The First Few Friends I Had

First Few Friends Cover005

The Pondering Pig is relieved to announce his long-sought collection of stories about being young in San Francisco during the maelstrom of the early 1960s – is finally done, published and available on Amazon.  Here’s the link:

The First Few Friends I Had

and here’s what I said about it:

Someone asked me who the first hippies were, those unknowns who kicked off the psychedelic era of the 1960s. Were they born-too-late beatniks who arrived at the party after everybody had gone home? Or were they something else? Something new?
I actually knew some of those first freaks. In fact, they were the first few friends I had.
This trip starts in Nineteenth Avenue Park, San Mateo, California, winter of 1958, muddy raw subdivision streets, brine shrimped salt flats stretching to the Bayshore Freeway and beyond to sorrowful tract houses of Norfolk Street. The ground I sprung from.
But we won’t tarry. We’ll hit the road through the vast Sonoran Desert on solitary two-lane highways spring of 1961 to adventures in Mexico, then on to steaming East Village summer to swirling fog over North Beach, broken hearted spring of 1962.
Along the way, we’ll stop at the corner of Seventh and Judah Street in San Francisco’s Inner Sunset to watch a girl named Solveig rush out our door with ‘Ban the Bomb’ placards banging against her shoulder. We’ll scene shift till midnight to watch Peter Weissinger swing over the stair rail into teens crashing our big peacenik party and whomping on them in peacenik joy. We’ll contemplate a ghostly Carmen O’Shaughnessy stride through the archway in badass logger boots, tawny lionhair in long braids, brassy confident smile and my handmade Mexican chaleco.
Snow is falling over Long Island, the first winter rains are pouring into the sewers of Lily Alley, San Francisco. Carmen has jumped off the bus in Barstow, hitched home across the desert and there is not a damn thing I can do about it.
Summer 1964 in the Langley Porter Psychiatric Day Care Center for Mind-Blown Proto-Hippies and Hysterical Teenagers, the passengers are unraveling hidden meanings within Sally Go Round the Roses by the Jaynettes. They hear the Bomb, the war, the police dogs attacking demonstrators, fire hoses of death, J Edgar Hoover vs the Commies, peyote, pot, fear, angst, and – hey everybody, it’s Mashed Potatoes Time.
Look, the sky has gone blue, the golden city beckons. It’s spring again. Let’s stroll down to the North Beach Arts Festival to find my friends. Come on, they want to meet you. The First Few Friends I Had.

It’s been getting great reviews so far – so I hope you have a chance to check it out soon.  PP


On To Santa Barbara, Summer 2008

We touched down at the Oakland, California airport a week ago Wednesday (July 9).  I was curious – has the price of gasoline changed California’s famously maniacal driving habits?  I was here to find out.

Actually, I was here to go to a wedding (see I’m Going To California),  but I was still curious to see how Californians, with their wondrous skewed materialism and idealism all slushed together, were facing peak oil.  The cost of housing has driven folk right out to the outer outer suburbs. Towns that used to be artichoke centers or desert spas are full of new subdivisions and professionals who drive 85 miles to work every morning. That’s the distance between San Francisco and Stockton, once an affordable community for San Francisco wannabes who couldn’t afford to buy there.  Or it was popular until their mortgage balloon payments called the game.

Unemployed writer and ponderer that I am, I can afford to sneer, but I don’t.  We’re all stuck in this shit, one way or the other.

Patrushka and I grabbed BART to downtown San Francisco – where you can rent a car for half the price at the airport, and off we buzzed towards the great Beach Boys California to the south.  Good Vibrations, here we come.

The Eyesore Freeway as far as Gilroy is still crammed with giant SUVs hitting 80 miles an hour on their way to somewhere dead important before it’s too late, leaving the Pondering Pig in his rental Dodge Caliber inhaling their carbon dust.  $4.85 a gallon?  Pigeon feed.  I got lunch with Steve Jobs.  Let’s roll!

There’s next to no clunkers on the road, so maybe the $4.85 a gallon has affected the beatniks, layabouts, and other troublemakers who know how to enjoy the coast, but now that I think about it – there never were many clunkers on the Eyesore – this piece of Highway 101 is in the land of big salaries and young cats with two Mercedes and a Hummer in their three car garages.  OK, there’s still the odd gardener burning oil down the Eyesore on his way to the next job, but that cat’s driving a gas-conscious 60.

Me too.  This rental car has cruise control, we got the time and I want to look around.

Gad, I hate to write this.  But I am sworn to the truth, no matter how much it costs: the California coast in July is just as beautiful, just as near perfect as it ever was, even looking out a Caliber car window.  Oh man, why didn’t I rent that white Mustang convertible instead?  I need the top down to watch the wind tousling my baby’s hair.  As soon as we hit the eucalyptus groves north of Salinas, the years melted away, my hair grew out down over my shoulders, the pounds melted off and I popped a Coca-Cola, the kind with sugar. And Patrushka, my gosh, she looks fab in that bikini next to me, just like she did when I first fell in love with her in the spring of 1969.

Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true
Baby, then there wouldn’t be a single thing we couldn’t do –
We could be married!
And then we’d be happy!
Wouldn’t it be nice?

We stopped for lunch in Pismo Beach.  Is this guy still selling these things?

You know what?  I sat down to write a nice self-righteous diatribe against people still living a sybarite lifestyle with the apocalypse nearly upon us – but damn it, this is California and the myth is just too big to see over. I’m getting those good vibrations!  I can’t raise up the required sourpuss-ness.

Say, isn’t that the curve where James Dean bought it in his Porsche Spyder one  afternoon in 1955?  And isn’t that Dead Man’s Curve, that place you won’t come back from?  And look, isn’t that where that guy in the black denim trousers and motorcycle boots and a black leather jacket with an eagle on the back bought it on the railroad tracks?  And, my gosh, that’s exactly where Brian Wilson’s girl made him come alive, made him want to drive in Don’t Worry, Baby!  Hey Patrushka, stop slathering yourself with Sea ‘N Ski.  Let’s roll!  We got a wedding in Santa Barbara!

How To Write A Novel Set In The 1920s

1) First, get in the mood by watching this terrific video by Aaron 12

2) Now listen to a 1920s pop singer like the fabulous Ruth Etting, (she’s the clam’s garters) or the endearing, sweet and lovable Annette Hanshaw until you start to Get Hot!

Lovable and Sweet by Annette Hanshaw

When the music stops sounding quaint and you’re thinking “Hey, I want to go Leona Wilderson’s house party and dance the Charleston (Charleston?) all night with a red hot hopper!” then you’re getting there. You’re almost ready to write.

3) Memorize stories about how much fun your ancestors had in those glory days. Like here’s my Dad in 1924 with a few intimate friends…

and here he is on the way to a costume ball with his incomparable cousin, the reigning princess of Haight-Ashbury radio…the unforgettable…Miss Margaret Hancock.

Now, when your hot tamale is ridin’ the trolley, when your goose is on the loose, your cherry smashes have strawberry rashes and your cuddling cutie’s shouting Rootie Kazootie, start typing! You can’t miss.

Spring Is Here At Last

Ah, spring! Our daffodils are daffy in the door yard. Our crocuses are croaking. The tulips are…what? And there’s not a cloud in the sky, except for that little cloud there.

I feel like wandering lonely as that one today until I spy a field of daffodils, don’t you? We could go together. We could be lonely as two clouds.

We could pack a lunch. A loaf of bread, a jug of wine…but then I’ll be dozing in the daffodils while you frolic in the flowers. Make that sasperilly today, bartender.

In honor of this glorious Spokane day (with delightful April showers forecast for this afternoon) I intend to share a well-known little poem with you. It’s from a bear of a literary figure, but don’t worry. It’s not Wordsworth.

How sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the Blue!

Every little cloud

Always sings aloud.

“How sweet to be a Cloud
Floating in the Blue!”
It makes him very proud
To be a little cloud.

You’ll be interested to know that lovely set of verses comes from the twenty-ninth best selling children’s book of all time. The biggest-selling children’s book of all time is, of course, The Pokey Little Puppy.

Jinx The Cat Shows Up

This won’t make any sense if you haven’t read the comments on yesterday’s post. So do that first. I’m just going to break character here for a minute before we get back to the Busy Little Hen, who has no business signing my checks.

When fictional characters start arriving at the Pigsty and making themselves comfortable and getting their muddy paws all over my nice clean floor – well, I feel like we have turned the corner into a new and higher reality.

It’s like when I was a little kid. I was seriously ill for a long time and had to stay in bed. This was when radio was declining but not fallen yet. Sunday afternoons were my favorites. I could turn on the Jack Benny show and laugh for half an hour straight. Laughter was great! I felt so much better!

The show always took place at Jack’s house in Beverly Hills where he lived with Rochester, his chauffeur, and a lady he wasn’t married to. I was never quite sure about their relationship except they were friends. Anyway, the day’s story would be moving along – like maybe Jack had to get his car fixed and he takes it to the cheapest repair shop in town and Rochester says “He’ll fix your car for a dollar ninety-eight? Uh-oh”, when suddenly there’s a knock at the door and Jack says, “Hmmm, who’s this now” and opens the door and with an astonished exclamation he cries out “OZZIE AND HARRIET???!!!” Audience erupts into wild applause. Then Ozzie gets into some comic banter with Jack about his little scamp son Ricky and Harriet sings a number, and pretty soon the door knocks and Jack opens it and, amazingly, it’s “BARBARA STANWYCK???!!!!” and the Queen, who was just walking down to the corner store for some smokes, stops in to trade snappy repartee with Jack and Rochester and Ozzie and Harriet. Like that.

Well, that’s how I felt last night when I was checking the comments on yesterday’s post. Hmmm, Kirstie doesn’t believe I’m a chicken… Belladonna was a fruit tramp once (must remember that for future jokes) and (knock knock knock) hmmm, who’s that? (SFX: opens door) “JINX THE CAAAT???!!!”

The studio audience breaks into wild applause as a genuine fictional character breaks through the bounds of time and space to enter my Beverly Hills pigsty and make some authentically rude Jinx-type remarks and put his muddy paws up on my nice clean furniture.

Who will be next? LONG JOHN SILVER??? John, tell our readers about that time your parrot got trapped in the apple barrel. (SFX: parrot squawking “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”)

This is pretty exciting stuff. For those of you who led a deprived childhood, Jinx the Cat assisted the great Freddy the Pig on adventures through twenty-six of the funniest children’s books ever written.

At least that was my opinion as a boy connoisseur. The trouble with that bed I had to stay in was I kept falling off it from helpless laughter as Freddy and Jinx and Mrs. Wiggins the Cow fought bank robbers and started a newspaper and joined the circus and decided to walk to Florida and foiled Simon The Rat’s gang yet one more time.

I still love to laugh. And to make other people laugh. And I hate and despise mean-spirited humor based on cruelty, putting people down, making somebody else the butt of the joke. So I became a talking pig. Like the paragon of porkers, my noble ancestor, Freddy The Pig.

Thanks, Jinx, for dropping by. You made my day! Give a big hand everybody to that most ferocious of felines, that prince of prowlers, that toughest of tabbys…the great JINX THE CAT!!!

Now can I get back up in my tree?

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A Walk To John Carter of Mars

I’ve always thought the best plan for writing or making a film is to first decide where you’re trying to get to, then strike out for it in the most direct way. That’s the ticket to success. Of course, you need a hook to get people interested. A hook is kind of like an invitation…”Hey, want to come on a walk with me? I’m heading for John Carter of Mars and it’s going to be fun.” Don’t waste a lot of time on exposition and backstory (deciding what to bring and packing it nice and neat) but just get out there and see what happens along the way. It’s a beautiful morning and we’re together and what the heck!

(Careful readers may notice this is not actually the best plan for getting to your destination in the most direct way. Shouldn’t that pig have a GPS unit and compass and maybe a map?)

Truth is, I often don’t much care where we’re going. We’re just out for a walk. Maybe the beach. Maybe the top of the hill. Maybe John Carter of Mars. What I know about John Carter can fit into a thimble with plenty of room left over for extra trail mix in case we get hungry. I don’t see why that should detain us a minute. We’ll find out together as we go along, right? Unless we get sidetracked! (Put in scary music stab here)

So off we go. We’re having a good laugh about silly science fantasy figures of long ago when suddenly there’s a snake pit, and I fall into it!

“Help, Help! I fell in a snake pit! There’s squirmy things down here! I hate this! Yow! Get me out!” So then you have to run a find a ladder and get me out before I have a conniption fit.

Phew! That was close! Fortunately for me, they turned out to be garter snakes.

So we’re walking along again and I happen to mention the first time I ever heard of John Carter of Mars. I was about eleven years old and there was a new Dell comic book for sale at Wincott’s Fountain, the kids’ local hangout and supply center. Dell made the best comics so I bought it and it was this great story about a guy who gets teleported to…YOW! Suddenly we’re both not on Mars but on Balboa Street in 1953 San Francisco and here comes the ‘B’ line streetcar racketing and ricketing down the street outside Wincott’s Fountain and – hey, there’s my brother Gary getting off the streetcar in his blue Air Force uniform and he’s coming home on leave and – wow, he looks so cool, I want to be a soldier when I grow up and the air is as crisp and bright as it can only get at 45th and Balboa on a sunny afternoon in September when you’re a kid and I got a Rocky Road candy bar, chocolate with marshmellow and nuts inside its crinkly red metallic wrapper, and you got an Abba Zabba, dusty nougat with peanut butter inside in a wrapper that looks like a big yellowjacket and we’re going to go climb the ladder and sit on the platform of the big signboard in the vacant lot and eat candy and read comic books and talk about what happened on the Jackie Gleason Show last night and…you’re starting to think “Why did I ever go on a walk with this zany pig?”

Back on the path, we pass some interesting little trails going off into the brush. One says, “Edgar Rice Burroughs and Willa Cather – both nearly the same age. Both lived through the same times and both were passionate about writing – what would they have talked about?”

Then a little further here’s a path that leads to “Is it possible to write a serious modern novel, a work of literature, about a bold, brave hero who must save a beautiful maiden from a wicked villain?” That path looks pretty good. I bet there’s view out there. Then, even crazier, we both suddenly think “would it be possible for such a story to be lived out in reality in our time?”

When we finally get up to the hilltop, there’s that incredible view – our time, our century, our world, that little kid down in the village crying. And no matter how beautiful it is you keep hearing the sound of her crying. And it’s distracting so you start talkng about that. Why does that kid have to cry anyway? Isn’t there something we could do? What if she’s all alone and deserted and there’s tigers? Maybe we should go back down and see…”
And that’s the end of our walk because now we’re on the run. What if it’s too late? I hope not. Let’s go faster!

Ooh, ooh, ooh, what a little blogging can do…

Back in February I posted a little story about my life in the Haight-Ashbury in 1966 and how I didn’t meet Janis Joplin. But actually most of the story focused on my zany, totally original roommate, Melanie Kinkead.

You know, when I’m writing about someone I haven’t seen in a long time, I often give them a similar but different name. I figure they may not WANT people to know how much dope they smoked in 1966 – or whatever makes them worth writing about to me.

But in Melanie’s case it was different. I think somewhere deep in an obscure heart corner I was still worried about her. You know what I mean? I wanted to know she had had come through those times all right, and I was afraid she didn’t, and it was just a little shadow of a doupt emanating from 1967, the last time I saw her.

Do you ever feel that way about friends you have lost touch with?

Well, I do – so I used Melanie’s real name in the story, just in case someone saw it and took the time to write in.

Monday someone did – and sent the link to Melanie – and folks, here she is right now – my honored Pigsty guest – the one and only Miss Melanie Kinkead, blithe spirit of the Haight when it was the happening place to be. My dear, strange but delightful friend. Here’s a link to the Janis story if you want to check out her comment.

Counting on my trotters, I think it has been thirty-nine years since I’ve said Hi to her. Melanie has a shop on Ebay, and if you would like to experience the company of a delightfully unreconstructed original hippie selling exactly the same things that made unreconstructed original hippie girls gaga, I recommend her site to you.

Here’s the link to: Dolphinarts. Just her charming prose product descriptions are worth the (free) price of admission. Buy her stuff. It’s not that easy to find a genuine 1950s Elmer the Cow Bar-B-Q apron any more.

I am just so thrilled I have to share this. Solveig, you’re next!

PS: I guess that headline is a little obscure. It’s from a Billie Holiday song where she discovers the joy of blogging. True! I’m listening to it right now!
PPS: The pic is by Gene Anthony and he retains all rights, okay?