The Beats Go On

How a kid from Boulder became an eyewitness to the passing of an era.

Hale's new secretarial duties included typing Ginsberg's handwritten poetry drafts, retyping endless revisions and keeping track of what the poet read at which appearances. An unofficial task seemed to be keeping track of Ginsberg's friends.

Orlovsky was always a handful. There was always some new crisis, like the evening he came flying into Ginsberg's apartment in a panic, sure he had AIDS. "I've been shooting up cocaine with guys on the streets," he explained.

Ginsberg was generous with his friends and helped support both Huncke and Corso, giving them regular checks to help them get by. But this process was not simple. The two men had known each other for more than thirty years -- and fought with each other almost that long. As part of his duties, Hale was to make sure they didn't arrive at the office at the same time. Despite his best efforts, however, they sometimes collided.

Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.Although Peter Hale wanted to talk with William Burroughs (above), he wound up becoming Ginsberg's assistant.Ginsberg with his Peters: Hale and Orlovsky.Chris Ide and Peter Hale in Boulder in the late '80s.Ginsberg and his "best young poet" Chris Ide at Naropa.Chris Ide in the early '90s, when the drugs were catching up to him.Peter Hale as he looks today, and as photographed by Steven Miles in 1985.
Steven Miles
Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.Although Peter Hale wanted to talk with William Burroughs (above), he wound up becoming Ginsberg's assistant.Ginsberg with his Peters: Hale and Orlovsky.Chris Ide and Peter Hale in Boulder in the late '80s.Ginsberg and his "best young poet" Chris Ide at Naropa.Chris Ide in the early '90s, when the drugs were catching up to him.Peter Hale as he looks today, and as photographed by Steven Miles in 1985.
Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.
Steven Miles
Allen Ginsberg and his protegé, Peter Hale, at an early Naropa summer session.

It took some time for Hale to realize that the two men were actually friends. Corso would sit in one chair and Huncke in another, leaning back a few feet and saying in his raspy voice, "Maybe somebody should ask Gregory how he's doing." Corso would respond that someone should inform Herbert that he was doing just fine -- not that it was any of his business.

Corso remained as cantankerous as ever, and hypersensitive to whatever Ginsberg might say that could be interpreted as condescending or critical. But the old men clearly had a deep love and a great respect for one another. Ginsberg truly thought Corso was a superior poet, and Hale had come to appreciate the power of his verse as well.

Huncke was another matter. He'd turned out one last book in 1990, an autobiography titled, appropriately enough, Guilty of Everything. But it didn't make him much money -- not that it would have made a difference if it had. Even in his late eighties, Huncke was spending his monthly $500 Social Security check on drugs, which left him constantly short of money for his rent. In 1993 he moved into the Chelsea Hotel, and the manager was always calling the Ginsberg office, screaming that he was going to "throw Herbert out on the streets" if the rent wasn't paid.

Although Hale privately believed the hotel manager enjoyed the notoriety of having such famous characters living in his place, Huncke's friends -- and others who'd never actually met him, like Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead -- would scramble to come up with money to save him.

Ginsberg knew that his old friend would use any money he got for drugs. While he didn't condemn any of his friends for their addictions, neither would he support their habits. So he tried to make a deal with Huncke: If the addict would put his next Social Security check toward the rent, Ginsberg would pay the rest right to the hotel. Huncke agreed. But when the time came to pay the rent, Ginsberg learned that Huncke -- who'd once told an interviewer that he saw even his Beat friends as "marks" to be hustled -- had spent the money on heroin. He told Rosenthal not to send the check to the Chelsea.

Of course, Huncke called and wanted the check brought to him; Rosenthal told him it wouldn't be coming. But from that day forward, whenever Huncke saw Hale, he'd look puzzled and say, "What I don't get is why you never brought that check over."

Although Hale had kicked heroin himself, he wasn't through with drinking and other drugs. Cocaine was easy to come by on the Lower East Side, where struggling corner-store owners tried to make ends meet by selling drugs. But alcohol was a bigger problem for Hale. He'd go out night after night drinking and then come hung over to the office the next day. Finally, Ginsberg got tired of it and laid down the law: If Hale wanted to work for him, he had to sober up.

He did. It was time, and besides, Ginsberg needed him.

The poet was growing more nostalgic about the old days. In their strolls around the Village, he'd pause outside a bar and quietly note, "Kerouac used to drink here," or "This is where I met Corso."

Sometimes it felt to Hale as though he was being prepared for something important, although he didn't know what that might be. He was being fed details, nourished by pieces of history.

Occasionally Hale would hear from Ide, who'd call or write beautifully poetic letters that detailed his battle with drugs.

8/17/92... Dear Peter H/Allen...2 plus months off methadone now, no longer sick but insomnia lingers so up most days before the sun w/coffee & scribbler...feel better now than I have in years, clearer, but difficult to face how much junk truly thieves and leaves a hollow shell of a poet...void takes time and patience to refill...I had to make this decision to do this, it's so slow rediscovering who I am clean & oft-times gut-wrenching...Any correspondence would be cool...avoiding even the poetry scene where well-wishers are too quick to buy me drinks/turn me onto dope...Much love, Chris Ide.

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