Tuesday, February 28, 2012

365 Jobs: Paddy O'Sullivan

Saturday, September 29, 1979 to Sunday, July 22, 1991

On a Saturday afternoon in 1979, I was working outdoors with a pick and shovel, making steps out of railroad ties on the hillside below my house.  A jolly man staggered slowly up the driveway.  With long whitish hair and beard, he looked like Santa Claus.  Holding out one arm, he said, "Can I lend you a hand?"

I stared down at that arm.  He had no hand.

"Oops, sorry," the man said.  "I meant the other hand.  This one was eaten by a tiger."

Paddy at Apple Jack's, 1978

That was my introduction to Paddy O'Sullivan (Padraig or Padreic or Padreac — I've seen it spelled each of those ways).  On that particular day, he actually helped me move one railroad tie before he realized that I wasn't a soft touch for cadging a drink.  

Paddy was by nature a performer.  He claimed that his career began at the age of four as a character in the "Our Gang" movies, tipping his hat on film with the same gesture as he tipped at age sixty-four.  Whether or not he truly started as a Little Rascal, he became a bigger one.

He could show you a newspaper article from 1957 with the headline MAN HATCHES OSTRICH EGG.  That man was Paddy.

His mother had a theatrical career, or so he said.  He had a pair of pistols called the Naked Ladies.

In San Francisco Paddy had been living with the poet Bob Kaufman in North Beach, just across the street from City Lights Bookstore.  Kaufman was an improvisational jazz poet who would riff and recite on sidewalks, even sticking his head into people's cars.

Bob and Paddy both were in a downward spiral.  A young woman who had befriended Paddy finally got him out of there, drove him to La Honda, and set him loose here the way people abandon dogs and cats hoping somebody will adopt them. Those dogs and cats often wind up on my doorstep, so it's fitting that Paddy appeared there as well.  Don't blame the young lady, by the way.  She gave Paddy "a couple years' worth of re-invigoration," as she put it.  "He had really crawled into a shell when I met him.  He gave me a couple of years of entertainment, and that's what he was, basically, all his life, an entertainer."

For a while in La Honda, Paddy was a squatter in Ken Kesey's old cabin, which was vacant, floorless, and basically unlivable at the time. Then he rented a garage and promptly got kicked out. He ended up occupying a trailer below my house.  The trailer was owned by a man who was preparing for an invasion by space aliens.

Paddy wore a cape.  He published a thin chapbook of poetry: Weep Not My Children.  Though he'd lived for years at the world center of beatnik culture, he insisted he was not a Beat.  Similar to Bob Kaufman, Paddy would recite anywhere at any time.  He once barged into a private birthday party, stood on the table with the cake, and recited wretched poems until he was finally shoved out.

 Paddy spent most of his days and nights at the bar in Apple Jack's where a photo of him, full color, framed, hung on the wall.  Claude and Kayla, the owners, kept a benevolent eye on him.

The last time I interacted with Paddy was in 1991.  A hot July night, sleeping with the windows open, around midnight I heard cursing from the street below my house.  At 5 a.m. I heard more cursing — and a voice crying "Would somebody please help me?"  Outside, at the base of those railroad tie stairs, I found Paddy lying tangled in blackberry vines: confused, lost, unable to stand.  He'd been there since midnight.  "Why did you fill my home with brambles?" he said.

"You're not in your trailer," I said.  "You're in my blackberry patch."  

I couldn't raise him to his feet by myself, but a patrol car pulled up.  The sheriff's deputy said, "Is it Paddy again?"

The deputy stood over Paddy and said, "You're getting too damn old for this shit."

Paddy said, "I only had a couple of beers.  I think I had a heart attack.  Flutters.  There's a respirator in my trailer.  Just take me home."

"Paddy," the deputy said, "last week you got lost in your own woodpile.  I'm calling an ambulance."

In retrospect, I'm amazed that Paddy helped me move that one railroad tie back in 1979.  I must be a pretty good contractor to have gotten that much work out of him.  He'd been hoping for a beer, but I had none to give.

Paddy could only be happy at the center of a three ring circus where he could read his poetry while wearing his cape and hat.  La Honda is a one ring circus, but it was the best he could find. 

Paddy, I'm a little late, but this beer's for you.


  1. How did Paddy lose his hand? I have some old news footage of him (along with Bob Kaufman, Linda 'Lovely' Cherney, Patsy Goudie, etc) from around 1959 on an old VHS tape, and he had both hands at that time.

    Also, whatever became of him? Nearly all the others from that era are gone now; no doubt Paddy's with the Great Majority, also.

    Thank-you very much for posting this. Cheers!

  2. He often said that a tiger ate his hand (or sometimes a crocodile, or other beast), but nobody believes it. Nobody around here knows what really happened. What was the news footage? There's an old newspaper photo of him getting out of jail - the drunk tank - from August 6, 1958, but I don't have it. The caption of the photo identifies him as "Beatnik Poet Laureate Padreic Suemus O'Sullivan" and says "Padreac O'Sullivan, in bucket on drunk charge. Says he ain't drunk and wants out so he won't be fired. This probably removes his 'beat' classification." Note that they spelled his name two different ways.

    Paddy died in the 1990s. Like the loss of his hand, everybody seems to know about it but nobody knows the circumstances of his passing.

  3. I have a copy of his book "Weep Not My Children"
    with his signature and self portrait. Any buyers??? Maggie O'Meara (omearamag@att.net)

  4. Paddy was a true character. I met him while I was working at Vesuvio's, across from City Lights. My day job was in printing and I printed the second run of his book. I still have the lithographic plate that was used for the front cover of his book. Does anyone want it?. Bo@galford.net

  5. Lovely tribute, Joe. Paddy's featured on a short film, Street Fair San Francisco. You can see him hawking Weep Not My Children at the 1:15 mark: https://archive.org/details/cbpf_000048