The author and a customer of the poultry market
We bought our sharp-pointed, felt-tipped, valved Cado Flo-Master pens and their ink at the supply store of the art school, California College of Arts and Crafts, to which I had won a scholarship on graduating from high school in January, 1952, and where I studied and loved life for three semesters. Shortly after entering CCAC, I left my mother's house at 1623 Kains Avenue with what I could take with me in two suitcases and moved into a room, shared kitchen and bathroom, room shared with another girl, too, at 2622 College Avenue. I could do this because, after briefly working in the art school library, I had found a job at San Pablo Poultry Co. on San Pablo Avenue, just north of Dwight Way, in Berkeley, so I had an income that couldn't get sucked up by the family household, where nothing was going to get better. And coming back to get some other things, such as books and memorabilia and other clothing, my employers helped me by coming with the pick-up truck. My mother, hopefully I thought then, assured me I'd be back in six months pregnant, something I hardly knew how to do, having never even kissed with a boy or dated at all. But fem lit had informed her as to what mothers were expected to say. The shared kitchen at 2622, an approved house for off-campus living at UC Berkeley, was truly approvable: persons of the male sex could visit only in the kitchen, which had a great round table, and only until 10pm. The landlady, Mrs. Puerta, was assiduous in maintaining the approved status of her ground floor; she had the upper floor for herself. Around that table, student nurses, student athletes (girls), girls who just roomed in this house, and one art student, me, from CCAC came with our friends and shared a lot of our lives. So my new friends, such as Nati Baldeon, a nurse from Peru, and my fellow art students, especially David and Burt, mingled surprisingly. My art school friends, as I'd only begun to grasp and to realize, were gay. The first San Pablo Poultry sketches, a job that made me nearly as peculiar as my gay fellow students may have seemed, all except the first two used here (the poultry job lasted longer than the 2622 residence), were all done in the space of an hour, to illustrate my account of San Pablo Poultry; the self portrait was done shortly before I got a job in the Loan Department of the UC library instead. The sketchbook was made from a large package of pre-punched unruled binder paper, ordinary school and college paper, placed between the stiff fiberboard covers of a binder made to hold, say, all the notes for a given course or all the drafts of one's first Masterpiece, say, and it was much cheaper than any manufactured sketchbook. Since the common paper has survived quite well for more than half a century, it was a good choice. The Cado Flo-Master was the favorite tool for the discipline of sketching directly. We didn't know that the ink was full of lead (which I just learned from Wiki) much less that in the 1960s and 1970s there'd be gangs that would used the largest, broadest Flo-Masters to write all over subway trains, plate-glass windows, buses, and anything else that afforded a visible surface, for that ink truly is indelible and truly does write on everything. It was great for marking boxes on moving day, for example. Sharpies after an interval replaced it, but are not so good for sketching.
If I had any photos of this period, I'd use them, but I had no camera and for the time being could not have afforded film and processing. Anyhow, the sketches, all done before I was 20, are as good as I'll ever do. That is background sufficient to show that the items in the odd heading of this post really do all go together.
Two sketches of Dolores, Mrs. Bertoni's daughter, who at work always wrapped her hair this way.
It occurs to me that it has been years since I saw poultry sold this way, brought live down from Petaluma, slaughtered, scalded, and plucked (on a rotating drum covered with rubber fingers) at the back end of the long building, one cageful at a time, wheeled into the walk-in refrigerator on a strong metal cart (see at right behind Dolores, where it is indicated), where it hung on hooks. The butcher-paper wrapping of the heads concealed the slit for bleeding as well as the head. The poultry was gutted only when sold, except for the stock that was ready-cut to be sold as parts. This is not to say that the parts were stale; stale skin looks stale, and good poultry was not kept "fresh" by packing in ice or otherwise keeping it wet. Our retail customers knew their poultry, especially (but not only) those who were African-American, about half of them. But parts were usually a day deader than the whole chickens. The price per pound of course considerd the weight of the extremities and guts. As in Sicily, so in Berkeley, the canneries whose products included soup and sauces knew the value of feet and combs; these parts were accumulated in a clean garbage can separate from the guts and lungs and small reproductive parts. A favorite stunt of fraternities, nonetheless, was to send freshman pledges to ask for (and they made them ask the youngest girls behind the counter) a fowl's penis (we did have some ducks as well as the chicken and turkeys): this was before Nature photography had shown what birds in fact do to make fertile eggs, and we just said we were busy but they could come and look through the innards till they found some. My little sister, red-haired and all of sixteen when she came to join me working there, took special pleasure, I think, in saying this to silly frat boys. I assure you the place was clean and proper, and everything was scrubbed and sanitized on a schedule. Just cleaning up daily at closing time was a major job for everyone. Easter, with cages full of little yellow chicks and ducklings, requiring regular vigilance to remove those that didn't make it, was a real pain, and I didn't like the 1954 addition of a fish counter. Brief but nasty was hunting season. Standard Oil had lots of land for the Rod and Gun Club to go out duck hunting, even mud hens (than which there is nothing nastier to clean, that I know of). These great hunters of course were not brave enough to pluck and gut what they shot, but brought them to us in gunny sacks. After hours, so as to clean up the blocks afterward, we stayed and saw to them. Nastier still was self-sustainers who raised pigeons but were too lily livered to wring their necks themselves. Ah, well, that wasn't every day.
Why do I think of chickens whenever I see an eagle on money? Actually, to this day I am fond of chickens and turkeys.
The first sketch shows Don B. selling a turkey, the next his mother (I think—or was it my sister, since the Bertonis wore smocks, and we wore aprons) selling a fryer; the third is a fricasee chicken (big adult white Leghorn rooster that wants a lot of stewing) hanging in the walk-in, and the last shows one of us carrying a couple of restaurant-size tom turkeys back to the walk in.
These sketches are no masterpieces but I thought some of you might like them; they are vivid and they are true. And now you know what a Cado Flo-Master is.
Our wage was just a dollar an hour, but we got a lot of chicken and eggs for free.P.S. After posting this, I thought I'd check on my old job. I found a web site named Yelp and a photo of San Pablo Poultry basically unchanged and notes from customers, mixed, partly reflecting the personalities of the customers. The "old man" sold a wide variety of specialty meats, an adaptation to survive in today's marketing (but I remember kids and lambs for Easter even in the early 50s). On the phone with my sister, who had continued working there later than I did, together with her husband, then and now, I learned that the "old man" said to be "eccentric", who was running the place alone, was indeed, as I suspected, Donald Bertoni (sketched, above, in his twenties, pointing to the good qualities of a turkey). On a trip to the Bay Area, my sister and brother in law had stopped by the store, to check in as I would have done had I not at that time been living far away. And there was Don, who also took them out to dinner. I wish I knew who now would remember them, so I could direct them to this posting. A customer just last year reported coming by and seeing the store closed and empty, evidently permanently. I guess Don, who must have been in his 80s, is dead.