In Which I Almost Meet Neal CassadyAugust 3, 2011
In the Spring of 1962 I was hanging out in San Francisco’s North Beach with my girl friend Linda Lovely and the raffish denizens of the Hot Dog Palace, fabled hangout for meth freaks, junkies, beat wannabes, angel-headed hipsters, posers and hosers, also known as the Ant Palace or the Meth Palace – maybe it was grim, cold, florescent, unsanitary, but it was really really cheap. We spare-changed tourists and dropped by the parish hall at St. Peter and Paul’s Church opposite Washington Square for a free hardboiled egg sandwich (it actually was a hard-boiled egg, still in the shell, between two hunks of French bread, wrapped in newspaper like fish n chips.)
My pal George the Beast had snagged a job as night clerk at the Hotel Dante, next door to topless pioneer Carol Doda’s club The Condor. The Dante was not like hotels of today with chocolates on the pillow and turndown service. The Dante was a Sam Spade dusty dim lit hallway hotel where real men in fedoras and revolvers in shoulder holsters thought existential thoughts while staring at the bare lamp bulb screwed above their broken single bed. Outside flowed Columbus Avenue, with its million stories of hardluck dames and babyfaced gunzels, and Ambrose Bierce shooting it out with Bret Harte as foghorns groaned and cats cried in the night.
“Well…duh!” I sez to George, using an anachronism since no one had yet realized ‘duh’ could be a catch phrase.
Cassady was just out of San Quentin. He had been busted for possession of marijuana and sacked away in Q since 1958. Back in those days, a guy could go to prison for years if a cop stuck his hand in your coat pocket and found a joint.
Even in 1962 Neal Cassady was a legend – he was the Dean Moriarity of On The Road, and of course we wanted to be within the glamor circle of his greatness, a real legendary member of the real beat generation. He wasn’t anything like me and Linda Lovely and George the Beast, not quite sure who we were, wanting to be real beatniks and looking like real beatniks, but actually twenty years old and acting a lot like kids who had memorized Howl and thought Dharma Bums was a treatise on right living.
This was about four in the afternoon, nothing was happening in the “lobby” of the Dante – a narrow space beyond the front door with stairs leading up and George behind the counter grinning like a bodhisattva with his gold earring gleaming. So George leads us up the stairs to the second floor and down the dark passage to an even darker doorway on the right hand side.
“There it is – that’s Neal Cassady’s room”.
I could feel the beat emanations exuding through the door. Was he behind it writing long mad letters to his famous pals? Was he out looking for another joint to put in his pocket? I’ll never know. We waited around for lightning to strike and when it didn’t we looked at each other and shuffled and finally went back down to the lobby and laughed and joked until George got his dinner break. Then we walked down to Huey Looey Gooey’s and ordered three big bowls of seaweed soup.