All the People Who Died, Died

September 14th, 2009 § 2 comments

I recognize that this is a very introspective (read: masturbatory) blog–the outside world doesn’t generally intervene here unless it relates to something amusing/maddening/strange a family member did.

And in a sense this is also a self-indulgent post. Because it’s all about how it relates to me. But for a few moments, we shall turn to the world outside of Adam, Doodles, and Pie.

Once upon a time I was a graduate student. I studied creative writing at the University of Washington. It was a magical two years when the only thing I had to do was write. And read. And write some more. My whole life revolved around writing. I read slush for the Seattle Review. I helped bring authors to come read at the university. I dated poets and fiction writers and English lit Ph.Ders. And I wrote, if not well, at least prolifically.

Every year, Seattle has the most marvelous of festivals, Bumbershoot. Bumbershoot is this amazing amalgamation of music, art, film, literature, food, and general fun. Bumbershoot, to me, is the epitome of Seattle. In my day, that meant putting on your Carharts, flannel shirt, and Tevas and heading out for a day of hearing “the coolest band” and mocking that “total sell-out” on the next stage. Of course, no one ever agreed which was which.

My second year in Seattle, two of us grad students, me and a poet, Laura, were offered jobs at Bumbershoot. And what a job it was. “Literary Escort.” Yes, it sounds like something out of a Woody Allen story. And, frankly, I thought it sounded kind of hot. I’d read the line-up of authors coming. “What, I get to sleep with Exene Cervenka?” No, I was told. I got to drive her around. Well, okay. That would be a close second.

So I took the job. It was just for the weekend. I was one of a team of escorts. We picked up literary greats at the airport, brought them to their hotels. Took them from their hotels to their readings at Bumbershoot. Take them back. Drive them to the airport again. We could attend the parties. We had backstage passes. We got walkie talkies to use. We got paid. Pretty f’ing sweet.

On my list? Exene Cervenka. Tobias Wolff. Patti Smith. Jim Carroll. A few others you probably haven’t heard of.

They were quite nice. I got into a car accident with Tobias Wolff. Actually, a bus sideswiped my van, but it suitably freaked me out, and Tobias had to calm me down, assuring me it was in no way my fault; I was stopped at a traffic light. Patti Smith was way more domestic than I would have guessed. Exene Cervenka was as cool as you’d think she’d be.

And Jim Carroll? Jim Carroll can only be described as a trip. From the moment I picked him up at the airport, he was high maintenance.

“Hello, Mr. Carroll, I’m Jenny. I’ll be driving you around this weekend.”

“Call me, Jim,” he told me. And so I did.

In the car, he immediately became chatty. And I ate it up. The original name dropper. “Yeah, did you know that last time I was in Seattle, I got a call from Eddie Vedder, wanted to hang out. Asked me to sing. Oh, is Patti here yet? You need to get me in touch with Patti….”

We got to his hotel. “Um, I think I forgot my i.d. Can you come in with me just to make sure I get checked in okay?”

Uh… okay. So I go in with him. And help him solve all his problems. “There’s no room service? Well, what’s the restaurant down here. Will they deliver to my room? Can someone get the food to me? What do they serve? I don’t know if I’ll eat that…”

I finally left, promising to call him a half hour before I was to pick him up. “Hi Jim, it’s Jenny. I’m leaving now to come get you….” Then I’d call him from the hotel, which in these days before the abundance of cell phones, meant my parking the van on a crowded Seattle downtown street, getting out, going into the lobby and using the hotel phone. “Hi Jim, it’s Jenny. I’m downstairs ready for you…. Hi Jim, it’s Jenny, I’m still downstairs waiting for….”

I took him to the parties. I took him to his reading. I lent him my Cartoon Network watch to wear onstage because he forgot his. Forget the rest of the other writers. My whole weekend was “Hi Jim, it’s Jenny. I’m waiting for you….”

His flight back to New York was at 9 a.m. “I’m always nervous about making my flights,” he told me. “I’d like to get there at least two hours early.” Note, this is years before 9/11.

“Um, okay.”

“And could you call me with a wake-up call? I don’t trust the hotel. Call me at 5:30.” 5:30. Of course now, 5:30 in the morning is par for the course. But in those days, 5:30 was an hour in which I might be falling asleep.

“Of course,” I told him.

So I called him. “Hi Jim,” I said, trying to hide the groggy from my voice. “It’s Jenny. It’s time for you to get up.”

“Could you call back in a half hour, make sure I’m still up?”

Half and hour later. “Hi Jim, it’s Jenny. I’m heading out now to get you.”

The ride to the airport was magical. I asked him all sorts of questions, growing bolder as we spoke. I asked and asked. I asked about the “people who died,” about who he dated, about heroin, about his fear of AIDS, about, about, about. All the way to SeaTac we chatted.

We pulled up to the airport. Before he got out, I nervously pulled out my copy of Basketball Diaries. “Would you sign my book?”

He gave me the most charming smile. “Of course!” he said, and he took the book. He signed it. I saw him drawing a tiny picture of the space needle before he handed it back to me. He gave me a great big hug and headed back to New York.

I give you this, my final one: “Hi Jim, this is Jenny.”

I still have the book. I’ll keep it forever. I look at it now. It’s Jim. So Jim. Jim inscribed it as only Jim would. He wrote, “For Laura, with love and all my thanks for your help. Jim Carroll. Seattle ’95.”

Rest in peace, Jim Carroll.


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