So what you need to know if you don't already is that i was brought up catholic, and i was lucky and smart enough to go to a really, really excellent prep school in upper manhattan for free on a scholarship. it was the kind of place where, for instance, on my first day, they had an assembly and the Jesuit brother who led it said, "Look at the boy on your left. Now look at the boy on your right. In four years, when you graduate, one of those boys won't be sitting next to you." The whole time I was there, it was a constant struggle to balance the notion that we were the best and brightest of all the catholic boys in the land and that we inherently were undeserving of the gift we'd been given by virtue of or scholarships and the privilege of the education we were receiving on the Foundress' dime.
Injected into the mix my sophomore year was a slim paperback, already tattered, that was passed to me by a classmate, called "The Basketball Diaries." All of a sudden, there was a more extreme, more deeply felt, riskier and more beautiful version of my life. All of a sudden, all my minor rebellions had a resonance they didn't deserve. The very real dangers Jim Carroll placed himself in the way of had a way of making the badly rolled joints we smoked and the half-warm beer we drank seem like acts of war and rebellion. Our minor-league debaucheries in Central Park and the Rockaways and in the back corners and roofs of our prep school all of a sudden had a borrowed strut from the king of the scholarship prep school boys. We'd walk, three or five or six wide, outer borough scholarship kids perpetually on the verge of exile back to Brooklyn or Queens or god forbid Staten Island, into dances at Dominican or Sacred Heart or Marymount, and we'd smoke and drink and dance and sneer at nuns and pretty, rich white girls with a cynicism and a coolness we borrowed, wholesale and ridiculously, from Jim Carroll.
To my knowledge, none of us had to ***** ourselves to support a heroin habit, though some of us did meet darker fates than others, in the years after high school. To my knowledge, none of us were every prodigies at basketball who played with the 80's equivalent of Lew Alcindor. To my knowledge, none of us ever wrote poetry to match Carroll's, though we sure did try. But all of us, in my circle that read him, did, I think, see in him a way of accepting the privilege of having been singled out to have been educated beyond our means while maintaining a healthy cynicism about what we could expect the results of that education to be.
Jim Carroll was a poet and a wonderful and awful person and a raconteur and a man, above all, a man who has left a mark on my life and my way thinking about the world. He was Holden Caufield with balls and without self pity. He spoke to me and I think to a lot of the boys I went through school with in a really unique way and he somehow turned his back on the world of prep school Manhattan in a way that was brave and ballsy and stupid and authentic.
I wish I could end this well. But I just wanted to make some words to recognize someone from whom I borrowed cool I didn't deserve, from whom I learned a great deal about what it is to be thrust into a world which I felt no part of and was always aware I could be expelled from at any time, and then to go about the process of systematically ridding myself of the worst of what I was taught in those years and yet keeping my eye on the beautiful and the real.
Jim Carroll, I am sorry for all the times my punkish, timid nonsense made mock of the real trials you went through. Jim Carroll, I thank you for teaching me to both accept and resist the ridiculous, and for giving my life a swagger and a poetry and a sense of the beautiful at a time when i needed it so very much. Jim Carroll, I hope it was all worth it, and that, bye and bye, you found the pure.