North Beach Journal

Kerouac and Cassady, Capp’s Corner, and the Angela conundrum

January was an interesting month for your rambling Sketches columnist. Word came that Grizzly Peak Press in Berkeley will publish my book “Sketches From a North Beach Journal,” a series of profiles on larger than life characters — “San Franciscans: Heroes, Heroines, the Wise, and the Wily from the Gold Rush to Yesterday.” I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile …


Back in December, the remnants of San Francisco’s Beat movement were all aflutter. An 18-page, 16,000-word letter from proto-Beat icon Neal Cassady to writer Jack Kerouac was discovered and was slated to be auctioned — presumably to rake in big bucks. Known as the “Joan Anderson letter” because much of it was devoted to relating Cassady’s erotic adventures with her, it is said to have inspired Kerouac to write in a stream-of-consciousness style in his novel On the Road. The auction is on hold because of lawsuits from the Cassady and Kerouac estates. And the big letter is in a vault somewhere. Meanwhile I made an interesting discovery in a box of old magazines in my closet.

Back in the sixties, I had a buddy named John Bryan, an off-the-grid, late Beat and early hippie who wrote poetry and published a counterculture magazine called Notes from Underground. What I found in my closet was a copy of the magazine (Issue 1) published in 1964. When I browsed through it, I made a startling discovery. Bryan had published a 13,000-word excerpt of the Joan Anderson letter. Notes from Underground also published a lengthy reply by Kerouac.


No, I’m not going to give you 13,000 of Cassady’s words, but here are a few excerpts from Kerouac’s reply.

Just a word, now, about your wonderful 16,000 word letter about Joan Anderson and Cherry Mary. I thought it ranked among the best things ever written in America. … You gather together all the best styles of Joyce, Celine, Dusty and Proust. … It can’t possibly be sparse and halting, like Hemingway, because it hides nothing; the material is painfully necessary … the material of Scott Fitz was so sweetly unnecessary. … Hurry to N.Y. so we can plan and all take off in big flying boat ’32 Chandler across crazy land. … I got to work now on script so I can pay Uncle Sam his bloody tax & landlord’s bloody old rent … Jack


Those of you who follow this sort of thing will remember that Capp’s Corner, one of the last of the old-time saloon-restaurants in North Beach, may go belly-up. Lease problems. Well, hang on, as we go to press, proprietor Tom Ginella is still trying to negotiate with the landlord, but it’s uphill. We will put out an all-points bulletin when something happens. Meanwhile, now is the time for another drink and another meal at Capp’s Corner. It may not be there much longer.


O’Reilly’s Irish Pub on Green Street across from the mortuary will reopen under new management after it was padlocked by the feds. Taking over is Rick Howard who also operates Harry’s on Fillmore, Bruno’s in the Mission, the Owl Tree on Nob Hill, and Eddie Rickenbacker’s on Second Street.


Well, this is the last time you will see the name Angela Alioto in this column. It’s my Valentine’s Day present to readers. Churlish Angela is stonewalling me — won’t talk to me anymore. She’s angry over two words in a recent column on Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s Piazza St. Francis-Poets Plaza project on Vallejo between Grant and Columbus. The first offending word was “acolyte.” In the column, I referred to her as a Ferlinghetti acolyte. Angela, a fundraiser for the project, claims she came up with the idea for the pedestrian plaza before or simultaneously with Ferlinghetti. Rather, she trailed him on the visionary idea by several years. I also referred to her religious group, the Knights of St. Francis, as “unofficial.” She used that very word when she told me she needed the Pope’s blessing to make the group “official.”

It is best to avoid contemplating Angela. Doing so causes dizzy spells.

Meanwhile, when I checked on the status of the project with the city’s Department of Public Works recently. Nick Eisner, senior plan checker, told me, “Provided that the Piazza design team addresses all city comments and concerns, the issuance of a permit and start of construction by October of this year appears to be realistic.”


I hadn’t seen Jimo Perini, the noted North Beach photographer, since the new year, so I missed my January column deadline for this item. When I saw Jimo in Caffe Puccini the other day, I asked him if Christmas had treated him well. It had, he told me, and then he added, “When I was a kid I got two walnuts and an orange for Christmas one year and the kid next door got a bike. I stole it so I could try riding it around the block.” I love the quote. Already it’s one of my leading contenders for 2015 quote of the year. Last year Jimo got my award for best quote: I introduced him to my wife and described him as a famous photographer. Jimo replied: “I just point the camera and push the button. God does the rest.”


Mid-January came word that journalist-novelist-socialite-philanthropist Merla Zellerbach had died. She was my editor when I wrote occasionally for the Nob Hill Gazette. Merla gave me the best assignment I ever had. “Write about the history of San Francisco bordellos,” she said. And I did. I asked her for an expense account but she ignored the request.

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