Thursday, January 24, 2013

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon is dead. I'm using his real name here. In at least one earlier post on this blog, I gave him a pseudonym, out of respect. Now, I'd like to use his real name, also out of respect.

Of course, Francis Bacon may not be his real name. It's just too good of a name to be true, but that's how we knew him in the bookstore.

The man himself was not too good to be true. He was a panhandler, a drunk, a rabble-rouser, and a purveyor of sexist opinions. More than once, I had to ask him to leave the bookstore where I worked. He would show up in the balcony and start hitting on the singers or heckling the politicians who frequented the store. Then I would sigh, walk upstairs, and ask him to leave.

I know what is said about speaking ill of the dead, but I need to make it clear that I'm not romanticizing the man.

When I last saw Francis Bacon, a few months before he died, he was starting in on Paradise Lost. He would never heckle the authors who came to give book talks, did I mention that? His heckling, especially when he was drunk, took in all and sundry, including the owner of the store, the mayor of Harrisburg, and even yours truly.

"Is that how you coil cables here?" he would say to me, as I packed up the microphones from an event, "at the theater I managed, you would've been fired on the first day."

But Francis had respect for the arts, so he never heckled even the most pitiful self-published self-help author, and that's why he was reading Paradise Lost. Of course, he didn't have his own copy. Instead, he would enter the store with his huge backpacker's bag, walk into the "famous authors" section, and grab Paradise Lost. He would go to his chair, set down the pack, and open the book.

He never bought a book, and he never stole a book, but he read through all of Don Quixote and most of Paradise Lost in the time that I knew him.

He marked his place in the book and put it right back on the shelf in alphabetical order in the "famous authors" section, even when he was being thrown out for disorderly conduct and heckling. He always came back to apologize after such an event.

All of this is to say that Francis Bacon led, as far as I can tell, a wild, open life. By no means perfect, but I'm glad to have known him and I'm sorry that he's gone. I hope he finished Paradise Lost.


Anonymous said...

I knew Francis Bacon in the '70s, at Cornell. That's his real name. It sounds like Francis never changed. He was brilliant and charismatic, but hell-bent on self-destruction. I was shocked to hear of his death, but not for the usual reasons. Frankly, I'm shocked he lived to be 56 years old. I liked Francis, but in carefully measured doses. His goal seemed to be to produce discomfort, and make you pay for it by making you think, or by feeding him, or by giving him money. When he wasn't drunk, stoned, or in jail, he could be a hard and conscientious worker, but that wasn't often.

Anonymous said...

I also knew Francis in the 70s, and even in the 80's, when he called my father and learned that I was living in Philadelphia. He was living there, too! What a pest. One night he left an hour-long rambling on my answering machine. In Ithaca, he was a generous guy but impossible to take in large dosages. One year, he gave me a cat for my birthday. I am really quite shocked that he made it to 56 years, and also very saddened to learn that he remained a homeless drunk throughout his life.