John Bredin “Bohemian escape from Hoboken” (Mar. 4) doesn’t say when he first encountered the “Seacoast of Bohemia”, but we (wife and I) just back from a year in Spain and new to this area, were smitten by its quaint charm back around 1962, and we heard about it from an unexpected source: my literary agent, James Brown, who suggested we take a look.
We came out of the PATH station, walked up River Street, saw a For Rent sign on 39 2nd St., and took a five-room “railroad” on the top floor overlooking the Hudson River for $35 a month, $25 if we swept the hallway once a month. No heat, no hot water, but what the hell, we were young, it was fun, we felt like pioneers homesteading in a new country. In the corner bar a glass of beer cost fifteen cents and every third one was free.
Bohemians! We had gone to college (in San Francisco where we met), not to get a job and join the rat race, but to furnish our minds, educate ourselves, and to that end we read a great deal and, the fashion in those days, sat up all night around a gallon jug of cheap wine talking and arguing about the beautiful and true with other free spirits. Our ambition was not to make money, but, like Walt Whitman, to “loaf, and invite our souls.” We got part-time jobs when we had to and made enough to pay rent and buy food, but rent was very cheap and we picked up our few sticks of furniture on the streets and a mattress, put on the floor, from Goodwill.
“The Seacoast of Bohemia,” by the way, is a little book by Christopher Morley, who opened and ran a theater here in the 1930’s, and the title is a joke because geographically-challenged Shakespeare, in “The Winter’s Tale,” refers to a “seacoast of Bohemia”, and of course Bohemia, near landlocked Prague, had no seacoast.
Hoboken was a perfect temporary settling-place for on-the-road Beatniks, a gritty working-class town where longshoremen every morning headed down 2nd Street under our windows toward the docks where freighters awaited them. Better yet, there was no “art scene” in Hoboken, where artsy types sat around and did little work but talked a lot.
We were not the only newcomers in town. Edward Albee, famous later as the author of the “Monkey Wrench Gang” and “Desert Solitaire,” lived here off and on, and in our own building lived the artist Luke Faust, who would go to the Village to play music with, among others, Bob Dylan. And a year or two later Jim Hans (unofficial town historian) and Beverly opened near the PATH a little storefront they called the Calendar Shop of Current Events, a convenient place to drop in and see someone you knew or meet someone new. Jim and Beverly lived in a big loft on Washington Street, into which they moved a whole bar from one of the River Street taverns when City Hall, in a fit of madness, tore down half of historic River and Hudson streets to build the highrises and parking garages there now.
Our decade of la vie Boheme came to an end at the birth of a child. Time to sober up, get a real job, make some money, and pay taxes to fund our endless wars..