1959: The Year Everything Changed

Fifty years ago on a beach in Truro

On left, the bearded Rafio when he was a beat poet and street artist with his girlfriend Patsy Twite in the middle and her friend Barbara Chase on the left. The middle photo is Patricia in the late 1960s and 70s she was a model in Puritan's weekly full-page ad in The Cape Codder where the author, now Walter Brooks again, was Advertising Manager and photographer.

What a difference a half century makes

By Rafio, a.k.a. Walter Brooks
There is a new best seller named "1959: The Year Everything Changed", and it could have been written with me in mind.

From the book 1959:
The Year Everything Changed

It was the year when the microchip was introduced, the Food and Drug Administration held hearings on the birth-control pill, IBM marketed the first business computer, a passenger jetliner took the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight, and America joined the Russians in the "space race." It saw the rise of free jazz, "sick comics," the New Journalism, and indie films; the birth of Motown, Happenings, and the Generation Gap; the Lady Chatterley trial that overthrew the nation's obscenity laws; the U.S. Civil Rights Commission's first report, which sparked the overhaul of segregation laws-all this bursting against fears of a "missile gap," the fallout-shelter craze, and the first U.S. casualties in the war in Vietnam.

During this summer in 1959 I was known as Rafio, and my home was a pup tent in the sand dunes at Land's End in Provincetown.

I would spend a couple hours each day sketching portraits of tourists on Commercial Street, and when I had enough for a New York Times, a nickle bag of noxious weed and lunch, I'd quit for the day.

This was 1959 and the only coke around came in a six-ounce, glass bottle. It was an innocent but bigoted era.

I didn't drink alcohol and rolled my own cigarettes, so all I did all day was lay in the sun, flirt with women, and wait for the long-gone "Wreck Club" to serve their free food each evening after the fishing boats unloaded.

One day's repast might be pasta and another might be squid stew, but it was fun and it was free for the price of a drink at this great old watering hole.

I was beatific and had reached nirvana.

Then I met Patricia

 I was coming back from a swim in the harbor on August 22, 1959, when I spotted this incredibly beautiful young 17-year-old girl in front of Adam's Pharmacy walking off with the sketch pad I had left on my easel at the Crown & Anchor.

I asked her why she'd glommed it, and she said. "the drawings were so lovely, I couldn't resist them."

Guess what - I didn't say another word, and one thing led to another until she moved into my pup tent with me that night.

We had a rapturous week together at Ballston Beach behind her family's camp on Old King's Highway in Truro, and even made poet Harry Kemp's last beach party.

But it all came to a screeching halt when her parents came down on Labor Day and dragged her back home.

I asked Ruth Hogan to paint this oil of the spot Pat and I met, Adam's Pharmacy in Ptown.

Pat gave them a month to see the light, and then she ran off to look for me in Greenwich Village.

Miracle on  4th Street

She didn't have an address because I didn't have one myself. I crashed at various friends' pads in the Village. The only thing she knew was that I hung out at the Rienzi on McDougal Street.

She took a bus to the terminal on West 42nd Street, ignored the pimps and other chicken hawks, and took a cab to 6th Avenue and 4th Street.

She started walking east on 4th Street until we passed each other.

I had been heading for the subway on 6th Avenue to get to the northern end and then hitchhike to Massachusetts and bring her back with me.

Neither of us at the time thought anything about how impossible meeting on the one block really was. Today it still gives me shivers.

This was the Beat Era, and The Village was jumping with art, music, poetry - it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius as well as sexual freedom, Civil Rights blooming and America would never be the same again.

Pat and I had our own, very successful coffeehouse on Bleeker Street, and generally raised all kinds of hell until Pat was about to give birth to our first of two sons in 1961.

I gave up the coffeehouse, got a job at the New York Post to get my resume back together, and by 1965 we were living in  a little Cape Cod dream house and working for The Cape Codder newspaper.

This August 22nd will mark our fiftieth year together, so 1959 really did change everything for us, thankfully, and below is the happy couple with the Fresh Air Fund visitor Gina Peterson at Long Pond in Brewster around 1972.

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