I met Allen Ginsberg, “Mr. Howl” of beat poetry fame, in Williamsburg. Allen Ginsberg—friend of Kerouac, Burroughs, and Cassady—chanted and pounded on bongos. In 1971, I was renting a room in a house outside town. The landlord, Jack Blackmun, also lived in the house. A failed philosophy graduate student, his primary means of support derived from providing photography lessons to professors’ wives.
Jack received regular correspondence from someone named Mrs. Paula Passamante of New York City. It soon became apparent why—she was on the verge of moving to Williamsburg to live with him. How they’d met and the nature of their previous relationship always remained a mystery. When Paula arrived, her appearance surprised me. She was short, stout, loud, even abrasive, whereas Jack was tall, thin, soft-spoken, and phlegmatic. They implied they’d been negotiating by mail and decided to give cohabitation a whirl, as though it were more of a trial or an experiment rather than an arrangement driven by an affair of the heart.
After a few months, Paula decided having me in the house wasn’t working out; she told me I’d have to move out. The weekend I moved from Jack’s house, Allen Ginsberg came to Williamsburg to appear at the college. For some reason he preferred not to stay at a hotel or motel. Instead, Mr. Ginsberg sought accommodations in a private home that would provide a “relaxed atmosphere.” Jack’s place, apparently, filled that bill. On a Friday night, Ginsberg arrived to enjoy a home-cooked spaghetti dinner. Since Jack and Paula evicted me that night, I missed the opportunity to dine with the great man.
I stood in my room when the bard scuffed down the hall with Paula tagging along behind him. He wore black high-top sneakers, baggy jeans, and a sweatshirt with frayed, cut-off sleeves. As he came to a stop in my bedroom doorway, Paula pointed at his head from behind, nodding at me as if to say, “Look, in case you couldn’t tell, this is the great celebrity we’ve been expecting!”
I stared down at the modest pile of belongings I had yet to carry out to the car in preparation for the move. Ginsberg caught my eye.
“Contemplating your toys?” Then he put his hand on my shoulder and in a much deeper voice intoned, “All things of being are transitory.”
At first speechless upon hearing so profound a pronouncement, I did manage a reply, more of a murmur, so unmemorable by comparison I can’t recall it. He left the room and padded down the hall to join the other dinner guests.
I would have thought Ginsberg a vegetarian, but I’d seen the meat sauce for the spaghetti as a young guy prepared it earlier that day in Jack’s kitchen. Perhaps the Beat Bard had yet to convert, or simply decided to partake of animal flesh that evening.