Monday, January 02, 2006

Papa Was A Rolling Stone

Welcome to the life's work of an original Beat, Papa Bob Kaffke.
He was singled out by the Hearst press and other watchdogs desperate to rouse Americans against the advocates drawing literal interpretations from the Bill of Rights guaranteeing every citizen free speech and the right to travel.
Conditional invalid freedoms in the Cold War world, which this new breed of left-wing nuts was putting to the test; at a time when Voter's Rights and Civil Rights was making progress.

The 60's were on the march, and now this bunch of kooks was taking advantage of the momentary confusion on the right.

One of them appeared to be a potential campus leader, adept at networking in several cities on his own, without appearing to be carrying a card to or working for one party, which is the mark of a person not thinking for themself without parroting the dogma.
Others were bigger, better known, such as Mario Savio in Berkeley... but pardon me if I note that often the loudest ones were perhaps demagogues, in any case limited to one area, one cause, and really influencing different kinds of people who saw Savio and similar greats rant on TV. Average Americans would never be convinced by students yelling and telling them what was wrong with America.

Young leaders were preaching to the choir, and the right wing didn't worry too much that the fringes would truly catch on.

But those who were looking closely at sublevels lost sleep over Robert Kaffke, who was a natural athelete, soft spoken, likable by average Americans... ok, he was taken as a serious threat. someone who had to be caught delecto en flagrante.

Imagine if you can, police car searchlights shining on the front window in the dark of night. He was staying on Grandma's couch in the living room, and I on a cot in the dining room*.
I saw the lights sweep the picture window once myself, so it wasn't unfounded paranoia. Though maybe fear was the intended effect.
Dad couldn't be easily intimidated. So the tactics to discredit him were ramped up a few levels.

Reactions to Kaffke's 1968 curriculum at SF State college was a blitz of coordinated attacks from Hearst, Assemblyman Leo Ryan (best known for being murdered as he stormed into Jonestown), TV and Radio talk show hosts sounding the alarm and radicals so far left they accused Instructor Kaffke of being "right" - then they accused a CIA plant. He responded with reason and logic without protesting his innocence too much, but the reverse ploy worked, a dirty trick that the faculty president who had stuck with him through the onslaught was aware further resistance would mean his own resignation as well, and with regret he asked and received - without bitter words fired back at the faculty - my dear Papa's resignation.

He left behind a promising future in teaching anymore courses at University level. He did find a steady job thanks CYO leader, Chuck Ayala. as a boxing coach in the Latino community.

My Dad was a very intelligent educated man, as evidenced by his profoundly calm, articulate discussions remembered by friends in the deeply felt tributes published in Papa Kaffke's obits.
Being human, he could revert to earlier learned forms of chauvinist behavior, as did on occasion the best Beat-era greats and near-greats.
Kaffke was friendly with famous writers such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who still remembers my dad; and his many other friends were generally good people from all classes, rich and poor, all with strong sense of respect for reality.
So my Dad never took up with losers, suicidal martyrs, bar-flys or winos over-doing the beatnik shtick.

Like, hey man, when it was real cool to talk the jive derived from junkie Jazz cats.

Dad didn't hang out all day at cafes... He was right there at the round table with the other bohos blabbing over java; but when it was time to split, he split, you dig? When breakfast was over, he was gone. 2 cups maximum.
He never spent the morning after sleeping-in unless seriously under-the-weather, like sick.
He wasn't constantly employed, preferring to work 1 or sometimes 2 jobs at a time, for about a year or so before cruising abroad or at least to the countryside up North living on his earnings until gradually running low.
He kept figures in notebooks of his in/out expenses, and never lived beyond his means. Never had a credit card in his life.
A sports car or horse were the few occasional luxury items he splurged on; followed by careful spending in other areas.
Not the lifestyle of an organization man or team-player perhaps, but he was no mooch or panhandler, paid back his few loans and never sank into credit debt.

He was a good man, down to earth, deeply spiritual and intellectually scientific: a teacher not a preacher. He never underestimated what a good meal meant to a hungry stomach, or a humble air mattress needed by a weary guest with no place to sleep.

Just browse through some of the surviving archives, though nothing quite replaces the man in flesh and blood.

Letters, manuscripts, photos, and newspaper articles
from his Golden Gloves bouts in the 50's,
the experimental seminars in '68 at SFSU,
to his last stand as a waterfront preservation advocate.

* (The spare bedrooms were being sublet to students by Grandma to very polite exchange students not studying politics).

Among many hours of vintage KRON Assignment Four newsreels, I salvaged footage of the 1964 Cadillac demonstration featuring Papa Kaffke.

I also found a few frames of Kaffke in "The Squaresville Tour" 1959 beatnik counter-invasion of Union Square.

Luria Castell meets the press with Bob Kaffke (center) in 1964. Castell was a founding member with Chet Helms of The Family Dog.

Art, audio tapes, film footage and photos.
The rare Cuban edition of 59 TO CUBA.

Missing from the SF Main Library Newspaper microfilm files, apparently ripped from the page of the library's bound volume of News Call-Bulletin, is a June 1943 article.
It's a forgotten footnote of the War. The photo at the top of the page captured a grinning 15 year old Bob Kaffke on his way home from Europe - days before becoming the youngest American soldier to enter the Mediterranean theatre.

WANTED! The Pat Michaels Show (KTVU, April 10 1968) Originally aired in color, is a b+w kinnescope or even a photo extant in the vaults of KTVU? I do have a transcript of the debate between Kaffke and Pat Michaels.

WANTED: any tapes, art, slides, or views featuring Roberto - please call or email!

Rockin' Houseboat Rebels in the 60's & 70's

Laurie Lipson & Roberto Kaffke on Nicaragua

The San Francisco Beatnik Boxer


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