Ferlinghetti’s recent death prompted me to remember an incident years ago when I was living in San Francisco’s North Beach. I had been driving with my friend Malcolm Braly down Columbus Avenue when suddenly we were pulled over by the police, searched, arms outstretched on either side of the car, and then Malcolm was arrested–for breaking parole, I soon learned. In a panic about how to help him, I went to City Lights, the warm heart of North Beach at the time, to ask for advice, and there was Ferlinghetti, at the counter browsing a magazine. Hoping he could help, I told him what had happened as best I could, concluding with the question that overshadowed all else for me at the moment: “What should I do?” He pointed to a rack of books: “The best thing you can do, the only thing, in fact, is bring him a stack of books. Help yourself to any of the paperbacks on that rack: not the other–they’re fussy down at the station, they censor the reading materials, but any of those books they’ll allow in. And don’t worry about paying: they’re on me.” I never forgot his kindness and his generous response.
By Claire Kahane
Claire Kahane spent part of the 1950s and 60s on the road, propelled by a lust for adventure, and the will to challenge the expectations for women of her family and culture. Years later, as a Professor of English at the University at Buffalo, and informed by her study of psychoanalysis, she wrote and edited books and essays which explored gender conflict in modern fiction, the dark appeal of Gothic literature, Holocaust trauma, and the perverse novels of Ian McEwan. Her memoir, Nine Lives, testifies to her dynamic re-invention of self over nine decades. She lives in Berkeley and continues to write both memoir pieces and literary criticism.View all of Claire Kahane's posts.