Gerd Stern – 2

Gerd Stern

Gerd Stern

Gerd Stern’s vivid memories -from From Beat Scene Poet to Psychedelic Multimedia Artist 1948-1978. 

The complete text is available on-line from the University of California

“So I came and saw him (my father), and he dragged me to my uncle the doctor. My uncle supposedly discovered I had some kind of a problem with my kidneys. They put me into
the hospital. After the hospital, they made me go see a psychiatrist who was a friend of my uncle. The psychiatrist says to me, “Look, I can’t help you because your father can’t afford to pay me, and besides, I think what’s wrong with you is that you’re malnourished, you don’t have a place to live, you’re wearing dirty clothes, etcetera. I’ve got an idea; listen to me carefully, and I never told you this. There’s a place called the Psychiatric Institute at the Presbyterian Hospital. You call them up; here’s the number. You tell them that you are a young poet and that you just tried to commit suicide and that you need help. They’re looking for interesting people.”

“So I do it. I get an appointment, and they ask me, “What happened?” So I said I’m driving my burnt-out Willys down the Henry Hudson Parkway, and I have this terrible impulse to drive over the railing and into the Hudson River–which was totally untrue. They accept me; now I’m in this ward with a bunch of really funny people. Nobody violent, but interesting. And I’m getting fed three times a day, and I have a doctor who sees me twice a week–a Doctor Hambidge, one smart guy, and, over time, he listened to me, and finally told me, “Look. This is not difficult at all; this is very simple. You’ve gotta decide whether you’re going to live your life or you’re going to live the life that your father wants you to live. You can’t manage both of them; they are not compatible. You’re not going to make your father happy if you decide to do what you want to do, and I don’t know if you can be happy doing what your father wants you to do. I can’t help you any further than that.” It was amazing. At the time I think it would not have been seen as a psychiatric solution; I mean, that was still (the late 1940’s) a very Freudian period.

Anyway, at the same time, one day there walks into the ward a guy dressed in a dark blue shirt and dark blue trousers and blue suede shoes with huge stacks of books under both arms. He looks around kind of dazed, he’s got this wild hair, and he’s got a big face and big glasses. So I walk up to him, being a new patient, you know, and I say, “Hello, my name is Gerd Stern.” And he drops all his books on the floor, and he sticks out his hand, and he says, “Define your terms!” That was Carl Solomon

“Carl Solomon in his Prince Street apartment several years after residence with me on sixth floor ward, New York State Psychiatric Institute, afterwards working mid-town at his uncle’s Ace books publishers where he edited Wm. S. Burroughs Junkie paperback first edition, New York, 1953″ – Ginsberg caption – c. Allen Ginsberg Estate

Carl had gotten into the Psychiatric Institute because, at a lecture by a proto-anarchist named Wallace Markfield at NYU [(New York University) he had gotten up and thrown potato salad into Markfield’s face. [chuckle] Carl was bizarre. He and I had a great time for a while. He had just come back as a merchant seaman from Paris. There he had acquired a lot of really fascinating books. He had Jean Genêt, whom I had never heard of. I had read (Marcel) Proust, (André) Gide, and I was fascinated by Gide’s Journals particularly, because, in a sense, they persuaded me that it was possible to be self-conscious, and that was like a positive practice, and somehow I think I had grown up thinking that was a negative practice being self-conscious. But Genêt and (Louis Ferdinand) Celine were something else entirely.

Carl and I were there together for some time, then one day Allen Ginsberg showed up. Now there we were, three weirdos out of the literary world. Carl had Christopher Smart–that was a great little library that he had brought with him–and Céline. The problem was that at P.I. they thought Carl was really, totally crazy, insane; they gave him first insulin shock and then electric shock, which took him pretty far out of it.
Allen came because he had been acting weird at Columbia. Mark Van Doren and (Lionel) Trilling and all those people decided – there was some kind of problem – I can’t remember what happened. I think there was a trial of some sort involved, too. Anyway, we wound up at P.I. together and we had a number of adventures. We drove one of the aides crazy. One of the aides had to be taken away in a straightjacket!

Carl was very mischievous. We used to play ping-pong with this aide, and if he was losing, we always changed the score to where he was winning. When he was winning, we changed it so that he was losing. He wasn’t very balanced; I mean, we were patients, you know? He should have understood, but he never did. [chuckle] What finally drove him over the brink   – it was Easter, and they had put these papier-mâché bunnies up on the tables where we ate. Carl went into the bathroom and masturbated into the inside of this rabbit, and then put it back on the table and it drooled out this little pool of cum. The aide came and said, “What is that?”
Carl said, “I jerked off into it.” The guy went mad, and they took him away.

Later on, I was at the San Remo with Carl, and a blind man came in and asked the way to the men’s room. Carl took him, and when he came back to the bar, I said, “Carl, that was really unlike you.” He said, “No, it wasn’t; I took him to the ladies’ room.”

So there we were. We misbehaved badly and consciously. We were in an asylum, and we acted out, and of course they think we were crazy. Anyway, eventually, I got out for the weekends because nobody thought that I was dangerous. But Carl and Allen couldn’t get out for the weekends because they were under observation. Carl was having shock and Allen supposedly had violent episodes. So they asked me if I would bring some grass in when I came back. I did, and then they turned me in to the authorities. They were acting out – (Jean) Genêt did that with his confederates – and they felt that was something they wanted to experience. Of course, both Allen and Carl were gay, and I was not. Anyway, I was ready to leave by that time.”

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