Photo: Spiritual Cleaninghouse: Jerry Cimino, shown in Kerouac Park in Mass., wants his ''50s Beat museum and Website to feed hungry souls.
Jerry Cimino bustles around his Beat Museum, on Franklin Street in downtown Monterey, talking about the matters of the soul that spill from the works of the writers lining his bookshelves. The walls splayed with peace flags give the small space an embracing quality. Cimino laughs and hurries to show me what has come in recently.
This wasn''t always the realm in which he moved. Cimino spent 25 years in the corporate world, working for IBM and American Express. After the dotcom bust in the mid-''90s, he says, he decided: "Now''s the time to do it." He proceeded to follow a calling that had been nagging him since an eighth-grade teacher read to his class from Lawrence Ferlinghetti''s A Coney Island of the Mind.
Cimino broke away from his career and started to deal in the books and philosophies of his idols from the Beat Generation. "And I''m really enjoying it," he says.
Cimino''s first venture, the Monterey Coffeehouse Bookshop, stood from 1991-1996 on Alvarado in the space where Green''s Camera Shop now operates. Cimino wanted to hold events at the Coffeehouse, and because of his love for the Beats, a Beat event was a natural choice. It was a big success, with 150 people crowding into the shop. Seven years later, he opened the Beat Museum.
Cimino says leaving corporate America felt "damn risky."
"It was probably the scariest thing I''ve ever done," he says. "Yet it felt right." He says it helps that he believes in "a supportive universe"-- a lesson he says he gleaned from the Beats.
Cimino seems to know his subject in a deep, personal way, and that he is meant to share it. "When people come in [the Beat Museum] I feel like I''m inviting them into my house."
When he was 23 and "searching,"--just out of college with a degree in history, Cimino''s parents told young Jerry they were moving: "''Here''s a bank account with $1,000 and good luck.''" they told him. "I ran that $1,000 down to a buck 98."
With this remaining fortune, Cimino says, he showed up at a mixer at his old school "because it was nickel beer night." That night he met Estelle, who has now been his wife for 22 years. A week later, he got a job at a shoe store a block away from the library where, on a break, he rediscovered the Ferlinghetti poem his teacher had read him:
Sometime during eternity
some guys show up
and one of them
who shows up real late
is a kind of carpenter
from some square-type place
and he starts wailing
and claiming he is hip
to who made heaven
and that the cat
who really laid it on us
is his Dad...
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, from "5"
He finishes reading the poem to me and is clearly affected. "How do you write about Jesus like that?" Cimino says. "It just knocked me out!"
Cimino was raised Catholic like his favorite of the Beats, Jack Kerouac, whom he refers to on a first-name basis. "I am no longer a practicing Catholic, although I really believe that the God of our youth remains the God we associate with our entire lives," he says. "That''s probably the reason I identify with Jack''s religious odyssey. He embraced Buddhism but knew he would die a Catholic."
The Beat Generation kicked off in the ''50s and continued into the ''60s. In addition to Kerouac, and Ferlinghetti, it featured heroic names like Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Gary Snyder, Dianne DiPrima, and Michael McClure.
In addition to literature, left-wing politics and Buddhism, the Beats were well known for their addictions and their carousing. Cimino does not ignore this aspect of the writers he admires. He seems, however, able to divorce their lifestyle from what he sees as their message. "For me, I try to focus on the spirituality," which he decides as "seeing the holiness of every moment as you''re living it. Believing that it''s all perfect no matter what."
Cimino says he''d like the Beat Museum and his Website (www.kerouac.com) to serve as a kind of spiritual clearinghouse, for which he says "there''s such a hunger."
Promoting this philosophy, Cimino says, is often interesting to do in Monterey. For example, he says, he has gotten into many a conversation with DLI students who challenge his political leanings and his peace flags, but whom he says are "always respectful."
"Some ask, ''How can you not support the president?''" His answer? "''Your sworn duty allows me to do this, and God bless you for it...'' That''s what people want. They want to be embraced, validated."
The Beat Museum is located at 211 W. Franklin St., Monterey. It is open Tuesdays from noon to 6:30pm; Wed-Sat 12-4pm. 372-4911.