"The heart of the beat world-- it's here at Les and Bo's. It's like they put their hands aroiund the city's throat and squeezed, and all the life came up into their apartment." --The Beat on Ruby's Street
Rubes comes by most weekends, when her Gary Daddy-o and brother Ray are here. I know she loves our green tea ice cream and always try to have some on hand. Ray is going to be one crazy sax player when he gets older. And of course Bo and I love jamming with Ruby’s dad.
But Bo’s the only one who knows how I grew up and why I got out of there. Fifth Avenue, overlooking the park. Doorman, gold fixtures in the bath, and a den with a ceiling you could see through to look straight up at the sky. I used to beg for it to be my room but Father wouldn’t hear of it. On nights when Father was gone, though, Mums let me sleep in there.
Father was gone a lot, in fact. Working or doing who knows what. He had mills and factories up and down the east coast and an investment portfolio that stayed put on Black Monday, when the Depression hit.
Summers we were in the Hamptons and saw the Pater mostly on weekends. Tell you the truth, I didn’t like him very much and I don’t think he was overly fond of me. Didn’t say it to my face but I heard him telling Mum I was her “Nancy-boy.”
Neither one of them noticed the breadlines or apple sellers or anyone else who was suffering. When I turned 21, I couldn’t stand it anymore and joined the Army. Pater tried to pull strings to get me out but I was having none of it. Went to the Philippines though I never did see much action. Almost went into Japan in 1945 but then they dropped the Bomb. Horrible, all of it. Can’t look at the pictures now. Just can’t.
I still see my mother, but she’s truly scandalized at how I live. Growing up to be a studio musician wasn’t her plan when she said I could have sax lessons. You know, I think she thought it was a sousaphone she was buying? Something to amuse the boy, she said. And Pater didn’t care, as long as he was left out of it.
“What are you doing, Lester?” Mum asks when she sees me. Can’t fathom that I’m playing for a living and that I live with a “roommate” of a different race. That I never married and that I’m part of the Beat Generation downtown.
Now and again she buys me a cap or jacket—I won’t let her do much more. She’s come to our place but I think it frightens her. Stairs, no doorman and of course there’s Bo. “I understand he’s a good musician,” she’ll say, “but a… Neg… a Nee—I mean. Oh dear.” Can’t even say it.
“You know what, Mum?” I tell her. “It’s 1958. I’m grown up. And I can live with whoever I want.”
She’ll smile, then. You know. Manners.
I haven’t seen my father in at least five years. Last time I saw him was at the Stork Club and I was playing. He didn’t see me, at first. He was with a redhead, dressed head to foot in the tightest gold lamé I’d ever seen. His eyes were bathing her like a fountain.
I started my solo, getting louder and louder. Wanted to blast his ears off, I guess. People were starting to get uncomfortable and he finally looked up at me. Held his eyes while I held a note. Froze him like a popsicle.
That was the last time we saw each other and I never did tell Mum. I don’t play the Stork any more. I’m either in the Village clubs or the studio. Friends and music are all I need, really. Saxophone, trumpet, piano, guitar and bass. Green tea ice cream. And my Bo.
--Les Porter Whiting