Studio of Edwin & Marcia Ward

Thursday, September 22, 2016



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.

Saturday, June 25, 2016



Cover photography – Marcia WardFrom the Poets' Bridge


as always for Marcia

Many years ago, as a young artist, I was falsely tagged with the opprobrium, “street,” as if my talents were unschooled, like someone who sprays graffiti or writes in poor imitation of Kerouac. Hell, I went to Jesuit schools and I sometimes think in Latin, Quid agam, amicus meus? Bothersome also was the uglier implied characterization of “street:” thuggish. Now normally such mislabeling is of no consequence in the real world, but on occasion such innuendo can lead to violence.

In the early 80s I came into possession of a Panasonic video camera and immediately took up making short artworks, some poetic, some narrative, some simply eye dazzling, and some to accompany live music at stage shows. I had no editing equipment so most were multiple do-overs until I achieved what I was looking for in one take, an arduous and time-consuming task to say the least, but a process that demanded planning and an economy of concept. One of my “movieos” – as I called them - I was especially proud of, one in which my wife danced with an erotic quality and nonchalance that was both an intellectual and physical turn on. It aroused a haunting desire for knowledge of her whole being, not simply lust for her.

In 1987, at a literary festival and book fair where I had a booth, I was selling poetry chapbooks and my literary magazine, Passion Press. I knew dozens of attendees at the fair and many asked in English, “What’s up, my friend?” – Quid agam, amicus meus? I spoke of my video adventuring the last few years and everyone wanted a look-see.  Because I had a number of poetic movieos with me on VHS tape and because there was a large television and VHS player in the lobby where my booth was, I arranged for an impromptu screening of my compilation. A dozen or so of my interested contemporaries gathered round and I began screening my work. First, a rapid cut take on the great Colorado poet, James Ryan Morris, then a documentary of my youngest son’s costumed third birthday party parade at Alamo Placitas Park, led by my wife, Marcia, wearing a feathered headdress and a dress-that-sings, and pounding out a march on a toy tom-tom. Marcia was literally at the height of her maternal beauty. I followed this with the one of Marcia dancing.

Well, a minute or so into my piece, “Dancing,” there is a piercing wail of a scream and a verbal protest from the event organizer’s wife. “Turn that porn off! There are woman and children here!” I look around the room to see if something “pornographic” is going on and seeing only attendees perusing the publisher’s wares, I come to realize that the distraught woman – a college professor, no less – is talking about my movieo. I ignore her and turn back to watching my video with my friends; however, without warning, the screen goes black and I realized a plug’s been pulled as I see the festival organizer, let’s call him “Mr. Censorium,” standing with a disconnected electrical extension cord in hand. If looks could kill I’d be dead, I think. Steam’s coming out of his ears, and he’s glaring like someone who’s been cuckolded. Rather than cause a scene or even ask Mrs. Censorium what she was so upset about, I leave the room with my friends and venture outside where we hold an impromptu poetry reading. Half the people at the fair join us outside, despite the fact that there are featured literary presenters  - mostly academics and non-profit administrators - on stage in the auditorium talking about literature. Outside we are sharing literature, not talking about literature, with the likes of Larry Lake, Art Goodtimes, Woody Hill, Gregory Greyhawk, and Lucy McGrath riffing off each other. A couple of cases of beer also miraculously appear and add a lacking festivity to the otherwise staid festival.

Now I did have a little history with Mr. Censorium. He used to come poetry readings that I ran in the 70s, and I had sensed his animosity towards me, something I attributed to my never having asked him to be a featured poet at my readings. I knew he thought himself to be the cat’s meow when it came to poetics, but I found his writing, its style, to be derivative, a 3.2 take on Pablo Neruda, not my cup of tea, and certainly not the outside-the-box vernacular kind of poetry I was interested in featuring. I was producer and host, and I only featured poets I was truly interested in. Censorium told others my scene was clique-ish and “street,” that “Ed Ward wouldn’t know a poem if it bit him on the ass.” I guess he took my personal tastes personally. In fact, when the literary festival that the book fair was part of, had been organized, the book fair coordinator,  Tom Parson, one of closest friends at the time, had given Censorium a list of the small press publishers in Colorado to invite, my self among them. But Censorium had excluded me and my friend and mentor, Larry Lake, Denver’s most polished small press publisher, from the invitation mailing. Only when I mentioned my lack of an invitation to Tom Parson was the omission righted and I was granted booth space.

Flash forward a couple of years. I had passed on the mandate I’d been given by Larry Lake, you must publish others as well as write, to John Macker, and my Passion Press literary magazine had been replaced with Macker’s Moravagine. John was also one of Denver’s alternative event producers, and to celebrate his latest edition of Moravagine, he rented a new restaurant bar on Blake Street, let’s call it “Spiritu.” Spiritu was closed on Mondays and John had arranged for a Monday night private party featuring some poets he was publishing, a painter by the name of Paris Butler, and myself. He guaranteed the owner, let’s call her Connie Candle, a full house. He’d turn her dark night into the most lucrative night of the month, a promise, as it turned out, he kept.

I was going to show the world premier of my latest and most ambitious video extravaganza, E the Movieo, that featured three separate takes playing simultaneously on three monitors of my narrative fiction, Early Light, The Sage the Sniff, and Conspired with an original score created by Denver’s most popular band at the time, the heavy-metal Gothic foursome, The Soul Merchants. I was as excited about E the Movieo as I had ever been.

I arrive at Spiritu early on the evening of the party to set up my gear: three VHS players, three large screen TVs that I had rented, a stand to pyramid-ize them, numerous patch, extension and sync cords, and a PA and speakers to broadcast the soundtrack, if you will, “a ton” of equipment. After bringing my gear into Spiritu’s main room, a youngish – in his late twenties – man bursts out of the swinging doors to the kitchen, approaches me threateningly, and asks “What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I can’t imagine where he’s coming from; hence, I respond diplomatically, “Hello, I’m Ed Ward. I’m one of the featured artists at this evening’s private party that Moravagine magazine is sponsoring here at Spiritu; I’m here to set up these monitors for the world premier of my latest project, E the Movieo. Please tell me, what’s your name and who are you?”

His response is totally out of left field. “No way are you going to do that and ruin the ambiance of my dining room and chase away customers with these fucking TVs. No way.”

Looking for a win here, I remind El Ass – that’s the name I’ve given him as he never told me his – that one: Spiritu is not open to the public on Mondays and two: that I am the featured artist at tonight’s private party, adding “In two hours there are going to be over a hundred friends of mine here to spend money at Spiritu’s bar and enjoy my video installation, Paris’ paintings, and readings by Moravagine’s contributors. As far as I know: serving dinner is not part of the equation. Neither is being open to the public. John Macker made arrangements with Connie Candle.”

“Well as of tonight, we are open on Mondays, and there’s no fucking way you’re going to ruin my serving dinner.”

Needless to say, the tension in the room is thick as incense at a Catholic bishop’s installation. I can’t seem to assuage El Ass’s anger, understand his inhospitality, nor alter his unwarranted and implacable stance. He’s not even considering compromise. I do know that John Macker won’t be here until the party starts at 7, and I’m alone with El Ass in Spiritu. I realize it’s going to take an hour plus just to set up my gear, let alone doing a practice run-through, and that if I don’t get started soon, the magic of just turning on my movieo when it’s show time will be lost if I wait for John Macker to arrive and straighten things out with El Ass.

I study the interior of Spiritu. There’s a mezzanine where I might be able to set up and I offer this as a solution, reminding him there are going to be a hundred people here to see my show. He doesn’t say “Yes” and he doesn’t say “No,” he simply walks away and disappears back into the kitchen. So I do set up my gear on the mezzanine, even though I would have preferred the dining room wall where everyone could watch from the comfort of the bar and dining room seats. In years past, I would have never made such a compromise, but the evening was as much about Paris Butler and Moravagine as it was about me, and I felt it was not my place to jeopardize the party as a whole.

Well, when John arrived (at about the same time as fifty or so guests), not wanting to put a damper on things, I chose not to express to him my disappointment at being marginalized on the mezzanine. Soon the room is packed, Paris sells some paintings, poems and stories get read, and I premier E the Movieo (to a standing ovation, I might add). I had noted the absence of any general public, as I knew every person in the room, all one hundred and thirteen of them (I did a head count while people watched E). So when the lights came back up and the evening was winding down, I went to the bar that El Ass was tending, got right in his face, and asked with all the barbed sarcasm a Philly boy can muster: “How many fucking dinners did I ruin, Asshole?”

In a heartbeat, like a stuntman in a Kung Fu movie, El Ass leaps over the bar and pushes me through everyone behind me, knocking over tables and chairs, slams me up against the wall where my monitors should have been, and shoves me to the floor. During this assault I decide not to defend myself or strike back. I’ve been in confrontations with coked up club owners over the years and know if the police arrive it’ll be me, not El Ass, going downtown to Cherokee Street, because when it’s patron versus employee, the employee is always deemed innocent. Well, as I’m lying stunned on the floor, John Macker rushes over to find out what’s going on, and he’s strong-armed by the Spiritu staff, hustled to the door, and pushed outside, with the staff baring his reentry. El Ass backs away from me and announces, “The party’s over. We’re closed. Everyone out!” And the remaining party attendees, not having a clue as to what just went down, depart. And now again, it’s just me and El Ass, plus my wife, in Spiritu. He’s balling his fists and stewing in his anger. I know he’d like to clock me, but there are dozens of people outside watching us through the front window. “Get your shit and get out,” he barks before disappearing into the kitchen.”

And I do, break down my gear and load it into our van that Marcia has parked in the alley behind Spiritu. I’m still high on the reception E the Movieo had received while simultaneously trying to process the assault I’d just experienced. Granted, I’d pushed his buttons, but he’d been wrong, ignorant, thuggish, mean, and combative since the moment I’d walked into Spiritu, a stance the genesis of which was a mystery to me. To get some semblance of calm into my being, I smoke a joint, and upon reflection I realize I have not done a final check to make sure I’ve not left any gear behind. A lost sync cord would be a fifty-dollar hassle. So I return to the alley exit and attempt reentry, but the door is locked. I knock, wait, knock again a little louder, wait, and then pound on the door. It opens and through the doorway steps El Ass. He’s got a strange look on his face, something between flirtatious and solicitous. He tells me, “You’re the kind of person I admire. It’s artists like you keep things interesting. I love you, man” and then he embraces me in an uncomfortable hug and, and without warning, kisses me, attempting to insert his tongue in my mouth.  I push him away and tell him, “Fuck you, Asshole. Twenty years from now, you’ll be gone, Spiritu will be gone, this Denver – as we now know it – will be gone, but I’ll still be making art despite the likes of Neanderthals like you.” And I get back into my van and head towards 16th Street.

Next day, Marcia and I, dealing with post show blues, are eating lunch at Green’s on Colfax Avenue. We’re on the long bench that spans the east dining room wall at a two top. And who should be seated at the two top to my right: no one other than Connie Candle, Spiritu’s owner. I can’t help myself and introduce myself. I tell her my take on what went down last night at her club. She listens but addresses none of my concerns. Never offering an apology, the only thing Connie Candle tells me is this: “El Ass, his name is Dean Diavolo. He’s married to my pastry chef. He’s not my employee. He was there last night because a man named Ray Censorium, who sometimes holds literary events at Spiritu, warned me and my chef that John Macker and his friends were street thugs who would wreck my club. Diavolo volunteered to be bouncer and make sure things did not get crazy.”

Flash forward another twenty years. Connie Candle comes to my studio to buy a painting of mine that she’d seen at Scum of the Earth Gallery in the Santa Fe Arts District. She has no memory of meeting me at Greens. She makes no connection between “Ed Ward, poet and filmmaker” and “Edwin Forrest Ward, watercolorist.”  I don’t bring up my night at Spiritu. She buys two paintings and tells me she’ll be back again someday to buy some more. She kisses me on the cheek politely and asks, “Were you ever at my club, Spiritu?” I respond, “Yes, I once had an unforgettable night there.”

So, to close the circle of this story, the petty animosity of Censorium, combined with the violence of the sexually conflicted sadomasochistic Diavolo, resulted in a great patron for me. Connie’s spent a goodly sum on the purchase of my paintings and I expect to see her again. She told me, as did Diavolo, “You’re the kind of person I admire. It’s artists like you keep things interesting.” 

Monday, May 23, 2016



Cover photography: Marcia Ward


  © 2016 Edwin Forrest Ward
May 27, 2016

5475 Peoria Street 4-112
Denver CO 80239
 303 322 9324

All Shook Up

as always for Marcia
JW McCullough was one of those rare creatures that had been given, without asking for it, a second chance in life.   bands and in an Elvis Impersonator band. His favorite guitar riff, he told me, was the one he scored for his solo for the Impersonator Band’s rendition of “All Shook Up.” He also took up creating antics as performance art. Sometimes poetic often comedic his skits caught the eye of a producer in Philadelphia who was able to hook JW up with a slot on a soon to launch NBC TV show called Saturday Night Live. Three producers – one from Philly, one from Chicago, and one from New York - were cooking up this skit-centered take on comedy. A month before production was to begin, however, Chicago and New York conspired to dump Philadelphia and, consequently JW lost his chance.  On the brink of standing in the national spotlight and now back in the Philadelphia dark, JW had a melt down and attempted suicide by overdosing on alcohol and pills. He had since Nam been dealing with depression; the VA eventually told him he suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, a result of transporting munitions from America and transferring them to destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin during the war. He did not die, however, as his producer found him and Hahnemann Hospital pumped his stomach clean. Thus that second chance I mentioned earlier. For the rest of his life JW had a perspective on life quite different from everyone else’s. If you’ve given up the ghost and are somehow brought back to life, you see things differently. And JW saw the world as his stage for the next bittersweet sixteen years.

I met JW at Jerry Record’s on Colfax when I was making my first feature movieo Sylvia and The Green Bird in 1984. I was showing John Loquidis, the proprietor of Jerry’s Records, some preliminary footage I had shot of his girlfriend, Juliet Johnson, in the role of Sylvia. JW was hanging around the counter and he looked over my shoulder at my camera’s viewfinder and announced, “If you’re making a movie I want in.” Picking up on his Philly accent and sensing a kinship because of it, and digging his attire – JW dressed with more flair than most rock stars (he was wearing striped pants, turquoise painted penny loafers sporting Gold Coin Saloon tokens where the pennies would have been, an embroidered baseball cap depicting an elephant, and a collarless paisley button up shirt (the buttons also were painted turquoise) – I said, “Sure.” And thus began our ten year friendship as JW and I went on to finish my movie together – he as actor, co-producer, and singer. In the process, he became the brother I never had and godfather to my youngest son, Zenith Star. 

JW’s most lucrative “job,” his means of acquiring money was to participate in drug studies, mostly back in Philadelphia, and he split his time between Denver and Philly, often staying with my family for short stints. We got along well, although I did come to realize JW was a closet alcoholic after finding sundry empty pints and half pints of exotic whiskies left about my house. John admitted to me his serious predilection, claiming, however, he was clean seventy-five percent of the time. “My binges last about a week,” he said. He also told me he never had a drink in his life until at age twenty-five he heard the word mimosa, and liking the sound of it, he ordered one. Then another. Then another. And the next day he went to a liquor store and filled a shopping cart with assorted whiskies and rums, thus beginning his see-saw life-long battle with John Barleycorn which he used to self medicate his manic depressive condition. If truth be told, his drinking never really impacted our relationship. I’d had alcoholic friends before, hell, my father was one, and you take a brother as he is; still, I’d have preferred him sober. And I was always glad to have a companion whenever he returned from his participation in lock-down experimental drug studies back East. JW’s justification for taking such risks was that “You get a placebo half the time; so it’s only half-dangerous.”

After release from a drug study in 1988, he was clean and sober and met up with a performing artist by the name of Vesna. Soon he and Vesna became a couple and an act, presenting what they called “The Butterboat Show.” They wowed the underground South Street art scene in Philadelphia and even won a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant to take their Butterboat Show on the road, eventually winding up in Florida.  As I learned later (like last month after re-connecting with Vesna on Facebook) Vesna had wanted to end things with JW (“too manic and controlling and isolating,” she said) but he had followed her to Florida. You might say he stalked her to St. Petersburg. But because he was unable to rekindle anything with Vesna, he again took up with his other love, alcohol. During his six month passionate affair with booze in Florida he sent me dozens of incredibly sophisticatedly addressed letters filled with manic yet comedic poems and rambling paeans to his artistic heroes, Prince and Elvis Costello. Even my taciturn mailman remarked that he loved delivering my mail as he got to handle the art objects that were JW’s envelopes. “Who is this guy? Whoever he is, tell him I’m a fan.”

And then one day JW appeared in the elevator door of my loft, drunker than I’d ever seen him, asking if he could stay with me until he got sober. The loft I lived in had a glass wall as the second floor of 1444 Wazeee Street had once been the corporate headquarters of Fashion Bar. JW was so out of it he stepped off the elevator, walked into my living area and then into the glass wall with such inebriated recklessness that he knocked himself out. He stayed a week, secluded in my loft, fighting withdrawal and depression before returning to the world mostly clean and sober. He had enough bread left from his last drug study to pay a month’s rent at the Newhouse Hotel at Grant and Colfax around the corner from Jerry’s Records. He painted his room to match the color of his turquoise shoes that matched the color of his newly acquired pawnshop electric guitar. During his last months in Denver he took up antics as performance art again, but his performances were more in the real world than on stage. Once, as he told me - “to give downtown workers an unexpected holiday in the middle of the week,” - he super-glued the locks of dozens of office buildings on the 16th Street Mall. Awarded to Anonymous, his stunt received the “Best Prank of the Year” award from WESTWORD. JW got away with his prank despite being videotaped by multiple security cameras as his disguise included a wig and a dress and a slinky put-on sashay to beat the band. Eventually, however, he decided to – as he told me - “give Hollywood a chance” and he moved to LA.
JW’s second – and in this case successful suicide attempt – was his final piece of performance art. It unfolded over the course of a week. After the June 28, 1992 Landers earthquake rattled Los Angeles, JW left a phone message for me on my answering machine: “Ed, I’m drinking again! Been sober the last year but this is just too much! Really, I’m all shook up and feelin’ whiskey deprived! By the way, did I tell you I’ve finally made it: my name’s in the Hollywood phone book!” When he did reach me a day later we had a three hour long distance phone call in which he manic-ed his way about dozens of topics, alluding to many reckless behaviors, that shall remain unmentioned, he had taken up. He also told me how he had called everyone he knew long distance as he wanted to create the largest unpaid telephone bill in the history of Ma Bell. I missed the innuendo and didn’t get the hidden meaning of “unpaid.”

Now, I had visited JW three months before the quake and he had been his normal prankster self, living in a “residential” low rent Hollywood hotel, doing performance art (guitar and poetry) at assorted bars and galleries and at midnight on the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard. We made the rounds of LA friends I had turned JW on to: Tony Scibella, Marsha Getzler, SA Griffin and Frank T. Rios. JW had wanted to visit my ex-wife with whom I had hooked him up, but when I called Carol to set up a meet, she told me, “You can come alone, but don’t bring that man anywhere near me,” as JW had apparently worn out his welcome at Carol’s Beverly Hills Film Production headquarters. At the time of my visit, the sober JW had a cassette recorder, a guitar, an iron, a manual typewriter, and sundry wild “outfits.” When I said “Later, man” to him in early April, little did I know it would be the last time I would speak to him in person.

Anyway, after the Landers quake, JW scrambled to accomplish a few items on his bucket list of antics. First he convinced SA Griffin, a successful Hollywood actor and poet, to rent a brand new Cadillac convertible. JW wanted to superstar it around Los Angeles and they did. SA had always enjoyed being a wheelman – his performance art troupe was called the Carmabums - and together they toured for some six hours or so, top down with Elvis Costello tapes blasting on the stereo. JW honked and waved to all the street artists and street people he had befriended. A night later, JW called a local national public radio station that was hosting its annual fund drive. JW told the hosts, two comedian DJs pleading for money, that he was one hell of guitar player and he would give the radio station $100 every time they mentioned “the guitar player, JW McCullough.” Well, the comedians ran with it, and over the course of the next half hour they worked the phrase -“the guitar player, JW McCullough” - into their spiel some fifty or sixty times. JW recorded what ensued on the radio with a cassette tape recorder and mailed me the tape that I’d characterize as the funniest radio bit I’ve ever heard. Sadly, I received this comedic masterpiece two days after SA called to let me know that JW had committed suicide. Apparently, JW, who had been dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder for over twenty years, had stock piled a years worth of assorted medications the VA had given him. He cured his anxiety and manic depression once and for all, by washing down handfuls of pills with sweet aperitifs and rum. Believe you me, the guitar player JW McCullough, his choice to end it all, and the performance art ending that it was, shook me up as much as the earthquake shook LA. The final mimicked riff, the last twitch of his fingers most likely accompanied the thought: “I’m all shook up, hey hey. I’m all shook up.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Cover Photo: Marcia Ward


As always, for Marcia

When I was a child attending Saint Bernard’s Catholic Elementary School, I was teacher’s pet eight years in a row. I’m sure it had something to do with my desire to please my mother and therefore every woman with whom I came in contact (like the nuns and female lay teachers) as well as my intellect, politeness, curly hair, and long lash-laden bright blue-green eyes. And every nun would tell me at some point in the year that I ought to become a priest. Similarly when I went to Saint Joseph’s Preparatory High School, a Jesuit school, my Latin teacher said the same thing. Well as much as I would have liked to please my devout Catholic mother who would have loved having a priest as a son, I told all those with clerical designs on my future: “Hell no! I’m going to marry and have kids,” – a politically correct way of informing them that I was not about to be celibate. Still, I must admit that I had great love of ritual, both secular and religious: taking the field for a football game and the coin toss (as captain I always choose heads) and Sunday Mass, to name an example of each. And as you’ll see, sometimes, if fate is kind, one can have it both ways.

In 1979 when I married Marcia Zimmer in my Pearl Street back yard, my publisher, Larry Lake of BOWERY PRESS served as our officiant. It was a most unique ceremony in that Marcia and I both wrote love letters to each other that we shared aloud, I wore no shirt, poems were read and burned in a silver bowl, and the beard that Larry sported was the antithesis of the clean cut looks of my Lutheran in-laws from Wyoming. Photos from that day capture the utter dismay of my father-in-law, an extremely conservative Republican Wyoming State Senator. In fact, I’m not sure he ever got over me, an East Coast city boy who he considered to be “anti-establishment.” After all, I did have friends of diverse races and sexual orientation, I came from a union family, I was a writer making ends meet as a waiter, and my long curly locks were always a little too unkempt, too much, for the wind that is Wyoming.

One result of my wedding ceremony was that a few years later while living in Austin Texas, I mentioned in a phone call to Larry that I, too, had a desire to write and conduct rituals as a witch friend and her fiancé wanted me to assist with their wedding ceremony. And then a few months later in the mail, I received the second most cherished document of my life, my ordination papers, - the first being my marriage license signed by Marcia, me, Lenny Cernila, Barbara Timmons and Larry Lake who listed his title as Poet Priest. Apparently upon Larry’s recommendation and nomination, I had been ordained as a Minister in the Temple of Man by the founder of the Temple of Man, Robert Alexander, who went by the name of Baza. Literally, my Ordination means worlds more than getting paychecks, being published, graduating from Drexel University or receiving awards for community service or poetry.

Today, because I write and conduct some sixty or so marriage ceremonies a year, I am often queried about the nature of my ministry as my ceremonies are like no other: did you get ordained on line? Are you a “Universal Life” minister? Where did you study? How did you become a minister?

Well, the Temple of Man, to put it plainly is probably the hippest religious organization in the world. This is its story as I know it.

In 1960 a rather gifted and notorious poet by the name of Stuart Z. Perkoff was recorded during the FBI’s first successful use of a reel-to-reel tape recorder selling marijuana to a friend. A suction cup microphone with a wire leading to a tape recorder had been affixed to the window of his pad. Because Stuart was becoming an (albeit reluctant) anti-establishment icon in America, he was just too revolutionary, too dangerous as a role model, for the likes of J Edgar Hoover. Perkoff was the protagonist hero - perhaps anti-hero – of Larry Lipton’s 1959 novel, The Holy Barbarians – one of the first novels about beatniks, the publication of which incited tour bus loads of lookie-lous hoping to encounter beatniks to park in front of Café West, the coffeehouse that Stuart had founded. Café West was the LA gathering spot for those seeking a life outside the material world of 50s’ America. To avoid the throngs of tourists hoping to spy on the underground, Stuart and his friend Tony Scibella used to hide on the rooftops of nearby buildings whenever the masses invaded what had once been the quiet destitute seaside village of Venice, a place they had hoped would serve as a low-rent Mecca of sorts for those seeking a lifestyle outside the norm, a higher consciousness based on art and love. Stuart had appeared as himself, a beatnik poet, on Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life, accompanied by a beautiful and extremely tall Las Vegas showgirl (with close to a foot of teased hair atop her head she seemed twice as tall as Stuart with his shaved head). Throughout the broadcast, Stuart’s quick wit charmed Groucho and everyone in America watching the nationally syndicated TV show. When Groucho first began interviewing Stuart, Groucho referenced his notes: “Mr. Perkoff, it says here that you are a writer,” to which Stuart replied, “Oh yes, Groucho, I write home for money every week!” And the quick repartee and quick-witted banter continued for the duration of the show. Groucho was so charmed by Stuart that he became a silent patron of sorts, encouraging and supporting the establishment of The Gas House in Venice, a rent-free artist community where those who resided had only to keep making art to maintain their residency. But, as I mentioned earlier, the unwanted fame that came Stuart’s way brought the FBI spotlight and tape recorder to bear on Stuart and his friends and he wound up being incarcerated for years in the Penitentiary at Terminal Island where some other notorious criminals like Al Capone and Timothy Leary once resided, a bitter example of a most unsuitable punishment for a non-violent offense, an act now perfectly legal.

One day a friend of Stuart’s, the artist/poet/printer Robert Alexander, visited the prison but was told that visitors - other than family (father, son, brother, wife, etc) or chaplains - were not allowed. And so for this very pragmatic reason - among other less pragmatic reasons such as his interest in art, poetry, community and ritual - Baza founded The Temple of Man in 1960, a non-profit religious organization. To visit an incarcerated friend. The Temple of Man’s 1967 California incorporation papers state:

 “The Temple of Man is formed in dedication to the sentient individual, creative man, and for the preservation of his creative works, in order to help broaden perception and increase the understanding between all men everywhere, who, being unified by the supreme force of life, are working toward a higher social and spiritual evolution.” “It is not worship so much as a quest,” the statement goes on. “It is a way of becoming, of liberation.” Two of the most well known “tenets” of “The Temple of Man are that Art Is Love Is God,” the words of the artist Wallace Berman that Stuart Perkoff wrote upon the wall of his Café West coffeehouse, and that “The Temple of Man is Within,” something the poet David Meltzer appropriated from the Bible.

I happened to meet Baza in the late Seventies when I traveled to California to retrieve a dog I once loved and used to own that was facing euthanasia. I had been involved with the celebrated poet James Ryan Morris during the last months of his life in Denver and Jimmy’s wife Diana, upon hearing of my plans to go to LA to rescue a dog, had suggested that I visit Jimmy’s good friend Bob in Venice. At the time my knowledge of The Temple of Man, the once famous beatnik scene that was Venice, and of Robert Alexander’s status as a great American artist (Baza’s artwork, publications, and personal letters are in the Smithsonian) were zilch. It was a meeting that changed my life.

I remember being almost afraid of ringing the bell outside the gate of Baza’s home, for I knew not what I’d find. Having known what Jimmy Morris had been into, his predilections, I feared I might be interrupting an orgy or walking into a shooting gallery. But what I found was a beach house full of assemblage art, paintings, collage, sculpture and published writings; and an artist who welcomed me as a brother, “Do you and Marcia need a place to stay?” offering me refuge from the world I felt so alienated from, 1978 America. My afternoon with Baza truly opened my eyes to the magic of personal art and reassured me that there were others like me, a notion instrumental in suffusing the loneliness, the Steppenwolf separateness that haunted me. For Baza was a father and husband as well as world-class artist. I got it that one does not have to be insane or an alcoholic or a drug addict to be an artist, as I mistakenly believed. One only had to love.

Toward the end of his life, Alexander wanted to open a cabaret space, as well as a serious museum and archive for the collection of Temple art and ephemera he’d amassed over the previous 25 years. Many of those artists were now gone, their names engraved in brass plaques attached to a shrine he built in his garden out of abandoned timbers from the old Ocean Park pier; the scraps of Venice’s past now buoying the dead of his clan: Stuart Perkoff, Ben Talbert, Artie Richer, Wallace Berman, Lenny Bruce, Dennis Hopper, Larry Lake. Someday my name will be there too.

So I believe you can have it all, that everybody gets what he or she wants. I became a celebrant of ritual, a poet priest, all because the FBI stung and jailed a celebrated poet and his good friend could not get in to visit. And I married and had kids.

Monday, October 26, 2015


Cover Photos & Artwork
Marcia Ward, TW Gaddy, Steve Wilson
Angelo diBenedetto, Rasta 68, Ed Ward
Michael Bergt & Jack Livingston

                     BEAT SHAPE

as always, for Marcia

Over the course of the last five years I’ve been tasked with the job of shedding light on the Bohemians of Denver, those, a mile high and underground, who have lived the life of artists. In 2010, I wrote an essay on the literary legacy of the Denver Beats for the Colorado Historical Society, lent my personal collection of Beat art and ephemera for an exhibition at The Byers-Evans House, and produced a show here at The Mercury Café, a celebration of all things underground entitled a Bohemian Extravaganza. In 2012 my story, Billy Burroughs Prediction’, was published in London’s, if not the world’s, premiere beat magazine, The Beat Scene. Earlier this year I was interviewed on the Medical Mary Jane Cable Network about my relationships to some of Denver’s most famous and sometimes most notorious Beat artists like James Ryan Morris, Angelo diBenedetto, Stan Brakhage, Larry Lake and others. I contributed info for a chapter on the Denver Beats for History Press’ THE DENVER BEAT SCENE by Zack Kopp. At the Neal Cassady Birthday Bash last February I got to entertain Cassady fans from near and far blowing my tale, No Going Back, a Cassady-esque tale of a wild blow job once received (a blow job being the fulcrum around which Neal’s famous 1950 23,000 word letter to Kerouac swung, a letter that prompted Jack to declare in a letter to Ed White (who designed the Boettcher Memorial Tropical Conservatory at The Denver Botanic Gardens) that Denver’s own Neal Cassady was the greatest living writer in Europe and America, a mid-century correspondence that turned Jack on to a new way of writing. One result of appearing at the Cassady Birthday Bash upstairs at The Merc was that I was tapped to design a Beatnik Tour of Denver for an aspiring tour company. Late last spring, I gave a presentation on the Denver Beats to interested students at Colorado Academy (some of the suburban students were so enthralled they actually attended STORIES STORIES in the evening). Currently I am being filmed as the subject of a Gwylym Cano documentary wherein I narrate stories of poets and painters I have known. I mention all this to you not to brag but to justify my assertion that I am, these days, the delegated go-to-guy when the legacy of Denver Beats is the subject.

The somewhat ironic story that follows is the tale of how all-things-beatnik first infiltrated my Jesuit-Prep School-educated soul.

When I was nine years old, Jack Kerouac’s On The Road made the scene in bookstores all across the nation and gave birth to a cultural revolution. What it meant to be hip was newly defined. The year was 1957. On The Road didn’t find me, however, until 1965, and I must admit, I was not all that impressed when it was required reading in my senior year of high school. So, you might say that in 1957 Bohemians became Beatniks. Bores became squares. Espresso became Expresso because my good friend and mentor, Tony Scibella, spelled it that way when he painted the signage on the window of Stuart Perkoff’s Venice West Café in 1959, a scene that was central to Larry Lipton’s The Holy Barbarians, a tome that examined what it meant to be beat in Los Angeles. I met Tony Scibella almost twenty years after he painted EXPRESSO and eventually published his masterpiece THE KID IN AMERICA in 2000. 1959 also saw the arrival of Dwayne Hickman and Bob Denver on the black and white TV screens of North America playing the roles of Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs in the syndicated show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. I watched the show in real time as it was broadcast and laughed my pre-adolescent ass off at the antics of the beatnik that was Maynard; I never forgot the way Maynard screeched “Work.” He was cooler than a pack of Kools or a micronite (aka asbestos) filter on a Kent cigarette. Speaking of Bob Denver as Maynard G. Krebs, here’s a Hollywood Screen Actor’s Guild tidbit I learned from S.A. Griffin (an actor/poet friend of mine in LA – we met when SA came to Denver as the guest star bad guy on a Perry Mason movie of the week): no matter where one is in the world making a movie: if you’re looking to score some weed, just ask local cast members and crew if anyone belongs to Bob Denver Fan Club and soon you’ll be connected. Bob Denver obviously had an impact that went well beyond the four-year run of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Hell, filmed in China, SA once played General Matthew Ridgway for a CCTV (Chinese) TV series, and despite the repression and danger there, the on location Bob Denver Fan Club made sure that SA was not left wanting. In the late 90s, born of an egg my son Zenith Star won in a biology class raffle at East High, I even owned a pet duck, who lived four years in my backyard, named Doobie. Ok, that’s with two o’s instead of one; nonetheless, the allusion to Mr. Gillis is apparent! I mention these beat firsts and bohemian references in my life because in some ways the cultural revolution triggered by Kerouac’s On The Road incited one of the greatest shifts in American thinking ever, a shape-shift which reflected my own from Philly street tough to Colorado artist. Without the Beats there might never have been the peace movement that ensued, and we might still be watching the War in Vietnam on the six o’clock news, but I digress.

When I arrived in Denver in the mid-70s, a poet making the rounds of hipster hangouts, it was the Beatniks who remained who embraced me as a brother. Not the hippies, not the street poets, not the new technocrats, not the world of academia. It was the Beatniks: Larry Lake, Jimmy Ryan Morris, Tony Scibella, Gypsy (himself a minor character in On The Road), Lucy McGrath, and others. This family of like-minded hipsters took me in, adopted me as it were, despite the fact that I was beardless, had never thumped a bongo (or any musical instrument for that matter), did not know that Bird was Charlie Parker’s nickname, did not know the character of Dean Moriarty in On The Road was based on Denver’s own car thief, Neal Cassady, knew little of the artistic merit and history of the Beat movement in Denver or America, and found Kerouac wanting in comparison to my go-to hero, Bob Dylan. In fact my first introduction to things one might call Beat, has little to do with poetry and novels and abstract expressionism, and more to do with WWII, Nazi machine guns, two of my mother’s older brothers (she was one of thirteen siblings), American spies (both domestic and on foreign shores), and two of my older sisters, Carol and Ginny.

One evening in 1959 I was watching The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis when the phone rang. In those days people (especially a child like myself) actually answered a ringing phone. The caller was one of my many cousins on my mother’s side of the family, Jack Daly, the twenty-two year old son of a deceased uncle who died before I was born. Jack was calling from somewhere in Delaware and apparently Jack would be passing through Philadelphia, because he was, as it were, “On The Road,” with two friends and they were hoping to connect with my sisters, Carol and Ginny: maybe for drinks at a bar, a dance or skate at the local Roller rink, or coffee at The Gilded Cage, a Rittenhouse Square coffeehouse whose backroom stage served as the pulpit for all things beat and folk and left of center in Philadelphia. When Jack arrived with his pals an hour or so later, he sported the first goatee of my life. His pals, similarly unshaven, immediately took up flirting with my sisters, both of whom I like to say “were more beautiful than religion.” The three guys’ attempts to impress Carol and Ginny included humming some bee-bop jazz, showing off their fashion (turtlenecks and blue jeans) and their speech was peppered with phrases such as “Daddio,” “Dig it,” and “Craaazy!” Even square-ass Jack had the jive down pat and he had masked his slight Southern accent with his faux Beat linguistics. Faux, as you’ll come to understand, is the operative word here. Recently trained in the art of deception, these gentlemen from Alexandria Virginia had facial hair that was beatnik, they spoke like beatniks, they dressed like beatniks; but I knew better. For I knew Jack to be a highly trained member of the CIA, his professional family, as well as a member of my Irish Catholic one.

As I said my mother had many siblings, many brothers. Two, Jimmy and Vincent, had been in Army Intelligence during World War II. Vincent and Jimmy had parachuted behind enemy lines in Yugoslavia, an act which cost Jimmy his life (one bullet through the heart while parachuting) and Vincent his appearance (strafed with machine gun fire he lived, but his body thereafter, its appearance was a horror of scar tissue). Luckily and with much stealth, the wounded Vincent escaped capture by the Nazis and recovered enough to fight along side of and become best of friends with a resistance fighter by the name of Josip Broz Tito, leader of the Yugoslavia Partisans. As you might recall, Tito eventually went on to rule Yugoslavia as a soft line communist (benevolent dictator, if you will) while keeping the Russian hard-line communists at bay for thirty years. Bosnians and Serbs went to war only after Tito died. Sometimes it takes a charismatic dictator to keep fundamentalist religious racists from slaughtering each other in fits of ethnic cleansing. Fact is: the only Americans Tito ever trusted or spoke with were my uncle Vincent and his nephew, my cousin Jack, who Vincent had later introduced to Tito. Trusted frenemies they were. After World War II, Vincent was a first round draft pick – if you will – for America’s newest three-letter team, the CIA. Both his children and his deceased brother’s children – a slew of my cousins (after all we are Irish) – all joined that same team because the original CIA was indeed a family affair. Posing as a Southern bumpkin with his wife, whose cover was being a trailer trash talking Virginia hillbilly redneck, my uncle Vincent traveled the world as a spy with gadgets James Bond and Hollywood never imagined. He’d wow us at thanksgiving dinners, demonstrating the sneaky uses of assorted spyware. My cousin Jack eventually traveled the world as an assistant to Assistant Ambassadors in numerous European capitols. His children living in so many European nations spoke a dizzying array of languages, great training for their CIA careers that followed. In fact when Tito (who was never allowed on American soil because of his communist politics) gave a speech in Toronto, it was my once fake beatnik cousin Jack standing next to him at the podium, making sure the Canadian translators got Tito’s speech right. All this, of course, came after Jack had served his time on the road as a clandestine operative spying on American civilians, which, to put it mildly, was well outside the scope of the CIA charter. Jack attended college for over a dozen years, wearing his hipster attitude, all the while spying and informing on his college contemporaries, fingering anyone wearing red or black or psychedelic colors. Chances were, if anyone at a student meeting or a peace rally or union drive was eating anything other than apple pie, Jack was taking their picture with one of those neat little gismos issued by the CIA. He’d click as he scratched his Vandyke goatee with his miniaturized camera that looked like a fountain pen. By the time Jack moved on to CIA roles in foreign embassies, the FBI, to keep us safe from ourselves, had taken over the reigns of illegally spying on American citizens for political reasons. Now we have newer letter teams spying on us: like NSA and TSA and others whose names we’ll never know.

All this just goes to prove how prophetic and insightful it was, what the king of LA Beat poets, Stuart Z Perkoff wrote in a poem he read on Denver Public Radio back in the early 70s, Stuart was actually on Groucho Marx’s YOU BET YOUR LIFE as a beatnik poet and endeared himself to Groucho and America when he quipped in answer to Grouch’s assertion that Groucho’s notes claimed that Stuart was a writer: “Groucho, I write home for money every week.” Stuart’s voice was also captured on an early FBI’s reel-to-reel tape-recording of a drug deal, a deal that netted Stuart hard time in a California prison. Stuart’s words:

                         our times are fast
                         they’re crowded
                         we’re crushed
                         we’re lost

                         mirrors are broken
                         i.d. cards torn
                         faces are stolen
                         disguises are worn

                         no order! all chaos!
                         all turmoil! no peace!
                         but we can rely on the secret police!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


No Going Back

as always, for Marcia

I arrive in Denver on the fourth day of July in 1975 after twenty-seven years of East Coast life. My girlfriend (let’s call her “Crazy”) had at the time wanted to experience Kerouac and Cassady’s “the West,” and so I had resigned from my life and tenured position in Jersey and moved here to accommodate her wishes. We found a second-floor one-bedroom apartment at 14th and Elizabeth and set about reinventing ourselves. I found work as a waiter making more money than I had as a teacher and commenced the life of a Bohemian, writing poetry and starting work on my “great American novel,” activities the time constraints of my career as a teacher and union organizer had precluded me from indulging in. I found great pleasure in my disassociation from all that been before and reveled in my newfound anonymity. Writing in long hand on the built in table of my walk-up apartment, such things as my teenage gang membership in Philadelphia, my degree in physics, and my tenure as a professional educator had little to do with this new life as an artist I was undertaking; quite aware I was that I would never return to the life I’d known before. Sadly my girlfriend embraced not the uncertainties of living in the West as an artist, and by October Crazy was in NYC, never to return.

During the time Crazy and I lived in our Congress Park pad on the second floor of the Elizabeth Arms, we were friendly with a couple that also lived there, Ric and Sandy. Ric was a folksinger and social worker and Sandy was, well Sandy was a wee bit strange, as strange as she was beautiful. Sandy and Crazy had been summer friends, a friendship based on the similarity of their childhoods and upbringing, and, in retrospect, their apparently fragile mental health. Both were sexy and exotic (Crazy was a Mediterranean beauty and Sandy was archetypal Aryan), and both women expected men to take care of the mundane matters of life – like making a living. Both had been raised by very wealthy parents who lived in gated and exclusive enclaves, Crazy in Wellesley Massachusetts and Sandy in the Bahamas. I especially enjoyed eyeballing Crazy and Sandy from my writing table window as they sat, late afternoons, on the front porch. My first fantasies of infidelity and “the other woman” were incited by the vision of the two of them, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine, rocking side by side on the porch glider, comparing notes, and gossiping about Ric and me.

Shortly before Crazy abandoned me and left Colorado, I bought a house on Pearl Street and lost contact with Ric and Sandy. Crazy leaving me was brutal, for I was deeply in love with the woman I imagined she was, and I sought to numb my pain with alcohol and drugs. On my evenings off, I’d prowl Congress Park and Colfax Avenue – places we had loved - on foot or in my van in a nostalgic hunt for the ghost of Crazy, and one night I came across a bewildered Sandy outside the 7-11 on York Street around the corner from my old apartment. She lit up when she saw me, and the hug she gave me had a hint of sexual innuendo that was hard to ignore. She clung to me like a child clings to a favorite grandparent or a favorite toy. Like the lost to their savior.

I asked after Ric, and Sandy told me he was in a hospital in Thornton. Minor surgery had corrected a herniated disc but he’d be in recovery and physical therapy for another week. She asked after Crazy and her eyes got sparkly when I told her of my Ex’s return to the East Coast. I do believe she actually licked her lips with a serpentine tongue, as she appeared lost in thought. And then she asked if I’d give her a ride to the hospital sometime soon as she had not been able to visit Ric. Public transportation, its schedules and transfers, was beyond her ken.

So, with a wee bit of lust lurking in the shadows of my intentions, I arrive at my old apartment building the next morning. Sandy and Ric lived on the ground floor across the commons from where Crazy and I had lived, and she was waiting on the communal front porch. She bubbled with excitement as she flew the length of the walk and climbed into my van. All the way to Thornton she gossiped about Ric and his increasing demands on her abilities. She practically hissed a litany of things that needed redress. Did Ric actually expected to return home to an organized apartment, one without dirty dishes and piles of laundry? Did he really expect her to keep track of her medication and dirty clothes? Suffice it to say, Sandy was all over the map, mentally and physically. She constantly changed stations on the radio, rolled her window up and down, down and up, squirmed, one might say “writhed” in her seat, all the while prattling on about Ric’s peccadilloes, his dislike of clutter and certain sexual practices, his Zen stance on organization. His absurd talk of finances and the future, as if money or tomorrow matter! She’d never cleaned house in her life and she was not about to play maid, even though Ric brought home the bacon. The entire trip was a harangue of non-sequiturs and unrelated trivial chastisements of Ric and his maddening expectations. At the hospital there were other telling revelations. Sandy had forgotten to bring Ric his Gibson guitar as he’d asked. “Left it on the porch.” She’d failed to bring his checkbook. “Couldn’t find it.”  She’d not remembered his request to bring him a few joints. “I don’t know how to roll.” She hardly looked at Ric and when she left to use the restroom Ric confided in me his assessment: “Sandy’s off her meds! Look out, Eddie. Her demons are as venomous and real as she is beautiful and flighty.”

On the way back to Denver Sandy announced her intentions. She’d be leaving Ric and the Elizabeth Arms. Tomorrow! “And could I,” she asked, “move in with you?” - a tricky question, one I had no sure answer for, to say the least.

On the one hand, I was entranced by the blue-eyed blond beauty that was Sandy. Even though I had been deeply in love with Crazy, I had sensed an un-fulfilled desire in Sandy when I’d first met her and Ric, a passion I imagined I might be able to satiate. I remember sensing Crazy had picked up on my feelings about Sandy; my girlfriend had been especially assertive making love her remaining time with me, going as far as to fake or achieve multiple orgasms. And now here was Sandy coming on to me, bringing into focus my loneliness and horniness and longing for what I’d had with Crazy. But on the other hand there was Ric’s mention of Sandy’s demons and her medications. 

So I played it safe. “Sandy, how about I come by tomorrow. Last night, today, it’s been a blur of intoxicating emotions. Like a whirlwind in my heart. I get it that you and Ric are done for, yet being with you, I can’t help but think about Crazy. You two were like sisters. And I will admit that even when I was in love with Crazy, I used to think of you. You are one beautiful woman. Let’s do breakfast at Pete’s Kitchen in the morning. I need a night to think about your moving in with me. And I’m not sure if you’re talking as roommate or girlfriend.”

“If I move in I won’t be paying rent,” were her parting words as she sashayed up the sidewalk to the Elizabeth Arms.

Next morning I arrive at Sandy’s. Again, she’s waiting on the porch. Again down the sidewalk to my van she flies. 

I’ve decided to give it a shot, taking up with Sandy, demons and all, and I tell her as much. You might compare my lonely and horny and bemused decision making to a car going ninety-miles an hour down a dead end street with my dick in the driver’s seat and my rational mind blind-folded and tied up in the trunk. All I know is that I’m game and I’m gonna get laid. Enough said.

After a passionate kiss initiated by her, Sandy tells me she’s going to leave it all behind: her old clothes, her old life, her old ways, and her old medicines. She wants to start her new life with me without baggage. “All I need,” she tells me, “are a few things: make-up, tooth brush, hair brush, boots. Be back in a minute,” and out the van she flies, up the sidewalk and into the Elizabeth Arms. I await her return with all the nervousness of anyone on a first date, of someone about to seal his or her fate.

Minutes pass and my nervousness increases. To what have I committed? What exactly are the meds Ric spoke of? Who are the demons? More time passes. I exit my van and make my way back towards the building where I once lived happily with Crazy. Ascending the steps to the porch I see my first hint of a demon at work: Ric’s Gibson guitar.  Behind the glider against the railing, its hollow body splintered, its cat-gut strings gyring from the tuners like a nest of snakes, it apparently had been rammed repeatedly by the glider: a gone guitar for sure. More than a minor chill percolates below the surface of my skin as I step into the building and approach Sandy’s apartment, the door to which is open. And beyond the threshold is a nightmare. The former Zendo of a living space is topsy-turvy with retribution and destruction. Broken unwashed dishes fill the sink and clutter the kitchen floor and counters. Every closet and cabinet is empty, as is the open refrigerator. Foodstuffs, in and out of packaging, and cookware and clothing scattered helter-skelter from kitchen to living room baseboard constitute a maze even Daedalus could not solve. No path anywhere. The smell of sour milk mixes with the odor of soiled laundry, molding washcloths, and rotting fruit and meats. Even the temperature of the apartment is off the charts, in line with the thermostat setting that I note: 88 degrees and rising! And then I sense her aside me, coming as she has from the bathroom aside the kitchen. In her hands are the personal hygiene items she came back for: her hairbrush, toothbrush and lipstick. She’s wearing white cowgirl boots. She looks not at the destruction she has caused; rather, she looks piercingly at me, as if there’s nothing in the world but me. She quickly and haphazardly paints her lips with the purple lipstick in her hand then brushes her long cascading hair slowly. All the while her eyes give me their full attention. Then she unbuttons her blouse. She wears no bra. She empties her hands of brushes and make-up, all of which join the mess on the floor. She steps forward and falls to her knees in front of me unzipping my pants with the quick work of fingers. I close my eyes to the scene around me, to the world I know, as she takes me into her mouth. She swallows me ravenously, dead-set determined to make me unaware of her demons, but standing there, as I approach orgasm, I see in my mind’s eye unfolding visions of snakes and birds. They slither and flutter all around as they escape from her mouth and leak out of her eyes. I press the back of her head against my body in an attempt to escape the visions, to return to the tactile, the sexual, the here and now, but my hand’s first touch of the back of her head, my first skin to scalp, is met with a cruel rebuke that kills more than my sexual buzz, a warning that she practically squawks: “Don’t ever touch the back of my head. You can have the rest of me, my breasts, my lips, my ass, but my head belongs to them. Then with her side-winding arms slowly undulating, she flutters her fingers in such a way that I sense for sure the nature of her demons, the vipers and raptors to whom her head belongs. Her ophidian dance of arms and quivering flicker of digits ends with her appearing catatonic as she kneels before me. Then she unwinds herself cobra like as she coils to the floor asleep. When she awakens a little while later, she is docile, almost penitent. She knows I won’t be taking her home to my house. She knows I’ve seen her madness. Literally and figuratively. She asks that I take her to Denver General, to the psychiatric ward. “They know me there,” she whispers.

I drive to Sixth and Bannock. We sit silent in the parking lot for quite a while before she leaves me alone in my misery, bewildered, bemused, bewitched, and now with visions of snakes devouring birds and raptors ascending with talons full of snakes leaking out of my mind’s eye into my memory. Two days ago I was simply lonely. Now I will be forever hungry to go to a place to which I know I can’t return.