Memoir by Stan Gotlieb
A Pad in North Beach
We lived in San Francisco in 1966 and 1967, but not in “The Haight”. During the day, we were “workies”, and at night and on weekends, we were dope-smoking free-sex rock-and-roll crazies. Too young for the Beatniks, too old for the Hippies, we were Yuppies before the word was invented: over-aged psychedelic trippers with jobs and no children.
For reasons that had mostly to do with logistics, we rented an apartment in North Beach, the old Italian neighborhood at the first exit from the Bay Bridge. Ellen had a relatively easy commute to her Hayward teaching job, and I had a one-streetcar ride to my job as the manager of the parts department of the local Thermo King transport refrigeration dealer. More on this later.
The entrance from the street was sandwiched between a branch of Wells Fargo Bank and a take-out fried chicken place called “Chicken Delight”. Once through the heavy metal door with a very small and thick glass window, there was a small vestibule with mailboxes, and a rather steep stairway leading to a second floor hallway, off of which were four doors. There were two other apartments on our floor, and one doorway opened on to another steep staircase, leading too a third-floor apartment. The steps and the second floor hallway were of well-worn granite. That, and being completely cut off from outside air and light, kept the hallway in a perpetual state of refrigeration. It was not a place to dally.
Our second-floor apartment, at the end of the hallway, was a typical San Francisco railroad flat. The ceilings were twelve feet high. The entrance was in the middle of the long hallway, and faced a large set of windows looking out on an air shaft. To the right, the hallway led to the spare bedroom, and the kitchen. To the left was our bedroom, and past that the large front room which we used as a living room, and through that, a large alcove which held the hi-fi equipment and TV, a bookshelf, a great old leather armchair with a cracked leather footstool that Ellen favored, and a recliner covered with nubby, muddy-brown cloth worn almost through on top of the arms. Mammoth and solid, with a footrest that folded under when upright, providing wonderful leg support when extended, and a back that reclined almost to complete horizontal, it was mine: not just a chair, not just a throne, but a whole world unto itself; an island of relaxation, contemplation, and self indulgence. Conveniently hung from the lamp under which I discovered the pleasures of Len Deighton and John LeCarre, was a cushioned set of headphones. I spent a good deal of my first Acid trip in that chair. I had my first rush laying back, headphones on, listening to “Sergeant Pepper”.
The windows in both front rooms were bowed outward and overlooked Columbus avenue, with the U.S. Café across the street. Both bedrooms had windows on the air shaft, and there were lots of windows on the back wall of the kitchen, so we had plenty of light. On the back wall to the living room were two doors, one to the room with the toilet and sink, and the other to the room with the oversized claw-foot bathtub.
Having been a doctor's office , the apartment had a glass door. Since we liked to walk around naked, but did not want to shock the neighbors (there were two other apartments on our floor, and one upstairs) we set to ironing waxed paper onto the glass. Our upstairs neighbor came home, saw us doing that, and introduced himself. I confess I no longer remember his name. He was about 50, had been born and raised in North Beach, and had Sicilian-American parents. Thin, pale, with gray hair worn in a pony-tail, large dark eyes, and wearing Mexican huaraches over his socks, we took him right away for a Beatnik. He was, he told us, too old to be a Beat. An artist, a painter, he didn’t usually work in acrylics, but he felt that our door cried out for special treatment. With our permission, he would paint an abstract on it. We fell all over ourselves giving permission, and in no time had scraped the waxed paper off the glass.
The work that he produced was untitled. “I don’t know what it is”, he said, laughing, “I just thought it looked nice”. We came to love that painting. Depending on whether it was day or night, and whether you were looking at it from the inside or the outside, it was four different doors, all interesting and unique. It was the perfect door for a psychedelic age: there, and yet not there...
All the rooms cried out for paint, and after we had checked with our landlord (“paint it any color you like, as long as its not enamel”) we set about to color and decorate our new space. Pastel yellow and green for the kitchen, tan for the spare bedroom, pale gray-blue for the hallway, and white for the living rooms and the bathrooms. We lavished special attention on our bedroom, using various tones of lavender and purple, with integrated curtains and spread, all of which worked to emphasize the room’s centerpiece, a king size bed. Chosen carefully over many trips to various department stores and mattress emporia, it was the only new piece of furniture in the place, which was otherwise furnished from garage sales and second-hand-possessions stores. At least once every Saturday and Sunday, for months, we would arrive outside our new home in our VW bug with a couch, a table, chairs, or some other piece of treasure strapped to the top in precarious fashion, and haul it upstairs to rest in splendor among our fine – if sometimes threadbare – collection.
Painted, furnished, and “open for business”, we set about making our apartment into a “salon” into which wandered, at all hours of the day and night, our growing crowd of friends, some of whom came for dinner and stayed for breakfast – but that’s another story.