Tuesday, January 22, 2008

weekend tourist beatniks not permitted

For the August 6 issue of the New Yorker the mag sent out one of its "Talk of the Town" writers to find out what was making Greenwich Village coffeehouse so attractive to "beatniks" - and whether there was much variation between and among the day's bohemians. The first impression the Village gave off incited a list: "motorcycles, sports cars, Cadillacs, Larks, bicycles, tricycles, little kids, bigger kids, boy gangs, man gangs, girl gangs, young couples, old couples, middle-aged couples, loners, black-garbed Italian ladies in their seventies, panhandlers, book carriers, and Beats of various shapes, sizes and natures. Paperback books, handwrought jewelry, antiques, sandals, pottery, straw objects, paintings, simmering Italian sausages, onions, and pizzas, and freshly boiled sweet corn...."

Using the "Talk" first-person plural, a coffeehouse denizen is approached:

"You Beat?" we asked.
"It's a legitimate thing to be a Beatnik, even though most of the time it's the provincial thing," he said. "It draws me. It's the power of innocence."

The destination was Cafe Figaro at the corner of Bleecker and Macdougal. Tom Ziegler owned the Figaro and said, "Our Beatniks are the real, true old-fashioned, wonderful bohemians...We don't permit weekend tourst Beatniks--a lot of them come down from the Bronx sporting day-old beards--or any would-be Beatniks who read about the press-created-image Beatniks and try to be like them, to work out their psychic difficulties here."

It was not clear how Ziegler didn't "permit" fake or superficial or part-time beatniks from his establishment. I'm having fun imagining this - and the faux beatniks' reaction to being called out as such.

"Life Line," New Yorker, Aug 6, 1960, pp. 21-23