Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pure Gold

Since this has been my Dickens year, I've neglected to mention that "the man who invented Christmas" is not my only literary love. In the past I've devoted years to writers as diverse as D.H. Lawrence and William Dean Howells. And decades to Herbert Gold, the "elder statesman of the beat generation."

I first met the latter at novelist Carolyn See's Symposium of California Writers at Loyala Marymount in 1979. In those days I lived in Long Beach, CA, and wrote for an arts magazine, Uncle Jam. See pointed Gold out at an evening reception and said, "Go say hello to that handsome man. He's Herb Gold."

I nearly spilled my Pinot Noir. Gold's Salt: A Novel so moved me when it first appeared in 1963 that I made a diary entry: "Gold's writing is so electrifying that I'm convinced he'll one day win the Nobel Prize for Literature." Alas, he never did...but his close friend, Saul Bellow, did.

So I walked over to Gold and said, "I'd like to give you a hug to thank you for Salt." And always a gentleman, Gold hugged me in return.

Now Dickens, Howells or Lawrence never hugged me. And none of those writers phoned me up yesterday, either. But Herbert Gold did.

Throughout the '80s Gold and I kept in touch. Every time I'd visit my father in San Francisco, I'd give him a call. Once he took me to the San Francisco Press Club, and kissed me goodbye while we waited for the Market Street cable car to return me to Twin Peaks. Another time he came to the house on State Street to exchange stories about the Tenderloin with my dad who had operated night clubs there.

I sent Gold a copy of Uncle Jam with my tale of meeting Henry Miller at his 80th birthday party at a UCLA shebang. Gold sent me autographed copies of his books to offer at a Womenshelter auction. Every time he published a new book, I'd send a fan letter...even confessing that I was so irritated at the conclusion of Swiftie the Magician, that I flung the book across the room.

A quirky correspondent, Gold sent his notes on an assortment of postcards, some depicting the famed Haitian hangout of Graham Greene, The Hotel Oloffson, sometimes known as the Greenwich Village of Haiti. When I finally got to Port-au-Prince in 2001, where I was conducting a Peace Corps HIV/AIDS and Youth training on September 11, I stayed a night at the Oloffson, and bought a copy of the house band's latest cassette.

This past spring I read Gold's latest memoir, Still Alive!: A Feisty Bohemian Explores the Art of Growing Old. Though it had been a dozen years since I last contacted him, I wrote Gold a note and sent the RAM cassette to him. He responded, irreverent as ever.

When the earthquake hit Haiti earlier this year, I called Gold right away. He assured me that he had planned to return to Haiti sometime this year. It was still his favorite haunt. His Haiti: The Best Nightmare on Earth, details his love of the place. At one time Bill Clinton had offered him the ambassadorship there. He declined.

When I visited my son in Southern California this past summer I finally boxed up my hard-to-find these days Herbert Gold books that had been stored in his garage since I first went overseas with Peace Corps in 1987. I think they're worth something these days, as collector's items. But I intend to reread them all.

So why did Gold call me yesterday? I'd sent him a holiday card with a story about my late husband that will be published next year in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for the Young at Heart. "Our Great Expectations" relates the final trip to UK that Ken and I took when he still could negotiate airports, and my Dickensian summer at Cambridge. Gold wanted to tell me that he was touched by the piece. Imagine! A man I consider the greatest living American male writer, bothered to call up an old acquaintance.

"Terri? It's Herb. I guess it's not necessary to say Gold, since nobody since 1929 has been named Herb. It would be like naming your son Adolph in the early '40s."

I wanted to know about Haiti. Gold did go, and his article will appear in The Hudson Review's upcoming issue. I intend to read it. And I'll send another fan note. I have a collection of notes and letters from Herbert. He told me to hold on to them, and maybe I could sell them someday. He confessed he's sold some letters from his correspondents. But he was quick with a disclaimer: "I don't do it while they're still alive."

I asked if he'd sold his letters from Bellow. "Nearly did, but the dealer wanted to barter and nickle-and-dime and it wasn't worth it."

Gold's leaving his own papers and correspondence to the Bancroft Library at Stanford. I plan to copy his notes and the photo or two I have, and mail them to Gold soon...I like the idea of being archived.

Talking yesterday with Herbert Gold, who will turn 87 in March, certainly brightened my day. Especially when Gold responded to my comment that I intended to return to Cambridge this next summer.

"Just make certain you don't fall for some tall, good-looking 23-year-old British undergrad who will offer to marry you for your money."

Here's links to commentary about Gold and to his piece about Allen Ginsberg, written for Salon not long after the poet's death.

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