Annie was the whitest, white girl I ever did see. A walking anemic, she looked in perpetual need of a blood transfusion. If she were to walk through the halls of the high school dragging an I.V. pole with a bag of blood hanging off the top, I don’t think anybody would have batted an eye. I met Annie in detention. We were detention regulars; always sitting in the back of the room, slid down in our chairs: smirking, looking bored and chewing gum. We bonded behind being two of the very few marijuana smokers in the High School. One afternoon while we were getting high, Annie invited me to go into the city with her to visit her mother. “Sure,” I said, secretly surprised – this was the first time I had ever heard Annie mention her Mother.
Annie didn’t reveal much about her life. All that we the friends knew was that she lived with her aunt and uncle in Baldwin Harbor. I think she mentioned having a brother, but I wasn’t sure. It never occurred to me to ask her if she had other family, but that was more about my alcoholic family secret thing. I was well trained in the keeping of secrets and turning a blind eye to reality. And, after all, this was suburbia; land of superficiality, where honest questions were rarely posed. And if they were, dodgy answers were the norm.
Turns out, Annie’s mother, Brigid, was a beatnick poet/playwright who lived with her lover, and son, Cado, in a cramped, two room apartment on the fifth floor of 175 Bleecker Street. The reason for our visit was to celebrate Brigid’s birthday. The apartment was packed with some of the strangest people I’d ever met. First off, there was Brigid herself, a very nice looking woman in her forties, with a few missing teeth, a joint in her hand and a tough, bossy way of talking to people. When Annie introduced me to her, she acted like she could have cared less about who I was, which Annie told me wasn’t true. “She treats everyone like that,” she said. “And then there was Brigid’s best friend, Jenon, the Gypsy/Playwright/Social Worker from Turkey. Jenon’s lips were purple from drinking wine, her hair was in a wild afro style and when she flashed her eyes on me, I became extremely unsettled and tried to get away from Jenon, but she stood directly in front of me, practically nose to nose and asked me, in a heavily accented dramatic Gypsy dialect, “Ven ver you born?” I answered, “June, 16th,” and she went wild. She grabbed my two hands, pulled me up over to the couch and sat me down. I was so scared, my heart felt like it was nearly beating out of my chest. Jenon looked deeply into my eyes and said, in her gypsy speak, “I must tell you that you are a very high Gemini. James Joyce wrote his masterpiece, Ulysses, about June 16th.” She continued, still staring in my eyes, “You have tremendous energy, sensitivity and awareness. Your soul is on fire with wisdom and light. I know this for I, too, was born on June 16th.”
I managed to get away from Jenon and grabbed a hold of Annie. I was asking her for a joint or some kind of pill when the front door blasted open and in came two scruffy looking men in t-shirts and jeans. One I recognized immediately as Michael J. Pollard; I had just seen him in Bonnie and Clyde. The other curly headed character was introduced to me as Gregory Corso, Annie’s Godfather, who also happened to be, I later learned, an infamous Beat poet who traveled in circles with Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Bowles, etc. The two of these guys were both wasted. Gregory went into the living room, laughing and talking some crazy shit while Pollard positioned himself next to the stereo player. He had a Woody Guthrie album under his arm and he put it on the turntable and played it over and over. Every time someone else came into the party, Pollard grabbed them and said, “Hey man, you got to listen to Woody Guthrie, man. He’s a genius, man” and he would drag them over to the stereo and make them listen. Whenever Pollard headed over towards me, I would take him by the shoulder, turn him around, and give a push, and he would walk back to the stereo. Meanwhile, Corso jerked off in the living room, and went wandering around the apartment with a handful of cum. He found Brigid and asked her what he should do with it. “Throw it down the toilet, you asshole.” I smoked a joint, drank some more wine and tried not to listen to the Woody Guthrie album, for the seventh time.
Get me the fuck out of here, I thought, as I moved to the other side of the room and poured myself a glass of wine and lit a cigarette. There was a very pretty woman, with blond curly hair, leaning against the wall by where Brigid kept the wine. She was quietly drinking and eyeballing the crowd. She noticed I was freaking out, and said, “Hi, I’m Jill. Are you Annie’s friend?” “Yes, we go to school together.” I replied. “So, you’re still in high school, huh ? This scene must really be blowing your mind.” “Yeah, kinda,” I said with a deep exhale. The woman introduced herself as Jill Freedman. She told me that she was a photographer and her next project was to travel with a circus. Brigid was riding shotgun as the cook. They were leaving in a few days to catch up to a circus in Philadelphia. The phenomenal document of this experience, Circus Days, was published two years later.
When I returned home late that night, I was amazed as I thought through the wild scene I had witnessed at Brigid’s apartment. I may not have been ready to shift into hanging with the crazy, creative, bohemian scene at 175 Bleecker Street just yet, but I was definitely being primed for the journey.
Mary Shanley is a NYC poet/writer who has been reading and performing her work for the past 25 years. She has published: Hobo Code Poems and Mott Street Stories and Las Vegas Stories. Allen Ginsberg suggested she publish her first poems in Long Shot Magazine.