The Beats Go On

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

The program was like no other in the country, and the Naropa parties were just as legendary. Between both Boulder's and the Beats' historic penchant for recreational drug use and Trungpa's drinking binges, the after-hours scene was wild. The parties had a reputation as a sexual free-for-all: Trungpa was known for hitting on young women, and Ginsberg was notorious for putting the make on teenage boys. "Careful, or he'll have your pants down around your ankles before you know it," other youths had cautioned Hale.

The conversation lasted for a couple of hours. Ginsberg encouraged Hale's fledgling interest in Buddhism, and they discussed meditation techniques. Ginsberg was also enchanted to learn that Hale was gay, noting that the teenager was "very, very attractive." But he didn't make a pass, or at least not much of one.

Instead, the talk turned to writers. Hale was embarrassed to admit that he wasn't very well read compared to other students in his classes. Rather than scolding or belittling him, though, Ginsberg scribbled on a sheet of paper for a couple of minutes, then handed it to Hale. "We'll start with this," the poet said. It was a list of poets and novelists including Walt Whitman, Arthur Rimbaud, Ezra Pound, William Faulkner, Kerouac and Burroughs. There were also two of Ginsberg's own works listed: "Howl" and "Kaddish." Hale didn't realize it, but his life had changed forever.

Chris Ide and Peter Hale in Boulder in the late '80s.
Steven Miles
Chris Ide and Peter Hale in Boulder in the late '80s.
Ginsberg and his "best young poet" Chris Ide at Naropa.
Steven Miles
Ginsberg and his "best young poet" Chris Ide at Naropa.

At Ginsberg's suggestion, Hale began attending the Saturday morning symposiums where the writing faculty gathered to discuss ideas that had come up during the week. It was at these seminars that Hale learned more about some of Ginsberg's associates, especially Corso. The short, dark-haired poet reminded him of actor Peter Falk, except that Corso had a reputation for loud and profane outbursts during lectures. "You're a fuckin' asshole, Ginsberg," was one of his favorite retorts.

Ginsberg would bear these attacks calmly. If Corso had a point, he'd apologize, or he'd note that Corso was the better poet, which only served to infuriate his colleague more, with Corso now accusing him of "passive self-complimenting." They both seemed brilliant to Hale, as they quoted passages of poems by Rimbaud or William Carlos Williams like tennis players volleying.

Several times a week, Hale would visit Ginsberg at the mansion on Mapleton Avenue where the poet was staying for the summer, a home loaned by a wealthy fan. Hale was never quite sure if Ginsberg was interested in him for his brains or his looks, but he was fascinated by the world to which Ginsberg was introducing him. So he kept his distance when the poet made overtures -- he didn't want to be thought of as another one of "Allen Ginsberg's boys."

Although Ginsberg kept trying, he never let Hale's lack of reciprocation sway his efforts to educate his young friend. One night he invited Hale over to sample a new drug, Ecstasy, which had a reputation for enhancing sexual experiences. Ginsberg had already tried the drug a couple of days earlier and now raved about "the empathy" it engendered. But he wasn't going to take the drug himself that night, he explained; he had some papers to grade, and it took a couple of days to fully come off Ecstasy. He gave Hale his last pill.

After Hale swallowed it, they meditated for 45 minutes, waiting for the Ecstasy to take effect. Hale had done his own experimenting with drugs -- pot, LSD, alcohol, prescription amphetamines, even some heroin with friends who were in a punk-rock band -- but this was a new high that gave a surreal quality to the evening.

Ginsberg led him on a walk through the garden, played a little piano and introduced him to Nanao Sakaki, a Japanese poet who was also staying in the house. They listened to wax recordings: a 1912 conversation in French, Marlene Dietrich singing. "This is some of William's favorite music," Ginsberg said, aware of Hale's continuing fascination with Burroughs. That night there were no great revelations, just an impression of brilliant minds exchanging ideas over the centuries.

Then the summer was over and Ginsberg was gone. Hale was left with his reading list and one last bit of guidance from his mentor. He planned to graduate from high school that winter and was unsure of what to do; a friend had suggested that he attend college and study Greek and Latin to get a solid foundation in Western literature. When he told Ginsberg about the suggestion, the poet was enthusiastic. One of his literary heroes, the poet Ezra Pound, had studied the classics, he told Hale. It was an excellent idea.

But that wasn't Ginsberg's only advice for Hale. "Go to college, get a good education under your belt," he said, then added, "Get married, have kids."

Get married? Have kids? That seemed like an odd statement to make to a gay teenager. It wasn't until many years later that Hale wondered if the poet was warning him off the road that some of his other companions had traveled.

August 1986, New York City

Hale stood sweating in the masses of people who pushed and jostled past him on a quintessential summer day in the Big Apple. The sound of jackhammers, sirens and a million voices enveloped him in a blanket of white noise. After his second summer session at Naropa, Ginsberg had offered to let the now-eighteen-year-old stay at his apartment on the Lower East Side of Greenwich Village. Since Ginsberg wasn't going to be in New York the first week -- he was visiting Burroughs in Kansas -- he gave Hale explicit instructions on how to take the train from the airport to the Port Authority station in Times Square.

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