Archive for the ‘North Beach Follies’ Category


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.


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.


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.


North Beach Follies: Chapter 1.1

December 9, 2014

“Shit,” he thought as he awoke suddenly from a wine induced sleep, “ I’ll be late for my fucking first class.” Looking around and then beside him, saw that he was in a strange bed and with a even stranger woman. “Where in the bloody hell am I?” as he continued his somewhat foggy thinking. He jumped out of bed and started looking around the floor for his clothes. The room was not half bad as rooms go at least by the standards that he had as a slightly overage first year art student. “Just my luck,” he pondered, “The first time I’ve been laid in weeks and I don’t remember a thing. Jesus my head, I’ve got to stop drinking that cheap Dago red.” Throwing on his clothes as he found them, he groped his way to the door. Just then, the woman woke up, “Where are you going, Dante?” she asked still half asleep. “Got to go. We’ll be in touch,” he replied. Although he didn’t know how as he didn’t know her name.

His name was, however, Dante, Dante Hamilton and he had been living in San Francisco’s North Beach for the past four months. Why, he thought, did his parents give him that stupid Italian first name? While his parents were cool, the closest they had ever gotten to Italy was Mario’s pizza which was San Carlos’ only pizzeria and for that matter the owner of Mario’s was Sam Wineburger. Sam and his family were rather a rarity in San Carlos being Jewish. You could hardly get any more Wasp than San Carlos in the early fifties of Dante’s youth. It was a commuter town some thirty miles south of San Francisco where Dante had grown up. Each weekday morning the town emptied itself of nearly the entire able-bodied male population most of whom took the Southern Pacific train to work in the city each and returned each evening tired, but glad to be back there in the safe haven of the ‛Peninsula’. The only thing Dante knew about San Carlos was that he wanted to get out and get out he did.

Less than a week after he graduated high school Dante was in the army. His idea was to beat the draft, but enlisting seemed like a stupid way to do it. The army offered him the option of either where he wanted to go or what he wanted to do if he joined. Dante took the later as he figured, correctly as it turned out, that whatever happened, he would not be serving his term in San Carlos. He liked the idea of being a photographer and the army promised him a place in its photography school in New Jersey after basic training. While to make a long story short, Dante did complete photo school and they did not post him back to San Carlos. Instead he ended up in Korea.

Those lost three years were spent in the army where Dante discovered that he really didn’t want to be a soldier. He spend most of his time counting the days that he had left until his discharge. It was in Korea that Dante got the bright idea to go to the California School of Fine Arts. A friend in his outfit he greatly admired, Carlos Villa, who had visions of becoming a painter, told him about the place. Carlos’s friend, Leo Valledor, was already enrolled and wrote glowing letters about the place and the great scene that surrounded the school. Dante did discover, however, during his time in the army that there was something called the Beat Generation and it had been happening right under his nose, in San Francisco, and he had missed it. Sex, booze, drugs—the whole ball of wax—and he had been a mere thirty miles away the whole time.

“What a bummer!” Dante would often say out loud to anyone who would listen to him in the barracks or the Quonset huts that served as barracks, “I’m stuck in this shit hole while a whole bloody generation gets lost without me.” Shit hole was likely an apt description of the Korea that Dante found himself in the late fifties, but at least nobody was shooting at him. He didn’t have a clue about either the art school or the Beat movement, but it sounded a whole lot better than the army. Actually most things sounded better than the army, especially the army that he found himself in during the late fifties in Korea. Dante had wanted out of San Carlos and now he wanted out of the army.

So May 1959 found Dante out of the army and in San Francisco eager to enlist in the Beat movement. Only how to pay for such an adventure? His timing in the army had been perfect—he joined six months after the Korean War G.I. Bill had lapsed and before, although he didn’t know it then, the Viet Nam G.I. Bill kicked in. Mind you, he was lucky enough to be in the army during a brief period when the country was not at war, but it was pure luck and nothing more as he would have been stupid enough to join if there had been a war in 1956.

Finding a place to live, or as it was called a pad, was a first task. It had to be in the right area. The Beach, North Beach. This was where it was happening. This is where the bars, the clubs, the bookstores were and at that time a cheap enough place to live in the city. The idea was to hang out until you found a place to crash—either by yourself or with other like minded individuals. After all, the great beat line from Larry Ferlingetti’s poem was about hanging about at Mike’s Place where according to that other great Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, you would find the ‘best minds of my generation.’ Mike’s Place on Columbus Avenue was a neat place. Great sandwiches, cheap beer, pool, not to mention the best minds which certainly included Dante, but it took three years from the time he graduated high school until he found himself hanging out in the center of the Beat Generation trying his best to look cool.

Even in high school Dante had pictured himself as a self-styled bohemian. He had, after all spent the first two years of high school living in England where is father was working as an electrical engineer for Bechtel International on a contract from his usual job for them in San Francisco. His parents had taken him to Paris twice during that time and this had given him a taste of high culture that was very different than San Carlos. By the time he returned to San Carlos to finish high school, he was reading romantic poets and going so far as to carry pocket editions of Byron and Keats in public. This in an early fifties California public high school was not considered cool and Dante, more often than not, found himself an outsider cast with the nerds who were outcast because they wore the wrong clothes, or they were bookish, or unattractive, or any combination of these traits. It really didn’t matter much to Dante what his cooler classmates thought as he knew that he was destined for great things while his classmates would end up as high school teachers or gas station attendants whose greatest moment would be the senior prom before they settled down to boring middle class lives. Dante always had a high opinion of himself which was usually not shared by those around him.

The army had been a way out of the bind of his middle class environment. Dante figured that the draft would get him sooner or later and typically, for him, he reasoned, “You can’t draft me, I’ll join.” He had not realized that the results were the same—you were still in the army, only  you had joined for three years rather than the two if you were drafted. Well, all of that was behind him now. Once more a civilian and ready to take the unsuspecting world by storm.

Dante had decided that his talent lay as a photographer and artist rather than a poet. This realization came upon him when he figured that he could not spell. Dante had seen the major retrospective of Jackson Pollock at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in December of 1956 while on a short leave before being shipped overseas. This, he concluded, was for him. Pollack, hero painter, famous in his own time, overt womanizer, early tragic death, what more could one ask from life? No more of this T.S. Elliot, Ezra Pound stuff , he reasoned, “Give me my camera, a couple rolls of film and I’ll change the world. I’ll be to photography what Pollack was to painting.” It didn’t matter that Dante didn’t have a clue about being an artist. He could learn.

San Franciso

San Francisco

San Francisco was not only the home to the Beat Generation, it was also the location of the California School of Fine Arts. This was where Ansel Adams had taught photography as a fine art. This is where a new art of painting, the California School, was coming to light. The California school combined Abstract Expressionism with the figure–the result was big sloppy figurative paintings. The big names: Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bishoff, and Nathan Oliviera were all teaching at the School. What a great opportunity. Dante could have it all. The Beat movement, a new important art movement—surely San Francisco was the centre of the universe, and in 1959, it was.

Dante looked down the bar, where he was seated. A young bearded man was talking to the bartender. Dante could overhear what he was saying: “This place is sure different from Bozeman,” he continued, “ I need to find a place to live. Have you heard of anything?” The bartender, whose name was Ned, said: “Can’t say as I have. Plan to be in the city long?” “Yeah,” the young man answered,” I just enrolled at the California School of Fine Arts. I reckon I’ll be here for at least four years.”

Dante’s ears picked up at the mention of the school. “Hey,” he more or less shouted down the bar, “ Me too. I’m starting at the school and I’m looking for a place to crash. I’m Dante, Dante Hamilton. Who are you?” “Name’s Jake Storm and I’ve just been here three days. I am staying at a fleabag hotel, around the corner on Columbus. I’m from Montana, Bozeman, Montana. How about you.” “Me? I’m from around here, but I just got out of the army and I’m looking for a place to live in the Beach near the school. Right now I’m crashing across town with a friend of mine who was with me in the army, but I’d rather be living around here. Can I buy you a beer?” “Sure,” replied Jake, “So you’re going to the school too. Why?” Dante gave him a short version of his life and conversion to the arts via the United States Army. When he finished he asked Jake what brought him from Montana to North Beach. (To be continued.)

© Virgil Hammock, Sackville NB, Canada, Tuesday, December 9, 2014.