ginsbergweb_0.gifphoto by Daniel Collins
Allen Ginsberg is speaking into a tape recorder hanging from the rear-view mirror of my mother’s Volvo, composing a poem with the attitude of one accustomed to the gratitude of posterity.
“It’s May 1985, ten minutes of noon on . . .” he says. “What highway are we on?”
“Highway 19, heading south from Campbell River ferry towards Victoria, on a bright blue sky day with streaks of thin cloud above the telegraph wires and flapping bird, passing by the Strait of Georgia on our left spreading out blue with . . . What are those mountains called?”
I look to where he’s pointing and see hills I’ve never noticed before. “Uh, those must be part of the Coast range,” I say.
“With snow-capped Coast Mountains beyond.”
A couple of weeks ago, I was in Vancouver to attend a reading by Ginsberg and later, in the lobby, I overheard two organizers worrying about his upcoming reading in Victoria. He would be going there from a workshop on Cortes Island, by ferry to Quadra Island and then by another ferry to Vancouver Island, and there was a possibility that he would not make all his connections. Since I was staying in Duncan, which is on Vancouver Island en route to Victoria, I offered to pick him up and drive to the reading if a problem developed.
By the sounds of it, the workshop on Cortes went well, except for one complaint: “I had an interesting encounter at Hollyhock Farm, where I was teaching poetry,” Ginsberg says, “in that I had erotic crushes on several of the students. Good bodies. Athletic fellows. Unfortunately, none of them wanted to swing. They didn’t want their cocks sucked or nothing.”
“I turned Allen down,” says the smirking athletic blond fellow in the back seat, who had been a workshop participant.
“So I had to satisfy myself jacking off,” says Ginsberg, still speaking into the microphone. “However, I also read an interview of Chogyam Trungpa by Catherine Ingram talking about lusts and passions. And as I remember, his comments on the subject were very funny. Passions. Just watching the playing of the passions. It turns into a better rainbow body of mahasuka—bliss—but a rainbow body like this universe, in a sense, transitory. So I tried this approach and it was very interesting. It was pleasurable, along with conversations on the subject of the beloved. I winded up getting a hard-on just talking to people. I felt I could just talk openly and enjoy the rainbow body, which nobody seems to mind.”
“A guy once tried to give me a blow job outside a bar,” says the blond guy in the back seat. “But I was so drunk I couldn’t even get hard.”
“Is it so necessary to share all such intimacies with the world?” I ask Ginsberg.
“Like your poems about not being able to get it up? You don’t have to write about that.”
“I write about what concerns me. I have no choice and sex is one of my classic concerns. Maybe I go too far writing about jacking off. The thing is, straights don’t seem to mind too much. Some might. But on the other hand it’s taken on another level also. And the level I lay it out is: I want love, please love me.”
The blond in the back talks about Ginsberg’s reading on Quadra Island, where there were loggers in the audience, some of whom were amused but some who got uptight and paranoid.
Ginsberg laughs and pulls a joint out of his wallet. “Shall we smoke this?” he asks.
“Spark it,” I say. He lights up, tokes and passes the spliff. “My friend has a café just south of here with the best key lime pie on the island."
“Sounds good,” says Ginsberg, holding his breath.
“Gimme some!” says the blond, and we take the first exit to Duncan. We park right in front of the Arbutus Café and get a table by the window. My friend, the owner, is not around. I ask the waitress for three pieces of key lime pie. “All we’ve got is apple or rhubarb,” she says, so we settle for hot apple pie à la mode, which doesn’t taste like it was made today. No one recognizes Ginsberg.
We exit the café into bright sun. Ginsberg looks disgruntled. I say, “There’s a bookstore just down the street next to my sister’s toy store. Do you wanna go sign some books?”
Ginsberg brightens up and we head off down the street. As we pass my sister’s toy store, I see her in the back, talking to a customer. We enter the bookstore and no one notices. I don’t see the owner around. Ginsberg and the blond athletic fellow look around as I locate the poetry section. There are no Allen Ginsberg books on the shelf. I go to the front desk and ask the middle-aged woman behind the counter where there might be books by Allen Ginsberg if they’re not in the poetry section.
“We don’t have any books by Allen Ginsberg,” she says just as Ginsberg comes to the counter. I look at him. He looks at me, then looks away. I look back at the woman.
“Well, that’s too bad because Mr. Ginsberg is right here and might have autographed some books, had there been any.”
The woman behind the counter looks over at Ginsberg and says, “Oh my God!” Then she says, “This is terrible. How embarrassing.” She laughs a nervous laugh. “But I’m going down to the reading tonight and have some of his books with me. Maybe he could sign these?” She brings out three dog-eared books from a shelf underneath the cash register and puts them on the counter.
“Even better,” Ginsberg says. He takes out his black and gold pen and smiles at the salesperson. She smiles back. “What’s your name?" he asks.
The woman tells him, and he autographs the books.
“I think I’ll look around a bit more,” he says. “Do we have time?”
“We do,” I say, feeling relieved.
Ginsberg resumes his browsing and I slip next door to get my sister.
“Allen Ginsberg is next door in the bookstore,” I say as I enter her store, now empty of customers.
“What?” my sister says. “Come on! The Allen Ginsberg?”
“It’s true,” I say. I take her over to the bookstore and point him out.
“That old guy?” she says.
“Shhhh! Yes, that’s him.”
“Do you want to meet him?” I ask.
“Nooo!” she says, rolling her eyes. She stands with her arms crossed and continues to stare.
After a while I round up Ginsberg and the blond and suggest that we get back on the road. The three of us pass my sister on our way out of the store.
“He’s really old, ” she whispers as we exit.