How Do You Find A Childhood Pal, Anyway?

So, this morning Patrushka and I were sitting on the deck we built off the back of my pigpen, wondering where all the damn yellow jackets were coming from. It’s always like this in August, maybe for you, too.

Suddenly I had a mental picture of being ten years old, back home in San Francisco. Me and my best friend Peter Walters had just knocked down a big yellow jacket nest with a broomstick and we were laughing and running like hell was after us.

So then I thought, as I have many times before, whatever happened to Pete? We were really good friends, had a lot of city kid adventures together, but, when I was thirteen we moved to the suburbs and I never saw him again.

I’d like to find him, if I could. I’m curious about the arc of his life. We had a lot in common as kids, but I never met him on the beatnik-hippie trail I traveled in my youth, or further on either.

But how in the world do you find someone with a name as common as Peter Walters? I just checked on Facebook, there’s 194 of them listed. The only things I know for sure is that in 1954 he lived in the big house at the corner of 47th Avenue and Balboa. He had a couple of older sisters – teenagers who weren’t interested in us or our doings. I think his mother was named Rosa. He went to Lafayette Elementary school. And that’s about it.

OK, my amateur detective readers, what do you suggest? If it’s a good idea, I’ll do it and report what happens.  Here’s his mug shot.
Peter Pain


Pig Of The East Village

We’ve been in New York, in the East Village to be exact. I was there to study the ways of sonic youth, the kids who wear tight black jeans with red canvas sneaks and heavy grey hooded sweatshirts under black denim jackets while crossing Positively 4th Street to somewhere romantic holding paper cups of Greek diner coffee while checking their ipods for the proper sound track.

Perhaps this is the romantic little shop they’re here to find. Maybe they’re on their way to see the Baroness, a store where sonic youth can meet their own mini-dressed easter bunny nuns.

We, however, were on our way to see the Baroness’ cat Stripey.

Stripey is an elderly cat. She’s seen them all pass her window: the beatniks, the hippies, the punks, the skunks, the junkies and the flunkies. They came, they got old, they OD’ed or went home, and more got off the bus. I was one myself.

When I arrived in the East Village in the summer of 1961 with my best friend and fellow traveler Gary Parma, Bob Dylan was the rage at Gerde’s Folk City. We couldn’t get in so we had to settle for Peter Yarrow the next night. I’d never heard of him. If you’re under thirty, you probably have still never heard of him, but he was big for a while with Peter, Paul and Mary. Later he used to come round the Haight a lot. I’d see him in the Panhandle sitting on a log with his girlfriend listening to Mt. Rushmore or the Dead, acting just like a normal person.

We stayed on East 7th Street most of the summer with Kirk Smallman, a filmmaker I’d met in Mexico the previous spring. I was nineteen. I’d already seen it all. Except I’d never seen a cockroach before. Or a bar-in-the-floor police lock to keep the junkie burglars out. Seen a few jingle-jangle mornings though.

Wewalked the steamy summer sewery-smelling streets all day. Ate in a cheap dairy restaurant on Second Avenue. Found out about knishes, blintzes, pirogies, kasha, borscht and I ordered more the next day. We drank beer at the White Horse Tavern and paid homage to the bar stool where Dylan Thomas had drunk himself to death eight years before.

I met a girl who worked for the Grosset and Dunlap, publisher of the Nancy Drew series. Her job was to answer all the letters from eleven year old girls to Carolyn Keene, their fictitious author. Jodie was a minion, but an employed minion working for a real publisher and she got to impersonate a famous imaginary author for a living. I was so impressed I got too wasted to walk back to Kirk’s apartment and spent the night in her bathtub.

That’s how it was in those days. Another thing I’d never yet experienced was sex on a first date. There were probably fast girls who did it but, as far as I could personally verify, they were all creatures of legend.
Actually, that wasn’t the only part of me that was raging. My head was raging as well as my penis, and my heart was raging too. Give me love! Give me true love! Give me another burning heart like mine. Give me a star! A burning raging star, preferably a blonde one.

Now I’m back in my little gray home in the west trying to write it all down. While I was gone a girl in tight black jeans and red sneaks came by the blog and commented that my stories were rad and that she admired my being a beatnik and all. Thanks, kid, you made my day.

We old pigs are supposed to go eat our corn. Doze in the sun. But my heart burns like it always did. It still feels young. I just try not to look in the mirror too much. I need to tell the young ones what the burning felt like in my time, how it feels to grow old but with a life behind you that’s worth remembering. Build my own Brooklyn Bridge across the years between the hip generations. Except hip means something different now. I love all the old beatniks and hippies who come by the blog, but the Pondering Pig is not just for old hippies. It’s for young beatniks too. And middle-aged ones. You just got have a burning heart. Or at least be able to remember the one you used to have.

Photos by Patrushka

One More Once for The Summer of Love

Writer and itinerant hipster Greg Hoffman just sent up a few photos he snapped at the Summer Of Love 40th Anniversary Celebration in Golden Gate Park Sunday before last. I put them up without further comment on how old everybody is and how long ago 1967 was. Survival must count for something.


Unless you were hanging around San Francisco in the mid-Sixties, you’ve probably never heard of The Charlatans. But they had their moment. The very first Haight-Ashbury band – and the standard bearers of psychedelicized rock and roll. They never had any hits, it’s a wonder they recorded at all. George, the leader, the guy in the straw hat, couldn’t play an instrument. But he had a great fashion sense and designed the band for the pop world that ruled before guys like Jimi Hendrix and James Gurley changed the rules. Here’s a picture of them circa 1966:


When The Charlatans were having a good night, they were the best dance band on the circuit. And, in the early days, the psychedelic ballrooms were all about dancing.


Actually, the beauty is James’ wife, Margaret and the itinerant hipster with the press pass is Greg Hoffman. For a year or so, Jim Gurley (as he was known then) was king. As lead guitarist for Big Brother and The Holding Company, he went further out then anyone had gone before. I thought he was inspired and I knew what was good in those days. Street legend said that Gurley learned to play lead guitar by sitting in a room on Pine Street for weeks on end listening to and copying John Coltrane solos. Not note for note – but in the spirit. You can hear his work on Janis’ best album, Cheap Thrills, and decide for yourself.Here’s Jim as Haight-Ashbury pinup:


No disrespect. This Bob Seideman photo became a popular poster and could be seen in kitchens and bedrooms across the Haight-Ashbury for at least a year.

September 2, 2007
San Francisco

More photos of the anniversary party from Clara Bellino.

San Francisco Chronicle’s story:Summer of Love bands and fans jam in Golden Gate Park.
Relix Magazine’s story: Old Hippies Come Out of the Woods for Summer of Love 40th.

Donovan – 61 Yesterday

Hey, Donovan has joined the rest of us forerunners who, due to circumstances beyond our control, live in the Sixties. Welcome, man.

Don’t Look Back, the great Pennebaker doc about Bob Dylan’s 1965 English tour is finally out on DVD and I read a review of it the other day. A commenter, desiring to demonstrate Bobbie’s big dog status in 1965, chose to describe the filmed meeting between the two, where Donovan played his soon-to-be-hit, Catch The Wind, and Dylan supposedly destroyed him by following with his It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.

I’m sorry, but this is all wrong. The truth is everyone, with the possible exception of John Lennon, was blown off the stage by Dylan in the mid-Sixties. So what? Donovan was and remains an authentic voice in his own right. Dylan himself recognized it. That’s why Donovan was sitting in the inner sanctum trading songs with the man.

To me, Donovan most perfectly captures the flower children aspect of the Sixties. No one else of the era could have written a line like this one (from his 1967 album Wear Your Love Like Heaven),

“Have you found the secret door
to let you down to the earth’s deep core
you’ll be back in time for tea
with a diamond to show me.”

A spiritual journey with no suffering, no pain. And probably with Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy along for the adventure. It’s what we all wanted, wasn’t it? Oh, I forgot for a minute. You weren’t born yet. Well, it was. And Donovan’s music captured the moment surpassingly well. Besides, I want my tea too.

Hail, Atlantis!
Here’s a penny for the old guy.

One Misty Morning 1907 (Anarchy in the UK)

Well, I’m in a quandary. And I hope I can get out before nightfall. Kind of spooky around here with all these bodies floating in the marshes. And I hate the way they turn into demons if you accidentally fall in. Then there’s a big fight and you’re lucky to escape with your teeth intact.

Actually, I can go on for hours like this and not make a bit of sense and nobody notices because nobody’s reading the blog. Why? Because I’m not writing the blog, of course.

Day after day it just sits in cyberspace while I go prune the pear tree or loll about on some hillside with a loaf of bread, a bottle of red and a beautiful babe beside me in the wilderness (that would be my Patrushka).

I just sat down to blog about the necessity of anarchism. Anarchy in the UK I called it, even though it had nothing to do with England. Just an old Sex Pistols song and I like to make those little connections. It had something to do with the horrible uselessness of all governments for anything people truly want, and how we should just ignore them and do it ourselves. Something like that. But you know what? It was turning into a rant. I could just feel it.

Who wants to read a rant by a pig? Not me. I’m supposed to write about seeking God. And the sorrow of life. And misty mornings on the coast of California a hundred years ago. And Linda Lovely and Bess Faraway and Carmen O’Shaughnessy and Lamie da Kink and all the girls I loved and still love somewhere in time. And Way Out Willy and Bear Mattson and Chet Helms and Alan Cohen and Rockin’ Rodney and all my friends and pals and brothers of longtime passing youth.

I think I’m supposed to tell what happened so you can feel it too.

I might be back tomorrow. Or maybe never. I just got to get back to what counts. Maybe I’ll go up to the lake and do a little fishing. Or go for a real long walk. Try to stop blabbing for a while and start listening again.

Photo by Patrushka

Did Anyone Get Out of Here Alive?

Gosh, here it is my birthday again. Sixty-five!

I can’t believe it. Me? Eligible for Medicare? You’ve got to be kidding. I never thought I’d make it to thirty and here I’ve outlived Kerouac by eighteen years…

Must be the love of a good woman.

Anyway, last year on my birthday I put up the following list, in alphabetical order, of friends of my youth (I’ve added more detail this year). They’re all people I knew and loved but who were lost in the swirl of the hurricane. Most are still lost, but some were found last year. Maybe this year I’ll find some more…

Bess Farr, AKA Lisa Farr, AKA Lisa McFadden. Dear friend and troublemaker, we were friends throughout the Sixties. The last time I saw her, she dosed me with MDA at a party. I wasn’t mad at her – I was just fed up with the life I was leading. But I’ve always felt like I deserted her when she was in trouble. And I wish I hadn’t. You okay, Bess?

Bob Gill – brother beatnik, peyote brother and card carrying YPSL. In my mind’s eye, he’s up on the barricades somewhere waving his ancient rifle defiantly and the Nationalists are closing in.

Bob Kaffke – diabetic Communist who rode horseback through Mexico. News: Bob is gone. Died of pneumonia in 1983 on a houseboat in the San Francisco Bay. Leo Sadorf found this link put up by his son…

Bob Kuehn – Another of the SF State peace warriors. Ban the Bomb!

Danny Rifkin – so funny and creative. The first on our scene besides me to notice the Beatles were Something New. And he laughed at my poetry (that was good, not bad). News: Danny’s still out there hitting it. I found this article about him in the San Francisco Chronicle.

David Miller – Carpenter of Walrus and Carpenter. My singing partner and best friend till I betrayed him. Last time I talked to him he called to say good-bye. He was moving to Tennessee. Funny how I still miss him after all these years.

Don Auclaire – leader of our pack, the Dirty Peaceniks, 311 Judah Street, San Francisco.

Donna Conroy – Tom Conroy’s beautiful beat street wife from the Delaware horse country. Tom spent half his time fighting off the pimps who wanted to sign her up. Last time I saw here she was great with child.

Ed Ginsberg – comic peyote brother, photographer and a great heart. News: Someone told me this year he is living in Budapest.

Eva Bessie – Bess’ best friend, daughter of Hollywood Ten screenwriter Alvah Bessie. She was immortalized on two beautiful Fillmore posters done by her husband Wes. Still living in the Ozarks somewhere last I heard.

George “the Beast” Howell. A legend in his own time. A friend ran into him ten or fifteen years ago in the rugged mountains of Northern California up by the Oregon border. He was on a buying trip looking for high quality virgin wool. Something about Persian rugs. He’d picked it up living in Asia.

Joe Novakovich – Fingerless Joe himself. He had warped fingers due to a birth defect, yet became a masterful autoharp player and stalwart of the San Francisco folk scene.

Johnny Chance – Saintly drummer for The Final Solution and first guy on our scene to notice the Beach Boys were cool. Funnier and smarter than anyone, yet he dressed like a Catholic schoolboy. He joined the Moonies and I never saw no more.

Laurie Sarlat – with the Long Island accent, poet Allen Cohen’s consort and Wendy to this lost boy. She left town with a guy I didn’t know and I never saw her again. Allen told me years later she’d joined a cult.

Leslie Hipshmann AKA Leslie Van Gelder. Most beautiful and sweetest of the teenaged hangers-on at 311 Judah (funny, I was a teenager myself!). She split for New York and I never saw her again. Leslie, I still have the letters you wrote me from the East Village.

Margarita Bates AKA The Bitch. Unforgettable. News: An anonymous tipster wrote to tell me she is alive and where she is living. Thank you.

Melanie Kinkead AKA Lamie da Kink – as dear a girl as I ever knew. I wrote about her in Famous People I Never Knew #2: Janis Joplin. News: I am back in touch with Mel thanks to the blog and she is still just as funny, and still the best.

Michael Rachoff – Page Street friend of years but we lost touch in my wanderings.

Peter Kraemer – Virgina City filmmaker and leader of the Sopwith Camel – the first San Francisco band to hit the charts.

Peter Walters – my boyhood best friend who lived at 47th and Balboa. Peter didn’t care if I was sick in bed much of my childhood. He’d always come by and play games and make puzzles and draw battleships with me in bed and him sitting in a chair beside me. What a great kid!

Peter Weiss –tough kid from the Bronx who danced with Ann Halprin’s Dancer’s Workshop. Last time I saw Peter he and his girlfriend were heading for Japan.

Riley Turner – holy tennies street kid from Lowell High School. I wrote about him in Song For Riley  Tornfoot

Solveig Otvos, AKA Solveig Rimkeit, AKA Ruth Weissinger – the beautiful Latvian. Where are you, Solveig? I still hear you laugh in my dreams.

Tom Conroy – the North Beach street kid cartoonist who got me busted in Oakland. Tom dealt in Prince Valiant and Flash Gordon comic strips and could spot newspaper insulation in every blowndown ghetto redevelopment Victorian we broke and entered.

I know where too many of my early friends are today though – in the ground.
Here’s to you, Rodney Albin and Chet Helms and Allen Cohen and Wendy Norins and Tom Hobson and all the rest of you – friends forever.

I have a lifetime of stories to tell just about these guys. There they are through my window: young and sunburnt and storm-tossed – the best of the best, the San Francisco kiddos of the pre-invasion Sixties – my generation.

In 1969 Jack Kerouac died…

Here’s a little poem left over from my mid-life crisis. Now that I’m up to my Medicare crisis I don’t need it any more. ..

In 1969,

Jack Kerouac died.

It was an ignominious death,

he puked his guts into a toilet,

moaned to Ste. Therese,

and left his mother to carry on.

After all those miles.

In 1969,

Some outlaws of art were still young –

rock desperadoes,

poets of armed robbery,

exiles on main street

But Neal Cassady was dead already

and John Lennon was fixin to die.

They met their rightful destiny.

But what happens to the outlaws who go free?

Whose sun-bleached hair grows grey?

Who have to walk the seacoast in a mothbitten overcoat

or raise a family?

What happens to bad mothers who don’t get shot?

when their time runs out and they’re still here?

There’s all those days to fill when the Muse won’t show – –

watering the geraniums

or teaching English to high-school gunmen

with slower draws than they had.

With sleeping in their cars,

answering the phone at the Institute for Parapsychology,

seeing their kids grow up,

looking into soft dead eyes forever in their dream.

Photo by Patrushka