The Coffee House Cop-Out

It was 1960. Fresh out of the Army, I had my first job in business, working for an early hi-tech start-up  making epoxy circuit  shells. Mike, my boss, gave me a rare perk: I could accompany him to NYC to check out  the big IRE (Institute of Radio Engineers) electronics show held there each year. We spent an exhilarating first day touring exhibits, meeting potential customers, and networking with other start-ups like ourselves.

Later in the day, Mike asked me if I had ever been to a Greenwich Village coffee house. I had not. He said it was an experience not be missed. The Beatniks sat at small tables listening to each other read their poetry, and  discussing Kerouac’s 1957’s Beat Generation classic, “On the Road.” They signaled their approval by snapping their fingers instead of applauding. I said it sounded like fun.

I met Mike in the hotel lobby that evening, suitably dressed for the occasion: Suit, shirt, and tie. Mike was informally attired. He smiled and said, “You may be a bit overdressed, but come on, let’s go.” Off we went.

The Village club he selected was a little cellar-hole type place, off the beaten track, with a name something like “The Black Widow.” It was dark, smokey, and smelled of strong coffee and other strange fragrances.  I had never seen an opium den, but I imagined this might be how they looked. I was the most overdressed person in the room, and received more than a few critical stares at my appearance.. Mike picked a front row table and we sat, with espresso coffee, waiting for the performance to begin.

The poets were all young, men and women both, my age, and though I had been a college English Major, their free form philosophic verse was different from anything I had ever read (except for e.e. cummings, maybe).  They went on, with rants and complaints, raging against the machine, the system, and the government. I snapped my fingers in appreciation when they had concluded.

The last poet was a young man in his early Twenties, like me. Mike said later we even resembled each other a bit. He came on, unhappy, disgusted, and outraged in the extreme. To my amazement, and amusement, he came over and played directly to me. He raged on about our generational sell-outs, people who couldn’t wait to join the Establishment and share in the plunder, young people without a soul.

I thought it was interesting, and admired his performance. It was filled with his heart and soul. I gave a major finger snapping when he finished up. He stared at me for a moment, mumbled something under his breath, and stomped off the stage in a rage.

Mike said, “It’s over. Let’s go.” We left. On the cab ride back to the hotel, I said, “I thought that last guy was interesting. He seemed to be talking right to me.”

Mike paused a moment, and then replied, “He wasn’t talking to you, Ed.  He was talking about you.”

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Filed under Philosophy, Pop Culture/Nostalgia

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