True Believers

As a young man I wanted to be a poet. I couldn’t think of a higher calling, in fact, so when I headed for San Francisco to pursue my goal, it was probably inevitable I’d fall in with Buster Farrell, who ran a print shop that doubled as a literary salon. Buster wrote poems himself, and they were good enough to appear in journals other than Wooden Leg, the little magazine he edited and tried to publish quarterly, although he seldom met his deadline. This was no hardship for his subscribers, really, since they were all Buster’s friends and aware of his financial difficulties, but he still felt the pressure and would pick up the pace of his beer drinking, an activity he began before lunch and often continued long into the night.

Buster lived in a flat above the shop with his wife and infant daughter. Zoe Farrell was a gentle soul, blond and plump and forgiving. She tolerated Buster’s money problems and also the impromptu parties that gathered steam down below and wound their way up into her kitchen. Zoe was always throwing together a cheap meal for three or six or ten uninvited guests, while her husband held little Rachel on his lap and discussed subjects of poetic importance. Deeply opinionated, Buster was a native Oregonian built like a lumberjack, with a springy black beard and Trotsky glasses. In debate, he could be intimidating. He’d bang a fist on the table and spill some beer, and I’d notice the inky hands and nails he could never get clean for all the scrubbing he did.

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