Home > 1978, Fifty Five Is The New > 1978, the Park and Other Things

1978, the Park and Other Things

Where I sit today is so far removed from when Diane and I first arrived.  I am somewhat comfortably ensconced in North Beach, skies full of birds, windows full of views. Granted the flat is old and drafty, the pipes are slow and the steps are many but you’ll not hear me complain. 

I’ve been on the outside looking in and don’t ever want to sleep in a cardboard box again….unless I have to, and then hey!  I’m already qualified for the job!

But back then, Diane and I were wet behind the ears, gullible and steeped in all the fairy tales they told us about going to San Francisco wearing flowers in your hair.  I should have known we were a decade and a year or two too late, but news travels slow….sometimes real slow…on its way back to Philadelphia from all points beyond the Franklin Institute.

We decided to visit my friend Stephen in San Francisco while I gave my marriage (and my sanity) a re-think.   Most of me already knew the outcome…I was too crazy for marriage and not crazy enough to kill myself so the only thing left to figure out during this trip was if I wanted to go home and go crazy, or go home save up my pennies and try for going crazy in San Francisco or L.A.

Anyway, we arrived a la Greyhound, expecting to be met by our friend Stephen but instead were met by a few of his friends who piled us into their tiny foreign car and whisked us to Twin Peaks for our first view of “The City.”

After the long bus ride, stretching out up on Twin Peaks was the perfect thing to do.  Back then, the Peaks were still wild and woolly…there were no cute footpaths, staircases and safety walls…so I climbed down the hill a bit and stretched out, breathing in the fresh Pacific air.

I made a wish….please let me find a direction here….or let me find my way back home…whichever is right.   I was having a lot of mental episodes at then, so the memories of this time are a little fuzzy.

Stephen was out of town, but his room mate was around to let us in.  He was very French, very opinionated and very much opposed to having anything to do with us. Stephen had told him we were to be made welcome, so he opened the door, pointed to our loft, said something about feeding the birds then went out….leaving us with no door key, no word about what food we could or couldn’t eat,  not even a “go to hell.”  And that was just the first day.

It was all down hill from that.  Perhaps he saw me being crazy, I don’t know.  I do remember having to break the glass to get into the apartment one night, then replacing said glass the next day…twice, because Mr. Room Mate  broke the window trying to fix it. He demanded money for our stay, which on the one hand was a reasonable enough request but on the other, we’d been invited.  Anyway, once our money gave out that was it. No more “hospitality.”

After that he kicked us out.
We slept in Golden Gate Park for several nights after that….well, Diane slept anyway.  I remember sitting up, my knife’ “Johnson'” sharpened and at my side until the sun rose.  I remember scavenging for food in the Mc Donald’s dumpster that first morning, then us heading out of town for a few days hitching up to Cloverdale….then back to The City to find a place to crash, or at least get a shower.

After another night in the Park, I remember someone putting us up at “a friend’s” flat while it rained, then having to run away from said “friend” as they tried to threaten me with a baseball bat if I didn’t have sex with him.

I remember being hit repeatedly by that bat…my head was splitting, my ribs ….blood, blood….I remember getting Diane awake, grabbing our things somehow and getting her down the steps ahead of me, all the while this idiot was railing at me with that damned bat.

He must have been on PCP or something.

Anyway, I rounded the corner one more time, ducking whenever possible….then ran straight for the steps…I made a last second right turn which sent my assailant falling, ass over head, all the way down the steps. Yes folks, sometimes flights of steps come in handy. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet.

Somebody started yelling at me about “What did you do to my brother?” They started punching me….I must have had one of those black out moments, or maybe it was just the concussion because I don’t remember how…but somehow I got out, probably walking over my rumpled attacker at the foot of the stairs.  I didn’t bother to check his condition….somehow I wasn’t feeling very neighborly at that moment. Quite frankly, at that instant I didn’t really give a damn.

Diane I think was waiting for me outside with our miserable traveling belongings.  I was bleeding, going in and out of consciousness and in need of medical attention.  Again, I don’t recall how we got there, but I “came to” behind some bushes in Buena Vista Park.  I heard Diane’s voice once in a while, calling my name, telling me to stay awake.

When she wasn’t doing that she was, apparently, trying to get us a ride to a hospital.

I don’t know how long it took but somehow she got an ambulance to stop and the attendants assessed the situation. They were under the impression that I was just a crazy drunk, so they planned on taking me to Ivy Street (now Tom Waddell) then the drunk tank. Diane told me later that they weren’t exactly nice to me, making jokes about having had a bit too much to drink and so on….I don”t remember. 

Apparently itt wasn’t until they got me in under the light that they saw the damage….and it was extensive.  I was one big, beaten, bruised contusion, bleeding from my nose and ears, shaking from head to toe.

Needless to say this condition earned me a few days’ stay at San Francisco General Hospital followed by a free two week’s stay at the Sunnyside Hotel on Sixth Street, courtesy of San Francisco’s local social service agencies.  Thanks, guys!  And yes, it’s the same hotel we stayed in when we returned….told you we had a history.

Anyway, during that time, I recovered my health and strength, licked my wounds and assessed the situation. I was on a walker the first week, but by the second, I was walking about under my own steam and determined to put the incident behind us and move on.

Call me stupid, call me crazy, but through all the madness I’d become very certain of one thing….if we were going to move out to  California, we’d do best to depend on ourselves and no one else.  Diane agreed. She wasn’t deterred by what had happened, rather she said it was a very big, very difficult lesson for us to learn.  And somehow we survived it.

That’s my Lady Di, always putting things into perspective.

Once my health was restored, we took the Greyhound back home to Philadelphia, to see what the fates had in store…either staying back east or moving to California, the answer, I knew, was eminent.

o for today, Fifty Five feels like the new 78 because hard times don’t always mean give up….they usually mean move on!

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