I devoted Part One of this Blog piece to the thrill of arriving in the city on an ocean-going (or ocean having-gone) ship, passing beneath the early morning (8:30 AM this time) glory of the Golden Gate Bridge, that massive structure overhead as you stand on deck, fully awake with arrival at this most resplendent of destinations in 1965. I also wrote about the immediate impression of the city to which we (my wife Betty, our boys Tim and Steve, and myself) had returned because Betty was willing to work for a year, so I could be “free” to become an actual, real, publishable writer: no longer, after two years of educational servitude (My first teaching experience–at the University of Hawaii– had not been all that gratifying an experience, for reasons I explained), no longer just a “wannabe,” but–at least for a year–a full time “author.”
In “My Year for Writing in San Francisco, Part One,” I offered an account of having my first short story accepted for a new magazine, Per Se, a quarterly, edited by the Peninsula novelist Robin White and produced at Stanford University Press by an impressive staff of 30 (including three managing editors, according to the prospectus). Robin White explained the enterprise: “Per Se is designed for the person whose time is limited but whose intellectual curiosity spans many areas. So it’s not any ‘type’ of magazine, but just a magazine, per se, the staff being drawn from a variety of fields, professional and geographic, as is the Advisory Board.”
My story, “The Drive-in” appeared in the Spring 1996 issue—and I’d like to reproduce, here, two responses that would appear in the “Letters to the Editors” section of the second issue: “I read and reread Minor’s story, and think it’s really fine—much the most enjoyable thing in No.1 for me” (Sanford Dorbin, U.C. Santa Barbara Library) and “’The Drive-in’ seemed to me a very fine story. I wish it had been put first instead of ‘The Venetian Blind.’” (Evelyn Harter, Darien, Conn.). Acclaimed from coast to coast (ho ho)! but these positive responses did make me feel quite good—as did the appearance of my short story. Here are: the cover of the first issue of Per Se; my story as it appeared, and the second issue, which had a woodcut print of mine on the cover (“Pomona and Vertumnus,” from Greek mythology) and another woodcut print (of Russian poet Alexander Blok’s “Catkins”) as an illustration for a story by writer Ed McClanahan inside.
Getting back to my “free to write” year living on 4th Avenue and Clement Street (We were lucky to find a comfortable flat for $115 a month in one of our favorite San Francisco areas) in general: in November, I ran into Mrs. Pein, my former tutor (from my pre-teaching days in Hawaii) and she was appalled at the state of my Russian (what was left of it), so I took lessons from her again, at her urging. I went to her house (which was not far from Clement Street) on Thursday mornings. If the lesson went well (and they generally did), she insisted that I stay for lunch, which consisted of an omelette large enough to feed substantial portions of the Russian Army: eggs, potatoes, сыр (cheese), with черный хлеб (black bread) on the side—this accompanied by a shot of lemon vodka (“For your health, Mr. Minor–За здоровье! She told me her grandmother had a shot like that with lunch each day.). Mrs. Pein was sixty-three now and turning “girlish.” For the first time in her life, she said, she was free of “babysit,” and could truly enjoy herself. She had another student, a man her age who worked for the Examiner newspaper. He wanted to marry her, but she turned him down. “I live alone, Mr. Minor, and now I can begin to live!” (Слава Богу–Praise God–for American Social Security!).
I started to give her sixteen-year-old granddaughter guitar lessons on Friday nights (in exchange for my Russian lessons). The girl would come to Mrs. Pein’s home, with her mother Valya, who’d been a ballerina back in the Soviet Union. Those music lessons would degenerate (or improve–ascend) into a party that resembled Thanksgivings my family would spend in Michigan, when I was a child, at the home of my Uncle Max and Aunt Betty and their seven kids (three sets of twins and one “stray”), musicians all, everyone playing an instrument, the living room growing thick with song. Such evenings at Mrs. Pein’s were unique in that they were “conducted” in Russian, with dancing added to the merriment (I was always embarrassed to dance with Valya, because she was a pro, and I had to concentrate like crazy (on top of more vodka) to avoid stepping on her toes.
Here is a photo of our “back yard,” taken from the stairway entrance to the flat on 4tth Avenue and Clement Street—and a photo of me sitting on a small porch at the top of those stairs.
San Francisco has long been an attractive city and we soon began drawing visitors. First to arrive were my sister Emily and her husband Doug Roberts. Emily had married Doug in June of 1964. We’d met him, as a “boyfriend,” just before we left for our two years in Hawaii, but not seen them “married,” so I was curious to witness the union first-hand. They’d been on a camping trip throughout the West, and I had the following impressions of Doug at this time: They had placed a sleeping bag in the “literary alcove” across from our bedroom, but the air kept seeping out of their bedroll, so I would hear Doug. throughout the night, huffing and puffing to refill it–and swearing like a sailor between breaths. He also spent an inordinate amount of time washing their car (which had accumulated more than its share of dirt on their cross-country camping trip, and was parked just in front of our flat), and I, in jest, told Betty that I couldn’t figure out which he loved most: my sister or that car. The third impression was of his prodigious appetite. Doug was a professional athlete: one of the first Americans to play in the National Hockey League (in his case, for the Memphis Wings and the Detroit Red Wings).
Here are photos of Emily as a very young bride; of Doug Roberts lounging at Stinson Beach (one of our favorite spots, north of San Francisco, to take visitors) with me reading a book, my head using Betty for a pillow; and a photo of Tim taking time out from the traditional touch football game we engaged in on the beach, with our friend Tom Reyes, me, and Doug in the background.
Em and Doug were our first visitors. Doug was a genuine “good guy” with a wry sense of humor, and I got along well with my brother-in-law, repairing to a bar, “The Keg,” just around the corner from the flat we’d just moved into. Later, when I’d started cooking meals (so Betty wouldn’t need to returning from work), I joked with my parents that, after that visit, I began to eat a “typical” Doug Roberts breakfast: “five eggs, over hard; half a chicken, a full loaf of bread, two pounds of butter, a side of bacon, and enough milk to slack the thirst of a multitude”). I began to put on some extra weight.
In “My Year for Writing in San Francisco, Part One,” I also wrote about arriving on a ship, the S.S. Cleveland, from Hawaii—and “passing beneath the early morning (8:30 AM this time) glory of the Golden Gate Bridge, that massive structure overhead as you stand on deck, fully awake with arrival at this most resplendent of destinations in 1965.” I didn’t have still photos of that experience (although we did “catch” it on 8 mm film), but I’d like to post here some photos of: Betty and the boys on board ship; me sitting (in the ”dress code” suit and tie I was required to wear throughout my two years of teaching at the University of Hawaii), sitting with two foreign students from Japan who would be studying in The City; another photo with a full group of those students; and a photo of a young man from Taiwan, “reported” to be VERY wealthy, allowed to have several wives, and journeying to America in search of another wife to add to his collection (or harem).
Once we were settled on 4thAvenue and Clement Street, in late November, Glenn Wilson, showed up: a friend I’d made as a classmate at the University of Hawaii (Glenn an ex-Marine with whom I shared more than a few beers at a bar close to campus, as far back as 1957–when I was recently married and a student, not an instructor). He was living and working in Korea now, on a month’s vacation in the States, and in spite of the splendid meals I was preparing, he wished to dine out—so we partook Indonesian, Scottish (at the Edinburgh Castle, a popular pub and one of our favorite haunts in San Francisco), and Russian food—and Glenn treated us to a splendid meal on Fisherman’s Wharf, in honor of my “first story publication.”
On New Year’s Eve, we did, as Betty wrote my folks, “something we’ve not done here before. We were out on the town when Chinatown and North Beach were blocked off from all traffic. Tons of people, tons of confetti, like Times Square at midnight. Much good cheer felt by all.” In January, I wrote: “Betty and I have been stepping out a bit lately (not just New Year’s Eve, which was more of a strut than a step). We went up the street one night to the Jolly Friers, and danced. We swept everybody off the floor. The band got mad because I second guessed all of their songs and insisted on singing them, full pitch, alongside the band’s versions–even Beatles tunes (a group that, ,in spite of the nail polish, are fine songwriters, musicians). I wrote my folks: “We poets seem to live in a state of perpetual adolescence, and it’s great when you’re joined in that state by your wife—‘sweet joy befall thee!’ The biggest deficit of the Great Society is its failure of imagination. We seem to have, or own everything else, but, fortunately, not music …”
Toward the end of January, we saw Dick and Sarah Maxwell again, friends we’d made in Hawaii when Dick and I were recently University hired instructors. They were living in Woodside, California—and Dick was now teaching at Foothill College in Los Altos. Their friends were fellow instructors there: “all young, talented guys with pretty wives”—adding “Needless to say, we made a lot of music. I had a tenor banjo I’d acquired, as a gift from Betty and the boys, on my birthday; so I played that alongside my tenor guitar, which I also took with me to the party.”
Dick played baritone ukulele; one of the Foothill instructors had a 12-string guitar. I made first acquaintance with a long-term friend of Dick’s, Joe Gallo, who played excellent clarinet. We played until three in the morning—and ended the evening with “When the Saints Go Marching In”—prancing around the living room: baritone ukulele, guitar, banjo, clarinet pretty wives and all. An interesting group of people: lively and smart and good fun. Piano-less in our flat, I’d been playing lots of folk music lately, expanding my repertoire, and skill (I think, looking back now) on both guitar and banjo. It was good to see the Maxwells again—and we were well on our way to what would prove to be a lifelong friendship.
Here are two photos of me in our flat, playing my new tenor banjo–attempting to look as much like Pete Seeger as I could, in the second photo.
We made several trips to see Bob and Molly Sessions at Mayacamas Vineyards (“perched high above Napa Valley on Mt. Veeder – one of the most rugged and beautiful corners of wine country”)—the establishment which, now, they were running pretty much by themselves. We had stored most of our goods with them when we left for Hawaii, and we made several trips to retrieve them. In mid-March, the weather perfect, we all spent the day outside while Molly (guitar) and I (on the banjo I’d come to love) played; and on Sunday, while Molly and Betty stayed behind and chatted, Bob, the boys, and I took a long hike. According to Betty, she and Molly had enjoyed “staying lazy till [we] all came back puffing up the hill.” She added, “The boys have such a good time at the winery. There’s much to be said for country living—and it was hard to go home (to San Francisco) on Sunday night.”
Here’s a photo of the house at Mayacamas at which we stayed; and a photo of Bob Sessions; and Me, Molly, Bob, Betty, and son Tim enjoying lunch.
From the time we arrived in San Francisco to the time we departed, Betty maintained the thoughtful running commentary she had passed on to my parents throughout our family life, regarding Tim and Steve’s activities. Here’ s a collage I assembled of what she wrote: August: “We went to a lovely park with the Reyes’ children. We ran into one of the children from old Tiny Tots days. She is much taller now than Timothy. You can imagine how pleased he was about that!” (Sept): “Dr. Tabenkin gave me two tickets to ‘Loengrin’ for my birthday. We drove up to see Bob and Molly” (Mayakamas). They have a lovely spot and are working hard—doing most of the work themselves. Beautiful country, but there are lots of deer—and snakes! Stephen said he saw one and he was sure it was a boa constrictor.’ Sept: “Tim has homework most every night (practice writing his numbers). He takes ‘current events’ to school once a week. Stephen seems to like his teacher. He likes not having naps—and he’s only had to sit in the ‘thinking chair’ once. According to Stephen that was all a mistake on the teacher’s part.” “When we visited the Maxwell in September, Steve tried his hand(s) at their piano. I think of the two boys, Stephen will probably be the musician—if he could ever sit still and concentrate on something long enough.” Dec: “We have been freezing this last week. We are all huddled round the heater to keep warm. Stephen had a throat infection, last week, and had to have antibiotics. We found out about the throat when we took him to have his stitches taken out, and his yearly checkup. The day after Thanksgiving he fell in Safeway and we rushed him to Emergency. It wasn’t a bad gash, but enough to require stitches. He’s fine again and had a nice 6th birthday. I bought him a record of Pete Seeger singing ‘Abiyoyo’ and other folk songs with your check. Thank you. He loves the record. We had a ‘family party’ this year. Strung crepe paper in the kitchen and made a Butterfly cake. The boys are coming to the office to have their teeth checked today. Dr. Tobenkin has been so great with them. He sent Stephen a hand puppet for his birthday because he knows the boys are putting on puppet shows for Bill and me at night. Tim is making a paper mache puppet right now. The plays they put on are great—one was about 13 acts long.” March: “Tim had a very good birthday. We got him a small printing press for his birthday. He’s discovered ‘money.’ The first thing he printed was a real estate sign. Every time we borrow money from him (about once a week), he collects interest. Stephen is too smart for us. He hides his money. I pay them two cents a day for keeping their room picked up … Some friends had extra tickets for the circus, so Bill took the boys. They had a ball. Tim got up giggling this morning, thinking of the clowns.”
Here’s a photo of Tim blowing out the seven candles on the birthday cake (a penquin) Betty made for him, and a photo of Steve and Tim with their lunch pails, going off to Madison Elementary School.
What Tim and Steve didn’t provide by way of entertainment, the drunken couple that occupied the flat below us did. I mentioned, previously, that for such a grotesque creature in appearance (and she was), she had a surprisingly “sweet” voice. I found this out because she phoned me one day, having heard my typewriter clacking continuously, and asked if I was “some kinda writer.” She then went on, in that sweet voice, to say that if I was looking for “a really good story,” she would be happy to tell me the story of her own life. Later, in our blessedly non-acquaintance, she would phone after I started playing Benny Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert as loud as a could when she and her husband came home drunk at 2:00 and fought—she would call to say that if I didn’t turn the music down, she was “gonna call the police.”
All in all, the “Year for Writing” had turned out exceptionally well: from finding a flat in one of our favorite areas in San Francisco to Betty’s job (and her finding a favorable “boss”) to the writing I put in every day “paying off” right away (my first ever short story publication in Per Se); Tim and Steve’s placement in an excellent elementary school (and their “success” there); the fortunate “baby sitting” arrangement with Linda Reyes, and the joy I discovered as a “house husband” taking my six charges to Julius Kahn Park; and—given all that took place on a daily basis: the addition of a rich social life: reunion with old friends. I could find good reason to regard the entire year a “peak experience.”
If the music of the Lovin’ Spoonful and Mamas and Papas filled the mid-60s air in San Francisco, so did the thinking of psychologist/author Abraham Maslow, and his notion of “self-actualization,” or the need for personal growth and discovery present throughout a person’s life—always “becoming,” or in Maslow’s own words: recognizing our “higher and transcendent nature,” that part of our essence, of our biological nature “as a member of a species which has evolved.” Maslow introduced such concepts in his book Toward a Psychology of Being (1962), and expanded on them in 1964 in Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences—disenchanted, as he was, as many people were, with what he described as thinking “atomistically, in terms of either-or, black-white, all in or all out, of mutual exclusiveness and separativeness”—being a “legalist,” rather than “holistic, integrative, and inclusive.”
As a corrective to our materialistic, static, devoid of “meaning” Age or era, Maslow looked back to the seers and prophets who possessed “healthy openness to the mysterious, the realistically humble recognition that we don’t know much, the modest and grateful acceptance of gratuitous grace”—whose frequent “peak experiences” as “true mystics” disclosed that “the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s back yard.” In the Here and Now—allowing us “to grow to fullest humanness, to the greatest fulfillment and actualization of [our] highest potentials, to [our] greatest possible stature … become the best of what [we are] capable of becoming, to become actually what we deeply are potentially.”
Here’s the psychologist/author A.H. Maslow—and the book of his that would have considerable influence on me, searching for “self-actualization” or “peak experience.” (Photo Credit: biography.com)
There was, however, one area, or activity, on which I had let everyone–Betty, the boys, myself—down. Abraham Maslow’s espousal of “self-actualization” or “peak experience” was not offered without some qualification, or attendant caution and advice. Mystical experience contains “traps” he admits he has not “stressed sufficiently.” “As the more Apollonian Type can veer toward the extreme of being reduced to the merely behavioral, so does the mystical type run the risk of being reduced to the merely experimental. Out of the joy and wonder of his ecstasies and peak-experiences, he may be tempted to seek them, ad hoc, and to value them exclusively [at another person’s expense or discomfort?], as the only or at least highest goods of life, giving up other criteria of right and wrong. In a word, instead of being temporarily self-absorbed and inwardly searching, he may become simply a selfish person, seeking his own personal salvation … and finally even perhaps using other people as triggers, as means to his sole end of higher states of consciousness.”
The key phrases here are “he may become simply a selfish person … using other people” (“Out of the joy and wonder of his ecstasies and peak-experiences, he may be tempted to seek them, ad hoc, and to value them exclusively … giving up other criteria of right and wrong.”). Like many “wannabe writers” of my generation, I had a number of excellent “role models” when it came to the act of writing itself, and throughout my “free year as a writer.” I was willing to put in the time and I did produce a solid body of work (with the immediate reward of publication in Per Se), but unfortunately–after my negative experience as a dutiful teacher at the University of Hawaii, within the year no longer beholden to anyone other than myself as a writer—I felt, if I was to be a real writer, I should also adopt the stereotypical “life style” of role models whom regarded alcohol as a “muse” (“It’s a powerful and pervasive cultural image. Writers drink. And the alcohol plays a vital role in the drama of creativity. The idea’s reinforced by the testimony of many writers who’ve admitted to their dependency, and even glorified it.”).
Here’s a list of those who felt this way—many of whom were among my favorite writers: Hunter Thompson, Carson McCullers, James Joyce, Truman Capote, Dorothy Parker, John Cheever, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, F. Scott Fitzgerald—and most popular (imitated) at the time I started to write seriously, for both his work and his way of life, Dylan Thomas. The White Horse Tavern was his favorite bar in Greenwich Village.
For good or ill, I found my own favorite bar on Clement Street–The Keg–just around the corner from our flat. I had another “companion in arms” from my preteaching-in-Hawaii days: Dick Harvey, who worked as a claims adjuster for Kempler Insurance Company—a Harvard Business School grad for whom Kempler called in a psychiatrist to find out why Dick was “perfectly content” to remain in the modest position of a claims adjuster each time he was offered a promotion (He was smart as a whip, but resisted all “advancement,” and increased responsibility in his chosen career). He liked to have a good time and was grand fun as a bar mate. He’d played amateur hockey back East, and introduced us to a City skating rink, where Betty and I were amazed to discover that we could still stand up on skates after all these years.
Here is a photo of Dick Harvey in our flat—and a photo of Jefferson Airplane, as they appeared on the cover of their Surrealistic Pillow album.
Dick Harvey introduced me to another piece of significant San Francisco history. He took me to The Matrix, described by Wikipedia as: “a nightclub in San Francisco from 1965 to 1972 … one of the keys to what eventually became known as the ‘San Francisco Sound.’ The Matrix opened August 13, 1965 showcasing Jefferson Airplane, which singer Marty Balin had put together as the club’s ‘house band’ … In 1968, after finally getting all the necessary releases, The Matrix’s owners sold to Columbia Records some tapes of live sets from 1966 by The Great Society (the band Grace Slick belonged to before replacing Signe Anderson in Jefferson Airplane): edits of those tapes (including the first commercial recordings of “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love”). Jefferson Airplane rose rapidly to local prominence during late 1965 and early 1966 with their performances at The Matrix, and it was there that they were first seen by noted music critic Ralph J. Gleason, who became an early champion of the group.
I was a jazz snob converted to acoustic folk music when Dick Harvey took me to The Matrix “In the early years of The Matrix, there was a huge mural of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse on the left wall near the rear; rumor was that the members of Jefferson Airplane had painted it before the club first opened. The club’s lighting was very subdued everywhere but on its small stage …. Inside, near the entrance, there was a bar (beer and wine license only) on the front left. The interior was about 50 by 80 feet … The stage was a step above the floor on the right side, center to rear. A small sound booth occupied the center of the left wall, and a few cocktail tables were at the left rear in front of the mural.”
The sound at The Matrix drove me crazy—sound emerging from speakers nearly as tall as the ceiling, the place the epicenter of an earthquake taking place: not the sort of environment to enchant a “Folkie” like myself—and, to Dick’s displeasure, it drove me from the place: my first encounter with The Great Society (whose music, as that of Jefferson Airplane, I would grow fond of later). Dick had a striking resemblance to Woody Allen, in appearance and manner—and one night he pretended he was Woody Allen, and people believed him for a few minutes, until we decided to duck out safely, while the going was good.
The Keg proved far more compatible than The Matrix, to me—and Dick Harvey seemed quite “at home” there too. I began to feel too much like a “real writer” there, just “talking shop,” going over my day’s work as a writer and house husband—unfortunately enjoying my new role after Betty put in her 9 to 6 day of work only to have me go “out,” far too often (to The Keg), at night. As time went on, I also discovered I was guilty of the sin of omission. My time of “freedom” as a full-time working writer was running out, and as the calendar got turned from March to April to May, I was having no luck whatsoever finding a job for Fall, when it would be my turn to support the family again.
When I began this temporary stint as a “real writer,” I’d hoped to have more financial success than evolved, and I’d sworn, after my University of Hawaii experience, that I would not “succumb” again to the trade of teaching, but … as time went on, in spite of my story publication at Per Se, and in spite of the amount of writing I had done (both stories and poems), no further work I’d sent out had been accepted, and I realized that, as far as careers went, there was only one I’d ever proved at all good at—and that was teaching.
I’d even written my parents, at the turn of the year, that I’d stayed in touch with Dr. Dennis (a former San Francisco State professor of mine, now a Fulbright adviser in Greece, and he was assisting in my ”search”)—and I told my folks that “a few more publications might help waver the sour sweat of having to earn a Ph.D, and see me reestablished in some fine school, teaching, working my way up the ould “ladder” of success”—but ”a few more publications” were not forthcoming. None were! When Spring rolled around, I was desperate.
Between March and June, I sent letters to a total of forty-five colleges and universities—seeking employment. Geographically, they ranged from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington to Miami-Dade Junior College in Florida to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond to San Diego State in California—including the University of Costa Rica, the College of the Virgin Islands and the University of Hawaii, Hilo Campus; with the University of Albuquerque (New Mexico), Colorado State University in Fort Collins, the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, the University of Wyoming, Tennessee State University in Nashville, Murray State University (Kentucky) moving inland. I wrote to eight schools in California—from Sonoma State College to San Fernando Valley State and the University of California in Riverside. The only faintly positive responses I received were from Southern Oregon College in Ashland, Oregon State University in Corvallis, and Western Washington State College in Bellingham—and I actually corresponded with all three, until they hired someone else.
I wrote to colleges and universities in the Midwest (Betty and I had discussed the possibility of being closer to our families, for Tim and Steve’s sake—so they could actually “know” their grandparents, etc.)—and Lo and behold: I finally received an offer from a school I knew nothing about—not even where it was! Wisconsin State University-Whitewater! It proved to reside in the apex of a triangle formed with Milwaukee (where my old friend Jim Cattey worked for the Milwaukee Journal) and Madison, the state capitol.
Here are photos of the town of Whitewater—entering by day, and a view at night. Then, its exciting entertainment center: the beach at Whitewater Lake.
A contract arrived, was signed and sent back to Wisconsin, and the next thing I knew we were emptying out those delightful drawers in the boys’ attic room. I don’t recall what van line we employed, but a spiffy very officiating gentleman arrived one day, wearing a blue uniform, and with a burly linebacker in tow, who, while his “boss” filled out forms for Betty to approve, effortlessly (it seemed) hoisted a giant trunk we had filled with most of our worldly goods on his back (after the other gentlemen, with just a nod of his head, directed him to do so)—and took it down our back stairs to a van waiting to deliver it, and other artifacts, to the state of Wisconsin, where I found myself returned to the profession of teaching—a profession I would pursue for a total of thirty-two years of my life.