Category Archives: David Halberstam

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“That isn’t writing at all; it’s typing.” — Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac‘s work

ZOMBIE MORNING

A courtly hat-tip to the one of the demi-bosses over at Soma Coffee, Lindsay Taylor.

She turned me on last Sunday to the fabulous Zombies disc, “Odessey and Oracle” (sic). I immediately ordered it online and it came in the mail yesterday.

The Loved One and I listened to it in part on the way to my Sunday morning headquarters.

Do yourself a favor and get it. Trust me.

LOVE KILLS

I was re-reading a part of David Halberstam‘s indispensable history of the 1950s entitled, appropriately enough, “The Fifties.”

One of its chapters covers the Beats, natch. Halberstam tells the story of how Allen Ginsberg met a fellow named Lucien Carr in his dorm room at Columbia University. Ginsberg immediately fell in with other Columbia students and hangers-on like William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and the rest. Carr was acknowledged as the untitled leader of the gang, then referred to as the Libertine Circle, that eventually became the Beats.

Burroughs, Carr, & Ginsberg (1953)

A dramatic episode in Carr’s life brings to mind one of the biggest news stories in Bloomington in years — the stabbing death of IU English professor Don Belton.

The Belton story broke a mere three months after T-Lo and I arrived in Bloomington. He may or may not have had sex with some kid who was a former Marine and had served in Iraq. The kid went to Belton’s house one morning, stabbed him repeatedly with his hunting knife, and allowed him to bleed to death on his kitchen floor.

The kid was convicted of murder in short order, despite claiming that he was driven to a murderous rage only after Belton had made sexual overtures to him.

Don Belton & Michael Griffin

When Lucien Carr was a teen, he was involved in a similar manner with a man who was 14 years older than he was.

This fellow, David Kammerer, was the leader of a youth group that Carr had belonged to isn St. Louis, where he was raised. Apparently, Kammerer fell head over heels for the tender teen. Carr’ mother moved him to a number of private prep schools in New England to get him away from Kammerer but the man followed the youngster to each new locale.

After high school, Carr enrolled at the University of Chicago and Kammerer again moved to be nearer him.

Carr attempted suicide by sticking his head in an oven while at Chicago. He told school officials it was an act of “art.” He told his mother he wanted to kill himself because Kammerer was driving him batty. Carr was committed to the psych ward at Cook County Hospital for a few weeks after the incident.

Carr’s mother transferred him to Columbia in New York City. Kammerer followed.

Carr swore up and down to his new Columbia chums that he’d never had sex with Kammerer but some historians suspect otherwise.

Jack Kerouac And Lucien Carr

In any case, Kammerer became a fringe member of the Libertine Circle. He and Carr often hung around together but, just as often, Carr would freeze the man out.

Anyway, one night in August, 1944, Carr and Jack Kerouac got drunk together in the Libertines’ hangout, The West End. Kerouac left the place and ran into Kammerer on the street. Kammerer asked where he could find Carr and Kerouac directed him to The West End.

Kammerer and Carr went for a walk and wound up in a park near 115th Street and the Hudson River. The two lolled there for a while and, according to Carr later, Kammerer came on to him. A scuffle ensued, Carr pulled his Boy Scout knife, and stabbed Kammerer to death.

Carr bound Kammerer’s body, weighted it with rocks, and dumped the corpse into the river. He buried Kammerer’s glasses in the park.

Carr immediately went to William Burroughs’ apartment and told him what had happened. Carr even brought a blood-soaked pack of Kammerer’s cigarettes as proof. Burroughs disposed of the pack and advised Carr to go to the police. Carr didn’t care much for that idea.

Instead, Carr went to Kerouac’s place the next morning and told him about the killing. Kerouac and he went out and dumped Carr’s Boy Scout knife down a subway grating. Then the two went to the movies and the Museum of Modern Art.

Finally, Carr went home and told his mother about the slaying. She brought him to the New York DA to confess. The cops fished Kammerer’s body out of the river and found the dead man’s glasses. Carr was charged with second degree murder.

Newspaper coverage at first tended to be hostile to the wealthy college boy killer. Then, his story of fighting off the advances of the older homosexual before resorting to homicidal violence touched the sympathies of a homophobic public. One newspaper termed the incident an “honor” killing.

Carr eventually copped to a manslaughter plea and served a mere two years in the juvenile section of the Elmira state prison.

A Monroe County jury last spring hung a murder conviction on Michael Griffin for the killing of Don Belton. Griffin is now serving a 45 to 65-year sentence in state prison.

Things change — or do they?

Men still kill men for the “sin” of homosexuality but at least we’re putting those killers away for a good long time now.

SKY KING

Hey, don’t forget about today’s solar eclipse. We may be able to see the moon’s disc cover a small part of the sun’s from our vantage point in South Central Indiana, although our sky won’t be darkened to any appreciable extent as it will be in the southwestern United States.

But you can follow its progress on a number of websites.

Sky & Telescope Viewing Map For Today’s Eclipse

This particular eclipse is classified as annular, meaning because of the particular points in their orbits at the moment of totality, the moon’s disc is smaller than the sun’s. Ergo, a dramatic circle of the brilliant sun’s orb will surround the moon.

How cool.

An Annular Eclipse

Oh, and don’t forget, the planet Venus will transit the sun’s disc in two and a half weeks. It’s another rare sky spectacular. I’ll remind you about it as we get nearer the date.

The Pencil Today:

I USED TO READ IT FOR THE ARTICLES — HONEST!

We sell Playboy at The Book Corner.

We get about five of them each month. Surprisingly, we sell them all.

One Of The Most Iconic Logos In American History

The guys who buy them are older, natch. Why would a young guy buy a quaint magazine that shows young women in various stages of dishabile when, on the interwebs, he can find nude women of every conceivable physiologic and topographic stripe?

Internet porn has made an entire generation of males far more familiar with the exo-geography of female genitalia than the typical country doctor of the 1880s was.

Every once in a while the news will carry a report that Playboy — the company — is in some kind of financial or market distress. Or that the Hefners, pere et fille, are venturing into something new — streaming video, say — that will make the brand relevant again.

But it’ll never be relevant again.

One day, probably soon, Playboy magazine will be no more. Andy Rooney’s gone, so he won’t be able to lament its passing. And Bob Greene probably is so gun shy about any topic having to do with sex that he’ll keep a mile away from it.

Maybe someone like Pete Hamill will write Playboy’s eulogy. We’ll see.

No matter. It’ll be dead. And that’s too bad. Sort of.

I’ve had a complicated relationship with Playboy magazine throughout my life which, coincidentally, almost matches the lifespan of the mag thus far. Playboy magazine and I both came out in the 1950s. Playboy’s made a hell of a lot more money over its lifetime than I have.

This Could Be The Start Of Something Big

One afternoon, my little pals and I found a waterlogged old Playboy behind the factories a couple of blocks north of our neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side. It had to be around 1966. That would have made us ten.

We gathered around Danny, the toughest of us and therefore our leader, as he tore through the pages, looking for — as we so charmingly put it — the naked ladies.

August, 1966

He didn’t have to look far. The ad on the inside cover gave us that first delicious eyeful.

At that time, Winston cigarettes used the tagline, “It’s what’s up front that counts.” You could hear it all day long on TV (yup, kids, TV used to carry ads for smokes). The line ran in all Winston’s newspaper and magazine ads, too. Even in family media, the ads were an obvious double entendre.

Of course, Playboy had to lop the double off the entendre.

A chesty (what else?) gal stared out at us from the ad. She was wearing a man’s dress shirt, completely unbuttoned. Her torpedo breasts seemed to jump off the page at us.

I’m surprised one or more of us didn’t pass out.

She held in her fingers a Winston. Just beneath that shocking, riveting, blood-pressure-spurting picture of the almost-naked lady ran the tagline, “It’s what’s up front that counts.”

We literally fell to the ground laughing.

The ad was, to our pre-teen sensibilities, the single most sophisticatedly funny thing ever conceived by the human imagination. We laughed for at least five minutes over it.

Of course, we collected ourselves and got back to the serious business of searching for more naked ladies, of which we found a good deal.

We pored over that magazine like anthropologists studying the earliest hominid fossil yet found. The only difference was, anthropologists aren’t likely to gasp every few moments as they examine ancient bones.

So I won’t snow you and say I never looked at Playboy for the pictures. Good heavens, I had a three-year-long crush on Miss November, 1968, Paige Young.

Paige Young

(Note from responding paramedics: Big Mike has passed out. He should be fully recovered within minutes. He will resume typing his post at that time.)

But looking at naked ladies got old after a few minutes (oh, all right, a couple of hours). It was then I’d turn to the articles.

People today think of Hugh Hefner as the wizened old lech who gobbles Viagras like they’re Peanut M&Ms and tries to marry giddy blondes three at a time.

Man’s Best Friend

At one time, though, he was one of the most forward thinking people in America.

Okay, let’s try to get beyond the fact that he sowed the seeds of what is now this weird American predilection for cantaloupe-chested, impossibly thin-waisted, freakishly long-legged virtual-females.

I thumbed through a recent edition of the mag and, honestly, I couldn’t understand what all the fuss is about. I don’t know what’s more disturbing — the look of blissful dumbness on the naked ladies’ faces or their quasi-human bodies.

Brooklyn Decker Does Not Exist In Real Life, Guys

So yes, Hugh Hefner has to answer for screwing up this holy land’s female physical ideal.

But one day, long ago, he and his mag introduced me to — or broadened my burgeoning awareness of — the concepts of civil rights, feminism, birth control, the anti-war movement, free speech, consumer protection, apartheid, the environment, and a host of other issues that define liberalism.

I could read in-depth interviews with the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Marshall McLuhan, Bob Dylan, Jesse Jackson, Hunter S. Thompson, and Ayn Rand (yes, it’s important to hear the bleatings of the deranged, too).

Malcolm X

Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend Hugh Hefner was a great man of the ages. His Playboy philosophy elevated the acquisition of consumer goods and sexual partners to something akin to religious status. A man was not a man in Playboy nation if he didn’t drive a Corvette, drink Dewar’s, and bed at least two heretofore unknown women a week.

But, to borrow a phrase from that great philosopher Bill Veeck, I prefer tarnished genius to simon-pure mediocrity any day.

As loathsome as much of Hugh Hefner’s worldview was, just as much of it was liberating and enlightening.

“Hefner was fighting that part of the Puritan ethic that condemned pleasure,” writes David Halberstam of Hefner in the book. “The Fifties.”

True enough. If nothing else, Hefner helped America shed its prudish attitude toward sex. Sadly, we’ve now developed a giggly, dopey, 10-year-old boy’s attitude toward it. I don’t know which is better.

I do know Hugh Hefner’s mag awakened the socially conscious thinker in me. Nearly five decades later, I’ve gone way beyond Playboy when it comes to contemplating the issues of the day. Now I’d hope we’d all go way beyond its plasticized, airbrushed/photoshopped, vacuous image of female beauty.

Too bad. It hasn’t happened yet.

%d bloggers like this: