A Moment With Ginsberg in a Noodle Shop in 1995
His balding head cut an unmistakable shape.
I’d seen it before. On book covers. On the cover of the Village Voice.
Even with stooped posture and grey coat, his visage was unmistakable. This was no mere mortal old New York Jew. This was Allen Ginsberg. The poet. The iconoclast. The aging Beatnik Howling analog at a world taken over by Alanis Morisette pre-packaged irony and post-flannel power chord mediocrity.
It is 1995. A cold New York winter day in February.
I sip a bowl of Cantonese noodle soup and stare. Mee’s Chinese Noodles. 13th Street and 1st Ave.
Mee’s is a tiny shithole of quality food and crappy service. Next to a deli and just below the too-crowded intersection of 14th and 1st by the L Train and the bustle of Stuyvesant Town.
But for all its cockroachitude and tables unwiped since the 1980s, Mee’s is my home. My only place for Chinese food in the city. At least once a week. Maybe twice. Egg drop soup. Sesame noodles. A certain quality of consistency. Was it MSG? Perhaps. But it worked. A momentary respite from a confused and chaotic New York struggle.
Allen Ginsberg was in my home.
It didn’t take much to bring joy to my post-NYU poverty. Just noodle soup. I scrounge the city for jobs in the entertainment industry and wondere if my Dad had been right all along. I believe I might be an artist. But I fear that I’m not. Sometimes I chase young women in bars. Other times I sit at home and try to write.
Mee’s is my friend. Mee’s is a respite.
Warm soup and crappy tea in dirty glasses. Together, harmonic.
I would find out later it was Ginsberg’s favorite. But at the time, he is an apparition. I stunning reminder of the city I hope to measure up to even as I struggle to pay my rent.
I don’t talk to him. Just watch him as he eats. The ghosts of Dean Moriarity and apple-shooting Burroughs haunt his visage. The residue of a 1950s fantasy come to life in my noodle shop. The intellectual rebellion by the City Lights and road trips of a pre-counter culture youth movement. I ponder the photographic record of his journey at the end as mine is at the beginning.
Where once were young men breaking out of conformity there now sits Old Ginsberg. No stopping the road trip into the Now. Just aging bodies. Sipping noodle soup.
No country for old poets. Not in the Seinfeld era.
I fancifully think of a baton passing from him to me. Then my face flushes with shame. I have no howl to give. No kaddish. No poetry. Just a desire to eat noodle soup and hope for a job someday. With health insurance.
He shakes some salt into his soup. A young Asian companion hands him a napkin. They don’t talk. Eventually he is done. His companion helps him to his feet and struggles to get his large wool coat around him. Together, they shuffle out the tiny door.
The flames leap from the stir fry in the kitchen. The windows are foggy with beads of water. Dim, grey New York awaits on the outside.
Ginsberg passes by my window. Outside now. Across first avenue. Into the mist.
I say nothing.
But I honor him with my soup. And that is enough.