February 26, 2014 by Jan Herman
Charley Plymell shows a painting that William Burroughs gave him.
Charley Plymell’s long, seemingly endless strings of emails are fascinating to read. He has known so many Beat writers and artists and has popped up in so many places with them that I can’t help thinking of him — half in wonder and half in disbelief — as the Zelig of the Beat Generation. Unlike Zelig, however, he has actual evidence to support his many, many tales. There he is in snowy Cherry Valley, for example, displaying a painting by William Burroughs that Burroughs once gave him and his wife Pam. “We sold it over phone … 3 grand,” he noted, and attached the photo. And there he is, in another attachment from another email, on a poster to promote a recent appearance in Brooklyn with Gerard Malanga. Of course, if you call Charley a Beat poet, he’ll tell you he is no such thing and you may be subject to a lengthy rant about various Beat luminaries who failed to live up to his ideals.
+++One reason those strings of emails make interesting reading is that Charley’s correspondents, among them A.D. Winans, Roxie Powell, and too many others to name, love to jump in with tales of their own. Here’s a tale Powell told about San Francisco that caught my attention. I call it Side A, because it turned out to have a Side B.
Most of the time I went to a bar on Grant Ave., and wish I could remember the name. It was about a block back down Grant from Gino and Carlos. Had plenty of good escapades there. My favorite was the night some stewardesses were there and guys were hitting on them and they had the center of attention down at the end of the bar with their backs to Grant Ave. A lady comes in and sits at the bar to my right a couple of stools and orders a beer. After listening to the Stewardesses for a few minutes she turns to me and says, “Personally, I’d rather do it than sit around and talk about screwing all night.” Took me a moment to digest that, and I said, “Yeah, I agree.” Then she said, “Do you want to do something about it?” “Sure,” I said. So we left and I followed her in her car out Geary Boulevard until we got to her apartment. Went upstairs and had a wunnerful time. Next morning she gave me her card, she was an operating room surgical nurse and did not get off duty until 12 midnight. Too late to have normal acquaintanceship, she said. Said I could call her anytime and if she was tied up she would say. Otherwise I could come up. I carried that card around in my billfold until it got mold on it. As long as I had it on me I felt warm and serene.
As I recall, Winans guessed — correctly it seems — that the bar Powell was talking about must’ve been the old Coffee Gallery. I messaged Powell that I wanted to post his story. He replied with the other side of that tale.
Things didn’t always happen so smoothly in that place, at least for me. One night I was sitting about where those stewardesses were and a lady popped onto the seat next to me. She seemed to think that I couldn’t help myself from hitting on her. So she looked at me and said something like, “So you like to come in here and hit on us, just like all these other guys. They make me sick.” “Well,” I said, “It’s better than lying on the bed upstairs and masturbating.” And at that she spit at me and, with a few words, left. Several patrons looked at me like I had attempted to rape her. This was long before anyone could under any circumstances at all admit to onanism.