Down and Out in San Francisco

After returning from Sweden and flunking my draft physical, I tried a few jobs, like canvassing for one of Nader’s political action groups (see, The Mysterious Saul Alinsky), and also working phone sales for a mob operation selling discounts to Vegas casinos masquerading as radio quiz-show jackpot awards. Both those operations seemed similar and equally sleazy, although the Nader group paid in full, while the mob op disappeared overnight owing me hundreds. I also tried working in an automobile plant producing bumpers, but wasn’t cut out for that grind.

So I went back to college for free, enrolling in San Francisco City College to study journalism, film and theater. I had little money and no car, but I found a room a block from the school for $50 a month that was owned by a Filipino woman who also lived there. She had rented the downstairs to her best friend, Rose. The upstairs had three tiny bedrooms. Ronnie moved in first. Then I arrived. Then our landlady decided to move into the pantry behind the kitchen so she could rent another room.

Ronnie had once been signed to a major film company right out of high school and, according to him, was being groomed as a leading man in the John Wayne/Rock Hudson mode when his career tanked for some reason and he was obviously gay although we never discussed his orientation. Ron had a lot of stories about Hollywood in the early sixties, and was a bit bitter, but had now morphed into a master of bilking the welfare state of California, which is what I guess I was doing in a way too, collecting my free education in a state I’d just moved to. Ron became a model for a character in a play I would soon write. I even have some correspondence from him, although I lost touch with Ron quickly and I’m sure he never saw the play.

Funny how I took a photograph of my desk, starting in Stockholm and then continuing in San Francisco. I was convinced I was going to become a famous writer some day, and was already documenting my progress. I did write one story during this period, The Stockholm Manifesto, based on my experiences in Sweden evading the draft, a story available for free on my smashwords site. You’ll notice my ceremonial elements are assembled in this photo: two candles, the record player and albums, expensive bottle of bubbly, and a bunch of manifestation prayers adorning the wall above my headboard.

One day when Rose came up for a visit, I told Bugsy I wanted to get a picture of her for my archives, so he sat in the living room and I took Rose’s picture over his shoulder. The following semester, Bugsy’s brother Don and I moved into the house next door and I think we were even paying less rent for more space.

The picture on top shows me seated at my trusty Olivetti. Within a year, I’d write my first play on that machine, inspired by my year in San Francisco attending City College. And that play would be my first big break as a writer because it was staged at the University of Illinois and then invited to the National Theater Festival Regional, where it got a standing ovation. But that’s another story with another set of pictures. This is the real place that story was based on, inhabited by a real cast of characters. If you ever want to check out that play, however, you can read a sample for free on my smashwords site. It’s called Mrs. Roses’ Boarding House.