I liked going there because it was my one escape from the stifling atmosphere at home. He was a bit of a beatnik himself. Played some piano, painted, had written a couple of books. It always smelled like pipe tobacco and old books in his apartment. There'd be music playing—Miles Davis, maybe, or Clifford Brown. He was partial to trumpet players. And he turned me on to all this writing that made what we studied in English class sound like the stuffy old tired crap that it was.
There were poems like Ginsberg's Howl, which didn't make much sense to me, but I loved the way the words just ran along forever, colliding against each other like confused messengers arriving someplace all at the same time, and not quite sure what it was they were supposed to be delivering. These poems weren't dead words on paper. They were angry and vibrant, confusing and full of life, and I couldn't get enough of them. I read all that I could, which was mostly these little City Lights booklets that Mr. Henderson had. But other books, too. Ginsberg, naturally. Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Gary Snyder. Ed Sanders.
And of course, the granddaddy of them all: Jack Kerouac.
I took my street name Dharma from one of his books. It meant "the essential nature of the universe or one's own character" and played into my pretence of being East Indian and full of eastern mysticism and wisdom. I was all about the now, so long as the now didn't include answering to my real name, Namir Habib, and going to mosque and all the strictures that my old name held.
Mr. Henderson told me how the Beat poets were characterized by their angst and anger, but that wasn't what they were really about. They were really all about being alive and living in the moment, and that was all I wanted. Tune in, turn on, and drop out. Although I didn't really embrace the turning on part. I didn't like the idea of getting drunk or high—not after the first time I tried either.
Drink was a mickey of cheap gin in Fitzhenry Park, after which I was violently sick.