Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Sense of Style

Many years ago--forty to be precise--I was living in Cambridge, MA. I didn't like Cambridge, but one of the great redeeming features about living in the Boston area was reading George Frazier in the Boston Globe.

Frazier was a columnist whose writing was lively, acerbic and highly opinionated.  He wrote about all sorts of things, but whatever he wrote about he was always, in one way or another, searching for a sense of style.  By that he meant not simply what a person wore--though this was very important to him--but the way a person lived as well.  He had his heroes--Fred Astaire, being one. There was a man who embodied all that Frazier admired and loved.

Frazier's writing could be abrasive.  But it was always 100% entertaining.  He never disappointed.

He also wrote a column for Esquire Magazine.  I am thinking about that as I feel grateful for just being alive.  I know some of these posts have been dark.  Life can be dark.  And will be.  But overall, I'll turn to a cliche: It's great to be alive.

In this particular column in Esquire, Frazier was writing, once again, about a sense of style.  He put forth several examples, mostly about African-Americans, and then he concluded the column with a brief encounter he had with Duke Ellington. 

Frazier wrote, "There was a night when, as I stood with Duke Ellington outside the Hickory House, I looked up at the sky and said, 'I hope it's a good day tomorrow. I want to wake up early.'

"'Any day I wake up,' said Ellington, 'is a good day.'

"And that was style," George Frazier wrote.

That's exactly how I feel, dark thoughts or not.  Any day I wake up is a good day.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Allen Ginsberg taught me this...

I mean the actual Allen Ginsberg, not his poetry.

Allen--as so many called him--lived most of his life in New York City's East Village.  I never saw him there, although I lived in the same neighborhood.

Who in my generation wasn't startled and set on fire by "Howl"?  I loved that poem so much I taught my four-year-old daughter to recite the famous opening lines, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked...."   My daughter actually did very well with it. Much to the horror of her mother.

And I, like so many others, admired Ginsberg's guts, his fearlessness about standing up for what he believed in.

So, it was with great surprise and delight that one day I saw Allen Ginsberg walking out of the now-defunct (and oh so sorely missed) Books & Company bookstore on Madison Avenue.  This was probably around 1996, toward the end of both the store's life and Ginsberg's.

I was driving up Madison Avenue in my car.  As I rolled by Books & Company, I saw him.  Allen Ginsberg.  He was standing on the sidewalk, looking, I supose, for a cab.  You couldn't mistake him for anyone else.


What did I do?  I slowed the car down almost to a stop, leaned out the window and shouted these profound words,

"Hey, Allen!  You're a great fucking poet!"

He looked here and there, not certain where the voice had come from.  Then he spotted me.  He looked at me and then said,

"I'm still here."

Indeed, so am I.  I may bitch about growing old, but I'm still here.