Monday, October 17, 2011
Tacony, Beer, Art and Age
Edwin Forrest Ward
Gifts I have: – the words and the theater to incite some young men to foolishness. Two examples here I have involving age and art and alcohol.
Some years ago, in the late Eighties, while attending a Bob Dylan concert with my wife – a punk drunk of a rude young man – apparently the spokesman for a pack of the similarly minded, from whom he hoped to get a laugh – asked with feigned incomprehension, disdaining glare and exaggerated posturing, “What are you doing here, Old Man?” – as if how could I possibly be hip to what he thought hip, given the more than quarter century difference in our age. I didn’t inform him that I first saw Bob Dylan before even his parents were born; rather, I just gave him the standard sophomoric Tacony rhetoric of my Philadelphia youth, the one about the sexual proclivities and enthusiasms of his mother. When he responded by throwing thirty-two ounces of urine colored Coors beer in my direction, I adroitly ducked with alacrity, vanishing with my wife – as if by magic – into the surrounding crowd. The Viet Nam vet behind me, whose new Harley Davidson leather vest and 1977-vintage Rolling Thunder tee shirt got Coors-ed-upon, put an end to El Punko’s enthusiasm for disrespecting elders, as well as to the streak of time in his young life that his nose had remained un-bloodied and, judging by the sound of cracking bone, unbroken. I didn’t lift a finger to orchestrate retaliation, except for perhaps my middle and index, throwing him a sign that means peace in the American vernacular and fuck you in its British origin. Check out Emmett Grogan’s Ringolivio for the reference. This is what I mean by the Tacony in me, an attitude I’ll never be without.
Anyway, young rude men and I are natural enemies, and for some, it seems, my very existence causes stress enough to ensure confrontation. Strangely, art – things like song, dance and poetry – art is often central to these confrontations. I mean who would have thought there could be such behavior at, of all places, a Bob Dylan concert? One possible answer to the query is that my wife – who is ten years - and looks perhaps twenty - years my junior – my wife is so present – is such a presence - and of such Western American beauty that the jealous and frustrated testosterone of youth might prompt a fool to disregard the wisdom of the old Irish adage: It is Death to be a Poet, Death to love a Poet, and Death to mock a Poet.
But, then, Marcia is not with me on this Denver early April Poetry Festival day at Metro State in 1993, a day that, as fate would have it, is also opening day for Denver’s new National Baseball League franchise team, the Colorado Rockies. Rather, I am with Woody Hildebrand, a Wobbly of a friend who is the Denver correspondent for The Nation, the newspaper of the IWW, the International Workers of the World. Woody has invited me to participate in a poetry festival on the Auraria campus sponsored by the Metro State Poetry Club, a student group that Woody had organized and for which he had done the paperwork with the dean’s office to gain access to the sundry perks of being a sanctioned student organization, two of which were (one:) funding and (two:) use of the Metropolitan State College Student Union, with its stage, sound board, microphones, bar, tables and chairs. Sanctioned student organizations could reserve The Union for special events such as football team fundraisers, small musical concerts and literary events, and when his application for the funding of the Poetry Club Festival had been granted in October, Woody had reserved the Student Union for the first Monday in April.
Now Woody and I have a certain solidarity engendered by our practice of the poetic arts, and we share an appreciation for anarchy, mischief and mirth, seeing each other as makers of ritual art. The menagerie of our collective allusions includes pranksters with Pan flutes calling to wolves, carnival geeks, a JW Man in eye-dazzling striped pants, a Goddess by the name of Earth. Between us, we have all nine Muses – all the phases of Diana – covered. We two men live quite differently – I, a husband, father, and entrepreneur; he, an unmarried union man, postal worker – but when we are together we are brothers, which is why Woody has asked me to headline his event. Woody’s access to the Poetry Club’s share of student activity funds means my appearance at the festival is a paid gig. So rare is it to be paid real dollars to read poetry in this town, I am truly honored and should shout it from the rooftops: Poet Paid to Read! Woody has put five months into promotion and when I arrive early outside The Union, it appears his efforts have paid off. There’s already a sizeable crowd and with the exception of a few naysaying, stick-in-the-mud curmudgeons amongst my friends and contemporaries, the entirety of the Denver poetry scene is present. Judging by the comrade-ery and enthusiasm of the gathered presenters and attendees milling about this crisp mile high morning on the Union plaza, I wouldn’t have thought for a minute that the confluence of age, art and alcohol might despoil the day.
When I enter the Union and find Woody, I am as happy for Mr. Hildebrand as a friend can be, although he soon confides in me that trouble is brewing, trouble, that is, with the manager of the Union, the bartender, Bob. And the source of the trouble is this: Bob the Bartender is expecting a large crowd of students to fill the Student Union to watch the Rockies game on the big screen TVs that adorn the wall, both sides, close aside the stage where we poets will read. Bob claims ignorance of the Poetry Club’s reservation despite the fact that a large poster announcing the festival adorns the community bulletin board behind him. The uncompromising tension between Woody and Mr. Manager is fraught with the difference between sport spectators cheering their team and performing artists engaging attention. Woody insists the room is reserved for the Poetry Festival while the bartender maintains he will not be turning off the big screens, disappointing baseball fans and losing a great day of tips.
Into the impasse I step and broker a deal. Simply, I suggest, turn off the sound of the televisions. That way the poetry festival can go on while students who want to watch the Rockies can do just that: watch, as one would a baseball game at the stadium. The alternative: poets reading aloud from the stage as aside them the New York Met’s hometown broadcaster in Manhattan prattles on about the nuances of the game, two such audibles at once, simply will not work. When neither Woody nor Bob respond to my suggestion – they are lost in planning further negotiation – I assert the matter settled with “Cool, let the poetry begin” and walk away.
When a grinning Woody - with his two fingers prominently crossed - catches up with me, he says with a mock innocence, “Geez, I had no idea today was the inaugural of The Rockies.” Did I mention Woody is wearing a New York Mets baseball cap?
Both the festival and the game begin at noon, Mountain Time. Fans of baseball and poetry fill the Student Union. As the third reading poet in the festival lineup, I take the stage just as The Colorado Rockies begin their third time at bat. So far the poetry festival attendees and the baseball fans have co-existed amicably, with neither event actually preventing enjoyment of the other. Sadly, three is not one of my lucky numbers, and when I commence to read the third in my series of thirteen poems, I hear and am interrupted with “Get off the stage Old Man,” a request I patently ignore. During the rest of my performance other derogatory comments are voiced by three student baseball fans, all of which and whom I ignore until I am done. When I do finish, all eyes and ears are upon me. Two things I know: (one) my poetry rocked and (two) my response to the hecklers will be part of the record of this day as half the people in the room are writers. After the applause dies down I let Tacony infuse the artist, proceeding directly to the table where the three hecklers are sitting, each with a pitcher of Coors on the table and a glass in their hand. I don’t say anything. I just stare first at one, and then the second, and then the third, wondering, bemused, if these three young men are up for the comeuppance I’ll exact as I make a Charlie Chaplin kind of move: I use a stiffened right leg and knee to “accidentally” cause the table to tip, towards the three of them, a move so unobservable no one could swear it was anything but an accident. The tipped beer pitchers spill into all of the three fools laps. Indignant, Outraged and Dumb jump up from their chairs with the crotches of their imported cargo pants now soaked with local non-union beer. I mouth a phony apology in their direction and wink before turning my back on them. When they begin whining loudly and yelling their assertion that it was no accident, disturbing everyone with their commotion, and the big mouth of the trinity threatens “I’ll kick your ass,” a campus security guard who had witnessed their earlier actions confiscates their Student Union IDs and eighty-sixes them from the Union for the remainder of the school year.
Again, I didn’t lift a finger although I did lift my leg.