Playland/Pokerino 246 W. 42nd Street (1953) Office of Metropolitan History

The storm just began. That’s what Huncke said to a character we were standing with. I turned in awe to hear him say that, because I picked up on Hunke’s tearful allusion to the crisis. But this character was not so frantic as we were. He stared at the tragic monkey mincing in the magic cage of glass where the weary madame in the mad bandanna poised her paralyzed hands. The character nodded, but not at Huncke, and not at me, but at the deck of daemons. I did not say to myself, “This big horse is worried that his fortune is a nickel, while he was neither, at a time like this.” Maybe it was J. K.’s shriek that I remembered, “These are not times in which one can afford to give up one’s proctologist.” Perhaps because the monkey was merely sad, and I was, truly, morbid. Sad, I mean, because I remember, “Triste comme la mort des singes*,” which I thought beautiful for years. And after all this time J.K. is in the hospital having an operation for some kind of ambiguous hemorrhoid. Yet this monkey’s eyes are beads, though obviously they had once been closed in graceful sorrow. The character nibbles his nails. His fingers are peeling, of course, but so are everybody else’s, in case anybody else had noticed. Or hasn’t, for that matter. Anyway, he may ignore the situation, but before long his skin will turn to snow, I hope it melts on 42nd Street: perhaps a little yellow puddle in the gutter across from Pokerino. I might as well put this down once for all, that Huncke and, maybe, myself, and several mutual acquaintances all think that everybody is radioactive and nobody knows it yet. I keep running across snide little references to “explosions” in The New Yorker. Somebody somewhere is hip. They are probably very intelligent people anyway. Speaking of such things, there is a rudely Kafkian fable by some hysterical chick in Kenyon Review that talks about the Great Cold Wave or something on an H.G. Wells kick. Anyway there was some point made of how nobody could get up a fire in the imitation fireplace because all the furniture was plastic. People are beginning to notice things, but they haven’t really begun gossiping about it yet. There are exceptions. Huncke told me that everyone he meets around the Square is guiltily concealing some kind of unclassifiable skin mortification. Myself, I have the peeling skin on my heels, too. Also I have the enamel particles that work out to the surface of the skin; and the little white hairs that appear out of the eyes and nose and mouth and copulate like corkscrews in the middle of the air. As well, those little retracting fungoid protuberances from the sphincter. Last month I also had a succession of throat infections followed by swollen glands. Yet I’m not unreasonable. I need more sleep, I need to keep regular hours. I saw a doctor today about my glands, and that is what he told me. Of course he evaded the question of the peeling skin, so naturally I didn’t dare go so far as to mention the enamel. As for the hairs, I saw no reason to embarrass either myself or the doctor. He was practically crawling with himself anyway. Everything is strange; I don’t like to jest poorly (as I did about the corkscrews even though I was serious), but I like to think, in my own poetic was, that mother nature’s going through a change of life. I am flippant, and that’s foolish, but how can I write these things as other than amusements? It would not be funny, it would be embarrassing, if I assumed a confidential, Alyosha-like style, and really explained what I mean and how literally I mean it. It’s beginning to drag me — all this is too theoretical, it doesn’t make. Why bother? It’s been a hard winter. That’s what I mean. All this snow… and cold. It was in the papers before, and we saw it. Huncke and I mentioned it. I’m not very perceptive about the matter, I just keep my mouth shut and my ears open, and I pick up on a lot. Like Huncke’s remark, “The storm just began.” I was wondering what the character would do. He didn’t do anything at all, he was involved with the plastic gypsy. I would wonder why he had any interest in the machine; he looked too beat to care anything about poetry. He was on Benny and I suppose he was just feeling placeless and starry-eyed and didn’t know what else to do besides wander around like a zombie and stare at what was in front of him at the moment. Or maybe the vibration of a superstitious fancy of the moment; possibly he was a little afraid of the monkey. Anything but radioactivity. didn’t like him, he wasn’t a mad child wandering around in the Forest of Arden; he was a big sloppy horse, dirty featured, all incomprehensible. Maybe that’s why I can’t stand him, even if Huncke formally introduced us. Perhaps I am at fault. But he was so beatlooking and dumb. That as Huncke might point out to me, if I made an issue of it, it’s part of a crassly competitive outlook. Situations are situations, but I would hate to be humiliated into admitting that I am a snob on account of that geek. Huncke and I began to circulate. Pokerino used to be the All American Bus Terminal. I have a vague recollection of it as such a short time ago, but I never cut in there very much then, except to look for Huncke who spent a good deal of his time there, trying to steal suitcases. I don’t think he was very successful, I think he almost took a fall there… a number of times. He himself is a doomed man, that way, and many others. I think I’d rather leave him a figment. Now, that is, I suppose it’s irrelevant. Somehow everything seems that way, unless I think about it long enough. This is, just now, which shows you just how much in touch this business of mine is. Usually I get hung up one way or another, so that it doesn’t matter what routine it is I’m putting down, I wind-up thinking about it, anyway. This last hassle, for instance, began when I began to figure up a pious little angle on the score, that it’s a good thing that The Terminal turned into Pokerino before Huncke got busted there. However as I say, it means no difference, it so happens that he was in jail when it all happened. I meant to write the fact, also, that I have to make certain excuses about Pokerino. I wasn’t in town when it happened myself. When I came back, there it was…. But people are always either afraid or snotty, and that won’t do. I mean that I am serious. I am afraid, I am telling you this way, but it so happens that I am afraid of the real thing. As Huncke said, they are all trying to hide the plague, they think that they are personally unclean. But it’s not that, it’s not that at all; if they only knew, think what a load off their minds it would be. They are afraid of knowing, as if it were an unconscious kick they were on. I say, let’s face it, let’s gossip, let’s show our peeling skins, let’s carry mad little Japanese boxes around with us to collect our enamel in; or let’s show a black feather on which we’ll gather our dandruff serpents. Conditions have disintegrated, we must make every man and every woman understand this even if it means showing each other our fungoids. We must put an end to all of this shameful crap. I hope you are hip that I am playing a game again. I didn’t want to. I suppose that it doesn’t matter one way or the other, what we think. Because I suppose it makes no difference, whatever is going to happen is going to happen. Just the same I always come back to wanting to see everybody put his mind at rest. It may be just so they won’t get on my nerves so much, but it’s more than that; everybody is worried, their psyches are continually picking up on embarrassing little routines from some fairly-well-frantic corners. Partly, I think, their character-armors are inexplicably breaking down, and these squares, some of them have never picked up on the theory before. It’s a complete surprise, they suddenly are all there, set down in a physical world, completely come down, without any past, with nothing but an eternal literal Present surrounding them; they have no personalities, they discover, to carry them through. Their souls pop out in the air like flying discs. And disappear, again, of course, before anybody gets too seriously hung up. But once they dig their stiffening vanity, and their awkward pride they never forget. They remember seeing through their lies for a few seconds, they never forget. It’s cruel; it’s like death; everything suddenly seems real; think of the bottom of the sea. It’s a mystical fright. Call it a shame, if you will, but it’s your disgrace, and maybe it’s your death. That’s the weird answer. And I wouldn’t be too surprised to see some kind of total extinction, either, I don’t know. But now the subject is on it. All the characters that were asked to leave Bickfords and Horn and Hardart were falling into Pokerino; junkies from Dixon’s on 8th Ave., also. Spades of all kinds; adorable sharpies and strange gargoyles, and also some pretty mad looking spade chicks were cutting in and falling into combinations around the Jukebox. Teaheads from everywhere, hustlers with pimples, queens with pompadours, lushes with green faces, fat dicks with clubs, cherubs with sycophants, wolves with adenoids, faces with blotches, noses with holes, eyebrows with spangles, old men with the horrors, bums with the stumbles and sometimes squares with curiosity or just passing through to catch a bus; and not only these few but the unprotected, the unloved, the unkempt, the inept and sick. A sensitive lyric poet who is one of my oldest friends paid a visit himself, on my recommendation, and he told me that immediately upon entering it seemed to him as if everybody was walking around under the floor. He said that he had to withdraw, so inexorable was the depression that settled upon him, almost at once. And he is not a vain man. Myself I am considered affected by the atmosphere — the wild, tremendous Jukebox, the weird overbrilliant lighting, the hundreds of slot machines that line the walls, the beat, absolutely beat, characters but the plain fact is that it is not a matter of aesthetic taste. For Hipster or Square, aesthete or philistine, or anything, so to speak, mankind is as one in the Pokerino. That is pedantic, or poetic, or sociological, as it sounds. Nevertheless one who shares each private disease must forgive all public guilt, and teach each conscience as his own. It is a result of everything that is happening right now. The time of the grand molecular come-down is coming. Pokerino is a radioactive Rose.

* Sad like the death of the monkeys

Allen Ginsberg A VERSION OF THE APOCALPSE (1947) first printed in THE BEAT VISION edited by Arthur and Kit Knight and published by Paragon House 1987