by Pam Hanna
It was at a party for William Burroughs on Manhattan's West Side that I FIRST met Allen Ginsberg. The party was given by someone I did not know to celebrate the publication of "Naked Lunch." Or else it wasn't. My memory of those times is as hazy as the marijuana-smoke-filled rooms of the Lower East Side. ("A naked lunch is natural to us, we eat reality sandwiches.") About the only thing I knew at the time about Burroughs was that he had written Naked Lunch, so maybe he wrote something else and they were celebrating that. In any case, there were, it seemed, well over 100 people in a large high-ceilinged New York brownstone with fireplaces, chandeliers, and elegant old furniture.
The year was 1963 or 4 and I was in my early 20's and going to the New School on 12th Street, not far from the Village. Like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz," I had just gone from a black and white reality to technicolor, but my magic slippers were Mary Janes. So it was appropriate that I meet the king of the drug culture at this time in this place. Szabo, a lower-east-side junkie poet, brought me specifically to meet not Burroughs but Ginsberg. I wanted to see the man whose best friends' minds had been "destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked." I was more than a little curious about the friends too, and wanted to meet the man who, like me, was obsessed with TIME magazine.
Szabo had a regular woman, but he also had a number of male poet friends who were at least bi-sexual if not altogether gay. LeRoi Jones was among them. I was taking a poetry class at the New School taught by Jones, who called me "my dear" and said I had a "voice."
Anyway, Szabo was looking for Ginsberg but bumped into Burroughs first and pointed him out to me. I was more than a little stoned, but a moment surfaced from the haze when I was sitting directly in front of Burroughs. Never have I seen such a cold and hostile stare. I signaled to Szabo that I didn't WANT to meet this guy since he didn't seem to want to have anything to do with my species, phylum or category.
Szabo didn't find Ginsberg. Ginsberg found Szabo and immediately started a conversation. Instead of being dark and angular and intense as I had pictured, Ginsberg was stocky and balding and bespectacled. Szabo interrupted him to introduce me, and Ginsberg said "Howdja-do-niceta-meetcha...listen Szabo, I will BLOW you if you'll go along with this gag..." And he went on to set up come complicated riff with LeRoi Jones and somebody else I didn't know. Szabo acted uncharacteristically nervous about this conversation...maybe because I was there...but I was smirking like a Cheshire cat (this was real LIFE!) and Ginsberg was completely unruffled.
That was the first time I met Allen Ginsberg.
"Back there the noise of a great party in the apartments of New York half-created paintings on the walls, fame, cocksucking and tears, money and arguments of great affairs, the culture of my generation."
I met him the second time at the first Human Be-In in San Francisco in 1966. Some Digger friends had come around to our apartment the night before to give us some Owsley acid, which was the best LSD on the set at the time. The Diggers were a loosely formed hippie organization that gave away free food and clothes. Their name came from a group that took over some English commons in the 17th century and grew food for the people on it. The only strings attached to the acid were that we had to come to the Human Be-In the next day at Golden Gate Park to drop it.
"We" were my husband Larry and baby, Adam Siddhartha. Larry carried Siddhartha everywhere in a back pack. By the time we got to the valley of the B-In, we were peaking on the peak of a ridge. I immediately flew down into the fray (an objective observer may say that I simply spread my cape and proceeded trippingly down the hill, but I don't recall my feet touching the ground). There were snake charmers with no snakes, dancers dancing, waving patterns of people coming together and swaying apart like leaves in the wind, and words in my head--a chant. "Suchness, muchness, touch togetherness; suchness, muchness, (beat) touch-togetherness." The poetess Lenore Kandel was speaking into a microphone on the stage in the middle of the crowd and telling us to envision the most beautiful and wonderful thing in the world and to let it go. "Let it GO!" Owsley parachuted from a helicopter and balloons ascended to meet him. I wandered around into different worlds and different adventures to the music of the Grateful Dead and poetry readings from Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg. "I didn't come here to solve anything," said Ginsberg, "I came here to sing and for you to sing with me." And, "the problem is isolation--there in the grave or here in oblivion of light."
There was world enough and time for many lives, many mansions of grass and sky, but after about a decade of this, I realized that Larry and Siddhartha were not with me. Where were they? I was right beside the stage and other people were looking for lost kids. I climbed up onto the stage with some other people who were requesting that Leary and Ginsberg announce missing people's names over the loudspeaker. A baby was crying. "This baby is crying," I said, "Where's his mother?" Leary looked at me and said, "Well baby, YOU take care of this baby. YOU'RE his mother." That was supposed to be a very hip and with-it thing to say, I guess, meaning we are all our brothers' keepers, and that would have been OK, but I thought his eyes looked cold and he was kind of nasty even tho he was wearing a white India pajama set and wooden beads.
But Ginsberg was a warm fuzzy. Papa Ginsberg. His hair and beard were thicker and he looked more robust than he had in New York. He asked me who I'd lost and I told him to look for Adam Siddhartha Read who was lost, I said. Ginsberg boomed over the microphone, "Adam Siddhartha Read is lost." "He's been lost ever since this thing first started," I told him. "Adam Siddhartha has been lost ever since this thing first started," Allen Ginsberg said over the loudspeaker. I suddenly realized that I was the one who was really lost. I had no idea how to get back to our apartment in the Mission district. But as the day wound down and twilight began to settle, people just drifted away like smoke and eventually I found my mind again and my way back again, and Larry and Siddhartha were there.
That's the second time I saw Ginsberg.
The last time I saw Ginsberg was at Morningstar Commune near Taos, New Mexico in 1970 or so. Morningstar East was an extension of the Morningstar in California near San Francisco. We were living in a white tipi for the summer, having moved out of our winter quarters in the adobe pueblo we had helped build. Ginsberg and some of his friends were touring the communes of the Southwest, and the first place they stopped when they got to Morningstar was our tipi. The poet Gregory Corso was with the party, drunk as a skunk and very obnoxious. Word was that he was trying to kick his dooge habit. Mercifully, he passed out in our tipi and I covered him with a blanket. But Papa Ginsberg was his usual affable self. Only one problem. He had drunk the waters of the Rio Grande and he had to go to the bathroom. Bigtime. Another problem: We didn't have a bathroom. Matter of fact, we didn't even have an enclosed outhouse because someone had taken it down to use the boards for something else. All there was was a hole in the ground surrounded by mesa land and sky and not a tree in sight.
I had the distinct honor of walking the great man over to said hole and apologizing for the lack of amenities. While we walked, I told him about the other two times I'd met him. He was pleasant but a bit distracted. He really had to go BAD. When we arrived at the notorious hole, there was no toilet paper in sight. "Thass awright," Ginsberg gulped, "I have a handkerchief."
I graciously bowed to Allen Ginsberg, swirled my poncho around, and walked politely away, not looking back.
And that's the last time I saw Ginsberg.
"O brothers of the Laurel--Is the world real? Is the Laurel a joke...or a crown of thorns?"
Contributed by Pat Hanna