An Apology to Carolyn Cassady, 1923-2013

Carolyn Cassady

When I was 15, my English teacher told me to read On The Road and it changed my life. I became obsessed with all things Beat, reading voraciously and writing terrible poetry. Terrible, terrible poetry. At a time when my peers were swooning over your Josh Hartnetts or Paul Walkers, I was mooning over Jack Kerouac (with Chipper Jones as a close runner-up). To be sure, I wasn’t immune from the Hartnett-Walker whirlwind, but I prayed at a different altar.

Two years later it was time to go to college, and I was San Francisco bound. I arrived in our fair City with the naiveté to expect an entrenched Beatitude that was gone, beaten out by the first Tech Boom. I eagerly visited North Beach only to find a few bars that looked the part but were off-limits to an underager, and a mess of tourist traps. In the middle of this was and still is City Lights–the Ferlinghetti shop that time forgot–and this became the epicenter for my growing pains. I took to the City in spite of our initial misunderstanding, and even gave an obnoxious interview to the Golden Gate Express in which I pompously trash my childhood home in praise of the North in 2007. What can I say: there is no remedy for the arrogance of youth except to age, and the internet remembers it all.

I give you this background to note my attachment to the men of the Beat Generation: first Kerouac, in my teenage lust, then Ginsberg as I grew, and now–over a quarter century at my heels–a fan of Ferlinghetti. Beat women, however, never garnered much of my attention as they also did not from the media at large. This is because Beat literature marginalizes them as play-things and homemakers–or both in the case of Carolyn Cassady. They were plot points to be plotted, not characters at the wheel. Without my feminist footing, I unconsciously viewed them as the same. I only paid lip service to Diane DiPrima and never read works by Carolyn because, from my high horse, I assumed her books were the profiteering of a mediocre writer who benefited from liaisons with famous men. But I didn’t know anything about Carolyn save for the sound bytes I’d been fed from the fictionalized spoon of Kerouacian “history.” I knew she was beautiful and admired by mythical men, and in my youth that was enough to pantomime–but that is a very shallow well.

Carolyn Cassady died on September 20th at a hospital near her home in England, and obituaries which have run in reputable publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times note the passing of this woman but barely mention her work. Instead, they marginalize her yet again as a Beat punctuation and devote more time to describing the men in her life than they do to her own accomplishments. The kinder ones tag her as a writer first, and the former wife of Neal Cassady second. If truth were told Carolyn Robinson, her maiden name, was an artist–an educated painter who excelled at set design. Carolyn Cassady became a writer of necessity to inject a dose of reality into the mythologized narrative of her own life; she wrote to add her own voice to her own biography. Her version, however, was not the one people wanted to hear. So, instead she’s remembered as the woman shared by Kerouac and Cassady (or not remembered at all), not as the conservatively raised artist who fell in love with a man marked by madness and did all she could to keep her marriage intact. After all, it was the 1950s and she was not as bohemian as the world had painted her.

Carolyn Robinson Cassady was a remarkable woman with impenetrable strength, and I am a remarkable ass for not realizing that sooner. In light of this, Ms. Robinson, I offer an apology. I am sorry that your story was told but not heard. I am sorry that those men failed you, repeatedly. I am sorry. Now, rest in peace.

 

 

Dear Detroit

I  first became obsessed with urban decay (no, not the eyeshadow) and its progeny, the Urban Exploration movement, when I was in college and read too much philosophy. While it’s unhealthy to read Walter Benjamin and Guy Debord exclusively and in tandem, it plunged me into a lot of weird internet journeys during my many sleepless nights; this is when I found the website Forgotten Detroit.

I am rooted in Detroit, Michigan on my mother’s side of the family. There my grandparents met and fell in love while attending Thomas M. Cooley High School, and my Grandmother never understood why I found it so entertaining to hear her speak of 8 Mile (thanks, Eminen). Built in 1928, Cooley High was closed in 2010 and now sits abandoned, a hulking monument to days when Detroit was healthy and children were everywhere. As with all forgotten things, Cooley High is now in danger of demolition.

How does this happen? How can cities of this size become spectral and how can we, as conscious citizens, raze the physical manifestations of our history when they become too difficult to maintain? I understand the discourse fed by explanations of socio-political migrations, demography and the export of industry to developing countries. I get it: Detroit has been left without a purpose, and therefore was left by its people. Buildings need a use, and Detroit has not the population to use them. This, for lack of a better sequence of words, makes me sad. Sad for my own family history that is disappearing and sad for future generations who won’t be able to understand our nation’s history by standing inside of it, by feeling granite with their hands, seeing stairwells with their eyes and KNOWING that architects are dreamers because they build something out of nothing, and dreamers built this country.

In short, I am obsessed with Detroit: what it represents and what still exists to be saved. I’ve even (half-jokingly) asked my Fella if he’d relocate from San Francisco to the Motor City. So far, he’s nonplussed and I can’t say as I blame him; this is my calling, not his. No, I don’t have any immediate plans to leave an ideal climate for one that’s depressed and trying to find its relevance in a century that has moved away from its strengths. But the thought is germinating, I’m open to persuasion, and the video featured below encapsulates, in a very beautiful way, my connection to the plight of this urban belle.

In His Cups, They Look Good

From an article by Caroline Camp titled “In His Cups, They Look Good (But It’s Still the Army)” which ran in The Stars and Stripes on 21 June 1945. Be sure to read between the lines for Camp’s obvious dislike of her subject:

“PARIS, June 20–Cups are not necessarily an item of dishware, and they come in sizes. Girdles hold in, and garter belts just hold up, all of which means that Pfc. William Garber, Dorchester, Mass, and Pfc. Irving Berkowitz, New York City, have no illusions left about the weaker sex. In the U.S. Army, which claims it gives a man all sorts of experience, Garber and Berkowitz are selling women’s unmentionables to WACs here.

‘If the gals are shy, and blush when I ask their size, I tell ’em I used to do this in civilian life,’ says Garber, formerly in the wholesale grocery business. ‘We try to put the girls at ease.’

Between 40 and 60 WACs are customers every day in the enlisted women’s department of the QM sales store in Paris. Garber has been a salesman since March, so he only asks about size to be polite. His all-inclusive glance is a vast improvement over Rhett Butler. Both Garber and Berkowitz were in the infantry before they were wounded and assigned to their present jobs. Garber was in Co. C, 1st Bn., 1st Inf. Div.

It Was Flattery

‘You want a 36, small cup,’ was his greeting to a husky WAC sergeant, and in her case it was just plain flattery. She giggled and said, ‘I’ll take a larger size, just to allow for shrinkage.’

‘His personality is free of charge,’ commented T/4 Madeleine Bass, of Houston, Texas, who had just dropped in to say hello. Garber has lots of friends among the WACs, and they come back just to pass the time of day.

Just about that time a WAC private showed up, sporting pretty blonde curls and a nice trim figure. Expert as he is at mental measurement, Garber decided that this case needed a real tape measure when the WAC said she didn’t know her size.

‘Just what I’ve been waiting to hear,’ said Garber with a smile, advancing around the counter, tape in hand. ‘Waist, 24, bust, 34, hips, 36. You’ll be wanting a B cup, hum?’

‘This is a ver-ry pleasant job.’

This is also the U.S. Army. Today Pfcs. Garber and Berkowitz have new jobs. They are selling bolts of material, minus that personal touch.”

Antone A. Abrego

On the eve of war, Private Antone Abrego married Marion Little of Corte Madera. The 27-year-old went to the war, the Great one, and then returned to his wife, his city. By 1924 the private played golf professionally, connected to the Santa Maria Country Club as well as the shop at Roos Bros. He was a former Claremont caddy.

He died on September 15th, and is appropriately buried not far from the Presidio Golf Course.

The Pixel Painter: Hal Lasko

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/70748579″>The Pixel Painter</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user19668988″>The Pixel Painter</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I love America (to be differentiated from ‘Merica), but we as Americans suffer from a lack of reverence for our elderly. Perhaps my job as an archivist has skewed my awareness towards the importance of listening and remembering, to acknowledging the feat of having lived, loved and lost, and continued. Perhaps it’s because I can no longer speak with my own grandparents, but this video of Hal Lasko spoke to me. Alright, I admit it, this video made me cry from it’s sheer beauty: the beauty of perseverance, a dedication to the grasping of Joy while  one still can in whatever form one can.

This man is the embodiment of the American spirit. To purchase a print of one of his pixel works, go to his WEBSITE.

Diary of Lois Elaine Jelin: Entry One Hundred Fifty-Nine

Entry One Hundred Fifty-Nine

Monday Sat., July 28                       Weather unmarked.

Dear Diary,

Today I worked in the yard. Then tonite I went roller skating with T.T. with Paul. Afterwards we went the Gaylords for refreshments, ping-pong, etc.

When Paul took me home he told me I was real cute & a bunch of other stuff. I’m crazy I know but it just didn’t affect me. Here he carried on about how nice I was & everything it didn’t even please me where-as if Bob would have just told me (he wasn’t there) it was a nice day I’ed get goose-pimples down & up my spine. Early in the evening Nancy told me Joan Sterns had told her that her & “Bob” were going out tomorrow evening. Nancy also said he went to a beach party tonite. Well, that started it. All night I kept thinking about him. And when Paul was kissing me good-night, I was thinking about Bob & what he was doing then & of all the good-times we’ve had together & how guilty I felt about kissing Paul. Then when I got in the house I started thinking more & more about Bob. And then absent-mindedly I started singing “I Wonder Whose Kissing Him Now” & “You Made Me Love You” and “I Wish I Didn’t Love You So” and now I realize another thing. When I used to come home from a date with Bob, I used to go straight to sleep. But with Paul, I have to wash & brush my teeth. I wonder if that means anything! Another thing, I’m beginning to appreciate the way Bob kissed me. It was much more smoother, softer, lighter, spine-tinglinger, etc. etc. When Paul kisses me, its blah, blaah & more blaah. On the whole it was a nice evening. Ritchie brock up with Zella. Hip-Hip-Hooray. I wonder why. I looked very nice in the new slacks I got yesterday. Got in at 12:50.

Editorial Note:

Oh, poor Lois. Just for kicks, try to envision Lois moping around her room singing “You Made Me Love You” and pretending she’s Doris Day, a la this amazingly Technicolor video:

Diary of Lois Elaine Jelin: Entry One Hundred Fifty-Seven

Entry One Hundred Fifty-Seven

Monday, July 21                   Weather marked as Clear.

Dear Diary,

Went in town to usher for 3 wishes for Jaime it was terrific.

Nancy’s party was a lot of fun. Played ping-pong –vollyball – bad-mintin & danced. Bob was there. Joan Sterns managed to stick her hooks into him. So when I saw what she had done I asked him if he would take me home. He sayed yes much against his will. Coming home (he took Joan home too of course) he took Joan home first as it was closer. As soon as he had walked her to her to her door, he came back. As we pulled away he started to tell me that “I was very inconsiderate and I knew darn well I could’ve gotten a ride home with someone else, and why in the world did I do it and for a girl that thought she had brains I sure acted awful.” I felt like telling him what kind of a girl Joan is, but I guess its up to him to find out for himself. He’s sure in for a big letdown. When he asked me why I did it I felt like telling him 7 little words. “All is fair, in love and war.” But I didn’t. I didn’t say a word coming home when we got to my house I opened my door & sayed good-night. He turn off the ignition & walked me to the door (almost that is—to the breeze way) he then sayed I should forget what he said. I then said “I guess you were right.” He said he was, said good-night & started to leave. I then sayed “would you like to know why I did it.” He sayed yes & I said “never mind – good-night – have a good time tomorrow.” I went straight to my room with out saying a word to the folks who were in the living room and for no reason at all I started crying. I got undressed & no sooner did I get into bed when mom came in. She asked what was the matter, I told her nothing that I just wanted to get to sleep as I was tired. I guess I didn’t sound very convincing as she persisted in asking what was wrong & why was I crying & who brought me home. I told her Bob did & she then asked if I was crying cause he didn’t kiss  me good-night or something like that. I said no which was the truth. She then asked if it were about some other guy I then told her that I’ve never cryed over any guy other than Bob & I wasn’t starting in now and as it was it was only the second time I was crying over him.

I hope he askes Joan out soon so he’ll find out as soon as possible how & what she really is. I still yern for him and long for his kisses and most of all his love.

Editorial Note:

Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium

Lois ushered for a production of Three Wishes For Jamie directed by Albert Lewis that was staged at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles. An integral facet of the architecturally significant ring around Pershing Square, the Auditorium was a Southern California belle until the L.A. Philharmonic left her for the flashier digs of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1964. This move sealed old Audi’s fate, and she met the wrecking ball in 1985 (because Los Angeles City Planners have no soul). For a touching tribute to the old dame, read this article from the Los Angeles Times titled ‘Mildred Pierce’ remembers downtown L.A.’s Philharmonic Auditorium.

Los Angeles Philharmonic Auditorium, Interior