While living at Project One, we met some of the most interesting and eccentric people I had ever known. First, there were the folks living in the mini-commune known as “The Estates” where we stayed. Fred was a metal worker/engineer and was currently building an airplane from found parts in his large basement space. Diana was an artist who dreamed of going to an art school in Boston but had no money, so she decided to become a high-paid call girl. She actually did make enough money to move to Boston and pursue her dream a few years later. And there were others, Gwen, Michael, Ford, Sage … There was a garden on the roof and unusual places such as a secret recording studio/practice space for The Phantom Band, located behind hidden doors because it was against code. There were too many unusual people and things to name here. It was an amazing education socially, politically, dietarily, medicinally and more.
Soon after arriving at Project One, we got a tour of the building and met Baron. Baron was on public assistance for mental illness, but he bragged about purposely getting his diagnosis so that he could follow his chosen vocation of dumpster diving. At that time, he was the only person in the city of San Francisco to be issued a license to legally go through people’s garbage. He was a collector and had every kind of collection imaginable. He asked me and Paul what we had collected as kids. As we named various things, he opened cabinets, chests, free standing closets, drawers, etc. to reveal their hidden treasures, matchbox covers, buttons, stamps and coins, everything you could imagine. We never stumped him, though we tried hard. Paul even asked if he had LSD, and he reluctantly showed us a vial of liquid acid made by Stanley Owsley, the psychedelic chemist of the stars. Although Paul asked for a taste, he was refused because it was the only thing that cured Baron’s frequent headaches. One pin drop was all he needed, and he wanted it to last his lifetime.
After we played his game for a while, he looked me up and down and asked if he could buy my baby when he or she was born. Good thing I was standing in front of a chair. As I plopped down, and firmly said no, I told him about the negative test result I’d gotten in Pittsburgh. He pleaded with me explaining that he had plenty of money and would take care of me throughout my pregnancy in addition to paying me whatever price I asked. He had always wanted a child but wasn’t interested in the whole relationship mess. He’d always hoped to find a live baby in a dumpster but so far had only found dead ones. He strongly suggested I have another test done and asked me again to reconsider his offer. If I ended up with twins, he would gladly take one of them for me.
Needless to say, I went to the free clinic the next day for another test and was shocked to find out that I was indeed pregnant. My head was reeling. I’d been almost religious about using birth control. I was also a little worried about all of the LSD I had done in the past year or so. I was looking for a new start, but this was not what I thought it would be. We were homeless on the opposite coast from our family and friends and had no desire to go back home. We started to come up with a plan. The first thing that happened was that Paul asked me to marry him. I emphatically said, NO!” I didn’t believe in marriage and saw it as a trap for women. I was learning about so many alternative lifestyles and was trying to turn away from the norms not buy into them. I sent my parents a postcard telling them about my pregnancy, a ridiculous move, I know. I obviously wasn’t thinking clearly at the time. But my parents were not going to be understanding and, knowing how it would go, I didn’t want to talk with them on the phone.
My mom and dad were very loving and involved parents, but my mother was too involved, running every aspect of my life until I moved away. I’m sure this is why I am still so fiercely independent today, not wanting anyone to tell me what to do. Mom even came into my bedroom (in my own apartment) one day, where I was living with Paul, to wake me in time for work. She said she just happened to be passing by and didn’t want me to be late. My mom also had mental health issues making life at home chaotic and sometimes dangerous. She would go from lively, playful and engaged to angry and violent within minutes with no warning. She also invented or greatly exaggerated events that happened while my dad was at work. Dad was the enforcer, so there were frequent beatings in the evenings with a leather belt. There was no question that I was not going back home. I was finally free. However, Paul finally convinced me to call them. You can imagine how that went. After threatening to disown me unless I got married and hanging up numerous times, they finally calmed down a bit. They offered to pay for us to return to Connecticut, pay for a wedding and set us up in an apartment. I refused. I felt as though this might be my only chance to escape, and I was taking it. We would figure it out. Paul insisted on getting married, saying that he didn’t want my family to turn away from us and our child. There was also still a stigma in some places at that time about couples living together outside of marriage, and we weren’t sure where we would end up living. In Connecticut, we’d had to get a ring for me and pretend to be married to get our apartment. So, I reluctantly and unhappily agreed.
Paul immediately got a job as cook in a sleazy café on Market Street that had just become vacant when the last cook had been shot. We also played music on the streets. We learned a lot from busking in San Francisco. It was important to play upbeat and loud music to catch the attention of the passersby. One rainy morning, Paul and I stood in an alcove and played “Wild Thing” with Paul jumping out at folks, long hair flying as he screamed out “wild thing.” We made more money from that one song than the rest of the day. Totally shaken up, everyone reached into their pockets and purses pulling out dollar bills and tossing them on the ground as they quickly rushed away. We also got unusual tips in the guitar case – food, food stamps, jewelry, even a joint from a boy who looked like he was maybe 9 or 10. It was pretty cutthroat though with other musicians resenting our success and trying to undermine it by setting up right next to us causing us to move to a less populated street corner. Although we were barely getting by, we knew that this would never be enough to live on, though. We also knew that we couldn’t stay in San Francisco. Although there were other children living in Project One, and we finally felt at home here, we soon realized that this commune was not a good place to raise a child. There were three-year old children smoking pot and lots of kids mostly left to their own devices. That was not the environment we wanted for our child.
While we were busking one day, up walked our friends from Connecticut who had given us the ride from Stamford to New York City at the start of our grand adventure. We were all shocked to see each other! They had driven across the country and wanted to experience San Francisco and the whole Grateful Dead phenomena. We were all Deadheads, having gone to numerous shows together on the east coast, too many to even count. Paul and I had just randomly found the Mars Hotel a few days before and were anxious to show our Deadhead friends. It looked just like it did on the album cover without the psychedelic outer space background, unless you were tripping, I suppose. They were excited to see this landmark, but we were all saddened and surprised to find just a pile of rubble. Much to our chagrin, it had been demolished the day after we saw it. They didn’t believe us at first until we found a newspaper with an article about all the deadheads who showed up to watch its demise.
Our friends told us that would be moving on soon and invited us to join them. We were looking for another place to settle, so we went with them heading south down the coast. We went to Big Sur and camped along the northern coast. Finally, we ended up settling in Santa Cruz, California where we got married and had our daughter. But more on that in the next installment.
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