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Jack Michelin at The Curtis Hotel.

Welcome sign at the Curtis HotelThe last time I walked into the Curtis Hotel, it was for an appointment with Jack Micheline. I wanted to buy some paintings.

It was 1996, and I had just landed in SF for grad school. One of my first days there was spent exploring the city I’d spend the next three years calling home. So I jumped the BART and headed to 16th Street.

The Mission. It was kinda gritty and kinda grimy. My kinda place. And I had heard about The Abandoned Planet Bookstore, which was my final destination that day. What a great place. One of my all-time favorite bookstores, ever.

Along the top perimeter of the store, completely out of reach and above the top row of books were maybe a dozen or so paintings. Totally Outsider work. I don’t know why I ID’d the artist so quickly; it’s not like I had seen any of Jack’s works before. But one — a portrait of Jack Kerouac as a football player at Columbia, caught my eye. I asked the clerk, “hey, did Jack Micheline paint that?” The bookseller confirmed, then without quoting me a price, got on the phone.

“Hey, there’s someone here who wants to buy a painting.”

And within 3 minutes — literally — Jack lumbered into the store and walked right up to me. “Which one you want?!”

I pointed to the Kerouac. Jack offered it up at a bargain. I ended up commissioning another author’s portrait — one of Henry Miller — and I bought three other small paintings. Jack invited me over to his room at The Curtis to pick them up. Then I had a new friend.

Jack and I worked on a chapbook together, and once, walking through the Missions, Jack told me, “you need to meet Johnny Brewton. You need to see his work!” Jack and I ate at Kenny’s from time to time; once, he asked me to be a thug and sent me over to this dude’s house who owed him money¬† (I had a hard time not laughing as I asked the dude for Jack’s dough, tough guy that I am); and Jack even made a cover for a book catalogue for me (when I used to send those out).

But my best memory with Jack was when he walked me over to his painted room over at Scott Harrison’s bookstore and taught me the “proper way” to read poetry to a crowd.

They’ve cleaned The Curtis up since 1996…at least the outside of the place. The whole Mission is gentrified. The Abandoned Planet went the same way most of the other brick-and-mortar bookstores. And Jack died in 1998 on a BART train bound for Orinda.

The Curtis Hotel in San Francisco's Mission District

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