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BANANA BOXES & GUARDIAN ANGELS



Part One, Chapter 1

Childhood

Born in El Monte California in 1952

The first thing I remember are the bars on my crib and a glowing light with voices coming from another room. Five years later I awake with alligators under my bed. Mommy!! Daddy!! Alligators under my bed!!! Father rescues me and holds me in his arms, for the last time. The mother stands in front of the wall heater in our dark living room. Father was leaving for a crooked nosed younger woman he met at the race track. One night as I was watching my hero Sinbad the Sailor on our black and white TV Father stopped by. The same dark room lit only by that portal to another world. He sat on the ottoman and asked a few questions then left, that was it between us.


Mother began sleeping around. A slow parade of men began coming in and going out. I can still smell the cigarettes, booze, and bad breath. Mother wore these colorful velvet dresses that I found magical. They glowed in the darkness of night. Then she curled up on the couch, forlorn and brokenhearted. She began a slow descent into the hopefully loving arms of death.

Brother and I

Sister

I had my unhappy sister, 15 years my senior, and my brother Richard, 10 years older. Richard stepped up and became a surrogate parent. He fed me, bathed, loved, and cared for me. He protected me from my Sister to the point of fistfights. It bonded me to him for life. In his effort to escape he joined the Navy and was gone.

A friend of Mothers told her, as she would often remind me, she had a reason for living and it was me. She got off the couch and I became the center of her attention. She had to work now so I was left in the clutches of my ever-loving sister. She had her scapegoat and I had my little wooden rocking chair. I would sit in that useless refuge, in the arbor windows, waiting for Mother to drive up in her little Rambler and rescue me. To this day I can't apply my toothpaste without thinking of Sis, she traumatized the experience. Sister became pregnant out of high school and continued her life elsewhere.


There were a few attempts at live-in nannies. One of which introduced me to a horror movie. I could not walk to school for weeks, she was gone. Another one quit because of the dollar I stole from her. I had no use for it but I knew it was valuable, she was gone. So Mother stopped working.

So we started our intimate little life together. She was forever ironing clothes and crying while playing her favorites like "Born to Lose" on our HiFi. I found peace on the floor in front of the speakers while playing my wooden flute. She introduced me to musicals like South Pacific and Oklahoma and I learned the lyrics by heart. I had children's music as well like "Teddy Bear Picnic" (That damn song still pops up in my head). If not ironing she would be sewing, on her Singer, in her underwear. I would play with her collection of buttons while she sewed. For me, those buttons were like magical coins from far away lands. I became a model child. I would walk myself to church on Sundays, A's in school, meticulous in my chores, and oh so sweet. After all, I was her reason for living. It was my responsibility and I embraced it.

Then came Orvel. The offish, uneducated son of a Utah coal miner, my new Dad. Mother married him with my excited blessing. Having a dad seemed like a great idea. We'll get back to him later.

Part 1, Chapter 2

Adolescence

So I'm around 10 now it's the early 60's and life is good. My friends and I ride our bikes thru these suburban streets stealing fruit from un-fenced yards. Skateboarding thru school hallways on weekends with my nephews on our homemade boards. Got baptized a Mormon, had a paper route and became a Boy Scout. The TV enthralled me with the latest shows. Petticoat Junction aroused. Shows like "I Spy" and "Wanted Dead or Alive" thrilled. Ed Sullivan entertained us with variety. We ate at the new McDonalds and thought it amazing that they had already sold a million burgers. Sambo's restaurant was down the street and I could eat my hotcakes while studying the black boy and tiger murals. I was infatuated with my new cousin Dolly. We played games on the grass while listening to our transistor radio. All seemed right in the world.


Sometimes I would stay with Father and his wife Judy. They lived in a trailer behind Father's shop. He would work in the shop and I would be left alone with her in the trailer. She would dress me up in suits and model her square dancing dresses. Again the colorful velvet. Afterward, we would both partially undress and she'd lay me down to cuddle and play touching games. Father once walked in on this and all hell broke loose.


A few years have gone by and the dreams of a happy family are now becoming nightmares. Orvel was an immature child prone to menacing rages. Our camping trips often ended abruptly. When this happened I would be locked in the camper-trailer with a bucket as he raced for home, yelling all the way. On one of these hell rides the camper suddenly pulls into a turnout, stops, and mother gets out. The truck lurches back onto the road. As I stand looking out through the locked door. I watch as my Mother casually dumps her remaining coffee out of her green glass cup into the dirt. No tears, no protest just quiet resignation. It was a side of her I'd never seen, strength in hopelessness. She knew he'd turn around, I didn't.


Part 1, Chapter 3

The Teenager


I'm 13 going on 14 now and I was quickly becoming out of control. I even somehow managed to steal my parent's car and drive it around the neighborhood. I then crashed it into our front yard. I began running away from home. I climbed out of my bedroom window and was gone, sometimes for days. My friends and I would build bonfires at night by the side of the levee and get falling-down drunk. Days would find me hitching rides and nights walking the streets, but eventually, I would go back home. One defiant day of mine Orvel tried to strangle me and Mother hit him over the head with a frying pan, she decided to run. We packed up the station wagon and we were off! We landed in Santa Cruz California in an apartment overlooking the Boardwalk. I enrolled in the local school but only went to a couple classes. I would steal money from Mother to buy pot and pills. Her hopes of a good life and me straightening out were ruined. My Brother came down from San Francisco for Christmas. He picked me up and took me to his place to house me for a while, Mother went back to Orvel.

Now I was able to spend a few weeks in the city as a budding boy and I loved it. My Brother lived two blocks from Golden Gate Park and Haight Street. So I was right next to the Hippie's Mecca. He lived with his lover and an assortment of gay men, most of which were drag queens. Brother didn't have time for me anymore so I was left on my own. I spent my time in the company of the hundreds of young pilgrims experiencing their small taste of freedom. I ended up in a number of situations not age-appropriate. Eventually, I was summoned back home, but I would be back, I knew that. Brother put me on a Greyhound bus that pointed south. I became very familiar with buses over the next few years. With all it's seedy stations and collage of characters.

Mother would drop me at church for Mormon seminary classes held before High School classes started. In the front door of the church, out the back and over the wall. I did attend High School for a time but I preferred the streets. I was eventually kicked out of H.S. and sent to a school for juvenile delinquents, which didn't last long either.

I would disappear from home for weeks now. Sleeping in backyard trailers, garages, and delinquent parent's apartments. Hung out with the other dropouts, ex-cons, addicts, dealers, and messed up ex-military. I'm still 14. My friends and I would make our way to Pasadena and Colorado Blvd. It was a scene out of "American Graffiti" mixed with the onset of the '60s, Hot Rod's and Hippies, Bob's Big Boy and Head Shops. The roller skate girls served up burgers at the drive up. We would hitch or scrape bus fare together in order to get to Hollywood and the Sunset Strip. The "Whiskey a GoGo" glowed with the promise of rock & roll delights. And all the shine and polish of the Strip. We were explorers trying to catch a glimpse into another world, trying to find passage. If we were lucky we'd find a flophouse for the night. Gay men and such would troll the Blvd. for willing youth. The naive child that I was didn't realize that men inviting me to their place didn't want to just get high.

One afternoon in one of El Monte's suburban homes crowded with suburban youth I shot up for the first time, Seconal, heaven in a homemade syringe. I took to like a child on Christmas morning. In no time at all I was a regular intravenous barbiturate user. I tried heroin, didn't like the vomiting. If I couldn't get downers Speed was an acceptable change of pace. As long as you had enough cigarettes. LSD was starting to make its way into our town. A friend got his hands on some "Purple Owsley" LSD. It was amazing and ultimately terrifying. I fell down the wrong rabbit hole and needed to be sedated. FYI never stare into a mirror while tripping. So for now I stayed with Mother's little helpers. I became very adept at shooting up, myself, and others. I always had "works" (needles and syringe) with me and I learned all the tricks of the task. This earned me the moniker of "The Medic" which I wore with pride along with my Beatle boots and a jacket with FTW painted on the back.

One day while riding along in a Chevy Impala with a couple of older young drug dealers. We were passing by the H.S. and suddenly we were stopped by narcotics agents. This was the first time I'd had a gun put to my head. They searched the car but found nothing, which was amazing, I saw the bag of 100s of pills moments before.

I would find myself in seedy motels shooting up bikers. Some of them for the first time. I remember one threatened to kill me if I missed his vein.

Our small-town police and I were on familiar terms. Orvel would call them when I showed up home. I was on a runaway list so they needed to be notified. Orvel and Mother would fight over whether or not to let them take me in. On one occasion I came out of the shower naked and two cops were standing there. Instead of covering my dick, I covered my track marks.

Another day an older girl, Julie, was driving her Mother's car around and picked me up, she was my first. We did it on the bathroom floor while my parents ate lunch in the next room. I introduced her to drugs and totaled the car. As time went by she became more and more lost to everyone. In one of those motel rooms, bikers pulled a train on her while George sang of his weeping guitar. They kept me at bay.

Part 1, Chapter 4

First Arrest


My first arrest was a spectacular disaster. The circle of delinquents that I moved in often met at a convenience store near the H.S. A young man stopped by and invited a small group of us to his place, to get high. The word spread and it became an orgy of drugs, sex, and a gun. It went on for a few days and it must have been Thanksgiving or something because there was a fully cooked turkey in the little kitchen. While I was passed out on the living room floor someone started shooting the gun off. I found out later that one of the bullets went through the neighboring house and landed next to a child. When the cops arrived we all panicked, it was chaos. I remember stuffing pills and works into the turkey. They marched us off 2 by 2 in the pouring rain. Most went home but I was sent off to the Los Angeles Juvenile Detention Ctr. One of the young girls at the party was supposed to flush the pills down the toilet, she swallowed them instead. Before she went into a coma the police questioned her. They asked her where she had gotten the track marks and drugs, yours truly was named. I was up for involuntary manslaughter if she died, she woke up. The detention center was a High School from hell with bars and you couldn't go home. They shaved my head and gave me the crabs. After my release, I saw the young man again. He had been horribly beaten and avoided me with fear in his eyes.

Part 1, Chapter 5

Lodi California

I was sent to my Father's home in Lodi CA. A room in the shed was prepared for me with cardboard walls and an old bed. I quickly decorated them with rebellious graffiti. I was enrolled in the local High School, but I only remember the entrance and exit. Made friends with the local boys and we drank to excess and I introduced them to marijuana. I don't remember any conversations with Father. In fact, I don't remember seeing him at all.

I met up with a sweet girl. We knew each other from childhood visits. In my mind, I always associate her with Dolly. We had a brief but wonderful time together. Skinny dipping in the local pond and making love after. She had this small bedroom that hardly fit her single bed. One night as we lay together the moon bathed us through the window above her bed. As I rose up it caressed her young beautiful body, she glowed in the darkness of the room. The real first time.

I left my Father's place. Walked down the driveway and I was gone. A friend let me stay in his parent's attic for a while. He would bring me food and such. I managed bus fare and took a bus for San Francisco. It's 1969, I'm 15.

Part 1, Chapter 6

San Francisco

Upon arriving in the city by the bay I headed straight for the Haight-Ashbury District and my Brother's place. He still let me sleep on the couch but was absent. If not working he spent his time in the bars and the baths. The Counterculture movement was still bouncing off the walls. It wasn't all peace & love though. I was robbed twice in the lower end of Haight St., I was an easy target. Still, the scene was exciting for a boy like me. All the hopeful runaway youth looking for a way to enjoy life. The drugs, hope, despair, freedom, poverty, and music. We were comrades in arms. I would often panhandle outside the Fillmore West to get admission. Seeing great performances by Janis Joplin, Ike & Tina, and Iron Butterfly, etc.

At one of these concerts, while sitting in front of the stage and tripping, another comrade shared his opium. Shortly after I watched as the Grateful Dead melted down onto the stage. I left frightened and made it back to my brother's apartment. Floors beneath started spinning in multidimensional transparent levels below me. They were spinning in different directions-then the room I was in began to spin. I traversed the room and called my brother. As I was on the phone my body vanished.

On Sundays, there were free concerts in Golden Gate Park. Bands like Jefferson Airplane and Santana played for us while we got stoned and danced in the Meadows. Mostly I just hung on in the area finding adventure everywhere. Just sitting on the sidewalk with the other multitudes of pilgrims making fun of the tourist buses rolling slowly by was an adventure. The scene as a whole was a mess but it held hope and I loved it.

On one of these afternoons while sitting on the Haight St, sidewalk an acquaintance passed by. I knew him from my hometown. He was older than me and he had his own car. He told me this story of how he had buried a pound of pot in front of a suburban dentist's office in Sacramento. He asked if I would like to come along on this adventure and dig up his treasure, sounded good to me. We left that day and arrived like thieves in the night. It was a dark, well-to-do, suburban neighborhood. He stopped in front of a white house with a Dentist's shingle. He got a shovel from the trunk and started digging amongst the bushes next to the house, while I waited in the car. He quickly produced the treasure.

Lodi is just south of Sacramento so I suggested we stop there to sell off some of the bounty. When we arrived it was night. I directed him to a parking lot where the local youth hung out. We had good luck and made some sales. As we drove away we were pulled over by police. On the side of the road along the railroad tracks, we were frisked and the car was searched. They found the grass and some pills that my partner had. He was sent to jail and I was off to the Stockton Juvenile Detention Ctr. That night I was put in a cell with others. We were abruptly woken in the morning for the general assembly. The others left and I stayed behind in the cell. It was a sunny day and there were trees and sunlight outside the barred windows. I began to cry and then sobbed uncontrollably. One of the guards came looking for me. He brought me to someone that asked some questions. Within a short period, I was handed over to a nice young man. He informed me that my Father was sitting in the next room and refused to take me or see me, I never saw him again. He then took me to a diner and bought me lunch before taking me to the bus station. We had an exceptionally nice talk. He made me promise to go straight home once I got off the bus, I didn't.

Like a bandit looking for a score I began my search for adolescent adventure and I found it in a little suburban apartment complex, painted pink. She was a delightful woman with a young son. He built these massive cities with construction toys, they filled the living room. I started staying with her and our time together was fun and carefree. I would invite a few friends and we would hang out in her bedroom, get high and watch her black and white TV. Me in bed with her and friends gathered around.

She needed to go into the hospital for a while and left me with the keys, a place to stay. While she was gone word got out and her home became overrun with the local youth. Then older, scary locals also found out and it got dangerously out of control, hard drugs, and fights. The police came and I was gone in the cover of night, I finally headed home.

Sometime later I saw her pass by while outside the Gorilla Record Store on San Francisco's Grant Street. Sitting alongside numerous other hippie youth, listening to the new rock group, Led Zeppelin blasting onto the street. She graciously forgave me then we embraced. We danced at the Fillmore West then said goodbye outside. It was a chilly San Francisco night, I never saw her again.

Back home now with my terribly unhappy Mother and an insanely angry Orvel. The police came but I managed to stay at home, with Mothers pleading. Except now I had a probation officer. My habits didn't change and the police stopped and frisked me more than usual. About the second time, I met with the probation officer he had an ultimatum. Leave El Monte and never come back or we'll find a way to lock you up. Hallelujah! Free at last! I got back on a bus for the Golden Gates.

I'm 16 and back living with my brother and his boyfriend, Stephen. There was always a pliffery of drag queens, fag hags, chicken-hawks, and gay porno filmmakers coming around the flat. I found it all very amusing. I didn't see much at all of my brother and spent most of my time on the streets. I'd go down to Market street where the darker side of people roamed. Where I found myself in a couple of hotel rooms I shouldn't have been in and safely getting out of. Up into North beach with the strip clubs and Grant street shops. The Haight was going down a dark path. Junkies and criminals were taking over. But the tour buses still made the trek.

One of my brother's friends, a gay porn filmmaker offered me $20 to cut all the clothes off my body with scissors while he and a friend filmed it. Hell, I needed the money and liked the attention. I had learned early on that sex and sexuality were a commodity for me, it gave me value. It was screened privately in a movie theatre and everyone that knew my brother and Stephen went, including my brother.

An acquaintance of Stephen"s had a head shop across the bay in Sausalito and he needed another clerk. It was my first real job and it was perfect. I took my breaks across the street in a little park in the square, when you could still use it. The town had not yet been overrun with tourists and it was beautiful. Working in a head shop was like a kid in the candy store. You had your black lights, mandala's, hookahs, lava lamps, beads galore, incense, and tie-dye. After some time the owner offered me work around his home, odd jobs, and such. He was an older fellow with a big beautiful home. One day he contacted me on the intercom to ask if I could bring him towels, to the sauna. When I opened the door I finally understood what I was doing there. I lost the job.


Part 2, Chapter 1

Vincent

In an effort to fit in and to hopefully garner the attention and affection of my Brother I tried sex with a man. I picked someone that seemed nice and gave it a whirl in Stephen's bed, which really pissed him off. I was already borrowing, without permission, his homemade, very flamboyant clothes and wearing them on the streets. White pants with multi-colored knitted bell-bottoms with billowing satin shirts. The next day I couldn't wait to tell Brother. I entered his bedroom and told him the news, "I'm Gay Now!". He looked at me confused and said "oooK" and went back to reading his paper.

There was a man living outside my Brother's place in his VW van and using the facilities. His name was Vincent Rossi. He was different than the other Gays, he didn't dress or act gay. He talked about books, art, theatre, dance, and read poetry out loud. The gays were all enchanted by him. He had left his wife and son and a Hollywood career as a stage manager. Stories of dining and working with Vincent Price and Marlene Dietrich among others. He was an aspiring poet with hopelessness in his heart. He had this worn-out paperback that fictionalized the life of Arthur Rimbaud. The book "Day on Fire" changed my life, it sits on my bookshelf even now. A whole new world opened up for me. All I've ever desired ever wanted was adventure, and a life worth living. Perhaps that's why I can't stay still for very long. I started hanging out with him.

Vincent was someone that I intuitively felt I could trust which had been lacking in this 15-year-olds life. I was not attracted to him (or any men) but I wanted to attach myself to him. So one night while we sat playing records I kissed him, which surprised him, a lot.

San Francisco was a stop on his way, he was headed north. He told me much later that his plan was to end his life somewhere up the road. He asked if I wanted to come along and I accepted.



First, we drove down to El Monte. Stopped at the city park where I used to cavort with other delinquents and such. They were suspicious of Vincent, being ten years older than me. We managed to score some drugs and then off to see my parents. As I remember it was all very civil. We had come to get a letter allowing Vincent to have custody. Mother saw him as more of an adult so at least I'd be safe, she wrote the letter. Orvel remained mute. I'm sure he would agree with anything that kept me away. I just turned 16

We stayed with a friend of Vincent's in Hollywood for a couple of weeks and then drove back to San Francisco where I said goodbye to Brother and we were off. We took the coastal route through California, Oregon, and Washington. When we reached Vancouver, Canada I produced an address that I acquired from one of the men that came to visit my brother. He had said in passing that if I ever found myself in Vancouver I should stop by, never thinking that I would, so we showed up on his doorstep. The man and his lover were kind and let us stay. We took LSD that night and Vincent had a horrible experience. It was new to him and he got scared. The next morning we were off, to the great relief of our hosts.

We crossed British Columbia and the Rocky Mountains in that rickety bus. The most amazing scenery imaginable. Somehow I had this guitar with no clue how to play it, so I improvised. I later found out it was UN-tuneable. Even at a young age, I wanted to be a musician. My stepbrother gave me a beautiful acoustic Gibson when I was about 10. I loved that instrument and I would strum it while singing Elvis songs. Begged my parents for lessons but they insisted on accordion lessons instead. Couldn't get jazzed about it and gave up the accordion. The Gibson was given back to my stepbrother. Somewhere on the plains of Saskatchewan Vincent asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I had always loved drawing. Teachers complained that I drew all over my homework. Intermediate and High School Art classes were the only classes I got decent grades in and loved going to. So for better or worse, I chose - Artist, a Painter! That decision has directed the rest of my life. I wish now I would have chosen Rock Star!

Driving down through So. Dakota, we stopped in some small, small town and got a room. It was out of some very real horror movie. Torn shades, filthy glasses on old dusty dollies, and dismal lighting, and this was Main St. We lived thru the night and the next morning went to a cafe across the street. The place sat maybe 20. We ate breakfast with the looming, menacing stares of the few customers. I found a song on the booth jukebox by the Youngbloods "Smile on Your Brother" and played it over and over as we ate our food. We're lucky we didn't get shot.


The next day the bus died.

On a Greyhound bus, we now headed for Brooklyn and Vincent's, Grandmother's place. We stayed with her for a few days. While there we took a train into the City and had lunch at the Russian Tea Room. I loved NYC even in the state it was in, back then. That night on the subway back to Brooklyn a man waving a $20 bill between his legs confused me at first.

Part 2, Chapter 2

Boston

We took a bus for Boston. Vincent was friends with an Irish artist living there with his family, that was our first stop. Eventually, we found a very small, dark studio on the 1st floor of a townhouse on Beacon Street. It was 1969 and Boston was an exciting place to be. The counterculture was still alive and well.

Vincent treated me with kindness, patience, and respect. Over the next few years, he introduced me to the world of classic literature, theater arts, classical music, and ballet (saw Nureyev dance with Fonteyn). I introduced him to Rock & Roll, petty crime, and drug culture. I was always a reader but now I was insatiable. I read all of Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Thomas Mann, Camus, and Hesse to name a few. Poets I loved like Baudelai