The Final Chapter (1984)

HOME PAGE       ABOUT       IMAGE GALLERY        SHIG’S REVIEW SAMPLER       OTHER  VIEWS     AUDIO      UPDATES       SOURCES       CONTACT

                                                                              

 

Shig Murao is sitting in his wheelchair outside the Pleasant View Convalescent Home in Cupertino, California.


He asks after my wife and questions me  closely as to whether his favorite Chinese restaurants have raised their prices. We  discuss Ginsberg’s death.


Then I ask Shig why he sits outside all day. “I’m waiting for the flying saucer that’s going to take me to Seattle,” Shig explains.



A third stroke, in 1984, left Shig more impaired than the previous two, and he started wearing a metal brace on his right leg. His Coke habit and sedentary lifestyle had also caught up with him, and he was now diabetic—but still undaunted.


By force of will Shig dragged his nearly useless right leg up and down the three flights of stairs that connected his Grant Avenue apartment to the outside world. He rebuffed friends who begged him to move to an apartment without stairs and continued to take buses all over the city.


I moved from San Francisco to Berkeley around this time. While I saw less of him after that, we continued to meet for Chinese meals every month or so, which involved the ordeal of calling him on the telephone.


I don’t think I ever heard an actual “hello” out of him. He would simply pick up the phone and make a guttural sound signaling that he was ready to listen. We would agree on a time and place to meet, and the “conversation” would be over in less than a minute.


Meetings with Shig were more difficult now. His speech had been affected by the strokes, making it hard to understand what he was saying. After our dinners, I found myself walking him back to his apartment, staying close in case he stumbled and I needed to catch him. But even as he hobbled along the street, he would speak of picking up and moving to Mexico.


In 1988, Shig received a $20,000 payment from the government as a reparation for his internment during World War II. It was a significant amount of money for him but didn’t seem to affect his lifestyle.


He continued to insist we meet at the same inexpensive Chinese restaurants. Nor did he replace his beloved Royal Air Force exercise vest, which was disintegrating on his back.


In 1995, Shig fell on a San Francisco Muni bus and fractured several ribs. His nephew John was finally able to convince him to move out of the North Beach apartment. Shig took up residence in Lytton Gardens, a senior residence near John in downtown Palo Alto.


After experimenting with a vintage electric wheelchair that had belonged to Janet Richards, Shig used most of his savings to purchase a top-of-the-line model. He set about re-creating his life yet again.


Shig’s Palo Alto renaissance lasted a year or so. He resurrected Shig’s Review and became a regular at several bookstores and cafes. Faith Bell of Bell’s Books became a close friend and assembled a large collection of Shig’s Reviews. At his favored cafes employees would run to open the door for him and find a spot where he could park the wheelchair.


Shig drove the wheelchair like a sportscar. (John outfitted it with Japanese and American flags atop high fiberglass poles after his wife nearly hit Shig in an intersection.)


After a while, Shig discovered that he could drive the wheelchair to the Stanford University Library, which had recently obtained Ginsberg’s papers. He began to visit the collection regularly.


The trip to the library took nearly an hour each way. By now the diabetes had affected Shig’s vision. One day he mistook a cement stairway near the library for the adjacent wheelchair ramp and piloted the wheelchair right over the stairs, catapulting himself to the pavement below.


A group of students gathered around him. He told them he would be fine if they could just help him back into the wheelchair. Somehow Shig made his way back to Lytton Gardens, but he didn’t show up for dinner. The staff found him in his room, his left leg horribly swollen.


Shig told the staff he had had a “little accident,” and they called an ambulance.


When John arrived at Stanford Hospital, he looked at the X-rays and told Shig he had fractured his hip. Shig’s response—“This is the beginning of the end, isn’t it?”—was prophetic.


The visit to Japan had had a profound effect on Shig, and during his recuperation from the hip injury he surprised John by announcing that he wanted his ashes to be placed in the family ohaka in Chiran.


After several months of complications and declining health, Shig moved to the Pleasant View Convalescent Home in Cupertino.


When I visited Shig at the home, he was sitting in a wheelchair outside the entrance, where the staff told me he spent most of his time. It was a curious meeting for Shig’s combination of lucidity and fantasy.


Shig asked after my wife and questioned me closely as to whether his favorite Chinese restaurants had raised their prices. But then came the flying saucer reference.


The saucer arrived on October 18, 1999, carrying Shig to the cafe in the sky. There, no doubt, he continues to discuss poetry, music, and the price of Chinese food with Allen Ginsberg, Janet Richards, Robert Oppenheimer, Victor Weiskopf, and the other friends who once gathered at City Lights to bask in the bohemian glow that Shig created during the bookstore’s heyday.


John honored Shig’s wish in 2000, when, in a service led by his uncle, Shigeo, some of Shig’s ashes were placed in the family ohaka at Chiran. The rest of his ashes are in the family ohaka in Seattle.


Previous Chapter


Copyright information here.


 

Photo-collage self-portrait as reproduced in postcard edition of Shig’s Review

Shig and Gordon Ball at Pleasant View Convalescent Home. Photo by John Murao.

Shig gave me the opportunity to show my artwork on the walls downstairs at City Lights in the mid-seventies. Shig loaned me $50 toward my trip to London in 1977. Shig advised me not to wear makeup because he said it made me look older. I’ve only worn lipstick and a little eye-kohl since that time. Shig was the beat. He had an air of uncontrived royalty.

Painter and original San Francisco punk rocker Vermillion Sands

Allen and Shig with American flag hats in Shig’s apartment,1986.

Photo by Misao Mizuno.

SHIG’S STORY



SHIG’S
 DREAM   
JOB
(1953)Dream_Job_2.html

AT THE
COUNTER:
THE EARLY
YEARS
(1953)At_the_Counter.html

SHIG’S
INNER
CIRCLE
(1953)Inner_Circle_2.html


THE
HOWL
TRIAL
(1957)The_Howl_Trial_2.html


SHIG’S HEYDAY AT
CITY LIGHTS
(1960)CL_a_la_Shig_2.html


THE END
OF AN
ERA
(1975)End_of_a_Era_2.html


10:00 A.M.
AT THE
TRIESTE
(1975)10_00_A.M._%40Trieste_2.html


LIFE AFTER
CITY LIGHTS
(1976)Life_After_CL_2.html


A SAMURAI
FAMILY
(1920)Samura_family_2.html



SHIG’S
PLACE
(1976)Shigs_Place.html



SHIG’S
REVIEW
(1983)Shigs_Review_2.html


THE
FINAL
CHAPTER
(1984)