Me and Ginsberg Down in the Basement
It was drizzling. It was 1994. Allen Ginsberg was 68 years old and somewhere inside the Elliott Bay Book Company. We were 16 years old and outside, on the sidewalk, wondering how to get in. Apparently we needed tickets.
As I remember it, I wasn't that excited to see Allen Ginsberg. I liked his poetry—I haven't read him since—but I thought people read their own words diminished them somehow, that good writers were bound to be less interesting than their books. But my sort-of girlfriend, a Mormon beauty, was hot to see the Old Man of Bohemia, and I was hot for her. We shuffled on the sidewalk for a few minutes until, wonder of wonders, a plump, gray-haired old lady appeared and gave us some tickets. It was the kind of miracle we latter-day beatniks hardly noticed.
The Old Man read some poems about quitting smoking and Vietnam (still?) and sex (still!) and retired to a back table to sign some books. My then-girlfriend's friend wanted her book signed, so we stood in line. She had her moment, and then, unexpectedly, I had mine. "Don't you have a book for me?" the Old Man asked. All I had was a copy of Leaves of Grass. I asked him to sign that. The Old Man snorted a chuckle and signed it—an "Ah!" with a circle around it, his scribbled name, and the date: 6/11/94. He looked at me. A long pause. He had fat, slobbery lips and a drooping eye, magnified by his enormous glasses. "You're kinda cute," he said. I blushed, mumbled something, and left. Back on the sidewalk, the Mormon beauty's friend berated me for not being cleverer. "I have a joint!" she said. "We could've smoked it with him! Hung out with him!" She said I'd missed our chance.
The Mormon beauty and I stopped seeing each other soon after. She teaches poetry in a college somewhere in the Midwest, I think.