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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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Alan Catlin, Erroll Miller, & Jack Micheline — Bad, mad and dying

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In 1997 the synaesthesia press published Bad, mad and dying — a limited edition chap book featuring three writers: Alan Catlin, Errol Miller, and Jack Micheline.

There were three different editions: 26 copies were lettered and had a cover with an original painting by Micheline; 1 – 50 numbered copies were signed by all three contributors on the page in which their story appears; the rest of the edition were numbered.

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Alan Catlin is from upstate New York and is a poet & bartender. His story, “Finnegan’s Wake,” takes place in — you guessed it — a bar, on Saint Patty’s day, and all I’ll say is: fatality. Catlin’s poetry has appeared in many little magazines, including X-Ray.

Errol Miller is a short story writer from Louisiana. His stories have appeared in hundreds of little magazines. His contribution is called “The Pool Hall Affair.”

What can be said of Jack Micheline? He was an original Beat, there from Day One; Jack Kerouac penned the intro to Micheline’s classic first book of poems River of Red Wine, Charles Bukowski loved him, and Allan Ginsberg couldn’t ignore him…Jack really helped on this title. Here’s how:

We were waiting for the #16 to take us out of the Mission when it all began:

ME: I got a couple good stories to publish.

JACK MICHELINE: I gotta poem, man. It’s good. You want it?

ME: Of course. Now all I need is a title.

JACK: What’re the other stories about?

Here’s when I tell him about Alan’s and Errol’s stories, and then Jack leans up against the building on 17th and Mission — the Asian fish mart — and he thinks real hard for a while and I’m thinking maybe he’s making fun of this whole deal when suddenly —

JACK: I got it, man. Bad, mad and dying. That’s a tough title.

ME: Better believe it. Now I need a cover.

JACK: Gimme two days. Come to my room Friday. You’ll have your cover.

Jack also provided an illustration for the center of the book: it’s a picture poem — Kenneth Patchen comes to mind — and it is a drawing of 4 horses and under the drawing the poem reads:

North Star Number 2
Wins the 1 Mile Race
At Cold Downs in Memphis Tenn
June 12 1948 It Paid $97.60
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