Welcome to the machine

I am old enough to think that song is still cool. It was back in the day when I was a sensitive singer songwriter with long hair and boots and Richard Brautigan in my back pocket and reciting Ferlinghetti on the spot


it was like this when

we waltz into this place

a couple of Papish cats

is doing an Aztec two-step

And I says

Dad let’s cut

but then this dame

comes up behind me see

and says

You and me could really exist

Wow I says

Only the next day

she has bad teeth

and really hates


which is like poem 9 from Coney Island of the Mind © 1955 by Larry himself back in the bland old Eisenhower days (and no, I am not old enough for that). The beatniks as anybody knows after a quick read of Kerouac’s On the Road or Ginsberg’s Howl were not exactly the gentle stuff hippies said they were made of, the main line being literally mainlining, speedballs, and so forth, and while they could always find a critical word or two thousand about the good old U-S-of-A, only the ones who reached hippie-dom actually got political, as I remember. Ferlinghetti last I checked was still kicking around San Francisco, and from time to time I pull out the slender tomes from his 10ferlinghetti2.jpgbookstore-cum-press City Lights, which lay a-moldering on the shelf, sort of the way Proust sips tea, ya dig? Not to mention that I enjoy the rare literary distinction of having Allen Ginsberg himself read and reject a manuscript of mine—talking about the great Tibetan Buddhist Jewish Poet here when he sat among the living—and seeing his fingers actually on the pages typed with these two hands, the silver-tarnish stain of the autoharp which he stroked in those days, and me young and lean and in need of a haircut bad, and this pretty little thing who once did love me, and the Poet tossed the manuscript into his bag and took it with him to read! So then a while later this crummy envelope arrives at the old man’s, it looked like the postman had run over it and then done backed over it again, and inside a plain sheet of paper torn from a pad and on it a pencil scribble scrabble scrawl that basically says NO, and the girl snaked her long arm around me and sighed her condolences, because as writers out there know too well, when a rejection comes it’s like a death in the immediate family, and “I told you,” she said, “you ought to have let the old fart blow you.” Watt yu wuz thankin, sun?

Anyway I get to Ronnie’s place, which he’d just moved into, maybe a block from the beach. The first night I slept on a door we put a mattress on, and the ocean is smelling up the night so thick it lays down a carpet of fog that creeps up to the porch (it’s a real old porch on a sandy road), climbs the sagging steps, crosses the rubber mat, and slips under the warped door. The fog tiptoes about halfway across the front room (two mismatched easy chairs with a table between them, a homemade set of shelves with the all-important number two on the list of life’s priorities, just under oxygen, what we called in them days a damn stereo), sprawls to the double doorway, unrolls a few tongues into the middle room (me and Ronnie perched on the mattress), and is just taking a taste when the space heater wakes up and turns the darkness blue. The automatic fan kicks in and nudges that fog bit by bit right out of the house. We laughed. Nature held at bay. Ronnie makes a break for the bed in the bedroom, the metal springs go off like musical guillotines before his clothes even hit the floor—that’s how cold it is—but somehow in passing he managed to cut on the damn stereo, and instead of falling asleep to the boom and hurrah of the ocean a block away, this tiny synthesizer music gets louder and louder. It is of course Shine on You Crazy Diamond parts 1-5 from the Pink Floyd album Wish You Here, which being a sensitive singer songwriter I had never heard before. After the fifth part everything is sucked away by an elevator that, when it finally opens, is greeted by gales of laughter. Then the machine begins.

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
Where have you been? It’s alright we know where you’ve been.

You’ve been in the pipeline, filling in time,
provided with toys and Scouting for Boys.
You bought a guitah to punish your ma,
And you didn’t like school, and you know you’re nobody’s fool,
So welcome to the machine.

By this time Ronnie is snoring in the next room and it’s too dark for me to find the light, which I need to find the album cover, which I need to learn who and what the heck I am listening to. Yeah, yeah, it’s all about Sid, but how is anybody supposed to know that in the middle of the night on a small island off the Georgia coast? Welcome to the Machine is the last song on side one, and after that the ocean sounded more like distant cannons than waves beating against rocks. At some point I fell asleep, only to have Ronnie wake me up three or four seconds later because it was cold and it was almost seven o’clock in the morning and he wanted a ride to the golf course where he worked. I was back home before I woke up.

Welcome my son, welcome to the machine.
What did you dream? It’s alright we told you what to dream.

You dreamed of a big star, he played a mean guitar,
He always ate in the Steak Bar. He loved to drive in his Jaguar.
So welcome to the machine.

I thought of this tonight, and my new job at the asylum, and it seemed the best way to start out this blog. Now a CD of Wish You Were Here is playing, I am totally modern and up-to-date (not to mention that I just now notice that I wrote above about typing a manuscript, for crying out loud, on a typewriter, and here I am keyboarding away on a nifty laptop), but often miss my days gone by. Obviously.


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