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THE POET OF MY DREAMS

[[telegraph and woolsey]]

It was a crazy party at Fid's house he rented off Telegraph Avenue. People glided in and out in various forms of intoxication. A guy was off in the corner strumming a 60's ballad on his guitar and it seemed out of place. An activist was trying to pick up a student who was with someone else and the someone else dismissed the activist as a "revolutionary...who does revolution anymore?" And then he glared at the activist. At the center of it was a wild gyrating woman who twirled around each person she, apparently liked or knew and did a dance. She bent in front of me and stuck her hand down my shirt and felt for my man tits but I didn't have anything, so she rubbed the fat I had acquired over some time.

Thus began a brief encounter with Karon, crazy Karon who had an appetite for adventure. She had gotten aboard a cruise liner as a teen-ager and made it over to Hawaii before being discovered. He got a few headlines, and everyone liked the action, the captain gave her his cabin on the return trip. Then there was her attempt to steal moon rocks up at the Rad Lab above the University. She took off her clothes and streaked in the blue night before being wrestled to the ground by the burly campus cop.

[[alta bates]]

Tall, black with red bandana and simple skirt, hands girding the cleaning supplies, suspicious and quiet, lived down on Telegraph, in the tough place where she feared for her son. It appeared, for a long time, she didn't like anyone. She didn't like white people. Ok, that was understandable. I didn't like white people or, in fact, most people. I represented to her a presence that had floated up and around her all her life, laughing and looking serious for no apparent reason. But mostly it was because of all the judgements passed her way on any number of subjects. "They cause me so much problems just being there and making out like they are better than me." So thought that for a long time. "They have marked me down as a low person, down here cleaning up offices and worth nothing without a thought in my head worth anything." Another thought. She was kind and quiet, cultivated flowers in front of her house and tried to keep her sons from getting into trouble.

She eyed me so suspiciously at first and would start to whistle as she got nearer to me. Her ritual was simple. Clean the baskets, wipe the empty chairs and tables, clean off the food left over from dinner, eventually vacuum the large business office. For weeks and weeks, she came into the office and we nodded at each other, said a strained hello, and she began to whistle until she had moved to the other side of the room. I was always flirting with a woman who was part Filipino and part black. She called herself a "flip" and was a 7th Day Adventist. So, one night Eleanora, the housekeeper, is standing behind me dusting and I swear I could hear her speaking to me. Things like, "watch yourself with that sister." "Don't you hurt that sister now." "You have powers young man, don't mess around with the sister unless you mean it." "You take care of that sister now." For a week this silent but powerful communication went on between us. I was very susceptible during those days to "the powers that aren't evident."

Berkeley city of particular delights: a tiny toy store tucked in here and a used bookstore featuring German editions of Goethe and Shiller down there, the ice cream store near the Bay run by the immigrant Vietnamese and their children. I was coming out of that bookstore once and spotted the wonderful He and She driving in their blue sportscar, an old MG with an acoustic guitar in back. I had seen them everywhere over the years. They always dressed up as beatniks or what people thought the beatniks dressed like back in the 50's. The woman had a painted up face with wild red hair. She was always the passenger while He drove, hands on the wheel at 3 and 6, staring ahead without movement or expression, moving the sports car in and out of the labyrinth that were Berkeley streets.

The first time I saw them I was startled by the theatric pose they had, the seriousness of their apparent intentions. But when I saw them a few years later exactly the same, in the same blue sports car looking straight ahead acknowledging nothing but their quest, even a few years later, I named them He and She, my favorite mystery couple. "They must be from rich families," was my first thought. I had known the rich and their debauched, useless children and knew that a prize for the kids was the opportunity to invent themselves and be whatever they wished to be. Sometimes it was expressed sexually, other times it was a complete renunciation of their class. They would move down among the proles of the city, take up their lingo and habits before disappearing into the anonymous world, Istanbul for instance. Or they could have been purely crazed people who lived together, a married couple who had met in the half-way house and wanted to defy the system by this conformity. Perhaps they were in a cult and occasionally butchered chickens in their apartment. It was not easy to figure out. It could have been simply two folk singers trying to make a transition to the awful 70's.

Berkeley had its cults. It had its wild wings of the political spectrum. It had its communists, fascists, and fundamentalists. They all played with gusto out in the streets and in the cafes of Berkeley. The democratic citizen was to be torn down because normalcy itself was to be torn down. There was no normalcy, only freaky gestures of those who were about to die. "Everything from the ground up is a lie, check it out."

* * * * * * * *

For a brief moment I lived on a rambling old Victorian off of Telegraph Avenue with a guy and this sculptor named Ismael who was from East Oakland. He made exquisite sculptures of African warriors with shield and spear, sometimes a female with huge breasts and buttocks. Small and ugly he still attracted women. His sponsor was a wealthy white woman who was his lover, her family had been wiped out at Jonestown and she was very possessive of Ismael. He rarely talked about this woman and I never met her, but my impression was that he was embarrassed by it and knew he only satisfied her to get the support. Rather, he had taken on a girlfriend, an artist, more his age and temperament. I met her one afternoon as I came home from some undefined moment among the books and bums of Willard Park. When I arrived, Ismael was on his back as his consort glided above him in the motions of love. He looked up at me. "Hey man, it's only love." They continued for a while and then he slapped her rear end and rolled her off and introduced her. A pretty thing, an art student at Cal who began to tell me the story of how she had been eased out of her apartment on Telegraph Avenue. "See, I met these guys at an art happening and they said they were new in town and were going to open a free food clinic but needed a place to stay. I said come stay with me and that was the worst mistake of my life. These guys were White Panthers and good at first, I mean there weren't any problems but then they made me sign a paper of some sort and before I knew it they took it over and wouldn't let me back in; said that I had violated a lease of some sort. I was so depressed Ismael had to get some guys he knew and go up there and talk to these White Panthers and, I guess, after a while the White Panthers left." "We showed them the true nature of justice," Ishmael said.

* * * * * * * *

[[durant street]]

Fid the poet brought me to his agent one afternoon. The agent had a room on the third floor of the old and dangerous Durant Hotel where exotic women, tired and all bedecked, would leave lighting a cigarette and looking around along Durant Avenue for some way to get out of there.

He introduced me to "Freeman," the agent who preferred using his last name. This Freeman had a huge belly covered in a black pullover. He had a crazy kind of face with long, twisting, thin hair. We shook hands and sat on a large sofa. I eventually found out that Freeman had come from New York and would go to all the college towns looking for people to sign up for his agency. Fid told me there was always some easy m money with Freeman by tutoring foreign students or writing porn. Fid had done both and, distasteful as it was, dismissed it all as "the market's revenge on true poets." He had, apparently, just written an erotic novel and was there to collect his pay, "200, paid in $20 dollar bills that Freeman carefully counted out, licking his finger each time he passed a bill to Fid.

This Freeman was an indescribably mess of a guy with a disjointed body like two pieces of a broken stick connected by a strand of fiber. His face was some hideous mask from the undergrounds of New York City where faces are sad and sagging and the eyes large and confused. Fid enjoyed his company and his stories from back East. "I've been up in those big buildings where the publishers are. I've talked to the editors. I'm legit." He was always trying to convince Fid of his legitimacy and to prove it he formed a writer's group and they'd meet in the apartment to discuss their manuscripts. Fid confessed to me that he had never known "what shame does to a guy" until he faced a circle of his peers and had to fess up writing erotic novels for Freeman. To Fid it was another youthful practical joke, the very last act of adolescence. "I never went to another meeting, but I still did writing for the guy."

Berkeley had a long tradition of supporting off, fringe activities with porn ads and massage parlor ads. How many decent writers were sustained by sex ads!

I met with Freeman who asked me about my writing. "I'm a journalist." "Right. But you need money." I shrugged my shoulders and didn't commit myself to his "agency" and left without ever returning. But Fid was happy with his arrangement. "I've paid the last year through that guy. And when you get to know him he's just another shy, fractured person trying to help the art community." Fid later told me they had a falling out because Freeman was in the hospital and Fid never visited him. "Why didn't you come and see me?!"

* * * * * * * *

I did not like the three pals equally. They offered up something to me, but the bulk of their crazy selves was a bit much. They would prattle on and on about things I had no concern about, and which pained me after a while. But the kernel of so much they related to me! That was the treasure, that was the infinitely rich spot I desired more than anything. They had simultaneously tried to shape me, extend me, and limit me all at one time and I would just shake my head a bit and pretend I knew what they were talking about.

* * * * * * * *

A typical conversation would go something like this:

"So I figured if this was going to be the last generation on Earth, I was going to do whatever I wanted to do. I was going to find the secret to my own being, I was going to do the impossible. I figured if I got to that place then devil take the Earth, I was ready for anything! And you know everything was poised for it, it was not a lie. All the mechanisms were in place, the historical reasons were fully developed all it would take was a word. And remember how crazy Vietnam was and how no one wanted that war, yet it went on and on, a machine of death, until the culture withered away in shame. I would think about it. I would drive up to Grizzly and sit in my car and imagine the MIRV's coming in and hitting everywhere. But it wasn't that, my friend, it was the anger I felt that a few people could be the gods and end it, end all I loved, all I knew, all my family knew and loved, all that had been achieved, all the proud moments burnt to ash. And then society rears up and tells me I have to do this or that. I laughed at it. I scorned it. You want me to what?? I would say to myself. No, you have no authority anymore. You are dead. We are all dead. And I will follow my own light and develop the way I want to. Damn you!"

And one said, "From the visible to the non-visible. That is, something moving inside, in the air. The world is narrow. The world is a great shutter flapping against a hot moon. A man stands at the shutter and catches a glimpse between the folds and intimates something vast outside the shutters which, again, become shutters flapping closed to his eyes. A few chips of wood, a little paint, a faint odor, this is the world. Under certain conditions colors appear, a strange shape visible by necessity. It's necessary to see the world on the other side of the shutters. To stand on the other side, the side where intimation been fleeting but standing where many people have stood on the other side. Some movement has occurred! The shutter has sealed in quite a few. It's not so benign as seeing the world good, beautiful or ugly, a pearl from the cosmos and blinding light from above. These things are no longer privileged. There is no aristocracy of the soul. No churches that can be built around revelations. No, the world is too large and narrow for that. It is getting smaller, a tiny hole. A pin hole that looks black from a distance but, up close infinite! The cosmos in a pinhead. Made real by language. The feeling can be had at any time by a pill or perfume. It's unarticulated to the soul. Language is the secret to the soul. Argue with me! Dispute. Prove me wrong."

I was cautious around them because I realized that when they put his emotions behind an idea you let it flow out without resistance. Any resistance would bring on anger and you'd end up a victim. So I let him go on.

"Everything has access to the strange movement. NO! Not until the strange movement convulses itself, turns inside out, is made visible. The problem is the strange movement. It refers to the pure connecting life to death, life to death, both dangers of the soul, both polar to the soul. The soul has broken out...all over!

"Advance should be made through objects, no question. All objects, including words, especially words."

And one jabbed me with his shoulder with a knowing eye as if I knew, as he did, what he was saying.

Go to the From the Start: The Poet of My Dreams

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