and don't miss
Last Days of John Thomas
The Beats: an Existential Comedy
Eavesdropping on the Boardwalk
Gas House beat HQ
...............photo: Pegarty Long............Cry. Crypt at Holy Cross Cemetery...............photo: Pegarty Long......................
John and Philomene met in 1968 and ran with the same
crowd. It was in 1983, after a poetry reading in the Old Venice Jail parking
lot, that they first kissed. Shortly after, they married.
Poet since the age of eight; "Queen of Bohemia;" filmmaker; legend. Born in Greenwich Village. As a young woman she joined a convent in the late 50s and early 60s. Later escaping, she migrated to Venice. Author John Maynard, in his book Venice West: The Beat Generation in Southern California, describes Philomene as mercurial and very Irish. She was a regular feature of the Ocean Front in her tennis shoes, black thrift-shop dresses, long, straight hair, alarm-clock pendant, and heavy silver cross still, somehow, considering herself a nun, she joined the world and still lives (with her husband poet John Thomas) the old ethic and upholds the old dream of salvation through creativity and poverty as a state of grace.
Books: The Queen of Bohemia (Lummox Press), American Zen Bones (Beyond Baroque Books), and with John Thomas The Book of Sleep (Momentum Press), The Ghosts of Venice West and Bukowski in the Bathtub (Raven Press). Her "Memoirs of a Nun on Fire" appears in The Outlaw Bible of America Poetry (Thunders' Mouth Press).
There are several interviews with Philomene Long Thomas available online, as well as copious other information about her life and work. She has directed seven films, including The California Missions with Martin Sheen. She was installed as Poet Laureate of Venice in September 2005.
A poet needs air, some nutrients, and
Through the Eyes of Others
Philomene Long: Renowned poet whose original writings
and readings help keep alive the bardic tradition of Kerouac and others
of a half century.
From mid century Kerouacs Dharma Bums prophesied
the kind of long hair rucksack generation roaming through America
and by 1958 the first active Zen master teaching from Suzuki, Roshi, among
whose students were Joanner Kyger, Diane di Prima, and John Thomas
The best unread poet in America. He is the Iceman
of the Arts, the invisible genius of American poetry
Philomene Long is the Avante-Garde of the West Coast
Philomene Long has more sensitivity than all the insect
antennae in the universe. Radical sensitivity.
Even among the bohemians of Venice, John Thomas stood
out. He was 6 feet 4, weighed 300 pounds and spoke in a rolling resonant
baritone that left no one behind.
As a person, Philomene has the glowing spirituality
of a prepubescent girl, but as an artist she is a creative dominatrix.
John Thomas and Philomene Long
the dregs of society, finding uncommon beauty even in the shabby, water
stained apartment that leaks from the ceiling, picking through lifes
dustbin, searching fro scrapes of the sublime
John Thomas was a commanding figure on Los Angeles' avant-garde scene for four decades.
Born in Baltimore on December 31, 1930; as a young man he attended Loyola College, considered the priesthood, but joined the U.S. Air Force instead. He was a computer programmer before computers became a household word. Bill Fleeman says, Back in Baltimore hed helped build UNIVAC. When he saw they were going to build another called MANIAC and make bigger bombs with it, he hitchhiked to Venice West. This was in 1959, with fourteen dollars in his pocket. He became a early member of the Venice Beats, a group that historian John Maynard, in his 1991 book on the subject called an outlaw strain in Southern California letters In the mid and late 1960s, he was friend and support to Charles Bukowski. Wanda Coleman called him my first real teacher. Tony Scibella called him the smartest man I have ever known.
John Thomas and his wife poet Philomene Long lived at the desperate edge of America in Venice West, maintaining a lifestyle of "living poor" based on the ancient Zen recluse poets
I would feel uncomfortable and irritable living any
other way. I have Philomene, a pen, a pad, shirt and pants. If you start
wanting more, it fills you up, leading to a poverty of the heart and mind.
At the end of Windward Ave, at the corner of Speedway, inside Danny's Delicatessan on the back wall there is a mural of some noted people who have passed through Venice (mostly movie stars) by artist Rip Cronk. Central to the painting is the image of John Thomas with his words: Don't get hung up on anything, stand above, pass on and be free.
Pass on freely further down Windward Ave. crossing the boardwalk and in front of the LAPD Police Station and the Pacific Ocean, carved in stone on the Poets' Wall is Philomene Long's poem welcoming you to Venice.
Also see Golden Eternity, last conversation at the Ellison between John Thomas and Philomene Long Thomas
Also see Last Conversation with John Thomas
John Thomas used to be the manager and cook at the Gas House. In June 2000, the LA New Times published an article by Naomi Glauberman titled, "Eating In With Venice Bohemians John Thomas and Philomene Long." (reproduced here in the area below.)
The Day the Muse Died by John O'Kane
Beatress Beattitude by John O'Kane
EATING WITH BOHEMIANS
By Naomi Glauberman
"John can go into the icebox and make the most delicious food on earth from whatever he finds there," says Philomene Long, pulling out a manila folder entitled "The John Thomas/Philomene Long Recipes for Destitute Bohemian Royalty and Their Pets."
She rifles through the beautifully handwritten sheets to find and read a recipe called "The Moldy Green Last Resort," which calls for two elderly green onions, a hardened chunk of provelone cheese (largely rind), a can of elderly baked beans opened a week ago, two or three cups of leftover rice, beginning to harden and dry out again ("so I guess that's two generations of hardening," she interjects), two tablespoons of chopped fresh ginger, and one half badly baked potato. All of which are sautéed quickly in oil or butter.
"Actually, it's quite good, that one," says Philomene, poet, filmmaker, custodian, and historian of Venice's bohemian past. She has been mulling over the intersections of food, poetry, philosophy, and life since we arranged our dinner weeks before. But, while she has many food-significant theories, it is her husband, poet John Thomas, who does the cooking. A portly man with full white beard and thinning ponytail, he joins the conversation from the tiny book-and-paper-crammed room where they spend their days reading and writing (with Philomene making forays into the world to teach), and where we soon will dine.
"He seduced me with his cooking," she says. "He made the most subtle omelets."
"Not omelets," John corrects in a rumbling baritone. "Scrambled eggs."
"Yes, scrambled eggs," Philomene goes on. "I had never tasted eggs so sublime, and it was because of all the butter - a fistful o f butter. Maybe I'd never had eggs with butter, and that was the subtlety," she said.
"I'm a gastronomical submarine," John calls - from the kitchen now -- "sinking any previous entanglements."
In 1959, years before he began cooking for Philomene, John Thomas, leaving a series of previous lives behind, found his way from Baltimore to Venice, which along with Greenwich Village and San Francisco's North Beach, his original destination, was a mecca for those in search of la vie bohemien. He was soon hired as the manager and cook at the Gas House, where he cooked breakfast and supper every day for the poets and artists who lived rent-free at Venice's Grand Hotel (an experiment in tourist-subsidized art).
"It was a big year for beatniks," Thomas says. "There was a big donation jug at the door. The daily menu depended on how much money the tourists put in it. Breakfast was usually eggs, and dinner would be something cooked in a big pot. I would buy trash fish - bonito or barracuda - from the fishermen at the end of the pier, chop it up, and make a fish stew. There were a couple of times that I got filet mignon," he says, adding that he didn't tell anyone it was horse meat from a local pet shop.
Philomene arrived in Venice in the early 60's, after a five-year stay at the convent at Mount St. Mary's, and has been writing poetry and tending the bohemian flames ever since. She documented those years in film, The Beats: An Existential Comedy, and both Long and Thomas are represented in the recently published tome The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (edited by Alan Kaufman, Thunder's Mouth Press).
"I never learned to cook," Long says, setting the table as John brings out focaccia with olive and garlic. "I can, however, choose very nice plates. In college, I took Nutrition 1A, and I do remember them saying color was important," she adds, referring to the plates. But John takes this opportunity to draw my attention to the colors of the meal itself - pasta with sun-dried tomatoes, and broccoli on the side - the red, green, and white of the food representing the national colors of Italy. "I feel I'm eating life when I eat Italian," Philomene adds, before returning to her story.
"My mother was a queen of Ireland. She would make fine meals, and put out crystal, china, and silver. I poured ketchup over everything. I was not brought up to cook. I was brought up to be highly cultured, to write poems, and to marry a millionaire."
She does write poems. And she did find someone to cook for her.
"I have a speech to give," says Philomene, after completing her previous speech.
"Would you get the silverware first?" John asks politely.
"I want to say, you can live a cultured, aristocratic life as opposed to vulgarity in Southern California - so simply and so free. The trade-off is time. A poet needs air, some nutrients, and time."
"The salad," says John, carrying out his duties as explicator of the meal, "is romaine lettuce, arugula, and blue cheese. The vinaigrette is olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon, and garlic."
In deference to Philomene, who has eschewed meat, for the most part, since her pet duck Danny died when she was eight, their menu is always vegetarian.
Although they could have been together forever, and had known of each other for years, they truly met in 1983 at a poetry reading at the old Venice Jail. "I sat next to him," said Philomene. "He started telling me a story, he couldn't finish and we went to the Comeback Inn to continue. I remember the exact moment he fell in love. I was telling a story. He started laughing. At the beginning of the laugh he was not in love but when he finished the laugh, he was. He said: 'I don't like what you said, but I appreciate your way of saying it.'" He was 51, she was 42.
"I don't know exactly when I fell in love with him," she continues, "but I realized I was in love when I was walking down the boardwalk with a dozen roses. Everyone was looking at me, and I said to myself - they're looking at me as if I'm in love. I must be in love." John fell in love on March 10, and Philomene realized she was in love April 6. How did John handle that cruel month of March?
"I had hopes, but no prime expectations," he says.
This, we can imagine was the month of the omelet-seduction scenario.
The meal is drawing to a close. John brings out dessert, and in this apartment overlooking the sunset and the sea, where they try "to live a life of refined simplicity,"
RECIPE FOR "THE MOLDY GREEN LAST RESORT"
A long day, if you count chapters. By full dark, Philomene had risen from her nap. She was hungry, so I rummaged in the refrigerator, found the makings for a dish I should call "the Moldy Green Last Resort." But Philomene liked it.
You melt half a stick of butter in a big pan, then chop up four elderly, withered green onions and a large piece of fresh ginger root, sautee them in the butter. Add three cups of left-over rice which had begun to harden and dry out again. Also add half a can of vegetarian baked beans (opened the week before) and a badly-baked potato (that is, a potato baked by Philomene). Toss all of this in the hot pan. Trim the mold from a hardened chunk of provolone cheese (largely rind), then slice it and lay the slices on top of everything else. Sprinkle on some paprika for color, turn the flame down very low, and when the cheese melts you've got it.
The chopped fresh ginger is the key to gustatory success here. Fresh ginger and hunger.
After we ate, we dressed and took the elevator up to the top floor to pay Little Steve the rent. Well, as much of the rent as we had. Steve's door was open a crack.
"Come in, mate. Philomene, too." Clank clank.
His Welsh/Estonian accent was weird enough. But his voice seemed to be coming from somewhere up on the ceiling. Was he doing a bat routine? Steve the Bat?
No. When we entered, it became clear. Steve had rigged a chinning bar in a back corner, a foot from the ceiling. And these are high ceilings. He's short, as I've said, so he had to climb up on a table to reach the bar. But there he hung, wearing only bikini shorts, with eighty pounds of iron dangling from a strap around his waist. Up and down, very slowly. Up and down.
He continued while we talked. Five minutes? Easily. Daunting stuff to watch.
And Bones? He lay on a cushion in the opposite corner of the room, his eyes following Steve's slowly rising and dipping form.
Bones was hungry: saliva flowed steadily from his floppy lips. And Steve was heating up, up there at the ceiling: drops of sweat fairly drizzled off of him, making several little puddles down below on the linoleum. Add to that the dripping kitchen faucet and the leaky toilet tank. In the muggy heat, with all of the plants hanging around, you could squint your eyes and imagine you were standing in a Sumatran rain forest.
We "explained" about the rent. No problem.
"No problem, dear hearts," he said (now a bit strained) on the rise. "Just put it on the table." Now, on the dip, after a long slow exhale, "Bring the rest when you've got it. Ta."
© 2004 - 2012 Pat Hartman