Oh boy, 1948, the year I turned six. First of all, for my birthday I got a pull-dachshund on a string whose legs moved as I pulled him along. And it got even better! We went to the Russian River for a week that summer and my brother showed me how to play Cruisin’ Down The River On A Sunday Afternoon on his uke. I got to go down the dusty road to the general store all by myself and I could buy any funny book I wanted. Except no horror or crime comics. But that was okay – I could read those on the comic book stand until the owner got wise.
Now I’m sixty-six, and what do I get? I get to chop ice all day. Shovel snow. Oh well, I shouldn’t complain. For birthday dinner my German mother-in-law made her famous beef roladen, red cabbage, mashed potatoes and gravy, and for dessert my favorite home-made creme caramel as only my mother-in-law knows how to make it. Smooth, creamy and wonderful with that rich burnt sugar syrup slooshing down its sides to make a little lake in the bottom of the bowl. And we polished off a bottle of top-notch Cabernet, grown in my current home state of Washington. Then we watched a French movie called A Very Long Engagement. It stars Audrey Tautou, the actress who played Amelie.
You probably won’t like it. It’s relentlessly melancholy, like me. About a young woman who, also like me, knows to the depths of her being that love is forever. She refuses in the face of all evidence to believe her lover was killed in the Great War. For the Pig Of The Grey Skies And Rain, her performance and her character provides the penultimate revelation of a true heart. In fact, I’ve got to go watch it again right now.
(Two hours later) Where was I? Oh yes, I was about to start complaining.
You know me, the Complaining Pig. I’ve made a career out of never being satisfied. So here’s what I’d really like for my birthday. I’d like to know what happened to all the loved friends and befriended lovers of my youth. All the kiddos who are wrapped in gold in my heart and whom I can never and will never forget. Here, for the third year, is my birthday roll call, with updates since last year…
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 – she just made made me realize how fed up I was 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? 2008 update: Eva Wilson told me Bess died of ovarian cancer about 1992. I never got to see her again. I always thought one day we would have lunch together and she’d tell me her life had turned out okay. Bye, Bess. I wrote about you in It’s Too Late, She’s Gone…
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. 2008 Update: I wrote about Bob in Kaffke of the Comsymps.
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 until 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. 2008 Update: Solveig told me she visited him in the Mexico City jail in 1963. George Howell told me he was living in the Haight-Ashbury with Teresa Sweeney in the spring of 1964. After that he fades from view like dust on cracking film emulsion.
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 last year he is living in Budapest.
Eva Bessie – Bess’ best friend, daughter of Hollywood Ten screenwriter Alvah Bessie. She was immortalized on two Fillmore posters done by her husband Wes. Still living in the Ozarks somewhere last I heard. 2008 Update: Eva is a psychologist in Missouri. Happily married these long years and now with grandchildren on her knee. We’ve talked and corresponded several times. God bless that little piglet who made a success of her life.
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. 2008 Update: Peter Albin gave me his phone number. With awe and trepidation I called George just before Christmas. To hear again after so long that voice of legend, my North Beach comrade George the Beast, King of the Baby Beatniks…it was like watching ice melt around a mammoth frozen aeons ago with daisies still hanging from his mouth and waiting for him to trumpet once more. George lives with his sister near Clear Lake, California. He’s got emphysema and can’t get out much. Still appraises rare and valuable carpets. But he is still here, still on the ground, not in it. God bless you forever, brother. I wrote about George in Famous People I Never Knew #1: Neal Cassady.
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. 2008 Update: I’ve heard sad stories about Joe I will not relate until I know if they’re true.
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 him no more. I miss his goofy smile and cracked sense of humor and Petaluma intelligence.
Laurie Sarlat – with the Long Island accent, thick black hair and blue-green eyes, she was 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 Christian cult. 2008 Update: She’s living in Arizona. I don’t know where.
Leslie Hipshmann AKA Leslie Van Gelder. Most beautiful and sweetest of the teenaged hangers-on at 311 Judah Street (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. 2008 Update: I wrote about Margarita in Chet Helms, Margarita And Me
Melanie Kinkead AKA Lanie da Kink – as dear a girl as I ever knew. I wrote about her in Famous People I Never Knew #2: Janis Joplin. I am back in touch with Mel thanks to the blog and she is still just as funny as ever, and still the best. 2008 Update: I visited Mel in Sacramento last summer and it was like we had been apart for five minutes. What a pal!
Michael Rachoff – Page Street friend of years but we lost touch in my wanderings. 2008 Update: I’ve talked to Michael on the phone several times and hope to see him in a few weeks. He still lives in San Francisco.
Peter Kraemer – Virgina City filmmaker and leader of the Sopwith Camel – the first San Francisco band to hit the charts. 2008 Update: I recently heard Peter is living in Mexico and planning another reunion of the Sopwith Camel.
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 Relay Tornfoot.
Solveig Otvos, AKA Solveig Rimkeit, AKA Ruth Weissinger – the beautiful Latvian. Where are you, Solveig? I still hear you laugh in my dreams. 2008 Update: I’ve talked to Solveig, now known as Rochanah at her home in Chico, California. She claims she remembers nothing but she remembers everything. Her laughter still brings joy to ice.
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. 2008 Update: George Howell told me Tom lives in New Mexico and has a successful business running a stock photo archive.
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 Bess Farr 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.