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I am a stinking drunk, old, dissolute, grizzled, unkempt; a writer. Like so many other decrepit desperadoes in search of their long-lost orgasm, the bars and strip clubs of North Beach, San Francisco, are my domain. The center of North Beach is the intersection of Broadway and Kearney, where sits the City Lights bookstore, publishers of Ginsberg’s Howl, in the 1950’s.
Nowadays, post-2000, City Lights is mainly an object to be photographed by tourists. Artists and writers long since moved elsewhere. They can’t afford the rent. These days North Beach is running mostly on fumes of alcohol, so I fit right in. If tourists ask where I live, so as to photograph me as one of the locals, even asking me to stand a bit more upright, if they want me in the photo, or perhaps move a bit more to the left, if they want to crop me out, I tell them, “Just up the street a few blocks.” I neglect to mention my address is a cardboard box.
I may be a drunk but I still have a keen eye for beauty, and it always wanders. On the street, Friday and Saturday nights, girls dressed like street urchins in dark, hooded sweatshirts, filtering their way through the masses, wearing jeans to camouflage their bods, are the strippers. The girls that dress like hot ho’s, with short-short dresses in the chill wind, and exposed cleavages that draw the eye, are the regular girls on their way to and from the bars and dance clubs on Broadway.
I relentlessly bar hop, and prowl the strip clubs. I avoid the regular dance clubs because the lines are too long and I wouldn’t get in anyway. I dress one grade above “street.” The bartenders all know me but the strippers ask my name. They do that to create the impression they might actually be interested in the customer. I tell them my name is Don Quixote. They ask if I am waiting for a particular girl. I tell them I seek Dulcinea. Some get it, some don’t. The other night I found, let’s see now (it’s so hard to keep track without notes), one beauty at Little Darlings, another at Hustler, three at Centerfolds, a truly outstanding performer at Showgirls, and about 25 guys and three girls at the Hungry I, a true dive.
Despite my stinking drunkenness, if I shower just enough to keep from actually stinking (just try it outdoors in the middle of January in San Francisco, with a bucket of water, and a chill breeze off the ocean), I can still get lucky. But it is an increasingly rare occurrence when a young girl finds me attractive, especially if she is sober. Did I mention it can be hard to keep up appearances when you are sleeping in cardboard? (Refrigerator boxes are the best, of course, but street people fight over them, so when you leave for the day in hunt of food or, God forbid, work, by the time you return your house will have been dragged off to some troglodyte’s cave from which you are kept at bay by a puny, relentlessly barking dog, and an outrageous stench.)
One such lucky occurrence transpired with a girl who was actually reading Catcher in the Rye while sitting on a barstool in Vesuvios, a bar next to the City Lights bookstore. She had been fired from the Hustler strip club an hour earlier for failure to tip everybody on a previous night, despite the fact she made no money herself and had gone home early because she felt ill. Strip clubs work off the tip system to avoid paying anybody anything over minimum wage, if they even pay them at all. The D.J., bouncers, and doormen all have their hand out. Some girls make lots of money, some don’t. I sympathised with her, noting how the clubs are ruthlessly exploitative, but even though we are exploited, we keep coming back, especially the stinking drunks. We like having our fantasies exploited. We search in vain for Dulcinea, but enjoy the search, nonetheless. There are so many beautiful Dulcineas the search can last a lifetime.
She was a bright little wisp of a thing, with a pleasant giggle, nice bod, and a long way from her original home, in Florida. Long blonde hair. Laughing at my jokes is always a plus. I bought her some drinks and our literary sort of conversation proceeded swimmingly. Alcohol provided lubrication, of course. I held forth that Holden Caulfield was ridiculous; that the story was unrealistic; that Phoebe, his little sister, was really some sort of secret code for incest (I made that up on the spot). I amazed myself, and surprised her, by recalling scenes and names that I had read over 30 years previously. I wanted to be sure she knew how old I was. She didn’t balk, or bat an eyelash. I asked if I she wanted to know how Catcher ended? She said no. When she got up to use the restroom she rubbed her crotch firmly against my thigh. Our eyes locked. When she returned I suggested we go. I neglected to mention I would have to get a room for the night.
Then my luck went normal. I really had been tilting at a windmill after all. We got outside and another stripper, her friend, suddenly appeared, right there in that alley between Vesuvios and City Lights, where the tourists ask me to either stand up, or move a bit more to the left. Her friend obviously decided I needed to move a bit more to the left. They hugged. To my chagrin, before long her friend offered her a place to stay that very night, and for a few weeks, if necessary. Needless to say, my girl jumped at the lifeline. I couldn’t really blame her. After all, I am an old guy, a stinking drunk, dissolute, grizzled, and unkempt. But as she walked away I yelled, “Holden kills himself in the end!” He should have waited until he was living out of a cardboard box.
Gary Siebel is an American writer. His book of black-and-white photography, Photos of Naked Girls, is currently available on Kindle – the title is self-explanatory. Otherwise, Kerouac Drank Here is his first publication in decades.