By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
During their stay in Paris, Ginsberg sometimes seemed wistful, as if looking at a treasure for the last time. He talked about how he'd lived there with Corso and Orlovsky in 1957. Corso had arrived first and found a small rooming house later dubbed "The Beat Hotel," which was where Ginsberg introduced Corso to heroin. From there they'd made forays into Holland and Tangier. Since Ginsberg was rarely nostalgic about "the old days," Hale was surprised by this flood of memories.
He realized what had unleashed them later that summer.
If Chris Ide had died too young, Herbert Huncke had lived much longer than anyone would have imagined back when he first became a muse for Burroughs, Ginsberg and Kerouac. But even immortalized junkies must someday fade away.
Huncke had been devastated when his longtime companion, Louis Cartwright, was murdered in a drug deal gone bad in 1994. After that, a terrible gloom settled over Huncke, who kept saying that he should have been the one killed. By 1996, Huncke had wasted away to little more than frail skin, brittle bones and blue veins that he continued to fill with drugs -- sometimes heroin, but mostly methadone and cocaine. Still, whenever he was out of the hospital, he carried himself in his usual dignified manner and continued engaging Corso in running battles.
If anyone could get under Huncke's skin worse than Corso, it was Ginsberg in his Jewish-grandmother role. Before Ginsberg's European trip, two women from France had come to New York to film Ginsberg, Corso and Huncke reading with Ornette Coleman in his Harlem recording studio. The women had arranged for a limousine to pick up Ginsberg, Hale and Corso before it fetched Huncke. For some reason, Ginsberg decided this was a good time to lecture Huncke for the umpteenth time about his irresponsibility, dredging up the time when the old addict had spent the Social Security check that he was supposed to use to match Ginsberg's rent subsidy.
Ginsberg scolded Huncke until the old addict drew himself up and spat back, "Allen, I will not have you talk that way to me in front of these people."
Hale, who'd always found Huncke to be pleasant company, had to admire that. Huncke had lost just about everything he'd ever owned or loved, but he'd never lost his dignity.
Huncke went back into Beth Israel Hospital in June, came out and went back in again in July. The hospital was only a few blocks from the nice, sunny loft on 13th Street, where Ginsberg had finally moved earlier that year. They'd set up the office in one part of the loft; the poet had his living quarters in the other part. Ginsberg wanted to have a big party in the loft when he got the chance. But Huncke would not be among the guests.
Ginsberg was visiting Burroughs in Kansas on August 8 when they got the call that the Times Square junkie had passed away during the night. There was one less Beat in the world.
February 1997, New York City
Hale was working in the office one dreary morning when Ginsberg came in. He'd been preparing for his class at Brooklyn College, but "I'm too tired to teach today," the poet said. He canceled class, assuring Hale and Rosenthal that he just needed to rest.
But no amount of rest seemed to help. Over the next few days, Ginsberg grew weaker. He'd been suffering from heart problems for years and now decided he needed to see his heart specialist in Boston. There he learned that the problem wasn't his ticker, it was his liver.
Ginsberg canceled class and stayed home, but he also began pumping out poetry at a frantic pace, like a man on a pay telephone running out of both time and change. The outpouring of words was so great that Hale had difficulty keeping up with his other office work. He was too busy typing poems.
They soon learned that it wasn't the medication that was affecting Ginsberg's liver: He had hepatitis C, a bloodborne virus. Ginsberg decided he'd probably been infected in the mid-'60s, when he'd shared hypodermic needles. The irony was inescapable: Of all the New York Beats, he'd been the least into drugs, particularly heroin. But now he was paying for the mistakes of his youth, no differently than Kerouac, Cassady, Huncke or Ide.
Still, Ginsberg didn't let the bad news block his writing. If anything, the pace increased. His new poetry covered a gamut of subjects, including his disease and the increasing presence of death -- Moloch, the destroyer of men -- but Ginsberg approached even the most serious topics with humor.
As was his habit, Ginsberg wrote when the mood took him. It was obvious he was thinking about his old companions when he composed "Kerouac" on March 12.
I can't answer,
reason I can't answer
I haven't been dead yet
Don't remember dead
I'm on 14th St & 1st Avenue
Vat's the qvestion?
By the fifth week of his enforced rest, Ginsberg wasn't any better. In fact, on Friday, March 21, he was so much worse, coughing and throwing up blood, that Rosenthal called Ginsberg's cousin, Joel Gaidemak, a physician. Gaidemak told him to get Ginsberg to the hospital immediately.