At the coffeehouse I had been dating Glen’s middle son Peter, a big redheaded boy who drove a motorcycle.
We rode around town a lot together. But there was another Peter, a dark haired young poet who inadvertently played a role in a major change in my life. He was a mild mannered and sweet young man with romantic good looks. He had heard that Lyndia and I had driven one weekend all the way to San Francisco and back.
He made me an offer – if I would go with him to San Francisco in my car, he would pay for the gas. He explained that he had friends up there he wanted to see who lived in a commune. He told me he would introduce me to them.
They were friendly and we could stay there for a few days. It was summer after my fIrst year of college and that year of college had gone badly. I was ready for a trip and this sounded good. I was still living with my parents, and was 18. I doubt I discussed this trip with them. Peter and I started up to San Francisco on a Saturday.
This fun trip, this lark was to be decisive in my life. When we arrived, Peter introduced me to the people in the commune, who knew George The Beast in North Beach, who knew people in New York, who came to visit George, who took me to New York, who introduced me to Hubert Huncke, the writer in the East Side, but I’m getting ahead of myself ….
The commune was in an upstairs flat, in an old brown wooden building on the comer of Webster and O’Farrell, just one block from the Black district of San Francisco – the Fillmore district. The flat was over a Chinese laundry and grocery, and was very large, stretching the entire length of the building, and had seven or eight rooms. Most of the rooms were devoid of furniture, with brown, worn wooden floors and plain aged plaster walls. There was a desk and cabinet in the bay window on the north end of the flat, where an old boyfriend photographer from high school took a photo of me, which I still have.
Peter introduced me to Carol and Hal, who were the heads of the commune. They paid rent somehow, for all the rest of the helpless characters there. They were actually very retiring, and stayed somewhat in the background, but the day I arrived they greeted me very warmly and a few days later,invited me to move into the commune. I accepted and never returned to my family home.
Hal and Carol were in their mid 20’s – Carol had long light brown hair and a softly rounded face somewhere between pretty and plain – she tended to wear long peasant skirts. Hal was handsome and well built, a muscle builder by profession. I believe that’s how they made their living, promoting and instructing the isometrics method of building muscle without weight lifting, by a kind of natural resistance – flexing.
The other members of the commune were Rick, with his adorable good looks and curly blond hair, Tom, a cartoonist, homely and funny, with a hooked nose and short dark hair. There was Patti, only 16, who escaped an alcoholic mother by marrying Dennis, a slight and frail poet. Dennis handed me a poem of his called “Autumn Clock” hand written in elegant script, framed.
The word “beatnik” was still being used, but we were actually a younger generation. In the mid-sixties, we were actually the fIrst hippies. The whole point of the 60’s was a rebellion against the “Establishment” – and all it required. We refused the college education and dropped out – the dull corporate jobs for men, the well-ironed frock of the housewife – the over-cleaned house and the rigid 50’s fashions: we dumped all of it. The Beatnik uniform was still the black turtleneck sweater, faded jeans, and sandals. The sandals of choice were hand made Greek style, which consisted of a cutout leather bottom, with long thongs tying criss-cross up the ankles and calves. We picked up heaps of discarded clothing and piled them up in the bedrooms. On some days we would pick out outrageous outfIts of mismatched Bermuda shorts, bright shirts, trailing scarves, bandanas and so on, and go parading up the streets of San Francisco, six or seven of us. The tourists and residents would goggle at us, whispering “look, Beatniks”! We got such a kick out of it. Sometimes we would see another crazy troupe walking up the opposite side of the street, and we would say, “It’s the Walnut Street Commune!” or whatever, and wave like crazy. We had all come from middle class and upper middle class homes where cleanliness is stressed. But in our commune, the rules were broken. We rebelled. The bathtub was used as a storage bin. Nothing was ever cleaned or washed. Tom, the resident cartoonist, never washed his feet, which as a result had turned black. This was his joke on the world.