MENDOCINO STORIES EVENTS
In performance at the Mendocino Hotel March 23, 2007
Tales of Mendocino
by Jay Frankston
Once upon a time, between the late Sixties and the early Seventies, there was a strange convergence of energies in a little town named Mendocino, sitting on top of a cliff in northern California. There were hippies and artists, drop out professionals and Hollywood producers, druggies and back-to-the-land sorts, and they all came together in an explosion of energy, a wild mix of young and old all ready to leave the past behind and start something new, all hoping for something better. And it worked to create moments of oneness, both unique and spiritual which we recognized as Mendocino magic.
They came from everywhere, from the east coast, from Chicago, from L.A. Most of them were getting away from something like a family that didn't understand them, or a job they could no longer deal with, perhaps a marriage that didn't work out and wound up on the rocks. Some came because the big city had taken its toll on their psyche and they needed the fresh air. But all were seeking a change, a new life, a soulful reincarnation of sorts.
In my case I had been a lawyer in New York for twenty years and had had my fill of the law, of the big city with its hustle, bustle, and paranoia, of the big bucks and the never ending consumerism. We held a family conference and Monique and I decided to drop out.
I gave away my practice and we crossed the U.S. in a green Ford van, with our children, Claire 17 and Danny 14, our dog, a mattress in the back, tie dye curtains, 4 speakers blasting out hard rock, and the greatly reduced items of our belongings. We did not know where we were going and, to questions posed by disbelieving relatives, we answered "elsewhere!" And all along the way we picked up hitchhikers who were on the road to . . . elsewhere. We wound up in Mendocino.
We did not plan to move to Mendocino. It just happened. One of the things they used to say here was: "Mendocino picks its own. If you're meant to live here, you will. If not, Mendocino will spit you out". And we were quickly put to the test. Did Mendocino want us?
In the morning we got up and went on Albion Ridge Road or Little Lake Road door to door. Houses in those days rented for $65 a month and there weren't any to be found. So on knocking at the door of the first house we'd get a warm greeting, a Mendocino hug, and an invitation to a hearty breakfast.
Breakfast was joyous and full of conversation . . . but they didn't know of a place to rent. So on to the next house we went and another wonderful Mendocino hug from people we didn't know but felt like family, and with them, off to Middle Ridge Pond for a swim. But no one could tell us about a place to rent. So we dried off and, refreshed and renewed, we went on to the next house where they were barbecuing venison, a road-kill deer, and some 30 or 40 open-hearted people eating, making music, smoking pot, and making us feel completely at home. But no houses to rent.
So it went for nearly 5 months during which we moved from the Van Dam campground to the floor of someone's kitchen, to an interim stay at Virginia Bagget's on Gurley Lane, then on to a caretaking at Ames Lodge. But everybody knew us by now and "Have you found a place to stay yet? . . . You haven't? Now wait a minute try . . . " and suggestions came left and right and we got a temporary rental . . . then it began to rain.
Now if anybody remembers the winter of 1972 it was the rainiest in years. This funky old house in Little River became available for purchase and we bought it (for $11,000) and moved in. We had arrived. Mendocino had accepted us as one of its own.
(Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa)
"Mendocino, Mendocino I have found you
You're the little village of my dreams . . .
It rained that winter. It rained buckets, and buckets and pots and pans were spread throughout the house to catch the water from the leaking roof. We even had one at the foot of the bed and the drip, drip, drip at night became part of our dreams.
When the rain let up and there were a few days of sunshine, I climbed on the roof to try to fix the leaks. It was made of redwood shakes. I was a greenhorn and struggling. Although I was pretty handy this was not my thing. But I was going to do it even if every second stroke of the hammer landed on my thumb.
Then it happened. A pickup truck pulled into our driveway and these two long-hairs named Glenn and Michael noticed me juggling shakes that kept sliding off the roof. The next thing I knew they were on the roof with me with their hammers, their nails, their joint, and their know-how. There was something wonderful about it, something I can't exactly put into words, but it felt good, it felt real good. I wasn't used to this kind of comradeship. We worked, and talked, smoked a joint and laughed and it was done before I knew it.
In March I was alone. Monique and the children were away for 10 days I don't quite remember where, but I liked my new life and felt energetic to boot so I decided to put in a garden. I set my alarm for 7 o'clock in the morning, had breakfast and went out in the bright morning sun with my dungarees and my shovel.
Now here I was, a city fella, raised in concrete, Paris, France, having lived in concrete, New York, New York, and now I was a country fella. I drew a line in the soil to outline what was to be the garden and, with great enthusiasm, I put my shovel to the ground and dug . . . and dug . . . . and dug. We were in the pygmy and it was mostly clay. The ground was hard and wouldn't yield. Within a few minutes I was sweating heavily. This wasn't going to be easy and I began to wonder if I could finish what I had started. All my good intentions were for naught.
Then it happened again. A pickup truck drove by and stopped: "Hi Jay!" "Hi Todd!" "What are you up to?" "I'm putting in a garden." "Far out!" and he drives off. Not more than fifteen minutes later the pickup truck is back. Three "hippies" with shovels jump off. No questions are asked. No words are exchanged. They just get alongside of me and the four of us put shovels into the ground (passing the joint every now and then) and in a few hours of Mendocino Magic the ground is turned and it didn't feel like work at all.
A few days later Monique and I are breaking in our new compost pile when a pickup truck passes by with 2 guys in the back. "Hey!" I shout "What's up?" "Ron Blett's well is dry. It's too shallow. We're going to help him dig it deeper". "Wait up!" I hear Monique say and we both take shovels and jump on the truck. I like this. I really do.
When they changed their lives many also changed their names to reflect a determination to leave the old behind and start anew. So there was Crazy Wolf and Tiger Lily, Leaping Deer and Laughing Brook. There was Captain Fathom and Colonel Wingnuts. There was Stumbling Buffalo, formerly David the hairdresser from Miami Beach and Meridian Green. There was Moonlight and Raven B (for batshit) Earlygrow, ex. Harold Chaikin of Flushing, New York, and all manifested their new incarnation in the Mendocino fog and sunshine to the dismay of far away parents and family who could not understand this overwhelming rejection of all they valued.
Most everyone we met was a freak of one kind or another. Not a freak in the sense of abnormal or belonging to a circus sideshow but in the sense of strongly dedicated to a cause or belief and living one's life accordingly.
Some were health and organic food freaks and ate only tofu and grains, and at fairs they would expound their theories and show the proof by holding out samples of their stools which looked like dried cow dung and had no odor.
And some were mantra and meditation freaks and were disciples of Baba Ram Das or Baba Freejohn or Baba Muktananda, all gurus of one kind or another. And some were Jesus freaks and lived on communes like "The Lord's Land" on Navarro Ridge Road and preached the gospel to whoever they could corner. And there were holistic health freaks and back to the land freaks, and freaks of every hue and color.
And then you met someone and spoke a while and found out he was not a Jesus freak or a health freak or anything else for that matter and you began to think that here was a fairly average normal person. Then you'd ask him what he does and he'd say: "I'm building the arc". "The what?" "The arc" he says with conviction. "When the deluge comes I'm going to be ready".
I guess I forgot that one, the end of the world freaks and there were a number of them waiting for Armageddon. I also forgot about those who had been contacted by extra terrestrials and were diligently building a landing platform for flying saucers.
There was a small Jewish community in Mendocino and there was an attempt at putting together a Jewish community center. A piece of land was purchased on the headlands across from town. There was Allen and David and some ex-lawyer from Florida. Now an exceptionally valuable piece of property, on which McMillan built what I would call a mansion, it was reasonably priced at the time and highly mortgaged.
A shack was put up and a number of tribal services were held there with lots of food in pots . . . and pot. No one was particularly religious and it was called B'nai Boo (Boo stands for marihuana and we stand for marijuana too). Its logo was a Star of David with a marihuana leaf in the center. The enunciated motto was "You don't have to be Jewish to be Booish". The whole thing had a comical effect and didn't last long. Proposition 13 came along and the property was sold.
That didn't prevent Passover from being celebrated. They blew the ram's horn from the top of Albion Ridge and it was answered by a conch from the top of Navarro Ridge and the tribes came down, bringing home-made unleavened bread and matzo-ball soup, horse radish and gefilte fish, and dozens of hard boiled eggs from their chicken coops. And there must have been over 150 men, women and children of all ages, all gathered around long tables loaded with foods of all kinds.
Most of them were not Jewish and the ceremony was conducted in traditional fashion by Victor Biando, a Sicilian from New York who knew more about the rituals and could read Hebrew better than I who am Jewish. And the warmth and togetherness was Mendocino Magic and made us all a community of love of which any Priest or Rabbi would be proud.
The Navarro River runs alongside 128. In July it's down to a stream with an occasional water hole, one of which is at 4.96 in the middle of the redwood forest. We hiked through the tall trees and down to the river bed and walked along the stream.
In the distance I could hear a flute blending with nature's own music and as we got closer there was a large clearing and a few shouts of "H E L L Ooo" from people who had seen us coming. A few hundred yards away there was a waterhole with a dozen or so people around it. Monique tugged at my sleeve and said "Do you see what I see? They're all . . .." and she hesitated "they're all naked". And they were. And there were big smiles and warm greetings as we approached. And we felt uncomfortable because this was our first encounter with nudity. It's not that we'd never been skinny dipping by ourselves or even with others but here they were lounging around with no clothes on as if it was the most natural thing to do.
The sun was shining and it was hot and they were relaxed and at ease and our clothes seemed out of place so "What do you say Monique?" And she wasn't sure but "Well . . . why not". So we undressed and jumped into the water and it was cool and felt clean on our naked bodies. Then we stretched out on a towel and names were exchanged. There was Zee and Gloria and Richard, Rick and Sherry and their baby Dassy and everybody was sharing the beauty of nature and living the great outdoors.
But we were still conscious of their nakedness and shy about ours. Monique kept reminding me that she was over 40 and that her bulging mid-drift must be awful. And I looked at them and I looked at her and I thought that she had a better body than many of them, and I told her and she smiled but she didn't believe me. On the other hand she assured me that my slimness made it so that I looked much younger than I was, and I didn't believe her either.
So we were sitting there on the towel and this guy was standing there in front of us, talking to this woman. You know, I mean he was standing there right in front of us, and we were sitting, and his . . . it was right in front of us, like we were looking right at it. Monique nudged me and whispered "Look . . . he's not circumcised". And I noted that Zee's had one breast bigger than the other. But all that soon passed and we began to see that their body is part of their appearance that's all, no more than their posture, their walk, or the way they carry themselves, and we recognized the games we had been playing all those years.
So we built ourselves a hut with branches and twigs and leaves, and a fire pit. In the daytime we laid around the swimming hole while Zee drew pictures with crayons and Richard played the flute and Sherry crocheted and Gloria wrote poems. In the evening we gathered around a fire and someone had a pot of rice on it, and someone else put some squash and zucchini in it, and we threw in some other vegetables, and the whole thing cooked while the joint was passed around. And after a while it started smelling real good, and we shared the food and sang songs and Rick played the mouth organ. And if that wasn't Mendocino Magic I don't know what is.
At the bottom of Albion Ridge Road there was a large building that had been a school when Albion was a fairly big logging town. Now abandoned it was turned into a community center. Michael and Susan lived in a loft on the premises and were among the caretakers.
One day Michael and Susan decided to get married. Many couples lived together but getting "married" was a rare thing in those days so it had to be done in style. The Albion Community Center was decorated for the occasion with garlands and streamers and the tribes came down from the ridges, women in granny dresses carrying baskets of wheat and flowers, men in open shirts with small children on their shoulders and others in toe. And we all gathered together around an open brazier where incense burned and offerings of all kinds were laid out ceremoniously in a large circle. The whole community was there in its best finery. So were Michael's Jewish parents and siblings and his fairly old and religious grandmother, all in their Sunday clothes with suits and ties that were as out of place as they would have been at a baseball game.
And the groom and the bride, both barefoot and crowned by strands of spring flowers, walked with great dignity three times around each other and exchanged vows of love and commitment.
Suddenly . . . a shriek from one side startled us as a red headed, red bearded hippie named Glenwood Bear jumped on a high crate, his body covered with a bear skin, the paws over his hands with large claws showing and the head of the bear over his own head, arms stretched up and out, and he looked like the bear itself. And he began to chant a Native American blessing on the newlyweds, all the time waving his arms and dancing like a circus bear on its hind legs, . . . while to the side, . . . the old Jewish grandmother kept hitting her chest with her right hand and muttering "Oy Vey! . . . Oy Vey!"
Monique had always been a good cook and she found a job in a restaurant that some of us will remember was called the Sip'n Sup Soup House. One of the waitresses was Susan Waterfall, a concert pianist. The cleaning lady was Virginia Cross, a talented classical flutist. That's the way it was in Mendocino in those days. The guy across the way from me was John Sinclair, a goat farmer. He even smelled like a goat but he had been an electronic scientist at Hughes Aircraft.
You'd talk to a guy at the post office and sort of rub the back of your hand and show him how red and irritated it was and he'd say: "It's nothing. Just a rash. Keep your hands out of water for a while". And you'd say "How do you know?" And he'd say "Oh! I'm a dermatologist". Well. I guess he couldn't tell by what I looked like or by what I did that I was a lawyer either.
In early July we went fruit picking. Someone had told us that the apricots were ripe in Winters, near Sacramento. There were industrial orchards with thousands of acres and the pickers only go through once. They pick what's ripe and leave the rest. Two weeks after the picking there's a whole new batch of ripe ones just hanging there from the trees.
So with Mark and Debby we drove into the Sacramento Valley while the thermometer climbed to 105 degrees. But it was dry heat and we handled it pretty well. We came upon an orchard spread out as far as the eye could see, with trees loaded and the ground covered with oozing sweet apricots. The caretaker, a beautiful heavy-set Chicano woman told us to: "Go ahead. Help yourself. They're gonna rot anyway."
For the next four hours, we climbed, and picked, and ate apricots surrounded by bees and the smell of honey when it's still in the fruit. We were all so engrossed in the picking that by the time we looked up there were well over 350 lbs of cots in boxes all around.
It was near 5 o'clock when we stopped at the Albion store to buy groceries for dinner. Juniper walked over to Monique and looked into the van. "Been pickin eh?" "Yes" she said "Now we've got our hands full." "Right!" he said and smiled.
Later on we were sitting around the table finishing supper when a VW pulled into our driveway and Juniper and another guy came out. And then a van pulled in after them and three ladies came out. And they all walked into the kitchen and one of them said: "Who does what?" And this lady Nada said "I'll do jams". And this guy Clifford said "I'll slice some for drying". And this other lady asked "Who wants to can with me?"
And the next thing I know, it was happening, Mendocino Magic, we had a fruit factory going. The fruit is boiling and the joint goes around and the sweet smell of apricots blends with the scent of marijuana and fills the air. And by midnight it was all done. The jams were in jars. The cots were in juice and the racks were spread with sliced fruit and covered with cheese cloth.
Then Clifford goes out to the car and brings in a set of conga drums and Nada gets her guitar and we light some candles and incense and smoke another joint and make music together for another hour or two. When the party breaks up we hug and kiss and everyone leaves with a few jars of this and a few cans of that and it's been a magical evening.
In those days Mendocino had 1000 people but 3000 craftsmen because everyone was into ceramics, or weaving, or woodwork; 1000 people but 3000 musicians because many played several instruments and there was music everywhere.
In many ways Mendocino made me think of the left bank of Paris in the 1920s where a bunch of people got together at an outdoor café in the afternoon and we know now that it was Henry Miller, T.S. Elliot and Hemingway, Matisse and Renoir . . . Well there were people like that in Mendocino, some of them are still with us today, people who will leave their random blotches of poetic paint on canvases which will hang in the Whitney Museums of the future, so many supremely talented individuals, artists. writers, musicians and the like all managed by some strange act of fate, to come together in this little town of Mendocino.
All these things that come to mind, each recalling a moment, a feeling, a sense of joy and belonging, where we got together and gave each other Mendocino hugs, where we looked in each other's eyes and words were not necessary so all we said was "Far out brother" or "Far out sister". And we were brothers and sisters in that we shared the world together, and lived in a common garden. This was the greatest Mendocino Magic of all.