Within a few weeks Allen had regrown his beard. He kept it more closely cropped, but he was beginning to look like a member of the Russian mafia.
[Chögyam Trungpa] Rinpoche was coming over. He lived in a beautiful Georgian-style mansion that his followers called the Wedding Cake House.
A gray Mercedes pulled up outside Allen and Peter [Orlovsky]’s apartment. The Vajra guards were the first to leave the car. They were the young security officers who protected Rinpoche wherever he went. Dressed in identical-looking black suits and carrying walkie-talkies, the Vajra guards were students of Rinpoche’s who were given some training in martial arts and meditation to aid in their awareness of all potential situations.
They opened the door for Rinpoche, and he moved slowly out of the backseat of the car. They accompanied him into the apartment. Peter had cleaned house like a demon. He even cleaned the sidewalk in front of the house with a toothbrush. Allen had taken a bath and a shower, and he was wearing his best suit and the pin he was given upon his induction into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. It was like inspection at military school. Allen made sure my shoes were polished, and that I had worn my seersucker suit. Peter was wearing sandals, but with socks. He was making tea.
Rinpoche was coming for one of his poetry lessons, which Allen had given him from time to time. They wrote three-line poems together: “Ground. Path. Fruition.” One idea embodied in each line. Allen’s latest City Lights book was dedicated “to Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche Poet”: “Guru Death your words are true / Teacher Death I do thank you / for inspiring me to sing this Blues.”
Rinpoche was a practitioner of what he called “crazy wisdom.” Allen loved that phrase. It seemed to mean that Rinpoche could do whatever he wanted, and his students would study it and try to learn a lesson from it. “I still think you’re too attached to your beard,” Trungpa told Allen as soon as he arrived. “I think that you should go upstairs and cut it off again.”
Allen looked unhappy. “But I don’t want to cut it off.” He stamped his feet like a little boy. “I just grew it baaaaaack.” He even said “whaaaaa,” imitating a baby crying. But he went upstairs anyway to shave it off.
I was left on the couch in my seersucker suit. Peter was sitting with Rinpoche, and the Vajra guards were situated throughout the house, as if the President were upstairs taking a leak. Peter tried to make small talk with Chögyam Trungpa.
“I haven’t been with a woman in thirty years,” Peter said. “That’s a long time not to taste pussy, don’t you think, Rinpoche?”
“Too long,” Rinpoche said.
I couldn’t tell if Peter was a genius or a complete idiot. His honesty was painful to watch, like someone trying to walk after a stroke.
[Later,] I went into the bathroom to tidy up—it was one of my jobs. A cigar box peered out at me from a stack of towels. I lifted up the striped towels and reached for the box. I opened it. It was full of what looked like curly iron filings, like that game where you dragged the filings with a magnet along the face of a man to give him a beard. That was it. These were the hairs from Allen Ginsberg’s famous beard. The beard that his ego was too attached to, according to Rinpoche. I put the box back between the beach towels.
When I came back downstairs Allen looked at me, as if he knew I had found the box. “No one will recognize me without the beard,” he complained. “I’ll be the most famous unknown poet in America. No one will come to the Jack Kerouac School if they don’t believe I’m here.”
“I believe you’re here,” Peter said.
“Me, too,” I said. “But I still like ‘Ginsberg resentment.’ That’s why I came here.” Allen smiled. I think it was good for his ego to hear that.
From When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School, ©2004 by Sam Kashner. Reprinted with permission of HarperCollins.
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