One of my most favorite gifts of all time was when my mom gave me a Royal typewriter for my birthday when I was about eighteen years old. I had started using hers when I was about thirteen. I became a pretty good typist because I enjoyed writing. While living with Mary Jo in Seattle, I wrote a lot of dialogue and scenes for plays. I loved Warhol's Chelsea Girls and was influenced by that. I dreamed of having a beatnik type coffeehouse where poetry could be read and plays could be performed.
A few years later, I had bought a sound Super-8 camera. I took a lot of the old dialogue I had written previously and put it together and filmed it with my new camera. Mary essentially played the character, Mary, and I played the character, Sylvan. The characters were based on us and our living together to some extent but not entirely accurate. I guess I could have named the characters differently but, for some reason, that just seemed like too much of a bother. The play begins with the words, "I think I'll slit my wrists."
Many years later, I posted "Ennui" on youtube. The owner of the "Catherine Slip" gallery contacted me in 2009 and asked if Ennui could be a part of a show he was putting together called "Sick Love." He said:
"Your piece was actually the thing that inspired me for the whole show - it's somewhat of the centerpiece of the exhibition. I love the naive quality of the film making, the poetic nature of dialogue, and the content that really pushes boundaries. I think it's brilliant, really!"
Catherine Slip gallery showing of "Ennui" 2009.
By this time, I had a little money coming in as I was back at Saint Francis, working as a Licensed Psychiatric Technician.and I had enough for a deposit on a place which was equal to a months rent. Actually, I may have had to have first and last months rent and a deposit. I found a studio apartment on the 13th floor of a small highrise about a block from work. Polk Street was still a gay neighborhood and it was an ideal place to live at the time.
Once I got settled in at the new apartment, David eventually came back down and continued to live with me there. It was a little tight in a studio but we made do. Mary Jo continued to be my best friend at the time and came over to visit regularly.
Mary Jo was taking photography classes at the San Francisco Art Institute and I would visit her there from time to time. I eventually enrolled there in a film making class. I was paying for the class out of my own pocket of course and it seemed like most of the people going there were a few years younger than myself and had rich parents that were paying their way. It was a great school in that they had great resources but for me it was too espensive to continue there. I also had problems with my own self esteem and my film making ability that precluded me from enjoying my experience there.
During the time I was attending at the Art Institute, I was working on a project I called "Ennui." It was dialog I had written some years earlier when I lived with Mary in Seattle. I wanted to make a "narrative" film and so I rewrote some of that dialog and started making my little film with Mary. Essentially we would make que cards and pretty much read our dialog from the cards. We would set the camera up on a tripod and then film a scene. Most of it was filmed in consecutive order so there would not be as much editing required.
My instructor at the Art Institute was totally into non-narrative film. We spent a lot of time blowing out eggs and filling them with paint and then droping them and filming the paint splatter. In these "art" films, there was no story line or beginning, middle or end. They were stoney psychedelica for the most part. This was not the kind of film that I had much itnerest in at all and at the time, I felt inhibited and self consious about the kind of film that I wanted to do. My peers at the Art Institute seemed pretentious and disengenuous to me and so I did not continue there.
I did eventually continue with film making at City College in San Francisco. It was also around this time that I believe I connected with some of the people that would later form Frameline which would be an organization that would do the annual L.G.B.T. film festival. At that time, it was just a few guys getting together to look at each other's super-8 film. I believe Marc Huestas might have been one of those people. I remember meeting in a flat on Guerrero around this time. I remember a couple of years later I would run into one of those original film makers and he had some mysterious disease. Every time I would see him, his health was deteriorating further.
By this time I had made some new friends on the psychiatric unit where I was working. I don't think any of the gay staff remained in the closet by this time. It was a time of gay pride. The staff was also ethnically diverse. I don't think I had ever known anyone from the Phillipines before working there. We had a staff member from Yugoslovia as well Sweden. There were Hispanics and African American's. There were also people that identified themselves as "witches" and "warlocks" and believed in the occult. It became apparent that people that work in the psychiatric field tend to be diverse and interesting.
My mom, Darlene, Chris and Misty came to visit during this period and I borrowed a fold-away bed from Jim over in Hayward and we had people sleeping wall to wall in the little studio. By this time, I had acquired a sound camera and was taking a lot of super-8 sound film and got film of the visit. I got some definitive film of my mom singing, telling a fortune, telling and telling an original story.
She sang some of the lullaby's and songs that she sang to us in our childhood and now sang to Chris and Misty in theirs. She had a beautiful voice.
Mom had been telling fotunes ever since I could remember and people always loved it. She never attributed it to any supernatural but it always seemed supernatural anyway.
While mom was visiting, we spent an evening with my step-brother, Jim, in Hayward.
I lived in a ten dollar a week room in what was essentially a hotel above the gay Rainbow Cattle Company at the corner of Duboce and Valencia. It was full of hippies, drag queens and drug addicts.
I was putting applications in for work as a Licensed Psychiatric Technician at various hospitals around town. My hair came down to the middle of my back but when I went on job interviews, I would pin it all up on top of my head and wear a short haired wig. I don't know if it was obvious to anyone or not but I thought it looked pretty realistic. Eventually I got a job on the psychiatric unit at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital. I don't think most people were expecting a twenty-something year old to be wearing a wig and so they didn't tend to look very close.
The phone at the Rainbow Cattle Company was a communal pay phone down the hall and I remember being shocked when I received the call from Saint Francis that I had actually been hired. Somebody would have come to my room and I would have gone down the hall to the communal phone to discover I had been hired. I was 24 years old.
My room was probably about ten feet by ten feet. I bought an electric skillet to cook in but I mostly ate out. There was a communal kitchen in the hotel but I never used it. Each floor had a bathroom and showers that were shared by everyone on that floor. Bands would play in the bar below on Friday and Saturday nights but I never went to sleep before three in the morning anyway. I was working from about three in the afternoon until midnight and then would go to the bars or the baths.
Initially, I pinned up my hair and wore the short haired wig to work every day at Saint Francis. Nobody said anything about it initially. Finally, after working for about six months, I took it off at work and people were shocked at how long my hair really was. The manager of the psychiatric unit they called 4-East at the time was a woman named Pat. She seemed to take a liking to me and even invited me to go see The Who at the Oakland Coliseum. Here is some video that I took that day:
There were several people on the unit that were into paganism and referred to themselves as witches and warlocks. For being relatively educated people, they were into a lot of superstition and other nonsense, but they were all accepting of homosexuality. The American Psychiatric Association had just decided that homosexuality was not a mental disease and San Francisco was becoming a magnet for gay men.
4-East was a locked psychiatric unit. Some of the patients were there voluntarily but many were there involuntarily because they were a danger to themselves or others or could not provide food, clothing or shelter for themselves. Some of the patients were so depressed that the only thing that was thought to be helpful was electro-shock therapy. There were two doctors that specialized in this type of controversial therapy. Some of the patients were violent and there were three rooms called "seclusion" rooms where patients could be isolated from the other patients and locked up and restraned if necessary. It was often left up to the males to handle the violent patients. Most of the female staff wore high heels at that time.
It was while living in this small room that my sixteen year old brother came to visit. Actually, I think at the time he was running away from the police in Washington. I think his girlfriend was with him. She left but he stayed and we got some wood and built a loft in the room. One of us could sleep above, while the other slept below. I would come home from working and find my sisteen year old brother partying with transvestite, transexuals and other various freaks that lived in the hotel.
I was finally getting real paychecks for the first time in my life and David was going to stay in San Francisco with me and so we started looking for a bigger apartment and found a two bedroom on Larkin Street. I think that it was about the same week that we were going to move, that I was hospitalized with Hepatitis B. I had continued to be promiscuous and made regular visits to the "clinic" for antibiotics but wasn't sure what was happening when my eyes and skin turned yellow, my stools turned white and I had no energy. One of the guys in the hotel knew what it was immediately. I was hospitalized on the same day that my healthcare insurance had kicked in at my new job.
As I mentioned previously, live bands played in the Rainbow Cattle Company and so it never got quiet before the bar closed at 2am. Most of the time it didn't really matter since I got off work at around midnight. After David came to live with me, he would sometimes have a little "party" going when I got home and I had to throw out the drag queens and freaks he had invited in.
The band that I remember hearing the most while living over the Rainbow Cattle Company was Pearl Heart. He was essentially a Janis Joplin impersonator... although I guess impersonator is not really quite accurate. He mostly sang Janis Joplin songs at various venues around San Francisco at the time. He was also in the Bette Midler film, "The Rose" in a brief scene with Sylvester. I have some video of him on a float at one of the Gay Pride parades of the seventies. After all these years, I found these videos of him on youtube from 1989 which was over ten years after I had last seen him in the seventies. Apparently he had passed away a couple of years after these videos were taken at the Full Moon Saloon.
The following is from a letter to my mom about Jim's army buddy, Kenny, overdosing on pcp, drinking drano and dying:
"This has been a terrifying week. One of the people I had shared this flat with, had eaten dinners with, watche t.v. with and in general just lived with as part of our "family" flipped out.
Monday morning I heard some scruffling in his room and so got up to see what the noise was. He was writheing acrosss the floor, apparently overdosed on drugs. He was literally, bouncing off the walls. I was home alone and was afraid to leave him to call an ambulance but I left him on the floor and ran downstairs and frantically called.
Jim was home by the time the ambulance got there and we decided that if we left him alone, he would probably just come down from the 12 tablets of pcp he had overdosed on, so the ambulance people left.
The day was insane. I went on to school and when I got home, Kenny was still acting strange and would continue to be acting strange through the evening and then Jim went back to work. By this time Kenny was sitting up and had gained enough consciousness to know his own name and to be able to recognize me. We talked for a while and he was very confused, somewhat disoriented and talking about dying. I read to him a little from a book we had in the house about "ego death," thinking that it might explain what had happened to him and that actually he wasn't literally, physically dead.
I finally went back to thinking he was coming down and a little more together. He was conversing and it seemed as if he thought he was okay. The next day, which I think was Tuesday, we kept an eye on him and he seemed perfectly alright and it was going to be just another day. Kenny had always enjoyed getting high and had taken what I considered very large amounts of drugs before. I had never liked pcp but Kenny and Jim seemed to love it.
Evening came around and Jim and I were getting dinner ready. We watched a t.v. show and then Jim went to bed and I read for a while. We lost track of what Kenny was doing. Jim was up and went upstairs to see if Kenny was ready to eat because dinner had been cooking and now it was ready. Jim came downstairs looking frightened. There was a glass of what seeemed to be drano mixed with water by the side of Kenny's bed. It dawned on us what might have happened. We looked all over the house for him, out in the back yard and then I ran around the nieghborhood as Jim called the hospitals and police. We settled down in a while and figured we could only wait for him to come back. The doorbell rang and I ran downstairs to answer it. Kenny was leamed against it, spitting up blood. He couldn't speak. Only a gurgling sound came from this throat and blood spurted out from his mouth when he attempted to speak. Jim called an ambulance. Intense chaos followed as we waited for the ambulance. Finally they came and Jim rode to the hospital with them.
I followed them to the hospital about fifteen mintues later and got to the hospital just as they were taking Kenny into the operating room. The lye in the drano had burned his mouth and esophagus pretty bad. He wanted to die. We had never known it in months of living together. Jim hadn't known it in years of friendship.
We waited. The operation discovered that he would proably never be able to eat food again through his mouth. He would require a tube to be fed. He was the most critical patient in the hospital at that moment. Jim called his mother and I went home. I had school the next day.
The doctors told Jim the next day that when he had regained consiousness, he had tried to pull out the I.V's. When given a pencil to write something, he tried to stab himself. He had no will to live. They think that he will live, though probably just to attempt suicide again.
I didn't know what to think. Jim and I were in shock. It would be a week before he can have visitors but I won't know what to say when I go to see him. Jim works at the hospital as an orderly and has been able to see him. I am overwhelmed with the circumstances.
Jim and I are going to try and go see Darlene for Thanksgiving but now we will probably be busy getting soemone to move in to help pay rent. Kenny won't be back for a while. We will probably be visiting him a lot. I just don't know what's going to be happening now. I hope that you will write back something enlightening. I look forward to your letters even if I hardly ever write back.
My typing is so bad and I'm too lazy to retype this letter and it's frustrating to send it. My handwriting is....
It's late. The cats are playing. The hamster is sleeping. The fishes are warm. Nobody's fed. I guess I'll feed the fish tonight. One, who's name is Simon Siamese has tail rot and I don't think he's going to live.
It's raining. San Francisco is a fantastic city. You said that you might come through visiting. I wish you would. Write, Love me. "
Kenny had been Jim's army buddy and had been a room mate of Jim when I had moved in with Jim when he lived on 24th street. I don't remember that he lived with us when we initially moved to 14th street. I think that he may have been part of why we moved to Shotwell.
Kenny died a few days after I wrote the letter to my mom. Jim and I ended up moving back to the same previous building we lived in on 14th street. I was paying $60/month rent and $28.00 in food stamps. I'm not sure exactly whre I was getting the sixty dollars a month from though. I did attend classes at City College intermittently and may have used school grants. I was taking a class in Real Estate Law, a basic English class, Music Appreciation and Critical Thinking. I think that I just quit going to the Real Estate and Critical thinking classes as I didn't understand that you must withdraw from classes if you decided to quit going. I got an "F" in each of these because I did not do the withrawal procedure.
My friend Mary from San Diego had met a German women that wanted Mary. to drive her across county. The German women didn't know how to drive herself or didn't have an American license but she told Mary. that she would pay all expenses if Mary would drive her across country. Mary invited me to go along and it sounded like a good opportunity to see the country. I must have been traveling when the downstairs flat on Market street burned up since I don't remember the fire itself. On the trip I was missing Jim and sending him letters.
The German lady was rather strange as she believed in "space people." It seemed that she was a part of some cult that beleived that there were aliens that were watching over us and interacting with our world. I don't know if it was the same cult but years later we would hear of such a cult where several people committed suicide together.
On the trip with the German space lady, we stopped in Salt Lake City and took a tour of some Mormon museum and Mary got into it with the tour guide. The Mormon church was known for it's blatant racism and she rightfully questioned it. In the years since, the church has modified it's stance somewhat, in my opinion to be more politically correct and bring new members money into it's coffers so that it can influence political campaigns such as the notorious proposition 8 campaign against marriage equality in Calfornia.
Whuile in Salt Lake City, the German space lady tried to get Mary to commit a fraudulent act having to do with travelors checks. She wanted Mary to try and cash one of the German space lady's checks and then the German space lady would claim that the check was stolen and would double her money. When I heard of this scam, I argued that it wasn't worth it to get into trouble over something like that. We had gone on the trip expecting that all expenses were paid- not to have to commit crimes to have expenses paid!
We continued after Salt Lake City, driving the German space lady to the Grand Canyon. It was a nice trip but Mary and I were starting to complain that we were not being fed as well as we like to be fed. The space lady was trying to cut corners and save money I guess at our expense. There was eventually an argument over the quality of food and shelter during the trip that came to a head at a rest stop after the Grand Canyon. Mary and I threatened to leave the space lady at the rest stop. I don't think the space lady realized how comfortable we were with hitchhiking and didn't think we would really leave but we had no qualms about leaving at all. As we walked out of the rest stop, the space lady was yelling at us, "that's alright, the space people will help me!" We never saw her again and will never know how she got out of the rest stop and how she got the rest of the way to New York.Mary and I hitch-hiked back to the West Coast. I seem to remember that we went back to San Diego rather than San Francisco initially. Mary's mom still lived in San Diego and I think my sister Darlene might have still been there too. Eventually, I made my way back to San Francisco though.
I'm not sure if it was when I was traveling on this trip that the downstairs flat burned up, but when I got back to San Francisco, Louise was now living in a flat on Castro Street. I don't remember a lot about that flat really. I know we spent a lot of time painting the hallway. I do have a few seconds of super-8 footage from that time period. Jim was still romancing Louise while at the same time, romancing me. I think that it was about this time that Louise realized that Jim and I were having an affair.
When I was about eighteen, I moved up to San Francisco to live with Leslie in the downstairs flat at 3043 Market in San Francisco. It is so long ago and hard to remember but I believe a woman named Sarah might have lived in the front room and had a baby. I think the father of the baby might have been named Cody or something like that. My room was separated from Sarah's room by sliding pocket doors. My window was out on a light well. had the room in the back of the flat.
Leslie was very good to me but it was very stressful living with her. She was definitely the queen of the house and called all the shots. She could be pretty controlling and dominating everything and everyone around her. She had known me for the longest of anyone else in the house and so I think she trusted me more than some of the others. I think I also brought out a bit of maternal instinct in her.
Leslie was central distribution for a drug ring that went far and wide across the country. In addition, she was getting welfare and foodstamps under several different names. People flew in from various parts of the country to get their supplies. Leslie had gallon jars of double dome acid and valium and other pills. One time I came home and my entire closet was filled with stacks of hashish bricks. Every time I heard a police siren, I was sure they were on their way to arrest us all. I would have left if I had anywhere else to go but I didn't and Leslie was willing to give me a place to live and food. She treated me well. She took me to the musical, "Hair" at the Orpheum theater and we were within the first few rows. She brought a joint to smoke in the theater!
We used to go horseback riding regularly, all paid for by Leslie We would rent the horses in Half Moon Bay and along the cosst to Ocean Beach and then back again. The ride would take all day.
I met my first lover, Jim A. while living in Leslie's flat on Market street. It was a time of sexual experimentation and casual pairings. There might be several people in the same room having sex at the same time. It was purely sex for recreation. I guess you could even call them orgies. There were a lot of substances involved and due to the substances, I was able to carry on a sexual relationship with a woman comfortably.
I was having sex with a woman and Jim was having sex with a woman. One morning, he and his woman got into bed with the woman I was involved with and myself. The women were on top and Jim and I were having a conversation with each other about each others chest hair. It became obvious that Jim and I were more interested in each other than we were the women that were utilizing our erections. It wasn't long before Jim invited me to his house and we started seeing each other without the women's knowledge.
The video on this page shows the room in which I lived and a little of the flat. Eventually, Leslie would become a heroin addict and then kicked heroin, lost 100 pounds, married an alcoholic schoolteacher, lived in Italy for a while and then New Mexico and last I heard had liver cancer.
1967- Sweet Sixteen, The Summer of Love and Psychedelics
I love the San Francisco Bay Area. I came here for the first time when I was 16. I was living in San Diego at the time with my Mom and my stepfather, George. We were living at 4932 Lantana Drive in a fixer-upper home my Mom and George had bought. My bed was in the basement of the house which had it’s own entry door, which gave me the ability to come and go pretty easily as I pleased. George was building stairs from the basement up into the kitchen upstairs but at that time, you had to go outside to get upstairs.
My best friends at the time were Mary Jo, Leslie, and Marnie. We had become friends after Roger and I and our group, "The Luv Please" had played at a "Battle of The Bands" in San Diego. We went to a club called the Palace and we were experimenting with drugs.
I was in transition between an old girlfriend, Kathy, that was concerned about what L.S.D. would do to my chromosomes and my new girlfriend, Edith, who couldn't have cared less about my chromosomes.
Kathy Zaddock and I went together for about three years, from the time I was 13 in Escondido and had gotten kicked out of school for having “long hair” (that story can be found here: (http://sylvanslife.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=16:my-beatle-haircut). I met Kathy roller skating which I did pretty regularly at that time. She and her best friend, Karen Kern, used to come roller skating and I guess they thought I was cute in my Beatle haircut. Kathy was the more attractive in my mind. We went together for three y)ears and we did have some sexual play during that time. I guess you would call what we did, “heavy petting?”
My mother and her husband, George, had left Escondido, though, by the time I was 16 in 1967, The Summer of Love. I had lived in Washington State for a while with my dad. Upon my return to live with my Mom and George, now on Lantana Drive in San Diego, Kathy had started to move on to the man that she would eventually marry and have four children with, and then ultimately divorce some years later. When I first heard of her engagement, I grieved the loss of my first real heterosexual relationship. I was inconsolable for a about a day which seemed like a lot in those teenage days.
Edith would be my second heterosexual relationship. It was very brief- so brief that I don't even remember Edith's last name! I think I must have met her at Jerry Herrera's club, "The Palace," a club for kids 16 and older.
Jerry Herrera had been booking bands in San Diego since the 1950's for dances and concerts. In 1965 he had opened San Diego's first rock and roll club, "The Palace," across the street from the San Diego Sports Arena. The house band was called "Palace Pages" and they would go on to become "iron Butterfly."
My brother, Roger, and his band with Allen Green, Roger Flores, Steve Arenz(?), and others, whose names I don't remember, would play at the Palace. We all went to see them play of course. There was a stage and dance floor. If I remember correctly, there was a balcony area where you could look down at the dance floor. It seemed to get a pretty good crowd. Leslie & Marnie were always there when I was there. Edith and I would dance.
The Palace was where I first remember seeing black light posters for sale. They had a small psychedelic shop that sold the posters and black lights. along with cigarette papers, pipes, roach clips, peace buttons and other hippie paraphernalia.
I don't remember what time The Palace would close. I can't remember if they even served alcohol. I'm not sure if it was actually considered a bar. I was only 16 then and certainly couldn't drink alcohol. Regardless, one night after the Palace, a group of us went to Mission Beach and I’m not sure but that might have been the first night that I dropped acid which was what people called L.S.D. back then which was short for lysergic acid diethylamide.
Timothy Leary and the media had made L.S.D. famous. Dr. Timothy Leary, a professor at Harvard had established the "Psychedelic Research Project" at Harvard in 1960. The Federal Government had classified L.S.D. as an "experimental drug" in 1962. The media talked of L.S.D. on sugar cubes. There were sensational stories of kids taking L.S.D. and thinking they could fly and then jumping out of windows.Leary and Alpert were fired from Harvard in 1963 because of their advocating the use of psychedelics to "expand the mind." California passed the Grunsky Bill in 1966, making the drug illegal in California. In 1967, at the first "Human Be-in," Timothy Leary told the crowd to "tune in, turn on, and drop out," which the media spread immediately to the rest of the country and young people were listening. When you took L.S.D., it was called at "trip."
Ken Kesey had been doing the "Acid Tests" for a few years by 1967 with his "Merry Pranksters." On January 8th, 1966, the "Trips Festival" had taken place at the Fillmore. By the time I had arrived in San Francisco for The Summer of Love, Stanley Owsley had been perfecting his famous L.S.D. and the Fillmore had become a "trips festival" on an ongoing basis. I know I attended at least a couple of Fillmore shows that summer but remember very little about those shows as I was usually tripping.
I would eventually take over a hundred trips between the time I was 16 and my early twenties. I never had any desire to jump out of any windows and came to believe that most of the horror stories about L.S.D. were probably urban myths. In later adulthood, I did see schizophrenics when I worked as an R.N. on psychiatric units that may have had psychosis brought on or exacerbated their mental illness by taking too many L.S.D. trips or other drugs.
I remember laughing a lot when I first started taking acid. It was necessary to set aside about eight hours for a "trip." First, there was the "coming on" phase which usually took about an hour, then the "peaking" phase which took about six hours and then the "coming down" phase which took another hour or two. Most of my experience with L.S.D. was much fun but eventually it became too exhausting. It was easier to find a block of eight hours in my youth for those activities than it was when I got older and busy with the activities of making a living.
I know I was on acid the night I went to San Francisco the first time. I was with Edith at the Palace and then we went to a "beach party" at Mission Beach in San Diego. That night, she and her brother were going to “run away” from home and they had talked this guy, E.J., into driving them to San Francisco in his station wagon. Edith wanted me to go too and it sounded like an "adventure" to me. It was 1967 and the Summer of Love and everyone was going to San Francisco. We had recently seen Big Brother and the Holding Company at the San Diego Convention Center and were in the first row and Janis Joplin invited everyone to San Francisco to see what was happening there.
That night, after The Palace and then after the beach party, five of us piled into E.J.'s old station wagon. EJ drove me by my house so I could get my sleeping bag and leave my Mom a note telling her I was going to San Francisco. It didn’t occur to me that she would worry or be upset or anything. I didn’t perceive it at all as running away. I just saw this as an adventure, kind of like a Tom Sawyer sort of thing. I think my Mom kind of admired my independence.
We probably left San Diego about 3am in the morning. There was EJ driving, Edith, her brother, some other person I remember nothing about and myself. Somewhere along the way, we picked up a hitchhiker and he was familiar with San Francisco and he wrote down an address for us to check out. He thought that we could probably “crash” there. I don’t really remember much else about the trip itself. I know the hitchhiker didn’t go all the way with us but have not idea where we let him out. When we arrived in San Francisco, we parked along side, what I would later learn was called “The Panhandle.” This is a finger of Golden Gate Park that extends into the Haight for several blocks bordered by Fell and Oak streets.
At some point, a policeman came and told us that we couldn’t sleep there in the car. We woke up and got out and walked a block over to Page street and found the address that the hitchhiker had given us. It was a beautiful building with bay windows and a turret at 1666 Page Street. I was struck even then with the difference in architecture in San Francisco from anywhere I had ever been previously in my life.
When we first knocked and a hippie girl answered the door and we told her our plight, she seemed irritated that we had awakened her so early in the morning. The "flat" was on the third floor and one of the guys living there came down the stairs to see what was going on. I
remember them being a little irritated that somebody had given out their address but eventually they accepted us in. There were already about five people living in the house. Edith and I slept on the floor in our sleeping bags. I stayed there for only a week or two. I think E.J. returned to San Diego. Edith made plans to hitchhike to New York after the first few days and she left and I never saw or heard from her again. I will always wonder if she made it safely. Her brother and I hung out for a bit but he was into speed and always seemed kind of weird to me.
A couple of the people that lived in the flat were black and a few years older than us. They were probably in their twenties or even thirties. One had a bit of asthma or emphysema which was exacerbated by all the pot he smoked and he seemed quite a bit older than us at the time. People came and went through the flat. I met my first “out” black homosexual. He gave me a blow job in the throughway between a couple of buildings. The whole thing didn’t last very long but it was exciting and I still remember that. I think that it must have been my first blow job. I had never had int
ercourse with a girl at this point. I had masturbated with other boys, but otherwise, I was a virgin.
Although our hosts were generous initially, they did want us to get out on our own. I panhandled during the day. I went to Love’s Burgers and got a plate and plastic fork and then would take it
down to the panhandle where the Diggers were
feeding people. I stayed at various crash pads.
I went to the Straight Theater, (which was originally called "The Haight" theater but in 1967, in disrepair, was called the Straight Theater and was torn down in the 70's
or 80's). There were no seats in the theater by that time and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin would practice there and you could see them for free or spare change.
One day while walking down Haight street, at about Clayton, I saw Janis Joplin walking a dog, towards me. I thought to myself, “I have got to say something to her… what can I say… fast… the opportunity will soon be gone…” and I blathered “Spare change?” She walked on past and didn’t even give me eye contact but that was okay. I had spoken to Janis Joplin.
I would hang out on “hippie hill” which was about a block into Golden Gate Park. There were usually somewhere around fifty people sitting on the hill. Often there would be a group of multicultural/multiethnic/multiracial drummers making a beat for us to groove to. Usually there would be the smell of marijuana in the air. In the summer of love, there always seemed to be a lot of marijuana around. I didn’t have money to buy it but somebody was always handing me a joint.
The Diggers were a group of activists and actors associated with The San Francisco Mime Troupe. Peter Coyote, an actor, was one of the founding members of The Diggers. When I arrived in San Francisco, they were providing free food in the Panhandle. The food would usually be a soupy stew concoction served out of huge multi-gallon pots. It was well known that you could pick up a paper plate and fork or spoon at Love Burgers at 1568 Haight and then bring those to The Panhandle to eat. The Diggers also opened a free store at 1090 Cole Street.
Speed was becoming popular in the Haight by that time and people were using it at 1666 Page Street too. There were also warnings out on the street that "Speed Kills." I had never known anyone that injected drugs until then. I'm not sure if that was the same as the methamphetamine of modern times or if it was some earlier variation of that. I remember a women coming to the flat to shoot up, herself. Up until that time, I had not seen anyone use I.V. drugs on Page Street or anywhere for that matter. I watched her carefully cook the white powder in a tablespoon and then use a belt to "tie off" her arm. Then she drew up the drug through a white cotton ball. She shared here "works," the syringe and needle with one of the housemates. This was long before HIV and Aids.
She was ecstatic and wanted others to share the experience but I was afraid of needles and didn't really want to do it. She kept encouraging me to try it and insisted it wouldn't hurt at all. Finally I relented and let her use a belt to "tie me off" and then inject the needle into my vein. I immediately regretted it, as she apparently missed the vein and it WAS quite painful.
For the rest of the night, I was speeding and paced through the Haight until the early morning hours. I remember the air being wet as it sometimes is in San Francisco and the only other people awake are also wired on speed and will babble about nothing for hours if you will listen. I tried not to listen. I didn't see the girl that shot me up for another week or so when I passed her on the street and she told me that I needed to go to the public health clinic to get tested as she had tested positive for hepatitis. I went to the health clinic and got some gamoglobulin and decided that my one episode of letting someone inject drugs into my veins was way too too dangerous and too much hassle and I didn't really like being so wired up, awake all night on the streets, gnawing the inside of my cheek. I never had any interest in doing anything like that again.
As the summer progressed, The Haight was starting to deteriorate with the influx of the crowds and amphetamines. After leaving the flat on Page Street, I stayed in some pretty nasty crash pads that I found through the Haight Ashbury Switchboard. I decided I needed to raise some money so I could get a room somewhere. I sold Berkeley Barbs and Oracles. These were “underground newspapers” that were popular at the time. The Oracles were "psychedelic" and the Berkeley Barb was more political and was famous for it's sex ads in the back. (At another time I would sell the “Helix” in Seattle, but that’s another time and another story that can be found here: http://sylvanslife.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=23:1968-seattle-with-mary-jo).
Underground newspapers were an easy way for me to make a few dollars. I sold the Berkeley Barb in front of the old Emporium that is no longer there, (replaced by San Francisco’s “City Center” mall). I had a loud voice and I would shout out at the top of my lungs, “Berkeley Barb, get your Berkeley Barb right here!...” I think I must have seen someone selling newspapers like that once in a movie or something. It seemed very romantic at the time.
From selling the newspapers, I made enough money to invest in 12 hits of acid that I planned to sell so that I could get my own room downtown in San Francisco's "Tenderloin." In those days, you could get a sleazy room for $2.00 a night or $10.00 a week.
When I was trying to sell the acid on Market Street downtown, Market street looked nothing then like it does now. The street was completely under demolition and reconstruction to accommodate the new subway that was going in which was going to eventually be what we call BART- Bay Area Rapid Transit. In 1967, it was just a lot of holes in the ground and huge beams stacked high intermittently through the street. It made for great cover if you wanted to dodge someone. In San Diego I had been harassed numerous times by the San Diego Police Department for being a “hippie.” I remember a time when I got stopped twice by two different cop cars within a one block distance. In San Francisco, the police never even looked at me. But if they did, it was pretty easy to just disappear among the piles of debris. It was the most incredible feeling of freedom not to be harassed by police. I was 16 and FREE!!
I wasn't selling my acid very quickly. It was late at night on Market Street and mostly speed freaks and insomniacs and street people were wandering among the piles of BART beams. One of the street people, a man, started talking to me and hanging out on the periphery. I think he wanted to get some acid but didn't have the money or something. Then I met a women that was trying to sell her body. She told me that if I helped to find her a trick, she would buy some of my acid. I don't think I had ever met a prostitute before and I had not even had sex with a woman at that time, but here I was, a sixteen year old pimp. At that time, San Francisco was still a navy town and the fleet was in. I was too well mannered to actually be a pimp. I would quietly approach some sailors and politely ask if they were interested in the services of the woman that was nearby. I didn't use any foul anatomical language and the prostitute quickly lost patience with me and would loudly blurt out "you want to buy some pussy, sailor?" My face probably turned red with both shock but I was fascinated, too.
The prostitute approached three Navy boys and offered her wares in graphic detail. Three sailors decided that they would do business with her. The three of them, the prostitute, the guy that had been hanging around on the periphery and I all walked over to a hotel that the prostitute selected. She took the first sailor into the hotel while the rest of us stood around in the night air talking. The sailors bought some of my acid as well so things were good for me. Time went by and then suddenly, here came the prostitute, looking frantic, and saying to me to follow her as she rushed past the sailors, standing there, waiting for their turn and then bewildered as to what had happened to their friend and one dashed into the hotel to find him. The other sailor followed us for some time as we ran through the streets but he couldn't catch us and gave up the chase. Finally he gave up on catching us and went back to join his sailor friends. The prostitute bought some acid and I think she actually gave me some extra dollars and may have given some to the other guy that had just been hanging around. She had waited for the first sailor to fall asleep and then she had robbed him rather than have sex with all three. We dispersed and I never saw any of them again. I LOVED SAN FRANCISCO!
Sometime during that same "Summer of Love" I remember being invited by some other young people to a place called Morningstar ranch. I didn't remember exactly where that was other than north of the Golden Gate Bridge but now, when I Google it, I find that it was in Sebastopol. I knew it was a commune when I visited but did not remember that it was also called "The Digger Farm."
Apparently, according to what I now know from looking it up on the internet, Lou Gottlieb founded Morningstar. He had been a folk singer with the group, The Lamplighters and then was part of the Diggers group that fed us kids in The Panhandle, and opened the Free Store on Cole Street and I believe that they also ran the Haight Ashbury "switchboard" where you could call to find out about crash pads or health care and other information. I remember that Morningstar Ranch was really my first experience with public nudity. It was a little stressful since I did not feel comfortable taking my own clothes off. Others did walk around naked. I think we stayed there for no more than 24 hours, but it did leave a big impression on me and it wouldn't be long before I would be more comfortable with my own body and nudity with others, too.
Back in San Francisco, with the money I had made panhandling, pimping and selling acid, I moved to a sleazy $10 a week Tenderloin hotel. Old, weathered black men rolled dice in the doorway and prostitutes, alcoholics and drug addicts lived there. It had an old rickety elevator and the rooms reeked of urine and other bodily fluids. All of this was a pretty exciting for a 16 year old boy.
The Camelot Hotel was what is now called a "Single Room Occupancy" or SRO. There were many of them in San Francisco at one time and still a few are left. I know i stayed in several in those early years. You would get a room with a bed and a dresser and the bathroom was down the hall. You shared a bath or shower with others on your floor. The rooms often wreaked of urine. There would be people yelling and acting crazy all hours of the day and night. Somebody might even come knocking on your door, inebriated, thinking someone else was still living there.
You could get into the original Fillmore for a couple bucks that could be easily panhandled in an afternoon. I am pretty sure I saw a few shows at the Fillmore that summer but I think I was always pretty high and don't remember much about who I saw other than Cream. I also remember free concerts in the G.G. park with The Grateful Dead and Big Brother for the funeral of a Hell's Angel named Chocolate George
I don't remember how the summer came to an end exactly. I ran into my friend Leslie. from San Diego somewhere in the Haight. San Francisco was like a small town in that way. It was easy to bump into people you knew from other places. Several other friends from San Diego showed up that summer but Leslie was the only one that would stay and establish herself in The City. I remember that when I ran into her, everyone was talking about Rudolph Nuryev, the famous ballet artist being caught in a drug bust.
I often used the Haight Ashbury Switchboard to find places to crash and I think my Mom contacted me through them, begging me to call collect. It had never occurred to me that she would be worried about me. Somehow by the end of the Summer of Love in San Francisco, I returned to San Diego but I'm not sure how I got there. By this time, I had lost track of everyone I had come to The City with from San Diego and I had pretty much just lived on my own.
I went back to San Diego to live again with my Mom and George on Lantana street. I think that it was shortly after this that I contacted the Oracle offices in San Francisco and convinced them to send me some Oracles to San Diego. That was probably still about 1967 or possibly 1968 and I would be arrested for the first and only time and that story can be found at: http://www.n-retrospect.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=22:pot-bust-getting-arrested
1967 was a great year for movies, too. This was the year of "The Graduate." Many of us could relate to the main character.
One movie that came out in 1967 was "I am Curious Yellow." This was a film that had been banned in Massachusetts at the time. It was pretty controversial and so I wanted to see it. I was only 16 at the time, though, so I had to have someone over 18 to take me. My Mom agreed to take me to this movie which turned out to be a little awkward and embarrassing when I realized how sexually graphic it was. It seemed pretty hard core at the time to my naive, innocent eyes, but compared to today's standards, it would probably be considered soft porn. Regardless, it was not the best film for a 16 year old to see with their mother!!!