Thursday, June 9, 2016

Spontaneity, travel, NYC, and the Beat Generation: A brief tale of Kerouacian adventure in The Big Apple

My great friend, Richard Marsh, got an idea on Sunday to make a whirlwind trip to NYC on Tuesday to catch a bit of the Beat & Beyond event at the Howl! Happening arts center at 6 East 1st Street. The event ran from Friday June 3 to Wednesday June 8. You can read about it here:

Our plan evolved thusly: On Monday I would drive to Richard's house in Northampton, MA, and spend the night. That's a good 4-hour drive. Then, we would get up early Tuesday morning and Richard would drive us to the train station in Darien, CT, about a two-hour drive. It's about an hour train ride from Darien to Grand Central Station in NYC. Richard found us a reasonably priced Airbnb apartment for Tuesday night at 341 West 30th Street (Chelsea).

When I got to Richard's house on Monday, an adult beverage awaited me.

That's Michelle pouring herself some wine, and behind her is the grill that caught on fire as Richard cooked delicious hamburgers and hot dogs (no harm done -- I did the same thing over Memorial Day at our house -- it was just grease on the catch tray). After dinner Richard and I took a walk around Northampton, especially making our way past the new house he and Michelle are buying (congratulations, Richard and Michelle!). Richard and I had a beer at Joe's Cafe, his regular haunt, where I met some of his friends including Roisin, who was born in Ireland. Then we made our way back to his house for some conversation and a little catching up on politics given the big primary the next day (my addiction, not Richard's).

We caught a night's sleep and were up early Tuesday. After an uneventful drive and train ride, we made our way to the East Village. I can't remember if we walked or took the subway, but I think it was the latter.

We encountered a unique spelling of Bleecker Street as we walked in the village.

We were planning to catch the noon showing of a film by Chris Felver, but we walked the wrong way on Bowery looking for the Howl! arts center and ended up cabbing back (it was hot!) and being late enough that we decided to grab lunch. We ate at Slainte, an Irish pub at 304 Bowery where we met bartender Conor who was born in Galway and still has the fantastic Irish brogue. 

We wanted to see the Poetry Jukebox we'd read about on-line that is installed in the alley behind the former CBGB, so we checked out the amazing CBGB memorabilia and then walked 3/4 of the way around the block to find the jukebox (it's a one-way alley). It has a single button you push and it begins to play various "beat" writers reading their work. It was at Corso reading "Marriage" when we hit the button. I put beat in quotations because the line-up included Bukowski, who, while I love his work, was most definitely not a beat writer.

We had time for a bit more walking in the village and then made our way to the Howl! Happening arts center. It's a bright space and artist Mark Turgeon was working on a two-wall mural during the event. It was impressive and I wish I had a way of showing you all of it (of course, you could make a trip there and see it for yourself).

The 2 and 3 PM events were panel discussions. They were very informal and I wish there had been a facilitator to give introductions and keep things a bit more focused. All through the event, a slide show of beat generation pictures played. Here are a couple of pictures of the panels.

That's the back of Hettie Jones' head. Then, L to R: Jerome Rothenberg, Bob Holman, Margaret Randall, Michael McClure, Ann Charters, Chris Felver, and David Henderson.

L to R: Hettie Jones, Jerome Rothenberg, Michael McClure, Ann Charters, Amy Evans McClure

As you can imagine, a lot of great discussion ensued, some of which was very "insider." I wasn't keeping notes, but I did write down a Voltaire quote offered by Ann Charters: "Once a philosopher, twice a pervert." Look it up for context. I was pleased to be able to shake hands with Michael McClure (looking very frail) and Ann Charters, two names I've read for years but never ran into in person. When I met Ann, I said something stupid like "I've been reading your work for a hundred years so it's great to finally meet you." I added, "That was a reflection on my age, not yours." McClure told Richard he was impressed with how Richard paid such close attention during the presentation. Little things. 

After the second panel (both included basically the same members), we walked a bit more while waiting for the 5 PM presentation by Bob Rosenthal. I snapped these two pictures for Crystal.

Bob Rosenthal

Bob Rosenthal was Allen Ginsberg's personal secretary for 20 years until Ginsberg's death in 1997. He read from an upcoming memoir and it was fascinating. Two stories of note. One was about the time he and Allen were on a very crowded subway and Allen started screaming things like, "The Russians are coming!" just to get a reaction. Rosenthal said the passengers all moved a few centimeters away (that's all the room they had). The other story was about a cab ride where Allen asked the driver if he were Muslim (based on name, etc.). He said he was and Allen asked him what he thought of the Salman Rushdie fatwa. The driver didn't know about  it so Allen explained and the driver said that if Rushdie offended God then he should probably die. Allen screamed, "I shit on your God." Rosenthal said not much ensued from there -- perhaps the driver had his hands full negotiating the city traffic.

After Rosenthal's presentation we ate at a favorite place, historic McSorley's. We had hash with beets (and Richard had barley soup, too). And we got "two-and-two" twice. If you don't know what that means, you need to go to McSorely's at least once in your life and you'll find out. The guy next to us offered us his leftovers from the famous Saltines, cheese, and onions appetizer and we accepted. He left but his companion stayed. The latter turned out to be from Omaha and was attending a training on gas pipeline construction. The floor was particularly sawdusty that day.

From McSorley's we cabbed up to the apartment. It was walkable but we couldn't make it by when we said we would meet Tristan, the "key guy" (not the host). It was a small but clean and efficient apartment, downstairs from the street. It was the only apartment in that building with a back door to an outdoor patio!

We stowed our backpacks (that we had hauled around all day but we were traveling very light on purpose -- no coats, umbrellas, spare shoes or pants, etc.) and headed back to the village on foot. We had a beer at the White Horse Tavern (no pics -- sorry) and ended up at Washington Square Park. Richard took this shot. We were seated at the fountain, which for some reason wasn't running.

A bit beat (no pun intended), we walked back to the apartment and got a good night's sleep. We walked very close to the Empire State Building. I wish I knew how to make my phone camera take pictures at night. It's amazing how safe I feel walking around the city at night. Of course, we are in relatively peopled and safe sections, but there were some dark streets we negotiated along the way when we ventured off 5th Avenue. By my calculation we walked about 22 city blocks (approximately 8th to 30th Street,).

Empire State Building

In the morning Richard went out and brought us back some coffee and we caught up on the election primary news from the day before (again, my addiction, not Richard's). We left the apartment spic-and-span and then walked The Highline down to the village. I had never been on it before. Richard said it wasn't as well-kempt (e.g., the perennials were not weeded) and most of the artwork on buildings was gone. Regardless, it is a marvel and I recommend it. You will run into some interesting characters along the way. 

We were hoping this sign was real, but it turned out to be art.

From The Highline we made our way to Cafe Reggio on MacDougal, a Kerouac haunt, for breakfast. We ate outside. I like that place, especially their coffee. I had eggs benedict. When we left we got a block away and I realized I didn't have my backpack. I returned at full speed and it was still right where I left it (outside, no less). Since I wanted to get to Maine that same day, we caught the subway up to 42nd street and walked from there to Grand Central. Then it was a train ride to Darien, a drive to Northampton, and a drive to Maine and back to Crystal and Karma and a familiar and comfortable bed.

Which is all to say, spontaneity and travel are good things but so is home, and I suspect Mr. Kerouac would agree.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yesssssir... wonderful to be close to NYC and Lowell, and be able to feel and walk in the footprints of Kerouac and the Beat Writers. Richard Marsh