I'm excited to begin another week of blogging. I thought it might be fun to post a few descriptions of life in the provinces before the election. Life in exile, as it were; I'm sort of like Ovid without the genius. Or more accurately, maybe a friend of Ovid's in Tomis, a pal he can play checkers with at the general store. This general store overlooks the Black Sea, at least. I've never really been anywhere, so the Black Sea looks great to me, the girls running naked on the beach. My friend Ovid is often glum, gazing across the Black Sea ... to Rome, he thinks. I tell him Rome is in the opposite direction, but he tells me his Rome is in the mind. "So king me," I reply. Really. He goes on and on about the "Eternal City"; it gets ... eternal, especially with all the girls running naked along the beach.
I came across a book that's been around for a while, I gather, but which fell in my lap like new. It's Tony Towle's Memoir 1960-1963 (Faux Press, 2001), and it's a fun read. I have such nostalgia for the late 50's-early 60's that it's like a real ache in my heart. Or maybe my stomach. Perhaps because I ate Towle's book up. It starts with several stories detailing Frank O'Hara's generosity toward Towle, including turning over his old apartment at 441 E. 9th St to Towle and Frank Lima, when O'Hara and Joe LeSueur moved to a loft at 791 Broadway. The apartment rented for 53 dollars a month, but went up to an astronomical 56 dollars when Towle and Lima moved in. Sigh. Other kind gestures by O'Hara included getting the young Towle a scholarship to the New York City Writer's Conference ($200, a fortune in those days) and introducing him to Kenneth Koch. Here's Towle's description of meeting Koch at the Cedar Tavern:
"I mentioned that I understood Kenneth Koch was conducting a poetry workshop at the New School and I was going to attend. 'Oh, really? Kenneth is right over there.' To my astonishment and before I could ask him please not to, O'Hara walked the few feet to the bar and came back with Kenneth Koch. ' This young man is going to take your class at the New School.' My astonishment turned to chagrin. Koch looked at me expectantly. I didn't know what to say. I wanted to compliment him; I had spent so many hours getting to know Thank You, and it had been a pleasure and a revelation to do so. 'Oh, Mr. Koch, I love your work. It's so ... so ...' I was floundering for a synonym for 'sophisticated,' which wasn't quite right, but I knew the perfect word was in there somewhere. He stood there waiting for me to finish my sentence. Superficial is what I heard myself saying. Koch stared at me in disbelief for a second or two, then turned away and walked back to the bar. What had I done! I was mortified beyond belief. Unfortunately, sometimes my reflexive reaction to my own verbal blunders is to show no reaction at all. This of course is interpreted by others that I intended to say exactly what I said. O'Hara was as amused as I was embarrassed. He went over to the bar and said something to Kenneth. I hoped he was assuring him that I didn't mean it, which was certainly true. At any rate, Koch stayed at the bar. I then had some more conversation with O'Hara and Lima, inwardly excoriating myself, during which O'Hara casually mentioned that he too was going to be teaching a poetry workshop at the New School. It instantly occurred to me that I had to take them both. At least I would have one teacher I hadn't insulted."
Towle has a lot of great stories, including who "closed" the Cedar Tavern on its last night by throwing an empty beer mug into the old clock on the wall. I enjoy living in the past. Nice book.