Continuing the story of a student co-op in San Francisco’s Fillmore District in the years 1962-64.
Loren Means’ Story
I graduated from high school in Yankton, South Dakota in 1961. Although I had worked in a record store after school and weekends for several years, I was never able to save money. My father lost his business that summer, so he was broke too, but adamant that I had to go to college. So I was at a loss as the summer progressed.
One day, as I was coming out of my parents’ garage, I looked across the alley and spotted my lovely young neighbor sunning herself in her back yard. I asked her what she’d been up to. She told me that she’d just returned from California, where people could go to college for free—all you had to do was establish California residency.
So I moved in with relatives in Long Beach for the month of August, then went to register for classes at Long Beach State College, saying that I was a resident. The college said no, as long as my parents were living in South Dakota and I was under 21, I had to pay out-of-state tuition, which l was something like $180 a semester. Somehow my father scraped up that and dorm fees, and I went to Long Beach State for two semesters.
I was amazed at the diversity of creative people I met—actors, painters, jazz musicians, writers, even a filmmaker. And somebody from each of these groups eventually told me that I shouldn’t waste my time in Southern California, that I should move to San Francisco, “the only real city in California.” So I looked up San Francisco State, and found out they had a film major there, a concept that fascinated me.
Among the people I met at Long Beach State were some dorm residents who were members of a Christian fraternity. They were affable fellows, so I went to some parties with them, and at end of the spring semester found out the fraternity was affiliated with a Christian group that was putting together a commune for the summer in—San Francisco.
So I hopped a bus and headed for The City, as San Francisco tends to be called. It turned out the commune was lodged in a fraternity house for students at the nearby University of California Medical Center. It was vacant during the summer. There were about seven people living there, all a bit older than I, and mostly straight, with full-time jobs, except for a guy named Paul Mucci, who was a beatnik. He walked around wearing a torn t-shirt and manifesting a negative disposition. Nobody in the house seemed religious except for the organizers, a Native American couple. The people didn’t relate to each other much, but we did eat communally, with each person cooking in rotation, a real problem when it was my turn. Eventually I was excused from cooking, I was so lame at it.
I got to be friends with one person in the house, a blonde named Carol who worked as an administrator at SF State. One night she came home with a guy she’d met in a bar, a little blonde fellow (anybody smaller than I am is automatically endeared to me) named Buck Moon. I took Carol aside and told her I was surprised that Buck was her type. She said he wasn’t, that she’d brought him home to meet me. Buck wasn’t too happy when he found this out, but he and I hit it off. He was a poet, a painter, and a folk singer. He had just moved to San Francisco from Paso Robles, and was living with his aunt in an apartment building that Dashiell Hammet had lived in.
I took a job at Woolworth’s in Palo Alto, got fired, and accepted my parents’ offer to live with them in Denver, where my father had found a job. I saved some money to go back to San Francisco. Shortly before I did, I got a letter from Carol saying that a guy named John Handy at SF State was asking her out, and was he really the famous jazz musician he claimed he was? I assured her that he was, and encouraged her to marry him if he asked her. I never heard from her again.
I nearly froze to death in one of the worst winters in the Denver’s history. I vowed never to go near snow again and headed back to San Francisco in the spring of 1963. I called Buck’s number when I got to town, and his aunt gave me his new address—857 Divisadero. I went to visit Buck, and found him living in a gloomy, empty rooming house. He offered to let me room with him and split the ridiculously cheap rent $35 a month for a big room on the third floor, with a separate bath down the long hall. He explained to me that the building had been inherited by the current landlord, Big Dave, a redneck. Most of the rooming house’s tenants had died off, but there were still a couple of codgers on the second floor. Buck said Big Dave offered a rent discount if we could bring in other tenants.
Shortly after, I went out to San Francisco State College for an orientation for the Creative Writing program. There I chatted up an attractive blonde. I told her how cheap the rents were, and invited her to move in. She said she wasn’t interested, then the guys sitting on each side of us told me they wanted to move in. One of them was a film major who said he was a professional magician calling himself Willie the Wizard.
NEXT: WILLIE THE WIZARD