Thursday, July 28, 2005

Giant Steps

They were called X-Ray Specs—put them on and the world became a see-through paradise. You’d always see ads for them in the back pages of magazines like True Detective, Argosy, or Nugget… right next to the ads for the sea monkeys. But while the sea monkeys were an obvious rip-off, the X-Ray Specs you weren’t so sure about. And looking at the crude drawing in the ad of some X-Ray bespectacled hipster smiling from sideburn to sideburn as he sees right through this curvy broad’s party dress put dirty thoughts in you head: what if they really worked? If they did they would be well worth the money.

Which is exactly what Ed Sanders thought when he ordered them in the spring of 1964. Ed was just a horny young poet back then; and although he had a fat notebook full of empty pages ready to receive his blank verse, he had no receptacle, other than his hairy right hand, through which to relieve his innate horniness. So naturally, when he opened up his mailbox one day at two in the afternoon to see that his pair of X-Ray Specs had arrived, he smiled—that sideburn to sideburn smile.

“Ah, yes,” he said to himself, “the real fucky fucky.”

Ed immediately headed toward Washington Square Park which he thought would be as good a place as any to try them out. But on the way he had a thought.

“I’ll show them to Tuli,” he said, again talking to himself—in those days he was always talking to himself. “It’ll impress the shit out of him.”

The man Ed wanted to impress was Tuli Kupferberg, who at that time was already something of a fixture on the Village scene. Ed looked up to Tuli. Tuli was older, more experienced, and seemed to know just about everything.. But this pair of X-Ray Specs, Ed was sure, would take him completely by surprise.

Ed got to Tuli’s apartment and knocked. Wrapped in a brown army blanket and wearing a two day growth of stubble on his chin, Tuli answered the door. He’d just woken up.

“Look what I got,” Ed blurted out.

“What the fuck?” Tuli grumbled, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He slouched over to get a closer look at the pair of X-Ray Specs Ed held out proudly with both hands. “So you got some fruity looking shades. Big fucking deal. I’m going back to sleep.”

“These aren’t shades, man,” Ed argued. “These are fucking X-Ray Specs. They’re the real thing, man—the real fucky fucky.”

“The real fucky fucky?”

“Shit, Tuli, you know what I mean.”

Tuli grabbed them and was about to put them on when Ed stopped him.

“Don’t look at me with those things,” Ed snapped. “Let’s go to the park. Let’s try looking at some gurls with these things.”

“Girls,” Tuli mumbled. “Oh, okay… gurls.”

Tuli got dressed, then he and Ed walked to Washington Square Park, the X-Ray Specs burning a hold in Ed’s shirt pocket. When they got to the park it was crowded: lots of people, lots of gurls. They sat on a bench facing the arch as the sun bore brightly down upon them.

“Okay,” Tuli said, “give them to me. I get to try them on first.”

Ed carefully pulled them from his pocket and handed them to Tuli. Tuli opened them up and with an exaggerated flourish put them over his eyes.

“Holy fucking shit!” he exclaimed. “Everyone is fucking naked! And that girl over there, see her? She’s got tattoos of flames shooting out from around her nipples. And that guy over there… he’d got two dicks. What a bunch of fucking freaks!”

“Lemme see, lemme see!” Ed shouted.

“No, wait. And that lady over there. She’s got a shaved pussy… nice… real nice… And that girl over there too. And that girl…”

“Let me see, let me see,” Ed yelled, trying to grab the X-Ray Specs from Tuli’s head.

Tuli pulled away and stood up, doing a 360 degree turn as he gazed all around the park.

“I have seen the best bodies of my generation STARK FUCKING NAKED!”

He pulled the X-Ray Specs from his face, bowed, then threw them to Ed, who immediately put them on. Ed looked all around. He looked up, then down. He looked around again.

“What the fuck? I don’t see anything. Everything just looks fuzzy and dark.”

“What did you expect?” Tuli said. “You got ripped off.”

“Shit,” Ed cried, “fucking shit.”

He dropped the X-Ray Specs to the ground and was about to stomp on them when Tuli stopped him.

“Don’t do that,” Tuli said. “I think I can do something useful with those things.” He stood up. “Come on, Ed, let’s check out the situation here.”

Tuli led Ed around the park as he carefully studied everyone. Finally he pointed out a guy playing guitar.

“See that guy over there?” he said.


“Well, come on over. And play along with this. Or better yet, just keep quiet.”

When they got close it was apparent that the guy playing guitar was fucked up. Totally fucked up.

“Sounding pretty good there, kid,” Tuli said.

The kid, who seemed to be around Ed’s age, looked up at Tuli and widened his eyes.

“Oh… uh… thenks,” the kid said.

“Do you know what these are?” Tuli asked, holding out the pair of X-Ray Specs.

The kid studied them for a minute, squinting, then said, “No, whazzat?”

“These, my friend, are X-Ray Specs—the greatest invention of the twentieth century.” Tuli paused for a moment then added, “They’re the real fucky fucky.”

“The Real Fucky Fucky? Izzat so?”

“It is so. Me and my young friend Ed here have been in the park all afternoon checking out the girls with these things. Looking not only at their faces and their legs, but at their entire nude bodies. Because when you put these on, my friend, you can see right through their clothing.”

“Izzat so?”

“It is so. Totally nude girls… Do you like girls?”

“Why, yes, shure, I do,” the kid answered, sitting up straight.

“Well, then, try these on. I think you’ll like what you see.”

Tuli gently placed the X-Ray Specs over the kid’s eyes. Before the kid could even begin to look around Tuli began to shout.: “CAN YOU FUCKING BELIEVE IT? Look at that beautiful girl over there with the polka dots tattooed all over her tits and belly. And that girl over there with the blue and yellow stripes tattooed all over her body. Looks almost like she’s wearing a dress, but she’s no, she’s NUDE. Totally NUDE!”

“Holy shit!” the kid exclaimed, his mouth agape.

“But don’t leave them on too long,” Tuli warned, pulling them off the kid’s head. “You have to let your eyes get accustomed to these glasses before you leave them on too long. But once your eyes get used to them you can wear them all the time.”

“Izzat so?”

“It is so.”

The kid shook his head in amazement.

“Damn, those are some fucken great glasses. Where can I get a pair?”

“In Europe,” Tuli explained. “France, to be specific—you know how those French people are. They invented the French kiss, the French post card, the French tickler, and now this. But it costs the equivalent of about $300 on the French black market. That’s the only place you can get them.”

“Damn, I wish I could get me a pair.”

“Well, I can sell you this pair for $300.”

“Shit… I ain’t got no $300.”

“Oh, that’s too bad.” Tuli scratched his chin. “But hey, that’s a nice guitar you got there.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Damn nice guitar… I’ll tell you what. I’ll trade you this here pair of X-Ray Specs for that there guitar.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Sure thing.”

“Well, shit yeah. Cool. Outtasight,” the kid said. “Here, take it.”

He handed the guitar to Tuli who promptly handed it to Ed.

“Thanks,” Tuli said. “And for you, my friend, your very own pair of X-Ray Specs—direct from France.”

He handed the X-Ray Specs to the kid as he and Ed started backing away.

“Don’t try them on again just yet. Better let your eyes rest for a few more minutes. Then just let yourself go crazy looking at those naked girls.”

“OKAY!” the kid shouted.

“Just think bare breasts,” Tuli added as he backed further away.


“And bare asses.”


“And pussy.”

“Fuck yeah!”

Tuli and Ed quickly walked away. When they were out of the kid’s sight Ed turned admiringly to Tuli.

“Damn, Tuli, that was smooth.”

“It was nothing, Ed. The kid was totally fucked up. It was like robbing a crippled dwarf with a Sherman tank.”

“But still, it was cool.”

“Nope. The cool part’s coming up. Because now you’re finally going to get yourself some girls. Really naked girls.”

“But how?”

Tuli pointed to the guitar.

“With that,” he said.

“How’s that going to get me some girls?”

“Don’t you understand? Do I have to explain everything, Ed?” Tuli shook his head, amazed that his young friend still didn’t get it. “That’s a guitar. It makes music. And you know those poems you’ve been writing? Well, to tell you the truth, they don’t hold up very well by themselves. They won’t get you any accolades from the beatniks. And they sure as hell won’t get you any pussy. Which is where the guitar comes in.”

Ed Scratched his head.

“You mean, like, turn my poems into songs?”

“Now you’re getting it. Though now that I think of it you and a guitar isn’t quite enough. You’ll never make it as a solo act. You’re going to need a whole band.”

“A band?”

“That’s right. Shit, I’ll even help you out. I know a couple of other guys who can play. We can all be in your band.”

Ed shook his head.

“Still, I wish those X-Ray Specs worked.”

“You still don’t get it,” Tuli said, raising his voice. “You see, when you’re in a band, girls will undress for you. You won’t have to see through anything.”

Ed walked along in silence. They were on Sixth Avenue now, making their way back to Tuli’s apartment. Tuli looked straight ahead, thinking. He was always thinking. He began to walk more rapidly, rubbing the stubble on his chin, when he heard a voice a few paces behind him. A young voice. The voice of a kid experiencing his very first sense of revelation, his first understanding of the world and how it works.

“Oh… I GET IT!” Ed shouted to himself.

And on hearing this Tuli felt old, very old. And while Ed was having his first sense of revelation, Tuli was having his first real sense of sadness. He picked up his pace even more, then suddenly stopped until Ed was again walking by his side. After a moment Tuli smiled. But his smile was nothing like that of the hipster in the ad for the X-Ray Specs. It was nothing like the smile Ed was now wearing smugly on his face. It was an old man’s smile—the smile of a man who had found solace in knowing that no matter how old he got, no matter how weak and world weary he became, he would always remain a few steps ahead of his young friend.

-José Padua

Originally published in Crimes of the Beats, Autonomedia, 1998.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Last Gathering of the Beats

LAWRENCE, Kansas, December 19, 1995—As a reunion it was a sad and happy occasion. It was happy in that all the surviving Beats got to see each other. It was sad in that most likely this would also be the last time they got to see each other.

Longtime Beat poet Gregory Corso shook his head. "Yeah, pretty soon we'll be dropping like... " He paused, scratching his head as he searched his mind for the proper simile. "...flies... that's it. Like flies."

Ravaged by old age, senility, and death, the Beats had gathered not just for the purpose of reliving old times, but also to admit some new blood into their ranks—and to appoint a new leader. It was with this in mind that, during a brief ceremony in Lawrence, Kansas, Beat novelist William Burroughs officially "passed the baton" to Henry Rollins.

"He's a strapping young lad," remarked Burroughs as he winked and gave the thumbs up sign to Rollins. "He'll take the legacy of the beats and carry it far into the 21st Century."

When asked what he thought best qualified Rollins to be the leader for the Beats, Burroughs responded quickly.

"Tattoos. That's it tattoos. Frankly, Henry's writing is a lot of bullshit, and Henry knows that. But what Henry also knows is that writing isn't what it's all about anymore. It's about style, ambiance. And that's what Henry knows best."

Until this moment Rollins was, like many before him, simply another dilettante. Moving from music then on to writing and acting—and hoping desperately to find some craft he had a talent for—Rollins had managed to bring home the bacon all these years by playing the part of role model for disaffected youth.

"I was worried for a while when Kurt Cobain hit it big," Rollins commented, still clutching the ceremonial Beatnik baton to his chest. "I thought I was about to be replaced. But then Kurt showed his true colors and killed himself like the true punk I always knew him to be. Me, I was never a true punk. Punk was just my nine to five gig, something for me to do until I found my true calling."

Indeed, it seems quite natural that the now thirtysomething Rollins has found that true calling in the company of the Beats.

"Me, I've always been a Beat," Rollins continued. "And the Beat way isn't `die young, stay pretty', `better to burn out than fade away' or any of that crapola. The beat way, the true beat way, is to grow old, grow lame... to fade away—and the chicks and dudes will worship you anyway. Golly, look at Allen Ginsberg here, and Ferlinghetti and Corso. A nerdier bunch of hodads you'll never see. Heck, even my pop is cooler than any of them. And as for their poems... well, hey, gag me! Even my poems are better than the ones they're writing now, and my poems suck!"

Having heard his name mentioned, Allen Ginsberg joined in on the conversation. "Getting back to the subject of style," Ginsberg interjected, "let me just say that Henry will look good with facial hair. Why last night I was helping him try on berets and he looked good in them too. Damn good. You know, Jack Kerouac used to say, `Home is wear you hang your beret.' And he also used to say... Excuse me."

Ginsberg took out a handkerchief and, after coughing up a huge glob of bright green phlegm, plopped himself down on the nearest chair and took a few deep breaths. On seeing this, Corso rushed over, ripping a few pages out of Ginsberg's Collected Poems on the way and using them to fan the fatigued poet.

"He's not doing so well," Corso said, shaking his head. "Frankly, I think Allen will be the first to... ah... go."

Meanwhile, across the room, an argument had broken out between poets Michael McClure and Gary Snyder.

"You're lame," Snyder declared.

"No, you're lame!" snapped McClure.

"No YOU'RE lame!" countered Snyder.

McClure blinked nervously, then puffed up his chest. "Grah GOOOOOR! Ghahh! GRAAARR!" he intoned, "NAH! NOH! NOH! HRAHHHHHH! Look at that, Snyder, I'm improvising with sound poems. Now tell me who's really lame!"

Taking in the commotion Burroughs wearily shook his head. "Those two. They never quite understood what we were all about."

By now it was six in the evening and everyone was tired. Everyone except Rollins.

"Yeah, I'm replacing them pronto!" shouted Rollins. "Hey, Bill, don't you think Lydia Lunch and Exene Cervenka will make nice replacements for them."

"By God, Henry, you're right on the money like always!" Burroughs declared.

"Yeah, and then I'm gonna talk to Harold Bloom, and lobby him to accept Naked Lunch into his Twentieth Century Canon of essential reading."

Burroughs shot Rollins a puzzled look, then broke out in a grin. "Whatever you say, Henry, whatever you say," he nodded, patting Rollins on the back. "Just do it!"

-Jose Padua

Originally published in Big Fish, 1995.

Danielle Steel And Me

sitting on a park bench
when a woman sits beside
me and starts reading a
book by Danielle Steel.

“Great fucking writer,” I say.
She answers hesitantly,
“Yes she is.”

I wait a few seconds then add,
“I hear she sucks dick
like it’s going out of style.”

The woman stands up and walks away.

In situations where polite conversation
is bound to fail it’s best
to try something else.

-Jose Padua

Originally published in A Gathering of the Tribes, 1991.