You wouldn’t think it it by looking at me now – what with my arms as skinny as they are and my hair not quite what it was when I used to rub it all over the place to keep from seating up underneath my cap. We all wore caps at some point back then. But me, I was active in the struggle back then. What struggle you’re going to ask me, I know that’s what you’re thinking. Let me tell you how it was beyond the sepia tones you’re used to. No need to imagine how life was when there are folks here to tell you about it. Now, those were some good times back then. City Lights, you remember that? You know the stories – how Jack and Allen used to pack that place and how the buzz around those times – and it was a Buzzz – right? Valerie loves it when I tell her these old stories. You should bring her in here, she’s get a kick out of it. You ought to really let that girl go, she’s too sweet to keep locked up here.
But so, back then, this was before all of that hippie stuff started to surround the city. Long hair wasn’t totally insane. Drugs were a bit of refer and that was really it. The talk was high and the woman women were ready to listen. Those were some pretty decent times – times when a man could work a job and live a life and things would be pretty decent – not great or over the top, but decent. I worked two jobs back then – one on the docks loading and unloading for when the ships came in and the other at night teaching English to a group of German housewives who had come over during the war and didn’t much like being called German any more.
Now my favorite student back then, Lotta – oh, she was quite something I tell you. She had married this Doctor when she was very young. She had these huge, perfect breasts and always wore outfits that held them oh so perfect – even though she didn’t have the money she used to have back in Germany. That story really got repeated over and over again let me tell you. People learn a language and they always just want to tell you their own stories about how they ended up there. Here. She was about 15 years younger than the doctor she married – did the x rays in the office where he worked until one day he couldn’t just keep noticing here and he asked her to take a drive. Well, you know how these things go. They drove, the talked they kissed, they knew – they knew she told me that they were going to walk the rest of life together. Kind of nice when you hear that, and when someone who doesn’t speak English as their first language tells you that, well, the story isn’t that long because they can’t use too many words, which makes it easier to listen. For her though, I always listened.
They lived a pretty decent life, well more than a decent life, which probably why it was taken away from them by those who weren’t living so well. Hate is easy to have when you don’t have much. They came over with the rest of a boat just like them to San Francisco – now I know you hear tons about how these folks from Europe came over to New York and the east coast, but San Francisco was a welcoming place as well. Less of a known, which was, I think, thanks to her husband for planning out what they should do. They were only allowed to take 25 dollars with them and whatever they could fit in a suitcase, and didn’t have much time to plan much of that. I think she told me they sailed through the Panama canal to get here. Sounds like quite an adventure if you ask me, but I guess because the trip was forced and the memories of what they were leaving coupled with the thoughts of what was being done to the ones who didn’t or couldn’t leave – that made it hard to think of it as anything other than an escape.
When they got here, both of them started working right away. No, not as a doctor or anything like that. He spoke English already and was made some type of Salesman – something about security systems or, oh, I can’t remember. Does it really matter what a Salesman sells? He was away from the house more and more – I think he needed to keep traveling to keep his mind from thinking about what he was and what had been taken away from him. Now Lotta, she was not a great student at all, but she needed to learn English so she could exist in her new world. It was a good class – none of them wanted to ever speak German again, so they used English as an eraser. Now I was young as hell back then and went on my spare time to those coffee houses and bookstores for the readings, and I took my class with me there.
I remember I took them to see Ginsberg reading Howl in some small apartment pack full and without air. They just loved it. I remember the first time we went they felt so bad because big bottles of cheap wine and these “magic cigarettes” as they called them were just being passed around. All of my students wished they had brought something, so the next time we went to a reading, they all brought sausages and cheese and great loafs of bread that they had baked early that morning so it would be fresh for the event. Well, those beats just loved the class and we got invites to all of the readings, which turned into these drunken feasts of poetry and literature. It was a grand time.
Still, while they all read what was to become the foundation of the last great movement in the American Literary world, I kept my eyes on Lotta and watched how she watched them. How her eyes were focussed on taking everything in and digesting it like the meal she had provided. I don’t think she breathed while they read. They were all given complimentary copies of Howl by Mr. Lawrence Ferlinghetti himself. So my class all spoke this very unusual brand of Beat stream of conscious English. I’m sure, if there are any left, that it still moves like that today. Oh, it was a grand time in my life. I kept scheduling events just so I could spend time with Lotta – and even though the whole class was there, it was she – my focus and concentration. I knew – I knew she was married and I was torturing myself, but love is torture if you do it right. How it just grabs your insides and pulls them to the tip of your throat until your breath and thoughts are just all the same.
I’ll tell you more later. I’m enjoying going over it all again.