. “I’m just gonna stay here.”

Now and then this strange thing would come over me. Out of nowhere I’d be seized with a certain kind of idea. It went something like this: What the hell am I doing?

Not just me, this may happen to others. Once Judy and I were crossing the Burrard Bridge at night. A line of street lights spans the bridge along the pedestrian walkway. As we passed under each one our shadows grew longer and longer till, halfway to the next light, they began to fade. Under the new light our long shadows appeared again, to repeat the cycle so that as we walked these shadows stretched before us and faded and emerged anew to stretch and fade, again and again and again, like a crazed cartoon movie of ghostly pistons. The wind came howling down False Creek causing the shadows of our windblown hair to appear like nightmare Medusas. Judy had apparently been studying this sight. “Look at that! What the hell are we?” The next time I saw her she’d gotten a Jean Seberg-style boy’s hairdo.

It happened to me a couple a times. A year before the Bridge Epiphany I got up one day with the bizarre notion that I needed to clean up my act. Get straight. I shortened my hair by a foot or two, picked up some kind of sport jacket at the Sally Ann, and went down to Canada Manpower to get a job.

I sat around the waitingroom picturing the new life upon which I was embarking. Fine digs, clothes, cars, travel, etc. As a serious member of Society I’d command respect and my noble thoughts would be honoured, transforming not only myself but the entire world. And about time, too!

They gave me a pencil and some kind of form and sent me into a booth with both. They took the completed form and I waited some more, picturing me and Judy throwing fabulous dinner parties in our sky-high penthouse. I’d be explaining my world-peace theories to Lester Pearson after persuading him to get dope legalized. Charles Mingus’d borrow money from me. Doormen will call me “sir”.

A crewcut guy named Frank called my name and I followed him to his cubicle. I sat there twiddling my thumbs as he stared, glassy-eyed, at the sheet I’d just scribbled on. I thought the fluorescent lights and file-folder dust might make me puke.

“Hmmmm. Says here your last job was Hartford Insurance in San Francisco?”

“Yeah, that’s right.” Was he gonna say something about Wallace Stevens? I didn’t think so.

“So… you lived in San Francisco?”

“Yeah, that’s right. For a while.”

“Hmmmm. Innaresting. Seen on TV and magazines, there’s a lotta hippies there.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

“They use marijuana, don’t they? The hippies? I heard they use marijuana.”

“Well, yeah, I think they might.”

“You smoke marijuana? I mean you ever try it? Must be a lotta marijuana in San Francisco.”

“Well, uh, yeah, I tried it once.”

“Really, eh? Hmmmm. So……uh…..could you get me some?”

Every week I kept my appointment with Canada Manpower. I’d bring Frank a pay-envelope filed with drugs and he’d hand me a sawbuck and a stack of index cards with various jobs described on them, none of which seemed to bear a relationship to any reality I knew of. The only job the Canadian government ever got me was dope peddler!

I stared at the stony beach, the surf, the general mess of a natural landscape strewn with the immeasurable garbage of humankind’s stupid endeavors: lost logs, broken glass, old paint. It resembled beauty, in a way, and for the first time I saw it as my own peaceful place. A place I could just look at, without disturbance, with no design.

Once again, in my life, I was free to follow any inclination, go any way, without worry or plan. I had no money or friends or anything at all here on the beach at the far western edge of the land. I breathed the marine air with its smells of intertidal life, clams, seaweed, and salt. It was rich and thrilling and only years later would it become an aroma to transport me back in time to an almost forgotten world that once I’d inhabited. For now it was only the smell of serenity. I sat awhile, then got up and walked back to the highway. For just a moment I wavered and looked south, back towards Vancouver. I stood by a gas station at the intersection of roads. A man, about sixty, in jeans and checkered shirt and obviously an Indian, walked up to me.

“Beautiful day!”

“It’s a beautiful day,” I agreed. It must have been about ten or eleven A.M. by now. Hot, bright, clean and clear.

“Go North,” he said. That’s all he said.

I was a little disoriented. He pointed North and walked away. That was it. That was our entire conversation. I stood where I was, on the Eastern side of Highway 101, and stuck my thumb out at the first passing car. The green Chevy pulled over into a cloud of dust and I climbed in.

Earlier that spring bill bissett showed up and had announced the new world. He’d joined some friends up the coast to start a commune at Galley Bay and urged us to go back there with him. Dick and Catherine took Beorn and the two pups I’d named, Abie and Max, and followed bill to paradise. I declined. Now I thought to find them. I knew, vaguely, that it was North, up along the coast somewhere. So all I had to do was follow the coastline North and I’d run into them. This was the first example of my complete ignorance of life on the planet that we refer to as “Earth”.

A city boy, having grown up near-poor among the flats of Clark Street, I’d been smug with my own hipness. In the backwater logging town of Vancouver I was supremely assured of my place on a superior plane of being. I knew it all and what I didn’t know I could pick up quickly in a smoky bar on the lower Main, as required. I knew who the authors were of Howl, The Dharma Bums, Moby Dick; who played drums in the Jazz Messengers and where and when that mysterious tenorman, Lester Young, showed up to cut the Father, Coleman Hawkins, at an all-night jam. (The Cherry Blossom, Kansas City, July, 1934.) Street smart, with it, I could leave the East with four dollars in my pocket and arrive in the West with six, without skipping a meal. I knew the ropes, could get money, drugs, whatever; walk the streets at night unharmed; go anywhere and do anything and never work. I was really, really smart.

I was really dumb. My world was a string of big cities with empty spaces between. I’d pass by towns by the sides of highways and wonder: do people live here? And, if so, why? There’s nothing here! To me, country life was exile. I was beginning, now, to find myself strange in a stranger land. But the scope of my ignorance had not yet begun to dawn on me. I could read “North” on a roadsign. I could stand on the proper side of the highway and point my thumb in the direction of my future, facing my past, squinting into the ozone, fearless and free.

My first ride took me about ten miles up the road. Behind the wheel of the green Chev a man about fifty with decent, suburban looks hardly spoke at all after pointing out the pallor of my shorts-clad legs. I realized then and there that something had been lacking, so far, in my imperfect life. What it was I did not yet know, but I knew that henceforth my legs would be as tanned as they could be, if that’s what it took to join the natural creatures of the Earth.

A couple of short rides later a young man, of the academic type, with his father beside him, picked me up and got me to the next ferry at Earl’s Cove. I sat silently in the back seat while up front some kind of family drama was being played out. Seems the younger man, obviously yet another in the long series of draft-dodging, tortilla-chip eaters that were filling up the country, was vainly trying to win the old man over to the new age of peace and communes. The old guy loved the kid, was giving him a chance to make good, but was buying none of it. I was glad to get off at the ferry terminal which consisted of a ramp at the end of the road. The crossing from there was a voyage through Empyrean Isles, a spectral passage through a dreamscape that almost had me believing in some sort of God. Still waters, looming slopes shrouded in Douglas Fir floating by, eagle-eyed Eagles, no sound but gentle water laps against the hull and the hum of diesels underfoot. The Laurentians, as I knew them, with their babbling Jews and French chip-vendors and tombolas in the summer night, was never like this. Surely I was the first white man, or at least the first Semite, to venture upon this pristine landscape.

I was learning the geography as I went along. By the time we docked at Saltery Bay I knew I had to get to Powell River, the next town. I waited dockside as the cars erupted out of the front of the boat. My old pals, pop and son, pulled over once again, so I could catch up on their conflict, I suppose. Their struggle was still unresolved when they dumped me only another ten miles closer to my destination. By now night was creeping up. The warm summer air, filled with a strange, repugnant odour, drifted over everything with spooky shadows. I stood in the same spot a couple of hours when two hooligans screeched up to me in an old heap. Death by wilderness or death by thugs, it didn’t matter. I hopped in. They drove me around a while so I could experience coastal hooliganism close up. They turned out to be pretty sweet kids in the end. One lived with his parents, who were away for a couple of days, so we went back to his bungalow in Powell River where we smoked dope, drank beer, and I told them lies about big city life. I spent the night there and the next morning they drove me to Lund, literally the end of the road. They knew about Galley Bay. Seems it got famous in these parts as the hippie commune. After a couple more beers at the Lund Hotel they left me to wander around the marina looking for a ride up to Galley Bay.

Hardly a town, Lund consisted mainly of the hotel and pub, scattered buildings, some ramshackle sheds and a government wharf. And boats. Lots of boats. Big boats. Small boats. Skiffs, tugs the size of a hotel, sailboats, cruisers, kayaks, rafts, dinghies. You name it. Wealthy Americans keep yachts here and, come summer, they’d bring their families and/or parties of business associates and harlots and go out on the blessed sea to drink, fuck, and watch TV. Some here also made their livings on the sea. Fishermen, beachcombers, and the like. The marine smells were becoming very familiar and refreshing to me. The horrible smells of yesterday turned out to be the emanations from the pulp mills near Powell River.

Finally I got my ride. About an hour later, standing on the boat deck, we sailed round the point into Galley Bay. If I die and go to heaven my arrival there will be second to this. Never in this life did I behold such a paradisiacal vision as arose before my eyes, sliding towards the rickety wharf. Heaven’s sun lit the universe, serene waters rolled beneath our bow, an ovine lamentation resonated up towards the sky from some unknown place deep in the forest, and as we sidled up against the gentle bobbing of the ancient wharf, naked kiddies scampered down to welcome me. The tide was so low that the swaybacked ramp from wharf to land, about a hundred feet long, rose at about a sixty degree angle. The kids were sprinting up and down the thing as I clutched the nearly rotten rail, pulling myself up, scared half to death that I’d plunge to my briny grave, that awesome sight burned before my eyes for eternity.

A raggedy path ran beside some woods towards a huge clearing in the middle of which stood the House, circled on three sides by a wide, covered porch. Off a ways beyond the house four or five sheep grazed, a ewe with its lambs. (This ewe was the source of the baritone wail I heard earlier.) Scattered here and there, singly and in small groups, idling and working, talking and singing, or lying silently in the sun, were the residents of the commune, about thirty in number, a few of them familiar, and almost all naked.

Comment »

Who is Sylvia?

June 23rd, 2023

(Letter to David Saxe)

I watched through the classroom window three dogs playing out the sad, age-old love triangle in the schoolyard. Two dogs vying for the heart of the bitch and the loser sadly slinking off in gloomy defeat. Meanwhile I longed to be outside, standing on the corner with my hands in my pockets waiting for the rain to stop. I imagined myself hitchhiking to Kansas City or Philadelphia with a saxophone  and getting into a cutting contest with Moose “Whiteboy” Flinflon at the Crispy Crunch Lounge, instead of sitting here in my red sweater with Nelson Heapy poking me in the back of my head with his ruler.

The minute hand never moved. With six hundred seconds till the bell, eternities piled up, one on top of another. And yet time stood still. Everything was slow motion, like a death scene in a space opera, all those kids with their huge heads and bulging eyes, motionless. And the teacher’s voice like a 78 played at 33. My head hurt, my stomach was in knots, my teeth were falling out all over my desk and on to the floor and rattling around underfoot as Mrs Files’ clogs stomped down the aisle past me with that sickening sneer all over her pustulant face. As she passed my desk she let loose a voluminous fart that rattled the maps and food-rule charts on the green walls and echoed endlessly. Endless despite the absence of Time. Overwhelming nausea rose from my feet, through my legs and body to my head and enclosed me in odious vapours. I gasped for air, desperate to escape.

Those audacious dogs on the lawn and the sparrows flitting freely in the tree branches seemed to mock my bondage. In that room, frozen in time, I was invisible. Who could see me? All those remote, insensate bodies consumed with desires only to get home to their televisions, their sexless fornications, their bland porridges and sawdust dreams. I felt I could strip naked if so moved and not be seen. It was so tempting. How could I resist? A few quick glances, a furious scribbling, and the deed was done.

For a few brief hours I was a free man. With paper in hand I leapt from my seat and was out the door, clouds of chalk dust swirling in my wake and clinging to my face, filling my lungs so that I could barely breathe. I ran down the halls, tears of joy streaming from my eyes, flying in all directions, and mixing with the chalk dust and forming a thick white paste that clung to the walls, the green lockers filled with pictures of semi-naked women torn from photo magazines. But even as I ran I felt remorse begin its inevitable stirrings in the pit of my belly.

As I passed the girl’s washroom Sylvia Gandy appeared, the fluorescent light glinting off her pony-tail as the door behind her swung shut. One look at the light illuminating those silken strands and I was a goner. My shiksa goddess! My shining angel of forbidden, unknown worlds of ham and church wafers, of crucifixes watching from fireplace chimneys, and the wrinkled grannies smelling of sour soaps. Her V-neck tunic stretched across her chest where some day bite-sized breasts will blossom, and flowed downward across yearning hips stopping just in time to reveal her golden ankles where they rose from pure, blessed white socks. At that moment, and for eternity, I was a lost soul.

That moment was like years as I froze, transfixed, in that darkened hallway, with only the vision of Sylvia in a circle of light before me. All fear, loathing, and terrors of the night vanished from my mind, my spirit, my very soul. My flight was forgotten, slowed to a gentle stroll as I passed by her silent, careless beauty. And as I passed I nonchalantly punched her shoulder. She turned to me, her face bathed in a sunrise.

Sylvia Gandy. Blonde Madonna of the wrong side of the tracks. Masturbatory fantasy for pimpled juvenile delinquents, hoodlums, and gentile boneheads. Scion of alcoholic remittance men and grey-skinned harridans cooking wiener breakfasts in radioactive livingrooms watching Leave it to Beaver through gigantic magnifying lenses while their sons fondle their grotesque uncircumcised schlongs in puke-infested Chevys. Standing there on the verge of a hopeless future, she sees me, boner rising; her shoulder tingling with love and the promise of salvation; touched by a poet.

The drowning man sees his life in a flash. So, too, the saved man, and the saved chick, see not only the history of their bleak, unpromising lives but also the luminous purview of a golden eternity beckoning. The years before us filled my heart with glee. There’d be months of preparation as I nourished her starving soul. At my feet, massaging my ankles, I’d read poetry to her, teaching her the wisdoms. I’d play record albums, instilling in her a deep understanding of the various rhythm sections. Soon she’ll be tacking up posters of Greek art, Spanish bullfights, Mongo Santamaria, all over the kitchen walls, of her own accord. Then on to Manhattan, where in our Soho love-loft she’ll cook me stews as I sit at my table writing masterpiece after masterpiece…

Whoa!!!….”Sylvia,” I cried. “Wait here. Don’t budge. I’ll be back soon. I owe David Saxe a letter. We can’t start a new life with epistolary guilt hanging over us like this. Stay there. I’ll be right back.” And I was off again.

Down past the radioactive slop-ponds I fell into a trance watching x-ray men sitting on the benches, tears falling on their photo-albums. I could see right through them, veterans of nuclear wars and Walmarts. Hopeless orphans creaking through the days. I searched my pockets for loonies and, finding none, I doffed my toque and went on, a sad heart crying within. I’m so lucky, I thought. I fell to my knees praising God, thanking Him for sparing me. Suddenly a big truck came roaring down the street, wildly out of control, headed directly for a baby playing on the street, her mother watching horror-struck from the opposite sidewalk, immobilized by dread.

Suddenly I saw Nelson Leapy coming out of the Walmart with Mitzi Gaynor. They both carried big bags of kitchen gadgets. I called to him and walked over, grasping his hand in mine and pumping madly, causing him to drop some of his load. At first he didn’t recognize me but Mitzi did. “Hey, Nelson,” she cried. “It’s Brian. Sonofabitch!” We walked over to the Starbucks and sat silent over three lattes. None of us could think of a thing to say. We sat there for half an hour, totally silent, looking around nervously and humming. The monotony was occasionally broken when some old duffer recognized Mitzi Gaynor and asked for her autograph. Finally, I could stand it no longer. It was driving me crazy. I turned to Nelson and, with thoughts of all that we’d been through together, I said to him, “Fear not. The future will soon pass.“

Suddenly the phone rang, but it was a wrong number. I got on a bus and went home. Stars like sandwiches in a birdlike monastery flew, a hortense of callishers, sad but invisible destinies filled with paint. Rocks to go, I thought. Butter news or fats waller in time for time ascap sentences, or the flippy sides dental orchestra – I have will not but no to have go not no yes but who, who would yes? And Aaron took him Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Naashon, to wife; and she bare him Oobop and Shebam, and Lazybones begat Fiedelbaum, and Ishtar. And the sons of Homer. Jethro and the sons of the Fantastic Fout thence unto them a child bore Pepsi Cola hits the spot; these are the heads of the fathers of the Levites according to their families.

It’s Sunday. Lucky for me it’s still raining. I had to wait around the house all day waiting for these two guys from Price Waterhouse to show up. I had a bad feeling that I’d fucked up somehow and I called this outfit to send someone over to do an independent audit of my correspondence.

When they showed up I’d been lying on the porch face up so I could watch the rain come straight down at me, and if I let my mind go it was like I was hurtling through space, the drops of rain like miniscule wet stars bashing me all over. These two guys, a fat one with a moustache and a thin one with a scar that ran from the top of his head down the back of his brown gabardine suit, stood over me without saying a word for minutes on end.

Finally the big guy says, “Didn’t you used to hang out at the La Paloma, back in the early to mid-sixties?”

“It’s not “the La Paloma”, it’s “La Paloma”,” I replied. “La means the in Spanish. That’s like saying The The Paloma

“I don’t know what paloma means.”

“Wise guy,” the thin one said. Then they let themselves in. I got up and went in and turned on all the elements on the stove so I could get hot and dry off. I was a mess. I poured myself a cup of coffee. Thick, dark coffee. Piping hot, rich, dark coffee. Deep roasted, steaming, thick, rich, dark, good-to-the-last-drop coffee. Coffee to restore a man’s soul to the condition it was in before he found it. A cup of java to singe the linings of a soprano’s throat; to raise the injured spirit and make the heart flinch in joy. A big, fat, ceramic mug with “Boss Lady” stencilled on it, steaming full of an ebony fluid brewed from specially selected beans raised on the verdant slopes high atop an Andean paradise by short men with big hats.

The kitchen filled with heavy steam from my sodden clothes and body. Condensation formed on the walls and appliances and ran down in rivulets, forming puddles on the floor which grew deep and started spreading towards the livingroom where they soaked into the rug. Suddenly the phone rang. It was Sylvia Gandy and Lindy Kaz singing Swingle Singer versions of Bach’s Goldberg Variation in close harmony from a phone booth in Oakland. It was so beautiful. There was a knock on the door. I put the phone down and splashed to the front door to answer the pounding there. There were seventeen mailmen with a registered letter for someone who had lived here before but had died when he tried to walk to Halifax to raise awareness of the plight of scat singers in Iran. I asked them why it took seventeen mailmen and the shortest one replied that they were taking a night course in mail delivery. I looked past them at the darkness everywhere and realized that it had gotten late. So late that darkness was everywhere upon the face of the earth and the waters thereon. The mailmen left in tears when I said their addressee was dead but, as they descended the steps, twenty-three cabdrivers arrived demanding clam chowder. It seems they’d all arranged to meet on a break and had gotten lost. They thought our place was an all-night diner called Love’s Skillet. How foolish.

When I got back to the phone the two guys from Price Waterhouse were trying to listen to the gals doin’ the twenty-first variation and tears streamed from their eyes, it was so beautiful. You can imagine, I was getting pretty pissed off by then. After all, a phone call is a private matter. I didn’t even know these guys.

I grabbed the phone and pressed the receiver to my ear. Tears began to stream from my eyes. It was so beautiful. I was reminded of all the wonderful, happy days of my youth in Montreal. Growing up on Clark Street was an experience I’ll never forget. Those long, endless summer days playing with my friends Gordy and Carl Arfin, and Gerry Weinman, building scooters out of broken roller skates and old orange crates, and hanging out on the stoops at night telling each other ghost stories under a huge Canadian sky filled with stars, the man in the moon watching over us. We’d walk down to White’s for ice cream and dawdle there, listening to older guys joking and telling tall tales, about fast broads and gangsters. Older men spoke about Russia. About hard times and the journey to America. But at night, in my room, I was shaken with nameless terrors. Lying there, I’d watch the lights from car headlamps three floors below form stripes on the ceiling as they shone through the venetian blinds. They’d stretch across the walls and ceiling, then fade and come again. What was I scared of? The future? In other rooms the family drama was played out. A life I could not fathom. Mysteries. Sex and death. Russia. Old men with beards praying. Fear of goyim. Hate. Stalin. Duplessis. Korea.

And it just kept getting worse. The older I got the worse it got. School. Work. Roles. It stayed a mystery. Yet the more I grasped of that strange puzzle the more of a mystery I became to myself. One of us was out of whack, me or conventional reality. The town just wasn’t big enough for both of us. We had a showdown at high noon on a spring day in 1961 on Main Street under a blazing hot sky. I lost. I had twenty-four hours to get out of town.

I set forth in search of Truth. I was prepared to spend my life in it’s quest, roaming the globe. I’d go hungry, if need be. I’d starve if I had to. I’d skip meals, if so required. I’d forego snacks if so ordained. I’d swallow without chewing one hundred times as advised in the macrobiotic diet cookbook if that was helpful. I saw before me endless years without rest till I found the answer. A vagabond drifting o’er the world, from town to city to mountain, clad in jeans and ratty tee-shirt, my army surplus pack on my back, thumbing rides and sleeping in jails and missions and fields on the edges of cities, my tattered copy of Kerouac’s The Scripture of the Golden Eternity stuck in my back pocket and a jug of Liebfraumilch in my knapsack. As it turned out, Truth wasn’t hard to locate. I think it took about twenty minutes before Truth tapped my shoulder and said, “Pssst, hey…over here.”

Thirty or more years later there I am in a cardboard townhouse on a nuclear dumpsite with a phone to my ear listening to lost love singing duets to me while auditors from a multi-national accounting firm check my hard drive for evidence of epistolary rectitude. Somewhere in another room my fiancee is painting furniture, the neighbours are slamming doors, their dogs bark endlessly, and the air is filled with foul smells and obnoxious noises from terrible machines that do no good for anyone.

I’ve forgotten something. I don’t know what. I put the phone down and go outside. The rain has stopped. I go down to the water and stare out across False Creek at the city, it’s glass towers shrouded in brown smog. I light a cigarette and breathe deep. I shut my eyes and feel that nicotine glow lift me in it’s beatific arms. I’m fifty years old. I don’t feel as if I’ve even begun to live, yet. Because I’ve forgotten something. A kid walks up behind me and taps my shoulder. “Pssst, hey…over here.”

I turn around. It’s me. It’s me at six years old. No…wait. That’s ridiculous. It’s a panhandler looking for a handout. No, there are no panhandlers around here. It’s Mr Pycock, back from the beyond with poetry tips. No, it’s Allen Ginsberg. It’s Nelson Leapy. Okay, okay…I don’t know who it is. It’s no one. Forget it. I finish my fag and toss the butt into the water and watch it float and bob past a couple of lazy good-for-nothing ducks.

Comment »

bird lives

November 18th, 2022

Many years ago I got a temporary job at UBC as part of a crew moving books from the old library to the new one. On the first day they asked everyone their names. I said mine was Charlie Parker. For three days I got called Charlie Parker. Hey, you get your fun where you can.

Comment »


July 19th, 2022

Comment »

not his hat

June 26th, 2022

I knew this guy in Montreal named Ivy Carpenter. His real name was Yves Charpentier. He knew Lenny Bruce. One day he offered me this denim jacket that he said used to belong to Bruce but I turned it down. It was that white denim which I didn’t like. What a fool I was.  But on the other hand what’s to stop me from saying to anybody at any time, “See this jacket? It belonged to Lenny Bruce.“ Or hat.

Lenny Bruce's hat

One Response to “not his hat”

  1. Mort Golub
    I remember that jacket. not so sure it ever belonged to Bruce.(maybe symbolically)..Ivy was one of my good friends.He lived with a hooker named Ruth (he called her Root) Ruths hooker buddies gave us freebies. I knew about the Lenny Bruce connection but we were never sure if it was real.Ivy was a master of jive,like his friend Leo Leshlie, who drove us around in his gigantic Mercury turnpike cruiser,and turned us all on, when he wasnt in jail.You knew Leo I believe.Moxie cafe upstairs…
    There was a hipster lawyer named Rollin Gallay that actually was a buddy of Bruce. He was a bit older than us and told us many stories about Bruce.I think Ivy transposed these stories of Rollin to his own lore jive history . One of the guys in our hipster group was named Terry Heffernan.He was a screenwriter and did a few Hollywood movies.One of these movies was about our scene in Montreal, titled “A great big thing” Paul Sand played me in the movie and Rene Santoni played Ivy. Terry was a great guy,and a beloved friend but a heavy alcoholic and died young in Thailand, up in Chang Mai. I lost track of Ivy when I moved away, but he spent some years hustling, hitting up buddies.A classic Montreal character. Dont touch that dial.

Comment »

My Broadway debut

February 19th, 2022

Speaking of Claudia McNeil, I was living in New York and realized I had never been to a Broadway show so one day I went over to Broadway. I knew nothing about Broadway shows but I’d heard of “beyond the fringe” so I thought I’d go see that. I didn’t realize that people that go to Broadway shows order their tickets decades in advance. (I exaggerate only slightly.) Everything I tried to see was sold out. Then I saw at the booth theatre a brand new play that was opening right then and there and there were lots of tickets so I went to see “Tiger Tiger Burning Bright”. All black cast. Starring Claudia McNeil etc. It closed a few weeks later but I at least saw it. One of the rare few.

1 comment »

The Hot Dog Palace Never Closes

March 22nd, 2012

I wound up in San Francisco with just enough money for one week at the Golden Eagle Hotel on Broadway, above Benny the Bum’s bar and across the street from the Jazz Workshop. Seven dollars a week for a small room with a sink in the corner I could piss into. All week long the lady in the next room screamed at her husband who, evidently, was a no good bum who ruined her life. She liked to rattle off the names of all the guys she could have married, most of whom owned banks or breweries by now. He had no job, I guess, because he was always there to get yelled at but he must have been a saint for he never said a word. I pictured him at the table in his pee-stained underwear patiently reading the paper and loving his wife in spite of everything. Meanwhile the thumping stripper music from the bar downstairs rattled the windows. One night, on my way out, I passed their open door and saw their room was as small as mine and the old dame was in there yelling as usual and she was in that room alone. “Oh, well,” I thought. “Better to blame a ghost than yourself”.

Mornings I’d have my coffee and pie breakfast at the cafe across the street. Once Carol Doda sat one stool down from me at the counter. I recognized her breasts, if nothing else, but of course I’d seen her on TV and also knew her from the posters on Broadway. If you don’t know, Carol Doda was the topless go-go dancer, world famous for her for gargantuan silicone tits.

“They really are something,” I clucked. This was the conversation I imagined. She smiled good-naturedly and said nothing. Ordered coffee from the counterman.

“I wouldn’t mind having a look, sometime.”

“Come to my show.”

There was an immense neon image of her hanging outside the Condor, where she performed nightly, just down the street.

“I think I’m too young to get in. Besides I’m broke.”

“Where you from?” She began a friendly conversation over our coffees and the whole time I’m hoping she’ll invite me somewhere to look at her tits. She could tell I had no motive but scientific curiosity. I’d seen the Golden Gate Bridge. Why not Carol Doda’s tits? I imagined they were quite uncomfortable but people have done worse things to their bodies to make a living and, also, I could see she was kind of proud of them. I found them not the least bit sexual. And I thought to myself, I came here to find Jack Kerouac and found Carol Doda. When she’d downed her coffee she ordered two more to go and got up to leave. She smiled at me on her way out and I knew she’d overheard our imaginary conversation and had enjoyed it as much as I had.

Evenings I’d cross Broadway to stand in front of the Jazz Workshop and listen to the great music coming through the open doors. There was always a gang of us too cheap or too broke to go inside but the sound out on the pavement was good enough to infuse our bloodstreams with glorious jazz. When John Coltrane played there I had to see him with my own eyes. The doorman knew me as one of the regular sidewalk aficionados but this night I walked past him saying, “I’m meeting some friends inside.” He knew I was not good for the door charge but let me pass. Inside I approached the bandstand as Trane’s tenor sound filled me and filled the room and filled the entire ecstatic universe. There they were. McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones, and up front, at the edge of the stage, as though he were about to leap forth and fly heavenward, with closed eyes, sweat soaked face, and his golden tenor raised to New Jerusalem, wailing, John Coltrane. I swear to god I rose a foot off the floor. I stood there no more than seven or eight minutes before the doorman’s hand touched my shoulder, finally. “You gonna have to go back outside.” He said it gentle, knowing why I was there, and slowly I backed out of the club.

But the movies. I was talking about the movies. When my week at the Golden Eagle was up I’d go sleep days in the Market Street movie houses. I always got there early, having been up all night at the Hot Dog Palace, mostly, and then I’d walk down Columbus to Market Street. I found the Hot Dog Palace one night when I met two college guys with backpacks roaming Broadway. We got into a conversation and decided to go for coffee. The Hot Dog Palace at the triangle of Columbus, Grant, and Broadway was convenient and seemed harmless enough, and cheap. After a while they wandered back out into the night in search of accommodation while I nursed another coffee. For a fast food joint the place seemed unusually agreeable. The jukebox played two tunes again and again, endlessly. For All We Know by Aretha Franklin, who was still a pop singer at that time, and Ramsey Lewis’s Wade in the Water. There was a raised counter on one side behind which a tall black man, whose name turned out to be Edgar Jones, doled out coffee, sandwiches and, of course, the occasional hot dog. In the corner by the Grant Street entrance stood a pinball machine and on the opposite side was the Columbus entrance. Plate glass ran around the remaining walls through which you could see the North Beach night and all its characters, beats, hipsters, tourists, showgirls, and the regular working stiffs who actually lived in the neighbourhood’s hotels and rooming houses.

As the night rolled on the action picked up in The Hot Dog Palace. I was perfectly happy to sit and watch the comings and goings of the various characters. “What time does this place close?” I asked Mr Jones while picking up another refill. “We never close.” Perfect! Though I’d have been content, for the time, to remain an innocent bystander, the easy sociability of the place soon included me. There were just so many tables so anyone sat anywhere and soon I was startled to find myself witness to an exchange of dope for money at my table. No one seemed concerned that I might be a narc or worse. After the seller split I got into a conversation with the buyer, a guy in his twenties with shaggy hair and nervous demeanour. We became friends, in a way, because I was to see him many times there and he made no bones about warning me to avoid the junk he was addicted to. I took his advice.

I spent many all-nighters at The Hot Dog Palace, drinking coffee, playing pinball to which I became addicted (better than heroin, at least), and getting to know some of the regulars. Aretha’s For All We Know and Ramsey’s Wade in the Water played non-stop on the juke box, a kind of soundtrack that was to make it all seem like I was living in a movie. One night a man came in, an older man, maybe in his fifties, that carried himself like some kind of hipster sage. The thing that drew me to him more than anything was his walking stick. I have a thing about walking sticks. All my life I’ve had an eye for a good walking stick. I’d spot them on beaches, in the woods, trash heaps, etc., and never passed a good one by. I’d pick it up and use it for a few days, lose it, and then find another one. Crazy. when I was a kid I even faked a limp sometimes so I wouldn’t just look like some damn fool kid with a stick. This cat’s stick was unlike any I’d ever seen. Solid, heavy, and stained the rich colour of ancient walks in dark woods. I was impressed. I sat at the man’s table and listened to him speak in a gnarled, junkie voice, keeping my eye on his staff the whole time, willing him to give it to me. Whether his words were really deep or merely inane I have no way of now judging but at the time I might have been ready to become a devotee. He said, “Everything is nothing and nothing is everything and everything is everything and nothing is nothing but pain is pain.” This floored me, obviously, because I never forgot it. He was either a mystic or his feet hurt, I don’t know. Then he held out his walking stick to me and said, “Hold this for me.” I couldn’t believe it. An hour later he got up to go and I prayed he’d forget the stick. It was crazy. Why would he? He must have needed it. He would surely have felt its absence as he walked out. He walked out and I had the stick in my hands. At dawn I went to Washington Square to sleep in the sun. Later I got a few more hours sleep in a Market Street movie house. Then I walked all over the city with that stick. It’s impossible to describe the sense it gave me. I felt I could walk forever and see things more deeply than ever before. I could go anywhere and do anything. I was buoyed by a confidence and strength entirely new to me. I was ready to walk over the whole world. I don’t believe now, nor did I believe then that there was anything magical about that piece of wood but for some reason it had this effect on me.

Later in the day I realized I had to return the thing and that became a quest for the man who’s name I didn’t even know. Back in North Beach I started asking around by describing the guy and showing people the stick till, finally, someone knew who I was looking for. I followed various clues till I wound up at a rooming house on Columbus where I was told his girlfriend Suzanne lived. I knocked on the door and a voice said come in. I entered a medium-sized room where a guy was cooking something on a hotplate in the corner and Suzanne walked towards me, naked. She might have been about twenty or so, long-haired, slim, perfect in every way that I could tell. I told my story as best I could, sitting the only place to sit, on the bed, acting cool. I tried not to wear out her body with my eyes while at the same time memorizing every single one of its features, as I spoke. Yeah, she knew the guy and would get his stick back to him. Did I want something to eat? I didn’t know what to do. Of course, I always want something to eat and I wanted, even more than food, to stay in that room and just look at my hostess. The guy at the frypan silently stirred at something. I knew, though, that I’d be hard-put to bite, chew, and swallow in the correct order while pretending not to be boring holes through her skin with my eyes. The cook in the corner said, “Hey, why don’t I take off for a while while you fuck Suzanne,” but only in my imagination. When I couldn’t stand it any more I left the stick leaning against Suzanne’s bed and thanked them. Down the spiral stairway that seemed to never end, down and down and down – out the main door and back down Columbus to the Hot Dog Palace.

My mind aflame with the sights and sounds of my San Francisco walking-stick day, I could not yet know that sexual melodrama, futile longing, and the crazy play of desire and disappointment were not over yet. Edgar, the counterman, tall, good-looking black man, is ending his shift and invites me back to his place, just a couple of blocks away. We’d had some conversations during long night hours and I saw nothing more than friendship in his offer. How the hell was I supposed to know the man was queer? Back at his place he made us coffee while I wandered around admiring his collection of artworks. It was the most beautiful apartment I’d ever seen. He put on a Jimmy Smith album and asked me a million questions. He seemed to be so sincerely interested in my saga yet he grew increasingly agitated as he talked to me from his kitchen while I snooped around. I thought I sounded so hip, so sincere, so smart, and yet the feeling that my answers to his questions were somehow out of whack puzzled me. I had my coffee and left. I was halfway down the street before the pathetic realization dawned on me that here was one more yearning mortal frustrated by poor communication and confused anxiety.

Meanwhile, I was getting my sleep in Market Street movie theatres. The door charge changed through the day, cheapest in the morning. I’d get there when admissions were lowest and for a quarter I’d get a seat up front in the near-empty theatre where triple, and even quadruple features were order of the day. I’d watch a bit then fall asleep. I’d wake up and see a bit of something else then sleep some more. I’d be in there most of the day and more or less see all the movies but in broken up, haphazard pieces, in random order, mixed in with bits of dreams, fantasies, memories. This kind of crazy sleeping affected my waking hours, too. Through all that time, maybe a month, my mind was a confusion of various realities, movie scenes, strange nights and days peopled with the odd characters at the Hot Dog Palace, Kirk Douglas, Maureen O’Hara, Suzanne, me…. There were strange moments when I woke up in the dark theatre, the giant screen alive with people and light, not knowing who or where, or what, I was. Amnesiac terror. Seconds of desperate groping for comprehension. I imagined this is how the amnesiac felt. I’ve wondered more than once how all this affected my consciousness in the long run. Whatever, I still find my clearest thoughts in the dark theatre. Though, lately, this hasn’t worked so well. I’m probably going to the wrong theatres. No perverts. Now it’s just a place people go to when they’ve got things to talk over with their friends. And eat food that comes in crinkly wrappers. I get too distracted not only from the world depicted onscreen but my own thoughts. It’s just no good.

I first arrived in San Francisco summer 1963. Got off the bus, bought a map at the bus depot newsstand, found Columbus Avenue, and walked all the way to the City Lights Bookstore. The electrifying feel and smell of San Francisco hit me immediately and were sensations that endured through all that time and all future times that I was there. Cities have their unique aromas, for good or bad. This was the bouquet of a garden of beatific spirits. The air itself seemed charged with poetry and light. I looked up and saw a California sky like blue glass. And some kind of reflection of myself therein. City Lights was my San Francisco centre. Itinerant poets got their mail there I saw, shoved in a slot on the bulletin board. So it became my S.F. address, too. I went there every day. Checked for mail and talked to Robert Scheer who worked the cash then. Or I went down to the cellar and read books seated at one of the tables. All those books, poems and stories by names I’d learned to love – the beat daddies. Scheer had not only been to Cuba, as had I the year before, he wrote a book about it and gave me a copy, paperback, Grove Press, publisher of so many of the authors I followed in those days. One day I was hanging out talking to Bob when a truck pulled up out front filled with cartons of Ginsberg’s Reality Sandwiches, hot off the press from England, where it had been printed. I gave Bob a hand with the cartons, opened one of the boxes, and removed a copy. I asked him if he’d autograph and inscribe it as the first copy sold but not only did he refuse to do it, he wouldn’t let me pay for it. (Later that year Ferlinghetti himself donated a copy of Kerouac’s Book of Dreams to my personal library of beat masterworks.)

Poet Tom Jackrell was arrested for the innocuous crime of marijuana possession in Sacramento. His hope of raising bail was his friend, S, who lived in Nob Hill, San Francisco, but had no phone. Tom called City Lights to see if someone there could get a message to S. I’d been standing there talking to Scheer when he took the call and so I volunteered to make the trip to Nob Hill. I found S living in an abandoned mansion. He took off for Sacramento, leaving me to stay at his place, a marvellous home empty but for a couple of mattresses, some kitchen stuff for cooking up brown rice and seaweed, and several marijuana plants in the sun room out behind the kitchen. Before heading off, S introduced me to the pleasures of the divine herb. Later that day or the next I ran into Dale somewhere in North Beach. Probably at City Lights. My life in those years was a seemingly unending series of incredibly lucky episodes. I was always in the right place at the right time. I was always finding places to stay. Meeting the right people. I believe it was simply a matter of always being on the go, out there where people and events were happening. (On the surface this seems to be the direct opposition  to the course of action espoused in the Theory of Searches.) A lesson I too easily kept forgetting in the years that came later. Anyway, there I was running into Dale, once again, with a place to stay. I took him back to Nob Hill and got him high. He’d been a dope virgin, too, it turned out, and he was nervous and immediately threw up. Other than that neither of us felt very different, in fact. By then I’d smoked three or four times and didn’t think much was happening but kept at it, if for nothing else, for the idea of it. Later on I figured out that unlike the genuinely dangerous drugs, like alcohol, which get crudely to the point straightaway, Maria Juanita’s a subtle teacher with whom you leisurely learn the ins and outs of highness. Well something happened because later Dale and I bebopped through most of nighttime San Francisco winding up gorging ourselves on Chinese food in North Beach. A lone cablecar sped past us, the black conductor clanging out a boppish rhythm. I looked at Dale. “See, man? Blacks have got more soul.” “Yes, I can see now you are correct.” Dale, son of Black bourgeois Chicago and stepson now of famous Ellington sideman, had argued this point with me on an all day walk between Banff, Alberta and Hope, BC. (We got a ride part of the way after about fifteen hours of non-stop walking.) Now he knew better. Still, when we both ran out of money after a couple of days he wanted to go home to Teaneck, New Jersey. He hit the Traveller’s Aid up for bus fare and as the Greyhound pulled out of the station I yelled after him that I’d be at his place in a few months. “Great, man, great. C’mon, we’ll have a ball.” For weeks he’d been telling me about his parent’s place. He’d been painting a pretty picture of hanging out there, where neighbours like J.J.Johnson and other jazz legends came by and partied and played. I couldn’t wait to get there. (When I did finally arrive in New York and called Dale from the bus station, suddenly he was too busy or his parents were too uptight or some bullshit. He said he’d meet me in the Village and I waited there for hours but he never showed up. It was years before I ran into him again and it seemed as though he either had turned into a jerk or had been one all along.)

Meanwhile I was trying to get information on the poetry convention up in Vancouver that Al Neil had told me about. I wasn’t going to miss that. The day after my trip to Nob Hill I was once again loitering in City Lights, shooting the breeze with Bob.

“Y’ever smoke marijuana?” I asked.

His eyes about bugged out but he said nothing.

“That guy, S., gave me some grass.”

“Jesus, keep it down. That shit’s illegal, you know. People go to jail.”

I felt like a kid scolded for crayoning on the Magna Carta. The only other person within earshot was holding a copy of New American Poetry in his hand. Changing the subject, I said,

“Ahh, er… say, that’s a great book. Really great.” (My own tattered copy had been a kind of bible to me in my pursuit of poetness.)

“I know. I edited it.”

Donald Allen! Well I’ll be ding-donged! As it turned out Allen knew all about the Vancouver Poetry conference, starting in August,  about a month away. I decided on the spot to catch the Vancouver bus, register for the conference, and return to stay in San Francisco till it began. I remember nothing specific about the bus trip. I’d spent so many days and nights riding various buses that, with few exceptions, all those trips are a blur of endless sleeping, smoking, and meal stops. Though near the end of bus trips I’d be desperately looking for highway signs counting down the last desperate miles to my destination, for the most part I enjoy the bus. Lean back with my head against the window, watch the country roll by. Sleep. Once in a rare while a fellow traveler to talk to. Smoke. But those days are over. For one thing now you can’t smoke on the bus. For another the thought of a solid day, twenty-four hours, on the bus is beyond even imagining in these, my years of impatience and sore assbones. Somehow the driver failed to take my ticket. I tried to stay invisible all the way to Vancouver and must have succeeded for I got there with a ticket still valid for my next trip up. This was good because even at only twenty dollars a pop all these bus trips were eating into my poverty. I got off the bus and walked to the Espresso Coffee House for a meal in exchange for some dish-washing. I hitchhiked out to UBC, registered for the conference, hitchhiked back out, found a place to stay and party for the night, and bussed back to San Francisco the next morning.


Back to top