My mother always had a lot of friends. They were usually young women.
I didn’t understand it at the time but often one of these women would end up staying with us. They were unwed expectant mothers. They had no place to go. Even though we lived in near poverty my mother always opened our home to them.
At first I didn’t understand what pregnant even meant. I just knew it was some lady that worked at the concession stand at the drive-in with my mother. They stayed with us, got fat and then they weren’t around anymore.
It always felt a little bit empty when they’d leave.
My mother continued doing this even after she got married. My stepfather didn’t mind having another attractive woman in the house. From my step-father I heard a lot f disparaging phrases: Round heels, shacked up and stupid, knocked up and broke, and one I still don’t really get, tripped the guy and beat him to the ground.
I liked the young women. They’d stare at me sometimes in a funny way I couldn’t grasp but I liked them well enough. One in particular fascinated me. She was a morose girl, from the east coast she was as close to a beatnik as I’d ever seen. She said “cool” a lot and wore black turtle necks and a beret. That’s as close to a beatnik as you could get in Southern California. The climate is not conducive to introspection. She might have been my first love.
She would borrow my red card board record player and play this one album, Gregory Corso’s “Happy Birthday to Death”.
To me this was a weird record. It wasn’t songs. It was this guy, Corso, reading his poetry while this bongo player just wailed away. I liked the bongo’s at least. I’d sit with her while she played this. Partially to protect my precious record player and partly because she’d talk to me. I had little idea of what she was talking to me about but she spoke so seriously and intently it made me feel like I was being treated as an adult.
After one of her soliloquies I felt like I should fill the silence so I’d ask a stupid question that seemed important to me. Like, on the record, it bugged me that after each cut the people didn’t clap and applaud but they’d snap their fingers and shuffle their feet. It seemed weird then and now.
Now I realize it gives me the impression of some guy who got rich for the day at the race track and was at some lurid live sex show and this sweaty guy keeps shouting out, “Oh yeah baby!” while the rest of the raincoat crowd pretends to ignore him.
Anyway after I’d ask my stupid question the beatnik girl (who’s name I can’t remember) would tussle my hair gently, look at me sadly and give me a hug, sometimes even a kiss on the cheek.
I’d just started drum lessons then. I didn’t have a set. I just had the rubber practice pad and anything else that fell under my drumsticks.
I liked the bongos. Liked them a lot. And then actually found a set at a yard sale. Cost a quarter. I think they were used more for decoration than for playing. Something to throw on the lanai for the tiki torch parties that were popular in the neighborhood.
I’d also only heard bongos on the record. I didn’t know they were played by hand. It only took a couple of days for me to put the drumsticks through the skins. A whole quarter wasted. The price of a comic book down the tubes.
The beatnik girl who seldom noticed me except she was going through some sort of maternal angst, tried to show me how to use them, playing along with her Corso record. I wasn’t interested in her bad music lessons so I listened to the words, Corso’s words:
I stand in the dark light in the dark street and look up at my window,
I was born there.
The lights are on; other people are moving about.
I am with raincoat; cigarette in mouth,
hat over eye, hand on gat.
I cross the street and enter the building.
The garbage cans haven’t stopped smelling.
I liked that.
I guess beatnik girl felt some maternal streak and decided to tell me about Corso, stuff she’d read on the record sleeve. Corso got sent to prison 3 times. For stealing a toaster, a suit and breaking into his school to have a warm place to sleep. All before he was 17. He was imprisoned as an adult with Mafia hoods and murders.
Prison scared me. I didn’t think of poets as tough guys who could survive prison. I thought prisons were where you went to die.
I found out it was easier to read poetry than to listen to it. Even with bongos it’s easier to read.
Corso’s stuff was funny and mean. There was a picture on the back of one f beatnik girls books. He looked like a handsome prize fighter.
Poetry had its own music to it. It wasn’t song lyrics. The best song lyrics, to me, are slogans, something to counterpoint the beat.
Poetry carried its own beat. For Corso it was tough and percussive. Words barking out at the night before heading into the long howl of the end of us all.
I can’t remember beatnik girl’s name, or her face. But I remember Corso.
I’m getting used to my new mouth. Brushing my teeth is still a hassle. Eating is a chore but not an impossible one.
Blood pressure is still all over the place but always slightly too high.
The pain in my right shoulder is aggravating. I remember that when I had similar in the left it took me three months or more of daily exercise to finally sort it out. Since my left elbow and thumbs are still gimpy I feel a bit lost most of the time. Making coffee is more of a chore. It feels like one of the labours of Hercules getting the kettle plugged in. Reaching for stuff, even light stuff takes grit.
The best thing about this weekend was that my friend has got four days off. Today’s the last of them. I like her being around. I think she likes being around. I like to think that part of her pleasure at being home is that I’m here. Crabby people like to think that they are somehow an asset.
We watched the “hot” new Japanese film, “Ichi”. That’s the rethinking of Zatoichi. It replaces the cool blind masseur with a femme yetar player.
It was terrible. They cast some forgettable J-pop star as Ichi, I figure to try and catch the same lightening that fired the similar in intent “Azumi”.
“Ichi” sucked. It was boring, meandering and a waste of the totally cool actors they did have in it.
No humanity. No soul. Bad fighting.
The iMac is giving me big fits. This morning it was all locked up. The UIServer crashed so couldn’t do anything but reboot. Oddly it killed the network connection for some unknown reason. Then had to reboot it again after less than an hour. Everything just locked up and refused to quiesce. Still making daily back-ups, even though I forgot yesterdays.