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Herbert Huncke's America - Edited By Jerome Poynton Literary Executor - Spencer's Pad - September 2019


Spencer had a pad on Forty-seventh Street. It was one of the coziest pads in New York and one which it was an experience to visit for the first time and also to relax in. It existed in a period when the world was particularly chaotic—and New York exceptionally so. For me it represented the one spot at the time where I could seek surcease from tension and invariably find a sense of peace.

Spencer had gone to some pains to make it attractive. He painted the walls a Persian blue and the woodwork bone white. He kept the lighting soft and had placed big comfortable chairs around his main room. Along one wall he placed his Capehart (record player) with records stacked to one side. Long soft rose drapes hung across his windows. A chest sat between the two windows and opposite a fireplace was a studio couch (the same side of the drapes) faced with a long coffee table.

Spencer presided over all this with great benevolence and good will, making each of his guests welcome and concerning himself with their wants.

Spencer never used drugs—although I have seen him try pot and recently he told me he had sniffed heroin. But anyone was quite free to use whatever he chose and Spencer always managed to maintain environmental conditions conducive to the fullest realization of whatever one happened to be using.

The Capehart was exceptionally fine and acted as a sort of focal point in the pad. Great sounds issued forth from its speaker and filled the whole place with awe-inspiring visions. I can recall one incident clearly when the people on Forty-seventh Street stood along the curb listening and some were dancing and they were laughing and we were in the window watching while music flowed out on all sides.

At the time the streets of New York teemed with soldiers and sailors— lonely and bewildered—and many found their way to the pad where for at least a little while life took on some meaning. Often they gave love and always found it. Some discovered God and hardly knew of their discovery. There many heard the great Bird and felt sadness as Lady Day cried out her anguished heart.

Others came also—Forty-second Street hustlers—poets—simple dreamers, thieves, prostitutes (both male and female), and pimps and wise guys and junkies and potheads and just people—seeking sanctuary in a Blue Glade away from the merciless neon glare.

There were young boys who came and swaggered and talked wise and then spoke of their dreams and plans and went away refreshed and aware of themselves as having an identity.

Spencer accepted them all and gave of himself freely to each. The pad was his home and in it he could accept any confession and seemingly strange behavior, idea, thought, belief, and mannerism as part of one—without any outward show of censure. 

Within the confines of his home one could be oneself.

Spencer lost his pad partly because the people in the building in which it was located resented his show of freedom and partly through a situation which developed out of a relationship with a young man.

Vernon was a young man who came to New York in search of a meaning to life. He wanted to write, he wanted to act, he wanted to be loved, he wanted to love, he wanted anything and everything. His background was somewhat more interesting because of having been raised by a father who was a minister of the Baptist church in his hometown but who apparently was too busy preaching the gospel to give his own son other than scant attention. His mother had made an effort to make up the difference but her main interest remained with her husband.

Vernon had been in the war and had accomplished nothing more than the nickname Angel among his friends because he was always talking about God and because he would listen to anyone’s problems. Also he learned to smoke pot.

His appearance was rather striking and upon reaching New York he had no trouble making contacts. Just how he eventually met Spencer I don’t know, but meet they did and became good friends.

One night they had both been out drinking—Vernon smoking pot and both taking Nembutals—and had returned to the pad to get some sleep. Both stripped naked and fell onto the bed and into a deep sleep. When they awakened they were in Bellevue.

It seems one or the other must have accidentally brushed against the gas plate opening a valve and that the neighbors, smelling gas in the hallways, upon investigating traced it to Spencer’s and, being unable to rouse anyone, called the police who broke in and finding them both out cold had them rushed to Bellevue—which, after reviving them, decided they be held for observation. 
Spencer has since told me it was a harrowing experience.

Meanwhile, the people in the building all got together and signed a petition requesting that Spencer be evicted. As one old queen who had the apartment next to Spencer’s told me, “My dear—it was really too much. It was a regular black and tan fantasy. Both stark naked—and who knows what they had been doing—Spencer so dark and Vernon pale white. It would have been bad enough if both were the same color. Really, if Spencer wants to end it all he shouldn’t try and take one of his lover’s with him.”

I saw Spencer not long ago and once again he has a charming little place of his own but it isn’t quite the Forty-seventh Street pad.

-- Herbert Huncke 

New York City 42nd Street area -- WWII years

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