This paper was presented as part of the 2022 Conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, as part of the reading "Writing Resilience: A Reading by Neurodiverse Writers," organized by Larissa Shmailo.
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder. Bob Dylan.
Someone took over a five-story hotel in the Filmore/Bush district of San Francisco and started renting cheap rooms to hippies. They named it, cutely, “The Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Girls (and boys also).” Over a hundred old hotel rooms all rented to folks in the scene. Sort of glorious/sordid.
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
My son and I stayed in the front desk area, behind the counter where guests once checked in. It was boarded up to enclose the space. An office, just behind, made it a two-room suite. A door in the back opened to the opposite hallway. The boy slept in a bookcase laid flat, with the shelves removed. A crib mattress finished it off comfortably. I called it a boat-bed so the child would like it.
These were our digs in the center of this weird place.
The child is Michael-Peter, sometimes Misha-Pisha, or even Pickle-Meter and referenced in writing as M-P. Born in my teens, his dad was a boy I hardly knew, conceived the very year birth control pills hit the market. One unexpected but highly fertile coupling brought forth a child.
…Livin' it up
Sunday afternoon at the hotel. This guy drives his motorcycle up a makeshift wooden ramp into the lobby – a large, empty, L-shaped space. Sundays were as dull there as anywhere and I can still hear the roar of this Harley breaking the peace. We residents were all smiles, all “cool man” over this grand entrance. Nobody asked why. Almost everything was groovy.
Old New York
Charlie had left me in New York after taking up with a poet. We were all at dinner one night and she must have looked good to him. When returning from a trip, I discovered her framed 8 x 10 photo in his underwear drawer. This new thing moved fast. He showed me the poem she wrote summing up the situation. Roughly, “Our hero wipes sweat from beaded brow, as he jumps from bed to bed, from unwed mother to unwed wife.” And wife, she would be. More of a match, likely.
To me Charlie was the golden one. Our run at life had been amazing – but it was reaching the end. We stopped believing. I could feel it.
This – San Francisco - was where I ended up. I got myself a new boyfriend. Donny. Tall, nicely built, impressing with a memorably large member.
Such a lovely place
Donny was a child in his enthusiasm for LSD mysticism. On the roof of that hotel one night, tripping on acid, he tells me, “I was standing like this. I was an ancient chief…I called out, challenging the storm and… the clouds obeyed me!”
Not thinking for a minute that he might have been hallucinating on the stuff. No, Donny controls the clouds and I said, “Groovy.”
He was nice, cheerful. We started to call him Daddy Donny. Once while Donny slept, I decorated his appendage with psychedelic designs. Used a black Sharpee. On waking, he liked it. Donny was like that.
The drugs of this scene were pot, acid, and speed. One very young pot dealer chalked his prices on the curbside wall of the hotel. That’s how free we felt.
On the pavement thinking about the government
I was having trouble with pot first in Seattle with some heavy paranoia and then, this, back in San Francisco: We were walking on the sidewalk back to the hotel. Summer, daytime. I am not sure where we took the hits, but approaching the corner, my eyes went blind. Truly blinded on my feet. Not black, but white, a whiteout. I was not afraid or panicked, I just reached for my companion to say, “I can’t see.” I stood there. A minute passed. Then, slowly, my vision returned.
No more pot. Nada. Not good for me.
When seated with others and a joint comes around, I’d say, “No, I’m drinking wine. I don’t mix my trips.” You had to be careful. It is sort of a test. If you pass up a joint, you look like a narc.
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Here’s the thing. I wanted a boyfriend to replace the one I lost to the slender, dark-haired poet. Charlie had been a good choice – impressive to friends and parents. Exeter, Harvard and Columbia. Charlie was a National Merit Scholar. Donny, the well-endowed day-tripper would not do.
Charlie was hard to lose. Our relationship had depth, developed over months of daily letters. This is what I did during my junior year of high school: I wrote to Charlie at Harvard; Adams Hall. He responded with adoring words and invitations toward the radical, as in Paul Krasner and The Realist and EF Stone’s rag. He sent me a burgundy sweatshirt with Harvard’s Veritas emblem.
Bothell High School, a fighting Cougar, 17 years old – but I took to all of this right away. Got me reading Lawrence Durrell’s, The Alexandria Quartet, and Norman Mailer.
I was in high school messing around with somebody else and I’d be pregnant before Charlie met me in person. That didn’t matter to him, he dropped out of Harvard and joined me in Seattle. He stood by me in the birthing room, as I bore down to deliver the baby. But he left me in New York, and I was now in San Francisco getting over him. We were broke all the time. Michael-Peter and I needed somebody reliable. Plus maybe a job?
But here’s the thing. We lived in the moment. Therefore, I had no goals. Goals leave the moment for the future. I was getting tired of the present moment. Like Janice Joplin said, roughly, “It’s all the same damn day.” I was seeing cracks in the edifice of cool.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget
As noted, I needed money, so I started go-go dancing in North Beach. I was hired the moment I walked in. I asked, “Don’t you want to see me dance?”
The guy said “You breathe, don’t you?”
This slick world of bars and dancers was not the hippie world. In one place, girls costumed in feathers danced inside birdcages suspended near the ceiling.
I danced topless in one place for a couple nights. The naked vibe was different from the art modeling, I’d done in New York.
Ya’ know, people don’t grasp this anymore, but the hippy world held a lot of integrity. Consider, should a person wake a sleeping man to feed him. Which was the better choice? This was discussed, sides taken. “Let him sleep,” I said. Keep the food warm.
The scene was changing, too. We spent less time opposing the Asian war and more time sauntering around Panhandle Park, tripping out in costumes. But then we were the Beautiful People – for a while longer.
This could be Heaven…
I was reaching the end of my buy-in to all this groovy stuff when some people came around describing a bloody wreck they saw high on Acid.
“It was amazing. Everyone was killed. It was so transcendent. Beautiful!”
Well, I do get that at a certain level death means nothing. But that’s not where we live.
Met this sweet guy about to take off cross-country with his girlfriend. They had a cool bike for the long ride. He called himself, Superspade. I waved them off.
Days later someone said, “Do you remember that guy, Superspade? Yeah, I remembered. “They killed him. Drug deal gone wrong.” Said something about a cliff.
Not good. Not my scene. I was done. I wasn’t gonna ride that pony down.
The second night, that I was dancing topless, they had me try a bikini bottom made of white rabbit fur. No top needed. I danced on a raised platform near a far wall. Customers settled down to drinks and dinner; topless dancers on platforms were set among them, the flashiest in the center of the room.
I was uneasy viewing a world I knew nothing of. I was just 21 and had never been a customer in a bar… and, here, I was the entertainment.
Later, in the dressing room, when I took off that white rabbit skin bikini bottom, it was stained with unexpected menstrual blood. I set it aside and got out of there. I quit.
You can check-out any time you like…
Flights to Seattle were $99 and the boy flew free. Not only that, the new Dylan album was titled, Bringing It All Back Home. I could definitely do that. I would bring the revolution home.
At summer’s end, I was back in Seattle, Washington where every bar was hiring go-go girls. Glorified cocktail waitresses, really. Take orders, deliver, cross the room to climb a one-step stage and dance to a few hits. I got a job back in my hometown northeast of Seattle.
Costumed in a black push-up bra with gold fringe, black fishnet stockings and essentially dancer briefs fringed in gold, I looked great. One photo survives.
Dancing there didn’t carry the menace of San Francisco. My Mom could watch Michael-Peter in the evening and put him to bed. I could watch him in the daytime. Dancing brought good tips - great for a single mom.
I am married to a house carpenter and find him a nice young man
Then, someone I knew from school showed up – a guy I had cared about in the past. That first night, he said he would come back and drive me home when I got off – but he didn’t show until the next day.
He fell asleep the night before. Was sorry. We crammed my Honda motorcycle into the back seat of his car. Fate intervened. We inadvertently broke off the brake lever rendering it undriveable. So, he started driving me to work and back, daily.
Then, Donny showed up. Scared me really; how his appearance crashed disparate worlds together. I told him I was with somebody.
“Good-bye, Donny,” I said, as he boarded the south bound bus. No kiss. Made it final.
You could say I married the boy back home. That’s pretty much what I did. A Valentine wedding. The bride was lovely.
The revolution would be televised.
Poet and essayist Sandra Kleven is the publisher at Cirque Press where Cirque, the journal, is published as well as about 30 other literary titles. Kleven has been published in journals such as Alaska Quarterly Review and Stoneboat and has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She works full time as clinical director for a tribal organization in Alaska. Her work has been collected in Defiance Street: Poems and other Writing. It is available from The Writer's Block and from Kleven, herself.