The following is a reminiscence of Satsvarupa dasa Goswami’s time in the U.S. Navy:
The first port we reached was Cannes, the famous beach of the French Riviera. I walked past the bars and went straight for that bookstore. I looked from outside. Genet was missing, and all the Henry Millers. I walked inside. “Where are the Henry Millers and The Thief’s Journal in English?”
“They are all sold out. We will get a new shipment in a day or two.”
“Our ship is only staying here three days.”
He shrugged his shoulders. I looked around for other titles. Celine was still here. Death on the Installment Plan and Journey to the End of the Night. I grabbed them fast before anyone else could get them.
“You’re sure you don’t have a single Thief’s Journal, by Genet? Even a used copy. I’ll pay you double.”
He wrinkled his brow as if searching for one in the cellar or attic or a friends apartment. “No, I don’t think so. But I will look. Come back tomorrow if you can. The new order may arrive.”
I left, satisfied with Celine’s thick books. There might not be much variety here, but plenty of TNT. And what was I looking for? Filth? Evil? I had already concluded that too much physical sex or evil in a book is not great writing. But I wanted to investigate deep pits where explorers had gone, writers, minds. It would help me in the Lower East Side. And to get through the last stretch of active ship time, which was growing more unbearable. I went back early to the ship that night, got into my bunk and started reading Journey to the End of the Night.
While I was reading this book on the Saratoga, there was a big black sailor who occupied a bunk about five rows down from mine. He used to always play black gospel music. When we were on the U.S. coast and were near enough to shore, he would pick it up on the radio. But when we were in the ocean, he had a phonograph like mine, and he would play his sizable collection of gospel music. He had Mahalia Jackson and plenty of variety in his collection, like Blind Willie Johnson and small bands of the ‘19’s and ‘20’s right up to the modern days. But he always favored the all-time favorites, which exclusively came from the gospel, without any rock and roll lyrics.
Big Harold never played ordinary blues but strictly spiritual gospel music. At first I had no particular interest in it as I passed his bunk, and I had never listened to it before except when passing it on the radio dial. But hearing and hearing it, I began to like the catchy music and eventually caught on to the lyrics.