Greetings to the visitors of the Richard and Mimi Fariña Website. I do not know how exactly to begin with the rich material I have in memory about Richard and our friendship and our trips together. His biographer, David Hajdu, contacted me by telephone some time back at the suggestion of Sally Grossman, a close mutual friend, with whom I continue a contact dating from the period in the early eighties when she and her late husband, also a friend, Albert, visited with regularity the Hotel Santa Fe in Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, Mexico, where I worked for a dozen years. I must express some disappointment with Hajdu's handling of my material, but I can see the pattern which led him to disallow it. One of the several sources which I gave to Hajdu, David Leshan, a fellow English major at Cornell with me and with Dick, informed Hajdu that Richard had not been on the trip to Habana, Cuba during the Christmas of l957, so Hajdu must have discredited my accounts of that trip and of the extended hitchhiking trip which Dick and I made in the Summer of l957, across the US, through Kansas City, Indiana, Colorado, and New Mexico (our destination was Taos and D.H. Lawrence’s shadow there, inspired as we were by a professor at Cornell whose name I believe was John Chancellor; he taught at Bard College at one point, and had lived in Taos just after the Second World War).
I had transferred to Cornell as a junior in 1956, after studying at Deep Springs College in California. Dick lived in the Delta Upsilon fraternity house just next door to my residence, Telluride House on West Avenue. I wanted Dick to come into Telluride, and so I wooed him by invitations to dinner. In chapter two of Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me there is a caricature of those sessions at dinner, as I tried to match him with the intellect of a fellow Telluride resident, David Goldy, who later became a Don at Lincoln College, Oxford. Dick did not take to David Goldy, as you will see from the caricature scene, and I was disappointed, for I admired Goldy. Nothing came of those attempts to connect him with our scholarship house.
There are no pictures of Richard in the Cornell yearbook because there was an incipient tendency to avoid such matters on the part of a lot of young people, not so much out of fear but rather as a protest against the "system", especially on the university campuses. I suffered from that malaise, and of course Richard would have rebelled doubly. Just remember about the Virgin Mary Cresh incident the Christmas of l956, when he passed through Williard Straight several times, became obsessed with the cross-eyed Virgin, grabbed Her and defenestrated Her from Triphammer Bridge into the gorge some several feet below. I remember the day that a young philosophy student whose name I do not recall, (but he was of friend of Arthur Shostack,) threw himself over while walking hand in hand with his shy, silent girlfriend, Lisa, to his death some hundred or more feet below, because he was so terribly worried about his secret homosexuality. I had tried to console him several days prior with the news that his favorite composer, Tchaikovsky, was very probably of the same sexual persuasion, and he was so upset that he could no longer listen to his favorite music. Life lost its meaning for him, and he took it out on Lisa. So much for my good advice. You see, Triphammer has its legends and its ghosts. Dean Burfoot, who appears in Dick's novel, had taught in the School of Geology before becoming a harrassing bureaucrat. His office, which was visited by those who failed to return library books on time and were therefore dismissed from the University, was filled with rock specimens, some of them surely from Triphammer. Dick was somewhat of a regular in his office; I was there once or twice for my transgressions, so I knew that reference first hand. You were required to "win" the approval of your so-called faculty advisor. That petition signed by him and a five dollar fee, plus an interview with Dean Burfoot, could (not always) get you reinstated. It was this sort of policy that provoked the campus riots of l958, I am certain. Dick was there, and I saw him briefly, perhaps the last time, in April of that year. I was already working in NYC, and was returning from Montreal on a business-related trip. That was the last time I visited Ithaca, or Hickatha, as we so ungenerously called it. Dick introduced us all to the Black Elks Club, a place where you could buy hot jewelry for a song, beer was cheaper, and for those of us who had come from the boonies, it was a place of protest and romance. And of course Dickey, and W.D. Snodgrass (who makes frequent trips to Mexico). Ferlinghetti still lives in San Francisco, and he knew Richard. Kristin Osterholm and Leigh Buchanan Bienan were so close as well. But Richard took up and left friends with regularity, and he even created friends who may not have existed except for him.
Now, I would like to share the month-long trip across the US with Dick, our let's-pretend episodes which dotted that trip, the hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up on that July day, the killer burros, and the pachucos. When we were hiking in Grand Canyon, on the return trip from the bottom, he became so dehydrated and weakened that towards the end he collapsed and urged me to go ahead and bring him back some water, which I agreed to do. At that moment I thought how weak this apparently tough kid really was, and I felt a certain superiority. I too was exhausted. Just as I was about to return with the cold drinks, Dick appeared on the trail, and he asked if I had heard the version which he obviously started downtrail a bit, by telling some hikers that he had been attacked by killer burros, and had survived the attack. It was only after reading his novel that I recognized he had sent me ahead so he could create the drama which he would wish to relate in the future. He was, in fact, near collapse when I left him on the trail, but he used it all to enhance his, and my, experience. It was always a case of Let's Pretend with Dick. He could dream up roles for himself and for others. He usually would pass himself off as an Irish revolutionary. I still do not know if in fact his mother was in prison in England as a member of the IRA, but at the time I believed it. But I do know that he was in Cuba on that first trip, because I saw him.
We traveled in an automobile as far as Kansas City, Missouri, to be with our friend, Joe Skapteson, who took us up for a ride in his airplane, and thereafter we hitched it West, just the two of us. Joe recommended that we look up his aunt and uncle in Taos, but upon arrival his aunt greeted us behind a tightly shut screen door, and clearly did not want anything to do with these two untidy friends of her nephew, and it was she who suggested we roll out our bags in Kitt Carson State Park. In Taos we spent the night in the Old Jail on the Plaza, where we took refuge from some "pachucos" who flipped cigarette butts from their low-slung car just a few feet from our sleeping bags at the park. They were liquidated that same night in the Old Jail in Taos, in a sealed cell near ours, victims of a "gas leak". The very same kids who flicked their lighted cigarette butts at us at the park were murdered, and both of us knew that, because we were there and we heard them brought in at one in the morning and then learned of their accidental death in a newspaper we read in the back seat of a convertible belonging to two coeds from Nebraska University who picked us up near Albuquerque, where we spent the night on the University of New Mexico campus pretending we were members of Theta Chi Fraternity, because DU didn’t exist there, nor did my fraternity from the University of Oregon, Phi Kappa Sigma. And our visit to the Taos Inn, where we drank an exotic cocktail, Summer Snow, made of rum, coconut milk and ice, and talked to the old, old bartender who remembered D.H. Lawrence and told us the locals referred to him as the "Pink Jesus", in reference to his red beard. And the visit to Ranchos de Taos, invited by Johnny Torres, the beautiful young Indian driving the old pickup who stopped to give us a ride.
This trip also took us to Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and finally San Francisco, where we spent several days together visiting my friends and my parents’ friends, including Peter Tamony and his sister, Kathleen, in the Mission District, and in whose house the Irish revolution had been planned by De Valera, a friend of Peter's father (Mr. Hajdu had that information, but apparently he stuck with his impression that Peter was a fellow student at Cornell and that Kathleen was Peter's wife, not his sister). Peter Tamony, by the way, was a noted jazz expert, radio commentator, and regular contributor to the Encyclopedia Britannica Year Book on the subject of new words in the English language, and his specialty was words originating in jazz and crime circles. Peter and my father were roommates in San Francisco in the nineteen twenties, after my dad, who was a fine jazz pianist, graduated from Berkeley. Later, they both worked in the insurance business. Peter possessed a huge collection of records, including all the Leadbelly recordings, and he spent every afternoon sleeping (he tried to control his drinking by waking up after the bars had closed), and then the entire night was spent on his true work: jazz and words. He wrote prolifically. He and his sister, Kathleen, fell in love with Dick, and invited him to stay for several months in their two-story Mission Flat, on Twenty-fourth Street, in the very heart of that district.
It was Peter Tamony who took Richard to City Lights and Ferlinghetti, and it was with Peter that Dick and I first heard a recording of "Howl", a tape which Peter had made for use on his own radio program; we heard it first right there in Peter and Kathleen's home. I took off several days later, after introducing Dick to Maria Kaminoff, another fabulous personage of San Francisco at that time. Also, I introduced him to North Beach, the New Pisa Restaurant, Vesuvio's, and of course the Hungry I.
Now, back for a moment to the matter of the discrepancy between David Leshan's and my account of that first Habana trip: Dick had preceded us by several days to Habana, and had arranged our stay at the Casa Fanny, a fine boarding house started by a woman of the same name, but sold to a black Jamaican lady named Hilda Tapper, whose English husband had left his widow and their exquisitely beautiful light-skinned mulatta daughter, Lottie, well-heeled enough to escape to the glamour of Habana. Some of Dick's novel takes place in that Casa Fanny, at 522 Calle O'Reilly, between Villegas and Vernasa Streets in Old Habana, just a block and a half from Floridita Bar and the Manzana de Gómez.
David Leshan never saw Richard on that trip because Dick had gone with his cousins to seek out Fidel in the Sierra Maestra in Oriente Province, at least that is what Dick told me when he returned to Habana after David Leshan and another friend whose first name was Ron, had left to return to New York City, just after the first day of January, 1958. I stayed on another week in Habana, at Casa Fanny, for I had discovered the greatest treasure of my life: Like Maria Zambrano in Origins, I knew that my prenatal fatherland was Cuba. It was the experience that marked my life forever. I cannot say that about any other experience. Dick took me to El Lucero Bar and Dos Hermanos Bar, both located on the docks of Old Habana, where we drank Hatuey and Polar beer. He gave me two bottles of clear liquid which he assured me was absinthe, and I was to smuggle this back to Ithaca, which in fact I did. I do not remember what happened to the bottles. In Hajdu's account of those times, there is the suggestion that no one ever saw Dick in Habana after his departure as a child. This is simply not the case. Dick set up our trip, arranged our lodging at Casa Fanny, took me drinking and returned to Ithaca. He took a second trip to Habana, as did I, during the Spring Break of 1958. He describes Old Habana very graphically, with landmarks that do not come from childhood memory, nor from second-hand reports. Nobody could doubt that his descriptions of Casa Fanny and Old Habana, and Calle O'Reilly and the Plaza in front of Floridita Bar, might come from anything except a first-hand experience as a young adult.
Upon reading Hajdu's material on Dick, I suffered an existential crisis. Had I imagined this trip? And now that my version of the Habana trip was disqualified by the reports of David Leshan, whom I recall with such admiration and affection from our two-year association in the halls of Goldwin Smith and Willard Straight, the courses with Sales and Dickey and Snodgrass and Stuart Brown and Mike Abrams and Nabokov, and James McConkey, to name only a few of those great teachers, and our induction together into that distinguished group of literati, The Book and Bowl, what was I to do with my memory of events? So, you see, I have absolutely no gripe with my dear friend, David Leshan, but I must insist that David did not see Richard, for David had left, as he will well remember, and he left me behind in Habana.
This is but a small part of the material which I have to offer about Richard. I cherish my association with him, which really ended in l963 when we both went to Paris to live, but had no contact. He had written me a letter shortly before, probably in l962, in which he effectively closed the chapter of our relationship, I believe, when he wished me well in whatever I might choose to do with my life. He started that letter by stating that I was one of the unsorted threads of his life which needed attention before he traveled away. I thought that was quite respectful on his part, because I too was traveling far, to the same place but in such a different direction. He wanted freedom for himself and for me. No unfinished business, things nicely wrapped up regarding our close friendship. I tossed out that letter with so many things like it, because I was going to Paris to be liberated from my mistakes.
There is so much good work to be done in gathering together the oral tradition surrounding Dick Fariña. There is a bartender who now lives in Florida, whose last name is Kelvin. He has stories of Dick and of Todd Perry, who was last seen alive hanging on to a stool in the Village, receiving the poison which finally killed him. There is David Seidler, who broke with Dick because he felt Dick was a fraud as a writer. Seidler was extraordinary as a prosist and psychologist and was preoccupied with Napoleon in his exile. I mentioned a teacher named John Chancellor; he taught at Bard as well. The "gang" at Johnny's Big Red was always reconforming itself with new additions that Dick would integrate; sometimes people would be excluded, as the case of a brilliant psychopath who feigned a tragic and debilatating illness to lure unsuspecting youth into his clutches. His illnesses were multiple. And there was Paul Arthur Treanor, last seen wandering in Portugal sporting his love beads, after a brilliant career of teaching in German, and grad studies in Munich and Princeton. And of course that pure and beautiful youth, Mace McCracken, who also studied English with us. David Leshan teaches (or taught) at Germantown Academy, located in Pennsylvania, the town that was settled by my illiterate Dutch or English (no one knows for sure) forebear, Peter Cleaver, in l683. I am so pleased to have come from Quaker stock rather than Puritan. The Quakers, of course, were the most reviled of all groups, because they disallowed church hierarchy. Cotton Mather wanted to kill them all and he even arranged once for an ambush so they could be kidnapped and sent into slavery in Jamaica. It's better to be on the outside, and I guess I come by it naturally. At Johnny's Big Red there were several pieces on the jukebox which we played with nauseating frequency: Siboney and La Comparsa, both written by Gonzalo Roig, the great Cuban composer who died an old man in the nineteen sixties. His great work was a zarzuela [operetta] called Cecilia Valdez, based on a nineteenth century novel about Habana's upper classes and their rampant prejudices and their sexual exploitation of mulata beauties, a nifty tale of hypocracy. I never knew Mimi Fariña, but I so admired their collaboration and their records, which I still own, in the thirty-three rpm editions. I also remember his beautiful poetry which he wrote in Brooklyn as a high school student, and I have seen none of it in print. I cannot remember the lines, but I remember the beauty. When he read them to me, I had difficulty believing that he was in truth the author. But of course, he was.
Greetings to David Leshan, Ron, Kristen Osterholm (so funny and so generous, remember your party of strawberries and champagne paid for by your prize money?), Kirk Sale, David Seidler, Leigh Buchanan and her husband Hank Bienan, with whom I traveled to Florida on the second Habana trip, Todd Perry, Tom Pynchon, Steve Schucker, and Evelyn the folksinger, Roberta Schwartz and her Park Avenue Penthouse parties, and a host of folk who gathered nightly at Johnny's Big Red, or at the folksong sessions on Sunday nights, and so many other beautiful people who made up life at Cornell in l956, 57 and 58. I so hope this letter to the Richard and Mimi Fariña Website will help me to bring alive the material which was unfortunately buried in the preparation of Hajdu's admirable book.
Paul Nunn Cleaver,
Hotel Tabachin del Puerto
Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca