Tom the cartoonist was the clown of the bunch. He made up an endless improvised poem, The Elf on the Shelf – and a couple of times a week he would surprise us by starting to recite from some ridiculous position, curled up high on a shelf, or on top of a door.
We were a philosophy commune. Once a week Hal and Carol dutifully rounded us all up and marched us off to listen to a philosopher in North Beach, who read to us from Kalil Gibran. Our philosopher had a gray beard and had two wives. He explained to us that he was already married when he fell in love with another woman. Rather than break the heart of his first wife by divorcing her, he simply moved the second woman in. “Well, it’s fme with us,” they said. “We’re all happy.” But I imagined that under the surface it was rather tragic, I thought I could perceive a faint haunted look in the first wife. To miss the weekley visit was to risk the frowns of the otherwise very receding commune leaders. But it was in North Beach I first met George the Beast, who was spoken of in the commune in hushed tones – he was a good friend of Tom’s. George got his name from his loud voice, obstreperous manner and his affection for Aleister Crowley – a writer of somewhat demonic reputation. George was not allowed to come into the commune because he used drugs.
Patti and I stayed behind in North Beach after a session with the philosopher. I could hear George’s loud voice a block away and Patti and I ran down and introduced ourselves to him. George and I hit it off right away and started an animated conversation. I met him every day after that in North Beach, and one day came back to the commune with him, where we were greeted by a stem Carol who informed me that George was not welcome here. If I was friends with him I would have to leave – so I packed up a few pathetic garments and books and moved in with George.
George was only a few years older than me – early twenties – but seemed so much older. He was very tall, 6 foot 4, with a shaggy mane of light brown hair. But for all his fierce reputation he was a quiet spoken at home, intellectual, and sometimes he read all day. He was a bit abrupt and unsentimental but a peaceable and sharing partner – we were definitely flower children. He had been to New York and because of his gregarious nature, intellect and wild man act had been easily accepted by the lower East Village crowd that circulated around Allen Ginsberg. He came back to San Francisco with wild tales of the mysterious magicians, which so intrigued me I eventually went to N.Y. to see for myself.