Phil Harmonic actually sounded serious when he called and asked me, “Could you use a hundred bucks?” He knows me entirely too well to have to ask and is himself too sound of character to suddenly lose his hard-earned marbles.
As far as I am concerned, money—as opposed to people—is never to be used. Money must be honored and enjoyed and disposed of with the utmost care. It deserves respect if only because it is never annoyed when you stroke it first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and any other damn time you desire in between. So anyway, I replied to Phil that while I am far too much of a gentleman to use it, a hundred bucks would be thrilling to acquire and get just a little nasty with.
He explained that the hundred dollars would be the prize awarded in a contest the Reader was holding, “A Call For Sonnets,” enacted to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Mr. William “Billy” Shakespeare over 399 years ago. Phil also remembered that I had won a poetry contest at Mesa College in 1975 with a sonnet I had written and wondered whether I was interested in finding out if I still had the “stuff” to be so rigidly poetic, “four decades on” (a term I was determined to use within the sonnet I might compose as well as one I threw into the picture caption here last month while awaiting the contest’s outcome.)
Yes, I was interested, and I wanted that money.
The first hurdle was one of conscience. Among the rules of the contest was the notice that special consideration would be given entries having to do with San Diego. This I assessed at first as an annoying constraint before deciding to fight fire with fire: my sonnet would be about something annoying, or worse.
Then there was the question of the name under which I would submit my entry. There is one particularly yucky person from my past who, to my knowledge, was working at the Reader and who, if seeing my name attached to anything I might send in, would certainly launch my submission into the nearest waste basket. A pseudonym was in order, and, as my phone number was also required, I felt sure that if my sonnet were chosen, they’d call me and I would then request that they print the piece using my real name. The luckiest of my pseudonyms over the years has been Georges Alvina—Georges for the man the late Ken Russell and I agree was the greatest composer who ever lived, Georges Delerue, and Alvina for another person now deceased, the French actress Anicee Alvina, the most beautiful woman I never played “doctor” with. So “Georges Alvina” it would be, but just temporarily…
Inspiration (too kind a term, actually) had been building up within me for a long time. Every time I take the bus downtown (much cheaper than driving!) and start going west on Broadway, I’m seized with a melancholy that brings me close to tears. I remember how exciting the area had appeared when I was a kid and my Mom would take us down there to see some very special movie (like The Brides of Dracula in 1960) and how exciting it actually was when I began enjoying it on my own or with friends in the early seventies. Now it’s one big, generic yuppie Shangri-la/vomitorium and all the interesting places are long gone, bulldozed and replaced with edifices entirely devoid of character and soul.
So—wouldn’t ya know it?—I slaved over my sonnet for a long time and then emailed it via Phil Harmonic’s email account under my pseudonym; I was one of the five winners the Reader published in its edition of April 27. They never called me so I could correct the name thing. I’m publishing it here now since I’m kinda proud of it and wanted to share it with you (Phil Harmonic being the only person, I think, who still reads the Reader):
Eulogy For Broadway (Downtown San Diego)
The seedy, sad excitement you once wore
So proudly, so enchanting to a child
In time would spill like honey from your core
Into a young man’s heart and drive him wild.
He would become far richer, so beguiled
With wicked glamour, glowing in your light
While love and fear and dreams were reconciled
On all your movie screens, throughout the night.
Your sidewalks drenched in danger and delight
With locker clubs and arcade jewelry
Your final breath a lilting sigh despite
The wounds of bureaucratic cruelty.
Four decades on, it’s agony to face
The flaccid statues standing in your place.
So I sorta wrote it to see if I could, but the hundred bucks was the real inducement. I’m still waiting for the money.
Last weekend I tried to start my summer early by attempting to force myself into a sand-and-sun mood, with a bit of tangible aid. Was it music? A movie? A bikinied babe? Yes, yes, and yew betcha. I watched an ancient “beach party” movie from 1966 (available from Sinister Cinema) called A Swingin’ Summer. James Stacy stars along with a truly swinging cast, which “introduces” the amply endowed Raquel Welch, just a few years removed from her weather girl duties at San Diego’s Channel 8. She starts out with her hair pulled up and wearing glasses and spouting pseudo-intellectual nonsense, but soon lets down that mane, throws off the specs, and sings “Ready to Groove,” backed by Gary Lewis and the Playboys! Since for some reason she’s wearing a cleavage-concealing dickie under her bathing suit during this number, the camera concerns itself mostly with her fearsome pelvic undulations, which are refreshingly lewd (boing!)
The film takes place at Lake Arrowhead, and must have served the resort very well as a widescreen advertisement. But really—by 1966 the beach films had pretty much washed out. Summer was massively out of date; it’s as if the Beatles and long hair (for that time) had never happened. In this, no guys have hair brushing even the tops of their ears, and the Righteous Brothers sing a song (“Justine”) with the lyrics “Goin’ to the barbershop/ Gonna get clean for my little buttercup,” for heaven’s sake. Elsewhere a three-guy group sings something called “Red Hot Rodster” that is such a blatant rip-off of “Little Deuce Coup” that Brian Wilson shoulda sued, and Gary Lewis does such an inept job of miming to his “own” drumming that you’ll question the director’s mental acuity. (Lewis switched to guitar shortly after this.)
And watch out for Michael Blodgett; this was four years before his immortal role as Lance Rock in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and 15 before his emergence as a fine novelist. He does an ecstatic, dancing speed freak better than anybody before or since, and damn near steals the film. I’ll recommend it for helping you get in the mood for the months ahead, as it did me. In the words of one character in the story, “Like I said before, man, this is gonna be a swinging summer!”