Chapter 8 - If you remember the '60s you didn't experience them

 Dropping out - Life #3 begins

Beat quotes:

"I got treated very badly in Texas. They don't treat beatniks too good in Texas. Port Arthur people thought I was a beatnik, though they'd never seen one and neither had I."

- Janis Joplin

"I was a beatnik in the '50s before the hippies came along." - Charles Manson

"It is not my fault that certain so-called bohemian elements have found in my writings something to hang their peculiar beatnik theories on."
- Jack Kerouac

I dropped out in 1958. After two years on the road creating television sections and magazines for newspapers I had run my '56 Corvette into the ground and was driving a company car.

I called my boss at the H.T. Dickinson Co. and told him where the keys were, and I headed for Greenwich Village and the start of life #3.

No life could have been more different after a sheltered preppy youth, a big house next to the Greenwich Country Club and roaring through one newspaper experience after another living high off the hog as the company's top account executive.

I had one "significant other" in Houlton ME, a woman named Billy and another in Greensburg PA whose name is lost in the fog of my ill-spent youth. I was true to them both in my fashion following the line from the song in Finian's Rainbow "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love, I Love the Girl I'm Near."

I was mad about them both. Billy and I would drive from Houlton to Greenwich Village and back on weekends to visit the jazz joints like the Blue Note, Birdland and the Village Vanguard, and she never allowed my excessive speeding to interfere with our love-making. It was a 1,130 round trip.

Once during that period, when I was working at the Holyoke MA Transcript, I left the newspaper office at 5pm on a Friday and drove to Palm Beach FL to see Molly Bain, a petite blue eyed blond with whom I was smitten at the time. That was a 2,760 mile round trip.


I was stopped by the Georgia State Police going 125 mph in my Corvette on a 2,760 mile weekend round trip to visit a girfriend in Florida.

In my cherry red Corvette convertible I was stopped driving 125 mph in Georgia and still managed to have a night of bliss and a return to Holyoke in time for work Monday at 9am.

But when I left the road in '58, I moved in with a girl I knew named Pat Beardsley who had been a friend of my ex-wife back in Greenwich. She had a tiny one-room flat on West 10th Street in NYC, and we shared a bathroom with a couple others waifs.

It was the height of what newspapers were calling The Beat Generation.

Jack Kerouac had just died, but Gregory Corso, Neal Cassady, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and other influential Beats were still in The Village spending some of their most productive and destructive years in New York shuttling between mad parties and bebop joints while drinking and drugging their way to literary fame.

Among the striving artists we hung with was a gag writer for the Ed Sullivan television hour named Woody Allen and a big throated nightclub singer named Barbara Streisand.

The center of The Village in those days was south and east of Washington Square Park with the coffeehouses along Bleeker, Third and MacDougal Streets being the most popular. They had names like Bizarre, Gaslight, Figaro and Cafe Wha, but I wasn't ready to read my poetry yet.

Art to the rescue


The popular coffeehouses included the Figaro which is still at the corner of Bleeker and MacDougal today.

My mother had sent me to art school for a couple years when I was around ten, and until I could get a gig reading my poetry in a coffeehouse, I figured I'd support my bad habits by sketching portraits of tourists.

In the 1950's the street artists set up on the east side of Sixth Avenue at Waverly Place a block from the Washington Square Park.

I set up my easel at the end of the lines of about eight artists, and soon the others started giving me tips on how to improve my style, one man in particular.

He was named Primo Afríca with the accent on the second syllable.

Primo had what was called "the perfect style."

He could literally set his charcoal at any point on the sketchpad and begin drawing a perfect likeness from any point on the subject's face.

He might start in the middle, or either side, top or bottom, with no outlines or preliminary moves.

I was never half as good as Primo, but with a lot of help from him and others I managed to support myself and do so with only a few hours work a day.

Life was a permanent party. Time didn't exist, and I never had any idea or thought about what day or month or year it was.

I was beautific, which in those halcyon daze meant I smoked grass, ate a lot of munchies, stopped using alcohol and lived what was undoubtedly the most peaceful existence known to man, or at least to this man.

Drugs, Sex and Jazz

1958 was before the sexual revolution and Rock 'n Roll, and the rest of America was getting high on double martinis. The Beats simply turned their backs on the imagined, Eisenhower idealism which hide a nation where blacks couldn't vote and women were second-class citizens. "Leave It to Beaver" pretty much summed up what the media told their audience we were like.

It was bullshit, but ignorance IS bliss

Meanwhile in a couple places like Greenwich Village and Haight Ashbury during these years a nickel bag was really a nickel bag with enough grass for several good highs for five dollars.


"In consciousness dwells the wondrous, with it man attains the realm beyond the material, and the Peyote tells us, where to find it." - Antonin Artaud, The Tarahumars (1947)

We also routinely popped bennies, and if a most exotic experience was called for, we'd walk a few blocks south to Canal Street where they sold Peyote bulbs on a pushcart. The divine cactus fruit gave you a 24 hour hallucinogenic high. The downside was that you got nauseous for the first hour after chewing it raw, and you needed someone to be with you because it was really powerful.

By 1960 a new national drug law added peyote to the proscribed list, but by then it had been synthesized into mescalin and later L.S.D. when another local named Timothy Leary illuminated us on its pleasures.

Seasons, what seasons?

Summer turned to winter (I have this on good authority although I don't recall any seasonal changes myself) and spring turned into summer, and one by one the other artists disappeared from along Sixth Avenue.

When I asked where they had gone I was told that since tourism dropped off in July and August, my fellow artists had all gone to Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod.

Since my parents and I had spent all our family vacations there at the old Colonial Inn in the East End of that town, I loved the place, and started looking for a free ride to Cape Cod.

I found one on the back of a one-person motor scooter.


The portrait artists hung out on Sixth Avenue at Waverly Place in NYC and Commercial St. in Ptown.

Picture it - The driver and me with our duffel bags and my easel, chugging along the Interstate through Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts for over 300 miles.

It took us two days.

We only got to North Greenwich CT the first night, and pulled off the Round Hill Road exit (a four acre zoned district of that affluent town) and pitched our pup tent a couple miles north of where I had lived in splendor two years before.

Provincetown

When we arrived in Ptown the next afternoon, we drove to the end of Bradford Street and hiked north into the sand dunes opposite the old Moors Restaurant where we set up camp overlooking Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth in the distance.

There wasn't a house within miles, and I headed to Commercial Street to set up my easel, and my life took another seismic eruption.

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