International Writers Magazine: Reality Check
Musharraf Sweats, Mailer Dies & The Genius Poet Tails
It was sometime
in the early hours of an endless bipedal drinking marathon, slumped
in a cramped hotel room at the edge of the literary Bloomsbury district,
that my traveling companion, Jersey Pedro and myself watched in
relative horror as General Perves Musharraf, the acting president
of a crumbling government, spoke to his nation and the world beneath
a sheath of Nixonian flopsweat. His stuttering pleas for sanity
seemed to ring hollow as the BBC cameras captured apathetic shoulder
shrugs and glares of disdain from the heavily armed members of his
cabinet, who were recently forced to beg the foreign press to shed
light on the president's suspension of all laws, allowing him to
systematically jail dissidents in and around the powder keg that
is now Pakistan.
This was nothing
worth processing either mentally or spiritually while working on little
sleep with nagging back pains and creaky knees. London is an unforgiving
town. It moves at a snail's pace and closes well before midnight. You
must be drunk by noon and brandish your own steak sauce or escape is
futile. The real action happens beneath the ground, something Musharraf
will fast be learning soon, when he is likely deposed by his government
and sacked by his military chieftains.
Pedro, for his part, was angered over the lack of cricket highlights
and football scores, making it his business to sing the same incessantly
cruel Ringo Starr song over and over, as if he were recovering from
secret shock treatments. I tried in vein to decipher Musharraf's vague
references to martial law and terrorist coups, and recalled, if only
for the briefest of moments, a piece I penned in late May of 1998, when
the Indian/Pakistan border war escalated into its current nuclear parameters.
I wrote then: "Iran and Iraq is a tea party now;
a second-rate, five & dime whiz bang of a blip on the ass of this
horrible development. Not even Hussein's babbling psycho-rhetoric can
rival the impoverished and enraged populace due east."
I was busy paraphrasing the above paragraph when Pedro, hoarse-throated
and clearly hung-over, reminded me that years before I'd gotten it on
pretty good authority from my baby brother - knee-deep in human feces
on the streets of New Delhi trying to train dumbfounded Nortel representatives-
that Indian newspapers were rife with misinformation about how much
nuclear tonnage the government had acquired from the Chinese, and that
"nuking was imminent".
I drowned out the terrible memory by turning up the television. Musharraf
was sounding more and more like a puppet of the United States government
by promising another round of free elections, easing the "state
of emergency" and complying with international demands to release
embattled former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto.
"To hell with that army thug, he's doomed," Pedro said, before
gasping towards his lap-top sitting beside him on the bed.
"What is it?" I asked, glued to Musharraf's increased levels
of perspiration and weird stammering.
"Remember yesterday near the Thames when I concocted a plan to
buy up volumes of nearly deceased authors to sell at increased rates
years from now, and used Norman Mailer as a prime example?"
"Was that before or after the Genius Poet Incident?" I asked
It was then Pedro grew tense. His eyes glazed over and he swallowed
hard. "Don't speak of that again," he whispered. "Not
now. Not ever."
He would get no
argument from me. I was there. The newest incarnation of the legendary
Marquee Club on Upper Saint Martin's Lane, where for nearly two hours
London's pretentious cross-nagging underground poets made transparent
attempts to impress the aging Beats who'd come to sell books while still
appearing vital. I had attended the event as a proper representative
of American authors, shuffling confidently past the make-shift ticket
stand wondering aloud if we could just drink quietly and listen to the
faint echoes of poets plying their trade downstairs. The young patron
waved us through to the main bar.
No one seemed to mind the two yankee interlopers perching themselves
on the winding staircase taking in "My First Blowjob" sonnets
delivered with stunning power from angry middle-aged female scribes,
and then, a short interlude with former Beat Queen, Carolyne Cassady,
who I'd chatted up earlier in the evening when a glowing Irishman was
challenging the fragile 84 year-old to a drinking duel. She laughed
in his face. I laughed too. No one who could take on both Neal Cassady
and Jack Kerouac would lose her bravado to a soused barfly.
"Jack said to always drink at home," I reminded her, feeling
"And in hotel rooms, sonny," she winked, punching my shoulder.
After Cassady was done trashing Kerouac for seventeen uninterrupted
minutes on stage -- "If not for my husband, who mister Kerouac
painted as some kind of beast, there would be no 'On The Road'"
-- I retired to the upstairs lounge to find an effeminate black man
dressed conspicuously in a brightly colored motorcycle body-suit sitting
at my table.
For long minutes we said nothing to each other until Jersey Pedro sat
down and sparked a bizarre conversation that began with the destruction
of the human race. I startled our visitor for a moment with my predictable,
"People scare me and I despise them," he said. "I cannot
suffer them any longer. I'm a genius."
"I'm an idiot," I responded. "Glad to meet you,"
and shook his hand.
Soon thereafter we sussed his plan, as he brashly slid a hardback edition
of his collected poems across the table and demanded we work as his
American agents. Thus proceeded a Q & A session on Andy Warhol and
the Velvet Underground, Charles Bukowski and more bullshit about he
being a genius.
"I have my own fucked career to contemplate," I told him.
"I'm merely a highly motivated unemployed musician," Pedro
But the Genius
Poet would not quit: "You must represent me. Don't you want to
be rich? I'll give you twenty-five percent!"
We excused ourselves and bolted towards the door. The young lady from
Lousiville, who had engaged me in a delightful discussion on Hunter
Thompson only hours before now yelled "Run!"
"Jesus, this guy is crazy!" Pedro remarked.
I refused to look back, but I knew he was tailing us out into the street.
We sped across Oxford Street and down towards the closest tube entrance,
beyond the crowd of braying youth stumbling from the pubs en masse as
the bells struck eleven.
"Guess who just died?" Pedro aasked me back at the hotel the
next morning, snapping me out of my funk.
"Who?" I asked.
"Norman Fucking Mailer!"
we're too late."
"He was a self-proclaimed genius, you know."
Musharraf was now taking questions. Still sweating. Doomed.
ten billion dollars on this asshole and he's going down like Custer,"
It was a tough day in the grand old town for generals and geniuses.
© James Campion Nov 17th 2007
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