We’ve been in New York, in the East Village to be exact. I was there to study the ways of sonic youth, the kids who wear tight black jeans with red canvas sneaks and heavy grey hooded sweatshirts under black denim jackets while crossing Positively 4th Street to somewhere romantic holding paper cups of Greek diner coffee while checking their ipods for the proper sound track.
Perhaps this is the romantic little shop they’re here to find. Maybe they’re on their way to see the Baroness, a store where sonic youth can meet their own mini-dressed easter bunny nuns.
We, however, were on our way to see the Baroness’ cat Stripey.
Stripey is an elderly cat. She’s seen them all pass her window: the beatniks, the hippies, the punks, the skunks, the junkies and the flunkies. They came, they got old, they OD’ed or went home, and more got off the bus. I was one myself.
When I arrived in the East Village in the summer of 1961 with my best friend and fellow traveler Gary Parma, Bob Dylan was the rage at Gerde’s Folk City. We couldn’t get in so we had to settle for Peter Yarrow the next night. I’d never heard of him. If you’re under thirty, you probably have still never heard of him, but he was big for a while with Peter, Paul and Mary. Later he used to come round the Haight a lot. I’d see him in the Panhandle sitting on a log with his girlfriend listening to Mt. Rushmore or the Dead, acting just like a normal person.
We stayed on East 7th Street most of the summer with Kirk Smallman, a filmmaker I’d met in Mexico the previous spring. I was nineteen. I’d already seen it all. Except I’d never seen a cockroach before. Or a bar-in-the-floor police lock to keep the junkie burglars out. Seen a few jingle-jangle mornings though.
Wewalked the steamy summer sewery-smelling streets all day. Ate in a cheap dairy restaurant on Second Avenue. Found out about knishes, blintzes, pirogies, kasha, borscht and I ordered more the next day. We drank beer at the White Horse Tavern and paid homage to the bar stool where Dylan Thomas had drunk himself to death eight years before.
I met a girl who worked for the Grosset and Dunlap, publisher of the Nancy Drew series. Her job was to answer all the letters from eleven year old girls to Carolyn Keene, their fictitious author. Jodie was a minion, but an employed minion working for a real publisher and she got to impersonate a famous imaginary author for a living. I was so impressed I got too wasted to walk back to Kirk’s apartment and spent the night in her bathtub.
That’s how it was in those days. Another thing I’d never yet experienced was sex on a first date. There were probably fast girls who did it but, as far as I could personally verify, they were all creatures of legend.
Actually, that wasn’t the only part of me that was raging. My head was raging as well as my penis, and my heart was raging too. Give me love! Give me true love! Give me another burning heart like mine. Give me a star! A burning raging star, preferably a blonde one.
Now I’m back in my little gray home in the west trying to write it all down. While I was gone a girl in tight black jeans and red sneaks came by the blog and commented that my stories were rad and that she admired my being a beatnik and all. Thanks, kid, you made my day.
We old pigs are supposed to go eat our corn. Doze in the sun. But my heart burns like it always did. It still feels young. I just try not to look in the mirror too much. I need to tell the young ones what the burning felt like in my time, how it feels to grow old but with a life behind you that’s worth remembering. Build my own Brooklyn Bridge across the years between the hip generations. Except hip means something different now. I love all the old beatniks and hippies who come by the blog, but the Pondering Pig is not just for old hippies. It’s for young beatniks too. And middle-aged ones. You just got have a burning heart. Or at least be able to remember the one you used to have.