Monday, March 26, 2012

The Blue Unicorn - Part 1

I seem to get a lot of hits on 1960s stuff and thinking maybe I should do some San Francisco stories.

The Blue Unicorn
Remembering the 60s

I had a place on Oak Street--looked out on the panhandle, block east of Stanyan and Golden Gate park. Two blocks east of Ashbury. A block off Haight in 1964 I think. I’d landed there by accident, a lost lease where I’d been and lack of funds. The place was cheap. The Hippy thing was in full swing, but I was fairly straight. I’d held a steady job, the last 3 years, a good job located downtown. Financial distinct, top floor—Shell Building. One day a fellow engineer gave me Sandoz LSD to try. He didn’t like it, but I loved it and was fascinated. I was reading Carl Jung at the time and the acid took me to places that he wrote about. He was way out there. I digress.

The Blue Unicorn was this funky little coffee shop, I think on Grove Street, maybe Fulton, two or three blocks west of my place. It was run by a guy named Herb, a nice guy, honest, in his early maybe later thirties. The Unicorn was a place where hippies could hang out, leave notes for each other on a bulletin board, drink decent inexpensive coffee—sandwiches and snacks. Herb looked out for people and a lot of his customers needed that. It was the Summer of Love. Teenagers were pouring into the bus station downtown and often getting mugged, or raped or robbed before they got to Haight Street. I was loaned to Bechtel for a while, a building next to the bus station. I used to get lunch once in a while. You could see guys sitting on benches where the busses came in, waiting for prey. Pimps and con-men, watching to see who got off the bus.
            “Hey honey, welcome to San Francisco. Home of peace and love. You need a place to stay?”
            Most of them did. They came with flowers in their hair, believing in free love and expecting free rent, and food . . . and drugs. All were available, for a price.
            Herb looked out for some who had been had, or had some other problems. He also looked out for young girls, but only on at a time I think. You’d see him with the same one for a month or two, and then another. He had some kind of partner. Tom I think his name was. He played a fairly good guitar and had a motorcycle. He later broke his leg on it and was in a cast from him to ankle on one leg . . . for a long time, during which he became one of the best classical guitarists I’ve ever heard. It just takes practice. Tom had lots of time and there was not much else he could do but play guitar.

The Blue Unicorn - Part 2

Herb had a VW van. The ultimate of Hippy transpiration. There was a driveway at the side of the Unicorn that led to a double garage and some backyard space. It was wide enough for the van to clear with an inch on either side, and Herb would shoot down it at 30 MPH. Scared the shit out of me the first time I took that ride.
            I was tripping with a friend one time, Jack Tuttle. I’d been in the Army with him in East Africa. Jack was new at the drug and started getting very paranoid. I started getting very paranoid about his getting very paranoid, so I called Herb although I didn’t really know him all that well. He came and picked us up and drove us to the beach—the ocean. It was beautiful . . . the waves, the sound of surf. Jack calmed down right away and started getting philosophic. “Some say that life began in the sea....” Stuff like that. Herb was like that. He’d go out of his way to help a person if he could.
            Herb let people crash in a small loft that was over the entrance as you came in. One long timer sleeping there was an artist. He began painting the ceiling . . . on his back, on a jury rigged scaffolding. He was good, it was wonderful work. Took him months to do and was masterpiece. You could get lost in it. The bathroom walls contained some good poetry. I remember one about a guy awake, late at night, candle burning, girlfriend asleep in his bed . . . a siren in the distance. Wish I’d wrote it down. I think I did, but long gone now.
            The Unicorn itself was gone after a few years. The Haight got really rough in the late 60’s. Lots of crime. More than one storefront on Haight Street got boarded up with plywood. Cops arresting people every day. I saw them cuff a guy who was carrying a flute with a lead pipe inside it. I had two motorcycles stolen. Guys would sneak though any apartment they could get into, trying doorknobs. My door’s center pane was frosted glass. One night, around 3:30 AM I woke up and saw a silhouette cast by a hall light on my glass. I kept a Colt 1911 45 auto by the bed. Sat up and held it thinking well, if he comes in I’ll turn the light on and the gun will back him off. If not, it’s loaded. Thank God the door was locked. I have digressed again.
            One day the Unicorn was closed—no warning. Later it became a little Asian grocery store. I  lost track of Herb for a while, then rediscovered him months later. He had opened up a little restaurant on Mission Street, south or Market. Organic food, and tea. Another funky, homey sort of place. Good food. Herb was with another girl, much younger than himself, but you could he cared about her and was good to her. I forget the name of the place. Then it too disappeared, well actually it was Herb and the girl who disappeared. The little restaurant was been run by someone else. I ran into Herb a month or so later and asked him what had happened.
            There was a gang called, Tribal Thumb, ex-cons released from San Quentin.
            “They told me to get out, or get hurt . . . bad,” Herb told me. “And I did.”
            “Why didn’t you contact the police?” I asked.
            “They don’t care—a little hippy place like mine. Nobody cares.”
            That was the last I ever saw him. Haven’t thought about him in a long time, but remembering now. He was an interesting guy. 

I wonder where he is today.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Beauty Changes

We see the questionnaires and surveys, little boxes where you mark your age:
Nobody’s very interested in learning more about us after seventy. We begin to disappear with secrets yet unknown, stories untold . . . forgotten. Beauty changes. There comes awareness of impending death. No close for most of us, though we have all lost friends our age, or would have been. It’s waiting for us somewhere up the road, still a ways off. nut one becomes a little more aware. How many years are left? At times exciting.  Three decades more or less and we will learn the truth . . . at last. Worth dying for. And if we check out early we at least avoid some grief, the loss of spouses and good friends. Sometimes both in one. How many years are left? One thinks about it. Life comes a bit more serious, less stressful if we’re lucky. 
            This is a work in progress. Thoughts I want to share may be your own as well . . . or not. More follows. Would love to hear what others feel at Seventy.