12 Larry Baby
Deeper into the same summer. Boulder, 1980. Afternoon. The Beat Bookstore, Pearl and 18th. The newly opened bookstore is a signpost the Beats have arrived as a tourist attraction.
I've come to purchase Last Exit To Brooklyn, the first in a long list of books that Larry Fagin, Writing For Real instructor at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets, recommended. His master list of books penned by Beats andoffbeat writers who influenced them is titled Reading For Real. The further I advance down the list, the theory goes, the greater the chances that I'll develop a Beat mentality and write Beat fiction of my own worthy of appearing on a future list.
Why am I suddenly diving into Beat fiction? Because I've spent the better part of the past three years cranking out every staple of reportage known to man. Hundreds of columns, reviews, interviews, features, and opinion pieces later, I'm butting up against the boundaries of journalism. Playwriting and screenwriting have their attractions, true, but the novel form is even more seductive.
Surely a subject is all that stands between me and the New York Times bestseller list. One subject I know a little something about is baseball. I start plotting Men In Scoring Position. "Larry Baby," a product of Manhattan's Lower East Side, edits. He's buddy-buddy with all the Beats. Known as "the poem doctor."
I show up at the Fagin household in a cluster of student housing off Arapahoe all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for our first editing session. I manage to offend Larry's ladylove, Susan Howe, in no time flat. My sin—trying to pick her up before I realize she isn't his daughter. I also address her as a poetess instead of a poet, apparently an unpardonable faux pas.
Susan's some sort of short-haired intellectual breed, with rare Annie Hall-like markings seldom sired in the Bluegrass State. The comely henna-headed Kentuckian is horrified that I've bedded the less cryonic demoiselles of Boulder with the smug and conceited rock star rap I've tried on her. It's simply inconceivable these immature attempts at witty verbal repartee could have actually succeeded with anyone, much less an up and coming poetess—I mean poet—like herself. I let her vent, content in the knowledge that those immature attempts at witty verbal repartee had in fact worked wonders on at least a half dozen anyones since the summer began. It was still only July.
I understood her position. Then again, from my point of view, it's equally inconceivable that Susan could have known me for five minutes and not gone down on me. It's all perspective. Her liaison with Larry Baby lands her on the bill at the Tuesday night readings.
We get past my awkward initial appearance chez Fagin. Measurable progress is made on the novel. My manners improve. Susan rewards my behavioral modifications by preparing elaborate macrobiotic fare—that seemed liberating for her, especially since I'm pretty sure that socialist cuisine is banned throughout thoroughbred country. I earn points by washing the dishes. That eliminates chauvinist from Susan's shitlist. My predeliction for basking in self-esteem still appears.
Fagin also edits Bombay Gin, the Naropa poetry magazine distributed to every hip bookstore from Berkeley to Boston. Everyone who's anyone is submitting something for it. Intriguing. Even though I've remained steadfastly comatose through most of the poetry readings, it would have been simple enough to feign some angst, identity conflict, rage, Oedipal cravings, fatherly slights, guilt, neurosis, psychosis, or sexual ambiguity—nutrients successful poets feed on. But I don't. Itemizing the sphincter muscle's manifold splendors would be the surefire ploy for inclusion. Nope. Too easy.
Instead, I submit a few verses of fantasy entitled "Little Lord Fauntleroy." It reads like something written in a preceding century—pick any one you like. It has absolutely nothing to do with any current topic that might possibly touch anyone's feelings or emotions. To my utter astonishment, they print it. I am now a published poet. If Bombay Gin is placed in a time capsule, future civilizations will assume I was up there swinging with the big bats of Beatdom.
Fagin and I forge through to the end of Men In Scoring Position. He likes the result so much that he suggests we collaborate on a screenplay. His buddy, Sam Kashner, poet, comedy writer, reciter of the poetry of the retarded, and future author of When I Was Cool: My Life At The Jack Kerouac School used to be Bette Midler's boyfriend. According to Larry, Sam says the superstar songbird will help shop it through some big macher agents she knows. Ah, another coincidence. I surprise Larry and Susan with an 8" by 10" glossy of Bette crooning in the giant ape's paw shot and personally developed by Jerry Aronson. Their reaction—appropriately dumbfounded.
Fagin runs with the screenplay. I pitch in here and there. In no time flat it's complete.
Then I don't hear a word from him for ages. And ages.
Years later, I run into him staggering around the Pearl Street Mall. I take him home to dinner. While my Serbian girlfriend cooks curry, Larry Baby gets drunker and drunker playing the vibes setting on my Oberheim synthesizer. His noodling has a nice Village Vanguard jazz cellar type feel to it. Not bad at all—it would have upgraded the soundtrack to Heartbeat, the Hollywoodization of the Jack Kerouac saga which was then out in theaters. I'm impressed until I pass out from too much Frog's Leap cabernet combined with the undiagnosed beginnings of thyroid deficiency.
Next morning the Serbian girlfriend relates that Fagin told her he'd turned down $50,000, half of which would have been mine, for the screenplay cause he thought he could get a good deal more for it. He'd been too embarrassed to tell me.
Disbelief. Denial. Dismay.
How much different would my life have been had Fagin taken the money? It seems like it won't really matter, because by then The Men of Milk are taking the world by storm.