Long ago and far away…Okay, okay, I’ll stop.
But really, I think it was about 1991 and a Boston Poetry open mike night, though I can’t recall which one, because before I had kids, there I was three or four nights a week. Really. It seems most likely it was at the old Bookcellar Cafe in Cambridge or Stone Stone Poetry at TT the Bears in Central Square, Cambridge when I met him.
Anyway this odd looking character, not unpleasant looking, just odd walked in. A lot of odd people hang out at poetry readings. But H. B. Berlow looked like Mephistopheles with his pointy goatee and waxed mustache. Comically sinister, and he did that thing with his hands, that gesture that he was thinking something mischievous, fingertips dancing against each other, as he raised his eyebrows in quick success, too – straight out of Groucho Marx’s repertoire.
Of course, I didn’t think, “RUN! RUN NOW Run fast!” NO, no, no, I thought, “wouldn’t he be fun to know?” And he was.
For a few years, he and another dear friend, Joe, and I met for coffee and writing critique at Joe’s place, a little room on the fourth floor on Comm Ave where we watched the sun and clouds and volatile seasons with peaceful sunsets cross the surface of the Hancock Tower and passionately tore each other’s work apart and built it back up again. I trusted those guys with my writing, and I hope and think they trusted me with theirs. Critique groups since have had a hard time meeting the bar of what we did all those afternoons in the early nineties. H. B. with his reams of green paper was particular, exacting and always enthusiastic. We also animatedly discussed everything from baseball to Kierkegaard, rock and roll to Berlioz.
And then H. B. followed a woman to the land of Great Plains and strip malls, and a decade or more later I followed a man to Virginia, and at some point, Joe moved out of that little room all the way to Cambridge and is still among my dearest friends. I hate to stay it, but H. B and I lost touch for a long time, but Joe filled me in on his doings from time to time. About a year or so ago, H. B. and I got back in touch around a Nanowrimo, I think, with a little reconnecting thread from Joe’s needle.
In the time since, H. B. Berlow has published the above book, Kansas Two-Step. It has arrived at my door via a little contest he announced on his blog, The Tikiman Says. I got lucky in the random drawing. But at least I gave him a good laugh in the process. He asked for entrants to comment on his webpage re: what their favorite dance is. Here is my guestbook comment:
i do a rather cockeyed shuffle ball change in my kitchen often enough to embarrass my kids. that is my favorite dance, esp when the teen’s friends are here.
This is not a review. Admittedly, I haven’t read the book yet, it just arrived, but if the H. B. I knew and read with relish in my twenties is anything like the one I know now, and I can assure you he is – funny, irreverent, thoughtful, imaginative and full of pop culture and high art references – then you will love this book. And I can guarantee his writing has only improved through passion and diligence in the past twenty or so years. That is the H. B. Berlow I knew, who wrote fiction, poetry and plays, often at the same time.
Click on the book image to purchase Kansas Two-Step!