Bruce B.

Bentzman Suburban Soliloquy

143. Poets

In August of 1976, I returned to Boulder, Colorado to visit my friend Richard, who goes by a different name now. He ran the Organic Dō, a pizzeria that sat fifteen in a tiny room at the back of a grocery oriented towards vegetarians and health food devotees. There were no advertisements, but he decorated the place with ink drawings, each produced by single brush stroke and to which he attached his own short poem.

Richard was as much entertainment as chef, delivering a clever patter while preparing odd pizzas to exactly suit special diets, like those of Buddhist monks, regular customers, who would eat no cheese. On the other hand, when a young woman asked if he had different dressings to choose from for her salad, he replied, "No, we have one that pleases everyone." Then, while people ate their meals, he'd come out, would take the guitar from where it hung on the wall next to a dulcimer, and played a tune singing, "Little girls have pretty curls, but I like Oreos..."

I was not suited to my friend's mild ways and when he went to sleep early, I dashed off to my favorite watering hole of five years earlier, Tom's Tavern.

It had all changed. I couldn't find a familiar face. Young people with money filled the place and I doubt any of them were carrying guns. Disco music was on the rise and with soft rock had squeezed most of the country-western music from the jukebox. The familiar faces were gone, but Tom himself was still there. Tom was a featureless man of rounded edges. He had almost curly hair and wore plain glasses. Following a misunderstanding, an opened bottle of beer had been returned unwanted. I offered to buy it for fifteen cents. Tom ignored me and put a rubber cork in it, then stowed it with other bottles. Tom didn’t remember me. My heart cracked a little. I once wrote him a check for a million dollars to buy a beer. But when I began tossing out names, he knew them all.

Tom remembered Bob, whom he had 86ed. Bob taught psychology at the University, enjoyed dressing as a cowboy and with the assistance of the attractive Susan, a waitress, got into fistfights. Bob enjoyed fistfights. Bob married Susan and moved to Oklahoma, Tom told me.

I continued throwing out names. Dale, a professor of economics, a teller of hilariously bawdy stories, still visited on rare occasions, but no one else. The waitresses I named had all moved on, as had the cook, for whom I have particularly fond memories. I took her to a fine restaurant in the canyon, the Red Lion Inn. There we concluded our brief relationship with dinner followed by cherries jubilee. Tom went on with his business and there I was in 1976 overcome with self-pity for my loneliness, my poverty, my lack of literary success, no better off than I had been in 1971.

That is when a familiar face walked into the bar, but this was not someone from my Colorado past. I was the only one in the bar filled with university students who recognized Robert Creeley, one of the most influential American poets. Dark hair, slender, a goatee, and most distinct the missing eye, lost in an auto accident when he was a child, features that identified him. Creeley reeled about the barroom more drunk than me, supported by a young friend, and they found an empty booth. I went over to the booth and introduced myself, then amended my intrusion by buying the first pitcher of beer.

I listened to him talk about other artists, mostly poets, on a first name basis, the words slurred. He took large bites out of his hamburger and chewed slowly. He would not stop mentioning that he was fifty years old and tried to describe what it was like to be an old man. Fifty did not seem old to me, even then when I was twenty-five.

His friend and I did not hit it off so well. So in awe was I with Creeley, I failed to remember his friend’s name. The friend decided not to repeat it and the two made fun of me, tried to embarrass me. I asked the fellow if he remembered my name. He did not.

As it grew late, Creeley and his friend tried to convince me to move to Buffalo, New York, telling me how wonderful it was. “In Buffalo,” Creeley said, “things don’t happen to you, but with you and for you.”

It grew late and Creeley’s friend gave me the address of where they were spending the night. I helped to drag the poet to their destination. We arrived at the door and knocked. Allen Ginsberg opened the door and admitted Creeley and his friend, and then thanked me for my assistance.

Creeley was in Boulder to give a poetry reading the next day, so I went. He came on stage as drunk as the night before. That evening he could barely be understood. He was also hampered by the loss of his eyeglasses. Some of the audience loved him and at the same time laughed at his antics; many others walked out. I was sad. I had seen Creeley read twice before and neither time was he drunk. The audience that remained applauded, as if Creeley was incapable of being foolish or wasting words.

When it was over, I joined the small crowd gathering at the foot of the stage. “Yes,” he was saying to a young woman, “I’ll be glad to read that last part again. Here, why don’t you come up onto the stage,” and he reached out his hand, unsteady on his feet. I thought he might fall from the stage. She didn’t take his hand.

“Mr Creeley,” I asked, “were you serious about what you said about Buffalo?” He stopped, straightened, and gave me a surprised look. A moment passed, and then his face expressed recognition. He presented a broad smile and laughed. “Yes, of course, yes!” he replied.

I found Creeley’s friend standing outside when I was leaving and I said hello. I stood beside him and we talked a bit. I talked about Ginsberg, how he had changed since I had last seen him years before at a reading he gave with his father at Bucks County Community College. Ginsberg looked older, had put on weight, and was now wearing a jacket and tie. Creeley’s friend then told me that Ginsberg’s father had just died two weeks earlier. We talked a bit more and then shook hands in parting. “My name is Bud,” he said. I replied, “My name is Bruce.”

I have not yet been to Buffalo.

Bruce Bentzman

This essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"