More than ten years have gone by since the occurrence of the events written
down in "Fern Alley". The images still burn in their select niches. Shadows
will always be created by revelations of this sort. The light however is in
bringing these things to the surface so caring hearts and visionaries may
apply themselves to the problems and point the way to our liberation. At
the moment the suffering is "underground".
This "Underground" is not the resistance to the tyrannical regime or our
endless fascination with organized crime. Neither is it the underground of
the black and white photo of a nude woman with her genitals blocked out
with little black squares. These snapshots so terribly underground to us as
kids. Long before 'Penthouse"!
This is the underground of the ignored! The castaways and runaways and
disposable characters of our streets and culverts and freeway underpasses
and abandoned buildings and just about anywhere else you out there never
bother to look. This is about people who are not being heard. The
unpublished unsupported artists and writers and playwrights and
troubadours. This is the underground of overworked social philanthropy and
overused police. About inadequate public healthcare and insufficient
housing. The underground of our incompetence, the greed and towering
mediocrity. The places truly beneath our collective surface. Hidden from
most of our selves as well as out of our sight.
This piece of writing is also underground in as much as it will break
certain rules of convention. People's names have not been changed. This in
spite of the fact that the order of events have been put in a readable
procession. The actual events, though absolutely true may be grouped
together a little more closely than they actually went down. You see,
you're actually being let in on this ahead of time. That is a bit
different, don't you suppose?
In the Penguin English Library's introduction to "Typee" by George
Woodcock, the scholar Leon Howard reveals what he perceives to be Melvilles
approach towards actual events. He sees "Typee" not as an imperfect work of
autobiography, but as 'Melvilles germinal work of art' in which his 'memory
of personal experience began unfolding within the imaginative and
intellectual experience of an artist'.
Far be it for this humble beginner to allude to Melvilles incredible
talent, but Howard did pin something down about the process of this
authors' accounts. So the piece will risk innumerable attacks and threats
of litigation simply because changing the names takes the heart out of the
storytelling. I really like and care about a lot of the people presented
here. There will be a valuable epilogue to this piece to let the readers
know what might have happened to some of the characters, all real, who
appear in the following pages.
Thank you so much,
Andrew Anthony Autuori Nov. 2002
Excursions into the underground
It must have been around the autumn of 1993. Our band, "Dagga Cult" was
beginning to work out a disc. The title "Royal Lovers and Naked Holymen",
dreamed up by the bass player, James, was coming off as my favorite part of
the production. It was frustrating. A fortune was being spent, but it still
felt too far from what it needed to sound like. Fuck it! It was in this
state of funk that we were showing up at the St. James Hotel to stash our
instruments in our new rehearsal studio. Studio?! What a laugh! A ten by
twenty cubicle of cinderblock and sheet-rock with no ventilation and way
too much rent.
But we were lucky. Most Entry level bands had no money and eeked along with
inadequately rehearsed acts featured in any hole in the wall, screwed up
venue that had the mercy to let them play. We waited ages for this spot and
it finally felt good to set up the keys and get into a little bit of a
world for a few months.
James and I were at the teeny front desk of the place. James, easy on his
feet in black jeans and one of his many T-shirts pointedly purchased to
reflect wit and design. He ran away to join the circus, no shit, from
Rochester, New York as a teenager and much like me sought refuge soon
enough. For me it was school. For James it was the Hari-krisha movement. He
was a joyous but not very studious "chela", and somehow bounced back into
the art-rock scene in New York City.
Matt, the lead guitarist sauntered in. He was on the tall side, blonde hair
on top of a classic "American Guy " look. He was primarily a bluegrass
performer who appreciated the poetry of our songs. His guitar style was
different enough to make the band sound unique. I was always glad to see
him. He was serious, like me, and that was comforting, especially in a
younger guy. He was handsome too, which never hurts on stage.
James had such chops and we had great chemistry, but he held no particular
spirit for the stage life. He more or less preferred the quiet dark
sanctity of the "studio". To give him due he is an audio wizard as well as
a computer graphic artist. This lasts his favorite pursuit.
My guess is he was cynical about live music because he had been
disappointed in New York. He had ties to Alice Coltraine. It was too bad
because I really liked the idea of a working band and James and I had a
signature sound, something uniquely our own. We could play together on any
number of instruments and create something trippy. A local bunch of guys
that were worth an occasional listen. Hell, the people who ran the rooms
liked us well enough. James didn't trust it, "no money in it".
We gave the typically sleepy and slightly distracted clerk the necessary
check and he led us to the elevator and gave us basic directions. This
would be the last time we would use the elevator to bring the stuff into or
out of the place. We were instructed to schlep the gear to the back of the
warren of studios to the rear-shipping door, a big metal thing that you
swung out of the building.
A rusted banged-up relic from a mid-evil castle that creaked open with the
groans and dust of at least sixty years of work. Like a lot of the
buildings in town, the basement had been torn out and refurbished a score
of times making it hard to tell how the area was originally designed to
operate. It was nice, at least, that there were no stairs down to the
sidewalk. You could roll the amps down green indoor-outdoor carpet, like
they use in the pro-sport locker rooms, right out the door.
This was "out the door" for sure. The sunlight blasts right at you so you
stumble back for a second and upon stepping out you put your foot into a
well used white fast-food sack. There are bottles and cans and cardboard
boxes stacked at various backdoors up and down the alley on both sides. The
brick walls revealing scabrous layers of paint, a sort of Grey green flat
in some places; in other places an old dull black, covering warped plywood
and rusty wire-mesh clad windows. The glass painted out the same as the
walls, a few of them cracked out in gapped tooth fashion. The doors were
metal sheathed as required by law and showed no knobs or handles. Fern Alley.
The ever present squads of pigeons examining containers on their way down
the alley seemed to be all that would be thought of as alive out there.
Suddenly evidence to the contrary tossed a bottle at a group of the gray
vagrants and they scrambled in ten different directions up into the air. A
raucous jar of marbles laugh ensued from a cardboard and sleeping bag mound
stretched parallel to the wall some twenty yards down the lumpy street.
Easy to guess it was a homeless person and that was no news in San
Francisco. With that brief introductory notice of Fern Alley we closed
ourselves in and proceeded to set up our first session.
Eric, the drummer, hated the place. "I cant believe we're gonna lock
ourselves up in this fuckin death trap for hours a week". That was it for
me. "This fuckin death trap took months to get into and there's a fucking
waiting list all the way to the fuckin airport for this death trap so just
fuckin play and fuckin shut up!" Eric could never be pleased. He was such a
pain in the ass. I really like the guy but too often he just doesn't get it!
A tall and lanky fellow with a smile that's almost built into his face. He
talks fast as East-Coast urban Americans might talk. Everybody just
knee-jerks on New York City when they hear an accent anything like that but
it could be New Jersey or Philadelphia or even old San Franciscans from
"Downtown" happen to carry a little of that "city" tang.
Truth be told, there wasn't as much as a hole in the wall of this room. No
fan. No grated opening. Nada! The paint job was a couple of days old and
the carpets were all brand new and well. real inexpensive. They reeked of
chemicals that combined with the acrid cheap latex paint to somewhat
Trouble was, no entry level musicians in our part of the world had decent
practice spaces. There were always mountains of greed creating new and ever
more annoying levels of discomfort. Bitching and moaning does nothing about
it. Eric has made a hobby out of complaining. The drumming Kvetch. You
don't know why you like certain people but dam it you like em anyway!
We do sweat and smoke our way through enough of our material to feel like
the rent will be worth it. However, even the best of pot smoke gets way too
close in a sealed box with four sweaty guys and its decided to retreat to
Fern Alley for the rest of our break.
San Francisco is giving up another one of her breezy sunny sundowns. The
Polk street District doesn't get the evening fog until later than the
Haight and other more coastward neighborhoods. Fern Ally is only four
blocks long running uphill from Larkin to Gough.That doesn't give the wind
enough time to pick up much speed. Little eddies of air twirl the
french-fry bags around.
We hear a mock applause from a group of kids against the wall halfway down
the block. James waves and gags it up like a super-star and there's this
oohing and aahing and laughing. Everybody in San Francisco sports their own
brand of irreverence to forms of celebrity. Sam Wo's, a Chinese restaurant
famous for its' rude waiters. Friends tell me that the best known of these
gentlemen is named Edsel.
The inevitable request for a cigarette would not be denied. James and I
sauntered down the alley to say hello. There were three of them. Some
introductions were made but I can't recall any of their names a mere few
seconds after the ceremonies. These kids were a sight. The one in the
middle is the biggest. A white boy about fifteen or sixteen. Red hair cut
short with a green stripe died on the side. A green bolt of lightening
streaking across the right side of his head. His teeth were rotten which
did not prevent him from grinning a lot. His eyes were watery and he had
lesions on his neck and face. Some of them were black rimmed for what
appeared to be dried drops of blood or maybe just dirt. He was on something.
The one on the right was Hispanic. Medium long dirty black hair and an
adolescent beard. All in filthy black, a regular young Murietta or Zorro
maybe. Only thing was he was haggard in the eye and off in his complexion,
leaning against the wall in an exhausted posture. He hadn't said a word.
On the other side of the redhead is another white kid. Lying down with his
head propped up on his wool watch cap. He was the one who laughed that
congested rollout you could hear a block away. That's' all though. Everyone
was satisfied with the redhead doing the talking.
"You guys are players, right?" "Yeah" says James 'I play the bass and he
plays the keys. "Cool!" He nods. Somehow there wasn't really that much more
to say at the moment. There was staring and some empty giggling people get
into when its way too inappropriate for explanations. Matt was standing
over by the door and it was time to go back in.
Stepping back into stride towards the door I said, "What's happening to
those kids? There really sick". "They got Aids man, don't you know"? Then
it came home to me and I turned to look at them. No, I didn't really know.
It was the first time I was ever really that close to anyone that far into
We packed our things and went out to our respective cars and drove away. It
was recently dark. A little after nine. I drove back up to my place on
Frederick St. in the upper Haight. Without going any further than
mentioning what a royal pain it is to find yourself a parking space when
you get home, I was back in the semi-dark flat on Frederick Street. I
finally took the comfort of my housemate Shelly and told her what had gone
Shelly was a dancer. She did it all up to a point. Like most dancers she
did the exotic stuff for the money and to stay in shape for whatever
legitimate dates might be out there for her. She still had a real tight
body and stepped out real tough. This made it possible for her to dance
with a primitive mini-bikini. Nothing much left to imagine but that was her
And so it is. The dancers navigate up and down the various "stratas of
decency" according to their own bizarre sense of self-respect. It's the
pull of their needs. When they get too old to attract much else than the
"titty bars" there' already addicted to the nightly money as well as the
possible drugs necessary to keep up the whole sleazy enterprise. Not all
but most dancers know part of if not all of the above.
She grew up in Santa Cruz, up in the woods. She was pixie size from the
start, but never got rolly-polly like so many other diminutive women of
Latin descent. She was mostly Hispanic, Mexican, a little white and then a
little black. An octoroon to be exact. She was hung up on that one eighth.
Always attracted to the black guy. She was taken advantage for being so
transparent about it but couldn't really stop.
Her parents were drug addicts and, as she describes it, so she spent most
of her time running around the front yard in a "pretend dance fairyland all
of my own". To this day she hates drug use. She knew more about how
stupidly people could act than most people I would meet. She related her
experiences in a series of hilarious plots and sagas, great characters,
wildly profane scenarios. All five foot two or three of her tapping this
strut out, cracking up in the Kitchen. Nobody could laugh like Shelly.
Other nights she's telling me another side of her life story. She gets
fooled by the men. They all leave her. She's cynical and hurt and all these
totally opposite feelings to what she was just yesterday.
Some days she would walk around the house dressed up like a little boy. Yet
one more Shelly that lived in her house, quiet all day. She had a flat
bust-line, which she was self-conscious about. She used falsies when she
danced. She showed me how they worked. She kept talking about getting a
boob job. All this exotic behavior and her total trust of me resulted in me
falling in love with this lady but that's another whole story.
She looked up at me with those huge eyes of hers and told me " I've lost
some people to it already. "Its' really scary". Shelly's a bi-sexual.
"There's no way without a condom, but what the fuck, we all knew since we
were kids that condoms break! I really don't give a fuck most of the times.
I wanna have fun, that's all".
"Shelly, that's gonna come to an end because if it didn't there wouldn't be
any reason to have fun again. You get that or things degenerate into
hopeless circles of bullshit"!
"You're really wound up Drew".
"The kids kind of spooked me, You know what I mean?"
"Yeah, Shelly sighed, "I dig it".
Up in the fog of the Haight, between Masonic and Stanyon you're apt to hear
the wail of a blues harmonica. It's not that you won't hear more than one
blues harmonica as the weeks go by but there is this one distinct call. He
can't get around to any sort of progression. It's the beginning or maybe
the ending of some great solo. The first few times you hear it you get this
tremendous sense of atmosphere from its pure excellently rendered passages.
His name is Robbie and he's a fixture in these parts. He likes hanging near
the liquor store on Haight and Cole, think its called Franks. On Sunny days
he'll stand on the Corner and flirt loudly and brashly with any good
looking woman that walks by. That is a hell of a lot of good-looking women.
Robby is trolling, no doubt, but even when there's not a chance he'll do it
anyway. "Ooh Baaby You just make me feel so hard and goood, give me a
little kiss ooooh oooohh."
"Hey Dreeew How are you maaan. You got somethin for Robbie?" I'll sometimes
buy Robbie a three-dollar bottle of Vodka or lay a joint on him. Then there
are times he signals me to sit in and, though he may reek of sweat and
urine, I'll set on down and get turned on to a joint or some Morphine.
Depends what time of the month it is. Robbie fills me in on life in the
streets. He's my pet beggar. A thing I picked up in India.
If confronted by a sea of beggars every day, life in Calcutta, life in the
Haight, go figure, the only thing to do is pick a favorite and treat him or
her or them well. After that you would only be throwing pennies at an
ocean. At least the one you pick can really get some focus.
Robby was just a little younger than I was. Mid-forties, reasonably well
educated divorcee. He had been to India. He knew the "White Sadhu" thing.
The only big difference was that he had no offspring. He thought it was so
cool that there were kids in my life.
Robby was a hopeless alcoholic with a bikers' predilection for mixing every
other potent potable possible at all times. He spent hours in a drugged out
drunken stupor leaning against a wall. Stinking of urine and lost to
himself and the world. The cops or the MAP (Mobile Area Patrol) van would
pick him up once in a while. He'd come back in a week or so all squeaky
clean in his favorite outfit, a brand new pair of blue-denim overalls with
no shirt on underneath. He was built well with dark curly shoulder length
hair. His crumpled black felt hat.
A goofy white guy that was kind of "cute" as the girls put it. He claims
that at least once a month one of these lovelies takes him home for a turn.
I can believe it.
In one of his more lucid moments I asked him about the kids on Fern Alley.
He looked at me through his genuine John Lennon style English glasses with
a hesitant wince of a smile. "Heavy scene that deal. All comes down the
hill from St. Francis' a local Hospital three blocks up the hill from the
St. James. They got an outpatient clinic there. The kids with AIDS and
Hepatitis C get their meds there. Some of them get pain killers and
whatever. It's all part of the monthly drug week."
"All of us who get meds get them about the same time of month. Its' a big
bloom. We trade and share and rip each other off and fight and party and
raise hell and whooo man its fuckin wild for a week or ten days or so you
He's talkin at me from this bogged out cloud.
"Then its' back to beggin by the pint and livin from day to fuckin day
again till next month!" Perhaps that's' the rage that gets Robbie to howlin
so loud you can hear him blocks away. For sure he's a little off mentally.
That goes for half the people out here.
To put the record straight, what Robbie says is true but only for the world
he inhabits. There are two for every one of Robbies' "celebrants" who are
way too sick and or desperate to work any kind of 'party' into their
monthly routine. "There's no clinic or nothin like that?"
"Yeah, but most of those kids are runaways and they don't want to go
home, especially if they're gay. Shit, they'd rather die here! The other
ones were up here until they got sick. Now they have no money or anywhere
to go but places like Fern Alley. Other kids were born with Aids through
their parents. Yet other young gays contracted the disease on purpose to
collect the welfare money! The healthy street kids don't necessarily want
them around either."
One of the reasons this group of "untouchables" emerged and persists is
Robbie's incipient homophobia!
"Pretty fuckin close Drew.
Pretty mother fuckin close!"
At which time Robby is apt to let out a blast of his one and only
anthematic harp wail that you can hear now years later as if it were a
famous solo from a Rolling Stones single. You can hear Frank over at the
liquor store in a mock verbal attack on one of his favorite local victims.
"Get out now, go on get fucking out". He would roll his eyes and laugh.
The uninitiated would stand there flatfooted while everyone in the store
cracked up. He and his wife and two daughters ran the busiest bizzarest Mom
and Pop corner grocery in town. With characters like Frank and Robby
there's hope for the world yet. But is there any hope for them? Are they
sacrificing their bodies for our later realizations? I stroll back home in
a sundown fog to work up something to eat.
What Robby had to say about the fate of these kids just didn't ride well.
Back in sixty-nine, my beloved teacher and father Ciranjiva Roy told me to
come here and wait for him to arrive. Compared to West Bengal the Haight
Ashbury was freezing cold. All I had were my Indian "rags". People knew we
were just back from the Far East and treated us very kindly. Though we were
ostensibly homeless there was always someplace to stay. Even if it was a
constant round of parties there was still no reason to crash on the
sidewalk. People just didn't let it happen. There was always a heart that
That wasn't true anymore.
And it wasn't because there was no space or because there was no food or
because there was no money. Hey, its because there was no longer that basic
love! And that fuckin sucks!
That was my state of mind over this and I knew that wasn't any good. It did
give insight into the rage that some of the poetry and music on the scene
was beginning to internalize. What else could happen? When humans turn
their backs on each other in such a cold way there's this betrayal. A deep
abandoning of something good that will be very hard to regain.
Every once in a while I took a ride out to the Excelsior District in the
Outer Mission. This is the last of Mission Street before it leaves San
Francisco to become the Old Mission Boulevard. After rambling South a while
it reverts back to its' actual old name, El Camino Real, the oldest longest
road in California. And its' got the coolest name!
Anyway, up there nestled in the tract homes, lives the Widow Martini. She
lives in a house left to her by her dead husband Angelo. She will miss him
forever. I'm a sucker for that kind of love. Taking care of her house has
made it possible to get to know this beautiful soul. She grew up on a farm
in Southwest Georgia during the depression. She rates a book, as do we all
in a pure vision's moment, but something she told me rings true to this
"You know Tony" She knew me by my old nickname, "There's some mean people
out there. They make a pretty mean world for us to bear, but there not
gonna make me like that, no Siree"!
I was so moved by that.
"Georgia, there's people go all the way to India to become Yogis, they
spend fortunes, to try and understand that simple strength".
She would laugh in her happy way when I said things like that. She really
was a mental being. A self-oblivious "Yogini" spreading positively that she
knew had real value. All this! From a woman without a single religious
tract on her walls. Nothing like that around the house at all. A huge doll
collection and a beautiful back garden. That's all.
So it was something like that. "Self respect is the way" our teacher would
implore, so true. "Hell, do no harm", I say. "Somebody 's gonna get you if
you tell em you're happy all the time", Robbie would tease me. Yeah, he's a
little right too. Envy has a silent leverage we so easily overlook.
The next day Carl Hoyer came to call. Carl grew up in the Haight-Ashbury.
His hippy "family" essentially abandoned him there. He wandered through the
hippy pads and rock and roll basements of a decade that will rival the
decade of the "Cowboys" for its' impact on how we do our thing.
There was Carl, in a pair of purple Frye boots and green jeans. Yeah,
that's' right, kind of a lime green at that. They must have searched the
back shelves for old stock indeed to satisfy the taste of this walking
museum piece. Right down to the 'Far Outs!" and the "That's' really trippy
man!". The kind of stuff that makes your housemate decide to fade away to
check up on his mail or prune his toenails.
Carl was a devotee of the sixties mythos of Rock and Roll musicians being
"special" somehow. As if our own private egos about creativity and personal
power weren't enough, this guys' still peddling the idea were' going to
change the world. If I steer him to Ciranjiva or some other translation of
a higher experience he immediately tells you your understanding comes from
your cosmic connection through the music. Yeah, right!
Carl's just beaming at me jabbering away about how great the songs are and
how he was gonna find real rooms for us to play.
He had decided to be our manager. James deplored the idea of this weirdo
representing us but I reminded him that we could use any kind of help we
could get. Low and behold we end up playing Boddekar Park down in the
Tenderloin right across the street from Glide Memorial. It was a great gig,
all due to Carls' connect to "Park and Rec".
During his morning chatter he gives me regards from Tom Summerall.
"Tom Summerall!", how do you know him?"
"I see him down at Golden Gate Park at the Shiva Lingum grove".
I respond, "That doesn't surprise me in the least. He is a strong devotee
of Shiva. He loves Father a lot".
Carl sort of shrinks a little.
"Yeah, sometimes Tom freaks me out just like Father does. He gets so intense".
Carl struck a helpless pose gay compatriots had no doubt brought to him.
"That's' just Shiva Loca, but I can see where you would like Krishna Loca
better. More loving and mellow". Carl had more than one Krishna button
among the thirty or forty buttons on his Kelly green custom canvas
waistcoat designed for them. He was really a sight.
"Tom wants you to come and see him at his place. He's down on Market
Street, a few doors down from the U.C. annex, running an Aids hospice".
We all know what it feels like when the tumblers in the big lock are
falling in place. Its' a sensation that cannot be denied. "Yeah, lets' take
a ride. I'll take along a little smoke and we'll do a little sacrament
right there in the place. Shiva being the patron God of the rejected and
inflicted of the world, evoking his presence there made a sort of perfect
It was a stone entrance to a run-down three-story apartment building in San
Francisco. There must be hundreds of them in varying degrees of
dilapidation all over town. All the front windows facing Market Street were
covered with plywood except the first floor window near the stair landing
on your way up to the door. We would soon learn that this was a set of
rounded windows in the corner of the building belonging to no other than
He beamed at us through the crack in the door as he slowly opened up.
Hastening us into the room, he closed the door and bellowed out "Bom Sankar
Bolenath". A favorite greeting and evocation of the "Sadhus" in West
Bengal. It seems to me that "Sadhus " from all over India would understand
it. Our family group was taught more than one translation of the passage. I
like "May we recognize God in each other and see His divine activity in all
we say and do". Something like that.
Amongst their various chores, the sadhus in India tend to the dead. They
wear their hair in dreadlocks and carry various ceremonial articles. Some
of these mendicants carry nothing. They are naked in white ashes walking
down the sidewalk, eyes abug, murmuring. He was a student of
para-psychology when introduced to Ciranjiva in New Orleans. He knew Father
was coming to him for weeks before he arrived. Tom Summerall may well be an
American version of this total renunciate. He is completely tripped.
Oddly enough this doesn't sit well with all our group members. We are such
a mixed bag that we can freak each other out. That's kind of cool in a way.
Tom's complete focus on Siva led him to one Michael Bowen. He and his
daughter Maitriya had shared a vision that tranformed a tubular parking
barrier in Golden Gate Park into a Siva Lingum. This is an Ancient Phallic
alter piece attributed to Siva. People come to pray in front of such a
thing to improve their sex life. They come to pray that they might beget
the son they always wanted or bless an upcoming wedding. Siva is the arch
creator. Siva, the destroyer of ignorance, God of change.
This transformed parking barrier became the object of local news broadcasts
as people from India decided to do actual "Puja" at the "Lingum". This is
about prayers and chants, tossing food and milky fluid on the head of the
lingum, the offerings poring down the sides. There may be symbols chiming
and no doubt incense is being burned. Of course you'll see Tom dancing in
wild circles banging on a pair of hand held miniature tamborines chanting
"Jai Siv, Jai Shiv".
This joyous spectacle completely freaks out the Parks Department which
plans to haul the barrier away. But Bowen and company rescue the lingum and
get permission to have it deposited in a garage of a house in the Sunset
district which borders the park on its Southern flank. This house
eventually burns down. Is this ever a true to life weird San Francisco
tale? There's one wacked-out story like this at least once a year!
Tom was never very far from the edge. Years earlier, Tom and some gay
friends rented the building and began subletting rooms to people who needed
to take care of victims of the gay party circuit that exploded onto the San
Francisco scene during the seventies. Kids who had been dragged into Aids
and Hep C and a slew of mental and emotional traumas that wrecked their
Tom and his friends were trying to walk these kids through some kind of
early intervention. Dry them out and get them to stand up. Helping these
young victims regain their self-respect. Tragically, ten years down the
road the building became a hospice. The pandemic had taken top priority.
This hospice deal made perfect sense for Tom. He was really glad to see us.
We immediately formed a dhuni, our circle on the floor, and began pressing
up a ganga chillum. They would blend it with some tobbacco. This would
result in my breaking out in a cold nauseous sweat. Beads of perspiration
are forming on my forehead as Tom explains to me about how Shiva ate the
poisons of the World, resulting in his blue skin. Its' easy enough to take
To this day I must ask however why it is that so many other Gods are
depicted with blue skin? What's their deal? This kind of inquiry is best
presented to my good friend "Gurudas" Roger Siegle. Besides understanding
scripture better than anyone else I know, he remains compassionate in his
vision, never off-hand or complacent about the power of the truth. He too
is really involved with the plight of the street people. Here are a few
lines from his poem:
"Like drops of rain
we fall through
the cracks of pavement
like torrents of rain always there
we bore into the bones
The room eventually begins to slow down as the nausea subsides and I am
left with a pretty powerful high of that sort reminding one of resting
places all over the far east. Its the kind of high that can turn an
afternoon into a lifetime. A seemingly endless memory tracking back onto a
trail to forever. As I relax into this building the sensations housed
within begin to make their presence felt.
Tom is enjoying a series of his wicked bursts of laughter. He laughs from a
universal cognition, reflecting immensity and surrender. He had the kind of
humor that combat-pilots sported. He stared at me with this smile on his
face and asked me if I wanted to visit his "Death House" with him. "Sure",
I replied, understanding immediately that that was exactly what I wanted to
In India, then lover Dianne Rae and I, went to the burning ghats on the
banks of the Hoogly River, a tributary of the Ganges, to see the Sadhus
tend to the dead. It was our second day in India. An Italian madman named
Lorenzo led us there. He also told us about a house on the outskirts of
Calcutta where a bunch of "Gods and Goddesses" were holed up with a teacher
they called "Father".
At the ghats we met people from that group. They were in the same trance
Tom and I are still in to this day. And so just as I crawled into the stupa
where the dead burn, we were invited to join them the next day. Meanwhile
what a choking stinking freaked out experience that cremation was.
They had to get me out of there. I only lasted a minute. If they are going
to burn all the bodies in this area you would think they would have a
bigger barbecue pit than they had. Must have something to do with
tradition. No doubt that little stone upside down ice-cream cone we had to
crawl into was thousands of years old!
Carl wasn't up to Toms' tour. Perhaps he had taken it before. He would
leave as Tom gathered up the mail. This was a lot of mail, which he
proceeded to dump into a pouch attached to a walker with wheels on the
front. The kind of thing you see an old person use to get around. He
scotched taped pictures of Siva and Parvati, Siva's consort, on the front
tube of the walker. On the back tube, next to Toms' expansive belly was a
holster carrying a twenty-five-caliber revolver!
"Geez Tom, Whats' with the piece?"
"There's a lot of fear in this place Tony. Its' mixed up with a lot of
other stuff too. Sometimes these people lose it pretty bad."
As he closed up his room we turned to go down a hallway with a series of
rooms to our left. The windows on the sides of the building were not
boarded up. The ones facing downtown in the hallway had a view of Market
Street on its way down the hill from Noe Valley to the Ferry building. The
familiar clang of the trolly bells. Reminding us all day every day where it
is we live.
The light in the building was a white glow. The whole building was sprayed
white. It was noisy. Coughing and spitting. Groans and wails occasionally.
There was conversation. People talking to each other emphatically. Up the
tail end of the building, at an open window sat a couple of young men. They
were looking out over a garden in a strip of yard adjacent to the place,
holding hands, barely audible, soft whispering.
At each door Tom would call out names. Every once in a while there was no
response and Tom would realize that the party was no longer with us. "Oh
well" Tom would drawl. "Peace no doubt resides". There were murmurs of
assent from various beds and one time someone flatly stated, "Fuck off, you
moron, what the fuck do you know about what goes down when its' over?"
"Obviously not enough to make you fell any better. So shut up". Tom retorts!
Surprisingly enough, that's' what the young man does.
"It isn't always that easy Tony"
"I hear you Tom"
The second floor brings more light and more drama. As Tom sees it, the
newer arrivals with more energy will want the upper floors for their light
and ventilation. Towards the end they feel better on the ground floor. Who
knows? Maybe there's something to it.
Every age group is here but the teenagers are meagerly represented. It
dawns on me at that very moment that this "Death-house" isn't free. Of
course a lot of the kids are not here. Even if they could stand the noise
and exposure they still couldn't afford it!
There's a Doctor on this floor at the bedside of a young man. They have
rounds here. There are attendants and nurses dotting the scene. Not too
many of them however.
How much comfort does a doctor present to someone in this position? The
man's family must have insisted on this. This place is way too late for a
doctor! Tom whisperingly affirms that to be the case. It's to help with the
symptoms, the unceasing pain and discomfort. Each room will be a long story
with a dramatic episode as each of the lives in this place winds down. Tom
is going to watch this entire spectacle on a daily basis. The mind reels.
He truly has a heart and imagination big enough to take it all in day after
day. A weird doped out rotund Shivite Mother Theresa!
Too much stuff coming in for a person to come to conclusions. The images
fill the afternoon co-mingled with the sounds people will make being quiet,
the energy people generate when they don't have any energy. At least one
person lying on their back in bed staring at the ceiling for each room the
mail is delivered to. In each room there will be someone sitting on the
side of someone else's bed. There are more than words exchanged. The amount
of love in this building is an awesome surprise. It is just a shock to me.
You expect the fear and understand both the furor and the silence, but you
are humbled by the love. Couples holding each other as the ship shudders,
telling the lovers that these are their last moments. Its' gong on all over
"This was a good day" Tom smilingly reassures me as he passes me a small
pipe. The respite was allowing me to leave here what belonged here and
leave a little of myself as well. Balancing things out. "This is big for me
Tom. I realize some things.
Thanks a lot".
"Think nothing of it Tony, It was nice to have the company".
It must have been about two o'clock. The crowd at the Metro were still at
the outside tables. Their covey of motor scooters clumped at the curb. The
afternoon fog hadn't rolled in yet. Market street was clanging and shifting
its' crowded way through yet another city afternoon. It would be good to
get home and make a cup of tea.
We had a rehearsal tonight. No wait, it was just practice. We really needed
an engagement someplace. There was a cultural summit at a high school out
on Potrero Hill someplace. Carl was talking it up. It was an all-city
inter- ethnic festival. They were going to fill the playground with art and
dancers. The band would jam for the dancers as well as feature some of its'
songs. That would be so cool!
It was early for the scene. There's a Chinese Resteraunt tucked away from
the corner of Bush and Polk. On the west side of Polk as you approach Bush
going towards the bay.Johnny Woks is the name of the place. Named after the
cook-owner., It presents itself by the weight of the old Red and White neon
sign over the door. A device so covered with soot and pigeon guano that you
can only just make out its original color. There's a table for two that is
set behind a big rectangular window right on the level of the sidewalk. You
can watch the street while you eat as if you were out there. When its'
chilly out there this street level meal is a special treat.
The waiter knows me and saunters over to guess I want the Prawns and Garlic
Noodles. That is just the case, as I spread out my legs and take off my
jacket. The street silently roaring on as usual on the other side of the
glass. It's one of those many days in town when at a certain time of day
the temperature outside is the same as it is indoors. This indoor niche
affording privacy and silence. Through the glass the city reveals itself in
a way I love., though you cant love everything it shows.
Across the street, just down to the right, one of the "throw-away kids", as
Tom described them, skitters along the final stretch of Fern Alley. He
walk-stumbles a left turn down the concrete a few feet to the Food Mart
Express, a sandwich cum newspapers sort of place, disappearing into the
glassed in counter area. He was a new one. Skinny white male in rags etc.,
This street is such a show. Every walk of life this town supports doing it
right here. The tourists don't get to this part of San Francisco until
they've been here a few times. Its' usually a casual discovery. Very much
like any great city so much larger than this place, atmosphere is to be
discovered just about anywhere. Real magic.
With a great meal, a little bit of thought and rest the session should go
well. As usual the place is empty when I get there. The door gets propped
open for air as I warm up and wait for the guys.
Matt glides in with a smile. He likes to see me setting the mood. James
doesn't take long to arrive and we stop for a little smoke and confidence.
Eric's complaining is a subject but I try to head off too much more
negative energy around it. I like Eric in spite of his issues and he can
grow into this arrangement as aptly as the next person, so I supposed.
And so he arrived, sheepishly grinning at our attention as he set up his
drums. He said he had an announcement. We were all ears. He said the
commute was too much for him to take all the time. If we weren't willing to
drive up to the Delta country to practice at least part of the time, then
the band would have to pay him $35 dollars for the privilege of his
Thirty-five dollars! Must be some kind of magic number with drummers. We
would have another drummer named Bob, who would insist on at least
thirty-five dollars to come out with us. I told him it was nice to know
what his price was and I would get back to him.
To Eric I just stated, "I can't do that ".
"Well then I guess I'm gonna go".
Eric got up and said he would pick up his stuff later. He walked out
without saying anything dumb. That was so cool.
"Now what happens?" Matt says to me
"You were so calm about it"
"Well, its' not gonna be easy to find someone else but I will. Besides, You
guys deserve thirty-five dollars a session a whole lot more than he does.
We decided to take a breather for a few weeks, which I considered a real
drag. I loved playing and the practice was so valuable. James and Matt
reassured me it would be ok and everyone would try and find some talent for
the drums. Yeah, sure. The spiritual strength to take these kinds of
disappointments in stride still eluded me.
I went out the back way to see what was going on out there. There was a
woman there. That shifted things a little. There were about ten of them
now. There was something scary about it, something really weird and sad. It
was like a science-fiction tableau. The richest most powerful country in
the world has a little alley in it. This ally and its doomed young
inhabitants are not even a secret. The most horrifying thing about it is
that most people simply do not care about these ghosts!
So who in this perverse opera is the worse off? The condemned children of
fear and confusion or the living dead walking around them to their
appointed rounds with little or no concern at all for the pandemic
festering at their feet!
The one with the green hair was there. He looked a little pale, as if he
has looked very good at all recently. I didn't remember his name and there
was no real reason to ask him what it was. I knelt down and shook out a
smoke that he leaned over and took.
"All right man"
"Looks like you got a batch of new friends".
"Yeah, they fuckin show up all right. Maybe they come down from the park.
Who the fuck knows".
"You suppose you're ever gonna get out of this circle?"
"I don't fuckin know and I don't understand why you gotta ask me anyway?
"All right man, I know I shouldn't, I'm sorry, Here".
I gave him the rest of the pack of smokes and got up. I just stared for a
minute and told him.
"I should fuckin know better, I'm really sorry"!
The alley was leading me out to my pick-up. By next week the room would be
available for the next bunch of hopefuls and we'll plug away from the
Frederick St. flat for a few months. The neighbors won't even mind. This
town! Somehow things always found a way to keep on going down the track.
Where else but this place? The foghorns were beginning to moan their
classic salute to the oncoming Grey blanket we so often call sundown.
A "white lady" crosses at the corner of Bush and Polk. These odd women, all
dressed in white. Complete with white gloves, shoes, and hose. Their faces
are plastered with white makeup. There is no other color. No lipstick. They
often wear a white wedding veil. Its' very difficult to determine the age
of one of these wraiths. They are meant to be very ill. They are certainly
not looking well. I've only spotted two of them, possibly three. Poet Rich
Meyers of the Mission-Delores in San Fransisco has seen them as well.
Their heads are invariably bowed and I have never seen one of these
specters speaking to anyone. They do not appear to beg either. They are a
vision of some sort or at least their image will set one off. There may
very well be an aspect of Dhurga or perhaps even Kali herself! Something to
do with a very cold future. We must change how we are living with each
other. These women in white may very well mark a way down to our
Here is one of the other translations of "Bom Sankar Bholenath"
Roughly it goes like this ;
"Wake up, Wake up, Gods and Goddesses. Rise up now to your true capacities!"
It is within us to conquer our evils and recreate our world. There is no
Andrew Anthony Autuori
Sebastopol, California, Nov. 2002
FERN ALLEY, EPILOGUE
It remains to be seen if a decade is actually a long time anymore. It felt
long enough as I stood at the corner of Fern and Polk and gazed down the
first block up to Larkin. Surely it's as if a secret weapon had been
produced here in a clandestine lab that now had to be completely
The ally was totally clean, the brickwork a dull orange red similar to the
tone of the Golden Gate bridge. Not a piece of paper in sight. It was
"wiped off" for fingerprints and "vacuumed" for hairs and fibers; not a
trace of the "rest stop" that it hosted so many years ago. But cleanliness
is far from godliness in this case. There are programs now for the kids,
but the infection rate in San Francisco has doubled in the year 2001 to
2002! The global tally is near fifty million people, half of whom are female!
The band is no longer. James and I remain good friends and musical cohorts.
He couldn't remember the back door to St. Lukes Hospital Sutter St. Day
treatment program. I couldn't track down any info on these people.
Inquiries fizzled out; no surprise there.
Mimi Thayer-Begun parvifox gave me answers. So did Vince Daluiso give me
valuable accounts of the Shiva lingam in the park episode. Gurudas Roger
Siegle also gave me really vital memories, as well as his Poetry, valuable
insights and antidotes.
Shelly is not to be found. She doesn't really want me to come looking. The
last of her dreams to be conveyed to me was her desire to sing. It would be
so cool to play for her. I hope she gets to set that up. Tom Summerall
passed away of an aneurysm in his room at their hospice just within a year
of our "tour".
Greenleaf is an outreach program for the street-kids in a converted bar in
the bottom of his building, a small legacy. The song "The Jewel", on the
disc "Solo Acoustic San Francisco", is directly attributed to what I was
shown that day.
My good friend and musical collaborator David Mahaly tells me Robby is in
rehab someplace in town. He needed to get off the street. It took so long!
Carl Hoyer died of complications due to Aids in San Diego some five years
back. Despite his own limits and irritations he remained a completely
harmless person. That is rare.
The writer is now a resident of Sonoma County, where he moved to get closer
to his family. Thanks to good friend webmaster John Meshkoff it doesn't
matter where I live to write. I couldn't really stay in town unless I
became quite wealthy. A year or so after the events shaping "Fern Alley",
the city raised private funds to build a shelter for homeless cats and
dogs. It is at the foot of Potrero Hill near Bryant and sixteenth. It
opened at a cost of seven and a half million dollars!
That same year the city could only come up with one and a half million
dollars for homeless people! When the community can match people, dollar
for dollar, with cats and dogs, maybe I could stand a chance of comfort in
San Francisco as an old man. The town's not that good for kids either.
Johnny Woks closed down forever around mid September 2002. I hope he got
good money for the place. Food Mart Express is out of business as well.
There are a lot of empty storefronts all over town. The boom is over. Its'
a stretch and a yawn for this endless bonanza called San Francisco.
No matter how much money rises and ebbs through its varied hillsides the
rich will always want to get rid of the "Bohemians". That's' what we were
called a hundred years ago by the disgruntled residents of Telegraph hill.
Let me here thank the brilliant and very Bohemian Rich Myers and his
brother Harvey for their support. Harvey Meyers resides in Sonoma county
where he is also known as "Hari".
Its' doubtful all the money in the world will wash away the magic or the
shadows of these fog-shrouded San Francisco heights. A new group of voices
is always warming up on the sidewalks of the upper or lower Haight, out of
the Tenderloin, giving us the real poetry from the Bayshore, the
Mission-Delores and the Excelsior. The arts spring up from any neighborhood
in town. After all, its' such a beautiful place.
Andrew A. Autuori, San Francisco, Ca. Jan. 2003