COLUMN THIRTY-ONE, MARCH
(Copyright © 1998 Al Aronowitz)
PART 8: THE BEAT PAPERS OF AL ARONOWITZ
(Photo Courtesy Myles Aronowitz)
CHAPTER EIGHT: SAN FRANCISCO SCENES
[I was still pretty much of and ex-police reporter when I was sent out to San Francisco in 1959 to research my New York Post series about the Beat Generation. Here is more of the story of what I found on my trip to San Francisco.]
In the men's room of a public place of business which calls itself the Tea Shoppe and Coffee Gallery but which seldom, if ever, serves much of either, the wall is marked by none of the usual four-letter words.
"No, of course not," observed a visitor, standing there one night. "The people here save those for their poetry."
Etched instead across the unsuccessful whitewash are the block letters of another vocabulary:
"INCEST. INFANTICIDE. BANKING."
"Humph," commented the visitor, "that's plagiarism. Ezra Pound said that."
"SEX IS HOLY. SEX IS WILD," shrieks another inscription.
"How would they know?" asked the visitor, scowling. "With them everything is holy, everything is wild."
"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? BECAUSE YOU AREN'T!" still another inscription shouts.
"I know Goddamn well who I am," grumbled the, visitor. "I'm human."
There are other inscriptions, all mementos of the many varied and necessary visits to this place, and their tone prevails even in the ladies room, where, in one of the usual places, a scrawl insists "DONALD DUCK IS A JEW!"
"It's the handwriting on the wall," said the visitor. "It's the handwriting on the wall of a new American culture."
Or is it just the handwriting on the wall of North Beach.
"We don't get much beatniks here," said Henri Lenoir. "I more or less got rid of them."
He was standing on the sidewalk with a dark beret covering his baldness and a proprietary hand covering the doorknob of his shop, a place called simply Vesuvio's, which, while making less of a pretense about serving coffee, charged more of a price. It was on Columbus Avenue almost two blocks away from that portion of Grant Avenue, which, separated from Chinatown by a single intersection, suddenly becomes the heart of North Beach, if North Beach has a heart. It was a shop with a sign, a door and two small window fronts, one covered with black paint and gold letters, BOOTHS FOR PSYCHIATRISTS, and the other decorated with a display of what Lenoir called a Do-It-Yourself Beatnik Kit.
"You see," said Lenoir, who, for trading purposes, calls himself Trader Henri, "the kit has a black turtleneck sweater, a pair of Japanese sandals, a beard, false naturally, and a pair of dark glasses. It also has a certificate of good moral character in case you get stopped by the cops. You see, you merely show them this certificate and it says you only became a beatnik to get away from your mother-in-law. I'm selling the kits for $7.95 each, but I don't have any available, which is all right, because no one has ordered any."
He spoke with an accent which was obviously of foreign derivation but which sounded more English than French, even though he claimed to be from Paris. Somehow, his voice matched his face the same way that his beret matched his tie and business suit.
Beatniks?" he was saying. "No we don't get much of them around here and it's a good thing. They were a pain in the neck. They used to clutter up the place---they've got no money, you know---and they used to put their feet on the table and holler at the tourists as if they owned the place. One day, they made me so mad, I threw out about eight or nine of them. Oh, I was so mad, I couldn't keep the store open any more, I just had to close the door for the rest of the day. The next morning, I put up a sign saying, 'Out of bounds to poets, beatniks, drug addicts, etc.' And do you know what happened? The thing got into the newspapers and my business increased ten per cent. But come on in and take a look at the place,"
He opened the door, exposing, instead of the dim, tight coziness promised by the almost Lilliputian storefront, a long barroom with bright lights, chairs and tables, and a surprising lack of sawdust on the floor. And, if that wasn't room enough, a mezzanine with more chairs and tables hung on the wall a half-story above. It was from this mezzanine that an automatic slide projector kept flashing images of old picture postcards onto a screen at the end of the bar.
"You see, I collect them," said Lenoir, "I guess I have just about all the old picture cards there are to be had around San Francisco. No, I don't have any French ones here at the moment, but there are a couple of pretty good ones in this series on the projector now. Here! Here! There's a good one! Ha, ha! Did you ever see anything like that? There ought to be another good one along any minute now---why don't you sit down and watch. Have a drink. Take a look around. You know, this is the original bohemian joint in North Beach. You see, I'm not a square myself. As a matter of fact, I used to be a beatnik, too. But I'm in business now."
At The Tea Shoppe and Coffee Gallery, the components of a jazz band had collected to play and the components of an audience had collected to listen. There were few of either. The musicians were grouped spatially about an upright piano, appropriately old, and spiritually about a tenor saxophonist, appropriately gaunt. The audience, filling only three or four of the 20-odd tables in the long globe-lit gallery, were grouped around both. It was nearly evening, Thursday evening, but there was still a tired, quiet morning-after leisure in the atmosphere and it made even the music sound lazy. A Thursday afternoon at The Tea Shoppe and Coffee Gallery, it seemed like a Sunday afternoon anywhere else.
"Man, every day is like a Sunday around here," said a handsome, clean shaven black man sitting at the bar. "If you want a week of Sundays, come to North Beach."
The bar was even a smaller, darker room which opened on the gallery through an archway and which was filled with stools and even a couple of tables, but not yet with people. It was Sunday at the bar as well, and even a tourist, a pipe salesman, had found the time to be present and accounted for, with his money spread on the counter and his wife, a dark-haired, well-dressed and attractive woman, at his side.
"Have a drink with us," she was saying to a man standing behind her. "Won't you drink with us?"
"I'll turn on with you," the man answered, "but I won't drink with you."
Suddenly, a stranger, another young, handsome black man, stepped up between them.
"I'll drink with you," said the stranger. "Can I drink with you?" and he reached out to lift up her glass. She caught hold of it quickly and tried to ignore him, but instead he turned to her husband and asked, "Can I drink with you" Buy me a drink!"
"We have no trouble here," said Paul Naden, tending bar at The Tea Shoppe and Coffee Gallery. "We're very careful. We pay extra money to avoid trouble. We have a special cop here."
He was a square-jawed man of 34 with light hair, a serious demeanor and that appearance of muscularity too often a prerequisite to tending bar. With his shirt sleeves rolled up, he was one of the two owners of The Tea Shoppe and Coffee Gallery.
"The other owner is what you'd call a silent partner," he said. "But we've been very lucky. Running a cafe can be a highly profitable business. We started a year ago with six thousand dollars and in the second month we made it. We had the whole thing paid for by the fifth month, and remember, we did this before all the publicity about the beatniks. The publicity---well, that turned the place into a land office. Now, we gross eight thousand to ten thousand a month. We're highly solvent.
"You see, I used to be a musician---I played trumpet in a jazz band but I couldn't make it. Then this opportunity came along. Well, I'm a hard worker. I have a family, with three kids, and I wanted to get ahead. Then, the idea grew in my head as to what kind of a place I'd like to build and to run, so this is it. It's a place in which I can serve people as well as make money---a place for which there was a definite need around here. Do you see those paintings hanging in the Gallery? Well, we have a different show every month and we sell an average of $500 worth of paintings per show---at no commission. It all goes to the artist. Then, that jazz band. We pass a glass for them and sometimes they make a good few bucks---they need it. We have poetry readings here, and we pay the poets---they need it, too. Then we also have original opera, with admission by tickets. The opera we have on now is called The Pizza Pusher, and we don't take a dime from it.
"You see, I used to be one of the characters that raced up and down the street here getting drunk, and I share many of the attitudes. Beatnik is a name made up by a newspaper columnist for a group he misunderstood. The Beat Generation is a literary phenomenon. As for North Beach and Grant Avenue, well, you go to any neighborhood bar and you'll see a sick attitude, eleven at night or even seven in the morning. In my place we're very tolerant, we don't censure sick people. Or even bad people. This is just the kind of place I wanted it to be. A hangout, maybe, but also sometimes a resting place. You see, I've lived in North Beach ten years and I identify with it closely."
He swung a hand and pointed behind the bar to a large wall map which, with careful calligraphy, listed the attractions of what San Franciscans have described as North Beach proper. The map covered an area of perhaps ten or twelve city squares, all clustered about those three blocks of Grant Avenue which once were the center of the Little Italy that North Beach used to be. The section, in fact, still was dotted with Italian bakeries and Italian groceries and there was even one espresso shop with a largely Italian clientele. The map, however, concerned itself with other landmarks. One was called the Anxious Asp. Another was named Mike's Pool Hall. Another was known as the Old Spaghetti Factory. And still another was called The Place.
Two blocks from The Tea Shoppe and Coffee Gallery, up the slope that climbs to Telegraph Hill, past the sandal maker, the silversmith and the picture framer who sits at the rear of his store and practices the piano day and night, along the one-way street that Grant Avenue happens to be, uphill for some, downhill for others, is The Place.
At the front door, beneath a small sign, a man wearing Army fatigues earns his drinks and perhaps a few dollars by checking identity cards to keep out minors. His beard sets the style. The two bartenders, behind a bar which seems crammed enough for only one, have beards. Most of the customers, each sitting on his own cliché of gloom, have beards. Even an object, hung at the rear wall and looking for all the world like an unshrunken head, has a beard.
"I don't know why I wear a beard," explains a customer whose youth is hidden behind one. "Maybe because it's such a drag to shave. But that's what you expected me to say, isn't it?"
The wall, like most other North Beach walls, is covered with posters, including one above the bar which announces:
CHAMPAGNE: Fifth---$4. Tenth---$2.25. Split---$1.25. BEER: 25 cents a stein.
"Sure," says one of the bartenders. "We sell lots of champagne," and he reaches into a freezer and takes out a coke for a customer, adding: "But we don't sell much coke. See! See!"---and he points to the customer shaking the coke upside down like ketchup bottle, unable to pour its frozen contents into his glass---"we've had that coke so long, it's stale!"
Whatever else The Place offers in interior decoration, the handwriting on the wall is confined neither to the men's room nor to the wall but is also found on the ceiling. "VIVA FAUBUS," says one inscription. "CHINO SWINGS," says another. This, of course, occurs
of the Counterculture
mostly at the rear of the barroom, where a balcony cuts the distance to the ceiling in half. But then the balcony serves two other purposes. First, it adds two tables to the premises, which, somewhere, has been given a legal limit of occupancy by the San Francisco Fire Department. And second, it acts as a stage on Blabbermouth Night, an occasional Monday ritual during which anyone in the crowd is allowed to stand up and talk for an untimed three minutes on topics which have ranged from "Where Would The World Be Today If Joan Of Arc Had Been A Miscarriage?" to "Why Apple Pie Means America To Me."
"They usually get up and say some silly, stupid thing," explains Ebbe Borregaard, a poet, sitting alone at one of the four downstairs tables. "Even the tourists get up and talk, but they have to take a lot of heckling."
He is tall, with a majestic face, majestic perhaps because of his golden, flowing beard. He is 25, but he looks older, again, because of the beard. He still wears the clothes of his Army days and he says he hasn't been home in almost three years. But then, he asks, is it home any more?
"I don't know---how does a son ever go back?" he asks, telling about his family in East Islip, Long Island, about his father, once a vaudevillian, now an advertising man, about his mother, who still writes, and about his 10-year-old sister. "They're middle class, but they're very good people. They finally realized that a guy wants to break away. Even so, there's a form of punishment---my mother writes but my father doesn't. Me, I haven't written to them in a year. You see, I was kicked out of Rutgers after six months---I started as an agronomy student but I had a fight with one of the instructors. Well, that cured me of school. Poetry? I started writing while I was in high school, but there has always been culture in my family. My grandfather was a composer in Denmark and my uncle is a painter. It doesn't make any difference, though, because I'm trying to forget my Nordic heritage---I'm trying to forget it because I'm a poet."
He takes a drink of beer and then motions toward the next table, the second one from the front door, and says "You see that table? That's called the Poet's Table, That's because all the famous poets of the San Francisco Renaissance sit there. Jack Kerouac used to sit there, Allen Ginsberg used to sit there. You see, you've got the painters in New York, but the poets are back here."
At the Poets' Table on this night are several persons, only two of them poets and only one of them a poet of the San Francisco Renaissance. One is a girl, blonde, beautiful and a daughter of Philadelphia society. She bas been smoking marijuana with the others and now she sits at the head of the table talking incessantly, raising her voice from time to time to overcome interruptions, not caring who or whether anyone is listening to her and apparently not even listening to herself. A few of her companions are wrapped in conversation. The others are wrapped in themselves. All have drinks before them but all are ignoring the drinks. There seems to be no need for alcohol after marijuana.
"Hey, look," the poet says suddenly, "you can't see my lips move when she talks!"
"Ha," the girl answers,, "I have a masochistic ventriloquist. Oh, that's all right, I've made you up, anyway. Go away! All I have to do is say, 'Go away,' and you're not there. You're only here because I think you're here. I made you all up. . . Ah, all this mysticism---I love it, I bask in it. . ."
A man named Frank walks uninvited toward them and sits down amid hostile stares.
"I hope you don't mind if I sit here," he says, "the bar is too quiet."
"What do you do?" someone asks
"What do I do?" he answers. "Live, I guess."
"Howard," the poet says, "is a beautiful kid. He'll write something good someday."
"No he won't," someone else says, "because he's insane."
"The meeting will crime to order," the girl says. "What do you want to be? Baby? Mother? Father? President?"
"I want to be God," the poet says. "You be what you want to be."
"You're very gauche," someone interjects.
"You've heard about the land of Goshen?" another asks.
"Oh, I hate repartee," the girl is saying, "It's so wasteful. . ."
"She doesn't stop talking unless she's reading her own poems," the poet answers.
"Anyway," someone else says, "Mike Todd is coming back from the dead to knock up Debbie Reynolds."
"Why is it," the girl asks the poet, "that I never see you and Robert at the same time?"
"That's because he's an extension of my personality," the poet answers.
Soon, another poet, young and lithe, walks in and draws up a chair next to the girl. He is followed by several others, all similarly young and all similarly lithe. They sit about the girl, talking to her, seeking her attention, diverting it from the others. Soon she rises and leaves with them.
"They're not trying to make it with her," one of the group explains, "they're faggots. She's a queen bee---you know, a faggots' moll. Haven't you ever heard of a faggots' moll? I have a theory that all of San Francisco is a faggots' moll. They're only attracted to her because they want to be like her."
"Marijuana?---I wouldn't associate it with the beatniks at all," said Thomas J. Cahill, the San Francisco chief of police. "There's no narcotics problem in North Beach because there's no money down there. They can't afford narcotics."
He was waiting in his office the Hall of Justice, five blocks from Grant Avenue, where the cops are called fuzz and where the fuzz is always plentiful. He was also sitting in the midst of charges that the police were using undue force and making undue arrests in North Beach,
The police chief says
are 'nothing in a vacuum'
and the look on his face showed that he wasn't pleased to hear questions about the charges. There was, in fact, a captain in the office to help him answer the questions.
"There's no real problem of any kind in North Beach now," the chief continued. "As a matter of fact, we had no trouble with the beatniks at all until the newspapers started writing them up last summer. Then they learned they had some type of identity so they began to gather. Do you know what the beatniks are? They're nothing in a vacuum."
"North Beach has always been a gathering place for bona fide artists," said the captain. "These are pseudos."
"Naturally," the chief resumed, "the people reading the newspapers wanted to go down and see what the beatniks looked like. They thought the beatniks were oddities. So, the beatniks gathered in large groups and put on a show in their own way, drinking, dancing, acting like kids do when someone comments on them. What happened was that they attracted young people, and young people, naturally, attracted police. No, we don't have any crime rate statistics for North Beach. Anyway, what do you mean by crime? Don't you consider leading juveniles into a life like that a crime? That's the greatest crime you can commit."
"Their moral standards are very low," said the captain. "Our information was that as far as sex was concerned, anything went. We had to protect our young people from that,"
"Now, they had to have someone to champion their cause." the chief went on, "because they were being recognized as a segment of society, and their self-appointed leader became a guy named Eric Nord. You see, he was living in a warehouse he called The Party Pad, and he would charge one doIlar admission for anyone to come in. Well, we had juveniles lying all around the place, noisy, keeping late hours. We had to invoke a curfew against the kids, and we finally locked up Nord for contributing to the delinquency of a minor---he and another guy took a couple of juvenile girls out of town. He's still under court order to refrain from talking to juvenile girls, and his landlord kicked him out of the warehouse."
"The beatniks are a crummy-looking bunch," said the captain. "A lot of them never took baths, never shaved."
"Well, the next thing Nord did," the chief continued, "was to take a bunch of beatniks and load them onto three or four buses and take them downtown for sightseeing---can you imagine that? They started to go into all the best hotels and fancy places. We had to head them off on that."
"Some of their quotations were sacrilegious," said the captain. "The way they talked about Christ. They didn't believe in anything."
"If we allowed the beatnik problem to get out of hand last summer," the chief resumed, "it could have become a serious problems---but we didn't let it get out of hand. Well, there was a murder---this girl, Connie Sublette, was strangled by a Negro who tried to attack her in a North Beach alley, and do you know? That happened the day after her boy-friend fell off the roof of the Party Pad and was killed. But we got letters with petitions from residents whose children had to walk through North Beach, complaining how these beatniks would urinate on the sidewalk, and they didn't care who was looking---well, I guess that's part of their free love philosophy."
"We've never had any problem with actual poets." said the captain. "In my opinion, the real artists don't associate with the beatniks."
"Then we had motorcycle gangs come into town and drive down through the area," the chief went on "and it turned out we had to protect the beatniks against the motorcycle gangs. They say that we send cops in down there to do rousting and drive business away from the shops, but that's not true. We did have to put on extra patrols for a while, but I don't even know if the extra patrols are still down there. All we do is go in to look for juveniles and also see that there are no immoral acts being committed. We also enforce a city ordinance against congregating in the street and failure to move on, but we have had very few vagrancy arrests. You know, we found one young girl, 18 years old, living on a roof and in danger of being led into an immoral life, so she was locked up.
"We classify a beatnik," said the captain, "as a person who is slovenly, dirty, ill-kempt, and who has no morals."
"You know," concluded the chief, "we don't want to call everyone who wears a beard as a beatnik."
"Yes," said the captain, "What about this Schweppes fellow?"
The Co-Existence Bagel Shop is where, on most nights, the police park their paddy wagon in a silent gesture of unhidden meaning. It is where, in November, 1958, a girl named Wendy Murphy, age 20, was arrested on vagrancy and other charges because a cop objected to her walking barefoot. And it is where, on a wall next to a five-foot photograph of a nude girl on a Japanese floor mat, a poster declares: "NOTICE TO ALL FUZZ---COME WITHOUT YOUR GUNS AND SECRETS, WITHOUT SMILES, AND FEAR MY CHEST FOR I CAN LOVE YOU."
There are several versions of how the Co-Existence Bagel Shop came to get its name---all of them about as hard to swallow as a whole bagel itself. The truth of the matter is that bagels are no more the chief commodity at the Co-Existence Bagel Shop than tea and coffee are at The Tea Shoppe and Coffee Gallery, which, by the way, is just across the street. The main attraction at the Co-Existence Bagel Shop, in essence, is not the menu and hardly the prices but the fact that the liquor licensing laws allow it to remain open past the closing time of the more potent dispensaries. After two a.m. on any day, the shop literally bulges, a situation which has accounted for the need to replace the front window several times. At other hours, it is filled with the usual posters, a few straggling chess players, an individual called Mad Alex and, occasionally, another called Paddy O'Sullivan, who wears the hat, boots, mustache and beard of one of the Three Musketeers.
"I'm the mayor of North Beach," he tells visitors from New York. "How are things back in Greenwich Village?"
"The fact is," said Robert LaVigne, member of a new group of individualistic San Francisco painters who are affiliated with the Beat Generation and with one another in propinquity but not in style, "North Beach has become something like what I suppose Greenwich Village has become. Artists and poets are moving to other sections, not just because the rents have gone up but because, well, for one thing, it's too expensive to live there. North Beach bas become pretty much a place of clip joints. And restaurants which people had frequented for a long time have become tourist traps. And then I suppose a part of it is a desire for privacy which artists and poets can't have in a very populated area.
"You see, the police are around all the time and the presence of the police makes it uncomfortable. Not only that, but on Friday nights, hoodlums from the Mission District now come over to look for poets to beat on. That is, they used to look for poets. Now, following all the publicity, they look for beatniks. And the cops, instead of paying attention to the hoodlums, just bug out the poets, so that the place is being taken over by the hoodlums.
"Otherwise, San Francisco is an easy place to live. Work isn't too hard to find and food is cheap. Gary Snyder once lived in town for a dollar a week. As for me, I don't make the Beach much any more. . . But then, North Beach again is made up mostly of businessmen who are on a casual living kick."
The unmistakable six-foot-six of Eric Nord stood in front of what once had been a grinding shop while one of two companions unlocked the door.
"We just rented the place," said Nord, his chin covered by lots of well-groomed hair, the hair on his head covered by a beret. "We just got the key."
"You'd think they at least would have left us an electric bulb so we can see what it looks like," added the first of his companions, a short, bushy-haired man with thick-lensed eyeglasses and an even thicker accent. You know, it looks bigger at night," and he reached
to make a brothel
out of it'
into the barren darkness, trying to see what he couldn't.
The third member of the group was a woman. She was dressed in black, even to the tip of her beret, and she stood in the center of the empty floor just beyond the dim light which slowly crept into the place through the open front door.
"The main entrance is on Columbus Avenue," said Nord. "But we can put another entrance on Grant Avenue."
"You see," explained the man with the accent, smiling broadly, "we're going to make a brothel out of it. We're going to call it 'Patsy's Pad.' She's Patsy," and he pointed to the woman, who looked younger now, perhaps 27.
"She's Patsy Stuart," the man with the accent continued, "she's the girl who posed for the picture they used in that San Francisco Chronicle series about North Beach. They only paid her $5 for the picture and they put it on the front page. Isn't that a shame? They should have paid her least $35."
"I posed in a slip," Patsy said suddenly. "When my mother saw it, she had a nervous breakdown. We're not going to make a brothel out of this place, he's just kidding."
"It's in her name," Nord said. "We're all, partners, but it's in her name."
The man with the with the accent ventured further into the darkness.
"We can put a book store downstairs and have an art gallery on this floor." he said. "We can put the espresso machine here, and what should we do with that mezzanine?"
"We can put a band up there," answered Nord. "Or we can have poetry readings there."
"We can sell records and souvenirs," said the man with the accent, exploring the darkness even further. "Making money comes first. Culture comes second. What we want is a real tourist trap."
"It's not going to be a brothel," said Patsy. "It's just going to be a coffee house. When I posed for that picture, they took me to some other pad. My place was too nice."
"'I'll have to go down and make up with the police chief," said Nord "I'll even put a tie on. It'll be better that way, even though we don't have a liquor license. There'll be no alcohol served here."
"Yes," said the man with the accent, "We'll cater only to teetotalers. Teetotalers with money."
"You see," said Patsy, "Wolf and I met in the Bagel shop two months ago---"
"Wolf," interrupted the man with the accent, "that's me. Wolf Guttmann is my name, and I'm a beatnik. I'm an international beatnik."
"He's Swiss," said Patsy. "He's a tourist from Switzerland."
"I write television scripts for children," Wolf said. "I'm just a foreigner who wanted to invest some money. You see, I know about beatniks. I was an existentialist in Paris."
"Yes," said Patsy. "We met playing chess in the Bagel Shop, and he said 'Let's open a coffee shop,' and I said, 'Yes, let's. When?' and he said, 'Yesterday,' And I said, 'Tomorrow.'"
"It cost us $500 to get started," said Wolf.
"I didn't put any of it up," added Patsy.
"Neither did I," added Nord, "You see, I know how to run one of these places. I've done it before. I'm the mayor of North Beach. They call me the Big Daddy of the Beatniks. I don't mind it. It gives me a certain stature. A beatnik can be a person from any walk of life regardless of financial or cultural background. He merely wants to live his own life the way he sees it rather than conform to life the way others see it.
"Now, I've got another project planned---a cooperative village for beatniks, some place in a warm climate. We like outdoor sports, swimming and all that. I'm trying to get Mrs. Hazel Guggenheim McKinley, you know the Guggenheims, well I'm trying- to get her to back the project. It'll all be cooperative, and everyone will have to work about one day a month. The rest of the time, they can devote to art. No, I don't write poetry, but I read it. I'm just a man who likes to make the scene. Hey, now, where did my Swiss financier go?"
Wolf was talking to Patsy.
"What shall we call it?" he was saying. "I know! We'll call it 'Mother's.'"
Back at The Tea Shoppe and Coffee Gallery, the jazz band had began to beat the leisure out of the atmosphere. The bar became almost as busy as the two entrances, through which people kept walking in and out and through which one person kept walking both ways as if through a revolving door. He had both hands jammed into an old leather jacket and a beret jammed over an almost invisible face---invisible, that is, because what wasn't covered by a beard, a mustache and the hair on his head was hidden instead behind a pair of dark glasses.
"His name is Hubert," someone said. "He's tri-sexual. They also call him Doc, not because he's a doctor, but because he works for one. He's a human guinea pig---they keep curing him of strange diseases. Naturally, they have to give him the diseases to start with. He gets $150 a month, but he never has any doctor bills."
The saxophonist, silent for a while, now swung into a solo, a series of spontaneous contrapuntal variations of All The Things You Are. The rhythm was inescapable and several of the audience began to shout, "Yeah!" and "Go!" and nod their heads and tap their feet, but then it was the saxophonist they had came to hear in the first place.
There was no drummer with the band, but there was one in the audience and automatically he began to slam out the beat on a table top, first with the palms of his hands and then with an empty bottle and a beer glass. The effect was immediate and soon the other musicians paused to allow the drummer a solo, too. With his eyes closed and his face in a grimace, he sought out his own variations, banging the bottle against the glass, banging it so hard that the glass broke. He paid no attention---de, de, bah, bah, de---and he kept banging the bottle against the glass, chipping it down until only the stem was left. Again, some of the crowd shouted encouragement---"Yeah, man, go!"---and he kept beating out the rhythm, now with the empty bottle, now with his palm, slamming both down on the glass-strewn table until blood spurted from his open hand, but stil l he continued---bop, bop, de, de, bop, bop---beating out the rhythm and slashing the palm of his hand again and again. He didn't stop until the music stopped and then the waiter came and charged him twenty-five cents for the broken glass.
"I'm sort of an earthy mystic," the saxophonist said later. "I tell fortunes, too. I do anything I can to get a bowl of chili and a place to sleep."
His name was Bob Cedar and he was wearing a blue suit and a pork-pie hat, a uniform he kept as constant as the sad, unsmiling mask on his face. He was somewhere between 30 and 45 and preserved there by a mysterious potion he only hinted at.
"I can't play in New York," he said. "I had trouble with the cops---Narco. But I play in all these places on the Beach. I know I can play---but when will the world catch up with me? That's all right. The next few years are crucial for the world. I study metaphysics, too. As I said, I'm sort of an earthy mystic. I'll beat up girls, I'll do anything to make a living and to blow my horn---that's all I want to do is blow my horn. I know I have truth in my horn. I'm going to break out next year. I'm going to make it."
He went back and got a free beer at the bar, where beer is free for all musicians. At stools nearby, two men were talking.
"This whole street would be lost in Greenwich Village," one of them said. "I don't know why all the tourists want to make the scene here."
The gallery was indeed filling with tourists, distinguished from the others by their suits and neckties and party dresses. One group of young men sat eyeing three pretty girls at a corner table, but the girls already were the property of two black youths, who sat joking and cuddling with them.
"So, he asks me why do I always wear black," one of the girls was saying, "and I tell him like it's easy to keep clean and it shows up my figure, but the cat tells me, 'Naw, it's because black expresses your death wish.'"
One of the young men eyeing the girls shook his head.
"Sometimes I wish I was a Negro," he said, "instead of only a Jew."
"North Beach," explained a man at another table, "got its name in the 1800s when the district sloped down to what was then a bathing beach on San Francisco Bay. You see, they had a sea wall there, but gradually they kept filling in the Beach until it reached the sea wall. So the name stuck and the center of North Beach gradually climbed up the hill. Today there is no place to swim on North Beach."
And then he added, nodding his head:
"There is only a place to drown." ## NEXT: THE BEAT PAPERS OF AL ARONOWITZ: PART 9
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