The Beats Go On

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

Although Ginsberg didn't have much money, his fame got him invited to some swank events and parties, including one hosted by billionaire financier George Soros at his place next to the Guggenheim Museum. Gary Snyder, described by Ginsberg as a poet and old friend, had arrived at the apartment the day of the party. Ginsberg wanted him to come along, but Snyder pointed out that he was wearing tennis shoes. "That's okay," Ginsberg replied. "He knows we're bohemians."

Snyder ended up begging off, but Hale, wearing black sneakers and a Salvation Army tie Ginsberg had loaned him, went. The occasion was a reception for a Russian theater troupe, and the guests ranged from Nobel Prize-winning physicists to philosophers to philanthropists. Hale took his cue from Ginsberg, who never seemed out of place, and enjoyed himself.

After they left the party, Ginsberg insisted they stop by Times Square to check out the sex theaters and porn shops. If it was a scary place to Hale during the daytime, it was infinitely more frightening at night. As usual, though, the poet seemed oblivious to dangers real or imagined.

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.

With Ginsberg lost in the glossy magazine pages, Hale was on his own to wander the sidewalks, avoiding the homeless who peered out from the shadows or curled up on grates. It was harder to stay away from the drug pushers and prostitutes who approached from all angles, offering to sell anything and everything. Hale had just finished rolling a cigarette when he was accosted by a man who thought he was rolling a joint and tried to snatch it from him. When he told Ginsberg about the incident, the poet only chuckled -- the scallywags were a great source of amusement.

Ginsberg was even more delighted when he spotted one of the Russian actors who'd been at the Soros party peering through some pornography. "Ha, ha," Ginsberg chortled as the Russian, who didn't have his translator with him, smiled sheepishly. "Bet you can't get this in your country."

May 1987, Vermont

The morning of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's funeral started off cloudy, but as the ceremonies began, the sun broke through, surrounded by a rainbow. The same thing had happened four years earlier at the funeral of another important Buddhist teacher, Ginsberg explained to Hale. After the service, the appearance of a second rainbow that looked as though it emanated from a dragon-shaped cloud completed the mystical aura of the occasion.

Naropa's spiritual leader had died April 5, after a long illness. Hale, who'd already planned a return trip to New York City in May, asked Ginsberg if he could tag along with the poet and Orlovsky when they drove to Vermont for the funeral. Ginsberg was handling Trungpa's death calmly, but Orlovsky, who'd also studied with the Rinpoche, was beside himself. "What's a student to do without his teacher?" he wailed.

On the drive home, Ginsberg talked about what Buddhism meant to his life. He had a knack for turning fairly complex concepts into tangible, relevant bits of information. He described the trikaya-- the three bodies of Buddha, Dharmakaya, Sambogakaya and Nirmanakaya -- as ways of breaking down experiences into those of body, speech and mind. Three weeks later, Hale made the first step toward Buddhism, called "taking refuge": vowing not to use misleading language, not to engage in sexual misconduct, not to kill, not to steal, not to use intoxicating substances. Although doing this required no major commitment, Hale was acknowledging that this path was sensible and that he aspired to it.

But aspirations were one thing, and actions were another.

On the Fourth of July, there was a big party on the Naropa campus. Among those attending was Chris Ide, a young poet from Michigan whom Hale had met the previous summer. Ide had just arrived in Boulder, still riding an emotional high after spending the winter in San Francisco. At a reading there, Ginsberg had introduced Ide as "the best young poet in America" to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who owned the City Lights bookstore and an underground publishing house that had been the first to publish Howl and Other Poems. Ide was counting on that connection to get a book of his own work published.

Ide was in top form at this party -- a wild man, downing beer after beer, screaming with delight over the fireworks. Whoo-eee! Whoo-eee! Afterward, they'd all gone back to Steve Miles's house, where they spent the rest of the night drinking beer on the roof. The moment was recorded when Miles took a photograph of Ide, Hale and Ginsberg sitting together.

From that night on, Hale and Ide spent every moment they could in each other's company. Not as lovers, but as friends with common interests. They shared an interest in literature -- although Ide was much better read and knew more about the Beats -- and pined together over the young teenage boys who frequented the Boulder Mall and the Naropa scene. Ide called them the Dharma Brats, a sarcastic play on Kerouac's The Dharma Bums.

It was just fun to Hale, but Ide was constantly falling in love, allowing his heart to be broken, moping bereft for hours or even days on end. Hale soon realized that his friend's self-inflicted misery had a purpose: He used it as an inspiration to write, just as the Beats had used their experiences with love, life and drugs for inspiration.

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