Bob Rosenthal on Carl Soloman

Carl Solomon, 1991 – Photograph by Allen Ginsberg © The Estate of Allen Ginsberg

“With thanks for his advice, sympathy , critiques, invitations, despairs, happinesses & friendships for 3 and a half Decades now” – Allen’s inscribed copy of his Collected Poems 1947-1980 to Carl Solomon came under auction a while back – That was his thoughtful, loving inscription.

Then, of course, there’s the charming poem in Wait Till I’m Dead – “Dream of Carl Solomon” – “I meet Carl Solomon./”What’s it like in the afterworld?”/. “It’s just like in the mental hospital; /You get along if you follow the rules.”/ “What are the rules? / “The first rule is: Remember you’re dead./ The second rule is: Act like you’re dead.”

Carl Solomon, Dadaist, iconoclast, famously dedicatee of “Howl”, had he lived, would have celebrated his 90th  birthday today (who knows if he isn’t celebrating it, dutifully and ruefully, “in the afterworld”! )

We feature a guest-posting today from Allen’s longtime secretary (and Carl’s good friend)  Bob Rosenthal. Memories of Carl – gone but not forgotten. Happy Birthday Carl!

Late 1970’s, Carl Solomon is calling Allen’s number from each corner as he messengered. We save the messages by holding the cassette deck up to the answering machine. “You ruined my life.” “It’s OK, Allen!”

I was a messenger myself and was writing about it; so I interview Carl about our shared occupation. I talk to Carl on a park bench on one of his downtown routes. Carl has a manila envelope at his side.

Bob: What about elevators? How do you feel about elevators? When you’re shooting up fifty floors non-stop?

Carl: Or to the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center! — well in the beginning I actually did things like say my prayers when I got into ’em. I thought this would be a good place to start praying and I also got the feeling like participating in some kind of Hollywood movie like Stairway to Heaven. I look at the other people there and say well we’re going up God knows where but we’re all in this together.

Bob: Like figuring if you had to spend the next five years with these people.

Carl: like Sartre’s No Exit.

Bob: Does it do anything to you? I mean obviously you spend a good part of your day going up and down in elevators.

Carl: Now in this day of robotics I tend to psychoanalyze each elevator.

Bob: How do you do that?

Carl: Well some elevators have certain peculiarities, will stop at a certain time, be temperamental at certain times, you have to realize that you are living in the day and age of robotics and try to get elevators which are more docile, which are more compliant, better adjusted elevators you know – You don’t want the neurotic elevators.

Bob: That whip up and stop short.

Carl: Yeah elevators are like people.

Bob: Are you ever alone in the elevators?

Carl: Sometimes but I keep my cool – I think to myself, “Where are the emergency buttons?” I myself am very safety conscious and think to myself, “Do I know what to do in an emergency?”

Bob: I used to jump up while expressing up and the elevator would meet me half way down, it was frightening.

Carl: Well yeah we all go through that.

[Excerpt from of Fifth Avenue Overhead.]

Ten years later, Shelley and I take the IRT up to visit Carl in the Bronx.  He cheerfully tours around Pelham Bay Park. We see the somewhat empty apartment he once lived in with his mother. Another decade goes by, he is in some kind of facility.  He calls and tells me that he now has lots of girlfriends, “Finally, I am a Shtarker!” (Strongman)  He dies a week later. 

POEM

Centuries ago we stood together in potato soup

Arms overhead not pleading just waving

Red songs drizzled into the sodden uptown walls

Lasting in mid-word like ceaseless telephones

 

Some stay attracted to aunties of portion

Or else they walk the spoon pronto

Lusting to grab passing mishaps

One night Mama dies

Materially eh! but now such a Shtarker!

On Pelham Bay fishing for blues

No one left to share our intimate trivialities

 

Bob Rosenthal,  March 30, 2020

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