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North Beach Follies: Chapter 1.3

December 29, 2014

Jake was sitting in the corner looking, at least to Dante and Red, very stoned. “You know,” said Red, “We could catch a set or two at the Workshop. I can get us in for free and get us free drinks.”

“Or we could stay here and get even more stoned,” answered Dante.

“I think you’ve got a point, Dante,” Red responded, “let’s get really waxed. What do you think, Jake?”

Jake who by this point was feeling no pain nodded in agreement, “Man, I couldn’t move my ass from here if the place was on fire.”

“I have been thinking,” said Red, “that those assholes in New York are going to have to pay a lot more attention to what is happening here in San Francisco. I mean like all that Abstract Expressionist shit is over, man.”

“Yeah, they think that their shit doesn’t smell,” added Jake, “Look, somebody like David Park can paint circles around those east coast faggots”

“You guys really think so? I saw Jackson Pollock’s stuff at the Modern three years ago and it really moved me,” said Dante, putting his two cents worth into the argument.

“But man,” said Red, “he is stone fucking dead and his art died with him. Besides he was fucking crazy.”

“I should be so crazy,” replied Dante, “ Look, he could really paint and since when does it matter if an artist was crazy. I mean like look at van Gogh. Beside, who decides who’s crazy and who’s not. It isn’t the bloody artists.”

“OK, OK.,” said Red, “ But that’s not my point. What I am saying is that New York is no longer the centre of the fucking universe. Something is happening here, man. It not just painting, but poetry, music, everything and you know something it’s we can be part of it. It’s today, man. It’s not fucking history.”

“Everything is history, man,” replied Dante, “Tonight is tomorrow’s history.” Dante was really pleased by his last remark which he thought to be quite deep, but after getting high, he generally thought everything he said to be profound. As the night turned to morning, and the conversation continued, both the gallon of wine and Red’s stash disappeared.

wine bottlesDante was the first to wake. It was well past noon. His head felt like a group of coal miners were inside trying to dig their way out. His tongue felt several times too large for his mouth. As for the taste in his mouth, that was best left unsaid. Looking around, he saw Jake asleep, laying crosswise on the bed, Red was asleep in a chair by the room’s only window. By the looks of things Dante had spent the night on the floor on a rug that had likely been last cleaned after the quake of 06. Shit, thought Dante, I think I am going to be sick. Where is the fucking toilet? There was only a sink in the room and he felt the need for something that he could flush. Dizzily getting to his feet, Dante groped for the door. God, I hope I can find it before I puke.

There was a toilet at the end of the hall. The old fashioned kind with the high tank and a chain. The room was dark and smelled of urine, but that was the least of Dante’s problems. He wanted to make sure that his glasses didn’t fall into the bowl while he was throwing up. Dante vowed to himself, I’ll never drink that cheap red again. Not as long as I live. This was a vow he often made, but never kept. At the moment, however, he was hoping that he would die and be released from his misery and fulfill his vow. When nothing else would come up, he got off his knees, flushed the toilet, and staggered back to Jake’s room.

“Jake, Red, wake up. It’s one o’clock,” he said loudly. He hoped that his friends felt as bad as he did. “I feel like shit,” he continued to nobody in particular.

“I don’t feel like Buster Brown myself,” countered Jake.

“It ain’t so bad,” added Red, “I can still see.”

“Look guys, I have to get over to my place in the Mission and tell Dale that I found a place,” said Dante, “Jake I’ll meet you around seven tonight at Mike’s. If it’s OK with you? We can work out the details of our move then. Red, I’ll catch you later. Thanks for the grass.” Jake agreed to the meeting and

Dante took a bus to Market Street and transferred to another that would take him to Mission.

He had been staying for the last couple of weeks in a place in the Mission district with a friend he had met in the army, Dale Sutherland. Dale was a Brit who after moving to the States found himself drafted. He wanted to be an actor—a comedian. They had both finished their short military careers in Oklahoma where they had met. Both figured on going to San Francisco after their discharge. Dale got out a few months ahead of Dante and had already sort of established himself in the city. He offered Dante a place to crash. It was an offer that he couldn’t refuse. The last thing that Dante wanted to do was move back with his family. He was very determined to be on his own. Dale already had a roommate. A fat young San Franciscan, named Bob Dixon, who, like Dale, wanted to be a comic. They had already put together an act. They imitated Laurel and Hardy and as Dale was very small and his friend quite large—it wasn’t bad, at least visually, but their constant role playing around the apartment was driving Dante up the wall. Dante felt like it was part of a forever playing Hal Roach two reeler.

Only Dale was in the apartment when Dante arrived. “Dale, I got a place in North Beach. I met a guy from Montana who is going to the California School of Fine Arts too. We got a place together on Telegraph Hill. We can move in anytime. I think I’ll be out of your hair by the weekend. I hope you didn’t worry about me last night. I met a friend and me and my new roommate got high, really fucked up. I should have called.” “Dante,” replied Dale, “I’ long since given up worrying about your whereabouts. In any case, I’m glad you found a place, but you were more than welcomed here. Maybe Bob and I can help you move.”

“Thanks, but I got so little I think I can managed,” said Dante, “Where is Bob?”

“He is out looking for a job,” said Dale, “We need the bread.” Dale and Bob had been making a few bucks, here and there, doing gigs at birthday parties and store openings, waiting for the big break. In the meantime they were both trying to find part time jobs.

Dante needed a job of some kind too. At the moment he was collecting unemployment insurance. One good thing about the great peacetime army was that you were able to collect unemployment insurance once you were out. Dante had the perfect scam for that. The army in its genius had briefly made him a field artillery instructor. He never figured out why, as he didn’t know one end of a howitzer from the other, but it was to serve him well. Filling out the forms in the unemployment office he listed his occupation as a cannoneer—expert in all sorts of field pieces and dared them to find a job in his ‛field’. It worked and every two weeks he picked up his check. Not a whole of cash, but enough to get by in the style he wished. He had six months of insurance and he didn’t want to rush into anything, but he knew, that sooner or later, he would have to find something.

That night at Mike’s, Dante and Jake made plans to move into their new place on the weekend. Jake had everything he owned in his hotel room. Dante had a few thing at Dale’s and figured that he could get some more stuff from his parent’s place in San Carlos. They would rent a truck drive down to the Peninsula on Saturday, have dinner with Dante’s parents, and return to their new digs that same evening. All went nearly as planned. They arrived in the early afternoon at Dante’s parent’s house. It was a typical California suburban home. Ranch style, three bedrooms, small yard in front and back–pleasant, but nothing special. George, Dante’s father, was mowing the front lawn when they arrived.

“Dante, how is it going,” he said, “have you found a job?” He knew that his son hadn’t, but he felt it important to ask anyway. “No dad. I’m still looking. Something will come up. I still have over three months of unemployment insurance coming,” Dante replied, “I’d like you to meet my friend Jake Storm.

He is the one that I talked to you about,” he continued.

“Hi Jake, glad to meet you. Dante has given us quite an earful about you. Why don’t you guys come in the house and have a beer? Mom in there doing some cleaning and she is looking forward to meeting Jake.”

Dante’s dad was not quite sure what is son was up to, but both he and his wife, Mary, supported Dante’s efforts to become an artist. Perhaps it was because of the name that they had given him or because they wanted their son to have the excitement in his life that they had missed in theirs. Dante was a bit bothered by the fact that he couldn’t honestly claim that his family didn’t understand him. If you wanted to be an artist your family was suppose to oppose you. There was no fun when they said “Sounds like a good idea to us son. Go ahead and follow your dream.”

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB, Canada, Friday, December 26, 2014.

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