An Excerpt From "The Street"

07/07/2012 10:25 am ET | Updated Sep 06, 2012
  • M.W. Jacobs author of A History of the U. S. in 20 Movies: An All-Movie History Course

An Excerpt from "The Street"
Haight-Ashbury District, San Francisco
Summer of Love, 1967

It may be slight and subtle, but when you turn from a side street onto Haight Street, there is a click, and he feels it now as he turns onto the south side of Haight heading west. When he was standing naked in his bedroom wondering what to do with the day, he knew that whatever else he did, he'd check-in at least once with the Street ...

... At Divisadero, waiting for the light, he's on display for a family in a station wagon. Two kids gawk behind the smirking wife who says something to the husband who turns away from a braless chick and looks at him. Who was it told him about a cat who ran alongside a tour bus holding up a big mirror? For the next 11 blocks, up to Golden Gate Park, he'll be walking beside a wall of idling cars, interrupted only at intersections, with windows up and doors locked, full of faces at an aquarium: aghast, tittering, grim, insulted, threatened, curious, ready ...

... A dash of sea breeze drags over his flesh like a long, airy tongue. Was that the acid? Already? No, too soon. Earlier he took a purple Owsley tab. Felt like the right day. Plus, he was lowering inventory. What he and his roommate don't take themselves or give away, they sell ...

... Foot traffic thickens towards Masonic Street. This is where the bazaar really begins. To check-in with the Street, first he looks into the Drugstore Café on the northeast corner of Masonic and Haight. He can't see through the reflection so he makes a portal of shadow with a cupped hand. Nobody. Nobody anyway he wants to talk to now. He weaves through panhandlers to the curb and waits for the light-change.

Lanky and 19, he crosses Masonic copping a pose, stork-hunch and hands-in-jeans, and then he crosses against the light back to the south side of the Street. He continues west through a dense forest of freaks, huddling dealers, beseeching panhandlers, new arrivals with backpacks, and a few dazed, cringing tourists. The five blocks from Masonic to the park is a solid din of idling engines, music from windows, the crowd murmur and shouted greetings of freaks, some barefoot, some sitting on the sidewalk, some leaning against a wall, lounging on the thoroughfare as if at home. It's a livingroom with a street through it ...

... He crosses Ashbury, which he knows is Ashbury Street from habit, not because there's a street sign. It's stolen every couple days. Now two other checkpoints, the Psychedelic Shop, and across the street, the Print Mint, a cavernous room with hip posters covering all walls and the ceiling ...

.... The greasy aroma of a "Love Burger" reaches him. Across the street, beside the Print Mint, a cocktail lounge has cut a hole in the wall beside the sidewalk and installed a grill, and a plump, middle-aged, straight lady cooks "Love Burgers" on it. A freak passes in front of her wearing a cheap obvious wig. Every day sits higher on his head. Hair's growing. Just outta jail? Deserter? Conformist? ....

.... He's almost to the bowling alley when his stomach growls as if it notices the supermarket across the Street before he does. That's right! He hasn't eaten yet. He jaywalks through stalled traffic to the north side of Haight. Oooooo.... that's nice. The acid flutters his nerves. Entering the supermarket, he sees in the glass door his giddy stoned grin, eyes all-pupil, and hair aflame from wind. Looks like he's holding onto a thousand watts. The automatic door swings open onto a frightened middle-aged straight woman.

Muzak! Sounds like there's an orchestra in the cheese section. In the fruit section, he puts some nectarines in a brown paper bag, then heads for the check-out stand. He becomes absorbed in a show tune on the muzak and visualizes vast, petticoated chorus lines leaping and whirling. At the end of an aisle, he suddenly stops and looks around. Was he dancing or just imagining it? He smiles at the idea of a freak dancing down a supermarket aisle, then he starts to laugh, and keeps laughing harder and harder, and just on the verge of blast off, catches himself. Cool it man!

The checkout line is a downer. The burly clerk eyes him warily while he struggles with a jeans pocket. The clerk has a flattop crewcut, and at the back, a long greased d.a. (duck's ass). His face is locked in a sneer. With his buddies outside the store, he's an authority on what's really going-on in the Haight ...

.... He goes right to Hippy Hill and plops onto an unpeopled clearing and drifts with clouds while listening to a nearby conversation,

"...No man, I'm not an ice cream man anymore. I got fired. I went to work on mescaline and I was drivin' around in the uniform and the music was tinklin' and the kids were runnin' out .... I said, man, I can't take money from these people. So I gave all the ice cream away. The boss couldn't dig that at all..."

Suddenly a small boy is climbing all over him as if he were a tree.

"Hey, what the...?!" he says sitting up.

The boy drapes himself over a shoulder, hangs from his neck, slithers across his lap, and crawls under the arms he leans back on. Somethin' strange about 'im ... He has the strength of a ten-year-old compressed into the body of a four-year-old. His features are pinched and oddly awry, and he makes distant grunting noises like intelligent baby babble. The kid's retarded! Thirty or so feet away is a thirtyish woman with the same chestnut hair as the boy, except hers is down her back and wind-wafted. She's beautiful, and she smiles at him as he submits to the child's gentle, ecstatic exploration.

This is a short excerpt from a story in a collection of autobiographical short stories, "San Fran '60s," about San Francisco in the Sixties and the birth of the hippies. It is based on the voluminous journals of retired journalist and teacher, M.W. Jacobs, and with its sequel "More San Fran '60s," is available in e-book and now paperback on Amazon.