I’m about to do something I’ve only done before on special occasions: repost a previously published piece. This qualifies as a special occasion. The great American poet, bookseller, and rabid San Francisco Giants fan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti has died at the age of 101.
Larry was not only a literary legend, he was a helluva nice guy. I knew him in another lifetime. Last October, I wrote about it in A Coney Island Of The Mind.
I closed by saying:
“I originally planned to save this story for a tribute to the great man but thanks to Amy Coney Barrett, I’m telling it today. Go figure.”
Let’s begin again with with the featured image:
“I am waiting for the war to be fought
which will make the world safe for anarchy”
Ever since the Impeached Insult Comedian nominated Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, I’ve had Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetry collection, A Coney Island Of The Mind on my mind. I know it’s strange, but you must be mindful of how my mind works. I’m not only a punster, I free associate like crazy. Just don’t call me crazy, okay? If I were rich, you’d call me eccentric.
Another reason I have Felinghetti on my mind is a thread going around Twitter asking who is the most famous person you’ve ever met and spoken to. My reply was “a toss-up between Frank Sinatra and Willie Mays.”
I also met Lawrence Ferlinghetti in my wayward youth but beat poets aren’t as famous as saloon singers and baseball superstars.
I used to hang out at Vesuvio Cafe, which is a bar in San Francisco across the alley from Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Bookstore. I got a kick out of bellying up to the Beatnik Bar, drinking Irish coffee, smoking Camels, and pondering if Jack Kerouac or Neal Cassady had ever sat on the same bar stool. The only beatnik accoutrement I lacked in those days was a proper beret.
One day a bearded gent sat next to me and struck up a conversation. I realized that it was the legendary poet. I knew Ferlinghetti loved baseball, so we talked about the Giants Sixties glory days when immortals such as Mays, McCovey, and Marichal were blown about windy Candlestick Park. I told him that I knew Gaylord Perry from my suburban neighborhood. I scored points by telling him that Perry’s daughter, Allison, deflected the notion her dad threw a spitball by calling it “a hard slider.” It was a wet slider: Gaylord’s memoirs were called Me and The Spitter.
Being a relatively well-brought up young man, I called him Mr. Felinghetti. He shook his head, slapped me on the back and said, “Call me Larry.”
I chatted with Larry several times without getting the sub-text until he joined me and my future first wife at a table at Vesuvio’s; not its name but I always called it that. Dee was more of a poetry buff than me, so they talked about Anne Sexton and Sylivia Plath instead of flashy former Giant infielder Tito Fuentes who was a particular favorite of Larry’s. I realized that she was holding my hand rather tightly. She explained why after Larry left us:
“He was cruising you.”
“Really? I had no idea.”
“It’s okay. He’s obviously a man who can take no for an answer.”
I realized she was right. It was the first time she’d been with me when I spoke with Larry. I was flattered then and even more so as I look back on that evening in North Beach. Nobody’s going to cruise me in my current decrepitude so it’s nice to remember that I was once cruiseable.
I originally considered weaving my thoughts about Amy Coney Barrett into this post but why spoil a pleasant memory?
Lawrence Ferlinghetti is still very much with us at the age of 101. His longevity is impressive but unsurprising. He’s a life force.
I mentioned Larry’s love of baseball. One of his poems is called Baseball Canto and it mentions the aforementioned Tito Fuentes:
And Tito Fuentes comes up looking like a bullfighter
in his tight pants and small pointy shoes.
And the right field bleachers go mad with Chicanos and blacks
and Brooklyn beer-drinkers,
“Tito! Sock it to him, sweet Tito!”
And sweet Tito puts his foot in the bucket
and smacks one that don’t come back at all,
and flees around the bases
like he’s escaping from the United Fruit Company.
As the gringo dollar beats out the pound.
And sweet Tito beats it out like he’s beating out usury,
not to mention fascism and anti-semitism.
I originally planned to save this story for a tribute to the great man but thanks to Amy Coney Barrett, I’m telling it today. Go figure.
The last word goes to Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading Baseball Canto: