Just Kids

Just Kids by Patti SmithAuthor: Patti Smith
Publisher: Bloomsbury (2010)
Number of Pages: 288
How long it took me to read: a couple of decades of my life and a couple of weeks of my time
Where I got this book: I bought it for £3.99 in a secondhand bookshop opposite The Old Vic theatre, Waterloo, London
ISBN: 978 0 7475 6876 6

Like a Moth to a Flame

My friend Dipti first mentioned the book to me and then I forgot all about it until another friend, Negar, raved about it. It finally crossed my path on my first visit to a bookshop I’ve walked past many times. It was their only copy of it in months. I love the photo on the front cover.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “I never knew whether his speedy speech patterns reflected amphetamine use or an amphetamine mind. He would often lead me up blind alleys or through an endless labyrinth of incomprehensible logic. I felt like Alice with the Mad Hatter, negotiating jokes without punch lines, and having to retrace my steps on the chessboard floor back to the logic of my own peculiar universe.” (pp.102-3)

4. “I would go as far as I could and hit a wall, my own imagined limitations. And then I met a fellow who gave me his secret, and it was pretty simple. When you hit a wall, just kick it in.” (p.170)

3. “In the end, we were more alike than not, and gravitated toward each other, however wide the breach. We weathered all things, large and small, with the same vigor.” (p.200)

2. “I suddenly understood the nature of the electric air. Bob Dylan had entered the club.” (p.248)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off, too. But before I did, it occurred to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through years of work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.” (p.276)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“A spritely guide at the Getty Center in LA has left the exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe photos for the end of the tour—the highlight for her and it turns out, for me. I’m about halfway through the book and at this point in the story, neither Patti nor Robert are having any success in their careers. Yet here I am in this prestigious gallery, thirty three years past the events I’m reading about, gazing at a black and white photo of Patti with a jacket thrown over her shoulder looking straight down the lens, into the eyes of her life long friend. They had no inkling at that moment of how their lives would unfold. I stand in those shoes now, at a departure point for the beginning of something—but what exactly that will turn out to be is impossible for me to fathom. I’ve placed myself at the edge, a boundary between present and future and wish for something extraordinary to happen. I’ve been taking more photos lately too, perhaps from a deep-seated hope that thirty-three years from now, I’ll be able to point at the images and know that they captured the moments when my life was turning a new corner.”

“I like the way Patti describes her possessions; there are so few of them that each is a treasure. I particularly take to a Persian necklace—Robert buys it for her and later, when he starts making jewellery, a whole wall is devoted to displaying them. I look closely at Robert’s self-portraits to see if I can pick out the details of the necklaces he wears to judge whether or not they are his own. I feel I have permission to do this now—the tone of the writing is so intimate that you feel like you’re looking over Patti’s shoulder, gazing at Robert’s curls, watching her long fingers sketch characters at The Chelsea Hotel where they live for a time, admiring the swirls etched into the metal of her precious Persian necklace.”

“This book makes me cry a lot. I sit on the bus reading it and have to turn my face to the sun so that I can pretend my moist eyes are from the sneezing that the bright light invites. I’m moved to the core by Patti’s devotion for Robert and Robert’s for Patti. It’s not just that they love each other unconditionally but that this love never wanes. It’s constant and loyal, pure in its intensity and abundant in its freedom from envy, jealousy, regret, resentment, and all those other human frailties that suffocate love. Their lives stand alone, and travel along separate paths; they do not feed their love by living for each other but rather, by treasuring the differences between them. This is a memoir I’m reading, so the kind of love it describes must exist. Somehow, reading about it keeps tugging at a yearning I don’t know how to escape; one that reaches far away to a place I can’t see or describe. All I can do is feel and so, I let the tears flow.”

“Robert takes Patti to meet his parents and they pretend they’re married, except that Patti isn’t wearing a ring. Years ago, I was looking for an apartment with my boyfriend. We’d traveled to a city in South America and were going to stay there for six months, him working and me studying. Whilst he was at the office, I went to look at places we’d circled in the classifieds. None of them felt right. We were outstaying our welcome with his colleague and needed to move in a matter of days.

“On Sunday, we strolled down a street we didn’t know, on our way back home, when we noticed an ad nailed to a tree. It said ‘Apartment for rent. Call Dona Teresa.’ We found a phone booth and called and went to see the place right away. It had parquet floors and French doors opening up to a patio fringed with red and white geraniums where an apricot tree decided to make its home. We loved it and fixed a date to move in. It was unfurnished but at the supermarket the next day I saw an ad at the checkout that said, ‘Furniture for sale—table, chairs, crockery, cutlery, and other miscellaneous items.’ I called the number and spoke to the Swedish student who’d placed the ad. She and her boyfriend were going back home. They agreed to deliver everything and our home was ready but for a few things here and there.

“Dona Teresa meanwhile, introduced me to her daughter, Viviana, who took a shine to me and offered to take me shopping for pots and pans. During our drive, she talked about her faith and devotion to the Catholic Church; I mainly listened and nodded.

“We unloaded the car and then she hit me with the question of all questions in such a conservative, traditional country. ‘Where is your wedding ring?’ The pots and pans saved me—carrying them from the car to the apartment gave me a few crucial moments to figure out what to say. Lying is a sin but a man and a woman living in sin is a much bigger one, I reasoned. If I told Viviana that we were not married, living here for a few months before going back to university, would she tell her mother to find other, more suitable tenants?

“She followed me into the kitchen. I put down the bags in a clatter of impending falsehood and sin. I turned to her and smiled, ‘I left my wedding ring at home in England, for safekeeping.’ She smiled, holding my hand and gently tracing the small, bare spot on my ring finger. ‘So young and so in love.’ ”

Viveca Mellegard

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