North Beach Follies: Chapter 1.2

December 16, 2014

“The truth is that Bozeman is a shit hole and zero is happening there. I was at the University of Montana and took a couple of art courses on a lark. I found out that I liked it and I found out that I was in the wrong place. So, I asked around. Some of my professors were OK. There were just as unhappy being in a dump like Bozeman as I was, but they had jobs, kids, the whole thing. One of them, Joe Campbell, who taught first year painting told me, ‛Jake, if I was you I’d get my ass to San Francisco and enrol in a real art school.’ He was the one who told be about the California School of Fine Arts. So here I am. I drove all the way in my 47 MG TC,” Jake said.

“Wow,” thought Dante, “an MG TC. I know I’m going to like this guy.” “What do you think,” he said out loud, “about trying to find a place together? I’m sure if we asked around we could find something decent.”

“Well, it’s worth a try” replied Jake. “Why don’t we have dinner?” he suggested, “I know this place on upper Grant called the New Pisa. It’s an Italian joint, actually it’s a bar, but they serve dinner in the back room at six. All you can eat for a buck and a quarter. Somebody at the hotel told me about it. I tried it last night and it wasn’t half bad.” Dante quickly agreed and they made plans to meet at the bar at six.

Dante got to the bar just before Jake. When Jake did get there, he asked, “ I bet you’ve never been here before.” Dante had to admit that he hadn’t and it annoyed him that this outsider knew about the place and he didn’t. The New Pisa was located just off Columbus at 1268 Grant at the corner of Fresno and Grant. What it lacked in ambiance, it made up for in sheer dreariness, but the food was cheap, plentiful, and actually good. With your buck and quarter you got all the red wine you could drink. Although near-vinegar was perhaps a better description of the rot gut they served. So there was not much chance of drinking too much of the stuff unless you wanted an awful hangover. However bad it tasted going down, it tasted a whole lot worse coming up. “What the hell, you got soup, salad, pasta and a ‛main’ course”, thought Dante. The eating technique at the club was winner take all. Everyone sat at a common table, boarding house style, no menu, you ate what was served and if you weren’t fast you would miss a course. Mind you, Dante and Jake did pretty good at dinner if only because most of their competition were winos, well past their prime, who were not too fast off the mark.

“Well, what did you think of that? Pretty good, uh?” asked Jake. “Got to admit that it was filling,” answered Dante, “Feel like an espresso, Jake?” Here Dante was on safer ground. The Café Trieste was close to the New Pisa and it was a cool place for coffee. Dante wanted to know all the cool places in the Beach.

“Sure,” said Jake, “don’t mind if I do.”

The Trieste was for real. It served the locals and the Beats. It was a good place to sit with a cup of coffee, act like you were reading a really ‛heavy’ book, try to look hip, and, if you were real lucky, perhaps score with some chick who thought you were cool. Over espressos they talked about getting a place together. “Look, if we both keep asking people around the Beach something will come up,” said Jake.

Miss Beatnik Contestants 1959

Miss Beatnik Contestants 1959

“Yeah, yeah, there’s got to be a pad around here someplace, man,” countered Dante.

The woman at the counter who had overheard their conversation chimed in, “You two looking for a place?”

“You, bet,” said Jake,” You know of anything?”

“Well, there was this guy in this morning. He’s a doctor and he owns an apartment building, actually flats, up the hill on Pfeiffer Street. He told me that one of his tenants had left without paying the rent. He was really pissed off. Can’t say that I blame him. There are a whole lot of dead beats around these days.” “Wow,” said Dante, “Do you know the doctor’s name?”

“Can’t say that I do. Seen him around here enough. He’s kind of strange himself. He walks around with two dogs on leashes and has a monkey on his shoulder. He shouldn’t be hard to find. I think that he lives in the same building on Pfeiffer.” said the woman.

“Thanks,” replied Jake, “I bet, Dante, if we just look at names on door bells on Pfeiffer we would find him. Let’s do it right now before it is too fucking late.”

Pfeiffer Street, it turned out, was right at the top of Telegraph Hill and they were not long in finding the name of a Dr. Feist at number 154. The barking of dogs greeted their ring at the bell.“I’m coming, I’m coming,” A tall skinny white haired man answered the door. He spoke with a German accent “What do you two want? It is nine o’clock at night. My practice is closed for today. Come back tomorrow,” he said.

“It is not your practice that we are interested in Dr. Feist. My name is Dante Hamilton and this is my friend Jake Storm,” said Dante, “We hear that you might have a flat for rent?”

“How would you know about that?” asked Dr. Feist. Dante and Jake told him of their conversation at Café Trieste. “I don’t know about renting my place to the likes of you guys. I just got beat for the rent appropriately enough from a couple of Beats.

I don’t want to rent again without a lot of references.”

“We’re not Beats, Dr. Feist, we’re art students” answered Jake. “Is that supposed to be better?”, said Dr. Feist, “How I do I know that you just won’t skip without paying the rent?

“Why don’t you let us in and we’ll talk about it,” stated Dante.

“OK, sure, come in. What do I have to lose?” Dr. Feist moved over so that they could get into the hall.

What they saw surprised them. The hall way was covered with paintings, modern paintings. They followed the doctor into the living room and were even more surprised to find, in addition to more paintings, several pieces of modern sculpture. It was like a miniature art museum. On the top a sofa sat a monkey, wearing diapers.”Don’t mind Adam,” (that was the monkey’s name they were to learn) said Dr. Feist, “If he didn’t have the diapers on, he’d shit all over the place”. It was easy to see that the doctor liked animals and modern art in just about equal measure. There were the two dogs, the monkey, several cats, bird cages, fish tanks and god knows what else. The flat smelled like the zoo. The doctor was turning out to be a genuine character; he fit right into the North Beach scene.

“Where did you get all the great art Dr. Feist?” asked Dante.

“Don’t ask! And stop calling me Dr.Feist. Everybody calls me Peter. You see all this art?” Peter when on, “That’s what all my patients give me instead of money. At least that’s better than I get from all those deadbeat writers and poets. Who needs a goddamn poem,” Peter added with conviction. Dr. Feist finally did let Dante and Jake rent his vacant third floor flat and he told them that they could move in right away.

“It looks like we did pretty damn good in one day if you ask me,” said Jake.

“Yeah, let’s have a beer and figure out what we’re going to do now,” replied Dante.

The two walked down Grant Avenue feeling very satisfied with themselves. They had seen their new place—it was a pretty nice place at that—two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, bath all for eighty bucks a month. Actually it was too nice for a real pad, but the saving grace was that they had to furnish the place and there they could show their genius as they had no furniture and less taste.

They got as far down Grant as the Coffee Gallery. Looking through the open window of the Gallery that faced the street, Dante said, “Let’s go in here. I see somebody I know at the bar.” The Coffee Gallery in spite of its name was a bar and very popular with the Beat crowd. “Red!” Dante shouted to a red haired clean shaven young man about half way down the bar,

“Red,” Dante repeated as he reached the bar, “This is my friend, Jake Storm. Jake, this is Red. He’s in his second year at the School.”

“Hi, Red. Glad to meet you. What’s shaking?”said Jake.

“Not a whole lot man.” replied Red, “Just sitting here and seeing if I can find any action.”

“Red works the door at the Jazz Workshop on Broadway.” said Dante, “ I met him there when I went to a gig a couple of weeks ago. Cannonball Aderley was playing. It was out of sight.”

“Yeah,” Red said, “Cannonball can really blow.”

“Speaking of action,” Dante said, “Heard about anything?” “Not a whole lot.” said Red repeating himself. Red didn’t use a large vocabulary, but that was considered cool, “I do have some fine grass. Maybe we should do up a joint or two and make our own action. This place is starting to bug me.”

“Sounds cool to me, Red,” replied Dante not trying to sound too enthusiastic as that would definitely appear uncool. Turning to Jake, Dante said, “How about it. Want to do up some grass?” “Sure, man.” replied Jake.

“Where should we do it?” asked Red.

“How about my hotel room. It is just down on Columbus,” answered Jake.

“Let’s get a jug of Dago red at the corner,” joined Dante, “ and make a night out of it.”

Three white guys doing up pot in 1959 was really much more of an adventure than it would be a decade later. Drugs were still very much a part of the underground world of jazz—the cool world.

Jake found a couple of extra glasses back at the hotel and Dante poured everyone a glass of wine. “Boy, this shit tastes awful,” exclaimed Red.

“What do you expect for a buck and quarter a gallon,” answered Dante, Chateau Lafite? I guaranty it’ll give you a buzz. You got papers?” he continued.

“Sure do.” said Red, “ Boy, this shit is sure full of seeds, but it’ll blow your mind.” Red carefully rolled a large joint. “I might as well do two while I am at it,” he remarked. Red wet one of the joints with his tongue, pulled out a match, and lit it. “Wow, this is great shit.” He passed the joint to Dante.

“ Whoa, this will curl your toes, Jake,” said Dante taking a toke and handing it over to Jake who took a long drag and remarked, “This sure as hell beats Bozeman. Fuck middle America.” “Fuck middle America,” Red and Dante repeated Jake’s words like a toast.

“You know getting high is better than sex,” Red said rather philosophically.

“That’s why the Feds made it illegal,” said Dante.

“What, sex or grass?” asked Jake. They all thought that was very funny. The grass was taking effect very quickly.

“You know if I had my way I’d stay stoned all the time,” remarked Red.

“Pot is one of the great things in this world, if not the greatest,” said Dante in general agreement with Red.

(To be continued.)

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB, Canada, Friday, December 12, 2014.

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