The Fox And The Hound
And The Coffee And Confusion
From a memoir in progress
© 2002 Dave Archer / All Rights Reserved
© 2002 Dave Archer / All Rights Reserved
At twenty I walked with a young man’s good luck in my shoes. In 1961 Upper Grant Avenue and the Beat scene were mine. Here I found true camaraderie, outrageous drinking buddies, poets, painters and folk musicians. San Francisco’s North Beach was my SoHo, Morocco, Guadalajara, and Left Bank of Paris, all in one. For a young pansexual painter, dreaming in oils and red wine, Little Italy was mystic shelter ––– a tangled web of narrow streets and back alley rabbit warrens.
Summer in bohemian bars and restaurants was for art and conversation fueled with espresso, Red Mountain Burgundy, Pernod, and pot. Millie the Peddler’s madrigal call, “A rose for the lady?," blended with bebop jazz and soapbox poetry readings the Coexistence Bagel Shop. Lenny Bruce would soon perform at the Jazz Workshop around the corner on Broadway. Under age, I leaned against the wall outside and listened to Bruce’s show night after night. Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and Barbara Streisand would soon begin their careers at the Hungry “I” backed by the first brick-wall in show business. Billy Holiday and Edith Piaf were on the jukebox at the Anxious Asp and the Coffee Gallery. Through afternoon fog the sound of plinking mandolins floated from the door of Tony’s barbershop on Green Street, mixing with the sweet aroma of baking bread and pastries at the Danlio Bakery.
Day and night Little Italy was alive with activity. Cafe Triesté was Milano. Fountains of steam screeching into chrome coffee pitchers, with accents of orange, cinnamon, chocolate and glorious impromptu singing by members of the San Francisco Opera, along with the cafe owners and workers themselves. Anyone really, who could sing opera was welcome. The juke box was famous for it's strict selection of opera only records. Later, even Luciano Pavorotti sang there. Intense locals crowded the tables discussing art, others wrote in fat notebooks or on napkins. Some read books or stared into middle space. A scene of artists, actors, poets, tourists, socialites, columnists, tramps, buffs and divas crowded the room.
Walking past Triesté one afternoon with my friend Mike Kelly, we saw a living legend sitting in the window, with two local poets.
“Dig it Mike ... Henry Miller, right?”
“That's Miller all right. Henry fuckin’ Miller at the Triesté ..., with Ginsberg and Ferlingetti. Look at them kissing his ass”.
Forty feet later: “So Mike, as a writer, what would you say to Henry Miller ... I like your books?”
Mike: “how about ... shoeshine mister?".
One day walking past the The Fox and Hound coffee house on upper Grant Avenue, half a block from Triesté, I saw a man in a black beret sweeping the sidewalk in front of the place. He looked like he might be some sort of Beat, so I asked if he needed any help, and my new boss, Lee Fraley, handed the broom over and said, “ ... do you sweep?”
Now I had two jobs, in drastically different worlds. I was the official sweeper and dishwasher at the Fox and Hound coffee house and the unofficial bus-stop-boy-whore at the Saint Francis Hotel. As dishwasher I soon rose to coffeeman fry-cook, then waiter, doorman and finally, briefly, manager. As a hustler I only sank lower. From selling my body to years later, actually selling my paintings. Well at least I know from direct experience, the former is almost always preferable.
Lee Fraley was the “Fox” and the “Hound.”
Lee “the Fox” looked like Reynard, as long as he kept his black beret on that is. A bald fox doesn’t quite make it. But sporting his jaunty cap in the smoky, candlelit coffeehouse Lee had a certain lean flair. He cut through the room in a red vest over a white shirt behind the prow of a pencil thin black mustache, eyes roving, searching the room, missing nothing, especially women.
Lee “the Fox” hid from all bill collectors, especially his perennial rent-tracker landlord. There were two small windows in the front door and whenever Lee saw the landlord coming he’d dive behind the kitchen counter yelling, “Tell him I’m out ... all night!”
Lee was also the "the Hound". That is, one cool cat who helped a lot of musicians and artists along their way. The man was always there with a meal, small loans, a drink, a huge "Fraley Burger," and a place to play. Lee boasted: David Crosby, (pre Stills & Nash), Dino Valente (Let's Get Together) Tom Paxton, (The Last Thing On My Mind), Janis Joplin, (Turtle Blues and many others) Pete Stampfel, (later with the Fugs and the Holy Modal Rounders), David Freiberg, (later with Quick Silver Messenger Service), legendary Roger McGuinn, (founder of The Byrds), Elmer Snowden (legendary New Orleans banjo player), Phil Ochs, (I Ain't Marching Anymore), Tom Hobson (recorded Quah album with Jorma Kaukonen), Dave Van Ronk, ("The Mayor of MacDougal Street"), Herb Pederson (The Dillards & The Desert Rose Band), Butch Waller, (Golden Gate Promenade), Hoyt Axton, (Joy To The World and many other hits) Ivan Ultz (The Ice Cream Man),Terry Wadsworth, (Dog Mountain), Nick Gravenites, (Buried Alive In The Blues and other songs for Janis Joplin), Ramblin' Jack Elliot (America's "Hardest Travlin" cowboy), Eric Weissberg, (Dueling Banjos with Steve Mandel), Billy Roberts (Hey Joe), Bobby Newirth, (Mercedes Benz), and Tim Hardin (If I Were A Carpenter), and one night even: Lightin' Sam Hopkins himself. Yes, indeed.
Lee "The Hound" had one exasperating habit for those of us who worked there. That was, taking up his own guitar several times a night to holler Cajun songs, (just like they do in New Orleans) while chunka - chunkin' on six-string guitar. Now, Lee Fraley did have his fans, but generally speaking the good hearted man sometimes cleared the room in about three or four songs. And although folks leaving never seemed to hurt his feelings, his sets served a dual purpose. Extra door charges could be collected, filling the place up again. Note: not all that long ago, my friend Mike Kelly actually saw Lee Fraley play a set, and reported to me via the miracle of the telephone, that during the intervening years, Lee had gotten really good. See, there you go. Never, never, never give up. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Directly across the street from the Fox and the Hound and up one flight of stairs was the apartment of Margo St. James, infamous hooker who founded the prostitutes union, COYOTE ––– Cast Off Your Old Tired Ethics. For me, just her name was poetry ––– Margo St. James. There was a large jovial woman sharing the place with Margo. Sally would invite me up after hours to meet her famous friends. Among others Sonny Terry entertained us, with his matchless harmonica and hoot singing. One night I sat at the feet of Elmer Snowden, legendary New Orleans banjo player while he played, and I mean PLAYED, “Bye Bye Blackbird,” and a dozen other great songs.
One day Margo handed me her Christmas card on the street. It was a photo of herself in a complete nun’s habit, (a really good one) sitting on the couch smiling while some of her hooker friends sat around her feet, nude, on the floor as innocent as flowers. She’d signed it from: “Sister Merry Margo and Nuns”. Later she became Paul Krassner’s, “Realist Nun” and had regular features in his publication.
When it came to getting paid, The Fox and The Hound should have been called the “Sly Fox and Dirty Dog,” perhaps even,“The Weasel and the Mutt”. My nightly stipend was two dollars, coffee and a hamburger. In the early 60’s two dollars was good for wine, cigarettes and dinner in Chinatown. Pork buns were ten cents apiece and three or four made a meal. A buck twenty five bought a platter of rice smothered in cabbage and barbecued spare ribs in Chinatown. Pall Mall’s were a quarter and a full quart of Red Mountain Burgundy was fifty two cents. No money, no problem. The inside breast pocket of a Navy P-coat made a perfect stash for shoplifting quarts of Red Mountain. Fifteen years later I returned to the Chinese corner grocery and paid the owner for all the wine I’d ever stolen from him. He was deeply touched and full of gratitude and I felt like a real louse. Also, working the door at The Fox and The Hound allowed me to pocket a few dollars from the door charges. Sorry Lee. Hey, he knew. We were all like that.
Later in the 60's, after a woman named Sylvia Fennell bought, “The Fox and Hound” from Lee Fraley, she changed the name, and I stayed on as doorman for awhile. Steve Martin actually performed the first shows of his career at “Coffee and Confusion” and I was the junky doorman. The owner, Sylvia Fennell was a bossy New Yorker. She admitted years later that she really didn’t have a clue as to what was going on, but knew how to act like she did.
Gaylord Alexander was Sylvia’s right hand queen, Coffee and Confusion’s manager and self appointed flaming matire’d. He claimed “direct degeneracy” from Russian nobility. Indeed, from none other than, Vlad the Impaler, the historical model for Dracula. When I first met Gaylord he was wearing an army blanket poncho and hustling tourists. He would say “Hello, I’m Gaylord Beg,” then he would produce a wooden bowl from under the blanket and say, “ ... I beg.” It worked. In fact it worked so well Gaylord was always the richest guy around.
One night as “matire’d” Gaylord asked Duke Ellington and his entourage for the two dollar cover charge.
“That’s two dollars each”.
One of Ellington’s party whispered, “My man ... the Duke does not pay cover charges.”
And Gaylord pulled up his tits and said, “Honey, in here, the Queen pays!”
Ellington loved it and forked over a twenty.
Coffee and Confusion was at 1339 upper Grant Avenue, a half a block away from where I lived at the Tevere Hotel. Sylvia Fennell was short in stature, wide in chuptza. I visited with her decades later, in 1993, when she was 76 years old and suffering from cancer. When I mentioned to her one day on the phone, that I was writing a book and she was in it, Sylvia invited me over for Chinese take out. She still lived in exactly the same apartment she’d had when I worked for her thirty years earlier. It overlooked upper Grant Avenue and the space where Coffee and Confusion once stood, now a florist’s shop. On the way to dinner I stopped in there in fact, to buy her a long-stemmed red rose. Sylvia buzzed me in, then stood waiting to greet me at the top of a long flight of stairs.
As soon as she saw me in the stairwell Sylvia yelled, “Five percent! I want five percent of the gross!”
“Of what?,” I said.
“Your book!,” she yelled
She was serious. I hadn’t even started climbing the stairs yet. Right then, the doorbell rang. It was the Chinese food being delivered so I stood there while Sylvia handed her son, Paul, twenty dollars to pay for it. We nodded hello, passing on the stairs, and as I gained the faded landing, I handed Sylvia the beautiful rose. She hardly glanced at it, watching every move Paul made. Saying nothing. Sylvia just kept watching Paul. Then the second he closed the door, arms loaded with sacks of food she yelled down the stairwell like a macaw parrot, “How much did you tip him?”
“It came to eighteen dollars mom, so I just gave him the twenty.”
“You what! The whole twenty! I can’t believe it!”
Then when Paul reached the top of the stairs, Sylvia started whipping him all over the head, hard, with the rose I’d just handed her. Then she stopped, looked at the broken flower and said, “What’s this?”
“A rose for the lady?,” I offered.
“Oh, thank you honey”. Sylvia hadn’t changed a bit.
I saw Steve Martin on Oprah in the early 90’s. In answer to her question, “Where did you get your start?,” Martin got a good laugh saying, “In a little place on upper Grant Avenue in San Francisco where I played for no audience”.
Oprah said, “No audience! What do you mean, no audience?”
Martin never got around to answering, but I knew. When we first opened in the evening, customers would not come inside unless something was happening on stage. There was a window on the sidewalk with a clear view of the performance area. If anyone paused to watch Steve Martin play the banjo with an arrow through his head for even two seconds, I offered them a complimentary coffee. It was pure carnival. Then once I’d seated six or seven people that way, others would come in on their own and we’d start collecting two dollar door charges.
Steve Martin flew up from LA to work there every two weeks or so, and got fifteen dollars a night. He didn’t hang out. I would see him between shows sometimes, standing alone in a doorway a half a block up Grant from the coffee house. I thought he was antisocial. Now I think he was mulling over his last show, preparing for the next. He was way ahead of us. Anyway, the young crowd absolutely loved Steve Martin from the very beginning.
I lived a half block from the coffee house at the Tevere Hotel which was the upper two floors of a small city-block, shaped like a wedge of pie. It was bounded by Columbus, Vallejo and upper Grant Avenue. My aerie perched like the cell of a Greek hermit at the topmost north-corner, the point of the pie. Grant Avenue and Chinatown’s back door lay a block to my left. Fifteen or twenty blocks down Grant, gilded dragons flanked the Chinatown gates.
The dragons of Little Italy were Cafe Triesté on the street below and Saint Francis Of Assisi Church directly across from my window. If Saint Francis Church is the Italian heart of upper Grant Avenue ––– then is Triesté the poetic soul.
The Tevere was a typical North Beach hotel. Relatively clean, including weekly fresh sheets and pillow cases, make your own bed, no towels. The community shower was better than most.
Small hotel rooms were always more than a place to sleep for me. They were, by necessity my studios as well. I did have north-light at the Tevere but never used it for working because I was not an easel painter. I generally worked at night, all night. The pieces I did then were rarely over a foot square. Working at a small table, I drew with brushes and pens and ink, sometimes watercolors and oil crayons, often until sunrise.
Mark Rainsley and I, in the heat of a three day binge of methamphetamine and wine, discovered that colored advertising photos in magazines could be altered by gently scrubbing them with small stiff oil brushes and light turpentine. At the Tevere I was doing a lot of altered magazine images. A Cyclops Marilyn, Brando as a side of meat, that sort of thing. Mostly I liked turning beautiful people into deformed monsters, changing ad models into geeky ghouls. I lump this work in with a jillion pen and ink drawings my friend Mike Kelly designates: "David's pig-dog period”. A season of contorted beasts, snarling, puking, often with roaring hardons --- sinister, cunning, malevolent.
The windows of my room at the Tevere formed a four sided cupola. To the left I looked over power and telephone lines into the intersection of Columbus and Vallejo. I could see all the way to the classic blue roofed Columbus Tower building, the north entrance of the financial district. The right side window was completely filled with an overwhelming view of the facade of Saint Francis of Assisi Church.
With my window open I could sometimes hear operatic singing from the Triesté reflected off the facade of the church. An arched stained-glass window dominated my view. The wall of Saint Francis was so wide and high I could not see the top of the church unless I stood close to the glass of my window and craned my neck. At the top of the cathedral a sliver of sky revealed an ornate gilded cross. The stained glass window was flanked by large sculpted figures. A Madonna stood to the left in a pose reminiscent of Albrecht Dürer’s praying-hands. To the right, a robed Jesus holding a hammer in his right hand and a carpenter's angle near his chest.
Beneath the figures and the stained-glass window, three messages were carved in slabs of marble. They seemed so close at times, that if I leaned out my window and stretched I might trace the chiseled letters with tips of my fingers.
“One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism - Ephesians 4.5” read the scripture on the left flanked by, “One Fold and One Shepherd - John 10.16,” on a larger slab to the right. Then in larger letters positioned over the main entrance was this:
“To Almighty God, Under the Invocation of Saint Francis of Assisium”
Before I lived at the Tevere, a twenty foot high statue of St. Francis by Beniamino Bufano ––– “Benny” to San Franciscans ––– stood on the sidewalk, centered directly in front of the main steps of the church. I missed having it there. Only a slight discoloration in the sidewalk marked the spot where the Benny’s Saint Francis once stood.
Made of ferrous concrete, its bulbous arms stuck straight out, shoulder high and must have weighed a ton each. As an artistic expression of The Cross, it was fine, but sculpture or not, and even allowing for the considerable suffering of Saints, it was hard not to feel sorry for Bufano’s Saint Francis, having to hold that pose for centuries to come. Benny’s carving also evinced a spooky smile, pure Stan Laurel.
Benny Bufano was the sculptor who designed the buffalo nickel and couldn’t resist using his own profile as the model for the Indian. In another famous story it was also Benny who became so enraged over the declaration of World War I, that he actually chopped off part of his trigger finger with his mother’s meat cleaver and sent the bloody thing to President Woodrow Wilson in protest. Wilson ignored him. I wouldn’t even try that today with my nail clippings.
After I posted this article, Gayle Hudson contacted me saying, "I'm reasearching Benny Bufano and found this information in the article "Raining mIssiles of Peace: Benny Bufano and the Art of Protest," which contradicts the information on your website about Bufano and the buffalo nickel, and also his servered finger:
"James Fraser was commissioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in 1913 to design the new Indian-head nickel. The nickel, which was minted from 1913-1938, had a buffalo on one side and the profile of an American Indian male on the other. Bufano served as Fraser‚s apprentice during this time, and, later in life, he claimed to have been Fraser's model for the Indian. Fraser is perhaps best known for his sculpture, The End of the Trail, which he created for the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.
Regarding Benny's severed finger:
after President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany in 1917, Bufano
accidentally severed his right index finger while cutting wood.
After talking to his doctor, Bufano seized upon the idea of mailing his
severed „trigger finger‰ to President Wilson as a protest of the
Declaration of War. Supposedly, the young artist packaged the bloodied
finger, and sent it off with a note to Washington, but never received a
reply. Over the years, Bufano would fuel the rumor that he had
intentionally severed his finger as a protest to war.
Bufano was a complicated and colorful figure and it's easy to see how his stories have been embellished over the years, since Bufano did most of the embellishing!
Thank you Gayle!
That Benny’s Saint Francis was controversial is an understatement. The most contention came simply from the overall effect, the clash of artistic periods I suppose. A modern statue standing cheek and jowl with a church founded at the Gold Rush in 1849.
A lot of folks thought it should be somewhere else. This was complicated. Benny Bufano was a favorite son of Little Italy. His statue had been a gift freely accepted and erected with honors. Benny was, after all, world famous, and the statue was worth something. It also did not go without notice that arguing over the symbol of the essence of selfless love was pretty low. What to do? What to do?
Then one day, after endless months of contention, the statue simply disappeared ... zoot ... !
I mean vanished. Checking the sidewalk a shadow in the concrete indicated where it once stood. Beat rumor had it that the church, weary of struggling, settled the issue by “discovering” stress cracks forming in the sidewalk and steps adjoining the heavy piece. Saint Francis the Ferrous then, transcended Vallejo Street and landed with a rather unceremonious thud in the parking lot of the Longshoreman’s Hall near Fisherman’s Wharf, where it can still be seen to this day.
It’s thirty years later and I think The
City could get together with the Longshoremen and at the very least,
place a bronze plaque with Benny Bufano’s name on it at the base of the
piece. Thank you.
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