One of the aims of this blog is to provide my readers with easy access to my work which has been published online. I may also decide, at some point in the future, to publish pieces directly here, before having them published elsewhere. I'll see what happens.
This first piece, "Searching for Allen Ginsberg," happens to also be my first (and still only) short fiction publishing credit. It was originally published in early 2009 at the now-defunct NY Journal online magazine. At least I think it's defunct since I just tried to provide a link to the story and I got a page saying the domain was suspended. So, I'm reading that as "ceased to exist." I'm both proud and a little bit embarrassed with this work. Proud because it's my first fiction publishing credit and embarrassed, because, well, it's not that well-written. I've learned a lot about writing and life since I wrote this in late 2008-early 2009.
I'm not a big fan of telling readers what my stories are about, but it seems that these days, where shows like "Jersey Shore" (blech) are all the rage, a short blurb is necessary. So here goes:
Late twentieth-century. College. Greenwich Village. Unquenchable desire. Looking in all the wrong places.
Searching for Allen Ginsberg, Part One
Some people stick to their picture of you despite the things you’ve accomplished. I’m a full-grown adult, nearing 40, and my family still calls me “Eva of Destruction.”
When I was a baby, my family called me “Little Eva,” after the singer. Don’t know why, since she was black and my skin is so white you can see practically to my bones. By the time I was two, I was stripped of that nickname and was stuck with the current one. I never did like it.
Even as a child most people saw me differently than I saw myself. To them I was a destroyer, to myself an intrepid explorer in search of the mystery of things.
“Eva, I need that onion for dinner,” my mother said to me one day. I was peeling away the layers.
“I wanna see what’s inside a onion,” My four-year-old self responded. She shook her blonde head and walked away.
“Eva, you broke daddy’s watch,” she said when I was five.
“I wanna see how it works, Mommy.” Her fragile feet turned and walked away.
Some things a person just can’t help doing. You can bury it deep down inside, but you just wind up exploding, or worse, dying bitter and lonely. I suppose this search for something deeper is written in my bones. Of course my parents and teachers didn’t share my personal vision. And this point was the beginning of the end of their control over me. They sought the assistance of the school psychologist.
Her name was Ms. Knough-Toll, but I called her Miss Know-It-All or Her Hyphenation. Miss Know-It-All insisted my habits of destruction stemmed from anger and abuse. She was right, except on two counts: 1) I wasn’t angry, and 2) I was never abused. I lasted only one session with her and when it ended, I left her in tears.
My life’s been like that—people always doing their best to try and figure me out. They usually come to the conclusion that I am a self-loathing iconoclast; a destroyer of things. But I have no desire to destroy anything—least of all myself.
“You were born twenty years too late,” my mother would say, her graying hair frazzled by time. “Blowin’ in the Wind” blared from my stereo. I was seventeen and listening to Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Billie Holiday, while classmates were into Madonna.
It wasn’t the drug culture I was seeking; it was something more. I didn’t want to be Janis Joplin as much as I wanted to find out what shook her to the core. The drug culture could be bought and sold for thirty pieces of silver. I needed something more permanent, something that wasn’t superficial and fleeting.
In college I rejected Danielle Steele in favor of Walt Whitman. I set out on my path reading anything that fit my concept of good literature. I’d start reading each book with a ferocity matched only by the book before it and would grow bored with it just as fast.
Literature and music became my god. But being broken as I am, I needed someone in the flesh to guide me in discovering life. I had none and I was left floundering in a sea of books, flapping away and grabbing anything my hand touched upon.
It was this search that brought me to the poetry section of the bookstore. Then I saw it and all life outside me and the book ceased to exist. All the other books were big, lofty and neatly lined up like children on shelves. Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems was the one child not like all the rest, inviting, no, compelling me to pick it up. It was small and plain. A simple black and white cover with black block lettering that betrayed the world I would enter into upon reading the first verse. I sank to the floor and savored each word. I entered Ginsberg’s hidden world and understood a drop of the mystery of life for the first time.
I’m sure I walked out of the store not paying for the book then, but I would pay for it later. From then on I retraced Ginsberg’s footsteps in Washington Square Park, imagining a life I had yet to live.
And so my mission was set: to find Allen Ginsberg. He would be my guide in the search for something deeper.
“My mother was an alcoholic for most of my life except when she wasn’t.” This was something I’d planned to tell Ginsberg if he ever showed up, which I’m sure was often. The problem was, I didn’t know what he looked like.
Every day I would sit by the Garibaldi statue in the park, plying my wares asking anybody I could “Are you Allen Ginsberg?” I was a poor college student in the days before the internet, making my own jewelry and selling it in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.
Of course I planned all sorts of things I’d say when I met him. Things like:
“I’ve had lots of boyfriends, you know. Some of them were mine.”
And he’d say: “Me too.”
Then I’d say: “My mother was an alcoholic, but I’m a teetotaler. I smoke pot.”
Then he’d say: “Got a dime bag and a bong?”
Then I’d say: “I’m a Rastafarian, what do you think?”
Then he’d say: “I didn’t know you were black.”
Then I’d say: “I’m white.”
And we would sit there for days talking poetry, politics and promises. At least this is how it would go for me as I sat there for days conversing with him, waxing poetic in my mind.
“Are you Allen Ginsberg?” I asked a passing rabbi. He flipped me the bird and walked away.
“Are you Allen Ginsberg?” I asked a passing priest.
“Some of the best minds of my generation have asked me that,” he said “I told them they were destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical and naked.”
“Are you Allen Ginsberg?” I asked an old lady with a walker. She scowled and ran away.
“Are you Allen Ginsberg?” I asked a young, pale, slim man.
“Name’s Jackie, but I could be Ginsberg for a price. You’re not his type though. You got the wrong parts, sugar.”As he was surveying me up and down, I noticed he was wearing a both a pink triangle, the Nazi symbol for gays and suspected gays, and a swastika on his shirt. He sat down on the park bench next to me, his crew cut speckled with gold at its tips. “Queer, ain’t it? One thing about them Nazis is that they believed in order and extinction of the inferior. Survival of the fittest. Know what I mean?”
I wasn’t sure I did.
“Why are you looking for Ginsberg, anyway? What ‘d he ever do to you?” His right leg swung wildly over his left knee. He took a long drag on his cigarette. The smoke formed a twisted circle around his head and vanished quickly.
“Who said he ever did anything to me? I’m just looking for him.” I gave him a sidelong glance and moved away. I was nearly finished with the necklace I was making. He moved closer, turned and looked straight at me.
“Oh honey, we only look for someone if they’ve done something to us, they owe us, or they have something we want. They may not even know they did something, but that doesn’t matter since most people think only of themselves anyway.”
My heart began to beat fast. I felt a sudden chill and there was a slight tremor in my hands as I tried to maintain the grip on my pliers .Then, as if he realized how frightened I was, he softened his voice slightly, sat back against the bench and said, “Every person is only out for himself.”
The more I moved away, the more his force pulled me back in. He was like a magnet. I followed his gaze to a well-dressed, middle-aged man milling outside the public men’s room. Jackie spread his arms on the back of the bench like a vulture spreads his wings when he is getting ready to pounce on his prey. As he exhaled, the smoke from his cigarette surrounded his head like a set of horns.
“You see that man over there? He looks like he’s minding his business, right?”
I nodded. For the first time in my life, the words that were swirling around my brain could not reach my tongue. I bit on it to make sure I still had a tongue.
“But he wants something,” Jackie continued. “He wants something nasty and I am more than happy to give it to him. He wants to walk into that bathroom with me, only he doesn’t know it yet. I’m 15 and I can make him happy for a little while. And what do I ask for in return? Not much. Maybe ask him to do unto others, you know? Plus a little cash. And he’ll do it, too. Because he knows then that he can come back anytime and get a little taste of heaven. And when we’re done, he’ll go home to his wife and tell her the pansies are in full bloom.”
He got up and started walking toward the bathroom paving the man’s long road to destruction. I could not take my eyes off him--his jeans fitting tightly across his rear end, the buttocks protruding like well-rounded peaches. As he approached the man, I sat transfixed, unable to do a thing. He circled his prey gingerly, allowing the man to approach him. He stopped, they talked. First Jackie went in, then the man behind him, brushing up against Jackie’s body.
I never saw either one again, except on occasion when I saw a father hold his son’s hand.
“How much?” The woman’s voice tore through the vacuum of silence and I was pulled back from the vortex of his spell.“What? Oh. Ten dollars,” I said as I took the hoop earrings she wanted and put them in a bag. I was freezing. She handed me the money, walked away and the world came alive again.
I needed to find Ginsberg. I needed to find him if only to help me figure out what just happened. Ginsberg would know.
Searching for Allen Ginsberg, Part Two
I saw her shadow before I saw her. My head was down behind the corkboard, searching for my jewelry- making tools and she was pulling a necklace off the board to examine it more closely. She said something I could barely understand.
“Wha?” I said, looking up.
“I said, do you need help?” She was a vision of everything 1960’s counter-culture updated to the 1980’s, with a dash of ‘70’s thrown in. She wore peacock feather earrings. Her hair was long, but permed, not straight. A purple cluster of amethyst hung around her neck like a millstone. Silver or turquoise rings occupied space on every finger, some even doubling up while stacks of beaded bangle bracelets climbed her arm like those on an African tribal woman. She never quite let go of each decade of her adult life.“What are you looking for?”she repeated.
“Ultimately? Allen Ginsberg, but right now just my pliers will do."
“Ginsberg’s in Brooklyn and the pliers are at your foot” she said.
I jerked my head up, the rush of blood blackening my vision momentarily. Brooklyn? She might as well have said Mars. The outer borough was no closer than the outer planet in my world.Her bluish-purple lips parted to reveal a face that lit up when it smiled. She was genuine. She held out her hand and I gave mine up to her.
“My name is Adah,” she said. “Your jewelry is great. I haven’t seen stuff like this in years.”
“Brooklyn, did you say? Why is he there?” I asked.
“I think he’s teaching English or something at Brooklyn College but he still has an apartment here. Is your name a secret?”
“Oh, sorry. Name is Eva. How do you know this?”
“My significant other slept with him once. At the time we had an open relationship. You know, committed emotionally to each other, but slept with another person if we wanted. It worked for a while. Have you ever tried it? I’ve been living with him for fifteen years. “Living in sin” as they say. Maybe one day the old inhibitions and prohibitions will be gone and we’ll truly be able to live free.”
Her sigh was thin and resigned, like a middle-aged man stuck at a job he hates. Even though I was in my early twenties, I was still fairly innocent.
“I don’t think that’s for me,” I said, “especially if he’s going to be sleeping with another guy.” Adah sat down next to me, a hint of patchouli emanating from her hair.
“But to each his own.” I added. I didn’t want to appear like a prude, or worse yet, like some naïve college student.
“Yeah, to each his own,” Adah said. “Don’t get me wrong we’ve had our ups and downs. Things were difficult for a time there when we were both involved with the same woman. He knew I was involved with someone and I knew he was involved with someone only we didn’t know it was the same someone. Heh, it was like she was cheating on us. It was messy Since then we’ve had a polyamorous—you know a three-way-- marriage with another woman. It’s very freeing and it’s better for the kids. Anyway, the more loving adults around them the better they are.”
My eyes widened and my jaw dropped at the mention of children. Ghastly scenes of kids entering a room of orgiastic adults forced themselves before my eyes.
“Don’t be so surprised there’s a whole community of us here. Your hero Ginsberg would most definitely approve. Oh, I’ve done it again! I’ve told too much of my life story to a complete stranger. Heh, I’m always doing that. I’m just such an open person. I have no secrets.”
I was beginning to wish she did.
“How much is this?” she asked, holding up a silver necklace with a turquoise pendant.
“Fifteen dollars. Well, what about him?” I asked.
“Who? Oh Ginsberg I don’t know much really. Why are you looking for him anyway? I’ll take the necklace.”
“I like his poetry.” I bagged the necklace and handed it to her.
As I gave her a change of twenty, she said, “Kids these days don’t know who he is and don’t care. They are usually so busy trying to get a degree so that when they get out of school they can land a job in daddy’s Wall Street firm. The sound of ticker tape is their poetry and money is their drug. It’s nice to see that there’s one of your generation who still cares about what mine stood for.”
Adah said a lot of things I could barely understand.
“What did your generation stand for?”
Just over her shoulder a man, about 45, was circling shirtless around the center of the park, his lips moving and his arms answering. Beyond him a young woman read a book and listened to her walkman. Next to her were two old men playing chess.
“Freedom,” she said.
I, too, was looking for freedom. I joined the ranks of the lonely masses in Washington Square Park looking, searching, imploring for a meaning to life. Jackie gave up on his search and found life meaningless. Adah imprisoned herself in her loneliness with more: more partners, more jewelry, more talking. I hid my loneliness disguised as a college student selling home-made jewelry on a park bench. I fooled many people, mostly myself.
I saw Adah quite often that spring and summer. I would get to the park in the early afternoon and she would show up not long after. Jewelry sales dwindled as our circle of searchers expanded and contracted. We planned every week to make a trip out to Brooklyn to find Ginsberg, but we never got any further than the 5th Avenue arch at the entrance of the park.
I never found Ginsberg, but when I finally crossed the threshold of that arch, I found freedom.