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Studio of Edwin & Marcia Ward

Friday, February 17, 2017

JRM

















Cover Photo Montage - Marcia Ward
Original Photos for Cover Montage
       - Joe Kinneavey & Marcia Ward
13 Sounds  Cover Art - James Ryan Morris






People

                        better without
                        them,
                                    I thought once . . . /
                                   
                                    surrounded by assassins
                                    was the common reference.

                                           & so leaving
                        all of it behind

            I went away to here, this
            place
                        isolation and study
            the intention
            complete-
                                    but the nite falls
                                    across the empty glass
                                    & one wishes for speech

            no matter how stupid or hackneyed

            just that warmth
            which human exchange provides

                                    (from the mountains
                                    looking down,
                                    the lites prominent

            its understood why

            man built cities, came in from the cold
            settled next to another tongue



JRM

I first saw and heard the most influential man in my life, the man who wrote the poem, “People,” at Naropa University on the Pearl Street Mall in the summer of 1978. I had gone to the literary reading to hear William Burroughs, the famous beat novelist, but, as it turned out, William was indisposed; fortunately for me, another writer about whom I knew nothing and whose name I did not quite catch when introduced was asked by the host, Allen Ginsberg, to fill in. The Croupier Press had recently published the man’s book, 13 Sounds, a “greatest hits” if you will, thirteen selected poems that spanned a quarter of a century, to quote the intro: “A toast to the hipsters who remain!” Two poets, Gregory Corso and Antler, were also on the bill.

A novice poet myself I was hoping to take in this literary event to get an understanding of what “being a poet” actually meant. Besides the singer Bob Dylan, the only poet I had ever actually heard in person read poetry was John Ciardi, the poet, etymologist, translator and teacher who wrote the text about teaching poetry, How Does A Poem Mean. I was teaching high school English at the time and thought hearing Ciardi’s take on poetry might be useful. As there was a question and answer period after his reading (which I characterized as “ennui verbalized”), I asked Ciardi what he thought about Bob Dylan. His response that “Dylan is not a poet” convinced me that I need not buy his book, even though the school board would have reimbursed me.

Well, the night at Naropa the poet whose name I didn’t know was preceded first by Antler whose work was a smarmy take on Walt Whitman, a long lined hippy-esque homage to the decaying beauty of the American environment, and then by Gregory Corso who read some nonsense verse he had written while lecturing at Harvard, a mockery of classicism in the arts which I interpreted as jealousy of the intellect of Sappho and Homer. Having heard from a friend, Charlie Ross, a student at Naropa, that Corso took pride in denigrating Dylan, “Dylan’s not a poet, he’s a rhymer,” I must admit I paid the legendary Beat scant attention. And then the mystery Burroughs replacement took the stage and the patter of his vernacular take on poesy blew me away. Whereas I had found Antler utterly derivative (hence boring) and Corso a dismissive show-off (hence repugnant), this man was, for me, the real deal, a man celebrating friends and great art while giving the finger to peanut butter and jelly America. His delivery was quiet and songlike with his anger-turned-art bubbling, nay, seething, just below the surface of his vocalization. I felt like I was watching a true poet in action, hearing poetry live without musical accompaniment (as in Dylan), for the first time in my life. I was experiencing something that would color the rest of my life. I could not have imagined just how importantly this man whose name I had not bothered to take note of would figure in my life.

But, of course, after the reading I was soon back to the everyday world of waiting tables, courting my future wife, walking the dogs (a Malamute and a Labrador that an ex-girlfriend had saddled me with), and trying to figure out how poetry would ever lead to a living or lifestyle. At the time I had taken to reading poetry in public by going on stage while musicians went on break at street fairs and in nightclubs. At one street fair where I read between sets of the Robin Banks Band, Jessie Graf, a poet and member of Denver’s Society for the Advancement of Poetics, an alliance of poets that sponsored something called Denver Poets Day at Civic Center Park, approached me. He suggested I should read at the next POETS DAY, and that if I was up for it, he’d get me readings elsewhere. Naturally I was flattered and enthusiastic as I dreamed of becoming a famous poet. Denver Poets Day was a month out and I immediately began creating and memorizing and staging the poems I would recite.

Well, I show up at Denver Poets Day and I’m on fire with anticipation and pride in my new poems and my frenetic rapid cut machine gun style delivery; and, in my estimation, I do deliver. My set is well received and it takes a while for me to fall off cloud nine, but when I do come back to the here and now, my world takes a decided turn towards the very future I have lived. James Ryan Morris, the very man who had rocked my world in Boulder filing in for Burroughs, and a friend of his, Larry Lake, take the stage and, reading mano a mano, proceed to define for me the nature of friendship in the arts and poetry. Well, as it turns out I am so blown away by Morris and Lake’s reading that I become keenly aware of my amateur status as both a writer and performer. Whereas I had hoped I’d be well received, it was apparent Morris knew he would be. It was all in the precision of the writing, its intellect. Nothing was from the gut; nothing depended on the theatrics of his body, its motion, and its appearance. Simply said, all was in the words for poetry is about the poem, not the poet.

At the conclusion of Denver Poets Day, Jessie Graf lets me know that he has set up a reading for me at a Global Village, a folk music venue on Pennsylvania Street in the Wash Park hood run by the musician David Feretta.  As the hot shot new kid in town, I’m going to be appearing with no one other than the national cultural critic and the publisher of Denver’s late 60s Mile High and Underground newspaper and author of numerous books, James Ryan Morris. Thus begins my connection to this life as an artist I have lived.

First thing I did when I returned home later that day was to put everything I had ever written in the bottom of my old clothes drawer. I did not want my old work easily accessible or to have any influence upon what I might create as I intended to write in a completely different way, as Kerouac had done after reading a letter from Neal Cassady. “In the vernacular;” I told myself, “in my own voice.” Jessie Graf had also suggested that I introduce myself to Morris at some point, as Jimmy owned a bookstore, The Blacksmith, on 17th Avenue. And I did.

Our first meeting was a little strange. I was a bicycle rider in 1978 as I was always trying to keep up with the physicality of my new girlfriend Marcia, an avid bike rider, who was nine years my junior. When I arrived at Blacksmith Books, I was wearing a surgical mask as I wore one to keep the brown cloud, ubiquitous as it was in those days, out of my lungs. I was so nervous about meeting Morris that when I entered his storefront, I forgot to remove my mask as I approached the counter behind which Morris sat watching I LOVE LUCY on a small black and white TV. Averting his eyes from the TV, to see me approaching, he immediately pulled out from under the counter a handgun and pointed it at me, with a look in his incredibly blue eyes, the bluest I have ever seen, that could turn fire into ice. He said not a word; all I could hear was my own heart beating and the patter of Desi as he scolded Lucy about some silly faux pas. It was then I became aware of my own faux pas and removed my mask, apologizing: “Sorry, I wear it for riding my bike. I’m Ed Ward. We’re to read together at Global Village and I thought it best we meet.” Only when Morris saw my bike outside leaning against his storefront window, did he stow the handgun again under the counter. He then said, “You look nervous as hell. You need to calm down. Here, take one of these,” offering me an assortment of what I presumed to be downers. I recognized some little blue pills as Valium (my ex-wife, Carol, her choice of drug during our painful divorce) and took Morris up on his offer. I told myself this is one strange way to begin a friendship, as I washed down the little blue pills with a swig of his proffered Jack Daniels.

Two months later, after hanging out at the bookstore a number of times, talking poetry and art, I await our reading as only a novice about to read with a master can: in need of more Valium. But as it turns out, I never get to read with Jimmy as Morris dies two days before our reading, having overdosed on alcohol and barbiturates in his bed in his cabin in Wondervu. A week or so later I attend his funeral and burial at Dory Hill Cemetery outside Blackhawk at which old guard Denver bohemians from LA and Denver read poetry, sing songs, and play jazz; and I am introduced to them all as “the poet who was going to read with Jimmy,” a moniker that somehow gives me more street-cred that I deserve, and I become brother to a group of men and women most of whom are ten or twenty years my senior. Somehow, my immediate family that consisted of three sisters, one in Saint Louis, and two outside of Philadelphia, now consisted of dozens from Denver and Venice Beach California, a place I had never even been to.

A month later, however, I have reason to visit Venice as my ex-wife, the soon to be head of a Danish film company with headquarters in Beverly Hill that made B movies for European distribution (Frank Stallone who spent his teenage years in Tacony, where Carol and I grew up, was Carol’s “star” actor) had called to tell me that a dearly beloved dog I had raised, that she had gotten custody of, was in need of a new home as Dylan Dog snarled and growled every time her new husband, a coked up talent scout who placed guests on TV game shows, came home from work. “It’s either with you or to the shelter,” Carol had said, and Marcia and I flew to California to rescue my beloved Bearded Collie English Sheepdog mix. Prior to our departure, Diana Morris, Jimmy’s widow, had suggested that we visit an old friend of Jimmy’s from the 50s, Baza Alexander. So, as it was when I first met Jimmy Morris, it was with great anxiety that I stood outside the arched gateway of 1439 Cabrillo Avenue in Venice Beach. I wasn’t sure if my ringing the doorbell at the gate would interrupt an orgy or shooting gallery shenanigans, behaviors Morris had been into. But surprise, what I found was The Temple of Man, the most important organization to influence my take on art and life.

Today, almost 40 years later, Baza, who died in 1987, exerts still a strong influence upon me, an indelible mark on my soul, via my ordination into his Temple of Man whose premise that “Art is Love is God” - something the artist Wallace Berman wrote across the wall of Stuart Perkoff’s Venice West coffeehouse in 1959 - remains the guiding principle of my life. And to think, it all started with nervous Eddie asking David Smith of the Robin Banks band if he could take the stage between sets at a street fair outside the Oxford Hotel. Don’t know where I’d be today, had the singer said “No.” Chances are I wouldn’t be making money in my 60s writing and performing marriage ceremonies as a minister, hosting this event, writing stories, painting watercolors, or rehearsing my play, MY BEST SHOT, a docudrama that reenacts the scene and reading of Jimmy Morris and Larry Lake thirty nine years ago, something I’ll be staging for Denver Poets Day on August 6th this summer. Hope you can make it!







Wednesday, January 25, 2017

SCIBELLA SURPRISES



 Cover Photo Tony & Gayle at Black Ace Books on Colfax – Marcia Ward

Scibella Surprises


The artist, poet, bookstore proprietor and publisher of BLACK ACE BOOKS, not to mention famous beatnik, Tony Scibella, came into my life in the flesh in 1979 although the shadow of his stature as a major beat artist had preceded him. In photos I had seen, Tony’s look was half beatnik, half Hell’s Angel, intimidating and bigger than life; nonetheless, the first unexpected attribute he unveiled upon meeting him was his tenderness. Years later I’d call him Pope Tony for Christ-sake. If I badmouthed someone, he’d find a way to show me that I needed to be forgiving and inclusive and loving.

Because of my interest in poetry, especially Denver poetry, I was aware that Tony had authored poems and created art for Jimmy Morris’ 1968 & ’69 The Mile High Underground here in Denver, copies of which my first publisher, Larry Lake, had shared with me. Additionally, I’d read more than once Lawrence Lipton’s 1959 The Holy Barbarians, the first novel concerning the Venice Beach beatniks that fictionalized the life of Stuart Z Perkoff and his friends, Tony being one of them, Stuart’s best. I’d also read a number of Tony’s books published in Denver: ACE IS BLACK OF COURSE, BIG TREES, and TWO HUNDRED COPIES FOR MY FRIEND STUART all three of which reminded me that I was indeed, at best, an apprentice poet. Not only was Tony’s writing funny and charming and personal and truly in the vernacular, but it also demonstrated a personal action-painting, modern-day-text style spelling; I mean why write you when u should suffice. So I was expecting greatness when I scheduled Tony who would be visiting from LA to read at POEMS LIVE, the monthly literary event that Marcia and I hosted at Café Nepenthes on Market Street.  And Tony delivered. The room was already packed with old guard bohemians when Tony walked in accompanied by a dozen friends (a surprise given that poets I knew were generally loners); among them “The Dope Queen of Beverly Hills,” Marsha Getzler, and artists Bill Dailey, Michelle and Saul White, and Gayle Davis, all of whom had road tripped with Tony from Los Angeles, and Denverites Linda and Steve Wilson, Larry Lake, Barbara Sokol, Joe Kinneavy, Lenny Chernila, Gypsy Davis  (a minor character in On The Road) and Dave Lockman. I asked Tony how long his reading would be and he answered with a crisp, no nonsense “Forty-two minutes.” I had a cassette tape recorder that I had borrowed from an old girlfriend as I anticipated that Tony’s reading would be out of the ordinary. I popped a forty-five minute tape into the machine and affixed a microphone to the house microphone and wound up capturing in its entirety the first public reading of the first part of what would become Tony’s masterpiece THE KID IN AMERICA, which, surprise surprise was, indeed, forty-two minutes in length.

Over the course of the next dozen years Tony lived sometimes in Denver and sometimes in Los Angeles and we became fast friends with me publishing some of his poems and some of Gayle Davis’ (his second wife) art in my literary magazine, PASSION PRESS. I also serialized the middle portions of THE KID IN AMERICA in the art magazine that I edited POINT. In addition, I produced a number of readings for Tony during his Denver years and was always amazed and surprised that he never once repeated himself, producing fresh work for every show. “No restin’ on yr laurels, Matie!” was something he used to crack wise. Another of my favorite Tony sayings “Don’t tell no one” attested to his belief that art was created for oneself and one’s friends, not for the world at large, something I took to heart believing like Tony that anonymity is one of the keys to remaining true to yourself and true to your muse, with whom, as Tony liked to point out, you’d sign a contract when you first called yourself a poet, a contract that Tony would add was “for life.” Whenever I visited LA while Tony lived there, we’d usually cross paths at Marsha Getzler’s Beverly Hills house, as Tony and Saul White and Bill Dailey were the artisan artists who converted what had once been an outbuilding on the estate of a Katherine Hepburn – the “cabin” was used for illicit liaisons  - in to what is currently The Temple of Man, a hillside home brimming with the written and visual art of California and Colorado greats. Tony painted the bathroom shower tile in his inimitable style; unfortunately, no one could shower in it for years because the waterproof fixative he used to set the paint never quite dried!

Whenever Tony came to Denver while living in LA, he was always full of surprises. In 1988 he came to read poetry at a Steve Wilson Exhibition Marcia and I produced at Gallery Bwanna on Blake Street. He had what appeared to be a small poem in his hand that turned into a twenty-page poem that unfolded Orihon-style, like a Chinese folding book. He had a one day art show at Jerry’s Records on East Colfax where the walls and the album covers on them were covered with white butcher block paper to which Tony pinned twenty-some artworks, all of which he gave away at the end of the day. When he officiated at the marriage of Barbara and Larry Lake, he conducted the shortest ceremony in the history of marriage, even shorter than a Las Vegas drive through ceremony: “Believing in the dance we do, done it is done, we are one.”

In the early nineties Tony returned again to Denver from LA, primarily to help Bill Dailey in his final months as Bill was dying from cancer. Tony moved in with Bill who lived in a mobile home situated on the Platte River in Littleton, a living situation that Tony’s first wife, Sam Scibella had arranged. After Bill died Tony stayed. At the time I was hosting the Friday night Poetry Readings at The Mercury Café and I eventually cajoled Tony into attending. He had balked at attending because they started at 10 PM, a little late for the early riser that Tony had become, but my suggestion that Tony “take a fuckin’ nap” worked. Tony so enjoyed the Friday Night readings that he eventually took over my roll as host in 2001 when I retired after ten years of weekly smoky late night adventures in the word trade.

Which leads me to two of the women in Tony’s life. Kate Makkai and Gayle Davis.

Tony met Kate at the first Friday night poetry reading at The Merc he attended. It was an open reading and when he arrived he asked if there was anyone he should be sure not to miss. Looking at my sign up sheet, I suggested that he be sure to hear Kate Makkai, as I was in the process of publishing her first book, Pink. In fact the first time I had heard Kate read I had told her, “You might not believe this, but I’m going to publish your first book” because she obviously had the gift. I remember checking Tony out as Kate read, trying to gauge his impression of the young writer who was some forty years Tony’s junior. The grin on Tony’s face assured me that I was not alone in my assessment of Kate’s talent.  The following Monday I had reason to visit Tony and I drove to Meadowwood Village in Littleton. The crowded trailer park assigned two parking spaces to each trailer and I was surprised to find both of Tony’s spaces occupied. I wondered who would be visiting Tony at 9 AM on a Monday morning. The answer was a surprise: Kate Makkai. Her first visit would eventually evolve into her moving into the trailer within a month. The pedestal Tony put Kate on was so high she could see California! For the next year or two Tony would be Kate’s “mentor” and Kate would be Tony’s muse. Tony was so bemused by Kate that he asked me that first morning in the trailer to hold up publication of Kate’s book until he finished THE KID IN AMERICA, the poem he’d been working on since 1976. I must have asked Tony a dozen times when he was going to finish THE KID and he always said, “Hey, what’s the hurry.” Now he promised to wrap it up within the week so I could publish PINK and THE KID simultaneously, a feat Tony, in fact, accomplished by writing the final part, an apology/homage to the women of the Venice Beach beat era, something that Kate’s presence in his life had prompted. And I’m sure that Tony’s presence in Kate’s life prompted her to write “Pretty,” which, today, is the most viewed poem on U TUBE, which had, the last time I looked, over three million four hundred thousand views.

Tony’s second wife, Gayle Davis, is to this day one of my favorite artists and people. Gayle was and still is many things. For starters, she was the head cheerleader at Hollywood High. Ms Davis was a talented dancer who studied in Denver with the Martha Graham dancer, Jane Tannenbaum; Gayle had also been a notoriously famous naked go-go dancer in Los Angeles in the late 60s.  She is a dance clothing designer and owns M Stevens Design in LA where she employs dozens of seamstresses and manufactures dance wear for people like Cher’s dance accompanists. A fabulous artist, I always looked forward to Gayle’s hand drawn Christmas cards. Believe it or not, she was one of the first Penthouse centerfolds; today the issue featuring Gayle is the most sought after issue. A leading lady in a number of B movies, she starred opposite among others, the great football star of the 60s, Jimmy Brown. And curiously, she was even Elvis Presley’s girlfriend, something I only found out after knowing Gayle for twenty some years, something I learned after Tony Scibella’s memorial when sitting around my motel room with Gayle and Tony’s children from his first marriage, Anna Scibella teased Gayle “Tell us about Elvis. Tell us about Elvis.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, and Gayle told the tale of how she became Elvis’ girlfriend and arm candy for his triumphant return to Vegas. Despite her flirtatious presence and star quality, Gayle is a shy person. She generally attached herself to men (Like Tony with his leather jacket, big beard biker looks) who were more her protectors than lovers, men who had excessive machismo, men who would make the Hollywood wolves think twice about approaching her. To escape the whirlwind that was her life in those days of moviemaking and Penthouse modeling, Gayle used to ride her bike out to the Santa Monica airport where her father had a hanger for his small plane. She’d lie on the grass out of sight behind the hanger, out of sight of the world. Just watching the clouds roll by and the planes come and go granted her a respite from the world that wanted so much from her. One afternoon as she lay there, the shadow of a man changed the light of the sky. Looking up at him, she had no idea who he was, but he chatted her up politely and sweetly and endearingly. After a few minutes she became intrigued with the kindness of his demeanor, and when he finally asked her about a date, she said “Yes.” “How about coming to Tahoe with me for the weekend with some friends?” She told the stranger first she have to take her bike home and inform her parents what was up and get some clothing for the weekend. With that Elvis Presley walked Gayle Davis to Frank Sinatra’s waiting limo and they plunked her bike into the trunk, drove to her parents house, and then left for a weekend that turned into much more as Gayle was with Elvis for his entire Vegas comeback tour. Keep in mind I knew Gayle twenty-five years when I first learned about her relationship with Elvis. A surprise it was that she never thought to mention it.

So there have always been surprises when it comes to the life and friends of Tony Scibella. A year or so after Tony’s death I’m researching all things beat on the internet and I come across a Walter Cronkite interview conducted in the late fifties. Walter is interviewing Stuart Perkoff, the proprietor of Café West, ground central for hip in 1959 LA and who had recently charmed America with his appearance on Groucho Marx’s YOU BET YOUR LIFE.  The Pacific Ocean is the soundtrack for the interview and on occasion, Stuart’s unnamed friend answers a question or two. No surprise, it is the voice of Tony that is heard.

To this day, there are a dozens of young (OK, they’re now in their thirties) poets, men and women, who sport Black Ace tattoos on their forearms. I’ve encountered them in grocery stores and bars and art events. And when I ask about the tattoo, it turns out that many of them never even met Tony. Somehow the anonymity that Tony nurtured morphed, surprisingly, into an almost cult like following.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

ANGELO




Cover photography – Marcia Ward
Angelo

A feisty – or should I say fiery – first generation Italian from Paterson New Jersey, Angelo di Benedetto was an artist who set the bar high in Colorado when he moved to Central City after World War II. He was temperamental, once knocking Jack Kerouac down because the at-the-time seemingly homophobic author insulted an opera singer who Kerouac believed was flirting with Angelo. During the War-to-End-All-Wars Angelo never used a weapon; an aerial photographer and cartographer in the campaign against Rommel in Africa he later served as an artist whose task it was to disguise Manhattan. “Disguise Manhattan, what does that mean?” you might ask. Well, the deceptive aspect of art can be very useful in war and the United States employed artists to trick their enemies. Cardboard tanks would be built and set on hillsides and the sound of tanks maneuvering would be broadcast loudly in the hopes of directing enemy firepower in the direction of unmanned positions. The rooftops of strategic buildings would be painted to look like something else or camouflaged so as to be unrecognizable. At one point Angelo came up with a smoke and mirrors scheme to disguise Manhattan in the event German bombers ever got as far as the skies above New York. When I asked Angelo in 1987 about the artful trickery he told me his plan was still classified, and he was not at liberty to discuss it. Too bad it wasn’t in play in September of 2001.

I met Angelo in 1979 when he sculpted a grave marker for the poet James Ryan Morris. Jimmy and Angelo and the filmmaker Stan Brakhage all lived in Gilpin County – Morris in Wondervu, Angelo in Central City, and Brakhage in Rollinsville – and they were pals, artists and intellectuals who would talk on the phone for hours at the local rate of ten cents a call. Cabin fever is real when you live in the mountains, and during the bitter cold long night-short days of winter, they would explore ideas and rage against bourgeois art and, in the case of Brakhage and Morris, government funded art. Brakhage told me that when he made a short film of Morris playing the roll of Doc Holliday, it was the most dangerous behind the camera experience he ever had as Morris carried and fired a loaded gun for the shoot and possessed an existential drug-addicted stance to match Holliday’s. Stan told me that filming Morris as Doc was “Even more dangerous than filming calving icebergs from a canoe where death would be instantaneous should the canoe overturn and dump you in the water.”

Well, Angelo’s tombstone sculpture consisted of a pair of moons, a quarter and a full, welded a top three steel rods affixed to a ground level nameplate that read POET. The large full moon was somewhat bowl shaped and the smaller quarter moon that fronted it was flat. At six feet in height the tombstone resembled a sculptural expressionist’s take on a poet’s lyre; the play of shadow and light on the sculpture itself was almost musical as the sun progressed across the sky. I was part of the volunteer beatnik crew who helped poor the concrete to set the sculpture on the southern side of the hill in Dory Hill Cemetery outside Blackhawk Colorado. At the time there was a rusty iron revolving gate that you’d pass through to enter the cemetery grounds and Morris’ tombstone to the left near the top of the hill was a visual complement to the eerie metal on metal creaking sounds of the gate as it revolved. You just knew you were entering a not so ordinary otherworldly place.

That day of the sculpture installation I also met a young woman, Kelley Simms, who assisted Angelo. A talented artist herself, Kelley was both Angelo’s assistant and muse. Almost instantly Kelley and my wife became fast friends, the result of which was that we, Marcia and I, became good friends of Angelo as well. Our friendship was further cemented when I hooked up Angelo with a regular customer of mine at The Boston Half Shell where I waited tables, whom I overheard talking art. Against my better judgment and contrary to waiter etiquette I interrupted Charlie Barnett (Charlie was a wealthy scrap metal entrepreneur and an over the top Bronco fan (he personally had coined the phrase “Orange Crush”), butting into his conversation with my assertion that I was friends with the greatest living Colorado artist and that if he was interested I would set up a meeting and tour of Angelo’s studio, which, as it turned out, happened the very next day. Before we’d been in Central City an hour Angelo had a check for thousands in his hands because my call party customer friend Charlie Barnett bought a few small paintings and a large assemblage for his office consisting of arranged polished brass gear wheels on an orange panel that resembled – in Charlie’s mind - a offensive football play diagram. A win-win for everyone, well everyone except me. When all was said and done, I must admit, I harbored a little resentment that neither Angelo nor Charlie had tipped me for making it all happen. But I got over getting stiffed and put it in my bank of petty grievances under the column marked Oversights and Slights of Others.

Well, over the next decade I visited with Angelo many times and we talked art and the politics of art in his studio atop the Mermaid Café. I learned of his friendship with scientists like Einstein and artists like Diego Rivera and of coming to grips with fame when, in 1940, paintings Angelo had created in Haiti were centered folded in Life Magazine. Together we co-produced multi-media art events in both Denver and Central City. The same year we met we were simultaneously awarded Colorado Arts Awards from the James Ryan Morris Society – Angelo for art and me for poetry.

The building where Angelo lived and worked, which he had purchased when he originally arrived in Colorado, was the largest building in Central City, having been built to house a mining-supplies warehouse during the boom times of the Colorado gold and silver mining industry. To this day, it is still the largest building in Central City. Outside of major museums I had never seen so much art in one place. Sculptures, paintings, drawings and assemblages, monumental and small, filled the cavernous building. Of special note were some sixty large conte crayon studies of the figures used in, at the time of its making, the largest mural in the United States; Angelo and his assistant Phyllis Montrose painted legal giants from history on asbestos concrete panels for the ceiling of the breezeway of the Colorado Judicial Building at Thirteenth and Broadway in Denver. The mural was 3000 square feet of art weighing 7400 pounds! Everything outside the studio – outside being a steep slope with a cruel pitch - was artfully divine as well: I’m talking birdbaths and bird feeders and fountains and fences and furniture. Stonework was reminiscent of Ireland and no item’s placement was haphazard. Within his personal space, his kitchen table was utterly like no other because over the years dozens of visitors had carved their names or initials into its surface and his visitors were some-bodies, both local and international. Summers when American high society visited Central City to attend the opera at The Teller House, invitations to supper at Angelo’s studio were sought after. Eating garlic pasta at Angelo’s with Kelley and Angelo and Marcia and looking at the names carved into the oak table I came to realize that the very seat that supported my humble Irish ass once supported the asses of America’s greatest cultural stars. Marcia sat where the burlesque entertainer famous for her striptease act, Gypsy Rose Lee, liked to sit.

Well, the last years of Angelo’s life were hard as are most everyone’s. He had always been a prominent figure both in Colorado and in Central City and against the prevailing and naive opinion that gambling is good he fought the arrival of state sponsored gambling and lost. He sold then refused to sell his building, a bad faith renege that cost him dearly. He had been dealing with cancer but a stroke took him away in 1992. When his sister arrived from the East Coast to sort out his affairs she contacted me and asked if I would conduct a memorial for Angelo. Because Angelo had been one of the prime movers in the creation of the sculpture park in Burns Park at Colorado and Alameda Boulevards – his is the large yellow double arched sculpture - we held his memorial there on a Sunday afternoon. Hundreds attended and I was witness to one of the most unplanned cinematic events of my life. It rained off and on all day. Setting up the gear for the event – we’re talking gasoline generators for power and a PA for the musicians and speakers was difficult. The event was scheduled for 4 PM and it was still raining on and off when that time rolled around. Every available space near the park where a car could be parked was occupied and the small parking lot on the south end held five times the amount of cars it was built for. And when I turned on some music to announce that the stage was set, hundreds of people who had taken shelter from the intermittent rains got out of the cars and advanced en masse down the small slope at the south end of the park, all carrying umbrellas. A moving quilt of a myriad of colors approached, an unplanned Cristo like happening if you get my drift. And then at 4:15 when everyone was ready, the sun came out!

A week or so after the memorial Angelo’s sister contacted me and told me that because Angelo’s remaining art had been catalogued and already appraised for tax purposes I, along with any of Angelo’s friends who might like to purchase something from the collection, could come to Angelo’s studio. Angelo’s art had always sold for high dollars, well beyond the financial reach of me and my friends; but because the family was trying to escape paying a huge inheritance tax bill, everything, she said, had rock-bottom prices. Sculptures and paintings that had sold for thousands were priced in the hundreds. Drawings were even less. So along with a number of di Benedetto aficionados I went and indulged myself and came to owning a number of paintings and drawings and sculptures, two of which need further explanation.

When my friends and I were about to leave the studio, Angelo’s nephew remembered that there were a number of paintings not on display that he had found just that morning, paintings which had escaped the scrutiny of the IRS and the purview of the art dealer who was handling the art of the estate. The nephew had been walking across the floor of the top studio where Angelo did most of his sculpting and he heard a strange squeak emanating from the floorboards. He recalled that Angelo had told him once that “a poor artist was one who sold everything,” and so the thought of a secret stash came to mind. And, sure enough, a thorough scrutiny of the squeaking hard wood floor revealed an access point where with the aide of a large screwdriver he unearthed a stash of some thirty canvases rolled into a log, most of which Angelo had painted in the 1930s before joining the military and before his Haitian experience that had catapulted him to fame. The stash of paintings had obviously been hidden the entire time Angelo lived in Central City, works he obviously cherished for personal reasons. Most were realistic oil portraits of the avant-garde of Broadway circa the early 30s: actors, writers, Prima Donnas, opera singers and musicians, the New York artistic intelligentsia if you will, who looked the parts they played in American culture with wild hairdos, clothing and appurtenances. But two of the paintings were like no other. Painted in 1937, they were a pair of Diego Rivera-esque murals illustrating a di Benedetto family farm in Connecticut circa the early Twentieth Century. In one the farmers were clean-shaven unadorned men and women, plainly dressed, who looked as if they just arrived from Italy fresh off the boat, tilling and planting a hillside in spring with manual implements and an open book. In the next the autumnal hillside was prolific with fruits and vegetables ready for harvest and the farmers had grown into their true selves with beards and mustaches, forsaking the clean cut look they’d employed to pass through Ellis Island.  As they were not priced I offered the nephew a C note each for the pair because they were the same size as paintings priced likewise. He accepted my offer because of what I’d done for the family in terms of arranging the memorial and I walked away with what I’m sure were two of Angelo’s most prized possessions, things he had hidden because he did not want to sell them, because he did not want to be a poor artist, an almost other worldly chain of events starting with, if you will, a squeak from beyond the grave that more than made up for me not getting a percentage of the deal I brokered a decade earlier.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

A MIX of PHYSICS, ALCOHOL, GAMBLING, JIMI HENDRIX, BOB DYLAN and SEX: THESE THINGS DON'T NECESSARILY ADD UP TO LOST VIRGINITY


Cover art – Edwin Forrest Ward

A Mix of Physics, Alcohol, Gambling,
Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Sex:
These Things Don’t Necessarily Add Up
to Lost Virginity

A little more than fifty years ago, in the summer of 1966, I was working for the Atomic Energy Commission in an unpublicized basement laboratory of the Customs Building on Houston Street in Manhattan. Drexel University had arranged the prestigious paid internship as I was, at the time, majoring in Physics at Drexel. The six month commitment involved intellectual and spiritual challenges - I mean there was a war going on in Viet Nam and I was working for the government responsible for the war; there was also petty conflict – my three math major roommates and I couldn’t really come up with a satisfactory formula for a division of labor, for sharing our one bedroom apartment in Queens. Add to this the uneasy euphoria of living away from my inner city row home (and mother) in Philadelphia for the first time in a place where the drinking age was eighteen. Throw a wonderful young woman of a girlfriend who was very much in love with me into the mix and I was overwhelmed with prospects and commitments and confusion. Not to mention I was Catholic.

At the time of my internship I paid more attention to Bob Dylan than I did to my studies, my work at The A.E.C. and my faith (or lack of). Bobbie D truly seemed to be the prime mover in changing my world.  He was responsible for bringing white America – people like myself who grew up in uber segregated overtly racist Philadelphia into the Civil Rights Movement and singing a language that could be employed to protest injustice in America and abroad. Two years earlier at The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech was followed by Dylan singing “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “Only a Pawn in Their Game.” Whereas I had memorized all the words to every Dylan song released at the time (some 90 or so), I could not recite – other than E=MC squared - any of the differential equations and quantum theorems necessary to express an understanding of modern physics. I originally had chosen physics as my major because I wanted to rock the world as I believed Einstein had in 1905. I sought someday to shed new light on the nature of things (and people) and change understandings of how the world works. Also, practically speaking, what better way to wow the women of my dreams is there than Einstein-ing them? “I’m majoring in Physics” had the kind of cache that I believed got a girl’s attention. That’s how I had met Ann at a college mixer in the spring of 1966.

Ann was a bright-eyed blonde who went after what she wanted with a fierceness that was beyond the norms of 1966. And she wanted me. She’d do most anything to be with me. She lied to her mother and father, climbed out her bedroom window to rendezvous with me after her exceedingly protective parents went to sleep, stole cartoons of Kool cigarettes for me from the Mom & Pop store where she worked part time, cut classes at Beaver College to play Frisbee with me when I was out of class, and had friends lie to cover for her when she came for the weekend to visit me in New York. Put crudely yet succinctly, Ann had more balls than the entire Rugby team at Drexel.

As I shuffled through my days at the AEC – measuring particulate matter in the air in ventilation systems pre and post filtration – something as uninspiring as the office politics that surrounded me, I knew I already was on my way to the underground where there was “darkness at the break of noon,” where there was poetry not physics, where there was love not war, where there was art not religion, where there was risk not steady employment. Ann – or what she represented – meant more than cold fusion. Love meant more than a new unified theory of the universe.

At the time my sister Carol worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad as a keypunch operator; not the greatest of jobs, but one that came with passes for all family members to ride the Pennsylvania Railroad; hence, I could travel for free from Philly to New York and vice versa. Most weekends, for reasons of economy, I went home. I needed to save as much money as I could from my job, in order to pay my tuition, as my family had not the means to do so. I kid you not when I say: my family was never more than a dollar or two ahead.

On Fridays, during the ninety-minute train ride from Grand Central to Philly, I usually played pinochle for money with a bunch of older men. Initially they took me for a novice card player whom they hoped to fleece, but a novice I was not. I’d been playing pinochle with my family since I was seven years old. My parents and sisters and I played for pennies and the focus-as-a-family playing cards allows, whereas the guys on the train played for dollars and the braggadocio that playing cards allows. We snarked, broke balls, bragged, and snide-commented our way the entire train ride as we shuffled, cut, dealt, bid, played and wooed the three card kitty; the patter of card playing Philadelphia wise-guys belongs to a universe where Roberts’ Rules of Order don’t apply, and feeling like one of the older men - counting cards, counting trump, counting losers, counting suits, counting coo, gambling and winning money, bragging about Irish luck, plying the card skills I’d learned from my mother – was exponentially more rewarding than the prestige of my Atomic Energy Commission credentials.  Fortunately, rare was the time that I didn’t arrived at Holmesburg Station in Northeast Philly without having double or tripled in an hour and a half the pay I’d received for working forty hours at the AEC, thereby learning early that there are ways outside the norm to make a buck. I had January’s tuition in the bank by October! Punching a time clock was not nearly as thrilling as making a forty hand - against all odds - in spades, a sort of differential equation I took to heart.

As I said, Dylan was the hat I wore although I did have hair like Einstein; thus when Ann came to stay with me for an overnight in July of 1966, after rendezvousing at Grand Central, we chased after music and poetry, not science. After drinking  half of the bottle of wine I had concealed in a paper bag, we went in search of the ghost of Bob Dylan, to Greenwich Village on a hot summer Saturday night and paid two eight dollar covers to enter the Cafe Wha?, where a coke was another eight dollars, and where a skinny twenty-four year old black kid with hair curlier than mine wearing blue denim bibbed overalls sat in a corner with a pair of guitars, a microphone, and an amplifier with a reel-to-reel on the floor. He exhorted the audience – mostly suburban kids from Jersey – to get enthusiastic because a demo was going to be recorded this night and crowd appreciation would go along way to his getting, as he said “that contract in the sky.” I had been expecting an acoustic Dylan-esque folk scene – as I knew that Dylan had played his first gig in New York City in this very room in 1962, but what ensued was like nothing I had ever heard. The guitar playing was ear dazzling and driven and mad and improvisational and outrageous while the singing was sensual and intimate. “Crazy, wild, psychedelic, sexy, furious” is what Ann said. I was too blown away for words. The guitar player’s name scribed in gold and silver across his black guitar case was spelled strangely: Jimi.

Now after the show, Ann and I returned to my place in Queens. It being the weekend, my roommates were not around, as they regularly went home to their parents in Jersey and Maryland and Pennsylvania, meaning Ann and I would have the pad to ourselves and we would probably get around to the elephants in the room of our relationship: our virginity. Of course we were not virgins when it came to orgasms. But sex as in copulation was just not something we had had the opportunity to partake of. In cars and movie theaters and on blankets at the beach, these are not places where full nudity and penetration are going to happen. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out as dreamed.

When we climbed into bed a bit tipsy from our finishing off the wine, dizzy with Hendrix sounding in our heads, enthusiastic and shy with the puppy love that we owned, inexperienced with nudity and flesh against flesh, it so happened that we when we began to embrace, skin to skin, and kiss, I got had the most monstrous erection I would ever have. And when Ann took me in her hands I had the most monstrous ejaculation I most likely would ever have. Embarrassed by my inability to control myself and by the amount of cum that seemed to come from me and cover Ann’s stomach and thighs, my ego was tattered and my manhood so spent there was no way on earth I would be able to penetrate her safely, if at all, and thus I resorted to something I had only fantasized about: the cunning linguist within orchestrating an intense climax for Ann. Spent and satisfied - however awkward our technique - we felt bliss . . .  and, upon reflection, blessed in a strange 1960’s parochial Catholic sort of way: the silver lining amidst the cloud of a bungled first-time was that we were able to bring virginity to the people we would later meet and marry. To this day, I can still see Jimi in his overalls playing guitar strings with his teeth and with the brass buttons of his outfit and I can envision Ann in her birthday suit, so beautiful, so willing, so loving. Sadly, not long after this Jimi-Hendrix-not-five-feet-away-from-me-CaféWha?-Saturday-night experience fifty years ago, Ann and I broke up for no good reason. Puppy love is after all only puppy love no matter how pure and intense.

And because I do believe in “taking what you have gathered from coincidence,” it must be noted that some fifty years after I heard, really heard, music for the first time in my life, after not losing my virginity, and not getting Ann pregnant as would most likely have happened given our lack of contraception and our Catholic belief that making love was purest when engaged in for the purpose of procreation, a grandson was born to me whose name is Jonah Hendrix!


Monday, October 24, 2016

Doobie


cover photo - Marcia Ward


Doobie

as always for Marcia

This story is not about the rock band, The Doobie Brothers; likewise, it does not concern itself with reefer madness. The only music it references is quacking and the only pot in the story would be a reference in the description of the belly of its principal character, our “pot-bellied” drake.

When my youngest son was a sophomore at East High in Denver, he, along with twenty other students, won a lottery in biology class. Zenith Star was very excited about his lottery win and asked if he could accept the prize, a fertilized duck egg. Accepting an egg would be easy; accepting what might hatch would be a wee bit trickier because the behavior and longevity of pets is not easy to predict. I mean, I’ve had dogs and cats and birds that have shared decades with me, and knowing nothing of ducks, I was leery to say “Yes” to the prospect of a duck taking up residence in my back yard. I mean, I already knew the ropes when it came to teenagers and pet responsibilities: all in for a day or so, but by week’s end, all responsibility would be on Marcia and me. I had already disappointed my son on numerous occasions with my refusal to get him a dog, an easy “No” on my part because he was enamored of pit bulls; nonetheless, with great reluctance and much trepidation, I bowed to the pressure of Marcia’s and Zenith’s pleading eyes and agreed to accepting the egg from his teacher.

Meanwhile back in Paul Harbaugh’s biology class, twelve of twenty duck eggs hatched. By day two, nine of the twelve hatchlings died, yet, as luck would have it, Zenith’s duckling lived and the tiny baby got to go home with him on a Friday afternoon. Saturday morning found me buying a dog house at Home Depot, a sack of turkey chow at a feed store in Aurora, and a plastic kiddie swimming pool at Target, totaling close to two hundred dollars for a duckling that didn’t weigh a pound, a duck which by Monday had doubled in size, and which seemed to double in size every two days for a week plus.

The duckling that Zenith named Doobie was a domestic Mallard, the kind of bird that is bred to be fattened up and eaten Peking style in about six months, not a duck to fly the sky-ways and swim the river-ways. As it turned out, however, Doobie got to float the kiddie pool and roam the back yard and sleep in the dog house for close to four years, and, despite my initial reservations, I found him to be one of the most fantastic and loving pets I have ever had the pleasure of caring for, although, I must say, he was a menace when he was horny. He was also more intelligent than you can imagine.

The everyday routine of caring for Doobie was written in stone. First thing in the morning we (mostly Marcia, the earlier riser) would refill his turkey chow bowl in the yard. Next the duck would be let out of the locked dog house where he’d spent the night safe from the neighborhood predators – there was a fox den in the sewer intake around the corner at 12th and Glencoe and a raccoon could occasionally be seen midnights scampering along our privacy fence. Now Doobie was very amorous and much effort had to be put into avoiding his attempts at affection, i.e., taking a nibble on any exposed skin. It was a wild dance we did, fending off his duck kisses. In late spring and early summer when male ducks are in heat, mornings after unlocking the dog house door, Marcia would literally race back into our house screaming “No no no” because Doobie somehow just knew her to be female and he wanted to mount her feet and get intimate with her ankles, his intent obvious given the lightning bolt appearance of his eight-inch long corkscrew penis. Proof of his frenzied rapture were Marcia’s puckered ankles and the scar above my right eye that looks like a birthmark, the result of him planting an affectionate smooch on my forehead with the bristle-like serrated edges of his bill that ducks use to filter the bugs out of water. Had his aim been a few inches lower, I’d be looking like a one-eyed pirate. After a morning wandering and scouring the grass of the yard for insects and such, Doobie’s afternoons were generally spent serenely floating in the pool enjoying the treats we added: lettuce, cabbage, bread and similar duck edibles. Sometime during the day (when Doobie wasn’t amorous) we’d change the duck poop laden newspapers that lined the doghouse. Such summer stench was nauseating and the chore was no one’s favorite, especially when bent over as was necessary to accomplish the task, what with one’s butt and ankles prone to attack. Another true chore was the replacement of the water in the pool, something we did with an immersed sump pump; fortunately, the duck waste fertilized water was spread on our lawn and flower gardens and was an unexpected benefit. At night the duck routine would end when we locked him up at sundown.

But as I said, Doobie was also caring and intelligent. He loved to be held on one’s lap and petted. He quacked quietly and nuzzled deep into our embrace whenever we indulged him. His down and feathers presented a soft and rare chance for such unique tactility. He also was respectful and never once did he give chase to our cat that spent hours in the yard with him at a safe distance perched on a windowsill or on a fence post. The cat had a way of examining the backyard scene every time she went outside, making sure Doobie was not within pecking distance of the opened door before cat-sprinting to a place beyond reach of the duck. One of my favorite things about Doobie was that he thought Marcia and I were his parents, because when he first arrived we were his caretakers. OK, we didn’t teach him to swim but we did teach him to heed our call. When ever I returned home to an empty house and quietly entered the back yard, no matter how quiet I had been, Doobie was immediately either on a happy waddle towards me, or, if he had been floating in the pool, he’d raise up with his wings and practically dance on the water in delight at my presence, his webbed feet splashing the surface water in a spray of delight. His “Welcome home Daddy” was as heart-warming as that of any pet I’ve ever had! Doobie’s eyes would literally sparkle with joy as he skirted the edges of the pool on dancing webbed feet or lay snuggling against my shoes imploring me to pet and ruffle him. And when it came to his birdbrain, well, he did, in fact, actually teach me a thing or two.

We kept his pool beside of our back yard’s southern fence, where grew an abundance of Virginia Creeper vine. Now ducks love certain grasses and the leaves of many plants although Doobie had no truck with Virginia Creeper. Once upon arrival home I went into the yard to find Doobie floating about, and I expected his usual dancing on the water welcome, but got only a mean stare. In fact his intense glowering more than got my attention given its unusual fierceness. Then he paddled over to the Virginia Creeper at poolside and pulled off the vine a mouthful of the inedible Creeper leaves. Then he literally spit the leaves in my direction, as if to communicate, “I can’t eat this. Go in the house and get me some damn lettuce.” In fact, he repeated this action twice, before I understood and acted on his pantomimed message. When I returned to the yard with a handful of lettuce and stale bread, I got the dance-on-water webbed feet routine I was so fond of, and Dobbie quacked a quack-quack that almost sounded like “Thank You.” He seemed to be gloating in the knowledge that ducks can teach an old Dad new tricks. His communication with me had been spot on.

Sadly, the fourth of July in 2002 marked the end of Doobie’s backyard life, an Independence Day tragedy that I think of to this day when I hear fireworks exploding. Marcia and I were visiting her parents in Wyoming for the holiday weekend. We left our high school senior son in charge of Doobie. As we should have foreseen, Zenith Star took the opportunity to party with his high school buds, returning home late on a Saturday night. When he went to the yard to secure Doobie for the night, the duck was nowhere to be found. Just a few feathers scattered about the yard. But no tragedy is simple and Zenith missing sundown to secure the duck was not the only factor in our duck’s demise. Ella, our cat at the time, was the kind of spoiled brat cat that wanted in the house and then out into the night yard all evening long. She’d scratch at the door every ten minutes wanting to come back in to eat a nugget or two of dry cat food in the kitchen and then scratch the wood of our back door to go back out. And because we loved her so, we accommodated her. But getting up and down every ten minutes became so annoying that I had taken to leaving a bowl of cat food on our picnic table, out of Doobie’s reach, where Ella could intermittently nibble to her heart’s content. That the bowl was empty every morning should have alerted me to the fact that some hungry marauding critter was eating nightly whatever Ella left uneaten. My guess is that I had been attracting the neighborhood fox with the aroma of cat chow. And under an exploding fireworks sky, the neighborhood fox had celebrated scoring a hearty meaty meal. For years after Doobie’s disappearance, Ella looked for him every time she went outside. As do I, still.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

LIZ


Liz

as always for Marcia 



Liz, and I don’t mean Taylor, one of the world’s best actresses, is a rarity. Well, I would think so, as I expect there are not too many who go to the extremes she has gone to in order to ply her craft in walking this world.

When I first met Liz she was dating an actor/director friend of mine, and, boy, did she ever look the part of the aspiring actress: sophisticated, literate, wealthy, glamorous, stylish, beautiful, sexy, and clever as a sardonic screenwriter; Liz simply oozed star potential. Her steel blue eyes were always drinking in everyone and everything around her. After flirting with the stage she took up writing in earnest and began writing magazine articles, mostly historical and journalistic. I remember a documentary film script she wrote about Colorado trains that was produced by PBS. In the late 80s, although Liz was in her late thirties, she lived on her exceedingly wealthy elderly father’s ranch near Parker Colorado as her Dad required assistance. But once she hit forty Liz hired a house keeper/caretaker for her father as she had decided to go for a big-league career and she started bouncing about, a year in LA, a year in San Francisco, and the next decade with dual residences, with apartments in both the Upper West Side of New York and one in Moscow’s Kitay-Gorod neighborhood, a stone’s throw from the Kremlin. She smoozed with the New York intelligensia and nouveau rich free Russians. In the mid-90s, she began digging deeply into Russian culture and the dynamics of new non-Soviet Russian wealth, and her essays and reviews concerning art and economics began appearing in The Wall Street Journal and sundry then-new conservative on-line magazines. Liz especially enjoyed demonizing the Federal Reserve, the IMF, The World Bank, American Presidents, and Harvard University for its role in poorly advising the new Russia on what to do with its assets. In 1997 she wrote a manuscript on these subjects, but due to its incendiary nature, it was never published although, according to The New York Review of Books, it was “widely read.”

All during this time, I was in contact with Liz as she had always been quite the marijuana aficionado and I had been a connection to some of the finer strains of newly cultivated Sativa and Indica crossbreeds, and against my better judgment, for years, I mailed her weed; thank god for turkey basting bags and vacuum Seal-A-Meal systems. Everything I ever sent reached her as did the cash laden novels she sent me.

In 1997, Marcia and I visited New York and New Jersey, New York because an old friend, Michael Bergt, was having a major art show in Manhattan across from Trump Tower and Jersey because a niece was getting married “down the shore” in Stone Harbor, and we spent two nights and a day with Liz in her brownstone condo overlooking the Hudson River. Not having seen her for half a dozen years, our first sight of Liz in her doorway shocked us. Gone was the movie star, and a beat bohemian drug addled writer stood before us. Whereas she had previously looked like a fashion model worthy of the cover of Cosmopolitan, she now looked like a model for the cover of a 50s Black Ace lurid detective novel titled Hollywood Lady Junkies. The beautiful long blonde hair had been chopped short and dyed black. Her attire consisted of sweat pants and hoodie. I’m sure she had a serious Vitamin D deficiency as she claimed she rarely left her crib. Food, pot, cocaine, clothing, whatever was ordered over the phone and delivered. She looked like she rarely bathed and she certainly had not cleaned her residence since purchasing it in 1990. Enough groceries to feed an army had been delivered in anticipation of our arrival, and a dozen paper sacks of foodstuffs and booze sat inside the doorway. She apologized for not having cleaned her place, but assured us our sleeping situation would be first rate as she produced a complete set of brand new thousand-count Egyptian bed linens, complete with a down-filled duvet cover that probably cost more than both our airline tickets. After we helped her set our bed up, she simply deposited the dead linens and old bedspread in the trash shoot. An odor of pot, alcohol, mildew, dirty dishes, dust, tobacco, and cocaine-induced night sweat permeated every nook and cranny of her flat. She was the complete opposite of the aristocratic, father-doting fabulously coiffed Liz we knew in Denver; nonetheless, our time together was groovy and wonderful, gossiping about mutual friends in Colorado, talking American art and Russian film, listening to her conspiracy theories involving Bill and Hillary Clinton, Harvard University and Boris Yeltsin, drinking copious amounts of fine brandy and expensive French wine, and eating what I assumed to be the best of deli munchies available in Manhattan. Said succinctly: the caviar was extreme. When Marcia and I left Liz and traveled to Jersey, we felt as if we were returning to the real world after having climbed back out of the rabbit hole abode of one crazy, paranoid, generous old friend.

Two years later, my oldest son turned twenty, and seeing as how he was at the time a baritone saxophone-playing jazz enthusiast, I took him for a week to New York City to experience the Blue Note and Birdland, Greenwich Village and subways, the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, Central Park and the Staten Island Ferry. Out the window of our hotel room were the Twin Towers that then dominated the southern view, a scene I got to paint, one that would be gone in less than six months. Passion and I also made plans with Liz for an evening out on the town, beginning with dinner at an exceedingly trendy SoHo restaurant. She had always been as gracious with her money as she was chameleon like. Liz was currently making the rounds of conservative TV talk shows and doing internet interviews and at out table when we arrived was a TV producer/handler who would be meeting Liz for the first time in preparation for an upcoming on-air interview during which Liz would discuss her recent testimony before the Banking and Financial Services of the United States House of Representatives concerning the shenanigans of Harvard, the elder Bush, Bill Clinton, the IMF and the Federal Reserve. Liz, as it would turn out, was two hours late for dinner, something about not being able to secure a last minute limo for the night. While waiting I consumed more than my fair share of exotic aperitifs and fine wine, and I probably talked a little too freely to Liz’s new producer about my old friend who had changed from a Marilyn Monroe into a Charles Bukowski. But when Liz arrived I was once again surprised for she had changed back into the elegant, well dressed, and superbly coiffed sophisticated mostly sober potential superstar I had originally known. Liz was at the height of whatever game she was now into and it was one hell of a wild night (the restaurant tab for the four of us was close to a grand), a night that ended in a private Russian after-hours club where my son got to experience the sight of some fifty stylish perfumed Russian beauties all in search of wealthy Russian or American husbands. My last sight of Liz in New York was through the window of a taxi just before sun-up. She blew me a kiss as only a great actress can.

Fast forward a decade or so and I see Liz for the last time. She’s in Denver. She looks like a spoiled brat purple-haired Gothic heiress about to travel on a tramp steamer to some far away forgotten island. She’s come through Denver to score some good weed to take on her travels.

We spend an entire morning and afternoon breaking down a half-pound mixture of Blue City Diesel and Lemon Sensimilla.  We grind it into powder and compress it. We carefully open and empty two boxes of tampons and replace much of the inner tampon absorbent materials with the fine dust of cannabis after Seal A Meal-ing the herb, making sure both boxes weighed the package amount before re-gluing the Cellophane wrapped boxes so as to appear un-opened. Liz confided in me that she was disavowing her American citizenship and would become an expatriate, as she feared for her life because of her late 90s’ exposes. Her landline had been tapped, she said, and she just knew that she was under scrutiny if not under downright surveillance. She had rattled the cages of some very corrupt and powerful financial warlords and too many people and organizations wanted her gone, including the CIA, its Russian counterpart, world bankers and criminal financiers. She had paid a fortune for a new identity and she was on her way to Ecuador where she could, with her new identity, establish citizenship. She had paid an alchemist artist to melt down and disguise a couple of pounds of South African Gold Krugerrands as a cheap steel alloy that was refashioned into jewelry. The belt she wore was worth more than a Washington Park house she quipped. All her jeweled accoutrements looked like Gothic heavy metal costume junk. Once relocated and set-up in South America she would transfer the remainder of her inherited wealth as well as the millions she made on the sale of her Upper West Side pad via some off shore nonsense so no one, not even the CIA, would ever find her.

And so Liz, who used to star in little underground beatnik theater productions in Denver that my good friend Richard Collier produced disappeared from my life in 2012 although - when I dropped her off at DIA with a few pounds of disguised gold and pot laced sanitary devices – she did promise me that one day she’d return under who knows what name to pick up a painting of mine she had purchased and asked that I keep safe. And she promised she’d look neither like a movie star, a bohemian junkie writer, an economics talking head, a Russian art critic, nor a faux Goth heiress, all of which characters had been, apparently, conscious choices on her part; she had not a clue as to what her new face to the world would be.

In short, Liz never ceased being the talented actress I had met years before, one who used the world, rather than a theater, as her stage. Plays for her are still being written. Who knows: next time she might appear as a ghost! Hell, she could be here in the room tonight and chances are I wouldn’t recognize her. Well, OK, I might recognize her very stoned blue steel actress eyes.