Caitlin turns two in San Francisco, she has come a long way in just a few years I think, from the carriage trade in New York to the wilds of the North Country to the middle of the Haight. Magic is in the air and I am with my friends, my lovers, my baby, I am dancing barefoot on the sidewalks, I am remaking myself from the inside out.
Peter takes charge of the household. He is the oldest of all of us and wears faded jeans and a faded denim shirt, his hairline is receding a little but he is handsome and poetic and articulate, he can read auras, shuffle a deck of Tarot cards and throw the I Ching. He says that he is an old soul which makes me want to throw up, but this is Peter after all. Joanne falls in love with him and tells me in confidence that he is her spiritual mentor. She left her husband a few months before and I know she is feeling lonely.
Soon Peter moves into Joanne’s room.
David and Sherry who live in the front room are dumpy and not very interesting. Peter accuses them of having brown auras which he says is the worst color to have, even black is better because at least you have the panache of being evil.
Douglas casts horoscopes for us. He is slender with curly blond hair, very sweet and companionable, he spends his time following Susie around looking after her. That’s how he met her, she was wandering destitute on the street and he brought her home.
I have not got a lot of patience for poetic writing, flowery description, I’d much rather read straightforward prose, but I am subject to the awful magnet of poetry and understand how difficult it is to shy away from fancy words. But this time without a lot of fanfare, let me just say about Susie: she was the first crazy person I ever met, certainly the first I ever loved. I call her crazy rather than demented, rather than ghost ridden, spirit hallowed, rather than a charismatic snake dancer, which probably describes her just as well.
When we meet in the house in San Francisco Susie and I become friends right away, close as sisters, wearing the same clothes. She is beautiful, dark and flashy eyed. We are never jealous of each other even though we both want center stage with other people. For some reason, her successes feel as if they are mine, like when you are proud of something your toddler draws, that’s the way we feel about each other, proud as punch.
The thing about Susie is the way everyone falls for her, people run across the sidewalk to give her money when she panhandles, children hug her, madmen lust for her, she electrifies a room when she walks in, beautiful and sly with a laugh like Gravel Gerty, generous, and the first to admit that she relies on the kindness of strangers.
Stephen and I become lovers, he is my new old man.
We survive on my welfare checks and what we gather panhandling on the street, more Zen-like than working we believe. Panhandling competition is fierce so I always take Caitlin along for special appeal and everyone else borrows her when they go out too.
We spend that winter in San Francisco, but after a while the thrill of being there wanes, the Haight is dirty when you look past the glitter and hallucinations and I’m restless trapped in our household so poor and without purpose. Of course back then the gospel is that urban living is only for a little while, you come to the city, earn money, then find a place in the country to raise a family, swim naked in the creek, grow organic vegetables, and take a lot of acid. Plenty of people are already doing just that. And I miss my mother. Can you believe that? I haven’t talked to her since that terrible visit in Plainfield, she has washed her hands of me, I am bad news. I miss my mother and feel far away from my roots. I never even realized I had roots. I didn’t think you could have roots on the Grand Concourse. I want to go home, if not to the Bronx, exactly, then at leastto Vermont.
I say to Peter “Let’s go back east and start a real commune”. Stephen has good friends in Boston where we can stay for a while, so he and Peter and Douglas and Caitlin and Loopie will hitchhike there and prepare the way. I will stay in California and fly to Boston with Joanne and Robbie and all our possessions when they call me. Susie will travel separately to Detroit to see her mother and then meet us back east.
This is definitely a plan created by demented people.