1962 HIGH SCHOOL-Golden Ass and the Beatniks
Lyndia was my very best friend at that time, at Narbonne high school. She was petite and smart mouthed, with a pixie mop of red hair. My family lived in the exclusive Portuguese Bend Club on the shore of the Palos Verdes peninsula, and her family lived in a poor neighborhood in Torrance, but it didn’t matter to us what our parents had, we were in high school and having fun. We would both lie to our parents about where we were, and stay out all night driving around, going to surfer parties in Hermosa and Redondo Beach.
1959 – At that time my mother had showed me an article in a newspaper about Beatniks in San Francisco. “Just look at that!” she said scornfully rapping on the news photo. ‘They’re just not clean. They don’t use any elbow grease, that’s their problem. They don’t work! What bums!” I looked at the photo. And I saw the most wonderful people I had ever seen. The women had long, long hair; everyone was dressed in black, and was sitting on the floor of an artist’s studio, listening to a poet read his work.
Paradise! I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting, but I was only fifteen. My whole fantasy became somehow escaping my neighborhood and family and making my way to San Francisco. Maybe I could hike on the Northern California beach to San Francisco. Maybe I could save up money for bus fare – wear a disguise, get a wig and makeup – look old, anything! But I was a meek child, school and family held on to me for several years.
1962 – Lyndia came up with a mysterious silver roll of pills wrapped in foil, like lifesavers candy. “Pep pills,” she said, “from Tijuana.” We had no idea at the time what these were, but lots of kids used them, and it was fun to stay awake all night. We also occasionally drank wine. We drove down to San Pedro, the small waterfront town, where the back street liquor stores would sell wine to alcoholics, to kids, to anyone. We were cruising a narrow street, lined with dingy shops, mostly closed, when Lyndia started pounding me on the shoulder and hollering, “Look at that sign! It says The Golden Ass! I can’t believe it!” “No,” I said, “they can’t say that!” “Yes they can! Look! Look!” And indeed a small sign on a hinge stood out from a wall, with a little painting of a yellow donkey and arty hand lettering – The Golden Ass. We parked and walked over to the shop and pressed our faces against a grimy window. “It’s a coffeehouse,” we agreed. “Beatniks!” It was the first time either of us had seen such a thing. Suddenly a man with gray hair, in a blue work shirt and jeans popped out. “We’re closed now, but if you’d like to come back tonight we’re open at eight.” He had a most friendly manner and smile that attracted us immediately. Lyndia and I thanked him and we ran away twittering. “Real beatniks, he said we could come! Yeah! Let’s go tonight!”
Lyndia and I arrived at The Golden Ass that evening a little after eight. The coffeehouse was located in a storefront, which was long and narrow from front to back. Little had been done to it. A rough wood floor, aging white plaster wall, a crude wooden stage at the end, a few chairs and tables. That was alL We sat eagerly on benches and were greeted in a friendly manner by several other patrons. Glen rushed over and enthusiastically welcomed us and introduced us around. His name was Glen Bye, and he had three big redheaded sons. Then there was Sylvia, the quiet intense beatnik woman, with the long dark brown hair and black sweater and pants. She was the girlfriend of the oldest Bye brother, who we never got to know very well, as he was older and quite withdrawn. There was an assortment of poets and artists, and Lyndia and I began to go there frequently. The entertainment consisted of performances by the regular patrons, and whoever was passing through town.
Glen was sometimes absent because he was also the founder of a communal farm in Mexico. Lyndia and I were both still in high school, and we were both enrolled in the Modern Dance course instead of Gym for several years. I remember how limber I was then, and had dancers muscles in my legs. I could touch the floor with my elbows, leaning forward. The instructor of the course was Mrs. Richardson, but all the girls called her Teach, and she was the most warm-hearted and adored teacher on campus. She was a stocky older woman, with short, curly white hair, combed back on the sides. She always wore her white gym shirt and shorts and white tennis shoes, but the girls wore black tights and leotards. We worked out hard daily, stretching, leaping, and bounding barefoot around the polished wooden floor of the gym.
In the coffeehouse there were some very strange performances indeed, including one man who pushed needles through his cheeks and arms. Lyndia and I decided to use our modem dance skills to present a dance on stage, and chose the popular jazz piece, Peter Gunn. We worked for weeks on the choreography, included all our best stretches and bends, limited by the tiny stage. But it went over well, and we were much applauded. At the age of seventeen, we were the youngest people there, except for Glen’s youngest redheaded son, probably fifteen. Everybody else was in their twenties or thirties.We brought another friend of ours, an intellectual and plain girl, and surprisingly she got involved with an older artist, who was dour and attractive. I felt uncomfortable about him. Robin seemed too nice and bright for him, but she was lonely and never had a serious boyfriend before. She was surprised that such a romantic character would be interested in her.