" I SURVIVED 1984"
So, a brand new year, a brand new ray of hope. My baking job was actually working out very well. The "Kitchen" must have been the
only vegetarian restaurant for a hundred miles and was run by a sweet couple
called Pat and Pete. It was right on
the main road between Auburn and Grass Valley.
My job was to bake about a dozen fruit pies, cakes and big healthy granola
cookies every Monday morning for which I was paid a little bit of money and really
well fed. The restaurant was closed on
Mondays so I usually worked on my own with good music blaring away. I mostly enjoyed the time I spent there. At the very least, it provided a bit of
structure to my life in Grass Valley.
And then I walked into another job, which gave me a lot more structure
and took me out of the house a lot more.
I had taken to working once a month at our local food co-op in Grass
Valley where we bought most of our food.
It was a small contribution that I could make to our household, I
enjoyed the scene there and managed to nibble pretty well the days that I
worked there. I saw an advertisement
for a house sitter at Kate Hayes House in Grass Valley on the noticeboard there
and went over to apply for the job.
Kate Hayes had been a notorious courtesan and actress in the area during
the boom years of the Gold Rush era and the house named after her was a Shelter
Home for people with various mental problems.
There were normally between five and ten people who were in transition
between an institution and the outside world living there at any one time. The house was run by a couple called Joy
and Floyd who had two young sons, Nat and Ben. There was not much to my work there and not much real money to
be made either. Mostly I would have to
take charge of the house when the others went out for they were very active in
the local Theater group. My work was
mainly to keep an eye on the boys and to dispense regular medication to the
inmates. Life with Susan had prepared
me well for some of the oddities of behaviour that I might experience there and
I felt that I had some real compassion for unfortunate people with mental
problems of one kind or another. Plus
I got to take endless hot showers there, eat well and even had access to HBO
television should I want it. And every
penny helped at that point too.
So I settled into a routine of life
in Grass Valley which lasted all that year without any real excitements or
major changes to speak of. I didn't
fall in love, the Family gradually got closer and tighter and I spent a lot of
time with the two boys. It was a year
of domesticity, I remember, a year of steady if unspectacular work and a year
in which I put energy out in a lot of new directions. I was in close touch with Susan all year but the others were
definitely unhappy about her coming back to the live on the land. This caused me a great deal of pain for I
often felt that she had no one except me in the world as a support system. But the conflict that this caused between
Simma, Jeffrey and I, did make us deal with our communication problems and
strengthened our relationships in the end.
Susan finally came to visit for a week in March but she was on a lot of
medication and was very passive and out of it. It was clear to both of us that our land wasn't the best place
for her to be and she went back to Oregon to try and put a life together there
in some Rajneeshy commune. I missed
her but knew that she had to find her own salvation and that I had to stay and
look for mine. I started putting
advertisements in the Lonely-Hearts Club section of the local newspaper and met
and went out with a succession of different women throughout the year. One of them, Mary, became a good friend
but there was generally no great chemistry between any of them and I stayed in
my role as Grass Valley's Last Eligible Bachelor. Which in retrospect was just as well for I was broke and confused
and was much better off in my own company most of the time. My love affair that year was with sweet
little Zeb who would totter on down to my house every morning to do exercises
with me and then potter around behind me all day.
I took up acrylic painting for a
change and painted steadily all that year.
I was happy to paint anyone who would let me. I finished portraits of Ron and Sarah (who hated the "party
girl" painting that I came up with though I really liked it), all of Joy
and Floyd's family as well as some pretty bad self portraits of myself in
hell. I pushed on with my Californian
landscape batik series and completed a whole series of slightly kitschy barns
as well as a good "Yuba River" piece and a Nevada City facade of
beautiful old Victorian Houses. I showed
Batiks three times that year too, at a local gallery "ArtBeat", at
"Harmony Gallery in Southern California and in Cologne, Germany. My old friend Rudolf Smend put together a
huge "International Batik Exhibition" in May. I somehow represented the USA and showed my
Florida self-portrait (Artist with Ear) so I certainly didn't feel as if I was
dropping out of the Art World completely.
I joined the local Theater group,
the "Foothills Theater", and though I didn't really feel very
involved with the other members there for they were a pretty insular bunch, I
did paint backdrops for three productions, "The Mikado", "The
House of Blue Leaves" and "Bus Stop". I was happy to be doing something really different and to be
part of a group effort.
In May, my father, Maurice wrote to
say that he was about to have a minor operation for colon cancer. I had had almost nothing to do with my
father for about fifteen years. But
he had been in the States twice since I had been there, doing English
Literature lecture tours and we had somehow managed to miss each other both
times. Little did I realize the
severity of his illness which would eventually lead to his death six years
I met Doug the Californian dentist
and worked out a great Batik trade with him in exchange for major tooth repairs. Doug lived in a Native American tipi with a
hot tub just outside it. He had a
massive electric organ in a nearby trailer which he played in a local rock band
and he kept a real wolf, masquerading as a wolfhound dog, as a pet. He was my kind of dentist and ate vegetarian
meals regularly at the "Kitchen".
I batiked his portrait standing outside his tipi as well as a portrait
of his beloved wolf and he fixed up my teeth which had needed urgent attention.
At the "Kitchen" I
organized a reggae Night, "Reggae Kitchen", where we served strictly
Ital food to over sixty people. We
managed to fill the little restaurant completely and showed a video of the
little-seen reggae classic movie "Countryman which was a great
success. I joined the "Kitchen’s"
outside catering unit that summer too and we served Tex-Mex food at rock
festivals in the area which was fun.
Fulfilling a lifetime's ambition,
Sarah and I took the local radio station KVMR's deejay training for six weeks
in the Fall and became qualified deejays.
Then we started out with "Sarah and Jon's Dance Hour" before I
became the deejay on the "Roots Reggae" Show which was broadcast from
eleven p.m. until four a.m. every Friday night. I enjoyed doing the reggae show a lot for I had collected an
incredible amount of unusual reggae music during my adventures with "Catch
a Fire". But in the end I had to
admit to myself that I enjoyed listening to the radio more than I enjoyed broadcasting. It was the element of surprise that made
radio my favourite medium for you never knew in advance what was coming next
whereas of course, when you were the deejay, you did.
We all had a rather unpleasant
experience which had a slightly deja vu element to it for me. An old Ibiza friend, Candice, showed up to
visit with us bringing her young baby Zephyr and her boyfriend Errol Zero who
was a slightly well known, second rank Reggae star. I had played a couple of his records on my radio show. By this time, Simma and Jeffrey were well
ensconced in the new "Big House" while the Dome had become our
guesthouse. Errol started to drink
heavily at night and I listened to the sound of smashing bottles and domestic
struggles down in the Dome from my shack.
During the day, all seemed normal but on the second night, the fighting
became much worse and Candice brought the baby up to my little house to escape
the violence. Errol followed her up to
me but I refused to let him in. He
accused me of trying to seduce his woman but I managed to defuse a potentially
bad situation without any violence and he calmed down eventually. Candice and he were obviously locked into
an abusive relationship and I wanted no involvement in any situation like that. But I did take Errol up to Nevada City to
appear on my reggae program where he sang beautifully over the radio and was a
big hit. Interesting breed, these
dreadlocked reggae performers.
I took up running in 1984 too and
worked out an up and down hill three-mile course to run early every morning. It was agony at first but I soon found it
easier and easier and would do my thirteen laps of the property before the
others surfaced in the mornings. I was
feeling thin and fit and ready for almost anything. My old friend Kristin came to visit and soon slotted into life
in Grass Valley. She came and did a
radio show with me and hung out with me at Kate Hayes House where I housesat
all year. That little job kept me in
pocket money all year and also provided a little stability in an otherwise precarious
sort of life. Besides I could do the
family wash there once a week, take regular hot showers and meet some nice
As usual, I managed to let Christmas pass me by and on the very
last day of the year, took Harun out to a shop in Grass Valley where we had
matching "I Survived 1984" tee-shirts printed up. Hmm... My future was still inscrutably
unclear and I wasn't able to see beyond my next morning exercises. But the winter weather was wonderful, our
land was growing more and more beautiful and only the other morning, I had been
able to watch a young doe playing with our little ginger cat in that patch of
poison ivy growing just outside my front door.
The New Year started quietly and I
couldn't have known that my little world would be blown apart within six
months. Had I known, I might not have
written so glibly that I enjoyed the mystery of it all. Simma realized a long held ambition in the
Spring and opened a little bead shop, "Chester Bead", in Grass Valley. I was brought in to paint the huge shop
sign and to design the shop's logo which was a large bead with a needle and
thread entwined, coloured black on shocking pink. The grand opening was on March 2nd and I hung a show of my Grass
Valley batiks there a month later which ran all summer.
My love life didn't improve much
although I got slightly involved with an English friend of Ron's called Liz who
lived in San Francisco. She had a
little son called Lamin and hit some deep-seated chord in my English soul. But the friendship never really progressed
very far although Liz did come and live up at Ron's house for awhile. She was a city woman, was tied up in an intense
single mother relationship with her young son and was never very interested in
me romantically. And my friendship
with beautiful Rachel ran a similar course.
On paper it might have looked perfect but she had children too and most
of her energies went into just keeping it together. There wasn’t any space left for love. Both of them stirred me up a bit but in my heart of hearts, I knew
that neither woman was what I was really looking for. But I painted two good portraits of Rachel and one of Liz and
Lamin which came out very well and continued my series of acrylic portraits and
landscapes right into the summer. I
was making batiks too and did a portrait of my darling Zeb standing in front of
a stack of winter firewood. I also
completed a commissioned portrait of Dr. Patch Adams and his family sitting on
the lap of the huge sculpture of Albert Einstein in Washington D.C. which I
called "E=MC2". Both
pieces came out rather well and I was quite happy with the way my work was
going at the time. I published an
article in a local art magazine called "ArtMatters" in which I talked
about living among the oak trees of Northern California and how I realized that
my work had only just begun.