Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Nov, 17, 1959
November 17, 2009 | 2:00 pm
Poet in the Poky Has Samson Sort of Woes
Jerry Baker, the promising young coffee-house poet, appeared in my office yesterday afternoon, shortly after being released from Lincoln Heights jail.
He sat down, gazed fondly at an open pack of cigarettes on my desk, and informed me, "You smoke my brand."
I offered him one. He took it, thanking me.
"I'm here," he said, "because I'm told you're a fair man. You have a good reputation. You come very highly recommended."
Borrowing a match, he lit his cigarette.
"In fact," he continued, "not one, but two of my cellmates recommended you as the man to see."
"About what?" I asked.
Baker frowned. "About my hair, but I'm getting to that. I hitchhiked here, you see. I made money by reading my poetry in coffee houses along the way. Cleveland, Houston. I'm from Brooklyn. That's in New York."
"I'm from back East myself," I told him. "I've heard of it."
"Good," he replied. "Now, last Wednesday I was hitchhiking on Sunset on my way to the Unicorn. I had my wood flute and my poetry with me, when the two policemen came along in a patrol car.
"At first, I thought they were going to let me go because I only had one foot in the street. The other foot was legal. On the sidewalk. But they ran a make on me and discovered there was this warrant out from the last time I was here. A year and a half ago. For hitchhiking on the freeway.
"So," Baker shrugged, "they arrested me. It was all fair and legal. They were very nice about it. They even asked me to recite some of my poems, but I didn't because -- you know, they bugged me.
"Later on, " he added, "I did play a few notes on my flute for the jailer. Anyway, it was $25 or five days, and not having the $25, I took the five days."
"You mentioned," I interrupted, "something about your hair."
"Yes," he sighed. "Look at it."
It was sort of a dark blond, trimly out, parted on the left.
"I see it," I said.
Baker jumped to his feet. "No you don't!" he shouted. "They cut it off this morning. All the hair I'd been growing since June.
"And for good measure," he added, collapsing back into his chair, "they stole my goatee."
"Who?" I demanded. "Who did?"
"Who else?" he cried: "The cops. At five o'clock this morning, this cop grabbed me out of my cell and said, 'We're going to the barbershop, sonny.'
"I said, 'No. I want my hair. You can't have it.'
"When we got to the barbershop, I grabbed the door and wouldn't let go, so he got me in an arm lock. I kept protesting. I guess I tore his shirt, so he bounced my head on the floor."
Having to relive the experience obviously was an ordeal for the poet. He grabbed another one of my cigarettes.
"This policeman put me in the barber chair," he continued, "and the barber told me, 'Sit still and I'll give you a nice, clean haircut. You wiggle and I ain't guaranteeing nothing.'
"I sat still and let them violate every civil right I was born with. When the barber finished, the policeman told him, 'The goatee. That goes, too.' And it did."
I Got a Naked Chin
Baker stood up again. "It was my personality," he sighed. "They took my whole personality. I'd be ashamed to go into a coffee house now. I'd feel self-conscious."
"What are you going to do now?" I asked.
"What can I do?" he snapped. "Nothing! Until I grow my hair back.
"Then," he added, "I'm going to blow this town. You know? It bugs me."