When I was a young teenager, I had an obsession with a brilliant poet named Allen Ginsberg. I used his words to get me through typical and not so typical teenage angst. His poetry was my manual which I used to validate my responses to the world. Through Ginsberg, I was introduced to writers like Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I learned about City Light Books and the Beatnik Generation. At 14, with Ginsberg's verses running through my mind, I touched ground for the first time on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California and it was like I had found my mecca.
I do wonder how a 14-year-old girl related to a much older, sexually provocative and blatantly angry man. Instead of being obsessed with a rock star, I was obsessed with a bisexual, 60-something-year-old genius poet. However, I realize now, that Ginsberg's poetry was pretty much in line with the normal emotional schizophrenia of any teenager.
I entered my first year of college having read probably half of every beatnik writer's books. Yes, I had successfully more or less crafted and individuated my bohemian image during my high school years. If I had actually completed these books, maybe I could have added intellectual to my persona.
I couldn't believe my luck when during my freshman year of college, I heard Allen Ginsberg was speaking in Jack Kerouac's hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts. I begged my friend to come with me, so I didn't have to take a 40-minute bus ride to an industrial town solo. She was an English major and happily agreed. During the trip, I contemplated the great moment I was about to experience. I was confident Ginsberg would love me and take me under his wing (yes, I have obvious daddy issues).
My imagination ran wild. What witty thing would I say to Mr. Ginsberg? What will I do when he asks me to drop out of college and be his full time assistant? What will my family say? But how can I turn down such an opportunity? The bus came to a halt. It was freezing, dark and desolate in the town of Lowell. It didn't bother me as it only created a more magnificent backdrop for this great moment.
We arrived at the church just as Mr. Ginsberg launched into his latest work entitled "Amazing Grace" to this captive audience..."I dreamed I dwelled in a homeless place, Where I was lost alone, Folk looked right through me into space, And passed with eyes of stone "... "True empathy," I thought, "This man is the incredible soul I thought he was." He talked of society's rejection of the homeless, bringing attention to the reality of a community completely isolated and ignored. This was not okay. This was inhumane. Sentiments perfectly in line with my own, given voice by a legend -- my legend. I found myself heartily giving a standing ovation alongside other fellow late model beatniks and the good people of Lowell, Massachusetts.
Even as a college kid, I had the same feelings I do now regarding celebrities. I certainly didn't want to bother someone nor would I ever ask for an autograph. This has more to do with ego, and thinking they should be asking me for my autograph. I did however put ego aside to meet my literary idol, Mr. Allen Ginsberg. There was already a group of people waiting to meet him, so I figured, "Why not?"
I anxiously waited in line, but continued to waver on whether I should leave. My turn came up, I smiled and with a shaky voice mumbled, "Mr. Ginsberg, I can't thank you enough for providing words that helped me get through a very difficult adolescence." It was then I handed him a ticket from the reading to sign. He looked at the ticket, looked at me and said curmudgeonly "Can't you buy a postcard or something?" Looking back, I realize that this was most likely a book signing and he was probably thinking I was a cheap bastard.
I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out. He was not quiet with his words; after-all, he's a poet. I was so intimidated, and muttered something about him just reading a poem about treating all people with respect. I was too embarrassed to push the issue and he refused to sign my ticket. I certainly wasn't going to buy something and then wait in line again for him to reject me. And that's how I felt, utterly rejected by a man with whom I felt intimately connected.
I walked away like a beaten soul. It was not only so disappointing, but it also made me realize that no one is who they really seem. I couldn't believe that he was able to be so nasty and not feel any remorse.
Looking back, this was right before his death, so I imagine he wasn't well. This moment in my life confirmed that I will never, ever attempt to meet any person I highly respect. This is not only about the famous, I also don't want to know any intimate details about my psychologist, psychiatrist, psychic counselor and hypnotist... you get the picture. Knowing too much makes you realize that they are also imperfect or -- dare I say -- human. It is impossible for people to be "on" all the time, and if you catch your idol on an off day, just know you risk major disappointment, especially if they're having a shitty day.
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