Sunday, October 10, 2010

I Remember (after Joe Brainard)

I remember my first apartment in Seattle. It was a huge studio apartment on Fifteenth Street on Capitol Hill, less than a block from the Canterbury Inn, with a large kitchen, a big stone fireplace, and a substantial living room, for $125 a month. I rented it from an Austrian chef. The previous tenant was a photographer who must have splashed some chemicals on the wall. For which I got blamed. But I still got my deposit back. A fabulous used bookstore, Horizon Books, was just a couple of blocks down the street. It is where, in 1975, I discovered Great Balls Of Fire by Ron Padgett and Many Happy Returns, by Ted Berrigan.

I remember how the floorboards at Horizon Books used to creak, and the muffled sound of footsteps on old wood, and the smell of old paper and leather, and people quietly musing.

I remember the smell of the orchards in San José, California, in the fall of 1968. It was a strong odor, the smell of fallen fruit, pears or apricots, I can’t remember. It was sweet and acrid and strangely melancholic.

I remember marching against the war in Viet Nam in San Francisco in 1970, and seeing Allen Ginsberg walk by, dressed in white pajamas, bearded and bespectacled, and being too frozen with awe to introduce myself.

I remember collecting pop bottle caps in the 50s and keeping them in a cigar box. I liked the odor of tobacco in the box, and the Dutch painting, on the underside of the cover, of a group of men in black hats and coats with white frilly collars.

I remember my grand-uncle Carl showing me how to make an incision on the white belly of a fish and pull out the organs and intestines. It was then that I decided to get all my food at the grocery store.

I remember the parlor of my grandmother in North Dakota, the old player piano and its roll of punctured paper, the photograph of a deer jumping a fallen log in the Turtle Mountains that lit up from behind, the gun rack and cuckoo clock that hung over the TV. All those Hamms beer commercials with the bear fishing from a canoe.

I remember the smell of sage on the prairie, and listening to Steppenwolf on a transistor radio broadcast from nearby Winnipeg. “Born To Be Wild” amid a herd of cows.

I remember reading Dostoevski’s The Idiot in a hotel room in Minot in 1968. And Emily Dickinson at the Minot Public Library while waiting to catch a bus to Bottineau. And reading An Anthology Of French Poetry From Nerval To Valery In English Translation when two policemen boarded the bus to check for I.D. and ask where I was going. My hair was long and I was wearing dark sunglasses, black shirt, red bandana and jeans. I was a bad-ass French symbolist cowboy. I even remember the particular poem I was reading when the cops came down the aisle of the bus. “The Toad,” by Tristan Corbière.

I remember attending a party by the Green River near Auburn, Washington, at which a hot air balloonist went up and down all day and into the night giving people rides. It was surreal and beautiful when it became illumined at night, a giant balloon with red and white stripes. I got in line too late to get a ride, which was disappointing. But many years later I remembered I am frightened of heights so that it is just as well I didn’t go up in that little basket. It gives me the willies to think about it.

I remember the first time I made a parachute jump at age 16, a birthday present from my father. I spent several hours jumping off oil drums to practice landing. I was instructed to avoid looking at the ground when I got close to landing. I remember letting go of the wing struts and falling and feeling something scrape against my neck which turned out to be one of the toggles for collapsing the chute in order to get it to turn. There was a one-way radio and the men on the ground kept shouting at me to pull the toggle. But the toggle was gone. I ended up missing the entire field and nearly swinging into some telephone lines and hitting a farmer as he ploughed his field in a tractor. No wonder I am afraid of heights.

I remember being 18, but I do not remember being 19.

I remember coming down with a bad case of the flu in Avignon, France, and looking out the window from the bed of my hotel room to see gypsies in their campers. It was the first time I had seen actual gypsies and realized that they were actual people and not just people singing in the opera.

I remember the otter of a friend’s ex-wife reaching into my pocket to get my keys and feeling somewhat nervous, which the otter must have sensed, because he bit me. Not a serious bite. Just a little bite to let me know he was irritated by my impatience. The otter had a pool in the laundry room, the kind of inflatable pool for little kids to play in.

I remember floating down the Wenatchee River in early April, back in the 80s, with a friend who had just trained to be a river guide for white water river rafting, and freezing to death in my wet suit. Which, I discovered, neither keeps you warm or dry. I remember standing in a parking lot in front of an apartment complex in broad daylight, hopping around as I struggled to get the damn thing off, and into the car, to get the heater going. And how wonderful it felt when the heater finally did get going and began kicking out some deliciously warm air.

I remember meeting Ron Padgett for the first time at DiRoberti’s Bakery on First Avenue in lower Manhattan, in March, 2001, and then, not more than three days later, after arriving home in Seattle, renting the movie Addicted To Love and seeing Matthew Broderick, Meg Ryan, and Maureen Stapleton sitting at DiRoberti’s at what could have been our table.

I remember the desk where I spent much of my time discovering Blake and Coleridge and Keats and Wordsworth at the Hotel Arcata in 1969. It abutted the wall, which was a pale yellow. Van Gogh’s painting of a gypsy wagon hung on the wall over my bed to my left, and to my right was a little sink for shaving and brushing my teeth. The bathroom, where I took my showers, was far down the hall. It was odd walking in the hall wrapped in a towel.

I remember my first visit to a nude beach in California, on a rather chilly, rather breezy day, and seeing a group of nude people taking shelter under a large outcropping of rock, and how closely they resembled a species of ape, and realizing, like it or not, it was my fellow species.


Steven Fama said...

I enjoyed this, particularly the shifts in locale and the way -- and this I think different than Brainard -- the memories sometimes loosen up and extend a bit (Brainard's are very tight, short, and generally don't drift). Thanks again, John.

John Olson said...

I'm good at drifting. Always have been. I may been a piece of driftwood in a previous life. Les Fleuves m'ont laissé descendre où je voulais, as Rimbaud put it. Thank you for your comment Steve.

Anonymous said...

That was fun.

So, what's left in your bucket list? Let's hear about the things you have to do before you die.

John Olson said...

Good suggestion, Mr. Obtuse. I will do that. Before I die.

River Rafting said...

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