the Beat who Bedded Liberty
A couple of days ago I went down the hill where I live in Stockholm, taking a shortcut to the bus that would take me downtown: a beautiful summer’s day, a handful of nice, wispy clouds sailing high in the sky, all translucent luminosity, the sort of day that must have wafted up to these northern latitudes all the way from San Francisco.
This particular street – Artillerigatan - leads gently, gradually downhill, its sidewalks shaded by bushy trees that stand away from the curb along the inside of the two walkways . The street lay empty before me, I could see all the way down beyond a crossing to the broad avenue where I’d catch my bus. Down there at the corner is a 7-Eleven with a sophisticated coffee machine that dispenses an excellent Latte. They also offer a fine choice of muffins. I might drop in there, have a cuppa java and a bit of muffin to strengthen myself for the jaunt to one of the movie houses on trusty old Kungsgatan, there to while away an hour or two in cool darkness watching, as it turned out a French flick - Anthony Zimmer.
My mind lively with sunny vistas, I’d covered perhaps one third of the distance to the 7-Eleven when I saw – some twenty or so meters away, walking toward me – an improbable figure, by which I mean not only improbable in size and shape but in that it appeared to be human, and female. The creature, for a creature it surely was, looked to be – what – no– simply outrageous!
As she approached – moving in what for her might be a leisurely stroll but for ordinary mortals would have been a brisk jog – I realized with an electric thrill that this lady was too large to be true. As I think back to it now it must have dawned on me that she was over three meters tall, probably closer to four meters than to three, that is to say some twelve feet tall, as I now figure it. Her head was near the level of the tallest of these ornamental tree tops, a truly awesome, indeed a phenomenal sight.
Reflexively, or more likely instinctively, I would have flattened myself against a wall but the nearest house-front to the left was too far to get there before this enormous lady reached me, so I did the next best thing – leaned against the closest tree trunk, tried to meld into it while assuming a casual stance, as if, for instance, having stopped to light a cigarette – a rather Italianate gesture meant to camouflage overt interest in a passing woman. This had the added advantage of allowing me to duck behind the trunk should this awesomely magnificent being for some reason take umbrage to my lounging there as she passed by.
With this constellation of time, circumstance and habitat in place she swiftly moved or rather should swiftly have moved past me but didn’t. From a stroll she slowed to a lingering gait, the great head with the curly grey hair turning ever so slightly toward me – minimally, yes, but just enough for me to catch a flash from both her eyes, even the left, hooded by heavy, bluish lids - a passing glance that seemed first to arrest the blood in my veins, then make it surge in a wild rush. Instantly, all my perceptions were vivified, including memory uptake – in nanoseconds I stored all impressions perfectly for future recall.
She wore a knee-length skirt and a short safari jacket of straight cut with whit piping and incongruously puffed sleeves, all in an orangy yellow that showed off stockings of vivid green and high-heeled black pumps with narrow black ankle straps. Slung in a single loose loop around her neck was a long white silk scarf that flowed out behind her as she walked, riding in graceful undulations on the breeze in her wake. Beneath the jacket was a thin, see-through bodyshirt of shiny Lycra or some such fabric. As she came up to me I had noticed small, firm breasts – I mean small relative to her size but in fact much larger than any I had ever seen or touched. The right breast must have been lactating – whitish moisture wetted the shirt fabric around the nipple area. With the skirt went an iridescent green belt so broad it looked like a sash. Slung over her left shoulder on a broad strap was a bag of military green. The flap of this bag cleaved open, revealing the top of a large, round, pale object that I first mistook for a bowling ball but now recognized as of bone – a human skull! Thus she sashayed by.
That moment I remembered seeing her make a small gesture as she approached – right hand to face, taking off the sunglasses she wore.
And again, now as she moved on past me, I saw the right hand rise to put those shades back in place. Then it struck me – this magnificent creature, this non-pareil apparition, why, this must be Liberty! And she had taken off those sunglasses for me, so her gaze would travel, unobstructed, to me! Who knew what this might mean, what it implied, who would dare guess. And now she was walking in the direction of my studio! I stepped away from the sheltering tree, looking to see where she was heading. Already she was at the crossing up the street, turned to the right, was gone. I ran, got to the corner in less than half a minutes – she was nowhere to be seen. Leave it be, I told myself. Consider yourself privileged. She took off her sunglasses for you, she looked at you. How many men can boast of such!
True, I was privileged to have had this encounter, but something bothered me – history, the future. This had happened here, now, today, in Stockholm, in the summer of 2006. But, having learned what time can do to historical facts, I fast-forwarded twenty, thirty years into the future. What would the tale be then? I myself had lived in, with and through any number of evolutionary warps, the beat and beatnik culture among them. I had seen and knew people who, when The Beach was young, themselves were young and glad of it, doing what came naturally, which was mostly loafing, doping and making love or sex or both. People who were happy not to have to be anybody, happy to live in an enclave culture where status meant little. Then those very same people twenty, thirty, yeah, forty years later retroactively imbuing the beat Beach with the spirit of predatory ambition and competitiveness that in fact it had evolved away from and left behind. And retroactively bestowed upon themselves all sorts of positions as creators and kingpins if not of everything that ever happened there and then but certainly of all core events and core developments in poetry, painting, music, street life – you name it. They’d not only done it but been at the very hub, the very tops, man, yeah, can you dig it, the only on who really counted. Groo-vee, man, yeah!
All this went through my head as I stood on that corner, then slowly turned to walk back down Artillerigatan toward the bus that would take me to see Anthony Zimmer, a real frenchie of a movie if you ask me – great photography, great elegance but where oh where was the sex? And they weren’t even sitting around in their black underwear, smoking Gauloise and drinking Pastis, before making l’amour. Then, as I jogged to catch the bus, just made it, found a seat in back, the illumination hit me – suddenly I knew what would happen to the true story of my innocent, casual and after all most fleeting encounter with Liberty. First, by 2016, the casual glance she accorded me would have turned into a big fat lascivious wink. Pete met Lady Liberty and she gave him a big fat wink. Those were the days, can you imagine, she gave him the come-on! Liberty! Winked at Pete!
By 2026 the dirty wink she gave me will have been followed by action, yes. By then she had actually stopped, walked up to me right there, as I tried to blend discreetly into the neighborhood, right there, believe it, she had, Liberty walked up to Pete! By 2036 she will have picked me up and carried me like a baby up the street to my studio where I showed her the big portraits I’d painted of her. So enchanted by this was she, that (so the tale went by 2046) she led me into the bedroom where she began to disrobe and display her magnificent, super-size wares. And finally, round about 2050, history would have it that I bedded her, or rather, considering her size and awesome power, she me.
Finally, right there, on the bus, in my mind’s eye, I beheld the scene, enshrouded in the mists of the future – and I saw it was I myself telling the outrageous tale. Me, yes, Pete Edler, the only man who ever fucked Liberty and lived to tell. Lived not much longer, to be sure, not only due to the inhuman strain such lovemaking no doubt would have entailed but also because I would then be 120 years old, so my days would naturally be numbered. "Believe me," I was telling an audience of rapt mid 21st century beats, "those were the days in Stockholm. Anything could happen and usually did. And I was right in the center of it all – so much so that even Lady Liberty had to seek me out to get some authentic beat action. Yeah, kids, we had it all. Now lemme tell you another story from those wonderful years, all guaranteed authentic and true, upon my word ..."
©Peter Edler 2006