It has been quite a long time since I saw him; maybe six or seven years ago. I was a different person back then…we were different back then. We were young and full of excitement. The world was our oyster so to speak. We had both just arrived in New York and were ready to throw caution to the wind and leap blindly into life in the big apple. We were broke, no job, no thought to what we wanted to do with our lives and nothing to keep us anywhere.
At first we just slept in hostels and bummed around the city spending as little money as possible. The little we did have we got from me singing in Central Park or Saul selling his sketches to the yuppies on the upper east side. It was a good, if unorthodox, life to lead. We would travel from café to café waxing philosophic and waning poetics with the other runaways we eventually found from morning till night time. We thought of ourselves as 21st century beatniks, lapping in the joys of poverty like only the white educated middle class can. In the words of Hurston we had everything the world envied, we were “free, white, and twenty one.”
It was a sort of rush that we experienced in those days. The intoxication of such foreign experiences sent us reeling around the city streets like junkies. We were addicts to the world of our self-constructed ghettos and thrilled in the foolish notion that we experienced the nitty-gritty truths of the real world. We thought that we had found a new way to live, and with it a new sense of self. We had transcended the trappings of the “fake” world we left behind. Though in truth we were nothing more than the bastard children of the civilization that created us.
Yet, youth has a way of overlooking such minute details, and so to us it was such a beautiful fairy tale, with a plot that we were sure that you couldn’t have expected. We were convinced that everything we discovered was a secret known only to us and the like minded travelers we met along the way. We formed a band of lost souls, a league of beggars. We ran into young people from every walk of life (real or fabricated.)
There was Charles from Boston, who had the look of a long lost Kennedy. Dark haired, light eyed and full of himself. Charles had an easy swagger to him and he tried tirelessly to maintain it. Though seemly carefree he spent an unusual amount of time running his hand through his hair so as to get that “yeah, I’m a bum but I don’t give a fuck!” look. He always wore the same pair of ripped jeans with patches all over them and a shirt that read “this is your child on drugs” and had an arrow pointed to the left. From his clothes to his personal mythology, Charles was always careful not to let anything to slip that might hint about what his life back home was like.
In a way I suppose you could say that he was uptight about being carefree. The real Charles was heir to one of the wealthiest family fortunes on the eastern seaboard. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth that was engraved in the family crest. Though he tried to hide it, the truth of his life was simple, he was a spoiled child slumming before he went to law school. But of course, he wasn’t going to law school. He was too driven to pull off the “I don’t know where I’m going” act. He was thoroughly unconvincing.
There was Luce from east St. Lewey. She was so pale that we were always concerned that she was deathly ill. And with her dark hair, sullen demeanor and a Pandora’s box of emotional problems, I suppose the image fit her pretty well. She was the only beat from the league who had real lost kid credentials. Her parents died when she was young, and there was no one else left to look after her. That abandonment at such a young age put a chip in her shoulder that she refused to let the world in to see. Raised in Saint-Jude’s orphanage in the rough section of the city, she had had a dark aura of solitude around her since childhood. She would often head out alone into the city to be surrounded only by the music of the city and her own thoughts. It was at those moments that you could tell she had a mountain of emotional baggage on her shoulders. It took her sometime to warm to up to everyone though she never came close to opening to anyone but Saul.
Despite her occasional brooding and even as thin and pretty as she was she was still a force to be reckoned with. Her personal motto was to never back down; a motto which she would repeat coolly whenever we were faced with a tough situation. She had a cool, calm demeanor and a level voice that made her seem to always be in control, sad, but in control. I remember thinking that she would have walked serenely through hell if it got her where she wanted to go, and maybe she already had.
Though she never said what brought her to New York it was clear that, unlike most of the league, she wasn’t running away from anything, she was just walking where her feet took her. Four years earlier she had left the orphanage looking for something that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She walked for miles, going from one small town to another, working when and where she could. She would stay in good and not so good samaritans houses, trailers, backyards and garages. I imagine that she must have gotten in to some dangerous situations but if she did she never mentioned it. When we would ask her about those years her face would jerk as if the memories themselves were physically painful before she collected herself and said that this or that particular part wasn’t really that interesting. All she would say is that she met some interesting characters on her journeys. To this day I still wonder if she ever got where she was going.
Most importantly there was a girl named Lola from everywhere with eyes that told a stories about nothing and everything. Lola was the only one of us who could match Saul in poetic carelessness. She had perfected graceful abandon and could run into trouble like a pro. She would spout proverbs that only a man on drugs would think we wise. Needless to say, many in the group found her wise beyond her years. She always used to say that “her life was over before it began” and whenever she saw something she couldn’t afford (which was everything) she would sigh and say that “my heart will never be broken yet will always be unfulfilled.” One of her favorite proverbs though was that “she wasn’t rich until she was poor and couldn’t understand the world till she knew nothing.” And so she ended everything with “it makes sense if you don’t think about it.” She loved to fuck with people.
She had sass that was unmatched by anyone I have ever met before or since. She was kind hearted and beautiful but could make a look that kills at the first sign of anything disagreeable. If Luce’s motto was never back down then Lola’s was often a simple command: “Back down. Now.” She was a no-nonsense woman who didn’t take shit from anyone. Yet she had the uncanny ability to diffuse any tension with that often mischievous, Hollywood smile. She could simultaneously be a social butterfly and a queen bee. As she swept into any room all eye’s were on her. Parties thrived and died to suit her mood. Basically, when Lola walked into a room she owned it, for better or for worse. She was je-ne-sais-quoi incarnate. She could contend with Saul as the most complex person I ever met.
The thing that united us all was a severe discomfort with the way things were when we settled down. The feeling of profound eeriness when we knew we had stayed in one place too long. It was a feeling of restlessness with our place in society. It was an obsession with our first world, shallowly and incorrectly labled existentialistic problems. So we were the league of beggars, our young angst told us that by stripping ourselves down we could truly find ourselves. We were real cool nouveau paurve beats. We were the college educated contraband hobnobbing with the hobos as if they jazz June. And Jazzing June was what Saul and Lola did best.
Saul always liked to say that he lived his life like Jazz. Seemingly erratic, improv’ed yet structured and skillfully composed. He walked and talked and breathed like he was a character in a Ginsberg, Brooks, Hughes or Giovanni poem. He thought the first 15 lines of Howl were something to aspire to. He was searching for the world that existed only in those poems. Harlem, Chicago, and especially San Franscico where his literary homes. In his waking life he was a Jazz poem.
Looking back to those years, he was quite reckless, he lived for right now with no thought of tomorrow. He had an expression that he used to say when people tried to get him to slow down “ If you stop long enough in life you may forget to start running again.” At the time I always wanted to ask him where he was running to. I know now that the question I should be asking is what was he running from. What had happened to this young man, all of twenty-one that he feared slowing down so badly.
Of course, he was much too hard to show that it was more fear than excitement. But his gray-eyes told a story more compelling than his wild antics. They showed a life time he was too young to have lived. They rested like shallow pools of depression that he hardened into steel. I wonder now if his recklessness was little more than a flamboyant act of over-compensation for a self-perceived defect on the part of himself. I think of him often these days and find my self asking what demons he was fighting. What was the ghost in the darkness; the fear that ever so often would crack through his ever so charming smile.
Hmmm…it is funny how things change over the years. We were never as special as we thought we were. We never as clever as we thought we were, never a counter-culture just hipsters. That’s not what I tell myself though. Saul has to be