Ticket to America! Adventure 1: 2nd Avenue Deli with Graham Seidman

Granted: ticket to America!
What’s an ex-pat to do when given such a gift?

Immediately, she plans to meet up with a poet or two. And thus, our story begins.

Adventure 1:
Lunch at 2nd Avenue Deli with Graham Seidman

So, a humid day in NYC brought me, my life partner Gad and my second son, Rahm, over to Second Avenue for a simple lunch with Graham Seidman, the superb photographer/writer, who lived in what’s called the Beat Hotel in Paris when Ginsberg, Corso and Burroughs showed up in the late 50’s. Graham is a regular contributor to LitKicks, the site on the Net for all things Beat. I first met him a few years ago when he offered his marvelous picture of Gregory Corso on the trail of two monks. That superb photograph was only the tip of the iceberg, and I asked permission to put Graham’s other photographs and accompanying tales on the net. Hence, Eye on the Beats was born. The site offers Graham’s “Beat tour of Paris” along with collections of photos of Heller, Ginsberg, Corso and other eclectic collections.

Graham’s life has encompassed so many twists and turns and that August day of 2003 at the 2nd Avenue Deli, he began to recount stories one after the other. He spoke of his time in kibbutz Ein Gev in the 50’s, and hitching around Israel, staying in kibbutzim around the land. Sleeping was a little tricky because of Syrian shelling. It was 1956 and Graham joined in night patrols armed to the teeth, with the Uzi known to all who serve in the military. Graham tossed around a few words of Hebrew, a tricky language,(I should know – I’ve been attempting to master it for over 20 years).

He listened to the ideas of a radically honest Israeli kibbutznik (Gad) about handing over Jerusalem to the Palestinians in exchange for peace, and Graham raised his beer towards that gesture but stated that he’d hand over Jerusalem only to the UN, but for peace, he would happily dismantle the Israeli settlements. He then shared his own ideas about what might save America, involving a certain U.S. candidate presently considering entering the presidential race.

Graham left Israel for further adventures, including life as a professional gambler’s assistant in Venice and as a sailing instructor (though he’d never before sailed) on an island off Dubrovnik.

Back Stateside, Graham did some summer stock with Carol Burnett’s husband, and found himself opposite the famous comedienne herself in a skit.

Graham hinted at a multitude of adventures on the way from then until now, (did he tell about his adventures at sea, or how he was the first American to visit Odessa since the end of WW2?)

Lunch was busy, and after demolishing sandwiches the size of small skyscrapers, we walked the Village accompanied by more of Graham’s stories–this time of his days with those Beat writers we love to hear about.

He spoke of Corso hanging around the others, somewhat of a nuisance, yet always the one to attract the women. He spoke of the days he and Corso sold encyclopedias and bibles to GI’s in Frankfurt, Germany–Corso often making his pitch early morning and getting them to sign on the dotted line while still groggy from sleep, or writing howling notes of complaint to their then-time boss.

Graham and his French-born wife, Nicole, headed into the U.S.–she, slipping out of France illegally, had to be smuggled over the border at Niagara Falls. He spoke of his time living in San Francisco during the Haight-Ashbury scene.

There was the time when Graham saw Ginsberg who’d just returned from a trip to India, and was reading at City Lights. Bearded and not quite acclimatized to Western atmosphere, Ginsberg had trouble placing Graham’s face, until he approached him, waving at his aura, trying to assimilate the vibrations, then reaching out to touch his face, Allen finally honed in on his nose to pronounce in a burst of recognition: “Graham!” Reuniting, the two went to a a North Beach cafe for espressos. They discussed printing Ginsberg’s poems on Graham’s printing presses, in inexpensive and easily accessible pocket form. Some time later, they headed over to Kesey’s party at his La Honda farm.

The plan collapsed as Graham’s successful business photographing churches took off beyond control, and eventually jettisoned beyond redemption. Graham and his wife decided to head out to Puerto Rico for a brief look around and spontaneously decided to buy a farm and make that place their idyllic home for 16 years. Corso came for a short visit back in 1970, in order to taste a drier, better life (have a look at some photos here).

At one point, Ginsberg came to lecture at the University of San Juan, and Graham entered the hall in the middle. Allen spotted him, left the stage to approach Graham, and bent down to kiss his feet.

Graham, playing host, showed him the town including the location of the local gay bars. Allen decided to shave off his famous beard, but discovered to his dismay that he struck out at the bars. “No one recognized me,” he complained to Graham, and so ended Allen’s beardless experiment.

Back in France, Graham lived his life, perfecting his craft, submitting his photographs to International Museums in Paris and Washington; Yad Veshem in Jerusalem. Here is an online exhibit of Graham’s work.

(These short anecdotes, please realize, are mere whispers from Graham’s treasury of stories, and barely begin to brush the surface. To those who are reading, please beg for more from the man who was there and who recounts beat anecdotes in uniquely straight out, affectionate tones.)

These days, Graham makes his home with his son and family in the southeast United States and is fully occupied with his latest exhibitions and research.

Why do people walk their dogs in 3’s?

As we gazed at dog-walkers with their sets of three pets on leashes traversing Washington Square Park, Graham began to speak of his discoveries concerning the Holocaust and little known facts about soldiers, who were often half or quarter-Jewish and often unaware of their own background. These men actively contributed to the German army. (Presently a movie’s being made about these men: Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers – The Untold Story (Hitlers juedische Soldaten)), and the Germans were faced with dealing with that unavoidable embarrassment; about a group of Jewish refugees from Europe who were dumped from a ship, having been refused entry into the U.S. and securing permission to live in the Dominican Republic, built a salami and cheese industry in the jungles, engraving the Star of David on their factory and constructing a Synagogue of which there are still traces today; and other historical questions that currently drive him to further study. Graham is insatiable for facts, truth and knowledge.

Seidman is truly one of a kind – an authentic spirit, youthful and committed to discovering, recording and distributing information as he finds it. Do yourself a service and tune in to avenues of truth that Graham is opening up for us all.

2nd Avenue Deli-image thanks to Newman Fine Arts

One Response

  1. Hard to believe that this is the same Graham Seidman I knew who lived at 83rd Street in Manhattan, and with whom I went to Boy Scout Camp in 1943-44. Can there be two men with that name? Doubtful. I never new Graham’s middle name or that would cinch it. I had no inkling that the boy I knew would go on to such heights and greatness, living in the company of giants. RIP Graham.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!