My wife procured a position as private secretary to the head of University of Pennsylvania's Chemistry Department making her our main provider. I was picking up some pittance writing term papers, speeches and other essays for college students too lazy to do their own assignments. As a result I was carrying an A average in three schools I never attended, Community College of Philadelphia, LaSalle University and St. Joseph's University. I was just establishing myself as a local writer with "Philadelphia After Dark". None of this together paid enough to support one person much less two.
I dickered around with pen names on the theory of preserving my private life under anonymity. One didn't want to be pestered in public once those prizes, such as the Pulitzer and Nobel, started rolling in. A writer could have the best of both worlds, fame and fortune under some phony byline and peace and quite under his given moniker. If Mark Twain walked into a saloon and said, "Howdy, I'm Sam Clements," they probably bought him a sarsaparilla and told him tales of life they would never have revealed to the famous author. I considered being "Lem Brown", which sort of preserved my family links as well as my initials.
Ghostwriting for others never reveled my name at all, of course. My client's signature goes under the title and they get the credit. No one would ever know my involvement, unless I told, as I am, or they told, which they wouldn't. They couldn't very well saunter up to their professor and say, "By the way, I hired someone to write this for me." They'd find their golden A had quickly become a red F.
I signed the essays written for "The Communicator" as "Loop" and underground publications, such as "Psychedelphia Period", as Eugene Lawrence. It was too little too late. I was on the newsstands in "Philadelphia After Dark" under my full name. When my stories started to sell to a wider market it was under my full name and just about everything there after.
These were days when between writing assignments I would wander from trolley stop to trolley stop looking for dropped change. A quarter would buy a bag of soft pretzels at any street vendor, a bag containing three. Quite often this would be both my breakfast and lunch, a mobile meal I could consume as I walked about the city. I'm afraid this is a habit that has stayed with me; both eating soft pretzels and walking about.
(I titled a collection of essays about Philadelphia Pretzels For Lunch, as a matter of fact.)
The actors of the Pocket Playhouse lived together in a commune somewhere on the Hippie Streets between Waverly and South off 26th Street. Those
Hippie streets of deteriorating buildings, second-hand clothing stores, bell, book and candle vendors, head shops along with the Pocket Playhouse and the colorfully painted sidewalks are gone now, covered by brick townhouses and gentrification. The Hippies displaced by the Yuppies and even the Yuppies probably displaced now. It isn't the same as when I and friends oft visited to buy psychedelic posters and cheap clothes.
South Street retains the reputation of hipness, but those streets then were sweeter and more innocent, often joyful, while South Street today is gaudy, noisy and jostling. (Photo on the right, titled "Buttermilk Toast on South Street" was taken in 1968; photo on left is South Street today.)
We lived in West Philadelphia, the area known as University City, because of the institutes of higher learning located there. There was a dormitory of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy right behind our building. We rented a studio apartment on Chester Avenue just off 42nd Street. The Commodore still exists as an apartment house. What its clientele is today, I do not know, but then it was students, Hippies, druggies, prostitutes and us.
(Left: Lois at the Commodore, 1969)
"I think we should start a band," said Jim one night well into a second or third pitcher of Screwdrivers. Ah, but this brings us to who we hung with and where we did the hanging. We will save that for the next time.