San Francisco


So I finally arrived in San Francisco in the middle of March 1990, drove right on up the apartment Mitch Caplan had rented for us on the corner of Haight and Shrader, just a block down from Golden Gate Park, and, my, it was nice.

Right near the park, right on Haight Street, and the hills just like dear old Westchester.  This was a cool place.  So those early months, I get a temp job almost right off the bat – it ain’t difficult to get a job wearing a headset for a mutual fund.

Of course, I had quit Bank of Manhattan mainly because I hated Manhattan, but also because I wanted finally to teach.  This was something I hadn’t been able to bring myself to do in 1988 after college because of the prospect of going off to one of those damn boarding schools in the middle of nowhere and working 24 hours a day for like $11,000 a year while my classmates were hanging out and chasing tail in NY and either being well paid for their time or not getting paid so much but having their time free to hang out.

So I start exploring the coast a little bit, and exploring the city a little bit and man it’s hard to describe.

I worked downtown, caught a bus right on Haight St. every morning at 7:30 and it zipped me right on down to 50 California St. by 8:00.  Then it was on the elevator and up to 27.

Those first few months I faced out to the NNW and watched the Marin Headlands all day, then we lowly customer service types were moved down to 26, and before the mini-cubes were installed and cut off the view, we faced SE and watched the Bay Bridge and Mt. Diablo.

Here’s a brief tale for the ’90’s which occurred in April of 1990 right in the middle of downtown SF.

I used to sit and eat my lunch outside there during the first month I was working at 50 California, down in that little triangle where California runs into Market (although it was actually Davis St).

So, anyway, I’m sitting there in the beautiful California sunshine one day eating lunch, and a fairly normal looking fellow comes up and starts a conversation out of nowhere.

It turns out that he’s a born-again Christian, and talks some plain sense too.  So, we chat for a while, and he asks me what I thought Jesus would do if he came back then (in 1990, though this would still hold true today).

I told him I wasn’t sure, but Jesus “would definitely have to start small, because,” as I told him pointing around at the skyscrapers that surrounded us, “That’s what’s big right now.”

We both laughed, he gave me his phone number and said he played basketball over in the East Bay Saturday mornings with some of the other folks from his church (he also mentioned they had a singles group where he had met his girlfriend).  I never did call him, but I never forgot about that either.

But then I remember that morning in August when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the markets fucking freaked out, and it stayed that way all that fall and finally bottomed out in October before the rally hit when the bombs started dropping.

I remember watching the carriers and destroyers moving out under the Bay Bridge for maneuvers while that war was on.

Jim Maddox moved out to San Fran during that Summer of 1990, his sister and her boyfriend were both out there already from the previous year.

So the first time I see him that summer, we spent a good old time just cruisin around and gettin fucked up at the Hotel Utah and all that part of the city – South of Market and over next to the water.

And that Fall 1990 we went to see Sonic Youth at the Warfield, and actually watched the warm-up band, some guys in flannel, and although it kind of sounded like heavy metal or like the Sonic Youth urban dissonance, this was very heavy but melodic and cool and just really really good, and I turn to Jim and Jim turns to me, and we say to each other, man, these guys are good.

So, as we’re walking out of the show, I ask Jim again, what the hell were those guys called again, and we look up on the marquee and it says in big letters SONIC YOUTH, and then in little letters underneath it, it says    nirvana.

Then Tim Kosloski and Bud (who had also gone to UVa. with us) decided to move from D.C. out to San Francisco and ended up staying with me and Mitch Caplan off and on, although with Tim it was mostly off, and with Bud it was all ON, man.  He never seemed to leave the apartment.  He got a job working the electron microscope at the medical research lab at UCal just up the hill and was there when I left for work every day.  He came back for lunch every day in the afternoon, and was there in front of the TV with a Bud Light every night when I got back from downtown.

Mitch finally moved out in December but I wasn’t really paying attention because by this time I was getting laid again for the first time in almost two years.  Wow, what a mess I made of that whole goddamn situation.

It is difficult to explain how we met, but suffice it to say that we met through friends but didn’t really know each other, and finally “got together” at an Election Day party where I got totally fucked up (at the time, this was a necessity for me to make any kind of a move, romantically) and woke up the next morning in her bed over on the other side of town.

This being the day after Election Day (a Wednesday) I had to be at work at 8, so I got her to run me back over to my pad to shower, change and get to work, and yes, believe me, after two years of being single, I will definitely call you later.

So this went on all through the rest of the autumn, and I even developed a kind of routine.  Sleeping over at her place on Russian Hill, having sex typically two or three times between 10pm and 6am, then jumping back into my car and zipping down Pacific to Divisidero then over to Haight and up to Golden Gate Park, park the car (no mean feat, believe me, I still owe over $1000 in unpaid tickets out there), shower and then down to work, etc. etc. and so on.

But then work starts getting crazy, and I’m working for some dick from Long Island and I can’t leave my chair and my desk isn’t even a cubicle but is actually about one-third the size of your typical cubicle and the phone calls don’t ever stop, for weeks and weeks and weeks and it’s like this, and one day I take nearly 200 phone calls, for reals, and talk to every one of them.

The next day, I just can’t take it anymore and start hanging up because I need a break between calls and these show up on my record, and so I show 300 calls that day, which everyone knows is impossible.

And now my love life is going shitty too, as we gradually get used to each other, she’s not quite as excited about me spending every night over at her place.

And over at my place, Mitch C. has moved out and Bud has officially moved in, and since I’m never there, he has also officially taken over and rearranged the living room furniture and hung his posters and Budweiser scarves on the walls, and is ALWAYS THERE.

So now my job sucks to the point where I cannot do it anymore, I see that it is coming to an abrupt halt, I am not cut out for being screamed at by irate individual investors and brokers from all over the country (at least not 150 of them every day with no break for months on end).

And so I quit, and they ask me for two weeks, and I tell them, Sure, it’ll take me that long to clear up the account problems I’m currently working on.

And they say no, we want you on the phone taking new calls for two weeks, and I tells them,  nuh-uh, not gonna do it.

And that’s it, I’m out of work at the height of the California Recession in February of 1991, and I don’t work full-time again until September of 1994.

But I spend several months living off my credit cards while I look for work in San Fran to no avail, and look into going back to school for a teaching certificate.

I remember applying for a job working the front desk at one of the hotels downtown.  There were 25-30 people there applying for the position when I went in and there was one guy who was there from Seattle, had ten years experience in the hotel industry and was willing to relocate his family from Seattle for the job.  Needless to say, I didn’t get that job.

Finally my Dad offers to have me come and stay with him in Oklahoma City. So I think about it for a while, and then Tim Kosloski flips his car over out in Sonoma so I lend him my car, and then Jim Maddox comes and picks me up to go and spend the weekend out in Stinson Beach to get out of the city for a while and WE end up in a car wreck out by that lagoon between Bolinas and Stinson, with Lo Mein driving (aka George Pappalardi – also from Taconic Heights, THS Class of ’81) and all three of us in the front seat because of the motorcycle in the back.

So Lo Mein takes the handlebar of the motorcycle in the back of the head as we flip over and he is seriously dazed and permanently affected by this injury and I get back to the city Sunday night, and I FEEL permanently affected, and I’m lying there in bed and realize it’s time to leave and whatever is there in Oklahoma City I don’t know but it’s at least SAFER than what’s happening to me here.

(Down East, Maine  September 1998)

O.k., so it didn’t work out with Sharon, unfortunately, for various reasons, including the fact that I wasn’t quite ready for a full time job again and this, I think, is part of what made her Mom hate me.

Me being white definitely did not help.

So I spent six weeks in the autumn of 1992 in Minneapolis with Sharon and her family while she was teaching at a local alternative high school for Native students.

But as I said, it just didn’t work, and so after the first snow, one week after Columbus Day 1992, I left her, and went on back to OKC to finish up my last class and try to get certified to teach.

I was quite poor at this point, as I hadn’t done any temping for over six months. But it was November and my birthday came up which helped, and then I spent a week doing data entry on the night shift for like $300 and my Dad gave me the old station wagon (which had of course been fixed since the Valentine’s Eve accident out by Lake Overholser) as sort of a birthday/graduation present.

Now, I had flown in to OKC when I moved there from San Francisco (by way of New York, as my brother was graduating from law school that same weekend I needed to get the fuck out of San Fran, and I also managed to squeeze in a quick trip down to Maryland with Jeff and Eddie Alarcon) so I had left all kinds of shit out on the west coast with my lady friend as I had planned on going back there after I got my Master’s and teaching certificate, which needless to say did not work out and I ended up getting Tim Kosloski to drive down to the city from his place in Sebastopol (after he got a new car and got his license back as he had been somewhat tipsy when he flipped his car that night) to pick up all my shit and keep it for me at his place up in Sebastopol where he lived with his two cats and the local stray giant coon cat Walter.

Alright, so I just get done working the night shift and so I’ve got a couple hundred bucks in pocket and the good old white station wagon, and I decide to finally drive myself back out to the west coast and pick up all my shit and bring it on back to Oklahoma, as it now becomes clear that whatever I’m doing, I’m not going to be moving back to San Francisco.

So being that I’m rather poor, I map out my trip to take me through Ft. Collins, Colorado as young Ken Shaughnessey, a fellow graduate of Taconic High School (Class of ’84, just like Mitch Caplan, whereas Jim Maddox, Jeff Faircloth, and Dudley were all ’83 like me) was then going to school at Colorado St. and I could stay over there without the $40-50 expense of getting a motel room.

So, I get out of Oklahoma City around 2 in the afternoon that first week of December in 1992 and head on up to Colorado, driving up I-35 through Wichita to Salina to pick up I-70 west through western Kansas and eastern Colorado, a tremendously beautiful area of rolling grassy hills although, on this trip, by the time I got out there it was dark.

I finally arrived in Ft. Collins around 4am and let myself in and laid down to sleep. Boy, it was cold that December, about 10 degrees in Ft. Collins and not much warmer in Wyoming where I was headed to pick up I-80 to wend my way across Utah and Nevada over the Sierras at Tahoe and down to the Golden Gate.

So we hang in Ft. Collins for a day or two, very short days now as the Winter Solstice is right around the bend, so the afternoons start winding into evening around 4:30 or so.

But anyway, so I head out to Wyoming on what seems to be a rather peaceful day weatherwise, however, I soon find out differently.

Everything’s fine all the way from Ft. Collins up to Cheyenne, Wy. (about 50 miles) so there I pick up I-80 and head on west and the shit hits the fan, or more specifically the snow hits the windshield.

West from the high plains of Cheyenne, Wy. is what’s known as the Medicine Bow Mountains, and I tell you, boy – on that day there was some bad medicine goin down for white boys in white station wagons.

There was about 4-5 inches of snow on the interstate which made me a little nervous, but what was worse were the 18-wheelers. Every one that blew past me at 70-75 mph (I was piking along at about 50) kicked up all that dry snow which was covering the road and produced a little 30-60 second white-out.

Literally.

This was no fucking joke or exaggeration, I could not see a damn thing for close to a minute every time a truck drove past me which was every five or ten minutes for about 2 or 3 hours. Never mind the fact that I was having trouble even seeing where the road was because of the 4-5 inches which covered the blacktop, and every time I drove past an exit and thought about getting off of this nightmare, there was at least eight inches of snow on the exit ramp so there was no guarantee I would even make it to the end of the ramp (or even that there would be a town or a gas station or anything to go to if I got off the interstate). So I stayed on the interstate.

Finally, after about three hours of this nervewracking misery, I come down out of the mountains into Rawlins, Wy. and get lunch at the local Subway.

I ask them about the weather but they don’t really know. They’re friendly enough and let me use their phone to call the highway dept. but that’s no help and so I head out back on the road.

Things are a little bit better, but then it starts snowing again, and by now it’s late afternoon and getting seriously dark so I make it to Rock Springs and get myself a room, warm and safe for the night, anyway.

After eating, I check out the TV and it turns out that California has been hit with blizzard conditions in the Sierras and they’ve SHUT DOWN Interstate 80 going through Lake Tahoe (this was the same December that that soldier and his wife and kid got lost in a blizzard going over the Sierras on their way to Idaho).

So now, there is a drastic shift in plans.

I pull out the handy-dandy road atlas to check out my options.

Well, it looks like I can head down I-15 from Salt Lake City through Vegas into the California desert, and then turn north up to San Francisco.

So, there it is, only my cash is very low, as I had planned on getting Tim to cash a check for me when I got out to San Fran.

So I lie there calculating distances and gas mileage and gas prices versus the money I’ve got in pocket, and I realize that it’s going to be VERY CLOSE. But, from my vantage point in southwestern Wyoming, I really don’t have much of a choice.

(Down East, Maine September 1998)

So, the following morning, I head out without breakfast, on down to Salt Lake, and then out across southern Utah, through Cedar City and St. George, and through that little corner of Arizona where the Virgin River runs down through the Black Rock and Virgin Mountains into Lake Mead (beautiful country).

I get down to Vegas around sunset, but am scared off by the neon and whole spectacle of the place, so I head on down into the Mojave Desert through Barstow and into the town of Mojave for a night’s rest. But I am low on gas and low on cash. I get a room for like $20, but that leaves me with no money, 300 miles to go and 10 gallons of gas to get there.

Like I said, its going to be close.

I’ve still got one set of mountains to get over, but its only the Tehachipis (Ta – HATCH – a – pees), and the snow level’s at about 4500, whereas the pass is about 3900. As I drive through the Tehachipi pass, I can see up to 4500 ft. where the snow is happily falling, while I’m down in the rain, grateful to be within a day’s drive of the San Francisco Bay.

So, I get up onto the I-5, and start up north. I stop for a hitch hiker just outside of Bakersfield, hoping that he’ll have a dollar or two for gas, but he’s flat busted and on his way to Alaska. We ride together up the central valley, but he jumps out as the gas needle gets lower and lower (I’ve explained the situation to him), so I dig $.98 out of the car seat and put it in the tank.

Getting back on the on-ramp, I pick up another hitch-hiker, this time a penniless Dead-Head on his way up to the East Bay. So, off we go.

We get over the outlying mountains on into the East Bay, where I drop off my passenger and sell some batteries I had been carrying with me for another dollar of gas to hopefully get me over the bay and into the city.

I’m aiming for the Dunbarton Bridge, because I figure it won’t have a toll. Well, I figured wrong, it does have a toll, but it also has a free car-pool lane which bypasses the toll, and I feel a little guilty as I cruise by, but mostly now I’m just worried about whether I’ll have enough gas to get me up to the Haight. I still know some folks in the area (although Mitch Caplan has since moved to Seattle) and might be able to borrow a couple dollars so I’ll have gas to get the extra 60 miles out to Sebastopol.

It turns out the girl I had hoped would be home is not home, but I’ve got some cassettes with me which I brought along for the ride, and so I head on over to the local used record store and get about $5 for my troubles – big money! At least enough to get me the gasoline to get out to Tim’s place, so off I go, but not before picking up some homemade raspberry newtons at the local health food store (the only thing I’d eaten all day), ah yes the good old Haight! (This wonderful little corner store has since gone out of business and the restaurant Cha Cha Cha’s has expanded into their space)

And as I walk past the old Red Vic movie theater that used to be there, I look up on the marquee and see “1991: The Year Punk Broke” is playing, but I don’t have the money or the time to relive the past, however much fun it may have been.

The rest of the trip was mainly uneventful, but I did have to sell all of my Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth albums to make sure I’d have enough money to get back to Oklahoma where when I did get back to the empty house (my dad by this time was spending every night with his soon-to-be new wife) there was Sharon’s letter just waiting for me to read at midnight at the end of this hellacious December week-long oddessy to the west coast explaining that I would most likely never hear from her again.

That was when I decided for sure to head back to New York. I needed to call my Mom and check it out with her, but that was the plan – was to go back and do my student teaching at my old high school while I lived at home as this student teaching prevented working and was basically a job in itself while instead of being paid FOR it, you had to pay to DO it, and couldn’t get certified or get a decent job without it.

So there I was, at 27, moving home and going back to high school.

Ah, well, a lot of my friends were actually back in NY. Jim Maddox had moved back there from San Fran while I was in Oklahoma, and Jefferson was back there living in a studio on E. 82nd St., Dudley was living in the “Fonzie Shack” apartment above Jeff’s Aunt and Uncle’s garage, although my brother was on his way up to Toronto to work up there for a year. But, I would get to do some serious math teaching, which was the ticket to full-time work, or so I thought.

(Down East, Maine September 1998)