It was back when I was putting myself through the first two years of college, working in the art history slide collection of the library, my daughter was three years old and I had picked the college because they had a great Day Care Center. I waitressed and tended bar at a very exclusive country club, thanks to a woman I met in group therapy who ran the club's carriage house casual restaurant. It still smelled of hay and horses and wasn't heated, so I made the drinks pretty strong. I got no complaints and large tips. I also worked nights and some Saturdays at Bloomingdales, a well-established department store, in the fine jewelry section with some real oddballs, myself included.
I was an older student, though not by much, but my friends were mostly the professors. It was because of them I ended up going to an old silk factory in Paterson for a poetry reading by someone I'd never heard of, Amiri Baraka. I remember we stopped near the falls and it must have been winter because the falling water was frozen in vertical places. We drank espresso coffee with rum in it. Inside this old dusty factory, with worn wooden floors, brick walls and high clouded windows, we all sat on the floor, huddled for warmth in our coats.
This mad man poet of black angry rage and rhythm cursing words transfixed us, transformed us, had us stomping our white feet, hearts beating outside our chests, from start to finish. He was rocking and pounding an invisible drum, swaying to his own harsh lullabies, words tumbling out faster and faster until his sweat glistened, until he reached that wall where athletes aim. A woman appeared and wiped his face with her dress because his sweat had mingled with his tears. It was Biblical. He left without signing any books or talking to the crowd. We almost got up, but the woman said Allen Ginsberg is with us and he has agreed to recite one poem. By then the light had shifted in the room but the electricity of the crowd had not diminished. We wanted more, like a theater encore, and what we got was Allen Ginsberg's Howl.