At about three o’clock, in the afternoon on a foggy San Francisco early summer afternoon in 1968, a man emerged from under a 1957 Aston Martin sports car. He was in his mid-twenties and dark blond hair fell onto his forehead. He was carrying a carburetor in one hand and a can, full of gasoline, in the other. His pants were spotted with grease and the shirt tails of a once fancy pin-striped shirt had pulled out from their once secure mooring and hung over the back of his pants. If you looked at him closely, you would have noticed that he was not a typical looking human being. His shoes were oddly pointed, for example. He had picked them up at a flea market and they were 20 years old. The pants were large and baggy and so long that he had to roll them several times so they wouldn’t cover his shoes and drag on the ground when he walked. A many-colored string disappeared into a watch pocket and was attached to one of the belt loops of his baggy pants. A close observer would also notice that he wasn’t wearing any underpants. When he moved, there was a swinging motion that his ample pants could not quite hide.
He walked to a wooden table that abutted the house that he lived in. It was a white, wood frame house that he shared with a roommate who was moving out, ostensibly to move closer to a new job, but in reality fleeing two years of his roommate’s eccentricities. He placed the can with gasoline on the table and carefully put the carburetor next to it.
He had a habit of talking to himself when he was alone and thought that no one could hear him. He didn’t talk to himself in short expletives or irritated complaints the way most people do, but in long sentences where he often took two parts of an argument. He talked in a low tone, thinking that no one would be able to hear him. He said, with exaggerated disdain, “Why it’s ridiculous to think that you can live together with ten people sharing everything when the average married couple can’t get along together.” He began to take the carburetor apart with a long, spindly screwdriver, laying the pieces carefully onto a newspaper. “Grant, what do you know about communes?” His voice rose in a querulous crescendo, “You haven’t read anything and you know nothing. I’ve spent the last five years of my life studying them. You have no right to argue with me.”
Derrin Winstanley placed the barrel of the carburetor into the gasoline to let it soak and began laying the disassembled parts onto the newspaper. His roommate poked his head out of the window and said, “He called to say that he’s coming by this afternoon to leave some of his stuff.”
His roommate was vacating the room that day. Derrin made a barely audible noise of acknowledgment and wiped his hands on an oily rag.
His roommate said, in an aggressive tone, “Has he agreed to move to Kentfield with you?”
Derrin looked up for the first time and met his interlocutor’s eyes. “I thought I told you already Grant? Temporarily, yes. He said he could stay with us for a couple of months, at least.”
Grant was a Quaker and to any objective observer it would have seemed that it was his Christian charity and love that had pushed him, inevitably, into such a corner. He had learned to accept these relationships as a necessary burden of the Christian life. He couldn’t understand how anyone else could put up with such a character, however. “I bet he won’t last for three months.”
Derrin ignored this comment with a great condescension that was worthy of a ham actor at the American Conservatory Theater. He picked up the throttle and dipped it into the gasoline with great care and began scraping grease from it with a small wire brush.
Grant made an exasperated sound with air rushing out of his mouth in a little pop. He stopped himself and observed his anger coldly. He waited until he had convinced himself that his words would serve a Christian purpose. He surveyed the baggy pants with the colored string tied to a belt loop and looked at the pointed shoes that had probably belonged to a Mexican Pachucho of the late forties. “I hope you won’t just use this guy for your own purposes.”
Derrin exploded. “He’s perfectly capable of taking care of himself. He is going to take a philosophy class at San Francisco State and we are less than a mile from the campus.”
Grant snapped back, peevishly, “Kentfield is fifty miles from San Francisco State.”
Derrin said, dryly, “It’s only 19 miles.”
Grant laughed in a high-pitched titter that was meant to show incredulous shock. They were enacting the same scenario again, possibly for the last time, each trying to prove to himself that he was right and the other wrong. Grant had refused to move to Kentfield and be part of a commune and was mildly insulted that Derrin would dare to try to convince him, a Quaker, to move into a commune. He said, “I’m surprised that you could convince a guy like that to move into a commune with you.”
Derrin’s eyes flashed and he answered sharply, “I thought I told you that it was just temporary?” Derrin’s face became composed again and he smiled a crafty smile. Grant’s struggled with his anger. He ground his teeth and waited to regain his composure. Derrin added. “I MIGHT be able to convince him to stay.” His tone of voice was aggressive again and he smiled maliciously. He added, “Grant, if you’re going to criticize me, then I don’t see how YOU could set him up with Deborah. I can’t imagine a more unlikely pair. And you barely know Brad.”
“I didn’t set him up with her. They met at San Francisco State. I just happened to be there. I didn’t have anything to do with it. Deborah and I are just very good friends. That’s all.”
Derrin looked up from the carburetor and fixed grant with a malevolent stare, “Very good friends?”
“They seemed to hit it off. Things like this happen sometimes.” Grant found himself backing off again. He wanted to end the conversation, permanently. He had been frustrated for almost two years. He had never been able to change Derrin or influence him in any way and he was tired of wasting his time.
In fact, the young man they were talking about, William Bradford, age 25, had already dropped his summer session philosophy class at San Francisco State, and therefore ended his reason for moving to San Francisco in the first place. He dropped the class in disgust because during the second meeting the professor had announced that the teaching assistant would teach most of the class. The teaching assistant was a former Chief in the Navy, about thirty-five, and his grammar was so bad that Brad walked out of the class and never came back.
Brad was a former football player. He was not large. He was fine boned and at just under 6 feet 2, he weighed only 180 pounds. Deborah was Jewish. She despised sports, which caused Brad, out of politeness, to pretend that he had been a body builder and had never played football.
Deborah had two roommates. They lived in large studio in an apartment building on California Street in San Francisco. The living room had two beds, which were mattresses placed on the floor. Deborah slept in one and her blonde roommate slept in the other. The Japanese roommate slept on a single-bed mattress in a large closet, which they had converted to a bedroom. After sex, Brad walked to the bathroom, naked, past her open door and she would spread her legs and display her ready euphemism. Brad liked to make love for at least half an hour and Deborah’s bed was about ten feet from the closet. He felt sorry for her roommate, all alone in the closet.
After the third exhibition, Brad asked Deborah if she would mind if he made a pit stop in the closet. He allowed himself this question because the night before, when Deborah’s blonde roommate came in very late, Deborah had whispered into his ear that he should try to crawl into bed with her and fuck her.
One night, they were bundled up against the San Francisco fog-filled wind, heading for the ice cream shop on 2011 California Street.
She said, “I have something I’ve got to tell you.”
“What is it?”
“I shouldn’t keep it from you.”
He said, “Well, I don’t know. Maybe you should.”
She smiled a crooked smile. Brad liked her much more than he thought he should like a woman with a decidedly below average body and face.
She said, “For a long time, I’ve been wanting to know what it’s like to go with a woman.”
He said, “That’s funny. I was feeling the same way before I met you.”
She wasn’t amused. “If I go with a woman, I’m not going to want to be with a man at the same time.”
Brad was surprised that his feelings were hurt. “How long have you been thinking like this?”
“For a long time.”
“Are there any prospects?”
“There is a woman I met about a month ago. Before I met you.”
“How do you know?”
They entered the ice cream shop. The place was a dingy, 199-flavor place with a huge sign on the wall that listed only 53 flavors, as Brad counted them in mute astonishment. A desperate looking little fat woman, about 37, was standing in front of the sign, like a trapped rat.
He said, “When are you going to stay with me at the house in Kentfield? The commune.”
She was silent. Then she said, “I can stay this Friday night. But I’m not moving up there. I told you it’s too far from San Francisco. I’ll never move that far away.”
Kentfield is about 23 miles north of San Francisco. They trudged up the huge hill, leaning against the biting, early-summer San Francisco bay wind.
She said, “I don’t feel right with a guy like you anyway.” She looked up at Brad and smiled slightly, showing the gap between her two front teeth. “You are a goyim and you are too good for me. I could never hold you.”
Brad was charmed by her openness. He changed the subject, “Do you still want me to try to fuck Cindy some fine night when she comes in after we’re in bed?”
“Yeah. Why not give it a try?”
“I’d rather try Judy. Cindy might call the police. I barely know her. But Judy waved her flag in my face.”
Deborah said, “I’m not having my goyim fucking a fucking chink. No way.”
He said, “Fucking racist.”
“So what. I couldn’t stand you going with a Jap.”
“Well, aren’t you Jewish?”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“What about the holocaust?”
“Shit. Would you please never bring that up again?”
Deborah looked up at Brad with a stupid mixture of anger and humor
She said, “Sometimes you act like a Jew. No. Forget that. You usually act like a Jew.”
He said, “Would you please shut up? Why don’t we just go upstairs and fuck?”
“I don’t feel like it.”
“When you finish your ice cream cone you will.”
They had only known each other for about three weeks and their relationship consisted of eating ice cream and fucking.
At 26, Derrin was a year older than Brad. He possessed a shock of blond hair that often tumbled over his forehead, D.H. Lawrence-like. He was a bookish man even though he had given up books. Incongruously, he had the body of an athlete and had been a sprinter in high school but he had refused to play team sports.
The house was across the street from The College of Marin, in Kentfield. The rent was astronomical. It was 800 dollars per month, even in 1968, when milk was still 25 cents a quart. It was a huge house with a cottage next to it. There were 5 bedrooms and a large living room, dining room and kitchen.
Derrin had already sold the restored 1957 Austin Martin for a nice profit and had used the money for the first and last month’s rent and the deposit. Brad’s assignment was to spend the first month there, alone and help interview people for the commune. A very large table in the dining room had been furnished and Derrin had bought a secondhand couch for the living room. Apart from a sturdy black-and-white television set that Brad had picked up for 5 dollars, a few plates and cooking utensils and the furniture that he had put in his room, the house was bare.
While he waited for Beatrice to show up for her interview, he watched the Democratic National Convention under siege on the black-and-white television set. Lyndon Johnson had announced that he wouldn’t run and the favorite for the nomination, Bobby Kennedy, had been assassinated just weeks before. Revolution was in the air.
Beatrice was scheduled for an interview that morning and Brad showed her the house. They ended up in his bedroom where he interviewed her. They sat on his bed, which was a mattress on the floor. She was wearing shorts, sandals and a tee shirt without a bra. Her skin was milky white. She was a small woman with fine bones. She was slightly plump and stood about 5 feet 5 in her sandals. He thought she was very cute with her light brown curls that fell onto her shoulders.
Brad’s first question was “How old are you?”
“Maybe you’re a little too young to live in a commune.”
She said, “I don’t think so. I grew up in communes. Most of my life was spent in a commune.”
Brad looked down at her voluptuous legs and satin blue swim trunks that he guessed would drop as swiftly as a summer rain if he said anything encouraging. He said, “I don’t want to get married until I’m about 30.”
Beatrice said, “I want to get married as soon as I find the right guy.”
“How many children do you want?”
“I don’t know. How about you?”
He said, “Maybe three or four.”
“That sounds about right to me. I’ve got two sisters and two brothers. Like, I have a big family.”
He was silent.
She said, “I had a happy childhood but my parents were very poor. In fact, I was raised in a commune like this one for a lot of my life. I had several parents to take care of me and a lot more siblings.” She went into the details.
Brad interrupted her after a decent amount of time. “So that’s why you answered Derrin’s ad.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Living in a commune always seemed like a good thing to do. But I believe in monogamy.” She held Brad’s eyes for a little longer than necessary.
He said, “So do I.”
The next night, Brad knocked on Deborah’s door on the fifth floor of the large stucco apartment on California Street.
“Who is it?”
Brad looked up at the number on the door. “It’s still 577,” Brad thought. “It’s me, Brad.”
“What do you want?”
He said, “What do you mean, what do I want?”
Her voice came through the heavy door a little louder and more distinct. “I said, what do you want?”
Silence. He said, “It’s 7 o’clock. We made a date.”
He heard another woman’s voice from behind the closed door. Suddenly the door opened. Deborah’s eyes were wide with emotion and she screamed at the top of her lungs, “I want an ice cream cone.”
Brad said, without raising his voice, “Fuck you. I’m not getting you an ice cream cone.”
“Then get the fuck out, and don’t come back.”