the first time I met Him –or– Ezra Pound is the biggest asshole buried in Italy
I was shopping in a QFC in Seattle for the very first time. I had been going to Shop-Rite but had a falling out with a stranger about phonetic spelling. I suppose I could’ve got a debit card but I didn’t. It became too painful for me to write the word “Rite” on my checks so I moved my business to QFC. I’m not even sure what it stands for yet but it is easy to write on a check.
The thing that surprised me about the store was the density of literati. There were many writers I knew and I’m not well read so I assumed that some of the other eclectic and affected individuals were writers whom I did not know.
I recognized Adrienne Rich from her newspaper picture. I went up another aisle immediately even though I didn’t need any tampons or diapers at the time. I was embarrassed because the only poem of mine that was ever read in the White House calls her a bitch. And she is a terrific poet. You probably think it was all about the easy rhyme but it wasn’t. I read an interview with her and I think she is a bitch which is too bad. I admire her poems and I think most poets should be assisted with their suicides even if they don’t want help. She’s a feminist. That’s why I think she’s a bitch. I don’t like people who take sides is all.
WS Burroughs and Richard Brautigan saw me going through the salad greens. Burroughs had jealously staked out a small section of produce—he held the sprayer in a dripping claw behind his back—and was currently refusing an Italian spinster access to the yellow peppers. The peperoni. That’s one of those mistakes Americans make. A peperone isn’t a sausage in Italy. It’s a big pepper or a chile. Americans are absurd I think. They also often spell Italian words with “X”s and “H”s where they don’t belong. Italian does not have one “X” in it. The letter “X” is the Greeks’ fault not the Romans’. I don’t know why Americans mispronounce et cetera. Since it’s such an easy word, and people on TV who should know better do it, I have to assume it’s intentional on their part. It bothers me that I don’t know their reasons.
Brautigan was thinking about helping Burroughs guard the vegetables but I could see it wasn’t in his heart to do it. What did he care if that old lady got her peppers? She was young and beautiful and had poets in love with her once. Shouldn’t she get a pepper just for that? The grocery shouldn’t even be allowed to charge her. Brautigan would probably say they should just lovingly insert the pepper that was exactly the right size for her vagina and let her go home.
Burroughs saw me pick up some –––––– in a bright orange and red bag. He was clearly alarmed and decided the woman could hang. He wasn’t going to let me make off with any ––––––.
He lurched to me just like a goddamn Sleestak and said, “Where do you think you are going with my ––––––, you spring fuck?”
I said, “I’m cooking a monument to Percy Shelley. I intend to eat it at midnight off the body of my teenage lover who is also an Italian lake.”
His eyes looked like the windows into an antique slot machine. They were big and square and they used to be white and had some strange kind of fruit in the middle. They had just stopped spinning and were still quivering.
He yelled, “You’re not absurd! You’re not absurd at all!”
I don’t like the sound of an old man’s voice yelling, I’m not sure why. Brautigan was embarrassed. I thought perhaps he was going to intervene on my behalf. He mumbled, “He’s so unabsurd I don’t know why we’re even talking about it.” But I think he was scared of Burroughs. I admit I was. But I wasn’t gonna let that bastard get away with it.
“What this bread lacks in meat it amply repays in crust, don’t you think?” I said because I was mad from being startled by an old man’s yelling voice.
“You star spangled little fuck!” he yelled and started to spray me with chilly water from the produce hose.
I had no idea the act could be done with such hatred and vehemence. I admit that I never even knew what vehement meant until that September afternoon. I had previously no right to pronounce it. I stood and took it because I knew it would make him more angry than if I ran as I wanted. Indeed as every part of me screamed to do.
He finally threw the hose aside. I was soaked and freezing my ass off but I’d won. And everyone in the market knew it. Even Noam Chomsky who is usually too thick to understand what his own shoes tell him. I saw Asa Baber out of the corner of my eye. He looked like he was about to weep for the fallen Burroughs. Adrienne Rich seemed glad. I guess she’d never heard about the poem or didn’t recognize me. Richard Powers was craning his neck to see what had happened. He was in the checkout stand with an entire shopping cart full of milk cartons. Some writer I did not know said, “How do you like that? Brought down by a nigger loving Jew.” That made me a bit mad. I’m not Jewish. I didn’t know the writer so I can’t warn you about him by name. He looked like Seamus Whats-his-name but he didn’t have an Irish accent so I don’t think it was him.
Burroughs turned to Brautigan. Brautigan had rather forgot we were there during the hosing. I don’t think he was much interested. Or perhaps he had one of those childhoods that installs a permanent cutout switch in you when voices are raised in anger.
Burroughs said, “Three, two, one.” Then he pulled a kitten from beneath cantaloupes that he had walled in like The Cask of Amontillado but with cantaloupes instead of bricks and mortar. The kitten did not understand its fate any better. This was not the first time Burroughs frightened me. I vowed it would be the last. I knew he would kill the kitten yet I could not bring myself to lay hands upon him to prevent it.
“Don’t,” I implored, “I’ll do anything.” He knew what I meant.
He stroked the kitten with a gnarled hand. It was a clumsy gesture but the kitten seemed quite at home and happy with him; none the worse for its incarceration in the melons.
“No,” he said to me while turning his back and leaving the market, “You’re not absurd at all.”
My misjudgement of his intention toward his kitten and this Scythian shot robbed my victory. I was just a cold and wet idiot who had made the first four rounds look good. But there wasn’t a winning dollar on me.
Brautigan smiled horizontally. I wasn’t sure if it was a smile. He nodded his head in my direction but didn’t make eye contact. He followed his dying, victorious friend out the door. Brautigan wasn’t like I expected. He was more like his picture than his Trout. I wish he’d heard about Hemingway shooting himself before he got home. I think that must have been hard to be in Ketchum when it happened and not find out until you went back to California.
Burroughs… I have a lot of friends who are writers—many of them write some extremely absurd things—who have run into Burroughs in the various supermarket chains of America and now I understand what they mean when they say, “Just don’t fuck with Burroughs, man.”
Standing there, dripping wet, face down on the canvas, with a bag of –––––– dangling from my finger tips, I understood it all.