RAY BREMSER MEMORIAL
COLUMN SEVENTY-FOUR, AUGUST 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 Al Aronowitz)
VII. CALIFORNIA COME-DOWN
" 1997 Brenda Frazer)
Picture us here as we arrive 3000 miles later from the great American hitchhiking trail, Route 66, southwest to L.A. Me, why I'm barely out of my teens, and wore an elfin hairdo, focus on my long legs which were Ray's delight and the continuous stream of jokes about my small breasts. I was a doll and yet walking along the road in dusty afternoon I had a head full of ideals and a psyche bent towards prophecy. Ray wore his fatigue jacket, soft and supple, and always a long sleeved shirt to hide red splotches and pimples on his thin white arms. Even in the hottest weather his arms were covered. He wore his old gray air force issue pants and shoes that were anonymous---he being a Pisces, his feet were celestial and truly had to be disguised. His fatigue jacket was like a filing cabinet. I never knew exactly what he kept there, although he could usually find a toothpick. And of course the Pall Mall cigarettes in the left breast pocket. I'd ask one from him and we'd light up in the dimming distances of late afternoon on the road. As he cupped the match and sucked up his cheeks over our two cigarettes I could look at the brow already distinctly furrowed from 25 years of trouble. The cheekbones above the beard were pockmarked and interesting, like the moon. Ray wore his prison pallor, a grayness of skin leather, as if it were a patina to his metal. He was not ashamed of being an ex-con.
be almost there now. But California is a big state and we didn't land in San
Francisco for many hours and several more tiring experiences. Ray was excited
and talked of other poets, Berman, Lamantia, Ron Padgett, Ferlinghetti. I was
just tired and not in a good mood. Was this the role of a poet's wife, and
could I sustain it? Would his friends like me, a shy person, not used to mixing.
Could I fit in his pocket like Tinker Bell and toothpicks, and just be invisible
for a while?
Finally arrived at Wally Berman's house at night and slept on a big mattress on the floor in a room with a bay window. No, Wally didn't know we were coming, we were just part of the stream of
. .It looked like
Ray's arm raised
WITH A KNIFE!. . .'
from the east. Next morning I ran across the street to the big park, must have
been Golden Gate Park, the house foggy and Victorian behind me where Ray and
Wally watched me jump around playfully, showing off. Where was the ocean, must
be nearby, but Ray was just interested in the scene, poetry. Then Wally gave me
a pair of big blue jeans that he said Allen Ginsberg had left after his last
visit. A rope around the waistband helped to hold them up. Not attractive in any
way but it's good to be covered up after a week of exposure in short shorts.
Besides, it was cold in California. Food and rest and talk. The room we slept in
was full of Wally's wife Shirley's paintings. So that shows me right off
that being a poet's wife is not enough. One needs to be talented. She is a
person in her own right, an astrologer, and quite beautiful. Ray hits it off
with everyone. I just want to hide. I am not interested in making friends.
Trapped is what! And all I want is privacy and Ray's attention.
All I want is some ease from the nervous misunderstanding that's built
has to drag me along, under the protection of his arm, to get me involved at
all. Later that day we went downtown to meet Philip Lamantia in the hotel where
he lived and smoked big joints of weed that looked like cigars. Lamantia was
chuckling as he rolled them. The marijuana soothed me. Then he read his poems
" turned us on in more ways than one. Lamantia's poetry very energetic, like
Ray's and full of sound. We were as excited as we usually were listening to
thought that we would finally have some time alone, and we did, just us and some
peyote buttons that Shirley laid on us. That night we sat together on our double
bed mattress on the floor full of pillows and blankets. Ray found a copy of the Three
Penny Opera in the huge collection of albums by our bed. "You?ve
gotta hear this, Babe, Brecht and Weill. Bertold Brecht was a poet of the
streets, like Villon, both spent time in jail." The minor key of Kurt
Weill's music and the banjo strut captivated me. I'd never heard any of it,
nor Lotte Lenya singing.
we sit and chew the buttons. Ray throws a shirt over the lampshade and the room
grows dim. I see
the yellow daisies on the blue wallpaper begin to glow like stars, even twinkle,
or is it my imagination? The opera begins and Ray translates for me, "UND
MAN SIEHET DIE IM LICHTE, DIE IM DUNKEL, SIEHT MAN NICHT. You see the ones in
light, ok, but those in the dark you won't see at all." Mackie Messer was
a hero, although a thief and probably a murderer. It's ok. It's also ok that
he breaks Polly Peachum's heart although her innocence is ironic in such a
street wise lady. I understood. Ray explains to me that Brecht writes from a
time of despair a black era of anarchy in German history. Immediately I feel at
home with it as if it reinforced my sense that things were all right, like the
Cuban Revolution.. Or, put it another way, that things were all wrong and I
understood that. I got into the words, the poetry, everything was so meaningful.
Maybe the peyote was beginning to work.
Another shadow behind me made me turn. It looked like Ray's arm raised WITH A KNIFE! I panic and scream. He gets pissed at me. "I was just joking around, Babe, it's just a paint brush see? Why do you have to make so much noise?" Just a shadow after all. But it made me wonder if I really knew him. ##
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