Living Near the Painted Ladies

I was disgusted the minute I stepped into the door. I’d been away for five days up on Long Island visiting friends and taking in the summer. I had a nice tan to prove it. The house smelled like cigarettes, beer and urine. The little cactus that sat guard by my front door was withered. The soil, supposed to be kept barely damp was soaked with what smelled like piss. The living room was no better. The cushons on my couch were on the floor, stained with beer and god knows what else. My collection of vinyl records was strewn across the floor, none of them in their sleeves. There was beer spill there too. Throughout the house it was the same thing. The normal life I was trying to live post-Vietnam had been vandalized. My kitchen was a tragedy. Appliances had their doors sprung. Flour was everywhere. If I had to guess, someone who really hated my guts had been given carte blanche to express his opinion.

I was still staking stock when there was a double knock at my door and my friend Steve marched in. He was more a former friend, having spit in my face and calling me a baby burner when I came back from the war. “I knew you wouldn’t mind if we partied here.” he said.

“What made you think that?” I asked.

“Whoa, brrr. Lighten up man. We’ve been friends too long to hold grudges. You’re my best friend and always will be.”

I said I doubted it and before I knew it, I’d blackened his eye and had him on his butt in the flour. “We used to be friends, but then you proved that was no longer true when you stole the Akai 4 track recorder I bought overseas, emptied my wallet while I slept and gave the money to some chicks to get them home, and now you and your retarded friend squad have done a ton of damage to the house I’m renting. If the landlord sees this, I’m out on my ass without my deposit.”

“If it makes you feel better, I’ll help you clean up.” he said.

“Fine start by stripping all of the beds and pillows upstairs and get them in the wash, then vacuum the place and use all the attachments to get the corners, sills and all that stuff. Oh, ad wash the windows. There’s Windex under the kitchen sink. Or there was.”

“I didn’t mean right away, man. I gotta meet some chicks over at Bryn Mawr. Gonna see Theresa, Penny, Marily and Albright.”

“Albright? Wendy Albright?” I asked, my voice rising. Wendy was my new and supposedly exclusive girlfriend. “Just get off my floor and get your ass gone. And tell Wendy I’ll see her when I do and not before.”

“Shit man, Vietnam has made you cold. I wonder if I was right about you burning villages and babies. Maybe shoot the heads off of old ladies and shit.” I grabbed him by his shirt and dragged him to the door and sent him somersaulting down the back steps. I slammed the door behind him and went upstairs to start cleaning.

We’d been great friends; going to Canada and bushwhacking the Ontario forests from Roberval to Lake Mistassini. A two week 90 mile journey carrying all of our supplies, a canoe, paddles and fishing equipment. ¬†We were gone a month and a half total by the time our haning out at the Hudson’s Bay Post at Mistassini with the Cree indians. It was a different time. Back then parents not only allowed but encouraged their 12 year old kids to thrash their was through animal infested woods. We saw a couple of bear and a lynx, but mostly we saw squirrels and chipmunks. Steve shot a wild rabbit with his .22 and we had to chase it for three hours before it finally had a heart attack and quit running. We skinned and ate it, but while rabbit was usually pretty good, this one was gamey and sour. No doubt from all the adrenaline and exercise just before it died. Plus. we didn’t feel it was particularly sporting of us, the way we got it.

On the whole, the trips were great. We did two of them subsequent years. But Steve got jealous when I won a hand carved paddle awarded to the camper who learned the most during their portage through the woods. He stole the paddle from me when we got home. Where my name had been painted in a circle around the camp logo, he’d sanded it off and tried to forge him name there. The red paint didn’t match, the letters were amateur and childish, and it looked just like someone had swiped it and tried to forge it as their own award. Maybe I should have gotten the message back then that our relationship had turned in him exploiting me every chance he took.

I ran into his girlfriend later and asked her if she was ito revenge sex. She said she was and so we did the deed in the back of my Ford Fairlane wagon and she toddled off to tell him. I ran into Wendy a little later and she made reconciliation noises. I asked her for the number of this cute girl who worked backstage at the Bryn Mawr College theater. She was miffed and I found that ingratiating.

It was definitely time for a sea change. Woodstock, the Moon Landing and ¬†hundred other things told me the world was in flux and so after getting righteously stoned and listened to Janis Joplin’s Cheap Thrills album fifty times in a row while searching the R Crumb cartoon on the rear cover, I decided there was, in fact, a secret message for me. So I sold all of my worldly goods (the better part of a pound of cheap mexican grass) I stuck out my thumb and hitched my way to san Francisco in a mere 40 hours. I went down to Market and Fillmore and found the Fillmore West. A Hell’s Angel stood lazily by the door. He seemed alone, what with the shows not starting until nine at night. I asked for Bill Graham, the producer, and the biker told me to go all the way to the back. I found the potential icon in a room where every surface was covered with band posters, correspondence and god knows what else.

“I just hitched from Philly to San Francisco in forty hours just to ask you for a job, sir.”

He looked at me a moment and picked up the phone. Thinking of the Hell’s Angel I started backing towards the door. He exchanged a few words on the phone and hung. “Okay,” he said. “We can’t disappoint that kind of industry. He scribbled on a piece of paper. This is Love Potion Number Nine. They do lighting for the shows here, the Avalon and a few other venues. I thanked him and groveled my way out of the office. The biker was standing by the concession counter when I came out. He drew me an orange drink and handed me a Payday. “On the house.” he said. By the time I left I’d gotten over my white boy fear of bikers and held the address of Little Princess. They paid a buck sixty and I was glad to have it. I ended up seeing literally every milestone band in my short history. I found an apartment; one oth the other light operators needed a roomie in case his landlords ever came back and wanted rent. It was a three story building on McCallister a few blocks from Alamo Square.

Life was a breeze back then. Every day an adventure. But like my adventures in the Quebec woods, all adventures have to end.

My next one started in Portland, Oregon not to much later.

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Recollections and Stories from a Multiple Myeloma Victim