(From the back cover of his
CHAPTER NINETEEN: THE MISSION
[Pierre Delattre, now living in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains between Taos and Santa Fe, is described on the back cover of the paperback edition of his
Graywolf Press memoir, Episodes, as a writer, painter and teacher.I don't know if he
is still a reverend.He
has consistently refused to respond to my telephone calls and letters.Perhaps he
didn't like what I wrote about him and his
Bread and Wine Mission in San Francisco's North Beach some 40 years ago, In addition to Episodes, he
has written two novels, Walking on Air and Tales of a Dalai Lama, as well as many stories and poems.In one of his
Episodes, a reminiscence entitled The Last Beatnik Casualty Is Brought to My Door, he
tells how the police came to him saying they had a corpse in whose pocket was found Delattre's name and address.The corpse was that of the late Neal Cassady, whose death Delattre blamed on speed.
"We had all tried to achieve enlightenment too fast," he
wrote, "just as we were burning up fuel while driving too fast, wasting our resources too quickly, and ourselves getting wasted in hopes of coming face to face with the ultimate before the bomb ended it all for everyone. . . One of his
girlfriends told me that he
fucked like a piston for hours at a time without ever coming, then he
In another reminiscence in Episodes, entitled Ginsberg's Blessing Keeps Me Grounded, Delattre
visits the poet's messy pad to tell him about how the police had knocked on his
door with news of Neal's corpse.Delattre
had taken a long and arduous bus trip to get to Ginsberg, who said he
was writing a book about Neal's death and wanted to know what details Delattre could report.Unwilling to return home by bus, Delattre
had booked a flight and Ginsberg walked him down the stairs.
". . . I knew I'd have to run if I wanted to catch my plane," Delattre
"My heaviest load," Delattre
says, "is counseling.
"Those who come," says Delattre
, "represent the few remaining persons in North Beach who have any political orientation.
"Dr. Rigney," says Delattre
, "has discovered that the personality profile of the men around here very closely parallels that of the female social worker.
says the most impressive thing about the rebellion in North Beach is that it is largely a failure
himself sometimes reads.He
has been writing poetry since his
childhood and his
devotion to literature quite obviously approaches his
devotion to the Almighty.It was his
interest in the correlation of the two, in fact, which brought him to his
Mission and to his
upstairs flat, where he
lives with his
wife, their two children and his
house guest.A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania
and of the University of Chicago Divinity School
moved to California five years ago, was ordained a minister in theDelattre
was attracted to North Beach by the same creativity that attracts others
Northern Presbyterian Church of America, and obtained a job at the University of California YMCA at Berkeley
, where he
helped develop a program in religion and contemporary culture.
From the beginning, he
was attracted to the same creativity that makes North Beach so attractive to others and soon he
evolved the idea that the church should open its own coffee house there.When he learned that the Rev. Dr. Spike of the Congregational Board of Home Missions had evolved the same idea, he was, as he says, "really kind of surprised," but not too surprised to leave the Presbyterian Church, join the Congregational, accept the Rev. Dr. Spike's offer to head the project and become the Beat Preacher of North Beach.
Except that the Rev. Delattre, despite his
clear, tenor, sermon-like voice, does not preach at The Mission.It is his
parishioners who preach.
says of the people at The Mission, "is a profoundly religious movement, but I would say that they turn to religion in desperation.
first opened The Mission, the religious fervor, on the surface at least didn't seem very profound.His
first visitors included a stream of Grant Avenue habitués who entered The Mission for no other purpose than to insult Delattre
church or his
would answer, "Yes, go on."Sometimes he
would say, "You have a point there."Soon, of course, North Beach
found that Delattre
had more to offer than just religion.There was the bread and wine of The Mission's title, there was coffee at five cents a cup and then on Sunday nights, there was a meal prepared by Mrs. Delattre, a psychologist and an actress, and appropriately beautiful,
"Hmmph," said a youth, without a beard, but with all the other newspaper accoutrements of beatness, "Beans tonight!It's a bad night!" He
stood in one of two waiting queues that led from a table in the candlelit center of TheDelattre
says in North Beach
it's the artistsversus the beaten
Mission and snaked about chairs, metal couches and -metal columns almost to the door, There were perhaps 150 persons waiting, hungry, for the beans.At the table, filling paper plates with a huge ladle from a huge tureen, were Delattre
"Hold on your plates," shouted Delattre
as if sermonizing in his
tenor from the pulpit."We have salad for a second course.
"Ah," said another poet, "think of all the poetry in a plateful of beans."
"The Mission," says Delattre
, standing in his
doorway again, "has come to be important to the community.