Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Personal / Stories / pk by Age / College Teacher /
late 1960s, @ K. 2005 04 20
Columbia’s John Jay Hall had a cafeteria on the main floor. In the basement was the Lion’s Den. There one could get a meal, a sandwich, a coffee, a beer: early, or on into the evening. The Lion’s Den had a juke box. In 1958 or so Coltrane’s Blue Train was one of the selections. But to get drunk as a skunk, to get rolled out onto the street at 4 AM, one had to go off campus: to any of NYC’s thousands of dens of vice. If Columbia had a pet bar it was the West End: Broadway and 114th Street.
The West End boasted that it had the longest bar in NY, or in the world. It ran in a big oval. Whatever the fact, it sure was long: and I’m sure still is.
Me, I preferred running downtown to the White Horse Tavern, or any of a dozen other joints. But I put plenty of time in at the West End also.
By my mid-twenties New York’s air was chocking me. I started, for the first time in my life, dreaming of pristine pastures, crisply wooded mountains, virgin ski slopes. From a city one can imagine all sorts of Shangri Las that don’t exist. But 1967 saw us move to Maine for a couple of years. I heard about 1968 at Columbia (as at Berkeley) from a distance. In 1969 I returned to Morningside Heights: same old apartment for a while: and I paid my first visit to the old neighborhood.
By 1964 everyone was responding to the Beatles’ bangs. In the 1950s I wore a pompadour. But guys who let their hair grow in the back found themselves endlessly harassed by every form of authority. My friend paid for his ducktail with a lot of time in the principal’s office. But by 1968 the Beatles no longer had just cute little page boy hair cuts; they were looking as scruffy as the Rolling Stones. Still, New York through 1967 and Waterville Maine through 1969 didn’t prepare me for Broadway around 116th Street in 1969.
For years after the army I held onto my fatigue jacket. I’d hated the army but came to like my fatigue jacket. By 1969 everyone was wearing fatigue jackets, men and women, the grungier the better. Mine was stolen by someone who looked grungy without it. But the hair: the guys had hair down to their waists. Nice elegant curls like I’d envied when I first saw Cyrano de Bergerac? No: ugly, dirty long hair: long hair that could lacerate flesh if it whipped in the wind.
I walked into the West End. The era of peace & love radiated a hostility I had never felt anywhere before, certainly not in the West End. Some mega-studio must have issued a casting call for tall guys and gals with cat-o’-nine-tails hair, all reeking, in army-fatigue grunge. How had everybody gotten so much taller? I couldn’t see over anybody’s shoulder.
I spotted Mathew. Mathew had had a Honda 150 single when I had my little Yamaha 100 twin. We rode together a couple of times, tweaked carburetors together and such. He wasn’t exactly a friend, but I knew him. Neighborhood guy, lived on 115th down toward the drive. A university neighborhood brings in all kinds of singles who’ve never been close to being students: people stacked into ghastly rooming houses like cord wood.
Mathew had gotten taller, or was wearing lifts. Taller or not he was slumping: in fatigue grunge. (One time in Central Park we passed a group of girls seated in army fatigues so ripe that my dog lifted his leg against one of the girl’s back!)
I was wondering if I should greet Mathew when some girl with an anomalous, incongruously cheerful face rushed up to Mathew. “Mathew …” she began. Mathew cut her off:
Mathew looked right on past her. Her face fell. She backed away.
What had happened to these people? I have never seen the world look uglier than it looked in 1969.
Labor Committee @ Columbia demo, 1969
(About a year before the Labor Committee challenged me to a debate, also at Columbia. I may have met some of the people shown here.)
And Mathew was a turd. Where did he get this Mr. Supercool mask?
No, wait: the world had looked almost as ugly on Telegraph Avenue in 1967. Berkeley, ugh.
Not that this pic shows ugliness; it does show Telegraph Avenue, and some of the bizarrity.
I’ve probably mentioned the West End before at K. God knows there are lots of mentions of the White Horse. If I tell more West End stories, I’ll string them here whether they’re from the 1967 to 1969 period or not.
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