Laffing Water Drops Out

by Charles Potts

from Berkeley Daze


"Kennedy has been shot," Pat said dropping by the house.

"I hope he dies," was my immediate response, which caused a big frown to go over her face. She then making some defense of liberals, because it was "her" people who were being killed. It didn't make much sense to me. I thought all our people were poets, and those who were not poets, were somebody else's people. Certainly not in the categories I would mourn for.

While I was out, there was a call for me from The Rabbi, the message was that he wanted to get it together to revive the Grass Prophet Review. I decided to walk over to see him. Next week was the beginning of the Rolling Renaissance readings in San Francisco, which The Rabbi had been able through his friend David Meltzer, to garner a whole evening for what became, "New Berkeley Poets." He had asked me what the Glide Sanctuary, where the bulk of the readings were going to take place, was like.

"It's like a tomb," I reported.

"The Egyptians got hi in tombs," he offered.

"Yeah, but they didn't get out of 'em," I continued the repartee. It was nice to hear The Rabbi's deep political remarks.

As in a GPR he had sketched, "In 1848 Marx said property was theft, in 1941 Patchen said property was murder, now in 1968 Lady Bird Johnson assures her daughters that property is the basis of western civilization."

I hadn't seen him since he had been over the day Gino left. When he and Alta and Lorelie and myself had gone up El Diablo Mountain, we had started talking about Gino again.

"You will dig him, he's into mountain climbing too," I said.

"Really? That's great," he had said.

"That's the third time you two have talked about that," Alta said with some light disgust. We hadn't realized it. It seemed she was often able to dust us off and put it straight. The Rabbi had been bouncing a red balloon around the house at Fulton one day and inadvertently knocked the Oaxacan pottery torso off the filing cabinet, where it shattered. I made an effort to disguise my annoyance.

"What happened to the balloon?" Lorelie wanted to know.

"It broke," I said.

"No," she said, "you popped it."

Alta was there when I got to their house, but The Rabbi was out playing basketball. A couple of times I had played basketball with him on the cement lots of Berkeley. Once even saying that I wanted to play basketball with LeRoi Jones. But playing it made me realize how weak I was, I wasn't coordinated anymore, neither did I have the energy for a fast game. I considered briefly going over to where I could assume he was playing, but then decided not to.

Instead, I told Alta, "Tell him I'm not interested in doing a Grass Prophet Review," and went home to work on a poem I was in the process of writing for him. "The Wild Dog Distinguished Service Cross." Not long later I got a call.

"Alta says you don't want to do a GPR?"

"That's right."

"Why not?"

"I'm not interested in that reactionary shit man, I haven't got time."

"Do you think we could use Julia's mimeo to print it?"

"We probably could, except I'd have to print it, and I'm not going to take somebody else's history back and forth across the bridge to print."

"Fuck you."

"Well, fuck you."

"Listen, Laffing Water, you're not going to tell me what I'm going to write."

"I didn't think I was trying to. All I was trying to tell you is what I can and cannot be bothered with printing."


"You can write anything you care to."

"I just had to say 'fuck you."'

"It doesn't matter, I'm just not interested."

"Are you dropping out completely?"

"You could say that. Why not let the headlines on the next GPR read, 'Laffing Water Drops Out?"'

"I might. Listen, KPFA called me and asked me if I had anything to say about it. Do you want to take that shot?"

"The radio? Don't you, what kind of shot did they want?" I had made a resolve not to do anything else on the radio until we got our mox together enough to take them back away from the FCC. When Krech, The Rabbi, Al Young, John Thomson, and myself had been on KPFA to discuss little magazines much earlier, the crackers had cut me off just when I said, "Whether or not we decide to let the government live with us." So I had a moment's rush of skepticism that anything serious was impossible in that format.

"Anything I guess. They said they were working up a series of public responses from responsible community leaders to the killing."

"I could read them a poem. I'm certainly not going to tell them anything. Who do I get in touch with?"

"Just call KPFA and tell them who you are and that you have a response. I told them you might be calling." I called up the radio station and told them I would like to read a poem. After a brief delay to hook the equipment, I put "The Wild Dog Distinguished Service Cross" on them as I had just finished it. They said they would play it with their broadcast.

"There's not much else to say, is there," said the man on the other end of the line.

"No, not really."

Pat came over during the broadcast and there was a lot of loose uninformed talk about guns and defenses and shit that was really bringing her down. It amazed me that they put the poem on as the finale in the program. They had Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Eldridge Cleaver and others with their variations on the "shocked and saddened" speeches straight America was making.

I gave the whole thing no more thought and went over to Julia's to work, the Incredible Poetry Reading, which was the initial number in the Rolling Renaissance series was nearly due. What The Rabbi called, "1960's All Stars." I talked Julia into going and we drifted into the Norse Auditorium, huge lines of people waiting to get in. I had two passes coming because I was on the program later in the week so we didn't have to shell out for tickets. I saw Pete Winslow waiting in the line near the ticket booth and said hi to him. Inside we decided to go to the balcony so we could get a better look. The crowd was milling around. Andy and John the Poet were in the balcony also. Before long I saw The Rabbi and Krech passing through the crowd downstairs passing out pink sheets of paper. Later they brought some into the balcony. It's was the new GPR, number 6, they had done it themselves, LAFFING WATER DROPS OUT on the headline in letters incomprehensible to many because the Rabbi had made them look like a middle eastern script. The Rabbi in his blue silk shirt, raised his arms as though he were on the cross, and we yukked it up, still friends.

Lew Welch was trying to talk to the audience without the benefit of the mike and Michael McClure who had the mike, was sitting on his hams, would then repeat what Welch was saying over it. Ginsberg was pulling on his concertina and chanting loudly. Ferlinghetti was there in his Karakul hat. The great Buddha, Philip Whalen, sat with a ring of bells, and then finger chimes, and just rocked back and forth. Meltzer, who had put this act together, seemed tremendously relaxed and in complete control. I could admire that cool without reserve. There was a guy in an old fashioned coat, who was introduced as John Wieners. He read some new poems, and then put down his famous work, The Hotel Wently Poems, as "Simple narrative, you can get it anywhere, say Francis Parkman," he said pausing, but it was not true, they were better than his new poems. Welch read a digger riff on the city which was well received. Meltzer did fine, "I've been married 10 years, and I've finally gotten nerve enough to clear my throat." Ferlinghetti read, "They've shot him down again, they've killed him again."

Gregory Corso was on the program but he didn't show up. Ginsberg read his super fuck poem all about master let me lick your balls.

It led Andy to say when I asked him how he dug the reading, "That fruit ruined it." McClure read something he said was maybe a "fairy tale." Whalen read a handful of excellent poems, standing kitty cornered to the microphone stand, not impressed by the surroundings. After the reading there was supposed to be a huge party at the Steam Beer Brewery.

"You know what kind of party this is?" The Rabbi asked of me, finding me sitting on the stove in one corner. "It's an 'I was talking to Ginsberg, and he said,"' after which we both hooted. The overseer of the party got uptight because we were smoking and many people took off their clothes to dance.

"Do you want us to leave?" Allen Ginsberg asked insolently of the uptight overlord of the party. It embarrassed him and he hummed and hawed. We split and the party wound up at The Rabbi's.

Sunday night was the regular Shakespeare reading again, the first since COSMEP. There was an old man there who was trying to tell us that he was straight, which was obvious, and that he had been trying to find out what was going on with Hippies, but he said that he found they wouldn't level with him, and I countered with did he think that they would just "spill the beans," to any straight cat who went up to them. Why didn't he, I suggested, get some beads or buttons, let his hair grow long, and just get into something with them and then maybe he would understand it. But he came back that he didn't dig masquerade, and I had to say maybe that's because you'd lose your job if you let your hair grow long. Do you want your job or do you want to find out the truth, I said, shaking him off. He wanted to go on talking but I walked away leaving his mouth open.

One time on the avenue in front of Shakespeare's I had been talking to a man who said his name was John Brown, and was waving as he gestured, a book on the story of Christ. We were watching with some interest a policeman deal with what could have been anything from a drug overdose to an epileptic fit. The rascal Paul X. was at Shakespeare's reading, and in better humor than I'd ever seen him. In fact he came up to me and gave me a French kiss.

Monday I went to the reading at The Glide chiefly to hear Lew Welch again, who had been so fine and out of his head on Saturday night, but for some reason he wasn't on the program and had in fact turned his part of the program over to Skip Upton. Upton read a huge poem that got half a standing ovation. In those days Upton wouldn't let anyone "Mimeo his righteousness." It must have charmed Ferlinghetti who backstage asked him for the poem for a City Lights book. I was pleased with that because it meant that if Ferlinghetti was open to Upton, he would love Clausen and maybe myself, if he could ever hear us read.

Dawn had called, she was staying with her parents in Pacific Heights, and wanted to see me. I told her about the readings, which she enjoyed the prospect of hearing, and I told her I would meet her after work in the panhandle of Golden Gate Park.

I had to go over to Julia's to work on Tuesday morning, and eating a late breakfast before I left, the phrase "Simultaneous crotch rot," passed the lips of Kepley as he and Edy and I were at the table. It took a moment for it to sink in, then words like "trichomonisis," went around the table. Edy had gone to the doctor and gotten the word. It sounded a lot like trichomonaiesesis, which is what I thought they had told me once when I went to the derm clinic at the U of Washington. But they had said there was nothing I could do about it. Upstairs I noticed my own crotch was full of the tiny beads on the hairs, armpit hairs, pubic hairs, matted almost together. The parasites were eating me. I resolved to go to the free clinic in the Haight after work at Julia's.

I hotfooted it over Castro to the District, and then sat in line on the shit painted sidewalks of San Francisco. No doctor who could look at me, much trouble, dozens more people than could be dealt with, traditional appeals for support on the bulletin board. I read the Poems Written before Jumping Out of an 8 Story Window by Charles Bukowski. Clearlite had recently gotten a few copies of it to me. The first one he sent, bound out of order, with a weird cover on it, had nearly given me heart failure when I received it at the post office. Then later in specific disregard of my instructions, he had sent four boxes of them to the post office. I had told him to send them to the house, so that I wouldn't have to transport them. Clearlite had his problems and I had mine, four boxes of Bukowski books, which I was too excited about having to leave at the post office until I could get somebody with a car to help me carry them, so I started off through the heat of the afternoon, getting tireder and madder as I went along. Some red headed young lady appeared seemingly from nowhere and offered to help me, perhaps responding to the look of desperation I had on my sweaty face. The terror set in later after we had arrived at Fulton, and I had gotten her a cool drink from the refrigerator downstairs. I thought I would play one of my songs for her on the guitar, she looked good enough to eat. I couldn't make my fingers do what I wanted them to do on the guitar, I was so tired they wouldn't respond to the usual musical patterns.

So there in the free clinic I read the book, proud that it finally got done anyway. This young girl who was assigned to my problem at the clinic, didn't want to look at my pubes and in fact wanted me to return later when there would have been a doctor, but the schedule was too hard to make and too vague. "Please look," I said, and dropped my drawers as she reluctantly agreed to examine me.

"They're not crabs," she said, but she couldn't tell me any more. Dawn picked me up and after a brief drive down to her parents house, we made it to the reading early. They were taking pictures of poets for an anthology they said. Christa Fleischmann took my photograph, Dawn's, and pictures of the Berkeley poets. Andy had written a mantra based on the candy bar wrappers, "you know why not," but it got mixed up and the pages were out of order.

"We'll try it with a one third cut," Andy said to rearrange the pages, "and if that doesn't work, we'll try a one half cut," gesturing wildly, "and if that fails then we'll try a French cut," he finished by a rapid shaking of his arms from the shoulders. Linda hadn't looked so flustered since the day we were in San Francisco at the park and she had turned the corner too fast and too long and hit the curb, flattening the tire. I had borrowed a jack from a carload of Chicanos across the street.

At the reading there was still a silly trip going down with Waldman and Simon. Joel saying, "I thought I was part of this scene?" which was true, but there certainly wasn't room for all 65 poets who had read at COSMEP to read in the one night at the Glide. The Rabbi was being as fair as anyone could have been. Alta was not on the program, but she wheedled Simon until he introduced her, she in tearful rage. I introduced myself afterward, dug reading in the dark, couldn't see anything of the audience except a few glimmers of light from people's glasses. Some clown from Florida was trying to ask me about poetry readings afterward, Ramsey something, but after telling him where there were a few open readings that he could get into, he wanted to know more. I suggested the group from Berkeley and he indicated he didn't want to get into such a "tribe." You need rhinoceros hide to be a poet in America, there are so many half educated creeps waiting to waste your time.

Wednesday I was working again for Julia, and met Tim Reynolds. Later he gave me a ride to the Wednesday night reading. Robert Duncan had been scheduled but decided for some reason to not be on the program, so it was Rexroth, and Antoninus. Ginsberg had been selected to fill the Duncan gap. He read first and it was nothing until he actually started reading a dream like poem he had written about trying to bumfuck Le Roi Jones and trying to get Jones to protect him in the coming racial war. Then especially enough, he read a letter he had received from Jones at about the same time he was having the dream that told him, "Because of the fantasies you and other white Americans insist on having is precisely the reason why it must be destroyed."

Ginsberg read this like it was a one liner, and everybody but myself guffawed. It seemed far too serious to me, and without time to think about it my mouth involuntarily opened and I bellowed, "RIGHT!"

This made the Glide very tomblike, absolutely quiet for a few seconds. Nobody knew who had hollered. I was barely conscious that it had been me. Then Ginsberg repeated much softer, "Right," then he said, "Wrong," and began to waver between the two words like a metronome who simply didn't know. "Right, wrong, right, wrong, right wrong right wrong right wrong." I was annoyed with myself because I hate people who interrupt poetry readings, and now I had done it, not only had I done it, but I had done it to the most famous and least likely to be interrupted poet around.

Andy who was standing behind the seats, began to say, "It's all right," timed to coincide with the right in the right wrong chant, which had begun to sound like a Tony Blank riff. "It's all right, it's all right, it's all right with me," Andy crooned. After Ginsberg was off the stage and there was a brief break, I noticed Gerry Grimmett and gave him a copy of the Bukowski book on my way up to apologize to Ginsberg. But I started talking to him about it, that it had been involuntary and so forth, even though I did certainly believe the truth of what Jones had indicated, truth that these people had no business laffing at, and Ginsberg went into a, well then you get into absolutes, as though absolutes were odious to him, and I just backed quickly off, he seemed so unimpressed with the foolishness of his position and out of touch generally.

Brother Antoninus came on next in his magpie getup, black and white frock, and he paced back and forth and insulted the audience for about forty-five minutes, telling them why he specifically hated to read with a poet like Ginsberg, about how fucked up his soul was and so forth. It was the biggest drag I believe it's been my displeasure to encounter in a few hundred poetry readings that I've been to. I was really impatient to hear Rexroth. And was further to be annoyed that when the Brother began reading, even then it was nothing to have waited for.

Ferlinghetti introduced Rexroth as "Having become a great poet when he left the fledgling Soviet Union to fend for itself." Rexroth was reading a numbered series, but it wasn't impressive.

Some guy later identified as Tony Scibella was sitting in the back with Andy Clausen, saying "bullshit," at about every 10th word from Rexroth.

On Thursday I decided to hoof it all the way over to City Lights and cop the bread they owed me for books I had left with them. Stalking down Market Street, almost got clipped by a bus. There was nobody in at the bookstore who could pay me, their clerks being dragged in off the street and paid the minimum wage, I guess like everybody else, didn't know anything about it. I would have to come back later. Always deal with bookstores in cash. I did sell a copy of the Bukowski book upon returning to The Glide to Helen Luster of Los Angeles. The big hit of the evening was Wieners, who primped and sang, and then came over and sat beside me, made a pass putting his hand on my cock. I removed it and gave him a copy of Litmus 8 with his letter and the letter I had written back to him.

Whipping through the BART overturned city and home, who should I run into but Hiatt and Sunshine and Kepley in my room waiting for me to get there. I didn't care to see any of them right then because I had been writing a poem in my head for John Wieners all the way home and had really been looking forward to getting it down on paper. Sunshine hadn't gone to the Saturday night reading, and I had refused to tell him very much about it. I was still trying to get through to him with hints and indirect suggestions instead of telling him, go yourself.

Hiatt was paranoid and they had been on a trip to Los Angeles with a u-haul and had committed themselves to a degree they may once have not thought that possible. I listened to them for a while, they wanted me to do the I Ching for the situation. I said ok, even though I didn't have my heart in it. The last time I had thrown the oracle it had been 28 moving to 49 and the message I got was that it was no longer necessary for me to consult the oracle and that I should lay off it. But I got it out and it went from 51 to 2 for Hiatt and after I got through with it, Hiatt said, "It told me three times to get off the speed," shock, the arousing, thunder. Shocks were going through me when I finally got them dispersed and on with the poem.

Again it was light before I got to sleep, and after a few fitful hours, I was on my way back to the city for the final reading, when incredibly enough, Jan asked me, "Can you cash a check for me?"

"I could of earlier, but I'm going to the city now," I said and then realizing I had cut him off too short, added, "Doesn't Sunshine have a bank account. Why didn't you have him cash it?" He had just got in the habit of having me do it. I was trying also not to care that they had been staying in Big Sur. They must have had as much time as I did to cash checks.

"Never mind, we'll get it," Jan had said as I walked out.

The last reading was a little bit of everybody, jammed to the rafters, they gave Philip Whalen's book, The Invention of the Letter, away en masse, "liberated it," as Whalen put it when he announced that it was being given away. Lots of little publisher's helpers moving through the audience passing it out. Ginsberg read a poem by Bob Kaufman, presumably because he couldn't be there. Waldman was trying to read a poem but he got lost in a tendentious explanation. Ginsberg finally being curt with him, "Read the poem," he snapped. I saw some of the people from the house there. The reading wasn't much and I laid down under a coat rack in the rear and didn't pay any attention until Ama, the clown poet, read. It degenerated into an open reading, I thought I might read the one I'd written for Wieners, and "Little Lord Shiva", but I decided not to. Janine Pommy Vega read a poem, "Poem Against Mass Endless Poetry Readings," to which Wieners objected with "Read a poem," and then Brautigan whose scene this last reading was, tried to tell Wieners that it was a good poem. I got a ride home with Joel, Andy and Linda were also in the bus.

"This guy Blazek thinks you're the Pound of our scene," Joel said, which made me wonder what he was thinking of because I couldn't see that Blazek had any such ideas. It finally became clear that he was talking about Hiatt, not Blazek. Now that the readings were over, I could finish the work at Julia's, the Litmus 10, and duck out of town.


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