The Beat Goes On
Life in the Post-Ginsberg World
By Frank Melcori
I didn’t sleep too well the night I heard Allen Ginsberg died. I was sitting at my table potting some plants when some friends dropped by. During the course of the conversation one said, “Oh, did you hear? Ginsberg died.”
“You mean Allen?”
I put my head in my hands and murmured, “Oh no, not Allen.” I left big smears of dirt on my bald head.
I stayed home that night instead of sleeping at my girlfriend’s place. I read “Kaddish” out loud and went to bed. As I was falling asleep I sighed out his name. “Allen, oh Allen.”
In the morning I went to Joe the mechanic to see if my car was done. He was all hopped up and anxious because the INS was giving him problems about getting his citizenship. “When I come to this country, from Mexico, you know, I tell them I don’t know anybody. I sleep in the field, you know, right over there by Cermak. I don’t know nobody. I don’t know English. I don’t have any money. So, so the only people I know are these guys, you know, these guys and all they do is drink. So I drink. I’m lonely.
“But I don’t drink now. When you see me drink? You ever see beer in the shop here? You ever see me drink? So I try to explain to the Immigration guy, yeah, I got a DUI, but that was back in the 70s. I don’t drink now. I haven’t drank in years. You think I can run my business if I drink? Back then, they was the only people I knew. So then he says to me, well, we can’t pass you. Before you become a citizen, you have to get a license. I don’t know I need a driver’s license to become a citizen. All I want to do, I tell him, is just to live in this country with my family and run my business.”
“Well, Joe,” I said, “bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos. Not to change the subject, but what’s the deal with the car? A new radiator?”
“Yeah, I got to order one today. I can finish it for tomorrow.”
We squinted at each other in the sun.
From Joe’s, I came home to a discussion with my girlfriend. She thought it was about time we moved in together. I wasn’t ready. I always dread these conversations. I waded in.
“I know you don’t like long explanations, so I’ll say only that I don’t think we should move in together–right now, anyway.”
“You don’t think we or you don’t think you?”
She enjoyed playing lawyer with me. I was irritated.
“Now don’t start this with that tone, OK? Just relax so we can talk.”
“OK. OK. So say what you want to say.” She had already run out of patience.
“I don’t want to move in right now. I don’t think it’s a good idea for me, right now.”
“Well, will you ever think it’s a good idea?”
“OK, can I give you the longer explanation?”
“Sure, if you want.” She was intractable.
“Listen, if we’re gonna talk about this then let’s talk, but don’t be preempting my attempts to explain myself.”
She looked up and smiled. “Preempting your attempts?” We both laughed. She closed her book with a sigh. “Well, I just don’t see the point,” she said. “What’s a longer explanation going to do? It won’t change the facts, will it?”
“Look, I just think it’s a bad idea now. I’m not working that much. I don’t know what’s going to happen. The last thing I want to be is miserable with you, especially when we’re both not making any money.”
“Yeah, but we’d save $300 a month if we moved in together.” She started to warm to the conversation.
“You’d save or we’d save?” I’d been a paralegal.
“OK, I’d save, but that’s so much more money for us.”
“Oh, you really think you would spend that money on me?”
She played her final card. “You don’t want to live with me because you’re not sure you want to be with me.”
“No, I didn’t say that. You said that. I’m more concerned with bringing my problems into this relationship. You’re really broke, and so am I. At least this way, when we do see one another we’re not bringing all that other baggage we would have. We can enjoy…”
“Everybody drags around baggage. Come on, that’s a reach, even for you.” She looked away. Silence. Apparently the interview was over. She changed the subject. The battle was lost, but the war was only starting. “What did Joe say about the car?”
“A new radiator.”
“When’s it going to be done?”
“Right after we move in together. Hey, just kidding!”
She didn’t think it was funny.
“Maybe another day or so.”
“I don’t know about Joe. He’s always so…so distracted.”
“Oh, Joe’s a good mechanic. He’s got all these problems with Immigration right now. And you’re right. It’s distracting to him. He needs a little more time.”
“So what’s distracting you?”
“Allen Ginsberg died yesterday.”
“Yeah. I heard it on the news. That’s a shame.”
I didn’t respond.
“No, I mean it. Really. That’s a shame, honey.”
She liked Ginsberg.
“Well, I’m going to bed.” She kissed me. “You coming?”
“In a bit. I want to go for a little walk first.”
It was about midnight, and Pilsen was quiet. I walked over to Cermak and the lot where Joe said he slept when he first came to the States. I laid down in the bushes and tried to imagine myself in another world…like Joe.
It was very cold, but the stars were out. You could actually see a few. I thought of Ginsberg and how much we all would miss him. After a while, I began to see his weird rubber Buddha face in the sky. I started to laugh. “I have seen the best minds of my generation,” I yelled. “I’ve seen them, Allen! I’ve seen them, goddamn it!”
A patrol car drove by slowly. I lay there quietly, not making a sound or movement. After it passed, I walked back to the girlfriend’s place, took a shower, and got into bed.
“You still awake?”
“I am now,” she slurred.
“Oh, hey, I’m sorry.”
She rolled over and hugged me. “That’s OK. So how was your walk? Where did you go?”
“I went over to this field by Cermak and lay down to look at the stars. Said a little prayer to Ginsberg.”
“That’s nice, honey. I’m sure he…what did you say? You lay down in a field?”
“Well I hope you took a shower before you got in bed.”