“Ah, dear father, greybeard, lonely old courage-
teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit
poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank
and stood watching the boat disappear in the black
waters of Lethe?”
“A Supermarket in California” by Allen Ginsberg
When I was about to leave high school at the tender age of 15 , I was completely enamored with writing and poetry. I studied a lot of poetry in high school.-Of all of the genres, I really gravitated to the Beat generation. ee Cummings, William Carlos Williams. While everyone around me was fascinated with hip hop and TV, I secretly wished that I could be as cool as these poets. Chief among them for me was Allen Ginsberg – one of the most seminal poets of the period. While I was dead set to go to school to become a teacher of the deaf (something we can totally talk about another time), reading poetry and doing any kind of writing at the foot of Ginsberg for me was just one of those dream things to do.
I had applied and had been accepted to the State University of New York, College at Plattsburgh, and really loved being an incredibly far amount from New York City. I remember the morning when I heard that a representative from the school was at my high school to speak and found Plattsburgh to be a very funny name. I marched into my guidance counselors office and asked her where this place was. She slowly stood up, looked at a map behind her.. then turned to me. “Plattsburgh is about 370 miles due north, as the crow flies”
She took a swig of her coffee and then looked dead at me as if what she was about to say didn’t need discussion:
“It’s the furthest you can actually get from here.”
Headed to Brooklyn
So, I was accepted, but I was also accepted to CUNY Brooklyn College. After coming to the harsh realization that it would take a lot of money for me to go away for school, I settled into the idea of commuting to Brooklyn college to go there. I felt that I could get everything that I needed if I just went and studied from someone whom I considered a master.
The train ride from where I lived to Brooklyn was abysmal. It felt like days had passed when I finally got to the college. The college seemed nice enough, and everything was pretty much all set. There I stood at the main registration area – two people ahead of me. All I needed to do was turn in the form I had in my hand. Classes were picked out. Bursar just needed these last documents. I waited in line and just felt more and more uneasy as I got closer to the Bursar lady.
I finally got there, and the lady looked at me quizzically. Truth be told, I wasn’t really there. I’d checked out already. As much as I wanted to be there, at the foot of Ginsberg, something told me that I couldn’t. While following my master felt like the best thing to do, It felt like what I needed to do was flip him off on the way to a much more unpredictable future. I looked at the Bursar lady and asked.
“Listen. If I dont give you this paper, and I take six months off.. will I still be able to be accepted into this college?”
“Honey.. your grades are fine. Do what you gotta go.”
I immediately turned around and walked away. The reality of what I had just done didn’t hit until I was sitting at a Kentucky Fried Chicken not too far from the college. There, I sat and planned how I would come home and tell my parents that I was taking six months off to work as hard as I could to get the money to go away to school..
.. as far as I could get from this place.
I started thinking about all of this because of John Loengard . This is picture that he’s made of Ginsberg. It feels exactly as he sounds. Recently I had a chance to visit with this picture at the Monroe Gallery in New Mexico. I’m headed back there this October 3 for a Joe McNally show. If you guys are in the area, make sure you check it out!
You can also read about my Monroe gallery experience at this link.
Nice memory. Thanks for sharing. Though given that storytelling is storytelling and you’re playing with light and pixels in the same way Ginsburg & Co. did, aren’t you following in his footsteps in some way?
Great story and read Rc… You’ve done a lot of living at a young age and so much of these experiences has molded the person you are today. Always enjoy reading your talent behind a keyboard, your ability to describe anything that moves, compels you or about you is always brilliantly done as well as engaging and interesting enough to always keep one coming back for more. 🙂