Books: Bang Bong Bing

Those unwashed minstrels of the West, the beatniks of San Francisco's North Beach and Los Angeles' Venice West, make much of their loud vows of poverty. To be poor, yak the shirtless ones as they sit scratching in store-front espresso halls, is to be holy, man, holy. But last week, the mendicants of marijuana and mad verse were in the somewhat embarrassing position of monks whose liqueur sells too well. Tourists were snapping up their stuff like Chinese back-scratchers, and the beatniks were starting to rake in the dough.

On North Beach's Columbus Avenue, a dozen customers once constituted an oxygen problem...

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