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

Advertisements

Philippa Pearce or How I Became A Talking Pig

OR
Revenge of The Spotted Gypsy King

I’ve always thought Victorians had the best names for their novels, don’t you?  Why have only one name for a story, when you can have two or three or however many you like.  A reader might think, hmm, Philippa Pearce, probably about a poor but noble nurse who has to go to the North to care  for a rich mine owner with gout and she marries him at the end and gets rich as pigs.  Not my cuppa tea…WAIT, Or How I Became A Talking Pig. Now, that’s more like it!  I’ll have a go.

So our reader opens to the first page.

"I have not always been as I am today. (the author begins) Once I was a man like any other.  Well, not just like any other.  Actually, just like any other chubby fellow with long floppy ears.”

Well, this sounds promising, thinks our prospective reader, but where’s the part about Nurse Pearce and her noble mission to help shell-shocked soldiers recover their sexual appetites?"

So that’s where the Spotted Gypsy King, comes in, see? He’s been in the War and he’s come out all in spots.

Oh, maybe I’d just better start over.

I really did start out as a normal, although strange, kid.  There was nothing piggish bout me.  I flew my balsa wood glider into the telephone lines just like any other all-American boy.  But, when I was seven, I got rheumatic fever and it messed my aortic heart valve so bad that, by the time I was in my thirties, I needed heart surgery to replace my leaky valve with a…proper pig valve! This was not merely a name.  This was the valve from the heart of a living, breathing, dreaming, pondering pig.  Soon I began to have thoughts of becoming a detective.  I found myself craving Freddy The Pig stories. Worse yet, I discovered The Adventures of Pigling Bland and realized if I could only get to England I would find a world with talking pigs like me wearing proper coats and no pants.  I could rescue a pretty pig girl from an evil farmer like Pigling Bland did and then I’d be happy forever like they were.

Oh, you’ll never believe this.  Maybe I should start over.

Pigling Bland

Scratch the part about turning into a pig.  I was still an ordinary guy; I just had a pig valve where you have a human heart valve. I wasn’t turning bionic, but something else.

OK, the years roll by. My power trio, The Three Pigs, has made it to the top.  Then, one night it happens, my regular, not-bionic pig valve starts to leak.  I go into heart failure.  We’re putting the final touches on our debut album, The Revenge of The Spotty Gypsy King and I can’t finish the mix.  I’m in the hospital fighting for my life while the hard-hearted record executives gnash their teeth and throw out the master.  The surgeons replace my leaky valve with a new improved pig valve they found at the Saturday market, but this one, unbeknownst to them, is not a regular pig valve, it’s a magical pig valve.  It lets me see things that aren’t really there.

OK? Got it so far?  Now listen up.  This is where Philippa Pearce comes in.  One night after I get out of intensive care, I’m lying in my hospital bed and looking out the plate glass window at the owl flitting across the moon like you see sometimes when you’re loaded up on Percodan.  I’m wondering when that pretty night nurse will come in for my back rub when suddenly I see a vision!

Laugh if you want to.  Mock me. But I must tell what I have seen no matter how late you’ll be for the wedding.

I saw a late afternoon in midwinter.  The canal before my eyes was frozen solid.  Trees and withered sedge stood petrified by the frost. A grey leaden sky spread its headache light.  Then a young woman and a boy skated into view, down the canal right past me and skated on until they disappeared in the distance.  They had said no word.  They knew not I was there.  The boy was wearing pajamas.

Aficionados of English children’s books will recognize this as a scene from Philippa Pearce’s 1958 novel, Tom’s Midnight Garden.  But, at that time I had never read or even heard of Tom’s Midnight Garden.  When the book first came out, I was sixteen.  I was planning on becoming Elvis Presley or James Dean, not reading children’s books.

Tom's Midnight Garden XXIII

So, one night two or three years later, I pick up my daughter’s copy of Tom’s Midnight Garden and I’m leafing through it.  I think, hmm, time travel.  I love time travel.  I think I’ll just glance through this.  So I’m sitting in the living room by the fire reading and loving this book when I come across the scene.  The pajamas, the skates, the ice, Tom’s little girl friend who has grown into a young woman while he has remained a little boy.  The leaden wintry sky.  The sense of endings and forlorn emptiness inside.  The whole deal.

All joking aside, folks, this is the strangest damn thing that has ever happened to me.  No author has, or could ever, affect me like Philippa Pearce did.  I must have a connection with her that goes far beyond books, that’s all I can think.  I found out today she died three years ago.  Which is why I wrote this post.

Glamorpusses of the Haight #4: Linda Lovely

Photos of the 1966 era Linda Lovely are few and hard to come by. But, I found this rare snapshot  taken at my sister’s house, Thanksgiving Day of that year.  In my obsessive quest to display the babes of the Haight-Ashbury, how can I ignore Linda Cartwright Newton, my main sixties squeeze, mother of my first child and bane of my life? Of course, should you ask her about our stormy marriage, she might argue I was the bane of her life. You never know.  Women are so perverse!

Linda and I spent more time apart than together in those crazy years, which is why she so rarely intrudes into these calm and serene recollections.  But, in the day, it was not so.

You must admit, she is an authentic glamor puss.  Linda has dressed conservatively for this family occasion.  And why shouldn’t she?  Look at my father, to her right – he’s comfortable wearing a business suit and a dress shirt tightly buttoned at the collar.  Yet his only plan for the day is to relax at his daughter’s house, trade comic insults with his son-in-law’s father, drink martinis and eat turkey.

The Pig, of course, shows no such social inhibitions.   Just out of camera range  he is clowning for the children in velvets, lace and cherry-red wax lips.

Detectives, if you look closely at Linda’s ensemble, you will notice that telltale sign of sin and debauchery in the Haight-Ashbury: beads! Hand-strung beads! They’re always a giveaway, fellow detectives. They can hide their drugs, but they can never hide their beads. It’s in their genetic code!

(For those who complain I never display the sixties beauty of my glorious Russian princess bride Patrushka…good things come to those who wait, ok?)

You wanna hear something strange?  Today, forty years after that tempestuous age, Linda Lovely and Patrushka are the best of friends.  I have nowhere to hide!  I ask you, is this right?

Crybaby’s Birthday Party

One Saturday in 1950, our boss, the shadowy figure known only as ‘Crybaby’, called a meeting of the 47th and Balboa Gang. He disguised it as a simple birthday party.

That’s Crybaby sitting at the head of the table.  You’d think he was throwing a tantrum but he’s just gnashing his teeth.  He always did that after he ate some of Ma Crybaby’s special angel food cake.  His true fiendishness would come out.  Pretty soon it would be, “Bring me the head of Jerry Garcia!”  And then we’d have to do it.   It would take all day,  we’d have to take the streetcar all the way out to the Crocker-Amazon and try to find Jerry and then I’d have to think up some way to get him to give us his head.   And we still had to be home by six o’clock or we’d catch heck! That’s back when Ma Crybaby was experimenting with special recipes.

This is Jimmy Walker, cigarillo dangling from his lips.  ‘Jimmy Coolguy’ we called him.  He’s stoned out of his mind as usual, digging those happening Happy Birthday sounds.  When we were little kids, we were sex fiends together.  Now we were tough gangsters.  Funny how things work out.  If only we hadn’t played doctor with that little girl up the corner that afternoon everything might be different today.  You wouldn’t know it to look at Jimmy, but he’s a dead hand with a BB gun.  A good man to have by your side when the Anza Street Gang shows up.

This sad-looking kid is Gus, Kenny the Pest’s bodyguard.  His one role in life is to stop us from killing Kenny.  It wasn’t much fun cause he didn’t like his little brother either.  Gus wishes he was anywhere else but he doesn’t have anywhere to go because no one wants to be friends with anybody related to Kenny The Pest.

 

This kid with the dopey expression is Kenny.  Kenny was four and so annoying!  We never could ditch him no matter how hard we tried.  We tried to sell him to our allies, the 44th and Balboa Gang, but even they wouldn’t take him.

There we’d be, out fighting our war against civilized society and everything decent, about to crack the ice cream cooler at the Pacific View Market when Larry the owner wasn’t looking when suddenly Kenny would walk in.

“Hi everybody, whatcha doing?  Can I watch?”

“Getoutta here Kenny before we beat you up!”

“Is that ice cream? I want some!”

“Go away! Can’t you see we’re about to pull a job?”

“Huh?”

He’d just look at you with that dopey expression like in the picture.  Wherever we went – there he was, sneaking and sniveling behind us.  How could you commit cool crimes with a four year old always pestering you?  It was so hard being a big kid!  Finally his mother got worried we’d bump him off and told Gus he had to go to the party with Kenny. So all Crybaby’s plans to lure Kenny were for naught.  No wonder he was gnashing his teeth.

Next to Kenny – here’s Chris, the Pestiferous Pig, the demented brains of the gang.  He’s the only one who knows what ‘pestiferous’ means, which proves how smart he is.  He’s clearly gone out of his angel cake laced mind in glee at his foolproof but mad scheme to conquer the universe!  Wait’ll he tells Crybaby!  Wait, maybe this is too big for Crybaby!  Maybe I should rule the universe myself!  Heh Heh Heh Heh Heh Heh

Looking like he’s about to be tommy-gunned by the Anza Street Gang, here’s Peter Walters. We called him Peter Pain because of the suffering he could wreak on our enemies simply by painting rude remarks on their neighborhood’s walls when nobody was looking.  Like “The Anza Street Gang Are A Bunch of Fraidy Cats!” Pestiferous had to help with the spelling usually.  Otherwise he might write ‘Friday Cats’, which wouldn’t really bother them that much.

Peter was our warlike and crafty art designer.  However, at the moment, he is stoned out of his gourd and incapable of moving.  That’s how it was at Crybaby’s meetings.  You’d have a great time, but there was always this nagging feeling that next you’d have to hand over your head.  And how would you explain that to your mother?

But I knew a way to stop Crybaby. He’d never guess it was me.  Heh Heh Heh Heh Heh Heh.  Kenny, come over here a minute.  You wanna make an easy nickel?  Go tell Crybaby’s mother Crybaby just said she was stoopid!

Poem About A Dog Walking Around In The Rain

People are always saying pigs can’t write poetry. So, just to prove how wrong they are, here’s one my friend Beatitude Tutman sent me from Mexico. He said I could say it was mine, so I’m not cheating, okay? It’s about a dog walking around in the rain.

Waiting To Walk To Confession

by

The Pondering Pig

Think of the farty smell of boys in line

standing cowed, smallest to tallest

at two o’clock on the second floor in the empty hall.

waiting to walk to Confession.

Oh botheration, that’s not it all.  Where is that silly poem anyway?  Ah…

The Dog Who Trots Around Looking Mighty Pleased With Himself

by

The Pondering Pig

Piney winter nights,

the air is breaking, the barbed wire

strung red up the green road

is creaking.  the dog blows puffs,

he trots the frost

on crystal feet

down curling roads,

through raindust moons,

to the shiny house.

That first was one was by Beatritude Tutman.  The second one’s by me.

I would never ask someone to think about farty smells.

Photo by Patrushka Continue reading

Glamorpusses Of The Haight #1: Pigpen

We’re starting a new series on The Pig today, but I’m not sure what to call it yet.  We will be featuring  photos of the remarkably lovely women who graced the streets of the Haight-Ashbury in those halcyon days of yore.  (The above is not one of the babes, by the way.  That’s Pigpen.  We asked him to stand in for the babes until we find a name for the real Babes, and he reluctantly agreed.  Which explains his expression.)

With the Pondering Pig as your guide, we’ll revisit those charming fashion dissenters of the mid-Sixties – before the fashion pundits taught everyone what was truly psychedelic and what was not.  Here’s a psychedelic fashion pundit now:  “Paisley!  Paisley is  SO psychedelic – look at all those swirling things that look like cells of consciousness expanding.  Swirling things that look like brain cells are so now! But you must never wear checks – they’re…absolutely…square!”

Plus, our Babes will be topped with the finest Swiss treble cream milk chocolate and served on a bed of cherry surprise.

What shall we name this new series?  I like Babes of the Haight-Ashbury. It’s classic, you know?  It’s the  word that never went away, just as current today as it was 150 years ago.  It leads to lovely adjectives like “Babe-a-licious”  In fact maybe we should call the series “Babe-a-licious Babes of the Haight-Ashbury.” Or is that too Wayne’s World?

The only problem with the word is – it’s slightly offensive.  I can already see my in-box piled high with notes from irate women shouting, “You only love me for my body!”

So, how about “Belles of The Haight-Ashbury”?  That’s not offensive in the least.  Trouble is it sounds like rich girls wearing muffs while they ice skate in Central Park in 1892.

Twentieth Century Foxes? Nah. Too LA.

Piglet of the Month?

How about “Slum Goddesses of the Haight-Ashbury”?  Allen Cohen, editor of the super-psycho-spirito-conscious-o-turnon-o-San Francisco Oracle, actually considered this name for an Oracle series. It comes from  the song “Slum Goddess of the Lower East Side” by the seminal anti-psychedelic pychedelic group, The Fugs, and I’ve read the Village Voice actually ran a series by that name.  So it’s got the period flavor.  But the fact that Allen ultimately nixed the idea gives it an aura of failure, certainly not appropriate for the Pondering Pig.

I’m running out of ideas.  So I need help.  Please improve on my suggestions with comments below by next week or we’re going with “Babe-a-licious Babes of the Haight”, okay?

Photos of lovely Haight-Ashbury maidens (matrons okay too) may be sent to ponderingpig@yahoo.com.  My Assistant, The Pondering Chicken,  will start tabulating this afternoon! Stay tuned.

(Photo of Pigpen by the dependable Herbie Greene and swiped from his Book of the Dead.)

The Sad Story of Everpresent Anxiety

Continued from last time…

Back in ’66  me and a couple of pals got this idea for a power trio.  Nobody was doing power trios then, I guess because nobody was good enough – but not being good enough didn’t stop us!  No way!  I practiced up on fife,  Jascha figured out how to play fiddle and of course Prackers held down keyboards.  After a few weeks, we were rockin’.  Unlike most of the bands of that era, we were so hot we didn’t even need drums.  Jerry Garcia used to always say he was going to drop by to jam with us one of these days.  So that’s how we knew we were good.

I liked it when we practiced.  Pretty soon the police would be breaking down the door and it got really exciting.  Plus the free publicity!

We decided to call ourselves Everpresent Anxiety.  Jascha was into this Kirkegaard thing so each of us took one of his books and wrote songs out of them.  I worked out Fear and Trembling – did a Chuck Berry thing with it with some folk-rock mixed in.  Did you ever read Fear and Trembling?  It’s really long! Truth is I couldn’t remember all the words, so when I got stuck I would just wail on Tra La La!  Tra la la! Really spontaneous, you know?

The high point was our version of Is There Such a Thing as Teleological Suspension of the Ethical? Oh, our friends all told us it couldn’t be done, the teenyboppers wouldn’t get it, and on and on, but we just took that as a challenge.  It was a time of experimentation, new frontiers,  breaking the boundaries – and we were breaking Kirkegaard!  Philosophy Rock!

Finally we were ready.  We took the bus down to the Avalon to audition.  We started off with one of our strongest numbers, Sickness Unto Death, and Chet Helms said he thought we had something.  Maybe we should all go home and rest.  But finally he came around.  He said if we stuck to Rolling Stones covers we could have a Sunday afternoon slot.  The only thing was – the name had to go.

“What’s wrong with Everpresent Anxiety, Chet?  It’s perfect for our new sound.”

“Yeah, but it sounds too much like Everpresent Fullness. ”

“So?”

“They’re a band!  They playing on the same bill with the Sir Douglas Quintet next week.  That’s their name!”

We couldn’t believe it.  How dare they!  Probably from LA too!  We rode the bus back to the Haight shaking our heads.  Why would anyone name a band after a digestive problem?

But Practical thought maybe bands named after digestive problems would be the new thing and we should have one too.  Prakky always had good ideas so we worked on it.

Jascha said, “Well, how about Duodenal Ulcer?  That’s a digestive problem.”  Prac thought about it while we transferred to the Haight Street bus.  Pretty soon he said it was good but he thought Peptic Ulcer would be even better.  Sounded peppier, you know?

Me:  “Ulcers Schmulzers.  Lets call ourselves Heartburn!  It’s got everything!  Romantic desolation, rage against the system and digestive problems all in one!”

But we never could agree so after a couple of weeks we gave up and just called ourselves The Three Pigs.

I think it was the name, but maybe hippies just weren’t ready for three guys wearing sailor suit jackets and no pants.  Our big Sunday afternoon tryout fell apart.  The hippies didn’t even want to hear Teleological Suspension.  They just kept shouting Off The Pigs! Off The Pigs!  It was a debacle.

Finally, we fought back.  Improvised an incredible Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Wolf?, chanting the final Tra la la  Tra la la like we were Vanilla Fudge.  Show them!  Chet finally had to cut the power and the rent-a-cops led us off stage in handcuffs.  It was so embarrassing!

I don’t know.  We tried to regroup, and we got a few gigs around the Bay Area, mostly playing nursery schools and zoos.  Finally we threw in the towel and went back to building houses out of sticks and things.  All because of Everpresent Fullness.