Thursday, May 7, 2009
Stilted, Busted, and Gone
At the height of my celebrity on campus while I was secretly living in one of his office desks, Alan Pike once introduced me at a Temple of Zeus poetry reading as "a cross between Toluse Latrec, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Rimbaud", but I didn't take it unkindly - my low stature after all was largely the reason for the spell I was able to put on an audience - .and about then Pike showed his real sympathy by showing up one day with a pair of drywall stilts he had bought for me on impulse at Ithaca Paint and Decorating.
At first I only clunked around the Goldwyn Smith. upstairs practicing on them at night. They were no match for the grace and speed of the lost fiber-glass rod legs Doc Howe had made for me, and my girl Garlic said they violated my true nature..... but one foray to the downstairs level established that , when I was mounted on them, people who were more or less familiar with me from the Temple of Zeus readings, didn't recognize me at all....so at least they would allow me to seem somewhat ordinary and stay up with the crowd.
That Spring, Geof Hewit , an editor of the the Trojan Hearse student literary mag, asked me for a poem they could publish, so I gave him the proven "I'm going to hump your leg". But - emboldened by my popularity - I changed every "hump " to "fuck".
The Hearse courageously accepted and published it.
Being a performing poet had gone to my head, but the prospect of actually being published , got me so excited that on the afternoon the magazine came out, I strapped on my sheet-rocking stilts and bell bottom pants, pulled on my pocket fedora, and went down to the Willard Straight student union, where the Hearse staff had set up a table near the front steps and were selling the magazine.
Sales were not exactly brisk, but I stood and watched from across the street, fascinated for almost an hour to see that I existed outside my self, magically and multiply, on paper.
The action heated when two campus police cars arrived and the cops confiscated every remaining copy of the magazine from the sales table..
Later, they also gathered up all the Hearse mags in the Campus store, and all from the magazine office in the Straight.
The campus chief of police who decided to impound the magazines would later became the Ithaca chief of police and gain fame for proposing a preventive detention compound at Stewart Park where young people could be concentrated to prevent them from rioting....or at least from rioting anywhere else. His plan would never go into effect, and his offense against freedom of the press would be corrected when the Cornell president (who had been out of town at the time) returned.... but not before a mass protest the following day, at the scene of the crime .
I was there....more or less invisible on my stilts. There was also a good contingent from the writing side of the English department faculty, including Walter Slatoff, Archie Ammons and old Baxter Hathaway, and also, I think Jim McConkey, the only one of them still living, and who may remember it differently,
But Geof Hewitt, standing up on the Straight Stump, introduced Baxter , who was standing with Archie near the back of the gathering. Baxter didn't come forward, but lit a cigarette. People drew away from him so that he could be seen and heard, or in case it was a bomb he was lighting. He was shaking with some kind of fury, but he didn't speak until he had taken a good draw on his Parliament.
"Note," he said, finally " the offending poem is not a great poem, and it may not even be a good poem, or one could argue that it is not a poem at all. It may be offensive to Mrs. Grundy or the chief police, but it is not for them to edit the Trojan Hearse, or to decide what shall be allowed in print."
Well, those may not be his exactly his words, but they were words to that effect, and the effect on me was to make me particularly glad at that moment to be invisible.
Anyway, invisible though I was, I was obscenely exposed to myself. Also, it was very clear that my residence in the G.S. desk was not going to be a secret much longer.
Afraid that there might be a call of "author, author", I backed away and left the rally right then.
I went back to Goldwyn Smith, cleared out the desk, and then went to Edgewood Place, where I picked up the old guitar case and some traveling clothes. I walked half way to Varna still on the dry wall stilts, then went down by Fall Creek, stowed the stilts in the guitar case and began hitch-hiking to Lake Bonaparte..... once again traveling as the midget musician who always got the ride and usually a meal, even if his guitar turned out to be only a harmonica.
I never even said good- bye to Garlic.