Yesterday was a bad day altogether. My girl came home with a raging case of poison ivy on her face, especially near her eyes. She was itchy and cranky and I hadn’t slept in a couple of days (freaking hot flashes) and I wasn’t going to spend any time with 3b and blah blah. Once the Benadryl and calamine lotion kicked in I took a minute and looked at my phone. I was tagged in something an old poetry friend had posted. I have been posting old photos and sites of disgusting retro food. Jell-o molds from the waspy dinner party days of the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. There was one with a hollowed out bologna with peas in it. It has been a running joke with me, Capri, my niece and a couple other retro food friends. The subject of the post was an obituary of one of my friends and mentor, Paul.
I can’t remember exactly when I met Paul. It was probably the epicenter of my universe at the time: QE2. It was the only game in town at that time for poetry, well as far as I was concerned. I believe Paul was performing some of his White Boy poems. White Boy was a character that was actually Paul. He was pissed at the electric company (Niagara Mohawk) or he was reading his famous poem about how he stole a Greyhound bus and drove it into the water in Washington Park. When he was done, I can remember he approached me and asked me if I would like to do a chap book with him. He said that he loved a girl that could swear and write. I thought he was trying to bang me. Remember, I used to be really cute, I was the youngest girl in the poetry scene and I was mean as cat shit. It was a deadly combination. He was married at the time and I told him sure, we could do a chapbook together. What would it be about? He said he wanted to take my work and turn in inside out and come at it from a male perspective. We ended up doing three chapbooks together. We also ended up having kind of a non sexual love affair.
I loved talking to him. He was always full of stories. He had a Mohawk and on either side of his head he had tattooed lightning bolts from where he had electro shock therapy. I believe he pleaded insanity for stealing the bus. Truth was he was drunk. He loved a beer and had quit for several years before finding his moderation. He would come into The (Real) Lark Tavern to see me and he would end up staying and buying my crazy day boys beers and they would talk about Albany and the history as they remembered it. He was charming and women loved this crazy bastard. I would just shake my head and wonder.
Me: You must be packing some heat to make women act the way they do around you.
Paul: You wanna find out?
Me: Oh dear God no. You are too old and gross.
Paul was always pushing buttons and going too far. During the 1990’s, as new venues opened up to us ragged, “street” poets (a term used for the non-academic poets) Paul would show up to read and if he was wearing sweat pants we knew we not to sit next to him. He get up on stage and tear his clothes off and read butt ass naked. Sometimes he would be naked with a catcher’s mask. Again, I am not remembering why he did that only that he did. After a while, once the shock wore off, he would just come back to his seat and sit down, still naked, sometimes with the catcher’s mask, almost always with reading glasses and just listen to the next poet up and laugh. He would look over at me and I would shake my head and loudly whisper to him to pull up his damn porno pants.
I had a lot of success in the 1990’s getting published in small press zines. I keep all of them in bins in my basement and they were marked, “Mary’s weird stuff” by my niece, Thing 2. I had enough success to be able to go with a good friend and writing partner, Gina, to an underground press conference in Chicago. She did a really successful zine called IN YOUR FACE. I went twice and the second year we went Paul was one of the main poets on the program. By this time my ego was in over drive and being able to piggy back on the fact that I knew Paul had my back with these people, Gina and I went nuts. The first night we were there Gina and I had brought back packs and after listening to several speeches about how great we all were, we decided we needed to take the party to the next level. We basically drank, filled our back packs, pocketbooks, jackets, friend’s pockets and jackets with not only the buffet but the bar and announced that the party would be on our floor of the dorms (we stayed for cheap at DePaul University where the conference was held) then I took a 20lb cheese sculpture, complete with crackers and off we went. That party lasted until noon the next day. As we got to our floor, with about a 60 people straggling behind us I open the door to my room and there is Paul, lying in my bed with a large red headed woman with Lisa Lob glasses.
Me: Really, in my bed?
Paul: What? She is one of the organizers
I could tell a million Paul stories. I can tell you that he lived a million lives every day. He was an amazing artist in every sense of the word. I can tell you that even though we lost touch after I got married and he got married, I still felt close to him. The last time I saw him was at Target or WalMart. He was deteriorating with Alzheimer’s. I saw him and his lovely, devoted wife kind of guiding him along. I went over and she recognized me right away and graciously smiled. I asked how he was doing and he said great.
Paul: So are you still writing?
Me: Yup, I still am.
I said good bye. I am saying good bye again. I will see you on the other side White Boy.
Please wear pants.