Out In The Be-Bop Night- Scenes From Search For The Blue-Pink Great American West Night-Hayes Bickford Breakout 1962
Click on the headline to link to a photograph of a Hayes-Bickford on Huntington Avenue in Boston (no Cambridge one available) to add a little flavor to this entry.
The scene below stands (or falls) as a moment in support of that eternal search mentioned in the headline.
Scene Two: Got The Urge For Going In Search Of The Blue- Pink Great American West Night- Hayes-Bickford Breakout 1962
Here I am again sitting, 3 o’clock in the morning sitting, bleary-eyed, slightly distracted after mulling over the back and forth of the twelve hundredth run-in (nice way to put it, right?) with Ma that has driven me out of the house and sleepy bed into this chilly early October 1962 Saturday morning. And where do I find myself sitting at this time of morning? Tired, but excitedly expectant, on an uncomfortable, unpadded bench seat on this rolling old clickity-clack monster of a Red Line subway car as it now waggles its way out past Kendall Station on its way to Central Square and then to the end of the line, Harvard Square. Harvard Square, my hangout, my muse home, my night home, at least my weekend night home, my place to make sense of the world in a world that doesn’t make much sense, at least not enough much sense. Sanctuary, Harvard Square Hayes-Bickford sanctuary, misbegotten teenage boy sanctuary, sanctuary recognized by august international law, recognized by sanctified canon law, or not.
That beef with Ma, that really unnumbered beef with an unnumbered subject matter, forget about the 1200 number I said before, that was just a guess, has driven me to take an “all-nighter” trip away from the travails of the old home town across Boston to the never-closed Hayes-Bickford cafeteria that beckons just as you get up the stairs from the Harvard Square subway tunnel. Damn though, let me just get this beef, whatever numbered beef, thing off my chest and then I can tell the rest of the story. By the letters, alright. Ma said X, I pleaded for Y (hell this homestead civil war lent itself righteously to a nice algebraic formulation. You can use it too, no charge). Unbeknownst to me Y did not exist in Ma’s universe. Ever. Sound familiar? Sure, but I just had to get it off my chest. Thanks. I stewed for a while up in my room, couldn’t sleep a damn and then hatched my get-away.
After putting on my uniform, my Harvard Square “cool” uniform: over-sized flannel brownish plaid shirt, belt-less black cuff-less chino pants, black Chuck Taylor signed Converse sneakers, a now ratty, maybe beyond ratty, old windbreaker to ward off the chill won in a Fourth of July distance race a few years back when I really was nothing but a wet-behind-the ears kid who thought he was king hell king of the North Adamsville streets but nobody really cared , and, and the absolutely required midnight sunglasses to hide those bleary eyes from a peeking world I was ready to go. To face the unlighted night, and fight against the dawn’s rising for another day. Oh ya, I forgot to mention, I had to sneak out of the house stealthily, run like some crazed broken- field football player down the back of the rock and log-infested property, and, after catching my breathe, walk a couple of miles over the North Adamsville Bridge and nasty, hostile (hostile if anyone was out, and anyone was sniping for a misbegotten teenage boy, for any purpose good or evil) Dorchester streets to get to the Fields Corner subway stop. The local Eastern Transit bus had stopped its always erratic service hours ago, and, anyway, I usually would rather walk, in any case, than wait, wait my youth away for those buses to amble along around our way with their byzantine schedules.
Right now though, Ma, escapes and busted bus schedules behind me, I am thinking, as those subway car wheels rattle beneath my feet, who knows, really, how or why it starts, that wanderlust start, that strange feeling in the pit of your stomach that you have to move on, or out, or up or you will explode. Except, know this, you also know, or you damn well come to know that it eats away at a man, or a woman for that matter, in different ways. Maybe way back, way back in the quarter-conscious cradle it was that first sense that there was more to the world that the four corners of that baby world existence and that if you could just, could just get over that little, little side board there might be something better, much better over the horizon. But, frankly that line of thought, wheels humming sleepily below and eyes slightly after midnight glazed, just seems like too much of a literary stretch even for me, moody teenage boy that I am, to swallow.
Let’s just say that it started, and least when I became semi-conscious of the pull, once I knew that the nearby homeland ocean was a way to get away, if you needed to get away. Those stone-busted, clam shell crushed, algae-covered beaches, oil-slicked at low tide meant that you were not landlocked and if you could just figure something, just build something there was no stopping that escape. But see, and now as I think about it I blush a little about it, I didn’t figure than one out for myself. Old Kenny, Kenny Jackman, from the old neighborhood across town, over in the Adamsville projects where I came of age, in third grade is the one who got me hip to that, and then Johnny James and his brother a while later filled in the rest of the blanks and so then I was sea-worthy, dream sea-worthy anyway.
But, honestly, that sea dream stuff can only be music for the future because right now I am stuck, although I do not always feel stuck about it, trying to figure my way out of high school world, or at least figure out the raging things that I want to do after high school that fill up my daydream time (study hall time when I am half-reading, half-day-dreaming, if you really want to know). Of course, as well, that part about the ocean just mentioned, well there is a literal part to the proposition since ocean-at-my-back (sometimes right at my back like back in the projects across town) New England homestead means unless I wanted to take an ill-advised turn at piracy or high-seas hijacking or some such thing east that means I have to head west. Right now west though is Harvard Square, its doings and not doings, it trumpet call to words, and sounds, and actions in the October Friday night (oops Saturday morning, I forgot) all-night storm brewing.
The train now rounds the squeaky-sounding bend out of Central Square and stops at the underground Harvard Square station. Now I leave my pensive-driven seat and stand waiting, waiting for the driver to release the pressure to let the sliding train door open, getting ready to jump off the old subway, two-step-at-a-time my way up the two flights of stairs and head for mecca to see if things jump for me tonight. The doors open at last. Up the two-stepped stairs I go, get to the surface and confront the old double-glassed Hayes door entrance and survey the vast table-filled room that at this hour has a few night owl stranglers spotted randomly throughout the place.
You know the old Hayes-Bickford, or one of them, if you live in Boston or New York City, or a few other places on the East Coast, don’t you? Put your tray on the metal slider (hey, I don’t know what you call that slider thing, okay) and cruise down the line from item to item behind the glass-enclosed bins of, mostly, steamy food, if you are looking for fast service, for a quick between doing things, pressing things, meal. Steamed and breaded everything from breakfast to lunch to dinner anytime topped off by dishwater quality coffee (refills on demand, if you feel lucky).
This is not the place to bring your date, certainly not your first date, except maybe for a quick cup of that faux coffee before going to some event, or home. What this is, really, is a place where you can hang out, and hang out with comfort, because nobody, nobody at all, is going to ask you to leave, at least if you act half-way human. And that is what this place is really about, the humans in all their human conditions doing human things, alien to you or not, that you see floating by you, as you take a seat at one of the one-size-fits all wooden tables with those red vinyl seat covered chairs replete with paper place mat settings, a few off-hand eating utensils, and the usual obligatory array of condiments to help get down the food and drink offered here.
Let me describe who is here at this hour on an early Saturday morning in October 1962. I will not vouch for other times, or other days, but I know Friday and Saturday nights a little so I can say something about them. Of course there is the last drink at the last open barroom crowd, said bar already well-closed in blue law Massachusetts, trying to get sober enough by eating a little food to traverse the road home. Good luck. Needless to say eating food in an all-night cafeteria, any all-night cafeteria, means only one thing-the person is so caught up in a booze frenzy that he (mainly) or she (very occasionally) is desperate for anything to hang the name food on to. Frankly, except for the obligatory hard-dollar coffee-steamed to its essence, then through some mystical alchemic process re-beaned, and served in heavy ceramic mugs that keep in the warmth to keep the eyes open the food here is strictly for the, well, the desperate, drunk or sober.
I might mention a little more about the food as I go along but it is strictly to add color to this little story. Maybe, maybe it will add color to the story but this is mainly about the “literary” life at the old Hayes and the quest for the blue-pink night great American night not the cuisine so don’t hold me to it. Here is the kicker though; there are a few, mercifully few this night, old winos, habitual drunks, and street vagabonds (I am being polite here) who are nuzzling their food, for real. This is the way that you can tell the "last drink" boys, the hail fellows well met, who are just out on the town and who probably go to one of the ten zillion colleges in the area and are drawn like moths (and like wayward high schools kids, including this writer) to the magic name, Harvard Square. They just pick at their food. Those other guys (again, mainly, guys) those habituals and professional waywards work at it like it is their last chance for salvation.
Harvard Square, bright lights, dead of nights, see the sights. That vision is nothing but a commercial, a commercial magnet for every young (and old) hustler within fifty miles of the place to come and display their “acumen”. Their hustle. Three card Monte, quick-change artistry, bait and hook, a little jack-rolling, fake dope-plying, lifting an off-hand wallet, the whole gamut of hustler con lore. On any given Harvard Square weekend night there have got to be more young, naïve, starry-eyed kids hanging out trying to be cool, but really, like me, just learning the ropes of life than you could shake a stick at to set a hustler’s heart, if he (mainly) or she (sometimes) had a heart.
I’ll tell you about a quick con that got me easy in a second but right now let me tell you that at this hour I can see a few con artists just now resting up after a hard night’s work around a couple of tables, comparing notes (or, more likely, trying to con each other, there is no honor among thieves in this little night world. Go to it boys). As to the con that got me, hey it was simple, a guy, an older guy, a twenty-five year old or something like that guy, came up to me while I was talking to a friend and said did I (we) want to get some booze. Sober, sixteen years old, and thrill-seeking I said sure (drinking booze is the coin of the realm for thrills these days, among high school kids that I know, maybe the older set, those cruising college guys, are, I hear, experimenting with drugs but if so it is very on the QT).
He said name your poison, I did, and then he “suggested” a little something for himself. Sure, whatever is right. I gave him the money and he returned a few minutes later with a small bag with the top of a liquor bottle hanging out. He split. We went off to a private area around Harvard Yard (Phillips Brook House, I think) and got ready to have our first serious taste of booze, and maybe get rum brave enough to pick up some girls. Naturally, the bottle is a booze bottle alright but it had been opened (how long before is anyone’s guess) and filled with water. Sucker, right. Now the only reason that I am mentioning this story right now is that the guy who pulled this con is sitting, sitting like the King of Siam, just a few tables away from where I am sitting. The lesson learned for the road, for the future road that beckons: don’t accept packages from strangers without inspecting them and watch out for cons, right? No, hell no. The lesson is this: sure don’t fall for wise guy tricks but the big thing is to shake it off, forget about it if you see the con artist again. You are way to cool to let him (or occasionally her) think that they have conned you. Out loud, anyway.
But wait, I am not here after four o’clock in the Hayes-Bickford morning, the Harvard Square Hayes-Bickford morning, to talk about the decor, the food if that is what it is, about the clientele, humble, slick, or otherwise. I am here looking for “talent,” literary talent that is. See, I have been here enough, and have heard enough about the ”beats” (or rather pseudo-beats, or “late phase” beats at this time) and the “folkies” (music people breaking out of the Pop 40 music scene and going back to the roots of America music, way back) to know that a bunch of them, about six in all, right this minute are sitting in a far corner with a light drum tapping the beat listening to a guy in black pants(always de rigueur black), sneakers and a flannel shirt just like me reciting his latest poem. That possibility is what drove me here this night, and other nights as well. See the Hayes is known as the place where someone like Norman Mailer has his buttered toast after one of his “last drink” bouts. Or that Bob Dylan sat at that table, that table right over there, writing something on a napkin. Or some parallel poet to the one now wrapping up his seventy-seven verse imitation Allen Ginsberg's Howl master work went out to San Francisco and blew the lid off the town, the City Lights town, the literary town.
But I better, now that the five-ish dawn light is hovering after my dawdlings, trying to break through the night wars, get my droopy body down those subway stairs pretty soon and back across town before anyone at home notices that I am missing. Still I will take the hard-bitten coffee, re-beaned and all, I will take the sleepy eyes that are starting to weigh down my face, I will even take the con artists and feisty drunks just so that I can be here when somebody’s search for the blue-pink great American West night, farther west than Harvard Square night, gets launched.