Corso and the Coed

Tuschen

Madison, 1981: The voice on the other end was difficult this time. Tight. The type of voice that would start sweating if it had to go on for too long. “Toosh, $400. I need $400. Medical bill. You got it?”

I made a little laugh, then became edgy. I worried (wrongly) that if I said “no” he’d never call again. And I knew that if I said “yes” two things would happen: he certainly would call again, and I would have to borrow $350 from friends to honor his request.

I first met Gregory Corso on New York’s Lower East Side in ’67 or ’68 (that old chestnut about the ’60s is, unfortunately, partially true). He had just given a reading and I was able to say hello and that’s about it. He frightened me. His speech was a runaway bar car loaded with Gilgamesh and Shelley. He gesticulated madly like the true Italian ghetto boy he was. Even then both ends of his candle were ablaze. Years later, after getting Corso’s San Francisco number from Ginsberg, I called him and asked if he’d like to come to Madison to give a reading. I was working at the Madison Art Center and Lanny Silverman was a curator there. We had planned to do a series of local poetry and music but I wanted someone from the “outside” to come in and kick it off. Having never been here before, and short of money, Corso agreed to make the trip. We had offered him $300, airfare and all expenses paid. On the phone, he seemed elated to wing out to Madison. It was February. Like I said, he had never been here before.

There was a problem, however. Corso was having difficulty with his on again/off again heroin habit. He phoned and asked if I had some—he didn’t want to carry. I had to tell him that I hadn’t banged smack in a decade. I did say that perhaps I could get him a script for methadone. He replied that that would be fine, he “just didn’t wanna get sick” that far away from home. I called my then Zen doctor (who was also a poet) and explained the situation. He wanted to help but said that only the state’s head MD could write a script for methadone. My doc tried to call this “head doctor” but he was in Canada for a month. Things were beginning to look a bit bleak. No one else knew what was going on and its weight upon me was becoming more than tiring. Finally, I called an old junkie friend in Chicago and told him to rustle up some stuff and meet Gregorio at O’Hare. My friend vaguely knew who Corso was and didn’t think he would recognize him. I told my friend not to worry and that he needed only to watch for somebody who looked like he just flew in from San Francisco without a plane.

* * *

Coming out of the hotel and into the nighttime, blasts of ugly, cold wind were ripping up Frances Street. I shuddered. Corso had his breath blown away, and the sidewalk, plastered with layers of snow and ice, crunched heavy beneath our feet. Frances, between State and Langdon Streets, has a sharp incline and we were going down it. A college chick was coming up on the other side. We were the only three people on the block. All of a sudden another blast of wind whipped up the street. I was thrown up against the wall, Corso crouched, put his “bottle-in-a-brown­bag” down and darted like a speed skater across the street.

Meanwhile, the coed had been blown off her feet and was on her back with hundreds of loose papers swirling in little white tornados above her. But Corso was there, sliding on his ass picking up sheaves of paper when he was down and handing them to her when he was up. He fell two or three times when something very interesting happened: the wind stopped. Completely stopped. And suddenly the night was as still and as quiet and as crisp as any February night could be. Corso continued picking up papers, no longer looking like he might be pulled off the planet. The coed was finally standing, tears criss-crossing the smile on her face. I was crouched over the paper bag, smiling at its contents.
Finally, Corso struggled back to the sidewalk. He was wearing this near toothless grin so huge I could’ve stepped into it. “Now if dat wasna acta gawd!” he whispered while grabbing his bag with one hand and taking my arm with the other.

 

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