When we last left Sparrow [Issue 181], he had just arrived in France after six months of roaming the British Isles, struggling to keep his marriage intact, and looking ahead to the culmination of his pilgrimage in India six months hence. While in earnest search of himself, God, and true love, Sparrow is frequently overtaken by fits of jealousy, periods of poverty, harangues of self-doubt — by a host of troubles which seem both unique to him, and yet touchingly emblematic of all that is truly human.
Sparrow, a regular contributor to The Sun, lives on New York’s Lower East Side. Born Too Young is the record of his year-long sojourn to meet his guru, P.R. Sarkar. Sarkar (or Baba, as Sparrow fondly refers to him) founded Ananda Marga, a spiritual organization dedicated to social service. As a member of Ananda Marga, Sparrow hopes to consolidate his faith — and the course of his life — by an audience with Sarkar.
In Part One, Jeanne and Sparrow arrived together in London and traveled the British Isles, their relationship often tempestuous, their future shaky. Having endured arrest, English food, and Yom Kippur in Glasgow, Sparrow learns that Jeanne wishes to depart immediately for India by herself. Doggedly, Sparrow makes the Channel crossing alone, determined to adhere to his plan for a slow, meditative trip through Europe.
It is indeed a tale of faith, faith lost and faith regained, faith under siege. In what follows, Sparrow roams the continent, gnawed by doubts. Is Jeanne remaining faithful? Is Baba the genuine article? Is it safe to eat the falafel? Is the journey itself a means of flight, or the route to redemption? Along the way, Sparrow endures freezing nights along Danish roadsides, the muddled advances of a pretty Sardinian, and long nights in the ports of Italy, trying to arrange passage to the Middle East, and from there, to India — and a confrontation with Jeanne, Baba, and ultimately, himself.
— T.L. Toma
I am in exile, it just hit me — political exile. I’ve been thinking, “One year doesn’t make you an expatriate,” but I did leave (partly) because I was sick of the States, of seeing the number of homeless grow each year as more money is spent on impressionist art, the cops invade whoever they choose next out of the Rolodex — Grenada, Tripoli, Nicaragua — and worst of all, my friends sitting in cafes, talking about whether to take cocaine, whether to have sex, no one ready to say with their whole body, “This shit don’t bounce!”
Latest jungle scenarios:
1) I walk in her mud hut and say, “Where is he?” as a joke. It ruins our relationship.
2) I walk in. “Where is he?”
She, laughing, “Where is who?” Finally, she gestures to a rattan wardrobe and he walks out sheepishly.
I to him: “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to ritually execute you.” And I do.
Lately I get the feeling Baba’s watching everything I do, thinking, “That Sparrow, now he thinks there’s no God. Ahhh!” or, “That Sparrow, now he’s crouched next to a road in Brittany mourning his lost love. Ahaha!”
But when I look at S., he seems to have it made: he’s got this 300-year-old house, this adoring wife, this slightly flaky but faithful kid, these cats, his business, which is also his obsession. He meditates about fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes at night. There’s no hassle. But you can’t help feeling he’s being duped. Like somebody said, five meals stand between the judge and the criminal. He’s one day away from disaster.
I guess I’d rather have the disaster, and get it over with.
Jeanne sent me a postcard as soon as she got to Bombay that sounded like she was writing to her fuckin’ aunt: “The hydrangea are blooming across the road. . . . When in Paris, I recommend the Rodin Museum. . . . I think of you fondly.” (After I’d already written these wrenching letters — three of them: “I’m desperate/determined/I watch for you in the night.”) I almost cried right there on the Rue de Louvre. Then, in a postcard store, I looked through a Man Ray book and felt better. Suddenly I had the intuition, “She’s sleeping with another guy. I can feel it,” and went through six Buddhist hells, tourist class. (Night of the full moon.) Next day I could feel it was an illusion. “She’s waiting for me — I know it.” The only thing saving me from this bullshit is the thought that every single person on earth has also gone through it, and the ill-defined belief — born of reading too many books about reincarnation — that if you go through it enough it stops.
It’s late at night + I can’t sleep, thinking about everything under the sun. No, not really, just about myself, my life, my future, you. Bombay is difficult. Manic, crowded, hustling. Indians at their worst. As soon as you step out on the street in Colaba, it’s, “Yes, madam?” “Change money, hashish, heroin?” “You want room, I know cheap hotel.” I didn’t know it would be so hard to adjust. And the guilt when I see the beggars + the worries about money, the constant sense that I’m being cheated + everything seems more expensive than before. And the smells + sounds bring back memories of the last time when I was so lonely + doubtful. They strike fear in me + I have to keep reminding myself why I’ve chosen to do this.
All I’ve done is walk the street + run errands — bought a shirt, a Hindi book, envelopes, kohl for my eyes; checked out the train to Igatpuri. Sat on a bench near a huge well — “Bhikka Behram Well” — and watched people come up to it, drink water + pray. The old caretaker came over + told me it was a sacred Parsee place. He told me I must go to the zoo, the aquarium + the Hanging Gardens. But I looked in someone’s guidebook + decided to try Krishnagiri National Park, where there are some ancient Buddhist caves. Anything to get out of Bombay. That’s my plan for tomorrow.
I’m lonely, but now that I’ve moved into the Salvation Army hostel, a little less so.
My farts smell different here.
This morning there were sparrows in the bathroom.
Later: I’m on the train to Borevili (a town one-and-a half kilometers from Krishnagiri). Beautiful dark girls walk through the ladies’ coach selling hair clips + little stick-ons, I guess for the forehead. These Brahman women have gotten lazy + use little fuzzy things instead of colored powder.
Sometimes I wish you were here with me, sharing the sights; I’d be less lonely, braver. But then I think it wouldn’t be all that different — I’d be self-conscious in front of you, focused on your judgment instead of my own; you’d be averted when I’m depressed + I’d be resentful of you instead of myself.
I’m trying to remember that I’m making two big adjustments at once — to being in India + to being alone. It helps a lot to know you love me + that I’ll see you in a few months. This is making me cry + it feels good.
In Borevili: I suppose it was too much to expect a park this close to the city to be nice. Schoolchildren in checkered uniforms on picnic, unsavory characters trying to lure me into the bushes, dust + trash. Hotel Ellora in town is one hundred rupees per night. Oh well, back to Bombay. At least the town was nice, stores in shacks, bullock carts, etc. And it’s refreshing to be the only white person in town, although it makes me feel I’m in the wrong place.
Boy on roof of railway platform, trying to fly a kite.
I love you very much.
Thanks, that was just the letter I needed (not that I realized it).
Yes, I love you, and I’m certainly willing to suffer a good deal more for it.
(Incidentally, don’t tell me about any alliances unless they directly affect our relations — I mean directly. I’ve been much happier not knowing about your attractions.)
I write from my new home, two hundred feet from the Cathedral of Notre Dame (I see it out my window) — the second floor of a bookstore, Shakespeare & Company. It seems like my place, with books instead of walls — though it’s obvious the owner, George, is an emotional fascist.
Write Poste Restante, Barcelona — I expect to quit this joint fairly soon (unless some easy money appears). At the risk of repetition, I love you.
I’ve joined a writer’s group — quite a writer’s group, too. There’s this fellow, Michael — you know the type — with a bad complexion, preppie, who says “epistemological” when he means “epistolary”; Emily, a lady poet of fifty who writes about the Seine; and Annie, who defended literally every poem read.
It ended with this twenty-year-old Irish kid reading for about an hour; he kept trying to stop but we wouldn’t let him. He’s not a good poet, but once or twice he’d break through, for three lines, to the Other World. Why is it I like everyone from Ireland?
But it’s exciting; I talked virtually the whole day, and while none of them are any good, they really are starving poets in Paris, at the very bookstore that first published James Joyce. It’s so pleasant to say things like, “Chekhov’s so good I can’t read him!” and have twenty-three-year-old Australian girls open their eyes wider in surprise — particularly after seventeen days of trying to figure out how to ask, “When does the postman come?” in French.
Ever since that elf-pretty Australian told me there are bedbugs here, I’ve been scratching. Face it, I’m a hypochondriac. Also I may have bedbugs.
More snow on the rue today, and the second morning looking out at Notre Dame, I thought, “They oughta put a clock on that thing.”
I just discovered I’m living with three shelves of The New Yorker, the most recent being 1960! (This is my new house, near the Rhino Cafe. Angry George seems to have limitless real estate holdings. I’m building shelves for him, in repayment.
“Have you done carpentry before?” he asked.
“Sure . . . a little,” I said.
“Well, shop class. . . .”)
I’ve either got bedbugs, the worst case of psychologically induced itching in the annals of medicine, or hopefully, fleas. There is a cat, and the itch is mostly on my wrists and ankles.
Paris is like being on drugs. I never do half the things I intend to. I have to talk to myself like a child: “Now you’re going downstairs to make a phone call.” (“Oh, right, I knew there was something.”) I lock myself out, then remember, “You were supposed to look up the phone numbers of the Krishna people.” (“Right, next time!”)
Then I realize I’ve lost my pen. Open the two locks — takes four attempts — feel in my pocket. “It was there — you just didn’t feel it before.” Relock the locks. “You were supposed to look up the phone number of the Krishna people!” (“Right, next time.”)
In Mark Twain’s time, America still had a species of English culture: ruder, plainer, more religious, and more fishing poles, but English. The houses and town squares, the books they read, their plays, the very lack of ornament. Men didn’t style their hair then, and eat yogurt, and go on vacations to get suntans, and go to discothèques, and wear $1,200 suits. See what I mean? All this New York City jet-set culture which is insidiously infecting American life (and which was indirectly launched by — of all people — the hippies) is French, to the bone. Sophisticated, indolent, nasty, the French virtues are spreading over the U.S.A. like so many unisex hair salons. Now, when you go to England you think, “This is how America used to be” — guys in gray pants, standing in bars, drinking. And when you’re in France you think, “This is how America will be” — boutiques full of designer sunglasses on every block.
I can’t seem to work up a passion for females, since deciding I would have affairs. I’m a six-month-on, six-month-off man. After fighting and loving with Jeanne since the spring, it’s such a relief to sit on a loft bed and look at my feet.
Bookstores are strange. When you live in one, you see it at night, like a sleeping woman. She’ll wake up and all the men will want her, but right now she’s asleep — she’s like a can of creamed corn. She’s an object. And the store opens and all these people immediately rush in and spend hours looking at these objects. It’s as if you sold tile, and the people came in and stared at the tiles.
Today I’m thinking, “This is the relationship I’ve always wanted. I can put the make on any young Canadian I encounter, and still have my real tootsy waiting in the Indus Valley!”
I figured out why Buddhist monks have shaved heads — damn bedbugs!
I think of Anne Frank here a lot, ’cause I’m always saying un franc.
Figured out why the French don’t have children. The women don’t wanna get fat.
It’s amazing to think feminism was born here.
I’ve been building shelves this week: sawing this miserable dumpster wood, soaking off the paper and plaster (outdoors, while it snowed), nailing it, bending the nails, pulling them out. It’s all been remarkably boring — though it was the first shelf I’d actually built. I invented this shelf, and now you can put a grapefruit on it, just like a real shelf! It was three pieces of wood against the wall, now it’s like the immutable shelves of my childhood! It’s the opposite of having your house washed away in a flood.
Saturday night. My main problem has moved from bedbugs to loneliness, which in some ways is more difficult, as you can’t buy, for four bucks, a cannister of powder that purports to remove it. To buy bread, I’ve got to walk a gay street of Greek restaurants, where the headwaiters step briskly into the street and clap their hands with a kind of challenge — and all those bored tourist couples I feel so superior to by day, by night seem glittery and in love, lining up for Peggy Sue S’est Marié. (The French are so narcissistic their term for a wedding is “she married herself.”)
More strange French practices surrounding parenthood: they have these Ecoles Maternelles where women go to school to learn to be mothers. And most horrible of all, prenatal clothing shops — the most cruel and wasteful practice I’ve seen yet in my travels. First of all, the kid doesn’t even need clothes in there. . . .
Looking in The New Yorker of 1958, I see a brunette in a kimono, her rear turned to me. “I want her,” I think, and then, “Oh yes, she’s sixty now, or gone.”
“Do you need a guru or do you just like having one?” this Australian advertising man asked me at the tea party today.
“Well, I suppose I need one.”
“I’ve always wanted to be a mystic.”
He laughed. “I thought you had to be born one.”
“Well, perhaps, but I’ve always wanted to be one.”
“What do you mean by ‘mystic’?”
“Someone who’s . . . mystical.”
“I can see you’ve given this a lot of thought.”
“You ever have that feeling that everything’s fine, there’s nothing to worry about?”
“Four or five times.”
“It’s like that.”
Last night in the writer’s group: Joseph got into an argument about “What is reality?”; Annie’s short story was too sentimental about marijuana for my taste; Daniel jumped in, apologizing profusely for being two hours late, and then was miffed that we’d started without him. Then this preppie blonde in the corner became suddenly animated. It turned out she was in the wrong place, thought this was a poetry reading, and began to knock out these . . . well, she’s a Texas academic, which is something to ponder. Her name is Doña. She has these great lines like “I turned five times.” Her poems don’t mean anything, which is so refreshing. She sounds drunk when she recites.
Dominique and Stephen and this Texas Ranger and I bought three pizzas and wine and lugged them to my seventeen-story walk-up, and I showed them my New Yorker collection from 1954-60 — all six hundred of them — and they assumed I carry them around Europe with me. That’s the danger of wearing horn-rims.
Doña criticized “glistening dew,” and Annie asked, “What new can you say about dew?” (Listing “sparkling,” “heavy,” “nourishing.”) I pulled a volume of Lenin off the shelf and opened it: “Dew . . . holds the possibility of advancing the revolution.”
“That works,” Daniel nodded.
I hope that preppie blonde arrives tonight as she promised. My fantasy is “Wanna come back to my house and read old New Yorkers?” and then actually doing it.
There’s one saint on Notre Dame holding his head confidently in his hands; must be John the Baptist.
I want this Doña, am half in love with her, and Jeanne seems suddenly like a memory as faint as The Four Musketeers (with Raquel Welch).
I just finished American Notes by Charles Dickens. He ends by suggesting the violence in America is due to slavery (after quoting a whole series of newspaper ads for runaway slaves that say right out, “branded on back,” “shot through foot”).
I got your Groundhog Day letter and was disappointed. For one thing, it was rather peevish: I was “guilt-provoking,” not serious about my meditation. The sense I got was you’d rather be alone figuring out yourself than have me to worry about. Walking three miles to my mail pickup, I hoped you’d say, “I’m desperate without you; come right away,” and I could say to my pals in the Expatriate Corral, “Well, I gotta saddle up tomorrow; there’s a lady in Jamalpur who needs me.” Instead I see my own uncertainties in you, which seems to make them larger.
At this point my conviction is that we’re not through with each other. Perhaps if you don’t see it as a red light/green light choice it’ll be simpler — I’d say our condition is decidedly yellow.
(It struck me I haven’t talked much about dharma lately — let me. I still say, I will be with you as long as it serves the dharma).
We interrupt this letter to bring you an announcement: just called my parents from the Café du Notre Dame and they say you’re desperately in love with me. So be it.
Yes, it’s cold in Europe (she read me your card), and in fact I don’t have heat, but this sleeping bag continues to surprise me. (If I can just get the bugs out of it.) (Bad joke.) Anyway, thanks to good diet and tough ancestors I haven’t had even the sniffles.
As for the rest, I’m a slow-moving carpenter for the moment — in return for a room — and I’m starting to wonder if I like every occupation as long as it’s two hours a day. Oh, yes, I’m putting out Big Fish and founding a poetry movement: The Optional Dreams School. In short, I’m again the hickory-haired gadabout you fell in love with in the cafes of St. Marks Place. Care to split a bowl of minestrone?
All my love,
I n twenty-four hours I was in five countries — more than twice as many as I’ve been in in my life — and now I’m on the ferry from Nyborg to Korsor, getting a free lunch (with wine!) because it’s the third birthday of the ship. I can see blue water with a white halo in the distance — icebergs. Here’s what I thought of the five countries. France is great, though it’s hard to imagine anyone there being your friend. Belgium exists in my notebook as the three words “Namen,” “Luik,” “Antwerpen.” Nederland — shyness is their weakness. (The saintly safety inspector closed his eyes when he’d turn to me.) Germany is chiefly amazing because the border cops are just what you expect — leafing through your French-English dictionary to see if you’ve hollowed it out to hide drugs. I honestly believe they asked me, “Are you carrying any explosives?” in innocence that a terrorist would lie to the police. The rest of the place looks like everywhere else — that is to say, Pennsylvania.
This clean, open city of Copenhagen is the least cynical collection of a million people I’ve ever seen. We’re too far north to be frightened of anything — they call the United States “United Bluff.”
It was midnight and I was on the highway, surrounded by snow, in the cold rain — cars and trucks doing ninety — and nothing stopped. I realized the post with a yellow light next to me was an emergency phone. I lifted the lid and heard a voice, saying something like “Rijlvod.”
“Hello?” I said. “I’m hitchhiking and I wonder if I can sleep at the police station.”
“No. There’s no room.”
“What do you suggest?”
“In Calding there’s a place you can stay.”
“Where is it?”
“You must follow the road back five kilometers.”
I started walking, smelled wood smoke, and went to examine. A big white house; knocked at the door — no answer. Behind it, stables — couldn’t open them. Behind that, a long house, with many doors, looked like a hotel. I found the door the smoke was coming from behind. I knocked. A dog barked. That was all; a dog was living there.
I walked on.
Finally I got to the exit sign for Calding — and another police phone. “Things are going quite well,” I said to myself. “I’m at the exit for Calding,” I told the cops.
“You still have five, six, seven kilometers,” the cop said.
“How do I find it once I’m there?”
“Go to Tryblorn.”
“Is it on the main street?”
“There are many main streets in Calding. It’s a big place.”
“Well, where do I go from the main road?”
“I can’t explain on the phone.”
I reached another house. Knocked on the door — no answer. Perhaps all the houses in Denmark are vacant. Beside it a garage, big door up. It was surprisingly warm in there. And dry. “This’ll do.”
I pulled out my sleeping bag — soaked! “What if he drives in at night and crushes me like a Ritz cracker box?” I put the pack in front of me, changed my socks, dried my feet. The new socks were wet, too. I pulled the bag over my head. “What if I get pneumonia?” It’s hard to sleep when you’re thinking that.
But I must have, because there was a gap, then light under the door. It had snowed — and was colder than the night before, my shoes completely wet. My teeth chattered.
Saturday, I went to the African National Congress demonstration at Shell headquarters downtown. Thirty-two cops, with shields, pushed us back across the street, me and a bunch of seventeen-year-old kids in ski masks and Nicaraguan bandanas. (I sat behind one later, the words to “I Did It My Way” on the back of his jacket, and on the sleeve: SUPPORT PEACE — KILL THE POLICE.)
In the little park, there was a stoic woman holding a seventeenth-century Danish flag, a big pot of soup, speeches by Green Party types running for the city council, a choir of lesbians singing the ANC anthem, and a clever little South African guy — the ANC delegate to Denmark — who disavowed violence (in English) several times. The demo was short by American standards — that was its virtue.
Down the street the cops were redirecting traffic, and farther on, the Danske Bank window was in smithereens. I asked a man in a suit standing next to the police car, “It was the punks?”
“Did they arrest any?”
“No. They could not arrest.”
And one block on, in front of the Cafe Ø, was the buzzing crowd of guys who did it.
I spoke to a very nervous longhaired kid in a leather jacket I’d stood next to at the protest: “Why did you smash the bank?”
“Because bank own buildings like we lives in, and they let them empty and no one can live in them.” (They’re squatters.)
“Is this bank connected to imperialism?”
“It’s just — how you say? — symbol.”
So Jeanne is either with someone and not writing, or writing to Barcelona Poste Restante, as I directed her. I think she has slept with someone by now and probably still is in love with me — that’s my guess. (“I’m lucky with women,” I tell myself.)
I’ve been reading Trotsky’s Journal D’Exile. Loneliness, with Trotsky by my side, is actually an honor. (He writes that, having lost touch with Rakovsky, the last companion of the struggle, “there is no one to argue with but the newspapers.”)
The Sardinian gal agreed to hitchhike with me Monday.
She’s this small, pale, jurisprudence student with thin cheeks, a football jersey, mountains of curly hair that fall in her face, an electric style of arguing — and a deep, tuneless voice capable of propelling a brokenhearted Sardinian melody across the room.
Reaching for bread at dinner, she brushed against me with her small breasts, and I would’ve taken her then — and will, most likely, if she wants — if I can explain herpes to her, and overcome my sexual distaste for the new. I want revenge on Jeanne, though I worry one shouldn’t screw on a pilgrimage.
Now, first ride gone, with a Balkan dancing enthusiast, the Sardinian asks me, “How old are you?” in French.
“Great! The same age as Christ! It’s a good time for you to be crucified!”
“Yes! Every day I wait! And you? You are the same age as Mary?”
“Mary? Which Mary?”
“Ah, perhaps. Ha ha!”
Now, after a ride with an Iraqi, we’re rubbing against each other. Mary Magdalene is certainly entertaining, but one worries one is only “multiplying one’s mental protoplasm,” as Baba so memorably, if uncomfortably, puts it.
An argument about AIDS: fewer people pick up hitchhikers because of it, she thinks. “I live in the city with the most AIDS in the world, and people don’t think about it much,” I bragged. “What about those parents who didn’t want that kid with AIDS in their daughter’s class?” she asked. Christ, news travels fast to Sardinia.
She’s a communist (though not a Marxist), she said, and I read her some Trotsky.
It was late, and we were cold. We found an unlocked car and decided to sleep there.
A car is in some ways the best place to sleep in winter. The seats are like beds and require no ground cloth; it’s the smallest habitable structure, therefore the warmest, and the windows frost up, protecting one from intrusion.
She settled into the front seat, I in the back. Besides being scared, it seemed the wrong time for any move. We wriggled in our bags, then that silence of two people in a car.
She suddenly said some hesitant things, mostly in Italian, ending with, “Je ne suis pas content.” I leaned up to her seat, kissed her on the face, tiny kisses, and held her hand through the bag. She gave me her intelligent look of assessment; also of Italian appreciation for manhood?
I kissed her thick hair. She gave me her look again.
I hugged her, through the seat, but felt no answering contraction. In Sardinia does the man do everything?
She leaned back. I withdrew, toward sleep.
God, this is a mess. “We should’ve taken the train last night,” she keeps saying. “We’d be out of Denmark and it’d be easier to get a ride. There’s no place for the cars to stop.”
All because I kissed her last night — and violated the dharma.
She complains about this morning’s Danish bread and predicts a bout of vomiting on her part. “For me, it’s like eating plastic!”
The sunset was fine, a kind of Danish Modern sunset: a red ball pressing down into the line of the land.
In the lovely Danish fog, among thorny trees — lovely as a Kurosawa film — she’s “cold,” and the cars will “never stop.”
At the ferry she’s still miserable. But her little snaggletoothed smile is so disarming. (“I wonder if we’d have this much trouble if we spoke the same language,” I think aloud. She’s silent, but presently says, “From now on I’m speaking only German.”)
I get a kind of Emma Goldman feeling of greatness from her, but I’m always getting that from undeserving dames.
Last night we slept on the floor, in sleeping bags. She was doing yoga when I lay down. “Best to give up on seducing her,” I reasoned. “If she wants me, let her wake me.” I put my head under the pillow.
“Sparrow!” I woke.
“I think we don’t have to go through Frankfort,” she said.
“Okay,” I said. “For that you woke me?”
She burrowed into her pillow with a girlish smile. “I was too happy to lie alone.”
I turned away, and she took my hand in her small, warm hand.
I put my arm around her, and rubbed very slowly a piece of her back. She also moved her hand, now on my neck, little motions.
“I’ve been thinking of love,” she said.
“Of what kind of love? Physical, mental, spiritual? Of all love?”
“Do you want physical love?”
“I want love masochistic, nonmasochistic, masochistic,” she said, stretching.
“You want love masochistic, nonmasochistic, masochistic?” I asked. She smiled, then propelled herself onto me, moving in the way a petite dark woman has of kissing and contracting.
“But I must tell her about this herpes problem!” I held her at arm’s length. We looked at each other.
“No, I’ve changed my mind,” she said, lighting a cigarette. “Call me a schizophrenic.”
“I am afraid of making love,” I said. “Afraid that I want it only as a conquest, and as revanche on my girlfriend. But you are a profound woman, and I respect you and love your company. It would not be just for sex.”
“There is someone I love,” she said faintly into her pillow, “more than anyone in the world.”
“Who is that?”
“He doesn’t exist.”
We’ve stopped speaking. I walked off to hitch separately. She refuses to speak French now, only Italian, and won’t continue if I understand her.
Something living in my belly dreams up these women, orders them out of the catalog.
I’m in a phone booth in Genoa. Mom just read me your letter. Forgive me, I’m not going to Barcelona. It’s disappointing you’re not in one place concentrating on writing, but this is already overlapping with my major worry, that you’re not sitting around waiting for me to save you. Mostly I just miss you — despite your thousand defects I’ve never met anyone so committed to relationship. (Keep writing my parents; I expect to arrive early May — unless the boat from Saudi Arabia takes a month, as some know-nothing in Paris said.) I wanna be a little mushy at this point, but I’ve said all these words too much. Please insert your own favorite line of mush here:
I still feel myself like an arrow pointing at you. I mean, we have — how can I put it — more packages to open.
The moon is like a crooked smile here.
I spent a lot of time in Genoa looking at the water, thinking, “Christopher Columbus sat here, dreaming of going to India — just like me — and out of that America was born,” and wondering what to make of that. (I don’t blame him — the first time I looked, I thought I saw something out there too.)
I’ve been sleeping in a large drainage pipe on a truck — but the cops are prowling tonight, so that may be out.
I hope I’m not too in love with you for your taste. Looks like rain.
B eing here is making me like the American personality: more fluid than the northern Europeans, more efficient than the southerns. America literally united the tendencies of Europe, with just enough of Africa to make Bill Haley possible. And if our ability to change has become an addiction, it’s better than having to say, “Mamma mia!” for the next twenty-five centuries. (Italians really do say, “Mamma mia!” the French really say, “Ooh la la,” and the English really say, “Cheers, mate.”)
I found myself by the docks in Genoa last Friday night without a place to stay. “That’s it! I’ll ask these boats.” First I went up to a freighter that had AXEL JOHNSON STOCKHOLM painted over and ITALIA NAPOLI stenciled in. The watchman said no. Then I tried the NUNKI, a tanker. By the time I heard an answer to my hellos I was in the cabin — two guys were smoking and watching a movie about Jesus Christ, dubbed in Italian. I sat. “Is this the Sermon on the Mount?” I wondered.
Jan and Girish,
So I’m watching this American movie about Jesus Christ in an oil tanker on the docks of Genoa, thinking, “Great, I’ll stay here tonight, then tomorrow, ’cause it’s the Sabbath. Then maybe they’ll ask me to join them — and maybe they’re sailing to Tel Aviv! All my problems will be over. I hope none of them are homosexual rapists. I wonder if cabins lock from within.”
Jesus goes to this very dull brothel (in those days prostitutes wore more clothes) and tells the story of the prodigal son. It choked me up. Then the first mate comes in and says, “Sorry, you have to leave.” (Write my Momma.)
Siva Rasa really irritated me: this odd, grim guy, with hunched shoulders. His arms just hang, like an ape; he burps all the time. For a living, he sells ugly sentimental pictures on the street; he gets them for nothing from Hong Kong. He thinks he’s vastly superior to the world, because of his inner yoga experience. And the irritating thing is, you can see in his eyes that it’s true. He does have some experience that I don’t. When he says, “Every time it’s different; it’s the greatest adventure,” you feel like saying, “Oh, shut up!” (The last thing he said to me was, “The reason nobody’s picking you up hitchhiking is you don’t do proper meditation. if you did, you’d develop powers, and you’d have no problem.” Fuck you, Siva Rasa.)
Suddenly I know I don’t want to see Jeanne. I don’t care what she’s been doing — except whether she’s cheated on me. She writes lousy prose. (You’ve read her letters.) Most of her time she floats from place to place, thinking, “I’ll be happier at the seashore; I’ll be happier in the mountains.” I don’t want to see her, I was just keeping an appointment — an appointment I had magnified in my mind into love.
“Born Too Young: Diary of a Pilgrimage (Part One)” [Issue 181]
“Born Too Young: Diary of a Pilgrimage (Part Three)” [Issue 183]