Five Points, Vol. 5 No. 1Fall 2000
From Ha Jin, “I only write about failure. I never write about success. I never write about important people. I never write about the brighter side.”
The story I want to tell you took place a long time ago, in the summer of 1954. That means that I have to rely upon the accuracy of my memory, which isn’t all that reliable. Sometimes I remember things that didn’t happen exactly the way I remember them, and, occasionally I actually remember things that didn’t happen. These imagined memories have texture and palpability and I can’t distinguish them from real memories. For example, I recall sitting across the table from Bob Dylan at the Cafe Reggio in Greenwich Village on a cold afternoon in 1961. I was hanging out with my friend Billy Hopkins, who lives in the Village and knew everybody. This was before Dylan had recorded his first album, before his fame extended beyond Bleeker Street. He was sitting at a small round table, a shaggy-haired kid in a black leather jacket, drinking coffee and writing a poem on a napkin. The day was bleak, the cafe dark. Not much was said.
Okay, I agree, it’s not much of a story, but after Dylan became famous I told it a few times. Then one day in the mid-1980’s I suddenly said to myself: “Wait. Maybe you didn’t actually meet Dylan that day. Maybe you and Billy looked all over the Village for him, but never actually found him. Maybe you had a cup of cappuccino in the Cafe Reggio, and then went back to Billy’s apartment and played some music.”
The fact is, I’m no longer sure I met Dylan in 1961, and that’s a dilemma. Am I fantasist? I assure you, I don’t feel like one. Is there something hyperbolic and self-dramatizing about the way I remember things? I suppose so, though I hate to admit it. I also suppose I could contact Billy as ask him if we met Dylan that day, but that would be difficult since I haven’t heard from Billy since the Spring of 1961 when he mailed me Dylan’s first album. After that he vanished from my life. Anyway, I hate to admit this but Billy’s name might not have been Billy. It might have been Johnny, like mine. Billy Hopkins. Johnny Hopkins. They both sound right. We weren’t great friends.