Friday, April 04, 2014

***When Prince Love Loved In The 1967 San Francisco Summer Of Love

From The Pen Of Joshua Lawrence Breslin

“Jesus, I never thought I would get here and here I am in San Francisco all in one piece standing at the foot of Russian Hill where all the “hippies” were hanging out before they went over to Golden Gate Park and “blew” their minds,” Joshua Breslin (a.k.a. Prince Love or Prince, and hereafter so identified), late of Olde (very old to hear him tell it) Saco (Maine) High School Class of 1967, but just now of youth nation, youth nation descending on friendly, friend-sized, go West young man (and woman), go West, heaven said to his boon companion of three days, Benny Buzz (real name Lawrence Stein, Brooklyn High School of Science, Class of 1967), also currently of youth nation. It was Benny Buzz who, having the vast experience of having been in ‘Frisco for a week now, and having “been up the hill,” who guided Prince Love to the foot of Russian Hill in preparation for, well, for his first summer of love experience. No, not the eternal teen summer of love at some beach, camp or vacationland amusement park where boys ogle girls (and they back, maybe) but the long expected jail break-out from the squares, from the cradle to grave plan-every-step world, and from the hassles, man, just the hassles.

Yes, Prince Love, could write the book on hassles, hassles followed by man, or not. Just a few week before he, having just graduated from Olde Saco High, had a “job offer,” a job working as a janitor in Shepard’s Textile Mill, yah, the ones who make those “boss” sweaters the girls are all crazy for these days. Crazy for in winter anyway because right now warm suns, California, Denver, hell even Maine suns, require nothing more than some skimpy top, shoulders showing, and a pair of shorts, short shorts depending on the legs or vanity. His father, Prescott, a longtime employee of the mills, the lifeblood of Olde Saco just then, “pulled a few wires” to get him the job for the summer before he went off to State U in the fall. The previous  year, last year when he was nothing but a raw hang-out in front of the Colonial Doughnut Shoppe on Main Street (officially U.S. Route 1) with his boys (and occasionally girls, but only for a few moments while they picked up their orders) he would have jumped with both feet, maybe with both hands and feet, at the job to get some money for college.

But that was then and this was now, as they say. Now, or rather the now just a few weeks or so before he got to the foot of Russian Hill, he had received word through that mysterious youth nation grapevine that parents, squares, cops, and authority guys were frantic to figure out, but who, in the end, were clueless about, of a “great awakening” that was going on in ‘Frisco and that news fed, fed deep, into the wells of the discontent he was feeling, thoughts about his own desire to break-out from the squares, from the cradle to grave plan-every-step world, and from the hassles, man, just the hassles mentioned before. The grapevine, by the way, was not all that mysterious. Some young, long-haired, wild-looking guy dressed in a blotted multi-colored shirt (later he found out such things were called tie-dyed) from the West Coast had come east to see his grandparents who lived on Olde Saco Beach a few miles down the road and had run into Prince Love at the doughnut shop when he was looking for some joe and cakes to tide him over before a walk on the beach and told him about what was happening on the West Coast. Simple as that, okay.

That information, those pressing on the brain existential jail-break things, and well, he had just broken up with his girl, his long-time high school honey, Julie Cobb, were what drove him to seek the road west. Simple as that. Well not so simple, really, because, if the truth be known, Julie left him for another guy, an older guy who was already working in the mills (not Shepard’s but Cullen’s, the high society linen-makers), had some dough, had a boss 1964 Mustang and, most importantly, wanted to get married, and pretty soon too. That was the sticking point between the Prince and Julia, the marriage game thing that had been going on in the town since, since, well Prince didn’t know but it was pretty common. Graduate Olde Saco, work in the mills, get a couple of bucks, get married, get a tiny house on Atlantic Avenue, maybe, have two point six children, throw in a dog or two cats, and then finish up whitewashing that picket fence in front of the house with the grandchildren. No sale, not for Prince Love. He was going to college, leave the dust of that old town behind, and make a name for himself at something before he settled down in not-Olde Saco, maybe, maybe on the settle down. And from what he heard on his way west, and since he had arrived in San Fran a lot of people were feeling, wondering, groping for some answers just like him. And, yah, looking to try some dope, listen to some far-out music, grab some cool chick to shack up with, and really leave that hometown dust behind before going back east for the fall semester of school.

Now you are filled in, a little, on the what and the why of Prince (and Benny Buzz who however is right then leaving Prince to go see a man, well, go see a man about something, let’s just leave it at that) being on Russian Hill, that classic San Francisco hill mentioned a while back. A hill not previously known to first time ‘Frisco Prince Love, although maybe to some ancient Native American shaman delighted to see our homeland, the sea, out in the bay working its way to far-off Japans. Or to some Spanish conquistador, full of gold dreams but longing for the hills of Barcelona half a world away.

Now you know everything, everything except how Prince Love got to Frisco which is not a big deal since he took some dough he had originally saved up for college and used it for the Greyhound bus fare to get him here. Not for him the hitchhike road through every back road. Not for him merry prankster buses driven by mad-monk zen masters in the heated western night.

Why? Well, come on now, not everybody got every piece of news, especially in Podunk Maine, about the ways west, VW bus west, stick-out-the-thumb west and that there were people, your kind of people, ready to pick you up and take you down the road a piece. Even backing up on super-highway interstates to pick up a fellow youth nation straggler left on some desolate stretch fair game for hungry police eyes. Besides, after about a two-day bout with his parents about not taking that summer job, using the dough for college for such foolishness (to quote his everywoman mother), and other assorted arguments, family arguments started back in childhood, he had promised them to take the bus west. Let’s just say hassles, man, hassles and be done with it. And now we are done with past.

Right then though, after saying a few things in parting to Benny Buzz about catching up with each other later, as he started walking up the hill toward the entrance to the mini-“people’s park” that was about half way up Russian Hill Prince spied a tall young man, maybe a few years older than him although such things were always hard to tell with older looking beards, drug haggards, and glazed looks. He was, at second glance, tall but not as tall as Prince, lanky, maybe not as lanky as him either and from the look of him his drug stews diet had taken some additional pounds off, and some desire for pounds as well, not really normally lanky.

Dressed, always worthy of description in 1967 “Frisco, male or female, in full “hippie” regalia (faded olive drab World War II army jacket, half-faded blue jeans, bright red bandanna headband to keep his head from exploding, striped checkerboard flannel shirt against the cold bay winds, against the cold bay winds even in summer, and nighttime colds too, and now that we are on the West Coast, with roman sandals on his feet). And to draw the eye more fully to the scene he is sitting with two foxy-looking young women. One, the younger one, maybe a high school student, blonde, blue-eyed, slender, short shorts belying West Coast origin, and de rigueur practical road-worthy peasant blouse. A poster child for San Francisco summer of love if he ever saw one, and of his own feverish Maine night teenage desire summer or winter of love now that Julia was past. The other women, whom he found out later called herself Lupe Matin just then although the Prince found out that she had run through several monikers previously, a college student for sure , dark-haired, dark-eyed, slightly voluptuous, seemingly a little out of place, out of figuring place, with her current male companion completed the entourage. (Her real name, Susan Sharp, Vassar College, Class of 1966, and “trying to find herself.”)

Prince cast several glances at that regal company, nodded slightly, a knowing nod, eyes fixed, as was the fashion just then, and then turned around and asked to no one in particular but kind of zeroing in on the blonde (ya, he had a thing for blondes, see Julia was just that same kind of waspy blonde, minus the tan and year-round sunshine, that he fell for, fell for hard and fast), “Got some dope, for a hungry brother?” The male, who Prince would later come to know as Far-Out Phil (Phillip Larkin, North Adamsville, Massachusetts, Class of 1964), looked at him in a bemused manner (nice touch, right). Except for shorter hair, which only meant that this traveler had either not been on the road very long or had just recently caught the “finding himself” bug he could have, thought Far-Out to himself, been Phil’s brother, biological brother.

That line, that single Prince Love line, could have been echoed a thousand, maybe ten thousand times that day along a thousand hills (well maybe not that many in San Fran), aimed at any small clot of like-minded spirits. And Phil sensing that just that one sentence spoke of kindred said, “Sure, a little Columbia Red for the head, okay?” And so started the long, well hippie long, 1960s long anyway, relationship between one Phillip Larkin and one Joshua Breslin. And, maybe, including the women too.

And, of course, as well was that sense that Far-Out had that he and Prince Love were kindred was based on the way that the Prince posed that first question. His accent spoke, spoke hard of New England, not Boston but farther north. And once the pipe had been passed a couple of times and the heat of day started getting everybody a little talkative then Prince spilled out his story. Yes, he was from Olde Saco, Maine, born and bred, a working-class kid whose family had worked the town mills for a couple of generations, maybe more, but times were getting hard, real hard in those northern mill towns now that the mill-owners had got the big idea to head south and get some cheaper labor, real cheap. So Joshua, after he graduated from high school a few weeks before decided, on a whim (not really a whim though), to head west and check out prospects here on the coast for later use after college. Josh, now fully into his Prince Love persona finished up his story by saying, “And here I am a few weeks later sitting on Russian Hill smoking righteous dope and sitting with some sweet ladies.”

The Prince was just being a little off-handedly flirtatious as was his style when around women, young or old (old being thirty, tops), aiming his ammunition in general but definitely honing in on the blonde, the blonde now identified for all eternity as Butterfly Swirl (real name, Kathleen Clarke, Carlsbad High School, California, Class of 1968). (Phil, by the way, never ever said what his reaction to that last part of the Prince’s spiel, the flirtatious part, which seemed, the way it was spoken, spoken by Phil in the re-telling, filled with menace. Girl-taking menace. Well, old North Adamsville corner boy Phil would have felt that way but maybe in that hazed-out summer of love it just passed by like so much air.) Naturally Phil, a lordly road warrior now, "on the bus" now, whatever his possible misgivings, invited the Prince to stay with them, seeing as they were practically neighbors back home. Prince Love was “family” now, and Butterfly seemed gladder than the others of that fact.

And of course, family, meant home, and home for Far-Out, Butterfly Swirl, and Lupe Matin meant the now locally famous (West Coast local, okay) yellow brick road bus now known as Captain Crunch’s Crash Pad (after the owner of the bus, and “leader,” whatever that meant, of the expedition). Prince Love, from the first night, not only felt that he had found a home, a home that he never felt he had in Olde Saco but that whatever happened out here he would survive. And as more dope-filled pipes were passed that night, and as the music played louder into the sea-mist bay night, and lights gleamed from all directions the Prince grew stronger in that conviction. Especially when Far Out Phil, acting out of some old testament patriarchal script, came sauntering over to the Prince around midnight and whispered in his ear, “Butterfly Swirl wants to be with you, okay?” And that night the Prince and Butterfly Swirl were “married.”


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