Tripping Through the Beatnik Generation

An angel-headed hipster recounting the moments he shared with some of the greatest influences on the Beatnik Generation.

Tripping Through the Beatnik Generation

Straight from my uncle's journal is a summary of his thoughts while tripping through the Beatnik Generation. From his perspective the roots of Pop Culture can be traced back to the post WWII Beatnik Movement. He passed in 1994, and left me a treasure trove of journals vividly recounting the moments he shared with some of the greatest influences of the Beatnik Generation.

 

The winter of 1945 was icy cold and New York was a mean place for a hungry hustler. I was feeling weary and worn out by the incessant drift from one night haunt to another. After a while, the scene sort of draws in on you and you feel trapped by your very own devices. Everybody looks mean and ugly after several nights up on Benzedrine, a nightmare of ragged characters all on edge. I was hooked on observing it all, lapping it up with compulsive zeal until I felt whacked and satiated. For some it was a time for whooping it up. The war was over in a great big mushroom cloud and it was the dawning of a new era of American progress and prosperity. The GIs were back home, all rearing to go after the bitch-goddess that lures with dreams of money and success. But for me there was nothing but the daily grind of hustling to keep both body and soul together. Where did the good times go, the mad people that burn themselves out, those that are beat and gone? What happened to that close bunch of buddies that filled my days and nights with such gleeful joy? When you're feeling down, you look back and it all seems to glow, you get flashes and insights, fleeting glimpses that warm your soul. So much had happened this year, so many changes to ring out the old and usher in the new. We seemed to have just drifted apart, gone our separate ways due to chance or circumstance. By that summer the communal apartment on 115th Street had broken up in a shambles. Things had just got out of hand. There is nothing like an impending bust to get everybody jumpy, and that's the way it was.

Old Bill Burroughs, caught in his junk trap, was starting to feel the heat catching up to him. The world of junk is full of informers, and in no time they were on to Herbert Huncke, and then Bill. To get him out of trouble, Bill's parents had suggested that he move down to Texas. He found a smallholding near a little town called New Waverly, about 50 miles from Houston, and moved down there with Joan and her little daughter, Julie, with the intention of growing marijuana to sell on the New York market. Allen Ginsberg, who had worked in a shipyard and enrolled in the Maritime Service Training Station, shipped out as a mess boy on a tanker heading south. And Jack Kerouac split back home to his parents' apartment in Ozone Park, where his father was dying of stomach cancer. The Benzedrine had been too much for Jack, and by December he had developed Thrombophlebitis in his legs, and was in the Veterans' Administration Hospital in Queens with his legs up on a pillow swathed in hot compresses. Looking back on it all in calm recollection, it was our journey to the end of the night.

In a way, we were all licking our wounds, lying low in fallow, for there is almost nothing time cannot heal. Winter is always followed by the spring. I had heard by telegram that my father had died on the third of May 1946, and by some strange coincidence, Jack's father had died on the very same day. I didn't see much of Jack at that time, as he was staying at home writing a book incorporating some of his experiences. So it was time for me to leave New York for my father's funeral, and to comfort my mother and young brothers and sisters back home in Philadelphia, where I spent the rest of that year. At first it was great to be back home, the prodigal son returned to the fold. My mother was hoping I'd had enough of my "gutter-snipe days," as she called it, and that I'd meet a nice local girl, get a steady job, and just settle down like all the rest of the people she knew. Sooner or later I knew the game was up and I'd have to return once more to Time Square, with its hustle and bustle and all it entails. Having paid my filial dues, I arrived back in New York fresh into the new year of January 1947, with a neat stash of dollars to see me by until I got a job as a soda jerk or bartender. Those first few days I felt like a stranger as I wandered into the Angler Bar and Whelan's, looking for familiar faces. I soon bumped into Vicki Russel, a real character who was a seasoned hustler from way back, into the junk scene and doing tricks. She was a tall girl who managed somehow to retain her wide-eyed innocence and vulnerability, despite the active life she led. Through her old friend Herbert Huncke, we'd all met her and spent many crazy hours in her company. 

Once when Jack had become pale and thin from the Bennies, she'd applied pancake make-up to his face so that he wouldn't feel conspicuous while traveling on the subway. It was through her that I learned what had happened in my absence, who was still about and what they were doing. First of all, Lucien Carr had recently come out of prison on parole. On New Year's Eve, she and Lucien, Jack, and a girl named Celine had gone to see the movie Crime and Punishment, and then went on to some socialite parties getting crazy drunk. Allen had gone back to Columbia to study, but was still very much on the scene, experimenting with drug-induced poetics. And Herbie, who had taken a fall for possession of a $5 bag of heroin and done six months on Rikers Island, had gone to sea but was now back again. Of course, Bill was still in Texas, though Joan had turned up the previous fall, but too many Bennies had sent her to Bellevue Hospital Psychiatric Wing. It felt great to be back on Times Square.

It was around this time that a new character entered our lives, to lift us back into pulsating life and energize our rather beat existence. His name was Neal Cassady, fresh, vibrant, and bounding with animated excitement, and a sort of primitive sexual magnetism unrestrained by social convention. We had heard talk of Neal from Hal Chase, who stayed at the apartment on 115th Street and was also at Columbia. Hal had known Neal in Denver, his home town, before he had come up to Columbia to study philosophy, and on returning on vacation had told Neal about the mad gang in the big city, whetting his appetite for more thrills and kicks. It was at the West End Bar that I caught my first glimpse of Neal, sitting in a booth with Hal and this dishy young chick. I just nodded to Hal and went to join my party in the next booth. I could hear this insane giggle of glee from the next table, and this torrent of words bubbling over excitedly as Neal got into his rap. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I edged up on to the seat next to Hal, nonchalantly introducing myself to Neal and the honey of a blonde who was hanging on to him. I found out that she, Luanne, was his wife and turned out to be only fifteen. Bright-eyed and fresh-looking, with loose curls of hair, she sat starry-eyed taking Neal all in. Neal was two years younger than I, at twenty, and really enjoying the New York scene. Soon we were talking about pool, both Neal and I had a common hankering after seedy pool haunts. Neal had spent many an hour gracing the pool-tables of down-town Denver with his presence. He was mad about cars and had acquired his learning experience at the age of fourteen when he engaged in a compulsive game of joy-riding. From then until he was eighteen, he had "borrowed," by his own count, some 500 cars, been arrested 10 times, convicted six times, and spent 15 months in reformatory. 

He was then working as a parking lot attendant at the Hotel New Yorker on 34th Street, moving cars around, swerving in and out of crammed spaces at a bouncy speed, and handling the wheel with magnificent ease. That was Neal, full of go, baring his adventures in a racy onslaught, randomly picking up crazy scenes from the past that gripped me with awed excitement. In the strange and lonely world of Times Square, I'd met the weird and wonderful, each with his or her own story to tell of a broken home, not being wanted and left to drift like garbage around the gutters. With Neal I felt a strong rapport. He called himself the "unnatural son of a few score beaten men," as at the age of six he'd gone to live in a bum skidrow hotel with his wino father, washing himself in the mornings in a common bathroom stinking with vomit and filth, surrounded by sad, old derelicts sprucing up for a day's begging. His experience and easy acceptance of situations, his open faced candor and innate instinct for the beat of life, touched me quite deeply.

Hal had already brought Jack over to the cold-water flat in Spanish Harlem where Neal and Luanne were staying. It was an inopportune moment, as Neal opened the door to them stark naked, erection at half-cock, with Luanne jumping off the couch and out of view. Soon the seeds of a great friendship were sown. In Neal, Jack saw a brother-sufferer, a "wild yea-saying overburst of American joy" that made his heart pound faster. Neal was thirsty for intellectual knowledge, having read a few shelf-lots at reformatory, and admired Jack's knowledge and understanding of some of the great classics of literature, eagerly engaging him in great debate. Jack told Neal about the novel he was writing, The Town and the City, which figured different aspects of himself put into the sons of a family. As Neal and Jack became friends and went out, Luanne was left back at the flat more often. On one of these nights out, I ran into Neal and Jack at the West End, and we had a drink. I was going to Vicki Russell's apartment in the East Eighties to smoke grass, or get high on some tea, as we called it. Neal had not smoked marijuana before and was eager to get high. They were to have picked up two girls in a diner, but had been stood up, so we made our way up to Vicki's rather small studio apartment. She let us in with her dreamy eyes glassed up and shining, the sweet smell of tea catching in our nostrils, and bop blowing from a horn on the radio. And who should be sitting on a stool, puffing on a water pipe, his large, dark eyes staring up at us? None other than Allen, whom I'd not seen since my return. Neal had met Allen briefly when Hal introduced them at the West End, but they'd not spoken much. Of course, they knew quite a lot about each other, through their mutual friendship with Hal. Allen lit up the water pipe and we soon got nice and high. Neal and Allen just connected, and charged each other up. Neal was sitting there, his eyes gleaming in the half-light, his head bobbing up and down, exclaiming, "yes, yes," and "that's right," as Allen opened up to him. Jack just sat back watching the two of them getting off on one another, ranting and raving on, getting higher and higher and more carried away. I could see Neal's features change, his face softening in moments of repose, and then he was off babbling away, a wicked, know-all glint in his eyes, arms flaying the air in bursts of hyper-manic exaltations. Jack likened them to “the holy con-man with the shining mind, and the sorrowful poetic con-man with the dark mind." The next morning we wandered off, still high and in exuberate spirits, Jack and I tagging behind the two of them.

During the following week Neal, who was working at the parking lot during the day, divided his time in the evenings between Luanne, three nights of love-making and fighting, Jack, two evenings in rapt intellectual conversation, and Allen, two nights staying up all night, seeing how far they could go before they bugged one another. Nobody but Neal, with his abundant energy, could have done it. Late one night Neal and Allen and some friends ended up at the tenement apartment I shared with a friend on 104th Street. As it was late, they stayed the night. There weren't enough beds, so Neal and Allen shared the same bed, and although Neal only seemed interested in making it with girls, he pulled Allen to him, and they became lovers for the first time. Though roughly the same age, Allen being nervous and self-conscious, was overwhelmed by Neal's lack of inhibition and confident ease in sexual relationships. He fell in love with Neal, and they swore vows of love the following week. There was a great emotional bond between them, each filling a need in the other. As Allen got hooked on Neal, he in turn became more highly charged sexually to Jack but nothing came of it, and the three of them spent a lot of time together getting high on tea, drunk on beer, or speeding on Bennies. Meanwhile Luanne, who had had enough, returned to Denver in a huff. Before she left she told Neal that the cops were looking for him because he was buying too much of that marijuana. A short while later, on the fourth of March, 1947, Neal Cassady left New York for Denver on a Greyhound bus headed west, wearing a dark-pinstriped business suit that he'd bought to impress the boys at the pool hall. Allen and Jack had both gone to see him off. They planned to meet together in Denver in the summer, and who knows, they could go to Bill Burroughs' ranch-type place in Texas and introduce Neal to Bill. Then Neal was gone, and as I huddled up against that bitter March wind, New York seemed tight and cramped, lacking in life and luster. I thought I kept hearing Neal's voice yelling my name from behind when the wind blew and howled, laughing madly in my ear, "He-he-hee-hee-hee," like the holy goof he was.

It was around this time that a new character entered our lives, to lift us back into pulsating life and energize our rather beat existence. His name was Neal Cassady, fresh, vibrant, and bounding with animated excitement, and a sort of primitive sexual magnetism unrestrained by social convention. We had heard talk of Neal from Hal Chase, who stayed at the apartment on 115th Street and was also at Columbia. Hal had known Neal in Denver, his home town, before he had come up to Columbia to study philosophy, and on returning on vacation had told Neal about the mad gang in the big city, whetting his appetite for more thrills and kicks. It was at the West End Bar that I caught my first glimpse of Neal, sitting in a booth with Hal and this dishy young chick. I just nodded to Hal and went to join my party in the next booth. I could hear this insane giggle of glee from the next table, and this torrent of words bubbling over excitedly as Neal got into his rap. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me and I edged up on to the seat next to Hal, nonchalantly introducing myself to Neal and the honey of a blonde who was hanging on to him. I found out that she, Luanne, was his wife and turned out to be only fifteen. Bright-eyed and fresh-looking, with loose curls of hair, she sat starry-eyed taking Neal all in. Neal was two years younger than I, at twenty, and really enjoying the New York scene. Soon we were talking about pool, both Neal and I had a common hankering after seedy pool haunts. Neal had spent many an hour gracing the pool-tables of down-town Denver with his presence. He was mad about cars and had acquired his learning experience at the age of fourteen when he engaged in a compulsive game of joy-riding. From then until he was eighteen, he had "borrowed," by his own count, some 500 cars, been arrested 10 times, convicted six times, and spent 15 months in reformatory.

He was then working as a parking lot attendant at the Hotel New Yorker on 34th Street, moving cars around, swerving in and out of crammed spaces at a bouncy speed, and handling the wheel with magnificent ease. That was Neal, full of go, baring his adventures in a racy onslaught, randomly picking up crazy scenes from the past that gripped me with awed excitement. In the strange and lonely world of Times Square, I'd met the weird and wonderful, each with his or her own story to tell of a broken home, not being wanted and left to drift like garbage around the gutters. With Neal I felt a strong rapport. He called himself the "unnatural son of a few score beaten men," as at the age of six he'd gone to live in a bum skidrow hotel with his wino father, washing himself in the mornings in a common bathroom stinking with vomit and filth, surrounded by sad, old derelicts sprucing up for a day's begging. His experience and easy acceptance of situations, his open faced candor and innate instinct for the beat of life, touched me quite deeply.

Hal had already brought Jack over to the cold-water flat in Spanish Harlem where Neal and Luanne were staying. It was an inopportune moment, as Neal opened the door to them stark naked, erection at half-cock, with Luanne jumping off the couch and out of view. Soon the seeds of a great friendship were sown. In Neal, Jack saw a brother-sufferer, a "wild yea-saying overburst of American joy" that made his heart pound faster. Neal was thirsty for intellectual knowledge, having read a few shelf-lots at reformatory, and admired Jack's knowledge and understanding of some of the great classics of literature, eagerly engaging him in great debate. Jack told Neal about the novel he was writing, The Town and the City, which figured different aspects of himself put into the sons of a family. As Neal and Jack became friends and went out, Luanne was left back at the flat more often. On one of these nights out, I ran into Neal and Jack at the West End, and we had a drink. I was going to Vicki Russell's apartment in the East Eighties to smoke grass, or get high on some tea, as we called it. Neal had not smoked marijuana before and was eager to get high. They were to have picked up two girls in a diner, but had been stood up, so we made our way up to Vicki's rather small studio apartment. She let us in with her dreamy eyes glassed up and shining, the sweet smell of tea catching in our nostrils, and bop blowing from a horn on the radio. And who should be sitting on a stool, puffing on a water pipe, his large, dark eyes staring up at us? None other than Allen, whom I'd not seen since my return. Neal had met Allen briefly when Hal introduced them at the West End, but they'd not spoken much. Of course, they knew quite a lot about each other, through their mutual friendship with Hal. Allen lit up the water pipe and we soon got nice and high. Neal and Allen just connected, and charged each other up. Neal was sitting there, his eyes gleaming in the half-light, his head bobbing up and down, exclaiming, "yes, yes," and "that's right," as Allen opened up to him. Jack just sat back watching the two of them getting off on one another, ranting and raving on, getting higher and higher and more carried away. I could see Neal's features change, his face softening in moments of repose, and then he was off babbling away, a wicked, know-all glint in his eyes, arms flaying the air in bursts of hyper-manic exaltations. Jack likened them to “the holy con-man with the shining mind, and the sorrowful poetic con-man with the dark mind." The next morning we wandered off, still high and in exuberate spirits, Jack and I tagging behind the two of them.

During the following week Neal, who was working at the parking lot during the day, divided his time in the evenings between Luanne, three nights of love-making and fighting, Jack, two evenings in rapt intellectual conversation, and Allen, two nights staying up all night, seeing how far they could go before they bugged one another. Nobody but Neal, with his abundant energy, could have done it. Late one night Neal and Allen and some friends ended up at the tenement apartment I shared with a friend on 104th Street. As it was late, they stayed the night. There weren't enough beds, so Neal and Allen shared the same bed, and although Neal only seemed interested in making it with girls, he pulled Allen to him, and they became lovers for the first time. Though roughly the same age, Allen being nervous and self-conscious, was overwhelmed by Neal's lack of inhibition and confident ease in sexual relationships. He fell in love with Neal, and they swore vows of love the following week. There was a great emotional bond between them, each filling a need in the other. As Allen got hooked on Neal, he in turn became more highly charged sexually to Jack but nothing came of it, and the three of them spent a lot of time together getting high on tea, drunk on beer, or speeding on Bennies. Meanwhile Luanne, who had had enough, returned to Denver in a huff. Before she left she told Neal that the cops were looking for him because he was buying too much of that marijuana. A short while later, on the fourth of March, 1947, Neal Cassady left New York for Denver on a Greyhound bus headed west, wearing a dark-pinstriped business suit that he'd bought to impress the boys at the pool hall. Allen and Jack had both gone to see him off. They planned to meet together in Denver in the summer, and who knows, they could go to Bill Burroughs' ranch-type place in Texas and introduce Neal to Bill. Then Neal was gone, and as I huddled up against that bitter March wind, New York seemed tight and cramped, lacking in life and luster. I thought I kept hearing Neal's voice yelling my name from behind when the wind blew and howled, laughing madly in my ear, "He-he-hee-hee-hee," like the holy goof he was.

Now Reading
Tripping Through the Beatnik Generation
Read Next
History of the Occult, Marijuana and Other Drugs