He was joined by me and by Mark Dever, a quiet boy who wrote
beautifully and who would die before he was forty. MacFarland occasionally invited us to his apartment, and those visits became the high point of our apprenticeship:
we’d clamp on our training wheels and drive to his salon.
He lived in a cramped and cluttered place near the airport, tucked away in the kind of building that architectural critic Reyner Banham calls a dingbat. Books were
allover: stacked, piled, tossed, and crated, underlined and dog eared, well worn and new. Cigarette ashes crusted with coffee in saucers or spilling over the sides of
motel ashtrays. The little bedroom had, along two of its walls, bricks and boards loaded with notes, magazines, and oversized books. The kitchen joined the living
room, and there was a stack of German newspapers under the sink. I had never seen anything like it: a great flophouse of language furnished by City Lights and Cafe Ie
Metro. I read every title. I flipped through paperbacks and scanned jackets and memorized names: Gogol, Finnegans Wake, Djuna Barnes, Jackson Pollock, A Coney Island
of the Mind, F. O. Matthiessen’s American Renaissance, all sorts of Freud, Troubled Sleep, Man Ray, The Education of Henry Adams, Richard Wright, Film as Art, William
Butler Yeats, Marguerite Duras, Red¬burn, A Season in Hell, Kapital. On the cover of Alain-Fournier’s The Wan¬derer was an Edward Gorey drawing of a young man on a
road winding into dark trees. By the hotplate sat a strange Kafka novel called Amerika, in which an adolescent hero crosses the Atlantic to find the Nature Theater of
Oklahoma. Art and Mark would be talking about a movie or the school newspaper, and I would be consuming my English teacher’s library. It was heady stuff. I felt like a
Pop Warner athlete on steroids.
Art, Mark, and I would buy stogies and triangulate from MacFarland’s apartment to the Cinema, which now shows X-rated films but was then L.A.’s premier art theater,
and then to the musty Cherokee Bookstore in Hollywood to hobnob with beatnik homosexuals – smoking, drinking bour¬bon and coffee, and trying out awkward phrases we’d
gleaned from our mentor’s bookshelves. I was happy and precocious and a little scared as well, for Hollywood Boulevard was thick with a kind of decadence that was
foreign to the South Side. After the Cherokee, we would head back to the security of MacFarland’s apartment, slaphappy with hipness.
Let me be the first to admit that there was a good deal of adolescent passion in this embrace of the avant-garde: self-absorption, sexually charged pedantry, an
elevation of the odd and abandoned. Still it was a time during which I absorbed an awful lot of information: long lists of titles, images from expressionist paintings,
new wave shibboleths, snippets of philosophy, and names that read like Steve Fusco’s misspellings – Goethe, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard. Now this is hardly the stuff of
deep understanding. But it was an introduction, a phrase book, a [travel guide] to a vocabulary of ideas, and it felt good at the time to know all these words. With
hindsight I realize how layered and important that knowledge was.
It enabled me to do things in the world. I could browse bohemian bookstores in far-off, mysterious Hollywood; I could go to the Cinema and see events through the
lenses of European directors; and, most of all, I could share an evening, talk that talk, with Jack MacFarland, the man I most admired at the time. Knowledge was
becoming a bonding agent. Within a year or two, the persona of the disaffected hipster would prove too cynical, too alienated to last. But for a time it was new and
exciting: it pro-vided a critical perspective on society, and it allowed me to act as though I were living beyond the limiting boundaries of South Vermont.