By Kurt Weitzmann
I moved to San Francisco in 1986. I think it was Thomas Wolf
who said you can't go home again. This is very true, and in my case
there is a court order to prove it. Everyone in San Francisco was
running away from something in 1986, probably still are. It is a
city of victims. As a matter of fact, victimization explains a lot
of San Francisco's attitude. Along with self absorbed martyrdom,
comes a need to turn blame into acceptance, acceptance of everything
no matter how absurd, inane, or just plain wrong.
It was a simpler time. No one in their twenties
was expected to have a career and people having fun were not demonized.
Fear was not yet used to sell sneakers. Actually, come to think
about it, it was a more complicated time. A better time. On my second
day in town during last call in a crowded Haight Street bar I found
a cheap room in the Western Addition. The very next morning I was
lugging a used futon mattress up the stairs of 626 Masonic, hoping
I wrote down the address correctly and trying to remember the guy's
name. My favorite roommate was Tom, a morally decrepit New York
alcoholic who sold cocaine, as did everyone's roommate in 1986.
The rest of the countless lodgers in my flat seemed to support the
Grateful Dead single handedly.
Our neighbors were stereotypically Californian.
The Dead heads were actually embarrassed for them. They exuded a
kind of breathless denial that immediately brought up images of
beach parties, air guitar, and the froogue. They had a VW mini van,
a drum set, and a lot of methamphedamine. My first impression of
them was so precious, it was almost more than my sardonic little
heart could have hoped for. A blonde man-child who looked like a
wispy-haired rock star was working on the bus outside the house.
"My name's, like, Kashmir?" was his greeting complete
with Question mark at the end of the sentence, as if he wasn't quite
sure. His name was 'like' Kashmir. I referred to him as Mohair from
there on in. As It turned out I actually lived down stairs from
Kashmir, Crystal, Choral and some other cheap gemstone whose name
escapes me. Mood ring? I lived downstairs from Mood ring.
"I'm trying to fix up the van so we can get to the 39th parallel.
It has a lot of wild energy."
And what do you say to that besides 'great' and 'I'll see you later'.
One day Tom decided to visit our neighbors, probably
on some professional courtesy call and came back white faced with
tales of gothic alters, black candles, and pentagrams carved into
the floor. We were shocked. How could this be? How could our nice
hippie neighbors be Satanists? I can understand that growing up
in public school with a name like Choral or Kashmir or Mood ring
could have long term negative affects on ones psyche but turning
to the lord of lies for kicks? Who knew? There is no way of knowing.
They don't go door to door like Jehovah's Witnesses. "Have
you thought about Satan today?" But Satanist are supposed to
be, I don't know
MOPEY. Choral Snowboards! What kind of a
Satanist owns a snowboard? Well, who's to say that Satanists have
to be misanthropic? Maybe their dog turned to them one day and said,
"don't cry to me Darth Vader! You're young, white, satanic,
and fabulous! You go girl!" And he's right. Why go to hell
if it's not worth the wait?
Although I laughed off our neighbors transgressions
Tom took them very seriously. He went right out and somehow got
a priest to bless a cardboard tin of Morton's salt. When it rains
it pours. Soon our house was visited by a string of hokey spiritualists
and Shaman shysters, who creeped me out even more than whatever
was going on upstairs in motel 666. Being raised a strict Agnostic
my stakes were infinitely lower than my roommates. To me it was
like watching which of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were going
to win: the white or the black. Of course the mediums found lots
of bad energy to feed Toms increasingly fanatical paranoia. They
believed cats were buried in the back yard and found pagan symbols
scratched on walls near the trash that looked more like a double
crossed 'T' to me, probably made by some 5-year-old who used to
live downstairs. The new age priests wanted do a cleansing but I
put my foot down. I thought the best tactic would be to confront
the fallen angels and convince them that Satan was a Christian concept.
To believe in the Devil you must first believe in Jesus. Convince
them that they are actually a financial Christian sect and their
entire life has been a lie, "Might as well go back to college.
You'd probably serve the dark lord better with a business degree,
Time passed without incident and our lives fell
back to normal with our concerns shifting to the nightly gunplay
from the bar on the corner. We held our first party in December.
I of course invited our neighbors, just to see what would happen.
I figured the party would be wild enough and they would be lost
among the other numerous freaks. I was right. As a matter of fact
they were quite stealth. The party was in full swing when I noticed
a beautiful young coworker of Tom's fawning over Choral, asking
him about the serpents tattooed on his forearm. I alerted Tom, who
was too busy with some insurmountable conquest to be bothered, so
I shrugged it off with the satisfaction of knowing that I had at
least tried to warn her. An hour later I saw them leave together.
As is always the case, my apathy came back to
haunt me. The next day Tom got a frantic phone call from the girl's
roommate. "What did your neighbor do to her? She came back
this morning. She's out of it. He drugged her. He DID something
to her." Tom said he tried to tell his coworker about Choral
and really what could he do?
I suggested she buy herself some rottweilers,
name the baby Damien, and see if Ruth Gordon can make her a vitamin
drink. After some sloppy day after back peddling and lame reassurances
Tom hung up, and as we were discussing our responsibility in the
matter, almost on cue, Choral came lumbering up our stairs through
our Ward Cleaverly unlocked door. He was holding the girl's coat
-left in his apartment the night before. "Dude, I think this
is your friends. Great party."
We stood there in shock as he turned and walked
down the stairs. I riffled through the pockets and pulled out a
lone piece of paper with a childlike scrawl on it. It was a note.
A love note. A love poem to be exact followed by an apology. "Sorry
you didn't feel well last night. I know things will work out with
your parents. You shouldn't drink so much
Jesus! This Satanist is a sweetheart. When I finally
talked to the girl I realized that she was just an alcoholic drama
queen with serious emotional problems.
My neighbors were Satanists and they were probably
into some pretty heavy shit but they made my life more colorful
and I miss them. As I write this it seems that the fringe has gone.
Moved to I know not where (probably the fringe), forced out by the
'healthy' economy, and then the recession, and San Francisco become
safer. But San Francisco never seemed dangerous to me. Now it seems
dangerously mild. I haven't had a good story to tell in years. And
in my opinion, a good story is worth its weight in prime real estate.
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