Cyber Corpse 2
Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life
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The Random's Had It: a Memoir of Steve Carey
by Keith Abbott

Pine Street Portrait Of Steve Carey, 1968 : A Sonnet

And we see less & less of you more & more
From out of a Yellow Cab tastefully gray
Collapsed Don January On the Level On the up & up
Yellow pills rattling & unlapsed credit cards
Any minute the rug could be pulled out from under
The nurse saved a packing case of discarded pill samples
Thrown in four corners one for reds
One for ups in-between & the fourth unknown
On my back my baby played with a can of corn
Theater of the shoulder blades "Persephone!
Proof of getting Punch & Judy together!"
Plus police for your phone answering service
The doors were open, and the windows, too
And more & more we were seeing less & less of you

I met Steve Carey at Clifford Burke's Cranium Press printing shop on Schrader Street in the Haight Ashbury. He was living on Stanyan Street with his first wife Mary. Tall, stoop shouldered, Steve had a cheerful pale face, blue eyes, long stringy white blond hair, huge hands and a huge deep laugh. We hit it off right away, exchanging our life stories. His Hollywood pedigree started with the silent films: Harry Carey Sr. his grandfather was a cowboy star, his father Harry Carey Jr. a stock character in John Ford Westerns. But because I was never one to read movie credits, his grandfather and father's acting careers didn't impress me much. Being a Westerner, cowboys, whether real or hambones, didn't wow me. Oaters were simply matinee fodder from my childhood; steers something I raised for my college tuition.

Hollywood did explain his distaste for alcohol, "I grew up on the knees of drunken starlets, Abbott." And every now and then he'd retell stories of his Los Angeles adolescence, the go-cart reclining below a rainbow of oil slick at the bottom of someone else's swimming pool surrounded by the pregnant absence of sons and buddies. Plus this hilarious story: Horatio Alger Steve earning those needed extra high school date bucks by selling blender peyote to pachucos at a roller rink. Steve the Peyote Salesman's Pitch: "This," pointing to a Dramamine tablet, "makes that" pointing to the peyote triple ought caps, "cool." Despite Steve's precautions, there were many Chicanos vomiting Technicolor greens while whizzing in circles to organ music; however, by that time our hero Steve was long gone, dancing his night away.

Near his apartment was Kezar Stadium where the 49ers played, and my first visit with him was on a Sunday accompanied by the roars of the 49er Faithful. While his attendance was out of the question, Steve delighted in the hurly-burly of the fans, and their ruckus entered several of his poems.

His arrival from Los Angeles had something to do with Allen Ginsberg, as everything seemed to in those days. When Steve showed Allen his poems in LA, Allen told him they were like the poetry of Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery and Jimmy Schuyler in New York. Apparently their books were hard to find in LA, so one of the reasons he came up to San Francisco was to get their new works and to meet the hot young writers, pronto.

I only knew of the New York poets from the Donald Allen anthology and they had not made much of a dent in my consciousness. Steve set to work educating me in them as I educated him in my fave French and Spanish writers: Desnos, Cortazar, etc.. O'Hara's Second Avenue was one of his Bibles then. He quoted from it constantly. He was also delighted with Schuyler's May 24th or So, in its green covered Tibor De Nagy edition, along with O'Hara's Love Poems (Tentative Title) from the same press with its mauve stripes. Always one to be between two or three worlds at the same time, Steve delighted in O'Hara's contradictory parenthetical inserts and in his writing used that technique with dispatch.

The whizz and sinuosity of O'Hara appealed to me, along with Steve's highly imaginative humor, his channel surfing wit in his own poetry. His delight and love for people's foibles and virtues were also endearing, and a source of "deep gossip" as O'Hara wrote. So Steve and I settled into educating each other while exchanging our work and little magazines: Peter Scheljdahl's Mother, Berrigan's C, Larry Fagin's Adventures in Poetry all "continued our education along" as our favorite San Francisco poet, Philip Whalen, liked to say.

Steve was also constantly working on his novels, which manuscripts were held away from our exchanges. This attitude toward prose puzzled me. He was so secretive about it while being so open about his poetry. But it was mystifying, too, his endless cycles of revision for his poetry, sometimes shredding them into palimpsests of his original flash and dash. Composing a letter took days for him. For someone as witty, spontaneous and funny as Steve was in person, he was quite patient, precise and exacting with his own writing, especially his fiction. The little I saw of those manuscripts, they seemed amazingly experimental and elliptical--like some of the French novels of Michel Butor, Raymond Queneau, and others, none of whom he knew.

His first poems were published by Clifford Burke in a little Cranium Press broadside, Two Poems. Then his pamphlet, Smith Going Backwards. There were a lot of high kick shenanigans via O'Hara, but mainly his attention to Philip Whalen's poetic advances took focus in those poems. While in Monterey, I had been captured by Whalen's work by reading Memoirs of an Interglacial Age and we shared our hoards of Whalen contributions in small mags and tried to figure out how he wrote them. Whalen was our hero for his ability to allow all manner of things, people, philosophies and actions into his poems without subordinating them to some ponderous scheme or style and still stay "on the boards." However, I soon learned to loan Steve only magazines, not any books. He had a problem with a gag reflex and generally with swallowing food or drink. Many a slim chapbook in the Carey library had Lipton tea stains on it from his petite upchucks.

Around 1968 Steve migrated out of the Haight district to Pine Street, just a couple of streets behind Richard Brautigan's gothic digs on Geary Street, a few blocks away from the edge of the Fillmore Street ghetto. Steve and Mary lived in the original house built in the rear of a long lot. A 1950's prison block style apartment house had been erected in front of their lot, but their house had east and west light and was quite cheerful and comfortable.

But bare, too. They had little furniture and on Mary's salary, small hope for more. So I was amazed when I came over one day and found the place looking like a department store window display of psychedelic paisley pillows, day-glo rugs and plush easy chairs. Steve had two new electric Olivetti typewriters, Mary had new clothes, and they had a cupboard full of gourmet boutique food and liquors.

It turned out that an acquaintance of his had decided to change her life totally. She had legally changed her name and dropped out of her law firm job on the same afternoon, then left the country for Algiers or somewhere suitably exotic. As we'd say now, that was so 60s. On that same departure day, she gifted Steve with her department store credit cards in her old name. Steve rented a station wagon and the household went down the malled peninsula, hopping from Macys to Emporiums to I. Magnims, charging up items just under the maximum, avoiding any irritating phone calls to their creditors about their credit lines.

While furnishing their house, Mary also spent her hours mining in Women's Fashions. Her ambition? To be the best-dressed office worker in San Francisco. Among the spoils, his 'n' hers synthetic fur coats, some viscous shade of red verging on purple, which came down to their collective knees; very Pop, London, and Twiggy. In this glam garb Steve styled around the front room, improvising intermissions of runway fashion gab, as Mary flashed in and out of the bedroom, modeling each of her many new combos and accessories. It was an hilarious rags to riches show, and we ate canned snails, speared smoked oysters with colored cocktail toothpicks and munched on very fancy British crackers while sipping various liquors with their bright colors in crystal thimble-sized glasses.


Along with his taste in home furnishings, Steve's poetry got rapidly more and more sophisticated. He was a quick read in poetic strategies, adapting and stealing and borrowing as he ransacked other poets works. What I naively took to be his native verbal elegance astounded me. For several years it seemed to me from his writing as if Steve had sprung fully born from some Post-Modernist egg. He had a flare for inventing lines that sounded absolutely of the moment: "I am that much more lost in a koan of the compass". With the exception of Clark Coolidge, few others seemed to be writing as close to the edge of a new genre, as close to our shared present moment of American lingo as Steve. (From his long sequence, Fleur-De-Lis) "So much pleasure/while/ this so much/refreshment halt/ I think I'll/corner turns/maybe figure out a way to" But he could sling a comic narrative, too:

"I love you and the next time/I drive for summer you come too//we'll fuck the clock together/zip that fly and it pronounces/your name unwarpable as absence/"what a meal! it's been two years//since I've had a tomato without/ a straw"

Some of our young poet friends in the Haight Ashbury scene who knew his work were either envious of his verbal alacrity or dismissive of his baffling abstractions: "give me your watch/ I want to exercise the eccentricities of continuum." Ponderous Old Testament Ginsberg imitations, sincere back country Snyder knockoffs, and hiccoughing Creeley clones were the norm. And Steve didn't seem to have any apprentice work, or so I thought.

Then, sometime in the 1980s during one of my book scouting missions, in a crummy bin full of phamplets on sow breeding, latex painting and sewing manuals, his first book surfaced.

The Windmill Poems of Steven Harry Carey, handlettered in upper case sans serif, along with Primitive Press. Copyright 1965.

A blue construction paper cover enclosed mimeoed pages, stapled at the sides, a classic homemade pamphlet. I immediately called Steve in New York. He was appalled that I had found this violation of his heretofore chaste youthful precocity. He insisted that he wanted to "see" it, as he claimed not to own a copy. I told him no. I knew he'd never return it, and I was certain he'd claw this copy to shreds. Negotiations proceeded via Trans-American phone calls, but despite offers of some real good deals, I never let The Windmill Poems out of my hands.

This poetry shows typical mid-60s influences on young poets: prose poems a la Bob Dylan album covers with sentences punctuated with slashes, John Wieners awkward imitations, Pound parodies, all of them shot through with quick changes while displaying the emerging buds of typical Carey insouciance.


Steve delighted in my daughter Persephone. In those days I traipsed around with her in a backpack carrier. She'd be looking over my shoulder in her usual manner, her feet jammed onto the aluminum crossbar, using it as a launching pad and/or aerobic workout aid, her short arms outflung, whapping my shoulders. Her ebullience, bounce and from the neck up only appearance reminded Steve of various television puppets, and this led to his habitual salutation upon our entrance: "Ah, Persephone! Proof of getting Punch and Judy together!"

My wife Lani remembers Steve being a devoted, if inert, baby-sitter. "He could watch Persephone endlessly, fascinated with her activities on the floor in the same manner as he watched television. Only to change the channel, he'd have to get up and leave the room. Which he hardly ever did." The problem was that he'd seldom if ever extricate her from any screw-up or potential danger, preferring to monitor how the cliffhangers came out. So, really, he functioned more as a secretarial baby-sitter, ready to report on her actions and emotions at length. He was never left alone with her for any period of time past a few minutes.


Once at Pine Street Steve got a visit from a dope dealer by the name of Don January. He bounced in leaving a taxi running outside. January was wearing a long thick overcoat, and he jinglejangled as he walked. This was because secreted around his many copious pockets were pill vials. His face exuded a flashforward seediness, a cross between a sincere car salesman and a carny smarmy slice 'n' dice pitchman.

As January talked, he would check, finger, prod, recheck, wiggle, jiggle or poke his many pockets to make sure all his supplies were present, a one man marimba band. Cut into the inside of his overcoat lapels were slit pockets, three to each side, six in all, each with its own prescription pad and stolen credit card. A true entrepreneur for the Go-Go years. For a fee he would write you a prescription for whatever you wanted on one of three pads, each pad specializing in a particular generic drug. If you were shy about defrauding pharmacists, he would call in his zaftig girlfriend from the chortling taxi at the curb to go cash them for you in selected drugstores with one of Don's many credit cards, all this curb to bedside transaction for the cost of the prescription, plus a percentage of the pills.

Dressed in absolutely mundane clothes with a wide-eyed honest plain face, said girlfriend looked like anyone's innocent daughter/wife/secretary with weight problems and/or chronic kidney stones. Bovine, stolid and doped to the gills, she was the perfect second banana for January's cons. Druggists apparently rarely twigged to the fraud as she performed her middle-class routine around the Rexalls and Walgreens of San Francisco, judging from all the Dex, Ritalin, Desoxyn, Demerol and Percodan vials rotating around Don's pockets.

While the group waited for Don's girlfriend to return with the Desoxyn, Don claimed to be an old running pal of gonzo comedian Lenny Bruce. He told a story about sitting around with Bruce in a hotel in Kansas City or somewhere equally midwestern late one night. They were watching a local talent show on television that was sponsored in the wee hours by a car dealer. The show was live, attracting the usual assortment of lame kooks and earnest show biz neophytes. Don was paralyzed with his comforts when Lenny jumped up and rushed from their hotel room.

Sometime in the next half hour a Señor Something Spanish made his entrance on the talent show. It was Lenny, in shiny tux, his hair greased back and a button accordion strapped to his chest. When the smarmy M.C. asked the Señor what he was going to play, all he could get out of him was mutters, fake Spanish, shifty eye contact, and so finally, the M.C. tried the old standby, whatta ya going do for us?

What else? Lady of Spain.

(Later Lenny explained to January he had instructed the cameraman, previous to his sullen interview, that he had "kind of a special act and to keep the camera on me no matter what. No matter what happens, it's all part of my act.")

Lenny launched into wheezing out his version of Lady of Spain--Oh Lady of Spain I adore yew, right from the first time I sawrrr yew"-- but, shortly after getting through the first verse, the Señor began to have difficulties with his breathing, then the tics set in around the mouth, twitches hit the cheeks, and then the Señor pitched a full blown epileptic fit, flopping on the floor and gargling the lyrics in showers of spit. The cameraman dutifully followed Lenny squirming under his accordion but! just at the moment when doubt was poised to creep in, not to mention the M.C. in the wings, the show must go on, and up, Up, UP, came our trouper, the good Señor, fighting his way to his feet--to finish his act!-- earning cautious applause from whatever night owls were in the studio audience at three in the morning.


It was around this time that Steve built up his first rampant speed habit. There was a cut-rate pharmacy for mail-order drugs in Washington D.C. which filled prescriptions for home shut-ins with few questions asked. Armed with fake scripts and an elegant letter from an imaginary doctor attesting to his homebound status, Steve received packages of 100 Desoxyn 15 milligram tablets and needles regularly in the post (his imaginary weight problem apparently compounded by an equally phantasmal diabetes). His appearances around the poetry scene diminished in inverse proportion to the frequencies of those deliveries.

So my job was to visit him, as he was no longer traveling much, mostly doing this shut-in role. Poet Bill Bathurst and a friend had taken over the basement and were running a moving company from there with the help of an old pickup and Steve's phone. They got a call from a nurse in the hospital up off Masonic Avenue, a few blocks away. Turned out she had been living in a hospital supplied apartment for over twenty years, but now had to move elsewhere. For the past decades she had been throwing pharmaceutical samples in a very large old wooden Chinese packing case in her closet. Bill and his pal told the nurse not to worry; they'd dispose of these controlled substances in a safe and timely manner.

They hit the Carey house in a fury, carting in this four by four foot cube of pills. Even though Bill was a defrocked pharmacist, his licensed knowledge wasn't up to this task. A Physicians Desk Reference drug book was called into the fray and for a few hours Bill and pal spent the time shouting out names of the pills to Steve, who looked up the stranger chemical stragglers and identified them. One corner was for diet pills, another for downers, a third for medical purposes and a fourth for unknown. When some vials of liquid methedrine surfaced, Bill and his pal disappeared with them forthwith, to trade them for smack on the nether edges of the Fillmore district.


My use of such aids was minimal at the time. I never had much need for speed, being blessed with a furious metabolism; even a quarter of a 15 milligram Desoxyn tablet turned that natural energy of mine wonky, which I disliked. Once Steve presented me with some of those waxy yellow pills as a gift and I took them home, but never found any reduced dose to be helpful in writing. When the mail-order speed delivery was shut down by the DC Feds, Steve called me up and asked me if I had any of those pills left. Without telling him I'd off-loaded them on friends, I told him yes and took the remaining two over for him. I remember his look of extreme distaste and savage irritation when I handed them to him. It was as close as Steve came to violating his habitual politeness. A finger came out and pushed them around the desk. "This won't do." That's when I knew he was on board the crank express train: two weren't going to do him any good, given his habit, whereas thirty milligrams was enough to send me into overdrive for days.

Shortly after that, their Pine Street residence phone was tapped for probably any number of valid warrant reasons. Whoever did the job were not top of the line tapsters. When you called, you could hear the Styrofoam coffee cup get set down after the first ring and then there was a hollow sound as you conversed, as if the two of you were talking across the middle of a large empty room. Steve fled San Francisco for Los Angeles where his marriage disintegrated.

With him he took half of our fledgling magazine, Blue Suede Shoes. Steve and I had started this by sending each other fake submissions, mainly gross parodies, off-key imitations and outright plagiarism of other, more famous people's poetry. Our rationale was that in first issues famous poets only sent their bottom drawer work, and either of us could do better versions of their best writing than we were likely to get. In our cover letters, we would feign various poetic personae, enclose our rip-offs, and try to name our mag. Cleat Habit, editor of Pantsed. The deal was if one of us sent back the name of the other, that was the name of the mag. So was Blue Suede Shoes born.

Later, after a sojourn in England, access to a mimeo machine in Bellingham, Washington allowed me to publish the half of the mag that I had in my possession. Because Steve was one of my least faithful correspondents, it took until Issue Number Five of Blue Suede Shoes before he got around to returning the manuscripts that I had sent him.

His habits took their toll of his work over the next years. His lovely poem, Rarity Planes, was reduced badly through amphetamine editing. Truncated, tromped and strangled, actually. Sometime before 1975, Bill Berkson sent me the proofs for his poetry book, Gentle Subsidy, which contained the mangled revision. I sent him the Rarity Planes version I had and managed to get the poem restored to its former glory, its amazing music, tactile light touch and wit intact.

"'Some sweltering ides for the missus, fella?'// I am ceaselessly invited/And there is never an attempt to entice/--a huge trust without affection/on the felts of what I just now tried to dream//Yet the random's had it."


Part Two.

From a publishing perspective, Steve's books show that he did not move far from the manuscripts he had amassed in 1968. Fleur-de-lis (1973), Gentle Subsidy (1975), The California Papers (1981), A.P. (1984) mainly contain work that he had already written by 1969. Only in his poetry collections The Lily of St. Marks (1978) and 20 Poems (1987) do new poems show up. While often entertaining, this writing doesn't approximate the flash and dash of the earlier writing, let alone the complexity of character, syntax and thought.

In his poem "Wasi-Wasi", written in the mid-70s, Steve addresses the reason why he can't write: dope (or the entanglements that it created). "I'm falling apart/ . . . .trying to work my way/into a poem, the kind /criteria of the past, place--" He ends the poem with the old 1930's addiction metaphor: "Gong around, gong around,/ got to keep kicking that/gong around."

In a letter to me in 1984, he summarized his spotty record for friendship:

Now that I've begun thinking again, I think of you quite often, but instead (of calling, that is) agonize over enormous letters telling the Whole Story . . .You know, the Valium wars, Disintegration, Death & Deliverance (Attorneys At Law),--the whole routine.

And in different letters over the years he habitually apologized for publishing old work and promised new fiction and poetry underway. I have no way of knowing how bad these "Valium Wars" were, but there was no real advance shown in his later published work on earlier methods and techniques--except experiments in using "raw" dialogue from Hollywood films in long line poems, often one scene per line, creating a witty collage of spliced footage. In the sporadic times that I saw him--usually in California mid to late 70s--he was clearly depressed and preoccupied with earning some kind of a living, struggling to keep his second marriage with artist Effie Rosen together, and trying to maintain his interest in writing.

As I published more and more work, his support was enthusiastic and cheering, but there was always a rueful undertow, as if viewing his own lack of progress. He was able to admit his own self-destructive habits, often with a characteristic cheerful fatalism about his anxiety driven revision reflex. From a letter written in 1975 about the publication of Gentle Subsidy:

"Don't worry about "Rarity Planes" early version in BSS [Blue Suede Shoes]. That's the way it's going in the Book. (Berkson edited my editing.) Why play with old poems? Let it stand or fall on its ass in toto."

One of Steve's most maddening traits was calling up (or writing) to announce he'd been in town but hadn't stopped by. His needs seemed as mysterious as his sources of income. With his veiled references, it was never clear why he had been in San Francisco. Usually he bounced from Los Angeles to New York. His earliest publishing was done with the poets around St. Marks Poetry Project; eventually he came to live there in the late 1980s. After the disintegration of the Haight-Ashbury scene, he sought some poetic community and support for his work, but yet appeared unable to quit the LA scene, which seemed to paralyze his writing.

Steve's relationship with the film industry fueled his more allusive conversations. At some time he labored at a ghostwriting job on some television hack's work. The rewrites consisted of substituting modern slang and sentences in dialogue. He once showed me outtakes from this work, quite hilarious in a ghastly way, as the original was riddled with 1940s slang (Hey sister; hotcha; what's cooking? etc.). If I remember correctly, one script was for the cop drama, Hawaii Five Oh. The screenwriter apparently paid Steve in lump sums of cash, but I doubt it was steady work.

During phone call around autumn of 1977, Steve asked me for a favor. He was coming to San Francisco to collect on a pornographic screenplay that he had written. Alice in Wonderland provided the concept for this production. He asked me if, when he went in and hassled the producers, I would act as a silent muscle and back him up.

I said absolutely not. The people who made porno, I knew, usually had other people behind them, and they were seldom nice.

Steve badgered me and pleaded his case, but gave up when it was clear that I had no interest in doing this. It was one of the only times I ever heard him sound truly desperate. He insisted that he really needed to get the money.

Shortly after that, in mid-October 1977, I got a phone call; Steve was in Berkeley; "You gotta come and rescue me, Abbott."

When I asked him where he was, he didn't know, and then had to shout to someone and get the address.

At the time I was doing tree and landscape work in the Berkeley hills; the street he mentioned was on my regular routes. I agreed to come get him and left in my pickup. The address proved elusive. There seemed to be no hope of finding it. The number of the last residence on a dead end road was higher than the one Steve had given me. No continuation of the street showed up on the map and there was only a ravine where this house should have been.

Back home I called him, and he had to ask people there how to get to the place. Then I consulted the map as he gave me directions. I'd been in the right spot, but the street apparently continued on the other side of the ravine for a half a block, although this didn't show on my map. The new directions seemed plausible, so I returned to the hunt.

The house was reachable only on a narrow gravel road off a main street. (In the 1970s I had worked for a few places like that in the Berkeley hills, which had their own private roads and usually did not show up on maps.) The residence was in a cul de sac, a large Spanish style stucco newly built. In the driveway was a huge Chrysler New Yorker Brougham coupe painted a deep midnight blue. The street was so narrow, I had to park my truck on a slant, the right wheels in a shallow ditch.

The front door was thick, massive, with a small window set behind a black metal grill. When it swung open, an exquisitely beautiful Eurasian woman in a bronze silk dress was smiling at me.

"Keith! You're here!" and she hugged me. Her perfume smelled like orchids and sex. "Oh I'm so glad you found it," she whispered in my ear.

Then, instead of drawing away from me, she moved into me, around me, and all over me. This startled me, and I looked down at her, to check if I had ever met her before, and in the overhead light I saw her bronze silk dress turned into gold shimmers.

One hand stroking my neck, her other hand sliding across my chest, she ushered me into the foyer, and then, in an act that was so casual it stunned me, she shoved herself up on my thigh, riding it. I paused, completely disoriented and aroused by her hands, her perfume, and that slithering cool bronze silk dress.

We lurched down the long foyer as if we were in some three-legged potato sack race together, only my third leg was a crowbar erection sliding around under my pants with each push of her bush against me. Lightheaded with lust, I staggered into an open archway to our right.

Inside was a dark, rounded room with high windows showing the night sky and stars through its glass. On the floor were heaped rugs. Even under the dim starlight it was clear that they were amazingly beautiful Kalim rugs, one overlapping the other as if they were in a showroom and had just been ravished by a horde of buyers. There was a rustling sound, of feathers, and I craned my head sideways to look further into the darkness.

In the dim far corner were birds on dangling perches, all tropical and gorgeous, with brilliant white and red and scarlet and orange and smoldering emerald plumage. They were jockeying for positions, nudging each other one way or the other on their perches. Under the darkness, white streaks and blotches on the rugs came into focus; the only sounds were soft plops of birds shitting.

There was something malevolent and casually nasty about that room with its faint wet sounds, as if a ghost were squatting there in the gloom pulling apart fingers at their joints.

"Steve here?" I asked this woman. "Is Steve Carey here?"

"Yes." She cooed unintelligible little wet things in my ear as she guided me through a left hand turn off the foyer into another long hallway and we paused at another doorway.

Inside a high-ceilinged long large kitchen was a swarthy Indio-Mexican woman before a shiny stainless steel industrial range. All six burners were on: steaming menudo pot sat on two, on others, steam table pans of quesidillas and fajitas warmed; to the side chimichangas bubbled and bobbled in a deep fat boiler. Aluminum trays lined the counters with enchiladas streaked with red and yellow. There was enough food for an army in there.

My left hand was now riding on the base of Selina's spine, even though my palm on the silk seemed no longer merely sexy but sinister, as if this kitchen scene were a frightening annex in some sideways dream, and we were slipping back and forth between menace and ecstasy.

"What's your name?"

"Here," she said.

As we mounted some tiled steps, she steered me through a large arch into an immense front room with white plaster walls. More rugs were piled up in a corner to our right two men were conversing in low tones.

One man was dressed in casual khakis, a cashmere sweater tied around his neck, and on his belt was a beeper. The second man bent his head to one side, listening to Beeper Man murmur numbers. He looked Arabic or Indian, his pants a gray wool, his shirt silk, open, a gold chain around his neck. The two paid no attention to us as they talked in low tones, the Beeper Man bending over to hold up a rug for the other man to finger as we turned to our right.

There Steve was lost in a enormous plush chair in the opposite side of the room, watching a late night I Love Lucy rerun on a gigantic console television. He barely looked up as my succubus and I toppled onto the couch to his left.

"I take it you've met Selina?" Steve asked, not taking his eyes of the screen.

Selina adroitly squirmed off my hip as we floundered around on the sofa, shifting over onto my lap so she straddled my hardon.

"Oh I'm so glad Keith could get here!" So far she seemed to possess only two tones: husky whispers and moans. She twisted put her arms around my neck, hugging my head as she rested her cheek against my ear, lovey-dovey style.

While these sensations were so intense I seemed close to passing out, the house itself was making me dry-mouthed and scared.

"Steve! What's . . .uh . . .what's uh . . .?"

The Beeper Man shifted slightly away from his negotiations and he glanced over at me. His eyes had a dead look as he appraised me, once, and then glanced over at the coffee table.

On the coffee table to one side of the television was a large black onyx tray. On it was a mound of sparkling powder about the size of a small white cat.

The I Love Lucy laugh track exploded with chortles and glee. I looked at Steve very closely, but I was sure he was not stoned or sped. He seemed inert, pinned back in that mammoth chair by something.

The phone rang somewhere else in the house. Selina leapt off my lap and rushed out of the room. Watching her bronze silk dress walk away made me feel like I was losing all the sex I had ever had in my entire life.

After a few tries to clear my throat, I managed, "Steve, talk to me."

Without taking his eyes off Lucy and Ethel, Steve only raised one large white hand up and made a flopping, dismissive, hopeless gesture and then he sighed.

Selina hurried into the room and said something to Beeper Man. The two men left with her, but then she returned in a hurry. She sat on my lap again, briskly adjusting her legs around the lump in my pants, taking my right hand and draping it on her knee. Her skin felt hot under the cool silk.

"Steve, hey! Steve! " I appealed to him over Selina's shoulder. "Where do you need to go?"

Selina's lips found my ear lobe again, then she pulled away, leaving it moist. Her low cut silk dress hung open exposing one of her dark nipples, which was barely brushing the inside of her dress. Her nipple seemed to gleam and the sight of that made me dizzy.

"Go?" she whispered, "You're not going are you?'

Someone called her name elsewhere in the house. Selina hopped off me and disappeared down the hallway.

Steve turned his attention away from the comic mayhem on I Love Lucy and laughed, watching me as I watched Selina walk away. "That's okay, Abbott," Steve reassured me, pointing to his crotch. "I don't have one of those."

This stunned me. In all the years I'd known Steve I had never heard him ever make any kind of crude sexual remark.

"Can we get out of here?" I asked. "Steve, I'm going to leave here without you if you don't tell me what's going on."

Steve roused himself up from the chair for a moment, sitting on the edge. I got up, hoping he was going to leave, but it was all I could do to stand; my erection felt like it were cutting me in half.

The Beeper Man drifted back in a careless glide, but that grace was coupled with instinctive casing of the room, checking where I was and where Steve was. He picked up the rug he'd been discussing earlier and fingered its edges, looking annoyed, as if something the other man had said about this rug was correct, that the rug was flawed or less than perfect.

I hobbled over to the onyx tray and stared down at its mound of glittering powder. On one end of the tray was a slim gold post topped by a thin statuette of a skier gracefully leaning into a turn. At the other end of the tray was a gold razor blade and a gold tube.

I stuck a finger on the mound, lightly, a little smudge on the tip. As I tasted it, the Beeper Man looked up from inspecting his rug. He waited to judge my reaction. The powder was bitter, pure raw metallic methamphetamine. Our eyes met; his held only a kind of indifferent predatory gaze, as he were watching something small, something about to move one way or the other.

I was almost certain that Steve was not wired on meth, but I couldn't be sure until I saw him walk. I broke off eye contact with Beeper Man to look at Steve. Steve only grimly smiled as Ricky and Lucy ran hysterical numbers on each other.

The acrid meth flavor dissolved in my mouth and my forehead was touched by some invisible breeze. The sweat simply evaporated. What have taken? crossed my mind.

The Beeper Man looked amused, as if he knew exactly what had just happened.

I marched over to Steve. "Up and at 'em, cowboy." I took him by the arm and pulled on his dead weight. "Steve!" I yanked again, "Let's go!" He didn't budge.

For a moment it seemed as if he were terminally suicidal, industrially depressed, or comatose on intravenous Valium. Then, as I Love Lucy cut away to some commercials, he leaned forward and stood up reluctantly.

When I escorted Steve through the archway of the room, Selina was back, fastening herself to my hip. "Oh, you don't have to go, do you, Keith?"

"Gotta go, gotta go," I tried to sound as if I meant it. Somewhere toward the back of the house a phone rang and Selina was gone, leaving a hot silky place on my hip.

"What did you tell her about me?" I hissed to Steve.

"Nothing!" Steve protested. Then, with a tardy shrug, "Oh--just that you were a world famous novelist."

As we passed the observatory archway, the tropical birds jockeyed for positions on their perches, spattering the rugs underneath with their runny crap in the darkness.


The moment I climbed into my truck, I knew the chassis was tilted wrong. Steve hopped on the running board and perched on the truck bed, waiting for me to pull out of the ditch so he could get in the passenger side. I got out from behind the steering wheel and went around the Chevy and looked. A flat tire. I'd driven over a board and punctured the right front on three nails.

Steve took this opportunity to slide into the cab, over on the passenger side. He looked over at me. "What's wrong?"

"Flat. I don't have my spare. It's down at my house."

"I'm not going back in there," Steve informed me pleasantly.

"The fuck you aren't. I'm not going back in there, either. That house is evil, man, that guy is evil."

"Forget it, Abbott. I'm so glad you got me out of that place."

"You didn't act like it. You want to walk all the way down to my place? Get back in there and call us a tow truck."

Steve looked alarmed. "I'm not moving. Go back and borrow Selina's car, we'll drive down and get your spare. She likes you, Abbott. She thinks you're more famous than Hemingway."


Even though it cost me yet another tour of my erogenous zones, that's what I had to do. Selina's midnight blue Chrysler came equipped with all the trimmings, two-toned blue velour upholstery and fake mahogany dashboard, plus this boat was so huge that most drivers probably had to use a current passport to get to the hood ornament.

During the drive Steve remained morose. He only got talkative after we got down to my house and plied him with some excellent tea. Selina's services ran a thousand dollars a night. Five hundred for drop-in service, extra for any exotic routines. Judging from my brief contacts with her, the woman was grossly underpaid.

Steve was staying at her house in Marin. She'd been trying to contact the pornmeisters who owed Steve his script money. Steve didn't say how he'd met her.

"And Mr. Beeper Man?"

He had brought Selina in for party favors, "as an entertainment for his guests."

"What guests? There was no one else there. It's two-thirty in the morning! And Beeper Man, he one of the producers of this porn?"

Steve said nothing.

"You were trying to get money out of that guy?"

When I asked again if Beeper Man was one of the producers who owed him money, he only waved the subject away, as if he didn't want to discuss it.

Back at Mr. Beeper Man's mansion, I changed the tire on my truck and then went up to the door to drop off the keys to the Chrysler. I actually stood back from the door and held them out away from my body.

I needn't have bothered. Selina was upset that our trip took so long because she had to go. I went back to tell Steve that he had to ride with Selina, but he refused to get out of my truck.

"You have no idea how she drives, Abbott."

We tried to follow Selina back to Marin County. By that time it was about four in the morning. The highway was almost empty of traffic. To say Selina drove erratically wasn't even close. Selina alternated her speeds between twenty and seventy mph, in ten, twenty and thirty second bursts, irrespective of surrounding traffic, road conditions, neighborhood or weather. On the foggy Richmond Bridge she lost us, hitting speeds of over 100 mph, My poor 1953 Chevy six-cylinder could not keep up.

"She's gone," I said when her taillights disappeared into the fog. "You'll have to direct me to her house."

Steve cleared his throat. "I don't know where it is."

"You don't know where it is? You've been there, what? Three days and you don't know where it is?"

Turned out that Steve had been ferried to her house by her from the San Francisco airport, in what he called one of the most terrifying drives of his life, and this erased everything but an incoherent gratitude that he was still alive. He never got the address, only the phone number.

"In three days you never walked outside and looked at the street sign or the numbers on the front door?"

"It's on a hill," Steve tried.

"In Mill Valley, that's a big help. It's surrounded by hills." I told him we'd turn around once we got off the bridge and go back to my house.

Fortunately some fit of melancholy, probably caused by our failed romance, must have overtaken Selina because just west of San Quentin prison we came out of the fog and found her Chrysler inexplicably poking along in the right hand lane of the highway. Thinking that she remembered me, I pulled up alongside her and waved, to let her know we were back in synch, but she didn't seem to know who we were.

The ride to her house through Mill Valley was just as loony, but on the city streets, her spurts and slowdowns careened between 20 and 60 mph, so my truck could stay close.

The house turned out to be the top of the highest hill in Mill Valley. Even if Steve claimed that he was numb with terror when he got there, how he could have missed the fact that the front deck had a lovely 180 degree view of the bay and night lights of San Francisco I don't know, but it had slipped his mind. By the time we got in her house, Selina showed absolutely no further interest in either of us.

That tiny smudge of speed was still romping around my circuits. I felt crystal clear and insanely thirsty, so I got a beer out of the fridge for me and a soft drink for Steve while Selina cajoled someone over the phone. We sat out in the front room and talked about writers, Steve's recent New York stay, and watched the fog banks shift around on the bay. When I returned for seconds, Selina was putting the finishing touches on negotiating what sounded like a three-or-four way sex orgy at the Fairmount Hotel in San Francisco. She left shortly after that. Before I decamped, Steve took me down to her bedroom and showed me her S&M gear under the bed.

Around two months later the Beeper Man and everyone in his house were slaughtered. Someone carved him, his wife and his sister up with knives. Apparently the housekeeper was gone, because no Latina name showed up in the police report, or Selina's name, either. Turned out that Beeper Man was a main importer of LSD for the Western states, apparently brewed up to his specifications in Germany and Scotland, but he smuggled other dope, too. Until they came to the house and found the butchered bodies along with half a million dollars worth of LSD, around fifteen grand in cash, plus a half pound of grass, the police never knew he or his network existed. Informers said Beeper Man routinely kept $150,000 around in cash for buys and had about $1-2 million dollars of ergotamine tartrate--the chemical base for acid--stashed somewhere. He had half interest in a Liberian oil tanker, large real estate holdings in the Bay Area, plus a million bucks in local banks. Both his grandfather and father had been murdered, granddad by the Mafia on the East Coast.

A true entrepreneur, Beeper Man had gone west and graduated with honors from University of California with a Criminology Degree to scope out his opponents' tactics. His covers were two: an owner of a black belt, he specialized in karate and martial arts and sponsored teams, while also working the rug import biz. The police speculated that the karate teams were employed as mules. One of his couriers was arrested for the murders. No motive was ever established. He claimed Beeper Man had assassinated possibly two to four people in Miami. The suspect was described as deranged and incoherent, unable to furnish any details of the murders, and confined to a mental hospital until his trial.


In October of 1984 Steve and I corresponded again, jump-started with a phone call and then with the receipt of his long poem AP Our mutual friend the poet Ted Berrigan had died in New York that summer and I had written a remembrance of Ted. All this seemed to propel Steve into reconnecting with old friends. He was happily married, with a young son, and Steve wrote about his plans, claimed that he was accumulating "tons" of new work.

"Everybody publishes their past, I suppose, but a 17 year gap is ridiculous. Jimmy Schuyler wrote a great blurb for AP to run in a few strategically place ads."

His high spirits and verve were infectious, as usual, and he proposed that we write some "transcontinental collaborations." I agreed, and so in March, 1984 he wrote that my "collab half arrived." In May of 1985 he sent back the first collaboration, "Dear Keith/Dear Steve". In his letter he commented:

"There's even a theme . . . The work (job) of the poet seems to make itself come (your line 'good enough for ranch work' put me on to that) even to the point of when I mention purpose (in this case idiotic) (the heroic) of Art in an emergency, a state which poetry has a long history of maintaining."

There were many phone calls exchanged after this, but it wasn't until January 29, 1987 that the second collaborative poem "Amber Waves of Grain" was delivered with Steve's contributions.

Steve's misunderstanding of what I sent was at the root of the problem, it turned out. I had gleaned from my notebooks stanzas, fugitive phrases and fragments and tossed them together for a random start. I told him that these could be rearranged in any order, he could use any of these for a start, and different parts dropped at his discretion, but Steve seemed to think that he had to keep the order of these fragments and find responses for each of the gaps. While the end result was funny, displaying some classic Carey film humor, verbal pratfalls, straight steals from movie dialogue and sheer poetic chutzpah, the piece lacked the thematic unity that he located and enhanced in our first collaboration. I was overloaded with novel writing and journalism, and so I let the piece stand as it was.

After his first health problems occurred in Colorado at a film festival honoring his father, Steve called me. He claimed that he was going to be fine, that this was minor, only a "wake-up call". Previously he had tried to stop smoking, and he laid the blame on that habit and the high altitude of Colorado, and vowed not to repeat either. It wasn't long after that phone call when I received the news that he had died of a heart attack.

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