North Beach Follies: Chapter 1.4

January 7, 2015

Mary Hamilton was dusting in the living room when the three men entered. Dante was sure that his mother disapproved of his appearance, he sported the classic beat look—disheveled army surplus—, but if she did, she never let on. George was the first to speak. “Mom,” he sometimes called Mary Mom when Dante was around, Dante thought that this was stupid, but that’s parents for you, “Meet Jake Storm. Dante’s new room mate.” Mary said she was glad to meet him and that she was sure that the two of them would have a great time in their new place. “Dinner is not going to be to around seven. Your Dad is fixing up something quite special for you two—Beef Bourguignon. (Dante’s dad was a good cook and did most of the cooking of the ‛special’ meals for the family.) What have you guys got planned for this afternoon?”

“Nothing special mom. I thought we would take a walk downtown. We’ll be back long before dinner” Dante and Jake finished their beers, said good by to George, and walked down to San Carlos Avenue, the town’s main drag. Dante liked the idea of taking Jake on a tour of his home town if for no other reason than to shock the locals. Jake, if anything, looked even more beat than did Dante and the sight of the two of them strolling through town was sure to raise eyebrows. It didn’t take long. They were about halfway down the first block of San Carlos Avenue when they were stopped by a policeman.

“And what do you two freaks think you are doing here?” the cop huffily asked.

“Why, nothing officer,” Dante replied, “We are visiting my parents. Mr and Mrs George Hamilton.”

“You got any ID,” said the officer.

“Of course,” Dante answered and gave him his California Driver Licence which still had his parents address on it. He also gave him is old Military photo ID. “I just got out of the Army and moved to the city. Is there anything wrong? Are you looking for somebody?” he asked.

“No. Just checking. How about your friend?” the cop said glaring at Jake. Jake had given the officer his Montana licence and was looking none too sure about this turn of events.

“He is my room mate and we are down here visiting my parents for dinner. Do you want to call them and check?”

“That won’t be necessary. I just want to make sure that there wasn’t any problem,” the officer said giving the two back their ID.s.

After the officer left Dante said, “Wasn’t that great? He wanted to bust us because of the way that we looked. I’m sure that it pissed him off when he found out that I was a local. I love this shit.”

“I could do without the heat myself,” Jake replied, “What would have happened if we were holding and he searched us. We would be in deep shit.” Jake was of course right, but Dante had a sense of useless adventure that keep him in and out of trouble most of the time.

“No sweat, Jake. We were clean and besides we have our rights, right? Let go back home and have a couple more beers before dinner.”

The two of them kept mum about their adventure with the law during dinner.

The next day, back in the city, Dante and Jake moved what little possessions they had into their new place on Pfeiffer Street. “Not bad,” Dante said, “This sure beats some of shit holes I’ve called home over the last little while. All I’ve got to do now is find a job to pay for this and school.”

Jake thought that there shouldn’t be problem. “There’s always something around where you can make a few bucks.” Fine for you to say, Dante thought to himself, has Jake had a bit of a nest egg and was getting some money from home.
“Well, we still have most of the summer to get our shit together before classes start,” Dante said.

“Man, this is San Francisco and this is where it’s happening. I don’t know about you, but me—I am going to get laid as much as possible and stay stoned,” Jake enthused.

“Sounds like a plan, but let’s try and not get busted in the process,” Dante added.

They decided to take a break and walk down Grant to get a coffee or a drink. “Let me take you to LaPavoni. It’s a new place right next door to City Lights. They sell espresso machines and have a little coffee bar as well. Nice people and they gave me a little work taking photographs of their stuff,” Dante said.

It was a very short walk from their place to the heart of The Beach. They were as happy as two pigs in shit. They were in the right place at the right time and knew that fame and fortune was theirs to claim. They walked through the beaded curtain that was doorway into La Pavoni and Dante said hello to Bella the wife of Jim Norton who were the owners of the place. “What’s happening? Selling any machines?”

“Nothing to write home about,” she said, “Americans still have a lot to learn about a good cup of coffee.” Jim and Bella had lived for awhile in Italy and had decided to move to San Francisco and open a coffee bar, but their major business was importing commercial espresso machines, La Pavoni machines, and hence the name of their place.

She was right, Café Trieste up the street at just opened three years ago, in 1956, and was the first espresso bar in the western US, much less San Francisco. “Listen, I’ll do my best to keep you in business. I can drink a lot of coffee,” Dante said.

Jake was remarking that the coffee pickings were even slimmer in Montana. They sat smoking and slowly sipping their espressos while trying to look cool for passing tourists. “Man, we should charge the city for sitting here and being cool. Like nobody wants to watch normal assholes drinking coffee at some dump on Market,” Dante added.

“Does that make us abnormal assholes?” Jake asked.

“It all depends on your definition of asshole. I think I’ll go next store and see what’s happening at the bookstore and maybe buy a book. Don’t want to let my mind rot.”

“Suit yourself. I’ll join you in a minute. Got to finish this smoke.”

Hyde Market St SFO police archives

Dante ambled next store to City Lights and said hello to Shige, who as usual, was sitting behind the register. He looked around for awhile at the books on art and philosophy. He picked up a copy of a small paperback by Ortega y Gasset, On Love, “ You think, I would like this? Shige,” he asked.

“Sure, have you read anything else by him?

“No, but I have heard the name.” So, Dante sprung the buck thirty-five for the book and as an afterthought said, “Shige, do you of any work around The Beach? I need a gig.”

“Come to think of it, I’ve heard that the record store down the street is looking for someone. Know the place I mean? They sell mostly classical records.”

“Yeah, I’ll give it a try. Be nice to work on the street; close to the pad and the school.” By then, Jake had joined him in the store,

“What’s shaking, Man?” he asked.

“Just heard about a possible job down the street at that record store. Think I’ll go down and ask,” Dante replied.

“Maybe you should think about what you are going to say first. Let’s go next door to Vesuvio’s have a beer and talk it over.” “Right on. Let’s do it.”

They settled on a table at the bar, ordered two beers, while Dante mulled over the best way to con himself into a much needed job.

It can’t be that hard, he thought, I know the names of a bunch of classical composers that I can throw at them in the store. His parents were always playing classical records and listened to the opera on Saturdays. “OK, Jake, if I go down, talk fast and sound like I know what I am talking about, what’s to lose?”

“Suit yourself, but I’m going to have another beer. You can pick me up on your way back and, perhaps, we could go for a cheap dinner in Chinatown.”

The record store, The Record Lyre, was just a couple of doors down the street, on Columbus, towards Pacific so Dante didn’t have far to go. Entering the store, he spotted a rather straight looking guy sorting records, he was the only person in the shop. “I’m looking for the manager.”

“You have found him. I’m actually the owner, Ken Jackson, what can I do for you?”

“My name is Dante Hamilton and I heard from Shige at City Lights, that you might be looking for somebody to work at the store.”

“Could be. What do you know about classical music and records?”

“Music something, records not that much. I just got out of the army and I’m starting at the California School of Fine Arts in September.”

“OK, tell me about the music part,” Ken said.

“I can pretty much do the alphabet of classical composers: Albinoni, Bach, Cherubini, Debussy, Elgar, Franck, Grainger, Handle…”

“Enough,” said Ken, “But I would be interested what you would come up with for X.

“X and Z are a problem, but there’s always Vivaldi and Walton”

“You’re a smart ass for such a young kid.”

“And I know the difference between a symphony and a sonata.”

“OK, OK, you got the job. Two bucks a hour. When can you start?”


“Monday will be fine. 10am. You know we have weird hours. Open to twelve and on Sundays.”

“Suits me just fine. Thanks, Ken. You won’t be sorry. By the way, I like the name of your store Record Lyre rather than Record Lair. How did you come with that?”

“Thought it would look better and people who knew could figure out that we sold classical music.” Dante didn’t know it at the time, but this job was going to be an adventure. He went back to Vesuvio’s where Jake was still nursing a beer and talking up a couple of chicks which, Dante assumed, he was trying to line up.

“Girls this is Dante,” they looked up, but it didn’t look all that promising, “How did you do?”

“Aced it, Man. Start Monday.”

“Cool, you girls like to go with us to Chinatown for something to eat?”

“Not tonight,” said the blond and the prettier of the two, “We’ve got to get back to Oakland and there’s classes tomorrow. We’ll see you around.”

Fat fucking chance, Dante thought, as they both got up and left. “Shit, Jake, I did not even catch their names. I bet they are going to Mills. Why else would they be going to Oakland? We aren’t going to get laid this way.”

“Hey, man, the night is young.”

Dante and Jake exited Vesuvio’s turned left on Adler Alley, the short street than ran between City Lights and the bar, that was the transition between Grant and Columbus Avenues and between the two worlds of Chinatown and the Beach and their two very different worlds. It didn’t take along to find a cheap place to eat. The secret was to find a place where where the Chinese ate like Sam Wo’s, which was where they went, and then to order off the menu in Chinese or, in reality, point to something on the menu as, at least, the prices were in English. Often there was a surprise like chicken foot soup which looked like chicken broth with little hands in it, but it was always a bargain.

“Well you’ve got a job and we’ve a place to live. What next?” Jake remarked while trying to master the art of chopsticks.

“I guess we’ve got to make ourselves felt. Like we’re small fish in a big pond. Nobody gives a shit about us,” Dante replied.

“Well, it’s all about art, isn’t it?,” Jake said.

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB, Canada, Friday, January 2, 2015.

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