Charles Plymell on Charles Plymell (part 2)


The next summer I went to work on my father’s land in South Dakota. Hisevery airport near his farms in the western states. He told me new cars were a fad anyway, and he could have older ones at the landing fields. He nodded off once and I took the stick to fly the Piper. It was a lovely machine. Later I would help some crop dusters in old double winged aircraft with larch mother that could maintain enough speed for lift while flying close to the ground. I rode between the wings sometimes for the fun of it. He had a 48 Dodge business coupe that I drove back to Texas one summer and joined my mother who was working on a daredevil thrill show in Oklahoma.

My father had married a woman from Costa Rica and was living in the upper suite of the St. Charles Hotel in Pierre S. D. At that time, there was no such thing as a driver’s license in South Dakota so with those license plates I drove everywhere and befuddled the cops when stopped. I returned to Wichita from time to time to live in our lovely brick home on the river, but my second home was the road. I found gas at 15 cents a gallon in New Mexico. Later I would drive to Tijuana with a friend and score some weed to smoke and get happy and drive to Bunker Hill in downtown L. A. with outcast Indians and Mexicans for no reason when I drove out Highway 66 in my 1950 Olds 88 Convertible listening to the likes of Johnny Ray and Hank Ballard on the car radio. I remember how my dad, who loved music invited the railroad section gang and their families to come to our house to play music and sing when we lived on our farm. Their children were bright-eyed and well behaved. They lived in tar- paper shacks and boxcars. They grew weed along the railroad tracks track and it was part of the family commodity. Today it would be considered endangerment by social workers and would likely have to have their kids institutionalized.

I worked on the pipeline in Arizona and lived with my father who had some cotton land in Blythe, CA. I went to Hollywood for a while and bought a new 53 Roadmaster Riviera and went to Oregon to visit my sister. We traveled to the wide open cowboy and rail towns of gambling and prostitution famous in rounder song and story in Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho. She seemed to know a madam in every town. During that time, she married a sophisticated lumberman from Northern New Jersey, who had moved his lumber moving business to Central Oregon.  After working on a rock crusher in Crater Lake, and the Dalles Dam on the Columbia River, listening to the likes of Johnny Ace or Rose Maddox on the car radio, I drove my Roadmaster back to Kansas and matriculated at Wichita U., mainly to keep out of jail. I worked at Boeing building B17’s. Did I read blueprints? Yeah, I looked at the next plane on the assembly line to see how the part fit.
My friend, “Barbitol Bob” wanted to learn more about art. He drew cartoons in the dingy dives of combos all night long and invented the term, “lounge lizard” that was in one of his drawings. We read Pound and Henry Miller and went to jazz clubs across the tracks and took Benzedrine. I had learned about people and how things worked through experiences and empiricism as there weren’t that many guilds or good trade schools. College was the only game in town and has been ever since if one wanted to keep off the street and conform to social objectives administered by PhD’s of the Prussian tradition to get into commerce and industry government style somewhat disconnected from our radical history and radical thinking in general.

I got an evening job as an in-house printer. Did I know offset Printing? Yeah, where’s the manual. In a few days I had the shop up and running, straightened out from the mess the former printer left. The cost of higher education was nominal then; it would be less than entertainment and beer money of an upper middle class family today. It certainly wasn’t the social scam of today, so it made sense to spend a few bucks to see what was going on at the U. Fortunately, unlike most of my contemporaries, I didn’t like to sit in bars, so I did get a good taste for higher learning and met a few good professors who knew as a self- educated person thus far that I had no need for pretense. It was a time of the old canons and new discoveries like those of Crick & Watson or Bucky Fuller who worked in Wichita during the war.
I was a natural in Metaphysics, so I became a tutor for the Philosophy Dept. I befriended Professor Walpole, a brilliant semanticist and drunk who served as an agent during the war, pre-James Bond, and wrote the book, Semantics The Nature of Words and Their Meaning. As fate would have it, the semanticist in the Bible Belt became more and more obsessed with the word that he claimed was the first learned in any language. Today is it spoken legally and acceptable as the “F word”, a peculiarity that demands re-reference or double-reference for its unacceptable connotative meanings, and I can see how this universal noun-verb symbol would madden him and his theories on the receding referent. I had to personally intervene when he was at a bar owned by equally obsessed banjo player, who had a huge sign posted behind his bar that the word would not be tolerated.  Professor Walpole, in proper British accent, began something like, I noticed your sign, and I have spent most of my life studying words… and so on upsetting the equally mad left-handed banjo picker with the Christian morality of a Bill Monroe.  This was happening in a vortex of obsessions far away from British Isles. His social and professional situations worsened, and he was eventually dismissed from his position at the university. The last position I saw him in was on the floor in another college bar, yelling at his wife, “ Now you’ve done it! Now you’ve fucked me up!” No one could get him off the floor except another lifelong friend, Roxie Powell who never came to class and boasted of more F’s than anyone, but could keep in school by out-talking anyone who would rather keep him on the rolls than be driven mad.

Professor LePell began a university publication titled “Microkosmos” He was an obsessive aesthete and would guide my appreciation of classic music and art as well as a film I contributed to that his friend made. He was a Professor in art but preferred to be called “painter.” I surmised that in his studio he was painter and in the class room he was professor.  Jackson Pollack, a painter from lower class white trash was just becoming an American Master and was referred to as  “painter.”  I think he also coined the word, “work.” which became the only word it seemed an art professor needed to vaguely critique his students.  “Does this or that work, or not work.” I bought the LP classics he recommended and went home and took Peyote and listened to them with my head between the speakers until I appreciated all of them from Bach to Bartok.

Microkosmos was a success, designed to carry forward a “radical” course Professor Lepell got approved, called  “Inter-related Arts.” Another painter friend, Mary Joan Waid, was responsible for the issue of the magazine the following year. I told her I knew a good printer, who would print the magazine at low cost for the sake of art. That would be me slipping it in on my evening job running the Multilith press. Everything came out fine until I had to bind it. The technologies in perfect binding were very complicated in the 50’s and had to be planned in the overall printing process on a much larger sheet to be folded and trimmed with galleys for the spine to run through a binding machine. I had a paper shear, so I assembled and cut the pages even and boiled up a pot of horse hide glue and stacked the magazine with glued covers around them at my house with weights on them. I delivered the job and got the money, (about $200 bucks which would cover next year’s tuition). Everyone was pleased with the magazine, and I pulled of my enterprising venture until I sat next to a professor who said he really liked the magazine, but after the first reading, it came apart and the pages fell out. I laughed and said very loud, so everyone at the table could hear: Didn’t you know this was supposed to be the DADA issue!

I dropped out again without a degree, and went back to San Francisco to live with my sister, who was trying to go straight, and her new husband, who was the offspring of a Black madam and the local sheriff in Deadwood, South Dakota. He was older and wiser and everybody loved him, and soon he got me in the union to work on the docks In San Francisco. Bob Branaman had already moved to San Francisco, and he knew Bruce Connors and Michael McClure and Dave Haselwood, who had gone to Wichita U. before my group of friends and were already involved in painting, poetry, and publishing. I made San Francisco my home as did many strays, and I knew the city from when my father and I visited his sister who had lived there most of her life. When I came to live there this time, I stayed with friends who had been students of Professor LePell at Wichita U. They had moved in a place two houses up on Ashbury Street off Haight Street in a quiet Russian neighborhood.  A poet from Wichita who had been published in the “Dada university magazine” also moved to S. F. (I saw recently that the magazine survived and had William S. Burroughs listed as a contributor) Alan Russo had come to my house near Wichita U. and shared a lifestyle of art, music, sex, and the peyote that he would write to Texas for. His dad was in psychology at the university and had tested him at genius level.

I moved in with him on various apartments on most every street in S.F. it seemed.  Alan continued to write Sandoz laboratories for pure LSD and Light Laboratories for pure mescaline. Richard Brautigan came to the Haight to write and gave me a poem he had written, but I moved out of the Haight when I found a huge flat at 1403 Gough St. which had been previously occupied by kids from Wichita involved with Meth that was also popular at that time. I rented the flat for a hundred a month. It had many bedrooms and others from Wichita lived upstairs. Dave Haselwood had published some of the beat writers and wanted to publish a book of mine. He lived at the flat a while also.

In 1963 Neal Cassidy and Allen Ginsberg moved in and shared the flat with me. We were there when Kennedy got shot. I remember Neal running into my room saying, Charley, turn on the T.V. the President has been shot!” We had a large Thanksgiving dinner there that included my sister and her husband, Frank, Allen and Neal and their Beat Generation friends and traditionally a stranger off the street. Allen wrote his Thanksgiving poem about the people living there including my girlfriend, Ann. Neal also had a girlfriend named Ann.  My Ann was later selected as one of Andy Warhol’s Ten Most Beautiful. The Gough St. address became infamous and a lot of famous people like Timothy Leary, “coach Leary” from Harvard visited there. Lawrence Ferlinghetti brought Mary Beach and Claude Pelieu there to meet Ginsberg and Cassady. Later, I married Pamela Beach, Mary’s daughter from an earlier marriage to a WW2 hero under Eisenhower, who had parachuted behind enemy lines into North Africa to prepare for the invasion.


One Response to “Charles Plymell on Charles Plymell (part 2)”

  1. Roxie Powell Says:

    This all true, told in the inimitable voice of Charley. The only alteration I saw was that he worked at Boeing on B-47s, not B-17s. He could write the whole thing again including lots that he left out. He was never that totally in to himself. He was movin’ down the road. rox

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