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Journal, Day Three

By Robert Hershon

Anyway, I spent very little time in my pad. Sometimes I dropped into Frank’s Bar for a drink after work and didn’t get home for two days. Even when I was at low ebb, in the back of my mind I knew I was a regular, a guy who could run a tab, who always knew the bartender’s name, who could stand up to any obnoxious tourist, knowing Bad-Talking Charlie or Tiburon Don would back me up. And I quickly fell in love with the secret hip language. It’s hard to believe that in the Fifties, if you said, “Fall up to my pad, man, we can turn on and dig some sounds,” to the squares (good word “squares,” abandoned too early), you might as well have been speaking Estonian.

So who was in the bars? The usual population of artists and writers, drunks and cranks, drifters and grifters, brawlers and jokers, sax players and pool players, remittance men and Reed College alumnae. More Runyonesque names—Hube the Cube, Gene the Scrounge, Charlotte the Harlot, Linda Lovely, Ron the Inept Lecher, Pretty Anita (who wasn’t so pretty), and Ugly Anita (who wasn’t so ugly.) Some of the artists actually made art; some thought about it from time to time. And I started meeting poets, but let them wait a minute. Here are some of the people who made North Beach, North Beach.

JOHN AND KAY

John was going to return the borrowed books to Lulu. He’d thrown away the dust jackets.

She might be pissed about that, Kay said.

What?

The dust jackets. She might have wanted then.

Shit.

He started taking the dust jackets off other books, at random, and putting them on the borrowed books.

That’s no damned good, Kay said. Why the hell would she want them that way?

John turned red and threw the books down. What’s the fucking difference? If she wants dust jackets, these are dust jackets.

He left the books in the middle of the floor and went to Gino & Carlo’s and drank brandy and coffee. He bought an old Dodge from a man at the bar for fifty dollars and drove it to Stinson Beach.

A week later, he drove the car back. It ran out of gas and he left it on the sidewalk in front of I. Magnin and went home.

They enjoyed the party.

Kay painted herself blue for Halloween and decided she liked it, so she left herself that way for a while. She went to the Safeway with the baby in the stroller and she bought milk and cereal and avocados and burgundy and cookies and mayonnaise and she was painted blue.

She became less blue in stages. First her hands. Then her legs. Her back. Her face. If any blue parts remained, no one knew.

(How to Ride on the Woodlawn Express, SUN, 1986)

MAPES AND FRAKES

Mapes was taller. Frakes was wider. They were both taller and wider than almost anyone. They were also pretty smart, but they preferred to be big. That was a choice to be made.

Frakes was blacklisted for having been in the CP so he couldn’t ship out anymore, but Mapes still did. He’d become a sailor because he was a folksinger and it seemed a logical progression. The first night out, someone shouted “Fire in the hold!” and he leapt up from the table to do his part. When he got back, someone had eaten his rice pudding.

But Mapes still observed romantic tradition by breaking up bars and bystanders when he was on the beach. One time he had been roaring for six days and even his best friends were stepping behind trucks when they saw him. He’d left a clear trail of smashed jukeboxes and punched-out salesmen and the cops didn’t seem too eager to catch up with him, but they finally picked him up early one Sunday evening, just standing on the corner of Grant and Vallejo. He was finished and ready to rest, but when he found out that the cops thought he was Frakes, his feelings were hurt.

A few weeks later, he married his seventh wife. She got him a full-time job, had a baby, and made the whole family eat oatmeal every morning.

But Frakes was always there. He played chess, he drank beer, did a little this and that. He walked in the neighborhood and he was the strongest man in the world, with all the responsibilities thereunto appertaining. People were flattered when he remembered their names but hoped he wouldn’t slap them on the back. Sometimes he worked as a bouncer at Vesuvio, sending surly college boys soaring over the pavement of Columbus Avenue. Mt. Shasta, Muir Woods, the San Joaquin Valley, the strongest man in the world.

When there was almost no one around who even remembered Mapes anymore, Frakes grew older and slower and became silent. He sat in the bar of the San Gottardo Hotel and stared at his change. One day a young cab driver who lived upstairs was in the bar making a lot of noise. Frakes told him to shut up. The driver said go fuck yourself. Frakes walked over and forced the man’s jaws open and spit in his mouth. Once that would have been the end of it. This day, the driver went upstairs and got his knife.

(How to Ride on the Woodlawn Express, SUN, 1986)


Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, February 21st, 2007 by Robert Hershon.