Trying to get laid in America, Part III

A ‘WOMAN-HATER’ PROWLS SAN FRANCISCO

CULTURE.TGLIAIII.vesuviocafeby Dell Franklin

October, 1968

I found a tiny, dark, subterranean garret for $125 a month on Vallejo near Webster on a hill in Pacific Heights. I was on the bottom of a four-story Victorian, whose landlady was Roselee, a Jewess married to a prominent Jewish lawyer—liberal Democrats involved in city politics and owners of 49er season tickets. They lived on the first and second floors above me, rented out the other two floors. Right off, Roselee, a tiny woman with big brown intense eyes, was pressing me to find a job, recommending sales since I evidently appeared clean-cut and impressed her as a normal young veteran on the right path to a future of structure and success.

My priorities were finding a good watering hole, a woman, and a job, in that order, since I did have what I assumed was a three-month nest egg.  Early on, I patrolled Pacific Heights, hitting the Bus Stop—its clientele consisted of smooth, elegant men from the financial section in vested suits and handsome women in pants suits; the Marina Lounge—an “IN” crowd of fluff and enamel, huddled together laughing joyously while sneaking looks at my shaggy ass; the Horse Shoe, a step below but almost as snotty as the Marina Lounge; and Danny’s, a hallway-sized, hole-in-the-wall, just dark enough, with a pool table; not a pickup bar, but a hive of friendly cab drivers, longshoremen, school teachers, mailmen, hardhats and a scattering of amiable, used women older than me. The owner, Danny, a small, balding man around 40, worked most nights and employed a chain-smoking, used-to-be-sexy barmaid working days and let me mooch off the free buffet on Sunday football as 49er fans yelled at the TV. I had no TV, radio, or phone.

After about a week of drinking beers every night and feasting on his cheap hot dogs, I notified Danny that I was in the market for a bartender job. He said he’d keep me in mind, but I’d have to join a union. If I wanted to drive a cab, I had to join a union. San Francisco was a union town. I realized right off that no woman would have a thing to do with me if I didn’t have a job, unless I hung out at Haight-Ashbury and Golden Gate Park and passed myself off as a leftist panhandler with a line of bullshit. I ventured to a bar in this area one evening and several hippie/biker types surrounded me and accused me of being a narc while their women made persecuted faces and hissed at me and called me a pig! I left.

I began hunting jobs with serious intent, entering several over-crowded employment agencies in my newly polished Army low-quarters, Harrah’s Club black slacks, Harrah’s Club white shirt, and thrift-store, clip-on black tie. At one agency, a middle-aged woman behind a desk motioned me over.

“You look like a sales type,” she declared, looking me up and down. “You’re a fine looking lad. You a veteran?” When I nodded, she sat me down and asked did I have any college. I told her two years. She nodded. “I have to give you tests. Don’t worry about them.”

I took a test determining whether I was dim-witted, another determining whether I was a team player and psychologically sound, cheated on both, and was offered several jobs selling surgical instruments, insurance, appliances, cars, all of which were long drives to places like Burlingame and Petaluma. Finally, after turning down several jobs, I settled for a desk sales position at a national electrical supply company in the Market Street industrial area across town.

Roselee was all smiles, observing me in grown-up garb. “I knew you’d find a good job. You’re such a handsome clean-cut young man.” She unnerved me with her bulgy eyes and anxious smile. “Sidney and I hear your typewriter,” she went on. “Are you a writer?”

“I’m trying, Roselee.”

“What are you writing about?”

“I have a novel going, Roselee. I’d rather not divulge its content…it’s bad luck to do so.”

Her wiener dog, a male, began to mount my knee, and Roselee pulled him away. “Sebastian likes you. That means you’re a good person.” She continued smiling. “I bet you’ll find a nice girl soon enough. It’s too lonely trying to be a success without a good partner in life. You’re Jewish, aren’t you?” How would she know this? I was a renegade Jew, a disgrace to the Jews, kicked out of Hebrew school, a heathen, hated by all Jews where I grew up.

I nodded.

“I bet you’d find the perfect girl at our synagogue.”

I had to break away from Roselee’s suffocating gaze and retire to my garret, where I put up a dart board above the fireplace so I could fire darts when my writing was so horrible it plunged me into despair and I started hating everything and everybody.

***

I lasted three days at Graybar Electric. I sat beside an ace desk salesman with a framed picture of his wife, kids and dog and stared at the secretaries as he attempted to “train me.” I could not imagine myself nailed down to a desk five days a week leafing through a telephone-size catalogue and talking to faceless beings all over America. At lunch the secretaries huddled and snuck looks at me and made sour faces and nodded emphatically. I got drunk two nights in a row and reported the third morning half an hour late, my face nicked badly from shaving with quivering fingers, my Harrah’s specials rumpled from passing out in them, and had a panic attack, a complete meltdown that had the supervisor ready to call the paramedics as I flung my snap-on tie at him and fled from the vast premises, tromped across the railroad tracks, took a bus to Danny’s, and got drunk.

I decided I needed to tend bar, but most of my nest egg would be sacrificed to a union, with no promise of a job, so I concentrated on writing, reading and hanging around Danny’s and rambling around town in hope of getting laid, regulars in Danny’s telling me there were so many homosexuals around that women “were drooling for straight men.”

Once, as I prepared to set off on my prowling,  which took me to all parts of the city—North Beach, Marina, Nob Hill, Downtown, Golden Gate Park, Fillmore—searching for the right bar with a prospective woman who might just talk to me, much less fuck me, Roselee, ambushed me outside my door.

“Did you lose your job?” she inquired, concerned, fretting, hands clenched together.

“I quit, Roselee. I’m not cut out for sales.”

“I see you’re growing a beard and haven’t got a haircut. You’re not going to be one of those awful hippies, are you?”

“No, Roselee, I hate hippies.”

“What kind of job are you looking for now, honey?”

I was really squirming. “I want to be a bartender, Roselee.”

She sighed, her face filled with suffering for me. “But…that’s a …dead-end job, honey. You’ll never find the right girl at such a…well…uh…questionable profession.”

“Excuse me, Roselee, I have a job interview.” I tried to scurry off as her wiener dog was about to ejaculate on my knee, for he’d been scratching on my door lately and sneaking into my garret and making himself at home, but Roselee snagged my arm.

“Lately, Dell, I’ve heard, well, this sound coming from your room, like something bouncing off the wall…”

“I have a dartboard, Roselee, throwing darts clears my mind for writing; relaxes me.”

She pulled Sebastian off my knee. “You’re not…destroying the walls, are you?”

“Absolutely not, Roselee. Bye.”

I concentrated on North Beach. In Vesuvio’s, next to City Lights Book Store, and supposedly once a hangout for Beat writers like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsburg, I sat nursing a beer, hoping to engage a literary conversation with a woman of intellect and appreciation of the arts. I’d been reading Dostoevsky and Nietzsche. Instead, as I sat at the end of the bar farthest from the front, three girls on the opposite end, all looking like prime prospects to discuss Sartre and Knut Hamsun, sent the bartender over to request that I put out my cigar, as the smoke was bothering them. He seemed a decent sort, and I’d already tipped him a dollar a beer out of conscience as a bar person, even if I couldn’t afford it.

“That’s a pretty nasty cigar,” he said, trying to be reasonable. True, it was the cheapest cigar made, a big, nasty one. I gazed down at the girls. They had long hair parted down the middle, big billowy brightly colored sun dresses, multiple beads and bracelets, no bras, and a proprietary attitude, as if this was “Their” bar. I took a big puff and sent it in their direction, the people alongside me waving at the smoke.

“Tell them no,” I told the bartender. “I’ve got a right to enjoy my cigar.” 

“Come on, man, be cool, huh? They’re cool babes.”

I continued gazing in their direction. As my cigar started to go out, I re-lit it and sat staring forward, puffing, and one of them shouted, “ASSHOLE!”

I tried every bar in North Beach—Gino & Carlo’s, a cozy 1950s bar with Italian male bartenders and city girls smoking cigarettes and hobnobbing with men in white shirts and loosened ties or local blue-collar types shooting pool. I was ignored. The Saloon was overrun by hippies blathering, hugging; dancing to a rock band. A bar on the corner of Grant and Green had a jazzy blues band but the crowd was comatose to the point of paralysis as they danced in ultra slow motion, grins plastered across faces, heads bobbing slowly, the bartender so glazed he didn’t see me beckon for a beer. I was invisible. I tried the Golden Spike on Grant. Three men in berets, smoking cigarettes through long-stemmed holders, turned to watch me sip my beer a few stools down and broke out laughing. They repeatedly huddled, stared, guffawed. One waved with a limp wrist and beckoned me over. I left, finished with North Beach.

I ventured across the bridge to Zack’s down in the Marina in Sausalito, where the truly beautiful people cavorted so gracefully, and skulked out. I was shot down right and left, from the Richmond district to the Tenderloin, where hookers propositioned me. On Polk, I stumbled drunkenly into a gay bar and was accosted by a man who grabbed at my thigh. I stumbled out. Snoozing in Lafayette Park, another gay man propositioned me. I politely told him I was straight. He tried to convince me that I should explore new avenues since I couldn’t find a woman. “How do you know I can’t find a woman?” I asked. “I know,” he said. “Believe me, I know.”

Like a mole, I stayed in for a few days during a nonstop heavy rain, reading “Hunger,” by Hamsun, and “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” by Hubert Selby Jr. I tried to write but instead furiously hurled darts and ate canned pork and beans and petted poor lonely Sebastian. I emerged in the downpour like some bundled scarecrow and hustled down the hill to Danny’s, where the crowd welcomed me and began offering ideas on finding a job. Danny gave me free beers and hot dogs. I drank and farted and lost at pool. I was in no-man’s land. I wanted no job. I was ceasing to give a shit.

*** 

One rainy Saturday night I sifted like a ghost out of Danny’s and down a block to the Marina Lounge, with the intent of infusing my hatred of women with new ammunition so I could continue my stalled novel, “Woman Hater.” I was clad in soggy sneakers, torn Bermuda shorts, T-shirt, and my Army field jacket. The bar was packed, warm and steamy, the crowd broken up in gaggles of high hilarity as locals and city people joked and laughed with easy familiarity and an affectionate camaraderie, folks not afraid to show their true emotions, in the very prime of their social lives, getting laid, falling in love, doing things together, a nonstop surge of the mating ritual.

I stood scowling by the door as I eyed up a vivacious girl so cute and charming that several men were trying to impress her—an ex-cheerleader type—when I caught the gaze of a very large blonde in a black dress clinging to a thick solid body—all thighs and hips and buttocks and broad shoulders and small breasts, her blunt features and square chin lending her a jock aura. Her friends were hobnobbing with a group of black men in trench coats who sported Afros and muttonchops. Word was from the boys in Danny’s that these jive asses were down in the Marina to fuck classy white girls from the financial district who were dissatisfied with white stiffs and gays and sought a little forbidden fruit.

The big blonde and I continued a stare down. She disengaged from her crowd and I sauntered over, and without thinking, I sneered, “I hate this goddamn place.”

She coolly looked me up and down. “Why is that?”

“It’s phony. The whole goddamn scene’s phony. I can’t play it.”

“Then why are you here if you hate it so?” She held a mixed drink.

“I’m desperate for a woman. I’m a forlorn basket case on an endless famine. It’s contributing to the downfall of my soul. I’m nearing a vortex.”

She sipped her drink. Her blonde hair was thick and plentiful and her complexion smooth and healthy. “Want another beer?”

“Of course.”

Her name was Hillary Marshall. She’d graduated from Sarah Lawrence. Her brother was a tackle on the Army football team at West Point. She was a broker at the stock exchange and roomed with a girl who’d inherited a Victorian home on a hilltop in Pacific Heights. I bought another round and continued a palaver of castigating everything—the so-called revolutions, hippies, fraternities, sororities, the establishment, music, sports…I didn’t dare flirt with her. Every shred of venom stored up in my starved, wrought-up soul spewed forth in a tirade that had her frowning quizzically and at times laughing. Finally, out of breath, I suggested we go to Danny’s, where I planned to show off the first girl to actually talk to me for more than thirty seconds since I’d moved to San Francisco.

“No,” she said, shaking her head emphatically. “Let’s go to my place.” She told the bartender to call a cab, and we stepped out under the awning in the rain. I didn’t try to touch her.

***

The front room of the Victorian was appointed with ornate furniture, framed oils, a wet bar and a spacious window with a panoramic view of the Marina, the Golden Gate bridge, and Coit Tower. The bay was dull under a driving rain. Hillary poured brandy into huge snifters and handed me one. I checked out the bookcase of handsome first editions and informed her I could NEVER live here because it was too nice.

“Why don’t you take off that odious jacket?”

I took off the jacket and flung it on a couch and began expounding on my nihilistic feelings. “KEEP YOUR VOICE DOWN!” came a voice from another room.

“That’s my roommate,” Hillary explained. “You don’t want to meet her.” She watched me refill my snifter with Hennessy’s. “Why don’t you take off those hideous rags?”

I placed my snifter on the bar and began undressing. She watched, nodding her approval. Naked, I walked over and pulled her dress up over her head. She wore no panties or bra. She was all meat and every bit of it was firm. After one long kiss, I was on my knees, squeezing her enormous thighs, my face buried in her blonde muff. She lay back on the sofa and wrapped those thighs around my neck, squeezing my ears, cutting off all sound as I lapped and groveled and growled like a ravenous mongrel devouring a perfectly seasoned meaty bone donated by a soft-hearted butcher. Her groans came in shudders as she pulled me up and atop her and soon the roommate, a severe woman of around 30, was hovering near screaming at us to “take it to the goddamn bedroom!”

We fled to Hillary’s bedroom. In time, I was back for the bottle. We snuggled and wrestled and she rode me more than I rode her before we eventually passed out. I awakened to sun pouring through a dormer window. The bed was empty of Hillary. I heard the shower and minutes later she came in wrapped in a big fluffy white towel and suggested I take a shower and meet her in the kitchen. I wanted to shove my snoot between those rhino thighs one more time but she was in charge and I obeyed her wishes. In the kitchen, she fried eggs and bacon. I asked about the bitchy roommate.

“Church.”

“How’d you like to go to the Ram-49er game at Kezar Stadium?”

She perked right up. “I’d love to go. I love football.”

We took the bus to Kezar, where I managed to secure two cheap end zone tickets from a scalper. The end zone was where black folks from Oakland and the Fillmore sat. Wisely, I’d secured a pint of brandy for the chilly afternoon. Hillary wore a herringbone coat with elbow patches and tight, faded jeans and turtleneck sweater, the eyes of every brother feasting on her big-boned torso. These brothers nodded at me, approving and respectful of my trophy. I was “The Man” and felt I could fall for Hillary and forge a relationship of romping sex and snug companionship and even love. We sat surrounded by brothers in trench coats and fedoras and berets, and their women, who were decked out in tight-fitting garments and loopy hats. The goal posts were very near. Halfway through the first quarter the brother beside me offered up a flask. Hillary and I swigged. I passed my bottle around and they offered a joint and Hillary and I puffed (it was my first time), and I lapsed into a golden haze in which everything was rosy.

During the game, as the only Ram fan, I made comments that had the brothers and sisters guffawing and Hillary rested her hand on my thigh and smiled at my wit and soon the brothers were drawing hard looks from their women for talking to and paying too much attention to Hillary, a marvelous sport. Before I knew it, Ram quarterback Roman Gabriel was barking orders from the one-yard line below us in the final seconds and we were all on our feet. The Rams scored and the game ended in a tie and we all said our good-byes and soul shook. Hillary and I took a couple buses until we ended up at my garret. She took one look at it and announced she was exhausted and had to go home and would I please call a cab?

“I have no phone. I’ll drive you.”

I hadn’t driven in a while and the battery was dead so I pushed the VW downhill until it caught and jumped in. At the curb of the towering Victorian in the plushest area, I asked her out, only to discover she had an out-of-town boyfriend. “I like you, and you’re a lot of fun,” she said. “But I’m not sure many women can take you in anything but small doses at this stage of your life. Thanks for the game. I had a great time.”

“Get a hold of me when you’re ready for small doses,” I croaked, my voice barely audible.

***

As my money dwindled and the rains came down harder and harder, seemingly nonstop, day after day, I ceased trying to find a female who might take me in small doses and became a shut-in. I paced my room, typed angry, self-pitying, pious, pretentious, plagiarist garbage, tore it to shreds, read, tossed darts, ate pork and beans, drank Brown Derby beer, scurried down the hill sans umbrella when I became claustrophobic and nursed a lone beer in Danny’s, waiting for him to hire me, waiting to hear about job applications from the post office and recreation department.

I descended into a black vortex of morbid and bitter rage directed at myself and the world and its occupants. The vortex swallowed me whole as a whale swallows a minnow and I swam about blindly in the soggy stinking darkness until I was spewed out upon the wasteland of desolate America, a crippled crab isolated from the kingdom, unwelcome, wallowing in the self-imposed morass. I began hulking through the streets of San Francisco, anger and sorrow oozing from my every pore as people wielding umbrellas and brief cases dodged me, eyes averted. At Danny’s, I settled at the far end of the bar, a morose figure hunched over a warm beer, uncommunicative.

I raged in the garret, felt myself spinning downward into the vortex, seeking bottom. I considered walking around the world penniless until I expired. I kicked and tossed my worthless possessions and hurled darts at the board like a fire-balling baseball pitcher, ripping it into tatters and chipping away the painted brick wall when missing. I wept. Steinbeck, my idol, died, and I wept some more. I spent Christmas and New Year’s walking the streets, passing illuminated windows of homes and bars and restaurants out of which poured the bubbling party voices and rich laughter of those in harmony with the universe. One night I picked up my typewriter and surged into the street in a blinding rain and bashed it upon the asphalt, shattering it, kicking it down the hill. In the morning, Roselee banged on my door. I opened it and she jumped back in a state of fright. She gathered her courage and asked to see my room as Sebastian slithered in and jumped on my bed. I motioned her in and she gaped in awe at the tattered dartboard and massacred wall above the fireplace. She was speechless.

“I’m leaving tomorrow,” I told her. “I’ve got two weeks left on my rent. I HATE San Francisco, and it hates me. Take the damage out of my security deposit. I’m sorry, Roselee, I’ve become unhinged.”

I had a $103 to my name and decided to drive my VW back to LA, hit the open road with thumb out, head for New Orleans and Mardi Gras, try and find a job on a river boat, and forget about women. I no longer cared what happened to me. It was a feeling of mountainous relief. §

Dell Franklin writes from his upscale hovel in the beautiful seaside town of Cayucos, Calif., where he resides with his rescue dog, Wilbur. Dell is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice.

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