Chapter Twenty-Two (Haight Street)
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Wanda and Thulin getting married and going to be having a baby, just like that, easy as pie, got me to thinking that that was what I wanted to do, that was what I wanted Ginny and me to do. I wanted us just to get married and live happily ever after. How hard could it be? If Thulin and Wanda could do it, why couldn’t we? I wanted a kid. I wanted a house. I wanted a family, like my mother and father had a family. Ginny didn’t want to do that. She wanted to be a muse. I went up to Oregon. She sent me this letter:
“I am longing for unrest. My long subjugated, patronized, condescended-to, sneered-at romanticism is now crying, ‘Let me live!’ It’s also sneering back at me for cowardice, jeering at me for finding mundanity, peaceful acceptance as the cure for internal turmoil. I want to be dishonest! I want to be deceived…skillfully. I want you to become romantic and write books and love and hate passionately. Let’s fall in love and eat fire and have martinis out for dinner. Enough of all this realism and psychological health — I call for the demonic elements — tragedy, yearning, unrest, ecstasies, suffering. Wisdom’s a bore, contentment a drag. Boy, I’m glad God stays so neat all the time — and doesn’t ever get boring. He’s so exciting, and it’s safe to love Him too! I’m so glad you’re gone. I can be so much closer to you. You can’t armor me off. OH GOSH — I just REALIZED SOMETHING. YOW! About you! About me! (I don’t want to talk about it now.) I know what. We can have a week for passion, yearning, romance, ect. — and one for serenity, calm acceptance and wisdom. They’ve just got to co-exist some way — and be pure too!!”
I went back down to San Francisco in time for the Christmas of 1966 — and we made it through another season of drunk, schizo insanity. She didn’t get locked up in a psycho ward, but she got locked up in plenty of other places. A bartender wouldn’t let her out of a bar on Haight Street after it closed. She called me. I went down there. They were listening to Chubby Checker on the jukebox. She was doing “The Twist.” I banged on the door. Cops came. The bartender let her out. We went home.
The same sort of thing happened at the Straight Theater, not long after it opened again. This time it was some rock group. I got a whispery phone call. They had her trapped. They wouldn’t let her go. I got up and got dressed and walked down in the drizzly fog and wind and made a fuss. Some of the guys in another band found her, and Ginny and I went home. Guys were always kidnapping her when she was drunk. They wanted to keep her for themselves, I guess. The same thing happened at an art gallery, at a gas station on Van Ness and at the Seven-Eleven in Noe Valley. She wasn’t just crying wolf, no; she got herself into scrapes, no doubt about it, big scrapes and little scrapes alike. Some of them I managed to get her out of; some of them I didn’t manage to get her out of.
Her Christmas troubles took their toll. I had been being torn up over the years into little pieces like Osiris and was being fed to the fishes in the Nile — she was eating my flesh like communion wafers; she was drinking my blood. After the worst of it was over, I went up to Oregon to recuperate again. When I went back down to San Francisco, she had messed with a bunch of guys while I’d been gone. I was getting used to it but it wasn’t exactly the sort of thing you want to get used to.
Toward the end of March of 1967, I rented a room in a huge hippie crash pad in the Lower Haight, on the northwest corner of Haight and Pierce, and messed with a fair number of chicks myself. It was sort of slick being a hippie for a while. There must have been fifty or sixty people coming in and out on any given day. I don’t think anyone besides me was paying any rent and I wasn’t paying much. “Morning Dew” and “Little Schoolgirl” played nonstop on about five different record players night and day — and chicks…whoa…I felt like Thulin. There were big, young, blustery blondes up from Santa Barbara with sand in their underpants from sleeping on beaches and frail, fawnlike, doe-eyed chicks out from Boston and droll chicks from Mississippi with lilts in their voices and twangy chicks from Missouri — every kind of chick you can think of — Saskatchewan, you name it.
That was where I was living when I took a bus down to meet my mother at the airport. She had a layover in San Francisco on her way back from visiting my grandmother, who was dying on and off, back in Michigan. The Grateful Dead were at one of the gates. I introduced them. My mother nodded her head and smiled her motherly smile and asked, “How many of you boys are there in your band?”
Jerry Garcia spread his hand open, the hand with only three fingers, and said, “Five, five, an even five.”
“Your mothers must be proud of you,” my mother said.
On the bus back up to the city, I sat next to a girl who was running away from home. She said she had just turned sixteen, but that might have been a lie. We spent a couple of days together in my room at the hippie crash pad. She was Italian. We came up with a whole new identity for her in case her parents had the cops looking for her. The name we settled on was Zita Silvano and we made it up that she had come out here from Bradford, Pennsylvania. She might have kept the name, for all I know. When her kids open up bank accounts they may use Silvano as their mother’s maiden name.
I wasn’t cut out to be the kind of hippie that was showing up in the Haight by then. It was fun to fuck a bunch of different chicks, sure, but the whole hippie thing was over by 1966. A few minds got blown on acid. That was it. The culture was ripe. It had nothing to do with the war or civil rights or free speech. All that riding around in flower-power VW busses was the commercialization of the experience. The music, long hair, beads, dope, bare feet, brown rice, free love, Mr. Natural, psychedelic art, Timothy Leary turning and tuning and dropping, Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid hogwash, Cassady tooling Kesey’s Merry Pranksters around in their funky bus — all that was nothing but advertising by people who’d already taken acid to get other people to take acid, and by then the advertising was getting mistaken for the only thing that really went on. A few minds got blown on acid. That was it.
After a few weeks in the Lower Haight, I moved back into the apartment on Shrader Street and Ginny and I lived happily ever after again for another summer.
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Elliot came back into the picture sometime in May of 1967. He’d recovered from most of the short-term effects of his father having blown his head half-off. He was going to school at the Art Institute and teaching a class in airbrush technique. He had a girlfriend, too — a cute little Korean chick with nice tits, extra slanty eyes, one of those Asian overbites and vestiges of some difficulty with the English language.
Ginny and I ran into them on Haight Street a couple of times — the first time we were in the middle of the block, between Ashbury and Clayton. Ginny and Elliot were sheepish with each other. I kind of liked the cute little Korean chick myself. She was noticeably not wearing a bra and didn’t seem to mind me looking down the front of her loose fitting paisley shirt. She seemed to sort of like it, in fact.
The cute little Korean chick kept trying to squeeze Elliot’s Zippo out from the tight pocket of his jeans. He kept moving away, like he was embarrassed by her familiarity and obvious affection. That was all that happened. We went our separate ways. The next time we ran into them at the Drogstore Café.
When I first came up to the house on Clayton Street to rescue Ginny Good from Jim Moss, there was a drug store on the corner of Haight and Masonic. By the spring of 1967 it had become a restaurant, which for some arcane legal reason, could not be called the Drugstore Café, so the owners named it the Drogstore Café.
Ginny and I were sitting on a couple stools by one of the big picture windows, eating big dripping hamburgers and hot skinny French fries out of yellow plastic baskets — with squirts of ketchup from a red plastic container on the side. Well, my ketchup was on the side. I always squirted a mound of ketchup onto the side and dipped my French fries into it. Ginny squirted her ketchup like so many marks of Zorro all over her French fries. I put extra salt and pepper on mine. She didn’t. She liked onions on her hamburgers. I didn’t. We had separate likes and dislikes. We went around and around. I don’t know how we lasted as long as we did.
Elliot and the cute little Korean chick shuffled up behind us. What the hell was her name? Kim? Chee? Ting? Tang? Bing? Bang? I can’t remember. She was sure cute, though — ripped up Levi’s, a boy’s white button-down dress shirt tied into a knot above her tiny waist, flat brown skinny stomach and a little slit of a belly button I wanted to lean over and stick my tongue into — and she still wasn’t wearing a bra. This time there were big gaps between the buttons of her shirt. She had on a man’s tie sort of half-tied and half-untied. It might have been one of the Roos-Atkins ties from Elliot’s closet. She said she was a performance artist — like Yoko, she said.
The only concession Elliot had made to the fashion trends of the times was that he had a small jade rooster on a leather thong around his neck. Other than that he might have been shuffling down a hallway at Hillsdale High in his maroon and black striped shirt and dusty Wellington Boots.
Ginny and the Korean chick cocked their heads, squinted their eyes at each other, and said, “Hi.”
She and Elliot pulled up a couple of stools and sat between us, looking out the window. Nobody said anything for a while. Elliot took a couple of my fries. The Korean chick eyed Ginny’s fries but didn’t try to take any. Ginny and Elliot never quite looked at each other. They almost did, several times, but kept turning away.
Finally, Ginny hit Elliot on the knee with her tiny fist and said, “Gosh. It’s been aaages!”
Elliot was always so sheepish around her, so shy. He twitched his lips into and out of a bunch of little half smiles, looked down and said, “Not that long.”
The Korean chick frowned.
“So what about all this hippie horseshit?” I asked.
“It’s a groove, man. I dig it,” the Korean chick said.
“I think it’s not going to last more than another couple months,” Elliot said. “I think people are going to put a stop to it. I think there are going to be troop transport trucks in the streets, firing tear gas canisters into crowds of so-called hippies. Walter Cronkite will give it ten minutes on the news.”
“Who’s it hurting?” the Korean chick asked.
“Our brave young soldiers, fighting in Vietnam.” He narrowed his eyes. “Our way of life, the Constitution of the United States, the fabric of society.”
“Do you really think that?” Ginny asked.
“No, but people don’t pay much attention to what I think.”
“I do.” Ginny looked right into his eyes. “I think you probably know way more about it than any of us.” She laughed then, and said, “Oh, dear,” and covered her mouth with a handful of her hair.
“I think everything’s going to just keep changing and changing and changing, despite what anyone thinks,” I said.
“Like how?” the Korean chick asked.
“Like who the fuck knows, you know?” I shrugged.
“Okay,” Ginny said. “Let’s each say what we would see if we looked out this exact same window in, oh, I don’t know, let’s say thirty years from now.”
“You’d see the same things you’re seeing today,” Elliot said quickly, like he’d already been wondering, himself.
“I think there won’t be a street corner in thirty years,” the Korean chick said in stupid-sounding earnestness. “I think there will be a war. I don’t know who between, but it’s going to be the last war. Humanity will be obliterated.”
“I think the exact opposite,” I said — possibly to give us something to talk about if the Korean chick and I ever ran into each other alone on the street. “I think people will be flying around in little one man helicopters — like the Jetsons. I think there will be plenty of everything for everyone — no police, racism or war. I think it’ll be like looking out at the cover of a Watchtower Magazine. Lions will be lying down with lambs, swords will have been beaten into plowshares.”
“I think Elliot’s more realistic,” Ginny said.
“Than me? Are you nuts?” I said.
“Yes,” she said.
Everyone laughed. That was it. Elliot and the little Korean chick had somewhere to go. They went.
The multimedia version has music by The Grateful Dead, Mozart, Chubby Checker and Procol Harum, but this voice only version ain’t bad all on its own. Watch it and see: