The Pain and Penury of Beat


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August 11, 1960, Vol. V, No. 42

Night Out in the Village

By Ken Sobol

Last winter an uncle of mine was in town for a few days, and wanted to see the beats in their natural habitat. “Take me to a coffee bar,” he commanded. “I want to see what these things are that people should go to them.”

We went to one of the better known coffee houses on MacDougal Street, which was filled with people sitting in strained positions on uncomfortable chairs. My uncle, who weighs 200 pounds, banged into several people and nearly kicked over the table trying to relax. “Now I know why they stay in here all night,” he said. “There’s no way to get out.”

When the menu came, he asked me to order for him, not being able to read Italian himself. I suggested a capuccino, which cost something like 65 cents. A half hour later the waitress set down two little partially filled egg cups before us. My uncle looked perplexed, but he waited 10 minutes or so before he said anything. “Do they always bring the cream and the coffee at different times?” he asked finally.

I explained that this was his coffee. It took a while for it to sink in, but he finally understood, and broke into a broad smile. “I get it,” he chuckled maliciously. “Now i know why they call this the beat generation. I sure as hell took a beating for my money that time.” He grinned and wagged his finger at me. “But fair enough, I asked for it. And they call me a dirty capitalist.”

My uncle’s approach to the beat generation set me to thinking…I came up with a full-scale theoretical formulation: that the proportion of beatness in any given object increases in direct ratio to the amount of discomfort and expense involved in the object. An illustration of this law at work would be the recent description of the perfect beat “pad” in Life magazine, an apartment obviously designed to give the maximum discomfort at the highest possible cost…

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