Saturday, March 31, 2012

Existing in New York City: Getting Naked With Harry Crews

Foto by tgw, New York City, March 2012
Say goodbye to: Giorgio Chinaglia,
he along with Pele and Franz Beckenbauer were the heart and soul of the old New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League, a US hall of famer and said to have been the greatest Lazio player ever--one of the great soccer players of all time. Giorgio Chinaglia, 65, Italian footballer (Lazio, New York Cosmos), heart attack.
Tough Guys Always Get Their Books Published
Nope, I'm not going to Obama bash today. Politics is suddenly beneath me. Instead, I focus my attention on Harry Crews. Harry Crews just died. Before he died, I knew absolutely nothing about this man. This writer. This man who believed that there was no such thing as a perfect person, except in the Sears & Roebuck catalog. And what kid hasn't spent a lot of time in the Sears & Roebuck catalog? Except Harry Crews and I by making such a statement ID ourselves in terms of generational warp since as far as I know there hasn't been a Sears & Roebuck catalog like the one Harry Crews and I are talking about in many a Florida moon.

Harry Crews, you see, was born in Georgia but spent his most productive years in Florida teaching writing at the U of Florida.

I spent some of my early time in Florida. First going to Florida when I lived and worked in New Orleans. First going to Pensacola, Florida, then Destin, Florida. Then after living in Mexico City, Mexico, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, going back to Florida intending to live there. Intending to live and write in Key West, Florida. I loved Key West but I hated it, too. My wife and I lived in the Santa Maria Hotel at the end of Simonton Street in Key West. My wife went out every day looking for us a house to live in while I stayed back in the Santa Maria and drank beer and watched Havana teevee and drank more beer and looked out of the room window out across the Atlantic Ocean fiddling around while trying to get up the nerve to write a novel I'd been writing in my mind since I was 11 years old and my grandmother taught me how to type.

I was living in the Santa Maria Hotel because Ernest Hemingway, I called him Papa though I had no right to, had once lived in the Santa Maria Hotel. And I tried to reenact Papa's tough-guy life by drinking in the hotel bar as often as possible and one afternoon I mentioned the fact that Papa Hemingway had lived briefly in the Santa Maria to the bartender and I'll be god-damned if this young ex-Navy brat didn't act like he hardly knew who the hell Ernest Hemingway was. Papa had been dead several years then but not dead in terms of his relationship to Key West. I mean, come on, his mug was all over Sloppy Joe's Bar and his home there was a tourist attraction.

My wife and I the minute we hit town and checked into the Santa Maria, settled into our room, took showers, and then zoomed in our Jaguar over to Whitehead Street and the Hemingway house. We had been the only "tourists" there that day and after bullshitting with the man who gave you a guided tour of the house--from him we found out the place was for sale--$80,000, he thought, ought to get it--from Miss Mary, Mary Welsh, Hemingway's last wife--who ironically had the same name as my wife, my Mary, not my first or last wife. And after we got the standard gab about the objects in the house--I was amused by a pair of Papa's old hunting boots sitting under the dining room table--we were given the run of the place. Like hanging up in Papa's second-story writing room--over the pool house--the small house at the end of the Olympic-size swimming pool that Papa had spent many a day and night swimming in after he'd written all day in that second-story writing room--I told my Mary Welsh that I thought I would bring my portable typewriter--an Underwood just like the one Papa was sitting at in a photograph of him on the back of one of the Scribner's paperback editions I had read as a fascinated admirer of his when young and dumb and impressionable--and a bottle of Fundador, which I drank also because of Papa--over to this second-story writing room and write my novel at the table/desk he sat at--or with the machine on my lap in the big overstuffed chair in that room--or writing standing at the shelf atop the bookcase in the room--write my novel in that room just like Papa wrote in that room--Hemingway admirers feel closer to him by referring to him as Papa--and he was my writing Papa, like Gertrude Stein was my writing Mama, a woman Papa himself was strongly and erotically attracted to in those early years in Paris--and who after she rejected him as a lover he tried to destroy in his final book, A Movable Feast, when he wrote about going over to her Paris flat one day and going in the front door without knocking and hearing Gertrude up in her boudoir moaning and singing out, "Oh, Pussy...Oh, Pussy," and Papa immediately realizing she was getting serviced by her true lover, Alice B. Toklas.

And then my Mary Welsh and I had snooped around to the front of the pool house and I blundered in through the sliding glass door into that house and was scared shitless when a voice told me to get the hell out of there and back at the big house we were told that we had intruded on Papa's Mary Welsh--the tour man had forgotten to tell us Miss Mary was staying there at the moment. Lucky, too, because I was thinking about having my Mary Welsh take her clothes off and going swimming in that pool while I took an 8-mm movie of her porpoise-like sliding through that pool's light-blue-chlorined water.

My writing intentions in Key West proved so much bullshit. And they proved so much bullshit to my Mary Welsh and our money was running out and I stayed drunk most of the time while she was out looking for us a house and finally she said that if I didn't start writing on something and if I didn't approve of us living in a quaint Captain's house she had found, then she was packing up and leaving me and to hell with me and Key West. The Captain's house though charming made me sick at my stomach so one sad sunny day we left Key West and headed up Highway 1 looking for a home. We tried to live on the beach in Boca Raton, a place I truly hated--and then we back-tracked back to Miami only for me to get in an altercation with a Miami driver--a cussing-out fight-threatening match in the middle of Kennedy Boulevard--from which we fled by racing across the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail. On the Florida West Coast we tried to live in Fort Meyers, St. Petersburg (ironically, after my Mary Welsh did fianlly divorce my tough-guy ass, she moved to St. Petersburg), Tarpon Springs, and Appalachicola before biding adieu to the whole damn state once and for all and racing back almost 3,000 miles straight across the lower 48 to San Francisco--where began a whole other writing intention bullshit span of time in my totally bullshit life.

All of my time in Florida, I had no idea who the hell Harry Crews was. Well, I've already admitted, haven't I, that prior to today on reading of Harry Crews's death, I had no idea who the guy was?

Tough Guy Talk
“There is something beautiful about all scars of whatever nature. A scar means the hurt is over, the wound is closed and healed, done with.”

That's Harry Crews talking. The statement is not really that true. I've had scars that continued to hurt, get infected, to itch. But then, I'm not a tough guy like Crews.

“If you love something/Set it free/If it loves you/It will come back to you/ If it doesn't--hunt it down and kill it.”

Wow, now that's really tough-guy talk. Sounds like Ted Nugent. If I'd'a followed Harry's advice, I'd'a gone after two of my wives and killed them. I'm just not that tough. No wonder my books don't sell.

“Alcohol whipped me. Alcohol and I had many, many marvelous times together. We laughed, we talked, we danced at the party together; then one day I woke up and the band had gone home and I was lying in the broken glass with a shirt full of puke and I said, 'Hey, man, the ball game's up'.”

OK, I'll give Harry that one, though it is tough-guy talk. But it's no bullshit. I can empathize with Harry on that one. I woke up one morning in a ditch off the side of a highway. In a ditch covered in puke and sleeping underneath a big cardboard box. Way out in the middle of a nowhere part of Irving, Texas. Waking up and not only wondering where the hell I was but where my car was, too. Like, holy shit, how the hell did I get here, I don't remember a damn thing, and, holy shit, where the fuck is my car? Now that's pretty good tough-man talk coming from me, isn't it?

“Writers spend all their time preoccupied with just the things that their fellow men and women spend their time trying to avoid thinking about. ... It takes great courage to look where you have to look, which is in yourself, in your experience, in your relationship with fellow beings, your relationship to the earth, to the spirit or to the first cause—to look at them and make something of them.”

Score another one for Harry. I agree with this tough-writer statement. I mean, like I could never write a Harry Potter book because I don't believe in anything Harry Potter does; I mean Harry Potter's not a tough guy, he's a woman's fantasy man. I can only write about myself and what's deep inside me, and what comes out when I go back and dig out incidents from my own life. My fantasy man is myself.

“I am not perfect." It came out in a rush of breath. "See I thought I was. Thank God I ain't. See a perfect thing ain't got a chance. The world kills it, everything perfect. (Listen to him!) Now see a thing that ain't perfect, it grows like a weed. Yeah, like a weed! A thing that ain't perfect gets hand clapping, smiles, takes the wire an easy winner. But the world ain't set up right if you perfect. You lible to run right into a brick wall. Looks like suicide. All the weeds say, looka there, it suicide!”

OK, Harry gets another tip of my hat on this one. I agree with him that nothing is perfect and certainly not any real man--oh, lots of fictional men and women are perfect--but very few real men and women are. Oh, I'm in love with a woman who I think of as perfect, but her perfection is in the eye of me the imperfect beholder. Compared to me, yes, she's perfect, but there's probably someone in this world who doesn't see her as perfect at all. On the other hand, I might argue with Harry that if a weed is as tough as he describes it, a weed may be as close to perfection as Nature has gotten.

Sorry, I Didn't Know You, Harry
So, I say goodbye to Harry Crews.
Harry Crews, 76, American author, neuropathy. Wish I'd'a known him. He reflects my most favorites: Ernest Hemingway; Charles Bukowski; and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. All committing suicide in one way or another--Hemingway when he burnt out as a writer and started having hallucinations--Charles Bukowski just through living on the brink--Dr. Hunter S. Thompson when he saw no hope for anybody especially himself in the world--and Harry Crews from all the damn weeds that invaded his life.

Me, I'm on the tough-guy road now since I recently wrestled with the Grim Reaper who was trying to shoot weed killer into my weedy heart. All my fault, too; me thinking I was in perfect health when in actuality I was trying to kill myself--breaking the hearts of too many good women; drinking too much Irish whiskey; eating too many thick, juicy, fatty steaks; eating pints of Hagen-Daas ice cream and rich gooey chocolate chip cookies; playing the piano too hard; singing with rough abandonment; and writing and writing and trying to distill the tough-guy incidents out of my writing when I should have known like Harry Crews that tough guys sell books.

for The Saturday Evening Daily Growler Post

1 comment:

Marybeth said...

Great post. I'd never heard of Harry Crews either. Thanks for the education.