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Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
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Chapter Three

Forced Entries: Writing as Penance

Shit Into Gold: Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries and Forced Entries

It seems the deeper I allow my perceptions to
penetrate, the more ruin I leave in my wake.
--Jim Carroll

Following the period of The Basketball Diaries is a hiatus of five years in Carroll's diaries, after which he returns with Forced Entries . . . still hooked on heroin and wallowing in excess. After graduating from Trinity, Carroll worked as Larry Rivers's assistant: Carroll "stretched canvases and sharpened pencils," and babysat, "at Rivers's 91st Street apartment." He stayed high on heroin, and "At night I'd go out and hustle, make some money" to support the habit (Flippo 34).

While the chronology isn't exactly precise, in Forced Entries, Carroll picks up his story on his twentieth birthday, just as he is entering New York's hip art scene.[15] He rubs elbows with dozens of famous poets and artists, is Patti Smith's beau for a time, works for Andy Warhol and Larry Rivers, and hangs out at Max's Kansas City, where the Velvet Underground is performing. But all the while, he is leading a double life: still addicted to heroin, Carroll attempts to overcome his past and establish himself as an artist within this society of artists. Yet this quest for authentication combined with his need for drugs eventually threatens to destroy him. While he is frantically trying to keep up with the "scene," his addiction overtakes him and his writing, and he finds that he has become a stranger to himself. Because of this, Carroll flees to California to successfully conquer his addiction and learn to see again.

Carroll shows in both Forced Entries and The Basketball Diaries that, even though he was physically unable to free himself from the tyranny of heroin addiction in The Basketball Diaries, through his remarkably controlled poetic prose he was able to transform and purify his experience, ugliness and all, into art. In the end, Carroll found purity within himself, not from outside sources. It was not membership in a "respectable" society, basketball, drugs, sex, or rebellion that saved him; his ability to see clearly and write about his experience was his salvation. Carroll was able to address the chaos, horror, and beauty of his life, make sense of it, order it, and make all of it beautiful by writing about it. Finally, through writing, Carroll rose above the prison of his own decadence: the book entitled The Basketball Diaries stands as physical proof that Carroll achieved the transcendence he sought in that diary through the diary itself.

Certainly this was not an instant triumph, nor was it a final victory for Carroll; obviously his quest for transcendence did not end with writing The Basketball Diaries. With the publication of Organic Trains, excerpts from The Basketball Diaries, and poems from Living at the Movies between 1967 and 1971, Carroll established himself within the hip society of New York artists and writers as a poet of extraordinary talent and writer to be reckoned with. As Carroll told Chet Flippo, "I was the young protege. . . . [The established New York artists] really took me in the way they didn't take in younger poets who came along later. I came along at the right time" (35). Nevertheless, Carroll's acceptance into this society was due more to its curious fascination with his decadent but heroic "character" in the early "Basketball Diaries" excerpts than for his merits as a writer.

The "street punk" Jim Carroll overshadowed Jim Carroll the artist almost from the start; to this day, the thieving, heroin addicted hustler perseveres while Jim Carroll the artist, the man who was able to transform his experience into art, is overlooked. Ironically, Carroll's misbegotten image has its genesis in his greatest achievements. The name Carroll had established for himself as a writer and his marginal acceptance into the hip New York art scene as of 1971 came at least partly as a result of events spanning the gap between The Basketball Diaries and Forced Entries. At the age of 15, Carroll began participating in the St. Mark's Poetry Project's Wednesday night poetry readings, and by age 17 he was involved in John Giorno's "Dial-A-Poem" project, taping readings of his works for the Dial-A-Poem telephone service.[16]

Of Carroll's exploits in New York's art scene, by far the most important was his involvement at St. Mark's Poetry Project. As with his leaps into various societies in The Basketball Diaries, at St. Mark's Carroll "kept to himself, absorbing influences and working on his first volume of poetry, Organic Trains" until he was ready to make his "presence" known. Says Carroll, "I wanted my work to speak for itself, just like I let my playing do the talking on the basketball court" (Milward 170).

In 1967, Carroll made his first literary slam dunk by publishing Organic Trains, a 15-page booklet of poems, then approached Ted Berrigan and asked him to read it. As Berrigan recounts their first meeting,

Jim Carroll first appeared in my life as a huge white paw hung purposefully from the near end of a long brown corduroy arm. It was late one Wednesday evening, in front of Gem's Spa, the corner at 2nd Avenue & St. Mark's Place, in the Spring of 1967. A slight grey rectangle blocked my further view. I stopped short, although none of this is the least bit unusual at Gem's Spa. But the giant who materialized behind the hand certainly was unusual. It seemed to be saying, Pay attention, and I did so. "I'm Jim Carroll," the giant said and

became a very interesting person. "I've just had this book of poems published, and [I'd] like to give you a copy to read." "I'd love to read it," I said. (That's what I always say.) So, I took the small pamphlet of Jim Carroll's poems home to read.

Berrigan describes Organic Trains as "a tremendous experience. . . . I've never seen anything like it. I can say Rimbaud, but that doesn't bring in how American Jim Carroll is, and a critic might, and probably would say, O'Hara; but Frank O'Hara never wrote anywhere near this well until well into his 20's." Berrigan goes on to say that "If there is to be another 'New American Poetry', and there is, as the fine dust settles over the 'New American Poetry 1945-60', Jim Carroll is the first truly new American poet" (9).

Berrigan's point is that New American Poetry, which encompasses Frank O'Hara, is no longer new, but Carroll's poetry is. While Carroll's poetic draws from the basic tenets of New American Poetry and is influenced to some extent by older poets such as Frank O'Hara and Allen Ginsberg, Carroll has not merely assimilated himself into the old schools. On the one hand, the new poetic Carroll forged in Organic Trains resembles New American Poetry in that it involves the transformation of ordinary, "unpoetic" experiences and scenes into works of art through the manipulation of language and poetic forms. But Carroll's poetic differs from his predecessors' in two significant ways. First, Carroll's "ordinary" reality is that of the meanest streets of New York City. Second, especially in his diaries, he describes this scene in street lingo, thus expressing the scene as it has never before been expressed.

In a sense, the title of his first book, Organic Trains, best describes the poetic Carroll has defined throughout his career: through writing, he animates what we might consider inanimate parts of the city--its machinery, sky scrapers, pollution and so on--and highlights its darkest profile. Just as Carroll called New York City "the greatest hero a writer needs" in The Basketball Diaries (159), in his poetry the city becomes a living, though primordial, organism. In "5th Train (for L.C.)," for example, he renders a train station in such a way that even newspapers and telephones come to life:

soot air pervading
and tossing yesterday's daily news
as a sadist makes passes at
a waitress
I am jumping between cars
and kneeling upright in a tunnel
of skirts, telephones,
and my own attempt at sophistication
among a potential affair
with so many literal rats summoned from the exit feeding (9)

The world Carroll details in his poetry, as in his diaries, is violent and primal; for him, New York City is a living being as savage as they come, and its populace is its lifeblood--swarming like rats in its veins while feigning cosmopolitanism.

In both his poetry and his diaries, Carroll emphasizes the absurdity of posturing in such a savage world. In "Poem of Arrivals" (OT 7), for example, Carroll observes that "The pope has arrived in N.Y." (1). Certainly the Pope is cause for awe; he is, after all, a symbol of religious faith and authority, and a beacon of hope for the hopeless. But Carroll juxtaposes the symbol of the Pope against the harsh reality of the street: "a woman jumps 15 floors in the MARTINIQUE / naked" (10) As in The Basketball Diaries entry describing a similar dry-dive scenario (BBD 107-8), an authority figure is there to restore the illusion of orderliness, but a bit too late: "and a cop rushes to cover" ("Arrivals" 11). Reemphasizing the preposterousness of this illusion of order, and of the Pope as a mere symbol in this world, Carroll concludes:

and the pope
on the third page of the TIMES
and seeming almost infallible.

By projecting his vision of this street sensibility, Carroll began making his presence known in the literary world.[17] Between 1967 and 1971, Carroll published a great many poems; in fact, by 1971 nearly half of Living at the Movies was in print, scattered in various literary magazines.[18] Numerous poems appeared in The World (the St. Mark's Poetry Project's journal), Adventures in Poetry, Angel Hair, and Penumbra, and Anne Waldman included Carroll's work in her two anthologies for St. Mark's: The World Anthology (1969) and Another World (1970). In 1968, "Blue Poles," then titled "Poem (for Linda Canby [sic])," and "Traffic" appeared in Paris Review (the most prestigious literary journal in the country); in 1969, Paris Review printed "Heroin" and "The Birth and Death of the Sun."[19] Finally, in 1970, Carroll published 4 Ups and 1 Down, an eight-page, limited edition (300 copies) pamphlet containing five poems: "Blue Poles," "Love Rockets," "Styro," "Poem on My Son's Birthday," and "To a Poetess" (all of these are reprinted in Living at the Movies).

Also, in 1968 Carroll began publishing his basketball diaries.[20] Excerpts appeared in Adventures in Poetry (1968), the World (1968, 1969), and in Anne Waldman's two World anthologies. In 1969 he recorded selections from the Diaries for Dial-A-Poem, and Ted Berrigan's feature article on Carroll in Culture Hero (1969) also reprinted excerpts.

Carroll's prolific output between 1967 and 1971 earned him a place in the art community, with two publications being the most pivotal. In 1969, his definitive poem "The Distances" appeared in Poetry,[21] and in 1970, Paris Review published "Prell" and an extensive selection entitled "The Basketball Diaries." The Paris Review diary excerpts not only won Carroll the Random House Young Writer's Award for 1970, they also made an impression on some of the leading members of the New York art crowd. Ted Berrigan was again instrumental, hitchhiking with Carroll to Maine to visit Jack Kerouac (Hirschberg 25). After reading about 30 pages of the Diaries, Kerouac stated that "at the age of 13, Jim Carroll writes better prose than 89 per cent of the novelists working today" (qtd. in Fissinger 44). Even William S. Burroughs commented that Carroll "must be a born writer" (qtd. in Infusino).

As Mark Norton observes, "Generally, it is the kiss of death to be blessed by the gods so quickly" ("Wide World" 46), and in many ways it was. With the combination of his youthful good looks and "street punk" image, his pristine poetry and "pornographic" diaries (as John Giorno called them in the album notes for Dial-A-Poem), Carroll was clearly an enigma. Hence, he found himself catapulted into the limelight with the reputation of a handsome and talented young street poet. And once this reputation was affixed to him, the distinction between Carroll's biography and his transformation of his life into art became blurred. As Joyce Caruso notes, "He was immediately cast as the new Rimbaud: like that 19th-century legend, Carroll wrote prophetic, hallucinatory poems, lived a decadent life, and achieved fame a few short years after puberty" (98). And like Rimbaud, Carroll's adolescent biography in many ways became paramount over his art. Says Carroll, "It got to the point . . . when people wanted me to stop publishing at 19 the way he did" (Caruso 98).

Clearly The Basketball Diaries and Carroll's "street punk" identity and experience therein have determined his artistic "fate" to a large extent, and this fate is something Carroll has continually had to struggle against. Speaking of his involvement at St. Mark's, Carroll said:

I wanted to offset my street image, and when I finally introduced myself to poets like Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman, they said, "Yeah, we wondered who the fuck you were, a street punk or some sort of tough." It's all counterpoint--you use two sides, one against the other, to develop a presence, an impact. (Milward 170)

Nevertheless, Carroll's primary impact was based almost entirely on his physical attributes, including both his appearance and his biography. For example, while in his article Ted Berrigan finds considerable merit in Carroll's poetry, he is more than equally impressed by Carroll's good looks: "Jim Carroll is beautiful. . . . He's 20 years old, stands 6'3", and has a body like Nureyev (or would have were Nureyev Clint Eastwood). At a party . . . one sees . . . Jim Carroll's brilliant red Prince Valiant cut quietly nodding." Likewise, Anne Waldman ("who should know," Berrigan notes) says, "Jim Carroll is a born star. He's so tall and beautiful, and he probably knows a lot. I love the way he talks" (Berrigan 9).

This is the social and "professional" situation in which Carroll finds himself in the art scene in Forced Entries. In many ways it parallels his situation in the Biddy League as a teenager, when his coaches are more interested in his body than his basketball playing. But the stakes are higher now, and Carroll desperately wants to be part of the New York art scene. A comment Carroll made in a later interview reveals the dilemma underlying this desire: "I made a point never to sleep with any guys in the poetry scene, except, you know, the gay guys, which were plentiful, you know, in the older generation school of New York poets. But I'm sure with Frank [O'Hara, if I had known him,] I would have wound up in bed. He was an idol" (Flippo 35).

In a sense, membership in the art scene almost demands that Carroll cheapen himself. While in word he refused, he still slept with the "gay guys, which were plentiful," how plentiful one can only guess at, and he still felt he would have slept with Frank O'Hara if the opportunity presented itself. The fact is, even in the art scene, it is his body and not his writing that is in demand; he is still a commodity.

Nevertheless, as with the Biddy League, Carroll wants to be part of the hip New York art scene for a number of significant reasons, in spite of the costs of membership. As in the Biddy League, Carroll's reasons for wanting in outweigh his reasons for staying out. First, as an artist Carroll senses a certain kinship with other artists and feels the community of artists is the only society in which he can comfortably belong. Second, this community offers both instruction and an audience for his work. Third, acceptance into this community would validate his art and raise him from the status of "street punk" to that of Artist.

In Forced Entries, this last motive is most crucial. In The Basketball Diaries Carroll's quest was aimed primarily at transcending a corrupt world. In Forced Entries Carroll makes the same attempt but with an added hurdle: he now must transcend the "self" he invented in The Basketball Diaries, whose "street punk" identity is now a stigma barring him from attaining the status of Artist. Carroll states this emphatically in the first diary of Forced Entries: "I think of my past as if it were some exquisite antique knife . . . you can use it to defend yourself or slit your own throat, but you can't just keep it mounted on some wall. I can no longer allow the past, however, to interpret my future. Not dying young can be a dilemma . . ." (2).

In essence, Carroll's past is defined by The Basketball Diaries, but this definition takes two diametrically opposed forms. When Carroll looks at his past, he sees victory: he descended to the bottom of the abyss and returned to transform his experience into art, and he is proud of this. Most outsiders, on the other hand, even those who admired and sympathized with his work, saw only the decadent young Jim Carroll addicted to heroin, hustling gay men for money, and mugging passers-by in Central Park. This second version of Carroll's past is the one which, in Forced Entries, is the accepted definition of him. But this untransformed self is not Jim Carroll, and this is the definition of himself which he must transcend.

Carroll's quest in Forced Entries, then, is very much a continuation of that of The Basketball Diaries. In the previous diary, Carroll attempted to transcend a corrupt reality and achieve "purity" by mirroring and exposing the dirty underbelly of his world; along the way, he discovered that writing about his world and himself as a reflection of it was a more direct route to finding that purity, and that writing allowed him to be a "cheetah." With this recognition, in Forced Entries Carroll embarks upon the same quest, except he now attempts to join the often phony society of artists, consciously seeking the Writer in himself who can create and confirm a "pure high" and "pure reality" (Perry E6), as well as raise him above the status of "street punk."

The problem is that, in Forced Entries, Carroll becomes a victim of his own ambitions. While attempting to transcend his "street punk" stigma via entry into the art scene, Carroll unwittingly becomes entangled in the corruption of this society and entirely loses track of himself and his intentions as an artist. For example, in The Basketball Diaries Carroll condemns the false facades people don in the name of respectability, but in Forced Entries, he gets caught in this same trap. Carroll becomes obsessed with devising a respectable appearance for himself; his obsession takes form as he frets over his manner of dress and goes to great lengths to conceal his "double life." Hence, he faces the dilemma of keeping up a respectable appearance while not becoming phoney himself; he must simultaneously force his entry into the art scene while still maintaining contact with the street world upon which his art is based.

Thus, in Forced Entries, Carroll explores, regrets, loses, regains and accepts his "street" identity as well as his poetic vision. Furthermore, while his primary goal is to gain control over his past and determine his own future, a more powerful force still wields a greater power over him. As Carroll puts it:

I've tried in these writings to put a lid on the seamier side of the double life I've continued to lead--I am speaking, of course, of the street life as opposed to the art scene. The need for heroin has never allowed me to sever these ties. Besides, after all these years, there is a certain comfort in the familiarity of the streets . . . a fascination, even some perverse safety in its danger and lies. (FE 113)

The force holding him back is much larger than his heroin addiction. In a sense, heroin addiction is the badge which binds Carroll to the streets and to his Basketball Diaries persona. To sever his ties to the streets and this persona is to disown the nucleus of his art and leap into the unknown.

Even more importantly, for Carroll, the "danger and lies" of the streets are the harsh reality concealed beneath the facade of an orderly world. In his writing, it is the discrepancy between the reality of the street and the facade which conceals it that fascinates him; it is his pleasure and his duty to strip away the veneer and reveal the chaos hidden beneath. Hence, there is an even more terrifying implication in disowning the street and his street past. Should he do so, he would be denying his own chaotic reality, and he would lower himself to the level of his coaches, teachers, and the businessmen in Brooks Brothers suits in The Basketball Diaries. In other words, to deny his past is to become one of the hypocrites he despises. Thus, the basic paradox underlying Carroll's "forced entry" into the New York art scene, and his quest to be a Writer, is that to be a respected member of the society of Great Artists he must "put a lid on" his street past and behave like a Great Artist. But to "behave" like a Great Artist is to renounce the code of honesty, integrity, and self-awareness defined by that past.

Furthermore, as Carroll moves through the art scene, he receives conflicting messages from its members as to how a Great Artist should behave. Essentially there are two opposing definitions of Artist, neither of which has much to do with art. As Carroll put it in a later interview:

In a personal one-to-one sense . . . it was "Jim, you should get off [drugs] and clean yourself up." But in an overall abstract sense, the poetry scene fostered the life-style on me. People were living vicariously off my street life, their attitude saying, "I admire you for this, for the fact that you have the balls to live out the image of the drugged-out poet." (Milward 172)

In many ways, Carroll's membership in the society of artists is based upon that society's fascination with his "double life" as portrayed in The Basketball Diaries, counterbalanced with his poetry, and as he lives it out during this period. In a sense, his decadent lifestyle is viewed as a sort of drama performed for the entertainment of others. The problem, aside from the havoc wreaked upon Carroll's body, is that the community of artists is a "respectable" society, and while this society lives "vicariously" off of Carroll's vices, it certainly doesn't want him in its own living room.

These are the paradoxes Carroll must somehow resolve. Because the writer that he is grows out of his experiencing and transforming his double life, Carroll must embrace his past and write about it. Hence, as Tony Perry notes: "The title of 'Forced Entries' suggests both the way the writer forced himself to enter, at least part way, into respectable society, and his feeling that he had to continue the story, both to vindicate himself of his past and to work through the restlessness of his youth" (E6). In many ways, then, Carroll's becoming a Writer depends first upon accepting the character identity of The Basketball Diaries then overcoming and transcending that identity to legitimize himself as an Artist. Also, he must come to terms with his addiction: he must retain enough personal control to continue writing while still "hooked."

In the "Downtown Diaries: 1971-1973" of Forced Entries, Carroll attempts to elide the first step of this process, hoping that his membership in the art scene will hurl him straight to transcendence; it doesn't work. So long as he remains obsessed with his acceptance (or non-acceptance) in the art scene, he is unable to maintain control over his addiction; hence, his writing suffers. The fact is, only when he comes to terms with his past can he begin to rise above it, and only when he overcomes his heroin addiction can he regain personal control. These things are what he attempts, following the "Downtown Diaries," in "The Move to California" and "Back to New York."

"The Downtown Diaries: 1971-1973"

In the first diary of Forced Entries, "A Birthday," Carroll introduces his headlong leap into legitimacy by identifying and defining himself, as if to justify his existence, in terms of what he always has been, what he is now, and what he has the potential of becoming:

This is the day I was born, twenty years ago in Bellevue hospital, New York City, at three minutes past midnight. It's the birthday of Herman Melville, the Emperor Claudius, and Mr. Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. This is also the day the Russians scattered the remnants of their first bomb into the atmosphere. They detonated it, in fact, only a few hours after I was pulled from my mother's womb, and the radiation, fear, and the fire's desperate heat have been there ever since. (1)

This is the antithesis of the first entry in The Basketball Diaries in that, in the first book, Carroll makes a point of illegitimizing himself, and here he makes a point of legitimizing himself, both by virtue of his birth date. Clearly, this is the beginning of a new chapter in Carroll's life (so to speak); he is no longer a teenager and, "The fact is, I hadn't planned to make it to this age." Hence, Carroll faces a new dilemma of experiencing and describing his situation and struggle for transcendence as an adult.

While he is older, the Jim Carroll we meet at the beginning of Forced Entries is essentially the same Jim Carroll we knew in The Basketball Diaries: he is the same New York street punk who was born in New York City's Bellevue hospital "at three minutes past midnight." Also, "the bad Russia bowman" from The Basketball Diaries still threatens with "atomic arrows," and Carroll is still in the center of the archer's target (BBD 114). In this passage, however, Carroll does something unique to and pervasive in Forced Entries: he makes personal and literary references. If there is anything which has consistently irritated reviewers of Forced Entries it is Carroll's "name-dropping," but reviewers have missed the point. In essence, Carroll is authenticating himself by allusion and association. Of course he doesn't say "I was born on August first"; he says he was born on the same day as a Great American Writer, a Roman Emperor, and a Rock Star. In many ways, these are the possibilities Carroll sees in himself, and the references in themselves reveal Carroll's attempts to identify himself with Greatness.

The "Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead" association reveals another aspect of Carroll's identity: the Dead have always been icons of the drug culture, and Carroll has certainly established himself as a contender for that position[22] Thus, after associating himself with Great Names, Carroll continues his birthday diary with a trip to his dealer:

I celebrated with a birthday gift from my aunt, twenty dollars which conveniently arrived in the morning's mail. I tipped over to Spanish Hector's to score, and Hector, knowing it was my birthday (since I took the pains to tell him in both English and Spanish), gave me an extra five-dollar bag for my money.

This sounds like the old, familiar Basketball Diaries Jim Carroll, and when Spanish Hector offers "to throw a few party lines of coke into the cooker," Carroll notes that "When it comes to heroin, I'm as strict a purist as those ersatz folkies who booed Dylan off the stage at Newport for using an electric guitar" (1).

With the exception of the name-dropping, it seems nothing has changed since The Basketball Diaries. He ended that diary, in the throes of heroin abuse, with "I just want to be pure"; yet his "purity" five years later lies simply in not mixing heroin and cocaine. But there is a subtle difference, and that is in Carroll's self-criticism: at the beginning of Forced Entries, he is quite aware that, as a person, he has gotten nowhere in the last five years. In many ways, when Carroll calls himself a "purist" in the matter of drugs, he is both reemphasizing the code of integrity he developed in The Basketball Diaries as well as poking fun at his ineptness in carrying it out.

In The Basketball Diaries, Carroll was an idealistic kid thrown into a corrupt world, and because he did devise a code of honor for himself, he was able to see, analyze, and write about his own corruption as a reflection of his world, and he was able to purify himself through writing. But now he looks at himself more evaluatively, and his finger is more often pointed towards himself than at the world. Carroll feels that, especially in the personal arena, he has failed himself and violated his own code. Because of this, Carroll is much less self-righteous than in the previous diary, and Forced Entries takes the tone of a confessional [23] That is, while he "confessed" to some extent in The Basketball Diaries, throughout the "Downtown Diaries" Carroll perpetually confesses his sins and repents of his violations of his own code, attempting to absolve himself by writing about these things. This time it is not the world that is to blame for his corruption, but Carroll himself.

At the beginning of the book, Carroll feels trapped in a cage of his own design, swaying between total apathy and exhilaration:

I inhabit a different body now. Each day, it seems, another self wakes up and heats the coffee. I can distinguish, even gauge, the passage from a disturbed youth to a disturbed adult by the subtle aggressiveness in my anxiety. Sometimes I catch myself sitting on the edge of the sofa, staring into the flickering glare of the television, like a deer on some highway transfixed by the headlights of a car. As these images pass, I can feel them feeding on my own inertia. Other times, I am overloaded with a smooth, graceful energy, filled with an almost incomprehensible joy.

In essence, Carroll is "transfixed" by his own lack of accomplishment. It is his twentieth birthday, five years have passed since that last Basketball Diaries entry, and he has progressed only from "a disturbed youth to a disturbed adult."

As he puts it, "The fact is, in many ways, I hadn't planned to make it to this age." Theoretically, had Carroll died young, the transcendence he achieved in The Basketball Diaries would be eternal; he would be another James Dean, cut off just as his potential was about to be fulfilled. Since Carroll did not die young, however, he has nothing but potential before him, and he now faces the task of exceeding his own transcendence. As Carroll completes his birthday diary:

So, having lived, it seems only proper to begin keeping track again, to record the flux of each self, and weigh the shifting landscape of this city. I've given much of myself to feed its insatiable, tick-ridden underbelly, and I expect the use of its character in return. If you haven't died by an age thought predetermined through the timing of your abuses and excesses, then what else is left but to begin another diary? (2)

If writing was his means of transcendence in The Basketball Diaries, Carroll is willing to believe it will be again; hence, the first step in rising above his present state of stagnation and The Basketball Diaries is to begin another diary, this time as an adult rather than a self-destructive adolescent.[24]

But first, in the next few diaries, Carroll further explores his state of intense boredom and languor, idly appraising and attempting to justify his condition, as if deciding whether he wants to rise above his present situation. In "Jenny Ann, Like a Cat," for example, Carroll vindicates his inability to carry on a normal relationship, echoing his critiques of hypocrisy in The Basketball Diaries:

All the women always assure me at first how they don't care if I'm using junk, probably thinking they'll be the one with the power to transform me back to wholesome life. And, just as certain, within a week . . . two at the most, they're bitching about how they can't handle it anymore, how the shit is erecting a larger barrier and larger barrier between us, and, speaking of "erecting," how they're not getting laid since I'm on the continual nod half the time, and writing all that crazy bullshit the other half. Besides the hypocrisy involved here, it is all quite inelegant, to say the least. I mean, they made the assurances, not I. And to cast such aspersions on my work ("crazy bullshit," indeed), is simply the bitter fruit of sexual frustration revealing itself. (5)

Carroll goes on to compare this antagonistic sort of relationship to the intimacy he has found with Jenny Ann (aka Patti Smith): "Ah, but Jenny Ann, none of this for her. She is as clear with her destiny as I with mine. And that destiny is, like her energy (which I sadly lack), unlimited. All that is needed for her is time, and judgment. Meanwhile, we touch each other." For Carroll, Jenny Ann is a sort of ideal, both as a lover and as an artist. In a sense, she is what he wishes to be: "She possesses something else which causes me great envy, it being another quality I am in too short supply of--ambition. . . . ambition totally integral to her vision, and the work which is manifested in that vision." As an artist, Jenny Ann is living on the edge, but she's in control; she is true to herself and her art, where Carroll feels he is not. While he may rationalize his excesses and deficiencies, he feels he has somehow failed himself and his art; he is stagnating, and he is not in control.

Importantly, however, Jenny Ann accepts and allows Carroll to accept the reality of his experience unconditionally, and she shows him control:

Sometimes I open my eyes out of a deep nod and see her staring down at me as if, by some vicarious means, by some force built out of an overwhelming will, she herself had penetrated the flux of my drug dreams and shared them in each vivid detail. It is as if I were riding a raft through rapids and, by a supernatural sense of timing and dexterity, she jumped onto it from a bridge as I passed beneath it, having followed it from above a long time before, as it first came into view around a great curve. And she lands feet first, upright, like a cat. (4)

Jenny Ann is a source of security against the harsh reality of Carroll's "street" life, and a means of escape. She is a woman who can create beauty out of ugliness, and "who can turn an ailment into a viable recreation." Together they are infected with crabs, and they spend "A Day at the Races" racing the crabs across a sheet of drawing paper (5-6). She also leads Carroll safely through his old stomping ground, as when, in "The Cancer Hall of Fame," they visit Times Square, "proud to still elicit, in our post-teen years, the lurid howls of chickenhawks as we pass on by"; with Jenny Ann, "We're not working, but we enjoy playing the part" (7).

Finally, Carroll and Jenny Ann feed off of each other, as when they visit an "exhibition" of "various plastic molds of life-sized human bodies," each of which "showed the spreading of tumors, cancerous tumors, upon certain vital organs." Their friend Roger, who has taken them to this "exhibition," is obsessed with the spectacle. Jenny Ann and Carroll flee, as horrified at Roger's fixation as they are at the diseased "representations." "We didn't say a word all the way downtown, and wound up at my place instead of hers. She didn't want to see Roger when he returned. We fucked with the slow, long strokes that shut away fear" (8-9).

However, Jenny Ann quickly disappears from Forced Entries (she appears again, only in name, later in the diary, notably in "Rock and Roll" [164]), and Carroll is on his own. He continues to prowl the streets, immersed in its decadence, visiting a dealer and two drag queens (10-12), and reliving "the first night I spent in Times Square" tailing a prostitute (12). As Carroll notes, "You must be alone to achieve this wonderment, as the others, passing by you, must be anonymous. That is the key word. . . . Here nobody calls your name; they only point their finger, then move it, slowly but without caution, toward its own end" (13-14). But this anonymity and independence also abolishes Carroll's sense of security. Anonymity means that his finger must move to its own end, and that he must see himself as clearly as he sees his world. As he realized in The Basketball Diaries in his "end of L.S.D. era" entry, such close scrutiny finds him entirely "ALONE" (BBD 185). This realization is terrifying because, in a sense, his "freedom" and the "wonderment" of anonymity are closing in on him.

When Carroll compares poetry, drugs, and basketball in "The Price You Pay," he is reflecting directly upon the choices he made in The Basketball Diaries; choices which opened up the world to him but which now leave him flailing in the face of his own boundless freedom and potential. In The Basketball Diaries, Carroll looked equally to basketball, drugs, and writing, all of which offered alternative realms of experience from the "street scene," allowed him to explore different aspects of himself and enjoy new experiences, and all of which provided an aesthetic sense of value and order. But during the course of that book, basketball fell by the wayside, leaving Carroll with a choice between drugs and writing, the two least absolute members of the trio.

Grasping for a sense of security, Carroll realizes that poetry has, in many ways, become his new drug, and that it's perhaps even more dangerous than heroin. That is, while heroin opens up new vistas of perception for him, it also acts as a source of security, slowing down and clarifying his visions for him. On the other hand, while poetry gives him a "high" similar to heroin, broadens his perceptions, and imposes a sense of order upon these perceptions, it also forces Carroll to look closely and critically into himself; poetry is a "forced entry" into his deepest needs, fears, and weaknesses. Hence, if he looks too closely, he threatens to shatter the comfortable sense of self which imposes coherence on his chaotic existence.

Because of this threat, Carroll describes the ravages of poetry in the paradoxical terms of drug use and abuse:

I fucked up. I sit here with my liver and kidneys vibrating from uncertainty in every direction. Poetry can unleash a terrible fear. I suppose it is the fear of possibilities, too many possibilities, each with its own endless set of variations. It's like looking too closely and too long into a mirror; soon your features distort, then erupt. You look too closely into your poems, or listen too closely to them as they arrive in whispers, and the features inside you--call it heart, call it mind, call it soul--accelerate out of control. They distort and they erupt, and it is one strange pain. You realize, then, that you can't attempt breaking down too many barriers in too short a time, because there are as many horrors waiting to get in at you as there are parts of yourself pushing to break out, and with the same, or more, fevered determination.

While both drugs and poetry are capable of producing beautiful visions, both also have the potential to destroy him should he overindulge himself. That is, just as an overdose of heroin could kill him, it is equally possible that, should he look too closely into himself through poetry, he will find a "street punk" and an unfulfilled, "disturbed adult" staring back at him.

Furthermore, he is equally addicted to drugs and poetry: where he is dependent physically upon heroin, he is dependent mentally and spiritually upon writing. The fact is, in Forced Entries, Carroll has chosen to be a poet and must commit himself to that identity. He must accept the responsibility of this decision, which is to both fulfill the potential he has defined for himself as well as risk seeing the horrors inside himself. This implies that, in many ways, Carroll must master the "presence of a cheetah" in his writing, just as he did with basketball, in the face of chaos. This requires self-consciousness, grace, an intensity of vision capable of breaking though its own barriers, the courage to accept and explore all of the possibilities poetry opens up, and above all else, control.

The problem is that Carroll is in no position to accept this challenge: he has no control and he is afraid of what awaits him should he break down too many barriers. The intensity of vision poetry requires must, by definition, create endless possibilities, all of which must be explored; furthermore, this vision is bound to reveal aspects of Carroll which are embarrassing, painful, and ugly. Finally, Carroll's poetic vision creates so much freedom that it removes all the comfortable boundaries, whether they be physical, mental, or spiritual, leaving nothing but infinite potential for him to fulfill and chaos to make sense of.

Carroll's only means of control are drugs: they are his comfortable routine, his security blanket, and his "wife," to use Lou Reed's motif in "Heroin." Without drugs, Carroll is left flailing in the void. Drugs have become his only source of security against the uncertainty poetry creates; the two are inseparable. As he continues the entry, however, it becomes clear that, at least on some level, he wants and needs to look into himself. In spite of the dangers, he wants to force an entry into himself:

So you take what the muse gives, and try not to force it. You knock down one barricade at a time, making sure no more is behind them than you can handle, making sure they don't double up on you. You take drugs, perhaps, to calm things down but all the while you know that whatever poetry gives out, you must pay back eventually, with an incredible interest added on. Take my word for it, the muse, in one form or another, will be around to collect. The price you pay for drugs is a small pink simian who enjoys interlocking his twenty digits around your spine in a slowly tightening grip. But at least you are dealing with a pain fierce enough for you to understand, to endure. The subtle art of poetry carries a more subtle pain.

The fact is, Carroll knows it is his duty to break down barriers, and that the horrors he finds behind them are the price he must pay to abide by his own "punk" code of honesty, integrity, courage, and self-awareness.

Because his code is at stake, the price is somehow worth it. In spite of the negative imagery permeating Carroll's analysis, he clearly indicates that "the muse" has something valuable to offer, and that is the poetic vision itself. He is, after all, willing to "take what the muse gives," and to pay the price the muse demands in return, which comes in increments of possibilities to fulfill as well as the negative aspects of himself he undoubtedly will uncover. But the irony is that, throughout "The Downtown Diaries," Carroll is unable to pay the price. Rather than breaking down barriers with his own art and looking closely (forcing his entry) into himself, he tries to "force it" through his forced entry into the art scene. As a result, his attempts to authenticate his artistic vision alienate his muse and blind him to himself; he is, therefore, left unable to fulfill his potential.

For Carroll, this is where his decision to be a poet becomes a matter of doubt. Is it better to fulfill his potential as an artist in obscurity, or to slight his vision and become an authentic, officially sanctioned Artist? The one thing of which he is certain is that, no matter which route he chooses, it would have been much easier to have stuck to basketball:

I shouldn't complain. When I say I "fucked up," what I mean is that I'm sitting here watching the NBA All-Star Game on TV and I'm watching guys I used to seriously abuse on the court scoring double figures now against the best in the game. Ergo, I fucked it up. I should have stayed an athlete, body well-tuned, cruising around with my accountant in a Porsche, maroon and chrome. More important, with basketball there's always only one direction: to the cylinder on the fiberglass rectangle. And you don't have to aim. If you do, you're off.

Poetry has too many variations. Mr. Frost was right about one thing: there are always promises to keep, and variations on that theme. With basketball you can correct your own mistakes, immediately and beautifully, in midair. (15-16)

While Carroll specifically refers to Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," he is by extension alluding to "The Road Not Taken." In The Basketball Diaries, he played basketball with Lew Alcindor, aka Kareem Abdul Jabbar (BBD 115); in fact, Carroll claims he taught Kareem the "sky hook" (Graustark 81). Carroll was an all-star basketball player: he could make a basket with his eyes closed. The fact is, basketball might have been an easy route to stardom, yet Carroll opted for the road less traveled, choosing poetry over basketball. Now he must accept the uncertainty, as well as the obligations and endless possibilities of that choice.

"The Price You Pay" leads directly into a series of diaries describing Carroll's involvement in the art scene, hinting that he has decided to validate himself as member of the art community, rather than begin satisfying his responsibilities as an artist. The most salient characteristics of these diaries are that, first, Carroll nearly forgets about the responsibilities he has toward his poetry. Second, in his rendezvous with members of the art scene, he is simultaneously compliant--he "plays the game," as he is expected to do, and absorbs everything he can--yet he also views the experience in terms of his own street sensibility. Similarly, while he is star struck by all the Great Names he meets, he also feels somewhat threatened by them and put off by their "respectable" facades; thus, he tries to bring these people (Andy Warhol and Allen Ginsberg, for example) down to earth.

In the first "art scene" entry, "Invitation to the Dance," Carroll meets Edwin Denby, who is "considered by many to be the greatest living critic of dance, both classical and modern. . . . But what impresses me is that he has the most generous intellect I've ever come in contact with" (15). Most importantly, Carroll's conversation with Denby is a prime example of Carroll's humor: as he illustrates their nearly opposite ways of looking at the world, he pokes fun at the notion of intellectual analysis and at his own street sensibility. Carroll asks Denby about "the story concerning the time he and Willem de Kooning were attacked by a butterfly in broad daylight on the streets of New York City." The idea amuses Carroll: "'It would have been a strange ending to de Kooning's career,' I said, sort of giggling, 'being blinded by a vicious butterfly.'" Denby, on the other hand, sees the situation differently: "It would have been a horrible tragedy!"

Denby goes on to explain, in detail, the exact nature of the vicious butterfly, including its species, diet, habitat and so on. Denby concludes, "So you see, if these butterflies can take on a crocodile, then why not a poor poet and a painter on Seventh Avenue?" Such intellectual analysis catches Carroll's street sense off guard; as he puts it, "I was astounded by the rap; so much so, that it prevented me from asking if the little pest has escaped unharmed, or if it was swatted down and squashed underfoot by a furious Dutch abstract expressionist."

While Carroll jokes about such scenarios, he realizes his practical, street-wise view lacks Denby's intellectual angle, a definite necessity in the elite society of artists. Hence, Carroll is compliant and eager to absorb all he can from Denby. Likewise, Denby, as a representative of the intellectual-art scene, is eager to bestow some of his intellect upon Carroll and invites him to the ballet. As Carroll remarks, "I knew that this jaunt to the ballet was Edwin's way of instilling some culture into my street sensibilities." Clearly, Carroll is aware that he is being "trained," and is at least somewhat willing to comply. He also knows he's being used to a certain extent, just as he was used by coaches and basketball scouts in The Basketball Diaries, to feed other people's egos. As in the cases of Coach Lefty and Benny Greenbaum, Denby is gay, and Carroll "knew that [Denby] enjoyed being seen at these events with good-looking young men"; but unlike the Diaries, "for these reasons, I didn't want to embarrass him by showing up like some dirtbag."

As in The Basketball Diaries, Carroll accepts his position in the art society and learns its protocol very quickly, but still plays the game on his own terms. Upon his arrival at the New York State Theater, he "surveyed the complex of carefully lit buildings comprising Lincoln Center," and in an appropriately intellectual manner observes: "Mussolini-style architecture, like the Tombs down on Center Street." He describes the outfit he dons to avoid looking like a "dirtbag" in similar terms: "I was wearing my well-cut dress-up corduroy trousers (if they cost more than fifty dollars, I refuse to call them pants), and a matching velvet jacket. . . . Very spiffy, if I do say so myself" (17). Carroll further explains that it was Bill Berkson's "charitable gesture" of giving these clothes to him that "made it possible for me to look so resplendent as Edwin and I were escorted to our box" (18).

Carroll accepts his marginality, and his status as an adornment, as a matter of course, simply choosing to make himself as presentable as possible and absorb all the "culture" and intellect he can. Nevertheless, Carroll is uncultured and "street," and he enjoys that identity; the major problem lies in merging the two halves of his double life. After the ballet, he "made it over to the East Side to see what was happening at Max's," where he finds Jackie Curtis, who gives him a blow job in the back alley. Thus, in this same diary entry, Carroll has one foot in high culture and one in low. He gets a blow job from a transvestite while fantasizing about a prima ballerina. He praises George Balanchine, "the maestro himself," and sees "the ballet through his eyes as well as Edwin's," but also observes that

Jackie is underrated at everything she does. I suppose she's best known as an actress and a playwright, but she's got endless talents in other areas as well. Some people have this bias against her, thinking everything she does is just a gimmick, just because Jackie is actually a man in drag. . . . I've spent many wonderful nights with her at Max's, as she's talked of her dreams of Scandinavia and a sex change.

In his surreal juxtaposition of Jackie's male and female identities, Carroll reveals his ability to accept and find beauty in both "halves" of his double life. While this humanizes his experience, it does nothing to gain him acceptance in the respectable world; he is still on the outside looking in. (After all, it is Jackie Curtis and not Patricia McBride giving him the blow job.) This discrepancy is the primary source of his humor, which is by and large aimed at himself. Carroll pokes fun at the most serious of situations, and finds (usually absurd) meaning in the most meaningless situations at his own expense. For example, the Patricia McBride fantasy ends abruptly as Carroll looks down and realizes:

Jackie had a monstrous cock! . . . . I made myself as presentable as possible and returned through the rear door. Jackie followed me, asking what was wrong. Ha! As if she had to ask. Didn't she know how outright embarrassing it is for a man to get a blow job from a woman whose cock is bigger than his own? (20)

In "A Vicious Nod," Carroll carries this a step further. Awaking from "a rather baroque nod . . . something about a furious priest in one of those sack-like miniskirts chasing after me with a wooden stake and a sledgehammer," he discovers he is bleeding profusely--from where he doesn't know: "It was running down my chest, running rapidly, when I first saw it, through the damp crevices of cotton, breaking off across my thighs in all directions." Horrified, he wonders, "Is it my eye? Oh god, blood from the ears? My nose?" Since the blood won't quit on its own, Carroll continues,

I move quickly to the bathroom, holding a copy of Rilke's Duino Elegies under my chin to prevent red lines from forming on the plush, white carpeting. . . . By the time I reach the tile floor of the bathroom, I have riddled Rilke's third Elegy with six violent stains. I blot it with toilet tissue and slide it back across the carpet. (20-21).

Here we find Carroll's version of a literary allusion, as Rilke's "Third Elegy" begins: "It is one thing to sing the beloved. Another, alas, / that obscure, guilty river-god of the blood" (Rilke 43). As if all of this were merely a bad joke, at a horrifying moment when Carroll fears he may be dying, he playfully takes Rilke's metaphorical "river-god" and covers it with his own, real blood . . . and blots it with toilet tissue.

Carroll's tendency to "humanize" situations, to bring the lofty down to earth through humor, is also the means by which he excuses his entrance into the art scene. In the next diary, Carroll receives a message reading: "Hope you have not forgotten that the big 'G' is in town for the night. . ." Carroll drops everything; "I even forgot about the connection arriving with my goods . . . who cares about drugs when THE poet is waiting at your doorstep?" (24). "THE poet" is Allen Ginsberg, and though Carroll is obviously star-struck, Ginsberg will not appear as some minor god in Carroll's diary:

I turn the corner of 10th and Third to a comical scene: on an otherwise vacant street, darting glances left and right with the alacrity of petty crime paranoia, is the hirsute master himself, the leader of the pack, tossing pebbles from the window on the ground floor. "It's the window around back, you fucking juvenile delinquent," I whisper, having snuck up on his back with felony feet. "By the way," I add, "anyone ever tell you throw like a girl?" (25)

Carroll doesn't stop here:

After heating up some tea and playing Allen The Who's new L.P., I show him a new poem of mine in the recent issue of Poetry Mag. He keeps mumbling things like, "You've got some great lines here, some really great 'haikus' within the overall work, but what are you going to write when they throw us in the concentration camps?" Terrific. Real solid literary criticism. I could have gotten better poetic advice from Leon Trotsky.[25]

The point for Carroll is not to demean or degrade Ginsberg, but to show that Ginsberg, the Great Writer and "leader of the pack" of Great Artists, is not a god, and that Ginsberg's sophisticated demeanor is merely the respectable veneer of a Great Artist. In essence, by bringing Ginsberg down to Earth, Carroll humanizes the entire art scene for himself. That is, Carroll must pierce the art scene's facade and reveal the reality hidden beneath in order to retain his own authenticity as an artist; he cannot join the scene for the sake of its glitzy appearance. As he says before going on to the ultimate clincher in "humanizing" Ginsberg, Carroll says, "I like Allen; I like to break down the solemn facade and reach the goof heart."

But the clincher does come, so to speak. At bedtime, relieved to find Ginsberg doesn't have "plans" for him, Carroll leads Ginsberg to the master bedroom:

As I'm setting the alarm clock for Allen's early wake-up to get out to the airport, I hear his voice behind me asking, "Hey, what's this thing?" I turn around and gasp. In his hands the poet is holding Bill B.'s heavy-duty, plug-directly-into-wall-socket-because-batteries-are-not-enough-to-power-this-mother vibrator.

Carroll goes on to "explain to Allen its functions. As I detail the matter, a great expression of sheer awe grows across Allen's face. 'You think I might try it?' he asks, eyes bulging at the intricacy of its engineering." Thus we have the title of the entry, "The Poet and the Vibrator." Ginsberg tries out the gadget and,

as I lay down to read I hear the familiar hum of the machine at its number one setting. Within minutes, numero dos . . . then the full roar of high speed. I hear a yell from the bedroom, a big loud yell. "Holy shit," I jump up, " his heart couldn't take it." I dash back. It's not a pretty sight. Apparently his scream was one of the ecstatic variety. There was jism everywhere . . . he hit the bottom of the sleeping loft above him, for God's sake. It was hanging from a beam like a mini-stalactite. "Pretty good, boss," I looked down, "that's what I call thrust." But The Poet had a look of horror on his face . . . he was wrestling with the vibrator like it was a fucking bobcat. . . . (28)

Appropriately, Carroll refers to Ginsberg as "The Poet" in this most human moment.

"Invitation to the Dance" and "The Poet and the Vibrator" are representative of a number of diaries in which Carroll discusses the art scene, with Andy Warhol, the Factory, and AWT BAG (Andy Warhol's Theater: Boys to Adore Galore) being among his favorite subjects.[26] The underlying principles are the same: the "art crowd" attempts to "train" Carroll to proper artistic etiquette; conversely, Carroll admires members of the art crowd to a certain extent, but attempts to undermine

Everyone thinks The Factory is constant orgies and Marlon Brando coming in just to say hello, but the truth is it's boring as an empty bag and the only celebrity I've seen in the past two weeks has been fucking Donovan, for Christ's sake. Of course, everyone who graces these portals is a "star," but their fifteen minutes were up long ago. (33)

When Carroll began working odd jobs at The Factory in 1969, it had essentially passed its heyday, having become a sterile fortress of sorts. Carroll notes that:

The old Factory up in the West Forties was actually a wild scene, but since Andy took a bulldyke bullet in the rib this place has about seventeen doors on the elevator, a receptionist who was no doubt an abused child and takes every opportunity to even it up, and security cameras running up the ass. (33-34)

On June 3, 1968, Valerie Solanas entered the original "Silver Factory" (located on the fifth floor of an ex-hat factory at 231 East 47th Street), pulled a gun and shot Warhol several times, nearly killing him (Bockris 188, 298). After that, the Factory was never the same. Warhol relocated the Factory to 33 Union Square, which was more like an office than an atelier (290). Furthermore, because of his near-assassination, Warhol became paranoid, increasingly secluding himself. The result was that he degenerated into a mere figurehead, delegating his "authority" to assistants Paul Morrissey and Gerard Malanga (316).

To Carroll, Warhol's detachment from his art and his obsession with security seems hypocritical, and Gloria Excelsior (aka Brigid Polk), "one of Andy Warhol's superstars," is yet another example of Warholdom. "Gloria is a speed freak, in the true sense of the word," and has endeavored to cure Carroll of his heroin addiction. Carroll brings her to earth quickly, noting that, whereas "You'd think she'd have wasted into one of those arcane, babbling exclamation points with shoes by this time," in fact, Gloria "has to be, let's not mince words, the fattest speed junkie in the history of pharmaceuticals" (FE 29). Carroll likes Gloria but will not allow her to be "better" than him. He goes on to critique her "artistic endeavor, which consists of taping her telephone calls, [which] I might mention that Warhol does as well. When I say 'as well,' I do not mean it in a qualitative sense, since it is difficult to distinguish merit when using such a medium" (31).

While Carroll's critiques of the Warhol scene are often unkind, they also enable Carroll to analyze the phoniness of the scene and his position within it. For example, Warhol telephones,

and realizing I wasn't stoned on that bullshit drug, he didn't have a word to say. Usually he won't allow me to consider getting off the line for half an hour, but I'm not of any use to him in my natural sublimity. . . . I feel like a fucking handkerchief just back from the laundry--nobody's interested in you if you're not filled with snot. (32-33)

Carroll is useful to Warhol only when "filled with snot"; conversely, at The Factory he is acceptable only when his decadence is well-concealed: "Despite Paul Morrissey's[27] strict anti-drug edicts, I'm kept on as long as I wear long-sleeved shirts" (34). In other words, Carroll lives two separate roles: private and public. The excesses of his "underground" life are fascinating so long as Warhol can use them, and so long as Carroll doesn't get too close.

Carroll sets up an intriguing comparison in "The Art of Using," between artists like Jackson Pollock and Frank O'Hara versus Andy Warhol, showing the basic hypocrisy of the latter. As Carroll explains:

The distinction is simple. With Pollock or Frank, it was the private struggle from within which created that incredible tension, the drama of their human voices overlapping, the force of their wills conflicting . . . with grace or complete vulgarity. With phone-tapping the "art" is dictated by the merits of the conversation. Sure, it can be funny or interesting for a while, but eventually it's always going to be boring. That's because it is, by the nature of the medium, bereft of the privacy which is essential for that conflict, that struggle of forces to ignite into something beyond itself. (31)

Unlike Pollock and O'Hara, the energy driving Warhol's art derives entirely from the subject's suffering, not from a "private struggle from within" on the part of the artist. Warhol remains loftily above, feeding vicariously on others' pain and decadence rather than experiencing it for himself. Carroll summarizes the situation in "Currency":

It's all so on the surface that everything just slides along. It's like rain on a tin roof, or air raising up one of Andy's silver pillows. The feelings are so shallow that there never is time for drifts to accumulate and slow things down. Even the boredom has no depth; it's just a stamped impression of the continuously subdued. The poles are greased so thoroughly with bullshit and artifice that depth hasn't a chance. (34-35)

While Carroll is aware of the Factory's, and by extension the entire New York City art scene's, superficiality, he nevertheless immerses himself in it and, in doing so, loses track of himself. This "losing track" is comprised of Carroll's blindly following the "scene" and descending deeper and deeper into drug abuse. In this sense, Carroll's obsession with the laser beam mirrors his adventures within the glitzy art scene, and the title of the entry in which the laser beam is introduced is quite telling: "Robert Smithson Does Some Impressive Talking To an Idiot Who Just Trailed a Beam of Light." The "idiot" is Carroll, and after blindly chasing his dream (the ephemeral beam of light) in the art scene, Carroll approaches a vague awareness that this venture is not only futile, but hypocritical as well.

The laser beam, which "runs seven blocks in every odd direction, winding up, finally, on the wall in the backroom of Max's itself," has Carroll running around the vicinity of Max's Kansas City and St. Mark's with his nose in the air:

I resolved to trace it to its source, something which no one has been able to do. . . . I picked up the beam, red and beautiful as a tube of liquid roses, in the usual spot and began to backtrack from there. On 23rd Street I noticed that it turned, heading off a mirror five flights up a building facade on the southwest corner, in the direction of Lexington Avenue. (41-42)

He continues to follow the beam as it reflects off more mirrors, splitting in opposite directions. Says Carroll, "I was ready, however, to match my determination with its creator's considerable wit, and I ran back down to 23rd to follow the downtown light from where it had originally split in two." In the end, the beam "went right back over to Park Avenue South at 21st Street, reuniting with the original beam . . . one block from where I started this glamour-filled quest."[28]

Likewise, after all his frantic running through the labyrinth of the art scene and Andy Warhol's Factory on a "glamor-filled quest" to become part of the scene, Carroll finds himself right back where he started. Like the laser beam, the art scene looks beautiful on the outside, and seems to emanate from some omnipotent source and hold great secrets. In the end, the glamor of the art scene is merely a complex, glossy facade set up as a front to conceal and to prevent anyone from discovering that its source is one ordinary, solitary human artist.

Perhaps most significant in this respect is the conversation which ensues between Carroll and Robert Smithson, who warns Carroll of the folly in trailing a beam of light. Importantly, Smithson is an earthworks artist whose "reputation was growing lately by leaps and bounds" (42), in spite of the fact that he did not rely upon the "establishment's" sanction of his art. Smithson's advice regarding the laser beam, and by extension the art scene, is simple: "It's just a labyrinth, . . . and like those libraries in medieval cloistered abbeys, it is a labyrinth which is not supposed to be penetrated. So give it up." With uncharacteristic naivete, Carroll explores the implications of this analogy:

those libraries were constructed . . . as labyrinths because the abbots in those times were in genuine fear of the wrong kind of knowledge reaching the novices or, for that matter, anyone beside the abbot himself and his librarian. What, then, was the analogy he was making? After all, all one would find at the other end of the laser was some artist's studio with a contraption filled with various gases--most likely, since it was a red beam, krypton.

"That's it," says Smithson, "[picking] up on the cheap pun, 'krypton . . . why it must lead to Superman and his fortress of solitude'" (42-43).

While the two laugh about this, the joke is on Carroll; Smithson's point is quite serious. The fact is, the art scene is set up in such a way as to exclude undesirables such as Jim Carroll. However, while Carroll perhaps already knows there is nothing behind the elaborate facade other than "some artist's studio," the maze of glitter prevents him from seeing that reality for himself. The laser beam, and all art, exudes from the solitary efforts of ordinary (though visionary) individuals. Yet because Carroll is blinded by the glitter, the gem hidden inside the maze may just as well be Superman in his fortress of solitude.

Appropriately, immediately following this diary is an entry entitled "The Abbey":

I've been playing constantly with the conversation I had with Smithson the other night, and I realize the analogy of an artist's loft as a medieval abbey fits Andy's Factory like white on rice. . . . These are cloistered walls, secure from all except, perhaps, those who might increase the coffers with gold or art.

Since Carroll works at The Factory, he innocently feels he is part of this abbey: "like any young monk in any given abbey, I feel its continual sense of intrigue, and confess to the pleasures therein" (43-46). The question is, in what capacity does he belong, if admittance is based upon the ability to "increase the coffers"? And what, exactly, makes him believe he has been accepted inside the cloistered walls in more than the capacity of, say, a janitor?

Ironically, soon after this, the seedier side of Carroll's double life comes to light, and he becomes even less acceptable. However, he has been so busy wandering through the labyrinth of the art scene and seeking the secrets it conceals that he failed to notice. Just as JuJu in The Basketball Dairies informs Carroll that he's got the "junk halo" (BBD 206), in "A Situation Worsens," D.M.Z. (aka Larry Rivers) "mentioned that my normal iridescent paleness is gradually taking on a greenish tint." Says D.M.Z., "It's a bit like one of those radium-laced bulbs that hang on a string from the light fixture in the bathroom; you know, they sort of glow in the dark" (FE 50).

When an observation like this comes from Larry Rivers (D.M.Z.), Carroll must take heed. As Carroll remarked in a later interview, "I loved Larry. . . . If there was anybody from around the art scene who had an influence on me, it was Larry. This was a real cool dude. I even started to imitate his walk. He's the only guy who ever had an effect on me in the art world" (Flippo 35). For Carroll, Larry Rivers is the epitome of "cool," and when Rivers points out that Carroll is not cool, Carroll decides that "Seriously, something has got to be done about this situation. Tomorrow I start to consider variations on this theme. I don't know how much longer I can hold my sanity above sea level with my life these days nothing but one long, unyielding comic interlude" (FE 50-51).

All along, Carroll has been laughing it up, poking fun at his own marginality, corruption, and hypocrisy, but his situation simply is not funny anymore. Yet the art scene still has a firm grip on him, and his obsession with it has obscured the clarity of vision which might otherwise free him from it. So long as he remains caught in the maze, he is unable to face himself, and so long as he doesn't face himself he will remain a prisoner of his own obsessions. Hence, "tomorrow" doesn't arrive. Instead of doing something to pull himself out of the pit he has dug for himself, Carroll falls deeper into his own trap until he is forced to confront the monster he has become.

In "Meeting Andrea," the laser beam again comes into play. Carroll is sitting in the back room of Max's "holding my hand up to the laser beam, letting the light pass through. . . ," when Andrea Warhol "comes up to me and leans into my ear, 'Wouldn't it be nice if we could pass through the light, instead of the opposite, such as you are now experiencing?'" (51). Carroll doesn't think "Andrea [has] it in her. She is the newest of Andy's stable of wacked-out superstars."[29] Carroll replies, in the intellectually affected manner in which he has been "trained,"

"Then we would have to move at the speed of light, and the first rule of the law of relativity is that, although one can move at 99.9 percent of that speed, it is impossible to equal the speed itself, since that is the point of relativity itself." I was quite pleased with myself for spitting this out with such alacrity, as ripped-out-of-my-brain as I was, and slyly peered around hoping someone at a nearby table had picked up the drift and was as impressed as I was with myself. Nothing happening there--they were all busy impressing someone else themselves.

Carroll is entirely caught up in his own pretentious rap and stoned as well; hence, he is caught off guard when Andrea says, "I know a faster speed." But Carroll can't see her; she is merely an object, "amazingly sexy, with a body that would fit balanced in your hands like a boxed edition of Proust," and he certainly isn't going to let her outdo him. Thus, he tries his old trick of bringing his "opponent" down to his level: "'What would that be?' I asked. I was switching gears . . . forget about being a conceited asshole . . . I was trying to get over on her." Andrea replies, "The speed of death." As Andrea goes on to explain, however, Carroll stoops to his lowest depths: "How would you like to continue this later, come home with me, I mean . . .?" "Not tonight," she replies, "Why don't you come see me tomorrow night . . . I live right on Park South, right up the street, about eight . . . no, five-to-eight . . p.m., natch. You'll see something special" (51-52).

Getting ready for his big date with Andrea in "Meeting Andrea Again," Carroll's approach is similar to his date with Edwin Denby at the ballet, but he emphasizes his own hypocrisy and pretentiousness. He exaggerates his obsession with proper appearances: "I'm frantically overturning piles of clothing, trying to find something worthy of a subtle pose as I enter Andrea's place tonight for our coming hours of good times, lust, defiance, high hi-jinx, sex-approaching-a-new-decade." And once he has found an appropriate outfit, Carroll heads for Andrea's apartment, again following the laser beam he has "grown obsessed with":

I want to stick my hand in its path like I do in the back room of Max's . . . but it's five flights up and beyond my reach. The higher it gets the more it obsesses me. I notice it passes right by the address which Andrea gave me. And now, looking down on pavement level for the first time since I turned onto the street, I notice something else. It's not reassuring. (emphasis added)

Andrea has committed suicide. "She's dead. She jumped and she's lying there naked and dead and covered with a blanket that had been leaning a few minutes before against a spare tire in some cop car" (54).

As if to remind him of the dry dive cases in The Basketball Diaries and "Poem of Arrivals," Andrea's suicide immediately jolts Carroll back to reality: she has shown him, through her suicide, the reality he has been neglecting. While he was pretentiously trailing the ephemeral laser beam, his vision became distorted and his ability to transform life into art atrophied. The fact is, real life happened without him, and Andrea's bloody body lying lifeless on the street is a grim reminder of his priorities. Emilio, "a Factory sycophant and quasi-aristocratic-utility-man" also on the scene, "asks me if I had a date with her and I tell him I did. Then he goes on that he too was supposed to meet her at eight, and he points out seven or nine other Max's habitues who are hovering around and explains that she had made dates with all of them for the same time."

With this event, Carroll slowly recognizes that he has become a hypocrite himself, as shallow and unauthentic as the rest:

Why did she ask me to come five minutes before the others? I imagine that she thought I was such an asshole, with my absolute and overwhelming love of my own bullshit rap, that she wanted to show me, before the others got there, something about a genuine absolute--the absolute in action. I could talk all night about relativity and the speed of light, but she was going to prove her point, in complete and enduring terms, about her notion--that crazed, yet beautiful, phrase, "the speed of death." And why did she decide to jump before I or the rest of the boys . . . had arrived? Was it charity for me . . . sparing me the sight? More likely it was just disregard. Why should she think of me at all in the face of her trip into the passing of light? Why did she ask me at all? A laugh? I'm laughing so hard it's becoming very difficult to breathe. I go home and stare in the big mirror. I see too much of myself there. (55)

Again, Carroll's situation simply is not funny anymore; after this his finger remains unfailingly directed at himself, and he becomes progressively more horrified at what he has become. In "Ending the Spell," Gloria takes a Polaroid photograph of him as he sleeps: "'You look like a Modigliani,' she said. . . . 'I feel like shit with bad teeth,' I muttered." Carroll watches the Polaroid image

slowly surface over sixty seconds with a sober scrutiny that made it suddenly unique. In that literal minute, all these strange emotions unclogged like fat-laden arteries and rushed to my vision. . . . Then the features of my naked body began to appear. It seemed to take longer than usual for the picture to reach a finished clarity, as if its subject's pulse had barely existed. I could hardly stand to look. The ribs stuck out like the inner shell of a toy boat. The cheeks were sunken deep enough to hide pins within the crevices. The eyes had the look of a pathologist's wet dream. I was not going to allow that person to continue as me any longer. (56-57)

This is the last straw. Carroll realizes that, because of drugs, he is nearly dead. Hence, he breaks the "cycle of speed and downers I've been running on with Gloria the past summer" (57), and begins to face the reality he has overlooked for so long. However, Carroll still has more of himself to face, and some of it is good. That is, as Carroll continues to move within the art world's society, he begins to regain his sense of purpose as an artist. Furthermore, he begins to recognize the posturing he has perpetrated through his obsessive desire to be part of the art scene.

With this recognition, in "Tiny Tortures" he looks back on his day as a performance artist at age 17, poking fun at the pretentiousness of the scenario, and the grandiose ambitions of his fellow artists and art scene habitues. For example,

an art critic and mediocre poet covered the windows of the place with long strips of black tape, forming x's. Some pompous geek behind me was hailing the wonderful statement it made. "It has a lovely negative capability," he informed his girlfriend. I began laughing so hard people surrounded me, thinking I was doing my performance. (61)

Carroll's three-minute performance consists of spraying a cockroach with Raid, with the audience watching it struggle to its death. "The audience loved it," Carroll says:

The following week, in both The East Village Other and The Village Voice, I was singled out as a stone rave in their reviews of the show. One referred to the "keen, trenchant commentary which the piece made on urban decay." The other called it "a non-verbal demonstration on the horrors of Vietnam."

I agree. All that is exactly what flashed through my mind as I bagged the insect in Headquarters' bathroom that morning. And, I might add, there was a large dose of negative capability as well. It just goes to show you how random are our gains in the Performance (a.k.a. Conceptual) Art trade. Fact is, the only point I was making is the point you get . . . then as now. (63)

Carroll has begun to claim his own identity and his own art form, both of which are rooted in the concrete world of cockroaches and Raid, not in the artificial, intellectualized, "high-culture" interpretations of reality so revered by the art scene.

Carroll's reintroduction to reality encompasses all aspects of his world. In contrast with his evaluation of himself as a "good-looking young [man]" in "Invitation to the Dance," Carroll now describes himself in "Christmas with D.M.Z." as "a twig-like humanoid with translucent skin" (89). Furthermore, Carroll begins looking at his marginal status in the art scene in a new light. He is much more humble now and, instead of making himself look good at the expense of others, as he did with Warhol, and Ginsberg in "The Poet and the Vibrator," Carroll now realizes that he simply is not acceptable in the art scene. While he pokes fun at himself, the scenarios he describes are clearly humiliating.

Meeting Bob Dylan for the first time, he extends his hand for a handshake; "Dylan, whose hand is close enough to shake, twists his mouth into a cipher and mumbles a tangy, 'How yer doin',' leaving my hand hanging somewhere between either end of Ed Sanders' moustache" (66). Likewise, at the same event, Carroll meets Russian poet Voznesensky, whose handshake "nearly buckled my knees and elicited a small whimper from my humbled self, leaving me only to mumble, 'Wonderful . . . simply wonderful,' over and over until somebody shoved me out of the way" (68-69).

Finally, when he meets William S. Burroughs, "the one literary idol of mine whom I had yet to meet" (105), for the first time, Burroughs mistakes him for the bartender (104). This, however, gives Carroll an excuse for conversation, and he captivates Burroughs with a story of how his father worked for Dutch Schultz during Prohibition (Burroughs wrote a book about Dutch Schultz: The Last Words of Dutch Schultz [1970]). Burroughs seems quite interested in Carroll's tale, adding, at the story's end, that "Schultz was mainly into policy anyway . . . He didn't get stung as bad as some of the others after Repeal . . . just a matter of transition. And the Dutchman knew transition." Then Carroll does it: "'Yep, never put all your eggs in one basket,' I blurted out, realizing how utterly stupid it sounded the moment it dropped downward off my lips" (106).

As Carroll accepts his status as an outsider and becomes more honest with himself, he progressively distances himself from the art scene. He analyzes it, trying to find the beauty lying latent within this world, in a sense still trying to discover the source of the laser beam which kept him so entranced. In "Central Park, Late Fall," Carroll strolls through the park with Ted Berrigan, and the park transforms into a giant canvas: "The trees we were approaching on the far side blazed with color. A brighter orange snaked through the deep mauve, forming glyphs and symbols, like brands burnt into the hide of some Druid beasts. They were as enchanting as anything the museum had to offer" (71). Yet as they "moved closer, the splendor yielded by distance was stripped away, and we saw how the November wind and chill had taken its toll." Like the art scene, "What had seemed full and overwhelming only two minutes and three hundred yards earlier, now seemed barren and strained." Slowly, it dawns upon Carroll that there is, indeed, nothing behind the glamor of the art scene except an artist's vision.

Likewise, Carroll also steps back and evaluates his possibilities, as an artist and as an individual. He begins to take responsibility for himself and for his art, realizing that he is the source of his own "laser beam." In "A Bag of Fruit," Carroll witnesses "a horrible car accident at an East Side intersection," in which "The driver was dead on impact; his fare was taken off in an ambulance" (100-101). Says Carroll, "Violence is so terribly fast . . . the most perverse thing about movies is the way they portray it in slow motion, allowing it to be something sensuous . . . the viewer's lips slightly wet as the scene plays out. Violence is nothing like that. It is lightning fast, chaotic and totally intangible." He has been like the grocer weighing a bag of fruit, who "never looked up, not even with the metallic sound of impact, nor during the literal rain of glass shards landing within ten feet of where he stood" (101); violence is the horrible reality of the real world, yet Carroll has been blind to it. Even worse, he has been oblivious to his own violence against himself and his art.

Carroll rediscovers the value of his writing when Deborah Duckster, the debutante, puts "the dump" on him: "You draw up your ego not from stains on a black satin sheet, but from the precision of the poem within . . . the torturous, elegant process of each clean, white page fulfilled" (99). For Carroll, the important thing to recognize is his potential to purify the setbacks of everyday life through the filter of his poetic vision. Transcendence comes not from outside, from associations with a glitzy art scene or beautiful women; it comes from within himself. Through writing, defeat is the material of victory; as an artist, Carroll always has the potential to transform disaster and pain into triumph via the artfulness of his pen.

Finally, Carroll faces the fact that in his pursuit of his own ambitions he has not only imprisoned himself, but lost track of himself as well. That is, while he was seeking the origin of the "laser beam" of the art scene, he physically, psychologically, and spiritually lost control of himself. His first step toward releasing himself physically, after the initial recognition, is to get off of heroin; freeing himself psychologically and spiritually is perhaps much more difficult. In order to extricate himself from the harness of hypocrisy, he must get out of New York:

New York has become like a used car held together by K-Y and coat hangers; I've been thinking about unloading it and trading it in for something with cleaner angles . . . maybe California deserves a chance. . . . I need a more controlled environment; I need to put the breaks on all this excess and all these variables. The only certainty in my life these days . . . these years, more accurately, is uncertainty: the uncertainty of rising with the late sun twisting through broken blinds and the echo of sirens. (116)

For him, New York has become sick and corrupt. It is made up of sirens and broken blinds through which the sun twists, rather than beams, and it is all held together by K-Y jelly and wire. He cannot see the beauty of his city anymore. Considering the fact that his art is based upon his vision of New York City, it is clear that he needs to find a new way of seeing it. He must distance himself from the city to gain a new perspective.

He is finally beginning to recognize his writing for what it is: the most important thing in his life. As he said in "The Price You Pay," writing is a scary profession: "Poetry can unleash a terrible fear. I suppose it is the fear of possibilities, too many possibilities. It's like looking too closely and too long into a mirror . . ." (14). However, now he is prepared to tread the road less travelled: he is ready to risk looking into himself and meeting the horrors inside; he is ready to take his chances and fulfill whatever potential he has as an artist. After all, the only thing holding him back is his allegiance to New York, and "One thing's for certain: I have burned down this city in my flesh, heart and spirit" (120).

He combs New York for something substantial upon which to build his art: "I walk the street aimlessly, mugging my own depression with the quick and ephemeral. Only the lines of architecture against the shadowed sky in midtown calm me down, so I search like a thief for the edges of buildings, sharpening themselves on sunlight" (116-17). But Carroll is an outsider in his own city, a mere thief stealing impressions from the skyline.

Carroll must reclaim himself from the art scene and the city, neither of which care the least bit for him; like a spurned lover he must overcome his desire for their intrigues. As when he reordered his priorities when Deborah Duckster dumped him, so does he concern himself now. The problem is that, in his affair with the art scene and New York City, he has become so entangled in his own decorous posturing that he doesn't know who he is anymore; he has become a fraud. "I don't know how to undo what's been done. There is an untraceable knot in my head of false facades I have set up . . . dummy corporations whose addresses lead to no place but a mail-drop in some abandoned storefront, the windows blank with whitewash." Furthermore, this pretense has depleted the "punk" energy reserves which normally would keep him afloat: "There's no cool left in me. The only resources I retain are a minimum of rage and controlled madness, barely enough to offset the bullshit paraphernalia of art and the city."

In his dealings with the art scene, Carroll has essentially repeated the process he went through in The Basketball Diaries with heroin: what was once a means to an artistic end now is an end in itself. That is, Carroll's participation in New York's art scene initially seemed to open up new possibilities for him as an artist, and he was able to draw upon its energy for his own purposes. The problem is that he has ended up spending so much his time trying to be part of the "scene" that he is barely able to avoid being engulfed by it. He has thus lost track of the reasons he was engaging in this balancing act in the first place; he forgot that his intention was to be a Writer.

The fact is, if Carroll doesn't settle down he can't communicate with himself, and if he can't communicate with himself he can't write:

I can't keep a steady style in my writing standing on these shifting platforms of artifice and quick change. I try to fuse my life and my work, to keep up with the tiresome dodging of cars and drugs. But when you are walking such a thin wire above such a chic and sleazy cosmopolitan abyss, you don't stop to think. You can't stop. You just keep on walking, your feet bent on the wire, intuition as your only balance. Lately, balance is my job. I'm consumed by it. But how long is the wire?

The corrupt world he has previously been able to transcend by virtue of his ability to see clearly and write about his perceptions now threatens to swallow him up. So long as he continues his balancing act, he is only fooling himself and limiting his own potential; only when he achieves balance will he become an artist.

Furthermore, if part of his potential involves fusing his life with his work, his exploration of himself has been constricted not only by his rejection of himself but also, ironically, by his refusal to move beyond the convenient haven of drug abuse. As with William Burroughs and Arthur Rimbaud, drugs eventually defeated the goal Carroll was trying to achieve. As Jennie Skerl says of Burroughs, "His life had been reduced to a basic contradiction--duality of mind and body--which is the human condition" (12-13). Likewise, with Carroll, heroin was a means to transcendence in The Basketball Diaries, but now it has become a prison. Now Carroll's artistic quest plays second fiddle to his attempts to remain stoned simply to feel normal. Furthermore, in Forced Entries, he has devoted at least an equal amount of energy toward concealing this. Hence, by the time he decides to leave New York, his double life has nearly evolved into schizophrenia: drugs have become a self-imposed barrier between his Artist self, his public self, and his "street" self. Because of this, drugs are actually closing more doors than they open.

Now he must be honest with himself and break free of his self-imposed confines, either by accepting his heroin-addicted self or by creating a new "real" Jim Carroll. He chooses the latter:

I'm sick of writing about dope, about drugs in every form. I'm sick of recording the ups of indulgence, and sick of releasing dispatches of misery via abstinence. I thought I could deal with, perhaps even come to understand, my obsessions through some strained eloquence. I thought I could eventually pierce every veil through chance metaphor, but how many flowers can serve as metaphors for that initial mingling of blood and water encased in the barrel of a syringe? All the Laotian roses . . . the Mariposa lilies, and now the hideous methadone I drink each morning, the color of a clown's orange fright wig. (120-21)

In essence, Carroll has become a cartoon version of the "drugged-out poet," and he has made a mockery of his own poetic vision. All the jokes he has made at his own expense have become startlingly serious. As he puts it,

I can't attempt to write always in the hollow flux of desperation and incipient terror. I try to cover this up, cower behind some facade of humor, hoping that old Aristotle was right--that humor will act as a catalyst to purify the tragic. But it can't go on. My body is broke. I'm shitting where I eat. (114)

Literally, he has replaced the "magic" of heroin with methadone "the color of a clown's orange fright wig," and where heroin once broke down barriers for him, it now creates them. He cannot be free when his vision is confined to endless identical drug metaphors.

Because of this, leaving New York represents Carroll's last-ditch attempt to free himself and his writing from this self-imposed prison; it is a drastic endeavor to distance himself from the forces he feels have corrupted his clarity of vision: New York, heroin, and his frantic lifestyle. In freeing himself, Carroll hopes to recapture his earlier artistic vision, rejoin his life with his work, and find a new way of seeing, a new basis for his vision which does not rely on drugs or New York City.

When it comes down to the wire, Carroll must put his writing, and thus himself, above all else. Both have been on the back burner for a long time, with the result that, "instead of freeing myself through language, the language itself has become a hostage, and the room where we are held becomes smaller every day. The language needs room to maneuver. Only without boundaries can the words transform into something beyond themselves." Since the maneuvering of language and its transformation into something beyond itself is the key to Carroll's own transcendence, he must set his writing free; he needs new landscapes, words, and metaphors upon which to base and explore his vision. Carroll's solution? "For God's sake . . . California" (121).

"The Move to California" and "Back to New York"

When Carroll left New York for California in 1974, he did so at least partly because he felt the one-to-one relationship between his life and his work had been severed. That is, if the definitive feature of Carroll's writing is his ability to cut through the dross and get to the heart of the matter, then his writing had lost its integrity through his gradually becoming entangled in the dross himself. Somewhere along the way, he lost control of his life and his clarity of vision, and lost track of himself as well.

California offered a methadone withdrawal program "which actually encourage[d] you to get off" heroin (Fissinger 44), so, following the publication of Living at the Movies (1973), Carroll decided to leave New York. Armed with a literary grant for subsistence, Carroll moved to Bolinas, a remote artist community on the coast of Northern California above San Francisco. As Carroll says in a later interview:

The final step to breaking the habit is feeling that you need a second wind, that you can no longer sustain this level of abuse. . . . I finally decided that there would be some advantages to getting off junk, that I could start to see things from a whole new perspective and with a new consciousness. It was as simple as that--if my new head didn't satisfy me, I might have gone back to shooting. (Milward 172)

Conquering heroin is, for Carroll, the first step toward finding a new perspective and new consciousness, both in the way he lives his life and in his writing. In many ways, Carroll is starting anew, attempting to re-master what he called the "life of doing nothing" in The Basketball Diaries, this time without drugs as a crutch . . . or a hindrance.

Since the California section of Forced Entries is brief, it by no means encompasses Carroll's entire experience in California. The time frame of these last entries is entirely distorted. Apparently, the entries cover the first few months of his stay, during which he breaks his heroin habit, and lead into his return to New York, which came some time later.[30] Furthermore, Carroll omits all of what we might consider the monumental events of his life during his California period. He neglects to mention that he met and married Rosemary, who lived next door to him in Bolinas; that he completed The Book of Nods (which he had been working on since age 17); that he performed his first rock show with Patti Smith; and that he formed the Jim Carroll Band. Clearly, documenting his history is not what Carroll has in mind for "The Move to California."

"The Move To California" is almost a new book; in fact, the title Forced Entries takes on several new levels of meaning. In the "Downtown Diaries," Carroll's "forced entries" include his attempts to enter and keep up with the art scene, as well as the art scene's rape-like "forced entry" into his psyche; hence, his diaries record the details of these intrusions as autobiography. In "The Move to California," however, Carroll must literally force himself to write diaries or anything at all; hence, the California entries are forced diary entries, and they do not record strictly autobiographical events. Furthermore, both in his experience and in writing the California diaries, Carroll is finally attempting to "force an entry" into himself. As a reflection of these new themes, "The Move To California" entries are about writing "The Move To California"; they describe an artist learning how to see and reorder a world alien from any reality he knows.

As Peter Delacorte notes, "Carroll is a fish out of water" in California (E4). Carroll is detoxing from drugs, which have been a constant in his life for a decade; he is separated from New York, where he has lived all his life; and he barely knows the "self" that has developed over the last several years. Where in the "Downtown Diaries" Carroll was at least someone in the art scene, in "The Move To California" his is both a stranger to himself and an outcast in his new world. In Bolinas, he notes, "The minute [the locals] pick up on my New York accent (which is one badge I'll never surrender), I might as well be a nigger in Mississippi, circa '55, jumping some white man's place in line for the drinking fountain" (128).

Carroll's extreme sense of alienation has been either misconstrued or ignored by most reviewers of Forced Entries.[31] Put simply, contrary to most reviewers' (at least implied) assessment, the California section is not "incessantly boring" (Delacorte E4). Unlike Carroll's previous diaries, "The Move To California" is not non-stop action and thrills; instead, it records a monumental transition in his life and in Forced Entries as a book. Had he focused on the social atmosphere of Marin County, which he calls "California mellow-hot-tub bullshit" (Rivers), the California section would have been a simple continuation of the "Downtown Diaries" of Forced Entries. Instead, in direct contrast with the "Downtown Diaries," "The Move To California" is marked by Carroll's utter isolation and languor, as well as a notable lack of Famous Names and exciting "events."

However, there is movement in the California section: movement produced by the subtle tension between Carroll the physical being, who is going through the tortuous process of heroin withdrawal in an alien place, and Carroll the artist, who is attempting to regain contact with his world and himself through writing. In a sense, "The Move To California" is an impressionistic record of the process he goes through, and because of this, the time frame of the section is distorted and slow-moving, reflecting the Carroll's nightmarish mind state during this period. In a later interview he remarked that, while kicking junk: "You're totally weak, but you can't escape through sleep. There are blasts of light in your head when you close your eyes, and there is no way to distract yourself when time is moving so slowly, and a minute feels like an hour" (Milward 172). Hence, keeping in mind the physical and mental torment Carroll undergoes in California, what makes "The Move To California" exciting is the way Carroll writes about it.

The exhilarating force driving this section along is the discrepancy between the horror of Carroll's physical experience and the elegant, poetic prose describing it. Perhaps Carroll is physically and artistically paralyzed in California, perhaps he is unable to write, and perhaps his world is overcome by chaos. But Jim Carroll, the author who composes Forced Entries nearly a decade after the fact, has transcended his suffering and is reordering and transforming his experience--his past, his "biography," his "sins"--with striking precision, through writing. The fact is, while Carroll's transcendence and purification in The Basketball Diaries is merely implied by the publication of the book, Carroll documents the transcendence and purification he achieved in Forced Entries in "The Move to California."[32]

Upon his arrival in California, or "the Mecca of Clorox," as he calls it, Carroll's major concern is to recover his perceptive faculties and learn to see again. While he was racing frantically around New York's art scene and chasing heroin, he was unable to stop running long enough to see anything. With this in mind, in the first California entry, Carroll reassures himself that he has made the right decision:

I need this place, this small town in California where I plan to take up residence. I need a disciplined landscape and the opportunity to respect the commonplace joys. I think I'm ready. I believe I have finally exhausted my New York City energies. I no longer live with obsessions that pull constantly in half a dozen directions.

In his reference to "the Mecca of Clorox," it is clear that Carroll sees California as both a purifying force (bleach removes stains) and as the epitome of sterility. As he goes on to explore and itemize his expectations for California, neither sentiment prevails; again, his major concern is to be free himself from impinging forces:

I'm ready for some precise boredom to wash over me, instigating a life where the choices are mine. I want to write in a room whose view doesn't change from day to day. . . . I'm ready; I've had enough external stimuli, enough experience, courtesy of New York City, to last a hundred years. The certainty of my logic is the only thing that's truly frightening. (125)

What is frightening about this, to Carroll, is that for perhaps the first time in his life he knows exactly what he wants. He has not been coerced into moving to California (though he was persuaded), and he goes there of his own free will. He is not trying to prove anything to anybody, or join something for the sake of status. He is doing this for himself and for his art.

However, while Carroll knows what he wants, the irony is his belief that he knows what to expect, and that the future is benign--as sterile as Clorox bleach. He is voyaging into the unknown, yet thinks he knows precisely what he will find there. As he continues the diary while riding from the San Francisco airport to Bolinas, it turns out that the things he had not planned on--the germs in the sterile solution--will be the things which make his stay in California worthwhile: the elements of surprise and discovery will reawaken his dormant artistic vision.

Carroll continues the diary as he scans the xerox landscape of Daly City, finding that it meets his expectations of stability, sterility, and harmony. There are no surprises here:

The slopes were filled with uniform rows of tract houses, each home indistinguishable from the others. It wasn't just the dimensions and the architecture, however. All the homes seemed to have the exact same curtains, the same yard furnishings, the same flowers growing from the same green flowerbeds on the same yellow-trimmed casement sills.

However, within this hygienic scene of suburban serenity, Carroll finds an anomaly; he sees something he hadn't planned on, and his fascination is evident:

There was something else, too. Something that really put the chill on me. The clothes, the towels, the sheets hanging on lines in each back yard, had a kind of transcendent cleanliness. Surely, it was a brilliance unimaginable to one who every Monday as a child retrieved the family laundry drying on the tar rooftops of New York. It seemed to absorb sunlight. It was a mutant cleanliness, and it was a bit frightening. What was more horrifying were the shadows these mutated white sheets cast down across the hillside, where the grass was as trim as a putting green. These shadows were counterpoint to the brilliant clean in their effect, darker by the same degree. I had never seen such pure black, ominous shadows.

Carroll thrives on the contrast between orderly appearances and the chaos lurking beneath, and he finds it even here, in the most mundane of settings. As he suspected, he simply requires enough freedom from impinging forces to see contrast, and enough stability to appreciate it.

Carroll is delighted with these discoveries both because he realizes he hasn't lost his vision after all, and because the scene establishes the groundworks of a new, active artistic vision. He is no longer chasing an ephemeral laser beam, hoping to absorb some of its magic; now his attention is riveted to the concrete world, and now the magic radiates from his own transformation of everyday reality. As he concludes the entry:

. . . . I think it's healthy to be bent out of shape so abruptly on one's first day in a new place. Just as I was preparing myself patiently to indulge in the joys of the commonplace, an element of the strange sent a wave across the still pond. Now the logic of my move has lost some of its certainty and I'm less afraid for what is yet to come. (126-27)

However, Carroll's new vision does not come into focus immediately. Once he is settled in Bolinas, he turns circles for a while, attempting to set his bearings in the place. Like anyone who has moved from one coast to the other, or who has moved to a new town, Carroll desperately seeks out some sense of familiarity and belonging. He observes that Bolinas "has some form of beauty and wonder that transcends place (and time . . . most folks in this town are convinced the sixties never ended)," and goes on to say that "the majority of the people I spend any serious time with are old friends from Alphabet City on the Lower East Side. . . ." However, Bolinas offers Carroll no sense of affinity. The problem, as he notes, is that these aspects "combine to blur comparisons of any sort between East or West Coasts" (127). With the similarities and differences blurred, there is nothing solid with which Carroll can ally himself.

It soon becomes apparent that Carroll needs to find distinctions between the two coasts. While exploring the countryside around Bolinas, Carroll investigates the most intangible comparisons between New York and California. He notes that, "Not taking into account the formidable past of the Native Americans, I come up nil when it comes to any sense of history along my daily route [along the coast or up Mt. Tamalpais], or the rest of this coast, for that matter" (128). By comparison, he recalls that "In New England, you can't walk along any back road for long without spotting some plaque on a tree marking the very limb where some poor son of a bitch patriot was strung up by the Redcoats during the big one for independence" (127). Then he decides that "the greatest distinction between New York and San Francisco (aside from the outrageous realization that you cannot buy pizza by the slice here) has to do with murder. They always find cute names for common serial killers here" (129).

Finally, after thoroughly casing his new surroundings, he resolves that it doesn't matter how similar or different the two coasts are. "The city, east or west . . . frantic or quaint . . . no longer owns me. I'm giving my time to the country life, living in the protective shadow of a sacred mountain" (130). He realizes he cannot continue to grope for a sense of attachment to California; this pursuit was doomed from the start. But, most importantly, the longer he believes he can find solace in mere setting, the longer he avoids confronting and rejoining his lost self. The fact is, until Carroll connects with himself and re-masters his ability to transform experience through writing, he is unable to connect with anything. Hence, with the city behind him, Carroll now must come to terms with himself and his writing.

In facing himself, it becomes clear why he should avoid this task. In his utter isolation and despair, Carroll's guilt and regret over his past grow to monstrous proportions. The "sins" of his youth haunt him like vicious demons which simultaneously horrify and fascinate him. An oozing abscess in the pit of his elbow, caused by years of heroin injections, transforms into the container of all the evils of his past. However, this same abscess also represents something precious to him; he caresses the abscess in his sleep, "as if I was sanctifying this oozing pit." As he puts it:

Though it's only, in fact, about a quarter-inch in diameter, in my mind that hole is sometimes large enough to insert my own head, my whole body. I could climb in and see my past transgressions among the slime, or . . . perhaps I can put my lips to it and drink from it like a chalice. But will this act purify, or just further the decay? (133-34).

In other words, Carroll's own transcendence and purification hinges upon one question: should he exalt, and thus purify, the demons of his past, or must he exorcise them?

There is no easy solution, Carroll is well aware. By analogy, he explores the possibility of "exorcising" his past sins in "Extractions," in which he has an abscessed tooth pulled. Following the procedure, he takes a walk on the beach:

I took the tooth from my pocket and held it up against the background of the ocean. I thought how strange it was that such a tiny object could be the source of a pain that seemed to encompass my entire universe for a time. When I had that ache and looked at a tree, then the tree itself seemed to be suffering. It also seemed odd that one could purge this misery with so simple an operation. If only all our pains could be so easily remedied, I thought. I flung the tooth as far as I could into the rushing tide, letting it sink to the bottom and never return. (137)

"If only all our pains could be so easily remedied." Indeed, Carroll's obsession with his past, his guilt, and his pain have corrupted his vision to such an extent that nothing is beautiful. The confusion he feels regarding his past and his present has projected outward onto the world. Nothing makes sense. If only he could hold his past in his hand and examine it, like that decayed tooth, maybe then he could deal with it.

Overcome by guilt and confusion, Carroll looks to forces beyond himself for an understanding of his alienation. In fact, the entries prefacing his move to California presaged the dilemma Carroll faces in California, and hinted at the new obsessions he grapples with. In "Something Outside," for example, he contemplates the notion of evil as pervasive force in the universe:

I've decided this longing which I have been experiencing is of some outside origin. . . . This thing comes on like a voice, and it is surely not any muse. So am I talking demons? Possessors? I don't know. For now I am marking it down under the generic tab of evil, and the fact is I've never really had a problem with the idea that evil exists all by its lonesome: a self-contained force. Is that so hard to accept? (112-113)

In California, Carroll's preoccupation with the supernatural becomes exaggerated, but stronger yet is his fascination with nature, which to him is an existential drama of baffling proportions; along the same lines, he ponders the passing of time, as he is now nearing his mid-twenties and is wondering where his childhood went.[33]

The disturbing problem facing Carroll and which underlies his obsessions is that his alienation is overtaking him; his past, previously his ally, has become his greatest enemy. He is becoming aware that he is alone and without ties to the world, but he wants to believe that his existence, and the world, does have a meaning which transcends itself.[34] If he cannot depend upon his past for a sense of stability, nothing means anything. If he cannot know himself, then how can he know the world, and vice-versa?

Because he is too much an optimist to resort to nihilism, and too much a pessimist to resort to solipsism, he looks to superstitious and religious beliefs to give his experience meaning. But because his faith in superstition and religion is not strong, he looks to the concrete world to assure himself that, in fact, his existence in the world of things is meaningful enough in itself. The conflict between these two ways of looking at the world results in a Gnostic view--an almost religious quest for wisdom.[35] This view provides the fodder for his art and brings him closer to self-knowledge.

Combined with his lingering nostalgia for the past and New York City and intensified by his poetic language, Carroll's Gnostic vision produces especially spectacular results in "Watching The Storm." Here Carroll extends the poetic vision of Organic Trains beyond the primordial, organic aspects of the city. Confronting nature in its purest form, he draws out the marrow of human behavior and recovers the most elemental bases of his art. The result is a kind of metamorphosis, with insect imagery to match, in which Carroll grapples with nature and his past, and begins to overcome his fear of chaos.

Carroll observes that storms bring out the most primal parts of people, East Coast and West Coast alike. In New York, pimps roll "up windows in their Cadillacs, shutting out their whores and signalling them back to work. Then they light a smoke and sink low into zebra skin upholstery, like insects surviving through camouflage with their natural environment." He notes that, in the rain, "People gather in small spaces, in hallways and storefronts, and begin to talk. . . . They tell strangers things they would never think of revealing to friends or lovers. During a storm in New York, people actually agree with things you say."

Most importantly, the workings of nature humanize people and awaken their deepest fears and desires. For Carroll, these primal responses to nature in action are the makings of inspiration, as he writes: "First I hear the pounding of horses' hooves. They are moving from the far slope of the hill across the street to the side visible from my window. They gallop in complete unison, so the sound is like an organ key jammed down, producing a single, long drone." Like the first California entry, the scene initially exudes perfect harmony; yet, as he continues, a subtle modification in the expected timing of events shatters his sense of security:

It's strange, because they never move to this side of the hill until evening, and it's barely four P.M. In the city you learn to deal with constant, petty anomalies, but here in the country, I have come to know that nature does not deal out variations without large and often mean consequences.

So I'm not totally surprised when I hear the first distant thunder, and see the first banks of clouds, black and quick, roll over the top of the mountain. Then the lightning. I settle against the back of the sofa, a blanket wrapped around me. I get up and split a small log on the slab beside the wood stove and throw it in. I don't need so much heat, but it makes me feel prepared. When I feel prepared, I feel lost. When I feel lost, I feel comfortable.

When Carroll says he feels prepared, he does not mean he knows what is going to happen. Quite the contrary, he has no way of knowing what will happen, and is preparing to face the unexpected, the unfamiliar, and the unknown. Nature doesn't disappoint him, and he renders the storm using the imagery of a mystery novel or horror film: "The lightning produces incredible shapes against the sky's black canvas . . . bent daggers . . . collapsing stairways. . . ." While this imagery illustrates the terror nature is capable of producing, it also intimates that there is a mystery to be solved. Carroll becomes a sleuth, setting out to meet this challenge.

As he continues the entry, the storm, the fire, the horses, and the fear coalesce into reminiscence, inspiration, and a strange logic. As he puts it: "Since childhood I have loved the fear a storm brings. Inside that fear I feel alive. Inside that fear we are forced to transform knowledge to wisdom . . . all our learned trivia into principles." And with this understanding, Carroll's fear is replaced by inspiration:

There is a single stallion right on the crest of the hill, its head raised regally. The pose reminds me of Roberto Clemente standing at home plate. Suddenly a bolt rises from behind him. It creates the effect of a focused fire spit from the stallion's wide mouth, as if he were playing a game with the elements, throwing it all back against the sky.

Certainly it is no coincidence that, in an interview, he described Frank O'Hara in precisely the same terms: "I followed him home, keying on how he threw his head back like a proud stallion, like Roberto Clemente or somebody, and taking in everything that he looked at" (Milward 170). Here, Carroll is invoking his old muse, embodied in a stallion, to transform his uncertainty into art and throw his fear "back against the sky."

As O'Hara said in his statement for The New American Poetry, "It may be that poetry makes life's nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail; or conversely, that poetry brings forth the intangible quality of incidents which are all to concrete and circumstantial" (Allen 420). Likewise, once Carroll transforms his fear and uncertainty into wisdom and art, the storm becomes less threatening. The imagery Carroll uses no longer carries the overtones of horror or mystery; instead he describes the storm in terms of the commonplace, human reality of "sheets slung over a line." With this transformation he looks to himself, feeling that an "equilibrium" has been reached between his art scene self and his present self. The frantic lifestyle of the past has now "equalized" with his present low-key existence, and he is free to move ahead:

The rain builds, comes now like sheets slung over a line. It's not that frantic or digressive rain; this is the sound of that certain rain, steady and dependable. . . . It's as if a car you have driven in the night off some poorly marked bridge has at last filled up with water, just as you have given up fighting the pressure against the door, trying to escape. Now the pressure is equalized. The door opens and you swim to the surface, which is much nearer than you thought.

Finally, before Carroll moves ahead, he looks to his past, to the simplicity he knew as a child, to find a direction for his forward movement. In this reminiscence, the fire and the storm are present, but the elements of mystery and horror take the form of a game, Clue, played on a dark, stormy night in a strange house:

When I was about eight years old, my parents rented a bungalow upstate for the month of August. I remember sitting out a hurricane there. Some of the guys from the neighborhood were visiting us at the time; there was a huge blaze in the old open fireplace. . . . There were four of us playing a board game--I think it was Clue--and we were each seated in an overstuffed armchair, sunk in as deep as that pimp in his Caddy, riding out the storm.

But then he was a child, he was not alone, and he felt a sense of order, belonging, and solidarity then which he now lacks:

The chairs' arms touched each other, forming a sealed, safe square around the table holding the board. It seemed, though we each felt an exquisite fear, that nothing could penetrate the sanctuary of that square. The lights were down; we played by candlelight. It was, perhaps, my only true mystical experience. Of course we didn't understand it, but we wordlessly formed a design that was impenetrable to any elements, to any danger.

As Carroll ends the entry, "God, I want to find a chair that is large enough to make me young again . . . young enough to begin constructing that square again" (138-140).

However, he will not find that chair, and as Carroll observed in a later interview:

What helped me was the realization that you can never go home again. You could go up the river and go mad like Kurtz, or you could haul up the Titanic from the bottom of the ocean, or you could go to San Francisco and get into rock 'n' roll. But the only time you were really free in the heart sense is when you were young and on the streets, because you were wild and free an murderous. But suddenly I felt detached, and the only thing that sustained me was my work. (172)

Hence, with the understanding that he cannot relive his past, his writing becomes his priority. That is, Carroll now sets out to re-write and redefine his past, and begin "constructing that square again."

As if to spite Carroll's good intentions, however, yet another obstacle stands in his way. In attempt to start anew, Carroll has begun a methadone treatment program, and the ravages of withdrawal leave him nearly paralyzed: "Every morning I wake and down my dosage, drink coffee and wait for it to take effect. When it does hit, the euphoria of those earlier days is gone. I lie in bed, prey to a compulsion for neatness. . . . And I smoke incessantly. One after the other. It's obscene" (141). Furthermore, he finds himself helpless in the face of "hideous" nightmares, unable to control even his own dreams: "Usually I can guide my dreams once they arise, bad or good. But there is no control when the dream takes place in the room where I'm actually sleeping. No guiding the man standing in the corner, or emerging from the closet with luminous eyes, holding a huge syringe-like scepter . . ." (142). As Carroll explained later, "methadone is a month of physical torment at the very least. You can't get any sleep to escape it. I hate even thinking about it" (Flippo 35).

But the most frightening result of the detoxification process is that Carroll finds himself unable to write. The same Jim Carroll who, in The Basketball Diaries, asked, "will I have time to finish the poems breaking loose in my head? Time to find out if I'm the writer I know I can be? How about these diaries?" (BBD 151), confesses that, "until this rather forced entry, I just didn't have the ability to recall that such things are what I'm supposed to do. That is, not only did I not give a shit, but I had no inkling that I was supposed to. Even now, I'm forcing it, and I suppose it's evident . . . " (FE 143-44).

Likewise, the New York street punk once said: "I think about poetry and how I see it as a raw block of stone ready to be shaped, that way words are never a horrible limit to me, just tools to shape" (BBD 159). But Carroll now finds that, while he is "fighting the heebie-jeebies" from a lowered methadone dosage, "The words themselves seem strange from the moment they release themselves from my pen." When he tries the typewriter, "Each letter typed seemed to chew up the one before it like a vicious dog so that no words could be completed. If I did compile enough words to complete a phrase, they eventually would disassemble from their linear path like parked cars in stop action over the course of an entire day." As he summarizes his predicament, "It's as if words, phrases, images, syntax were small glass beads from a necklace which was wrenched from some neck and spilled on the floor and down the sides of sofa cushions and armchairs and under bookshelves and maybe swallowed by the cat."

Carroll the artist is literally held hostage by methadone. He has become a prisoner in his own body, and because of this, his writing is imprisoned as well. For him, recognition of this is a positive event because he now sees the supreme value of his art. He can now take control by harnessing the power of his own writing. As he concludes "Getting It All Back,"

I've got to find all the glass pieces before I can even reorder the color sequence, and restring it and tie it tighter than before. There's always a splendor in beginning all over. Even if it means getting on one's knees to search beneath that bookshelf or prospecting through years of lint and ashes beneath those cushions. Even if it means breaking open that cat's shit, which it conveniently has deposited in a plastic box, more orderly than any secretary could ever hope to be.

Then I'll appreciate the value of each bead--rather, each word and image--that much more, never wasting another. And I will, I swear to myself, get it all back in time, string it all together, tighter, as I said, than before. (144-45)

Immediately following this entry, Carroll completes his methadone program and is surprised to discover, in "Matters Literary," that "God, I've gotten myself so straight I can actually think about matters of the literary sort." That is, Carroll's freedom from heroin addiction also releases his writing from dependence upon drugs. Furthermore, he is now able to step back and distinguish his life from both the work of art he has created out of it and the lies he has fed himself. While he claims the comparison applies only to "matters literary," he notes that deceit is "an active, energetic (and energizing) pursuit"; conversely, total honesty, though it "can be beautifully dreamlike," is "so horribly passive" (147). The fact is, Carroll has made quite a monumental effort of deceiving himself, whereas he must stay honest in his writing.

However, in the process of redefining his artistic sensibility and recovering physical well-being, Carroll still does not come to terms with his past. In the next entry, when he has "been clean from my last dose of methadone for about a week," Carroll decides, "I have to reregister a room for my heart. It's been waiting a long time, somewhere outside, without so much as a whimper of protest. That abandonment wasn't just abuse, it was a sin." Throughout Forced Entries, Carroll has alienated his authentic self in order to avoid confronting the ugliness and fear it harbors. In doing this, however, he has become a hollow shell; like the tin man in The Wizard of Oz, he has no heart. (In fact, he calls himself "a tin motherfucker" earlier in the book [107].) Hence, he must find a place within himself to accommodate his "heart" before he will be a complete, authentic individual; he must accept his past, with all its ugliness, beauty, and sensitivity, before he can begin to force an entry into himself.

While his recognition of this and his decision to "register a room for my heart" represent victories of sorts, as well as a step toward authenticity, taking action is another matter. As Carroll continues this entry, he illustrates the dilemma he faces:

Today I went for a long walk with my dog, up to Mount Tamalpais. I watched a pumpkin spider for hours, weaving its web across a tri-pronged branch on a dead thorn bush. After watching all the insect death and escape, and the repairs that followed, I wanted to feel the web. It was nothing but tactile curiosity. I reached out and fingered a piece, but couldn't control my newly recovered senses. The fine tuning of my touch was off. I just couldn't gauge the resilience of the web. I was too caught up in the vibrance of the orange hump on the spider, and the silver intricacy of the weave. By the time I pulled my hand free, the whole web was torn apart. It seems the deeper I allow my perceptions to penetrate, the more ruin I leave in my wake. (148)

In order to reclaim his "heart," he will have to explore his past and allow his "perceptions to penetrate" all of its intricacies, pleasant and unpleasant, just as he attempts to explore the spider's web. In many ways, this project entails "looking too closely and too long into a mirror; soon your features distort, then erupt" (14). In this case, Carroll has only two possibilities from which to choose: he can either disown his past entirely or transform it, through writing, into something he can accept. But now that he has detoxed, he cannot "take drugs . . . to calm things down" (14); he is entirely on his own in the face of chaos. Regardless of the choice he makes, if his "fine tuning" is off, what he finds in his explorations of his past could devastate him.

Hence, Carroll remains a "tin motherfucker" and succumbs to the "magnetic impulse to return to New York" without having reconciled his past (149). He leaves California driven not by self-knowledge and free will, but by the insistence of supernatural forces. While he says, "I have never been one for superstition," a severed goat's leg on his doorstep and a "fat bat" in his bedroom send him running back to the city. As he puts it, "when certain signs knock so loudly and insistently at my door, I listen" (152).

However, upon his return, Carroll finds New York itself transformed, and its novelty intrigues him. He walks its streets "in the grip of a midtown trance." When he is "robbed of a cab by one of the world's most famous living artists," Salvador Dali, Carroll describes the painter and his consort as "perfect variations in presence which I've written about before: it was the difference between a chimpanzee and a cheetah. She was the monkey; he was the cat." But Carroll has changed too. He imagines Dali "embracing me and laying a kiss on both cheeks and exclaiming, 'Brother artist! I know your work well, and envy it even more. The second half of the century was mine, but clearly the second half has passed into your hands. . . !'"

When this scenario doesn't come off as he had imagined it (Dali "acted as if they were on some esplanade in Venice, and I was a peasant holding steady the plank to the gondola for them"), he takes no recourse; "I couldn't do that, not to Salvador Dali, not to the man who embraced me in such a hastily conjured fantasy, passing on the torch of Art, as it were" (158-61).

Carroll's ambitions are different now. He doesn't want to be part of a scene, or to have a Great Name with nothing to back it up. Now he wants revel in the texture of his experience, transform it, and share his vision with the world; he must earn the right to carry the torch of Art. In fact, as Carroll explores his new possibilities he stumbles upon the means by which he will come to terms with and transform his past:

I have been considering lately writing lyrics for some rock-and-roll bands. Certain friends have prompted me toward this idea for years. Some, like Jenny Ann, have even made the ridiculous proposition that I sing these songs . . . that I actually front a band! They tell me they see the possibilities when I give readings of my poems and diaries. The way I move. The phrasing.

I do believe that a poet would possess a stronger intuitive sense of phrasing with a rock song . . . But I respect craft. I believe in technique . . . and my singing abilities are so serious a handicap that it would take a whole new scale to make the entire thing less than ludicrous. Music without melody, where my voice would simply be another rhythm instrument, like a drum. (164)

Carroll doesn't act on this possibility within the pages of Forced Entries. At this point he is wary of such a venture, afraid it would throw him into a tailspin and negate whatever victories he has achieved. But the notion is enticing: "I would like to see fame to understand it. I would like to hold it in my hands a while, like a crawling infant with a ball of yarn . . . to unravel it and realize what I believe I already know, that the core is empty. Then I could dismiss it and crawl away." The danger is that "I expect it would not be that easy . . . getting far enough away once you are on your knees" (164-65).

All of this observation, toying with possibilities, and experiencing New York anew culminates in the last entry of the book, "Opening Night." In the previous entry, Carroll had found himself "Lost on the Back of My Hand," lost in his own city. Now, Carroll is alone in a red bath tub with a test pattern on the television, and "Since I have no book, I'm stranded with my own thoughts." He takes inventory of his accomplishments and desires:

I think I did learn some things in California. I believe I have moved closer to my heart. I feel comfortable in reclusion. I don't need the vacant flux of parties. I don't need my own attendance at "Art Happenings" which are, for the most part, excuses for the party afterward. But I don't want to become a cynical prick. It is, after all, a human universe. Knowledge, the hunger for detail, even the learned trivia, does give way to wisdom. If you sit back and remove the clutter of lips and claws and capsules and punch. I know I am a cold motherfucker, but I have moved closer to my heart.

While he has not yet reclaimed his heart entirely, he at least feels closer to it; if he was lost the night before, he is not now. With his desire to transform knowledge into wisdom, he clears away the "clutter" to make himself receptive.

As he lies in the tub, he shuts his eyes and "words pass over the lids, which feel like they have been scraped clean . . . hollowed out. And stuffed with words" (179). His mind, and then a page, becomes the canvas on which he paints his city in minute detail. He describes "The bakery trucks with twenty-year-old transmissions, their gears clanging loud as a construction site at noon in midtown," and, "The news truck at 5:30 A.M., where the guy yells out and the bales of The New York Times hit the pavement with a stiffer thump than the News or the Post." He discerns the sound of coins changing hands, "And the garbage trucks . . . I almost forgot" (180-81).

Finally, Carroll notices "the green slime leaking down my forearm," oozing from the abscess on his arm. He debates whether or not he wants to "have a go at the thing," to try to rupture it. On the one hand, he has been battling the abscess for too long to accept another defeat, and he no longer wants to "deal with its spite, its enticements to self-mutilation, the exhaustion of its resistance: body, mind and soul." Still, "It's taken on demonic proportions," and this wound represents to him the last barrier between himself and his heart; hence, he decides, "All right then, just one shot at it." As he prepares to undertake this task, he recalls his "cat choking from an abscess back in California, and the wonderful feeling I had of opening that wound, watching the scum pour out, and the lovely sound of the creature breathing anew, sucking in the air of another chance."

For Carroll, opening his own wound would achieve the same effect, giving him "another chance": "I want that sensation. No matter how much I've cleaned up, this hole in my arm is still an emblem of my addiction, a memorial tattoo that I myself inscribed, as if for an old lover, in homage to that sickness I took years to perfect" (182). He wants to purge himself of the sickness and breathe anew, and release himself from the dark side of his past. It is not a matter of exorcising his past in its entirety, however; he wants only to exorcise the "spite" which shrouds it and haunts him.

Amazingly enough, this time his efforts prevail, and the abscess bursts; as the pus flows out, the demons of Carroll's past go with it. Even more significantly, the abscess's bursting becomes an elaborate dual metaphor for Carroll's process of writing Forced Entries. First, the "facts" of book are the pus of his past, but his transformation of this past into art is purifying act which, like the laser beam he trailed throughout the diaries, comes entirely from within himself. Second, in writing the book, he has gone through the rituals of penance, though it is to himself, not God, that he has paid his dues. After having been baptized in fire in The Basketball Diaries, he experienced contrition and confessed his sins, and is now finding satisfaction:

Out it flows, not just from that small opening, but from the center, in one stream, like a laser's beam. It exits in various shades of yellow and green, followed by blood. . . . I kept on pressing. I wanted the last vestiges of that horror within. I wanted to prolong the feeling of victory. There was no feeling of disgust for the slime, or the pools it had formed on my sheets. All disgust was overwhelmed by joy. Besides, you must understand: this was not just some infected body fluids I was looking down on. To me, this was the return of all the bad-cut street-drug garbage I had inserted with such precision, all these years. This was the toxic residue of all my past sins (there, I've said it!). I didn't see pus; I saw the petty demons marching out. I saw purification, with new fresh air being sucked into that cavity, like the cat. The idol was in ruins. Do you understand what I'm telling you? (183)

With this victory, Carroll has successfully registered a room for his heart, and he has finally found purity. But even so, he concedes, "I might very well blow it again. I don't really know where I go from here, but at least I've raised my quality of living above cockroach level." He is aware that his cycle of descent and redemption could very well begin again with the slightest relapse, especially if he stops his exploration of himself too soon. Yet the important thing is that Carroll has another chance. He is now able to look at his world and himself through new eyes and is ready for absolution: "New York is not the same, that's for certain. I feel, as I said, closer to my heart. I feel a comfort in being alone."

For now, the future is not his concern. From this point onward, Carroll can live in the present, experiencing and exploring his world as he sees it, without having to battle the demons of his past. And since he has exorcised those demons, he feels comfortable with himself--all of himself. He can even delve into his past, should he choose to do so, to resurrect its beauty and grace. But for the present, what is important is that the future has opened up. He is free, all systems are "go," and he can experience the present for its own sake:

I want to penetrate only this moment. I've pierced a veil. I've beaten an old enemy and I'm tired and my mind is clear, my senses full. I can hear the bakery truck just pulling away down on Broadway, leaving behind only the stunned silence of New York City at 5:15 A.M. It's so quiet I can hear the clicking of the traffic lights changing . . . red to green . . . stop to go. Walk. Wait. (183-84)

Copyright 1990 Cassie Carter. This material may not be reprinted except by permission from the author.


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