As/Is







12.02.2013


From "A Poet in Center City"



#30

It has to be said that, all things considered, the big “getting things done” circuit in the Free School nexus was John-Adam. We were always “on,” always ready to seduce, always working the angles with everyone and everything around us. Lots of subterranean action happened at B & N on Rittenhouse Square, where we worked (Ricky had started off with us, but had been “offed” for molesting female employees). Free School characters would drop in to say hello and commiserate. John and I would smoke a little pot on our lunch breaks (the streets around Delancey Place were conducive) and plan new heists. John had U of Arts kids he wanted to include; he had also become chummy with a gaggle of Temple undergrads who were into poetry. We were too on fire to create a context to be snobbish or elitist; anything young and fresh, with at least some artsy edge, had to work. The big sexual tension between John and I was more personal than my head-butts with Ricky— John was in love with me. He made passes; I deflected them. I was later to learn that many people who saw us on the street assumed we were a gay couple. One of the reasons we so liked to get high was so that John could numb the pain of unrequited love and I could numb the pain of having to deflect him. I was, and remain, incorrigibly straight. Still, these were dark undercurrents in a period charged with vitality and excitement. As a way-station leading to other destinations, B & N worked just fine for us.

#31

For the second Highwire show, Jim O'Rourke installed a nitrous tank in the stairwell behind the "factory room" and manned it. Whippets were sold for a dollar and almost everyone, including us, indulged. We were all in an exhilarated mood— it was now October, and attendance had doubled since the July show. We exhibited one of Trish's paintings, and she came with her sister. We were also able to show movies for the first time— our friend (and Trish's PAFA buddy) James Nguyen had two short ones, perfect for a venue and an event this size. Most importantly, the square worked cohesively (especially at keeping the money collection tasks in order, at Jim's behest), and no major balls were dropped between us. I learned about Ricky— when he had just the right kind of alcohol buzz going (we had loaded up on cases of wine for the event), he could be a sport. The best part of the night, for me in particular, was how effortless it all felt— the work of overseeing things (balloons in hand) was a pleasure for all of us. If there was a dark edge operative that night, it was that many artists were showing up who wanted to ride on the Free School gravy train, and not all of them had good or honorable intentions. John, in particular, would drink with anyone, and he was besieged with invitations. I struggled with my instinct to impose on John who he could and could not drink with.

#32

By now, all of us were infected by the freewheeling spirit of the Free School. We were bummed that Bush had won a second term; but there was nothing that could be done. One of John’s many chance acquaintances had bequeathed to him a little acid blotter sheet. So, one night, when Christopher and Ricky happened to be unavailable (Christopher in particular, being based in Roxborough, was in and out of Center City), we decided to trip. We started at my pad at Twenty-First and Race; the acid was slow-burn, and took about ninety minutes to sink in. We had been listening to the Stones the whole time, and by the time we got to “Hot Rocks” and “Satisfaction,” I was “seeing the music.” It passed in front of me as something concrete. We somehow managed to stagger over to the Last Drop, and found ourselves occupying the basement, which was dimly lit (as ever) and dank. Neither of us could sit still, and John was stuttering. I had a fortuitous inspiration— I was seeing another B & N girl named Jenny Lee, who lived around the corner on Lombard between Thirteenth and Broad. We could drop in on her. She was a stoner, after all, and forbearing. We found her entertaining a bunch of her Delaware friends (she was a U of Delaware BFA). At first, John was OK. But when we smoked a bunch of weed on top of the acid, John became catatonic. He was rocking back and forth in an armchair, and wouldn’t respond to questions. The Delaware crew became aggravated by John’s bad vibes, so I got him out of there. The trip would’ve been better with all four of us on it, but what the hell.

#33

One of the incidents which transpired at this time was symptomatic of Philadelphia’s mixed reaction to the Free School. I asked a U of Penn staff poet to read with us at the Highwire. He demurred, and I shrugged; but Jim O’Rourke revealed that, having discovered the Highwire through us, he’d gone behind our backs and booked a huge academy affiliated poetry event there. He didn’t ask any of us to read. Now, he wasn’t breaking any laws, but it was a cheap move, and very not Free School. So, employing the privileged position we’d established as Highwire regulars (crucially, Jim O’Rourke didn’t attempt to dissuade us), we decided to put in a unified appearance the night of the reading. It was just as boring, rigid, and Academic as we had expected— the important part for us was that we stole the show. Not only was our antagonist made visibly uncomfortable by our appearance, all the Academicians appeared uncomfortable that we were there. Even just our looks ran rings around them. As I was later to learn, many academicians have beleaguered fantasies of being rock stars themselves, and want to be perceived as celebrities. The Fab Four gave them a pungent dose of the real thing. It was enough to make me think that Jim O’Rourke, who had smoked us all up in the factory room beforehand, had the whole thing planned when he booked the Academy reading.