We laid Al Brilliant to rest on Saturday, a roomful of us that he affected in his long, dense and curious life.
To rest! I mean that figuratively, of course, infused with meaning below the surface as with all things connected to him. I have no idea what they did with his remains, what state they were in or where they ended up. Pretty sure Al would not care about that either — I believe he’d just as soon we cast his ashes into a strong wind, much in the way he handed his own life over to the whims of fate all those years ago.
I loved Al. Simply. I loved the way he made me feel: grounded, listened-to, worthy. And the way he’d drop an anecdote from his own deep well of experience.
Oh yeah, that was when I was working in the bookstore in Times Square.
I found one of my old pieces about him, and another that he wrote for us in 2014, our first year. I found a bunch of his poems in the Sun and read them until I hit a paywall. Yesterday I devoured most of his autobiography, handed out as a keepsake at his gathering, in the same way I binged upon his “Bus Journal” in 2007 or so, a real-life document of Al’s adventures in public transportation.
And I fear — I hope! — that pieces of his writing style have crept into my own. The exclamation points! The clear and simple prose. The occasional phrase turned. There’s something of Vonnegut to it, I think, and the voice of the clear-eyed, young beatnik he once was.
Al Brilliant was really something. When everyone else was watching the war in Vietnam on TV, he was publishing Vietnamese poets. When every fancypants with an MFA was trying to score a book deal, he literally — not figuratively! — made his own books. I once saw him make a bound book out of a Froot Loops box. And if you asked him for a cup of coffee at his shop, Glenwood Coffee and Books, he might or might not have it on hand. Fifty-fifty.
What a guy! What a life!
What a life.
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