Autobiography & Memoir
San Francisco 1975 - Part II
'I left my heart in San Francisco' crooned Tony Bennett. Well I did too. I have never forgotten my exciting two months in North Beach.
It all started when I got it into my head I wanted to stay with an Italian family in North Beach thinking it was the Italian district of the Golden City.
My friend Helga had known a Sicilian girl who had married Mike Spitz, brother of the famous Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, so I wrote to her asking if she could host me. She replied she was in Palermo, Sicily but it was no problem. I could stay in their house in Sunset.
Some months later I arrived by train after staying with my cousin Johnny in San Jose, to be met by the unassuming Mike. I knew in five minutes that he was a bore but with no contacts in the city of my dreams, what could I do? After dinner we went back to the house in a district which is permanently misty and certainly has no sunshine or sunset!
We entered the living room which housed a large dralon maroon coloured sofa. I don't recall much else. I gravitated to the sofa to rest my weary bones after the journey but no, he said I could not sleep on the sofa. I had to share his bed! This was with the permission of his wife? She knew there was only one double bed! I later found out she had, in fact left him, probably because she found him boring too. What to do? Well I got in with him keeping well to my side of the bed. He fell asleep but somehow his arm draped around my shoulder, wishful thinking on his part no doubt! He seemed to bodily edge over to my side in his sleep whilst I was wide awake! Eventually I got up and went to his side of the bed as he had moved into mine! The next morning I demanded a mattress on the floor in the living room. I don't recall whether he gave me the bed and slept on the floor or what. All I knew was that I had to get out of Sunset fast.
Airbnb and Booking.com did not exist. What does a girl do in a hippy laid back city with Flower Power and people who ask you your sexuality gazing into your eyes after two minutes?
Well I headed for Caffe Trieste on Valejo in North Beach for a coffee. i remember I was carrying a smelly brown yak's hair shoulder bag from Istanbul where I had spent New Year because the little girl with her daddy started touching it while I was having my coffee. Her Father was a lawyer called Denis Wishnie and I told him in no uncertain terms that I had to get a bed in North Beach at any cost. After hearing my story he said 'No Problem, just go up Valejo and turn second left until you see a big window with macrame hanging bowls with trailing plants, knock on the door and ask for Pete saying that you are a friend of Denis's. It's a legal office' he explained. 'Do you like dogs?' Why would he ask that I wondered? Off I spend, found the window and knocked apprehensively at the unmarked wooden door. It was lunch time and a lawyer called Bert, stripped to the waist and eating his yoghurt, appeared. I explained. 'Come back at 4.00 to see Pete. Do you like dogs?' The answer was yes as I had grown up with beagle hounds at home in Liverpool. Back I came at 4.00 and met Pete Kennedy, accident claims lawyer!
My first vision of the office was a wooden floor and to the left an immense desk. But there was a huge Labrador seated at the desk called Mama and Baby at the foot of the desk, yet another younger Labrador! 'Do you like dogs?' Was Pete's first question. Not who are you and what are you doing!!! No problem for a bed. He took me down to the enormous basement, the same size as the office above. There was a tiny frosted window onto the street above, pipes that had been painted silver all over the ceiling and walls, a wardrobe and a single bed. I was obviously not the first guest. 'You can move in tomorrow' said Pete. 'No charge'. I couldn't believe my luck. I asked if I could do some legal typing for him as I had been an articled clerk to my father and had typed zillions of legal documents for him. 'We will see, maybe'. It took me another few days to pluck up courage and leave Sunset. By that time I had met the fascinating Photographer and Shaman Roberto Ayala also in Caffe Trieste which had become my hangout. Mike had become possessive wanting to know my movements, what time I would be back and all that jazz. I wanted my freedom and interesting conversations. And so I moved in to Pete's and became part, for a two month while, of the North Beach community with its local characters. I recall the pitter patter of the dogs on the wooden floor above my head almost all day long.
Frankly I don't really remember how I passed my days. I had fallen for Roberto, an older half Indian Soux and half Tarascan Mexican man with dark flowing long hair. I had met him, of course, in Caffe Trieste my local. He was mystical and had been the photographer known as Eugene Anthony working illegally taking the photographs in Mexico with the drugs dealer Jerry Kamastra, author of the book 'Weed'. He gave me the hard back copy. The book was on sale at the famous City Lights Bookshop on Columbus with Beat Era roots. All the famous San Francisco poets had read there. Ginsberg and Ferlingetti. This was another in place to be! Roberto was the first holy man I had met. He was above the desires of the flesh unfortunately for me. I hung on to his every word. A spiritual mentor, guide and into another realm of consciousness. I searched for him recently on the net but could only find Jerry Kamstra on Facebook who would of course know if he was still in the land of the living.
I got friendly with the girl next door who took me to a mediaeval fair with a sheep called Woolamina! We had to dress up as in long dresses and look the era. I remember smoking the inevitable pot and getting the giggles as a joint was passed round the group. I experienced reflexology for the first time and enjoyed having my feet touched.
I got friendly with Pete and Bert's lawyer friend from California called Shackley Raffeto who lived in Hawaii. He had a British wife and had become Europeanised. I was to keep in touch with Shackley all my life and saw him out in Hawaii in 1995. He had become a high court Judge. Now retired and unsure of his identity. I last spoke to him when I called him from New York and received an invitation to stay and chill out with him half way up a mountain two years ago!
One of my fond memories was a Sunday morning at The Glide Memorial Church which originally had opened in 1931 and was renowned for its Gospel choir. We all stood up at the end of the service holding hands and singing before going down to the crypt for refreshments. The guest of honour that Sunday was the retired Chief Rabbi of Toronto who wore a black French wool beret cocked to one side like a true Frenchman. He carried a cane given to him by Ho Chi Minh and spoke on stage of their meeting. He claimed to have recorded songs with John Lennon. I met him in the Crypt after and he confessed he was lonely as his wife had recently died. We spent several afternoons together walking and talking. I forget his name but not his face.
Two months went by in a flash. Helga joined me. I recall infamous Linda Lovelace's Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones had just been released. A breakthrough in soft pornography. We saw the double bill at a downtown cinema and giggled throughout.
I recall meeting Ron Pendorf from Berkeley who took me under his wing and showed me round the University town ending up at The famous Buttercup cafe. He had lost an arm in a motorbike accident, wore leather at all times and owned a successful record store but was a bitter man.
Then I experienced Werner Erhard's EST at the Jack Tar hotel in two unforgettable life changing weekends. The guarantee - to change your life in 60 hours. A breakthrough for me as the Californian influence of EST, Fritz Pearl's Gestalt Therapy, Rolfing, Grinder and Bandler's NLP were known to very few mortals back in the UK. When I came back to London, after a further six months in Mexico, I knew I did not 'fit in' to the English way of life. I realised that I had never smiled warmly at people, never shown affection stemming from the realisation that my silent parents had never said they loved me. Never before had I lay back on the floor visualising being by water or being somewhere exotic, hugging strangers and being tactile. This was normal in San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Big Sur.
I crossed the Frisco bridge of discovery. I was in Nowness and I enjoyed it. I feasted on Victorian colourful architecture. I saw the steep hills that were depicted in the famous car chase in Steve McQueen's famous movie 'Bullet'.
I could hear Tony Bennett singing those immortal words.
'I left my heart in San Francisco'.
And I did!
Written August 2015 and broadcast on Your Voice Matters - Brighton and Hove Community Radio.
I hardly recognised my old friend Shackley on YouTube when I researched him a year later. I saw a distinguished white haired stranger with reference to him being a Commander in the US Navy (reserve). Yes, I recall a wonderful photo he sent me in full regalia wearing a white uniform looking very commanding. Lost forever.
Next two videos, one with the title 'Rule of Law Exchange with China'.
The other with Ganzorig Gombosuren on video.
In the two years since our telephone call he's made it outside Hawaii internationally. I recall his words that he would never travel anywhere other than Dresden and Paris unless he was invited.
Updated June 2016, Brighton.