Saturday, December 12, 2015

Hello Goodbye Stark Naked

      It was on the LSD boat on Main Dock in Sausalito. Suzanne’s boat was an old Navy LST but everyone called it the LSD. It was Halloween 1982 and I was kickin’ it with Rapid Robert after dropin’ a disco dot or two. Rapid lived with Suzanne and a purple tongued Chow and he was trying to cheer me up as I had reached the lowest point in my life…I mean the bottom. My girlfriend of five years had left me, Rapid and I had almost drowned coming across from Berkeley on a flood tide in my 14 foot speed boat, I was strung out on most everything and it wasn’t working anymore, my daughters thought I was going to die, etc. etc. bla bla you don’t wanna know...low…down. Anyway Rapid and I are discussing relevant cosmic equivalences when this vision of radiance in a brown fedora sticks her head in the door and asks “Is Suzanne here?” Well, Rapid and I looked at each other without taking our eyes off of her and he asks “Hey, aren’t you Stark Naked?” “Why yes,” She replied as she gracefully climbed in the boat. I was stunned out of my trippin’ mind almost speechless, however, I managed to blurt out “You are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen!” She looked right down into my soul with those cosmic brown eyes and the world stopped still, I couldn’t think, angels sang and everything was happening all at the same time, then she said “I’m not a girl, I’m a woman!”
      So if I tell you that we were together from that moment on you wouldn’t believe me, but what really happened was after Susanne came back, talking for a few hours and getting her number, she had to leave and I had another engagement. But when I came back to the boat later we were sitting around talking about what had transpired and how smitten I was, déjà vu all over again, she poked her head in, only this time no hat ‘cause she had forgotten it and had to come back to get it. (“by the way that’s a cute hat and a smile so hard to resist, what’s a sweetheart like you doin’ in a dump like this”-BD) One thing lead to another and after going and getting a bottle of brandy and Suzanne letting us stay in her bow bedroom…well, we were together from then on until the morning she died in my arms ten years later and that’s a true story. (I still have that hat.)

      I had been living anchored-out on a WW2 landing craft called the Gulley Jimson, named after the artist in Joyce Cary’s The Horses Mouth, that Diver Don had given me when he left for Hawaii. It kept trying to sink, maybe because my ex-girlfriends new boyfriend kept sticking holes in it, I don’t know, but when I went to Cathy’s house to stay with her for a while, it sank. It was full of everything I owned at the time, so I figured I didn’t need any of that stuff anymore and I moved in with her and started over or I should say anew…reborn…I had been sent a cosmic angel to pull me up out of the pit on the bottom.
      She was known as Katrina in those days and she lived with her son Holden up in Sun Valley in San Rafael . She was completely straight and into health food. She also had a daughter, Caitlin, who was older and
living on the East Coast at the time. Katrina was mostly being a nanny for one rich family or another and I was doing carpentry jobs around the county, but mostly at the waterfront. One day while going into Goodman’s Lumber I started coughing up blood, so I figured it was time to stop smoking cigarettes. Gradually over the next year or so she got me to stop taking drugs, which actually wasn’t as hard as you might think because you had to go score drugs, I was away from the scene and I had her support, however I started drinking a lot. Then came the time when she said, “It’s either me or booze.” I chose her…but it wasn’t easy to quit drinking. It was way harder than cigarettes or drugs, mainly because it’s so addictive, easily available and your friends are always saying “Come on, one drink is not gonna hurt cha.” I know people go into rehab for two weeks or a month, but it took at least two years just to start to be right again. Through it all she totally helped and supported me.
      She was the most caring person about others that I have ever met. I watch her spend hours and hours with Holden helping him write his compositions or making sure he had everything he needed, or spending quality time with Caitlin when she would come through, helping me through some of the toughest changes of my life, or taking in some homeless vagabond, giving him a shower and meal and sending him on his way. And she was that way with everyone…always one on one and trying to find what you needed.
      Then she decided to start taking on working peoples’ kids at the house and after awhile she had about seven kids from like six months old to two years. She enlisted me to help and for the next five or six years we took care of this herd of kids all day. And they helped me recover. We had so much fun with those kids…I remember walking down the street with a parade of kids, some walking, some riding tricycles, one on a scooter, another pulling a wagon with a smaller one carrying several stuffed animals and the neighbors watching in amazement at how well behaved they were. We’d stop at the creek and watch the leaves float down from trees and call out and the salamanders would come up to the surface and Jonathan would throw a his ball in the water at them, we’d say “No Jonathan” then we’d all laugh and continue along to play at the school yard around the corner. Man, those were different times in a different world. I still have relationships with some of those kids to this day, all these years later.

 So now I was the only clean and sober long hair hippy waterfront pirate I knew and I’m tellin’ ya it was all her fault. She saved my life.
      She was the most quirky about food…she couldn’t eat salt so when we’d go out she would have a purse full of salt free condiments like ketchup and mustard, etc. and she would bring her own special can of soup, which she would talk the waiter into heating up for her. Or she’d talk to the cook and have him fix her meal in a certain way…no butter, no salt, no msg…and they’d do it. It was hilarious and amazing.
      Cathy was a walker. We’d go on these amazing walks and she was so fast that she’d walk on ahead and then walk back to me, literally walking circles around me. There are so many walkin’ stories. One time we were on a trail just outside of Olema in West Marin and she decided we should get off the trail and head out cross country…it was a beautiful day, the grass was yellow and tall, the turkey buzzards were flyin’, the song birds were singing, the rabbits were runnin’, the walker’s were lost in an afternoon country dream. Then we noticed the day was getting on and we were out there somewhere, but where and how far from the car. We decided we should start walkin’ in the direction we knew the road was and by twilight we could see it in the distance. When we reached the road we realized we were miles away from where we parked the car. Cathy said, ”I’m going to hitchhike back and get the car. You wait here, I’ll never get a ride with you along.” Arguing about this was useless and so no sooner had she got out there when she got a ride. There I was out in the middle of nowhere
in the dark worrying about who picked her up, you know, etc., etc., when not too much later down the road she comes in the car, picks me up and we head off home…magical.
       I remember this one time…Ken Kesey, Gary Schneider, and Stuart Brand were doing a talk at the Marin Civic Center Theater and Ken was going to leave tickets for us at Will Call. Everyone was there, Pranksters, The Dead, Michael Mc Clure, who I had written songs with for the band I was in, Wildflower, etc. The place was full of Heads. Anyway, there were no tickets at Will Call, so Cathy grabs my hand and we go around to a side door. She knocks and this straight looking guy opens the door and she says, “I’m Stark Naked.” His eyes get wide and he says “come right this way” and he escorts us right down in front a few rows back right in the center…best seats in the house…she says, “Thank you”…I couldn’t believe it. I’m tellin’ ya she was magical.
      In 1991 Kesey came down from Oregon on his Further Inquiry book tour. The Smithsonian Institute wanted the Magic Bus for the museum, but it was deteriorating badly up on his ranch, so he built a new 2nd bus and headed out on his book tour. Anyway, we were to go with them when they got down here, but how we would hook up was a mystery…they would be driving down Haight Street on the way to La Honda and we would catch up with them. That day Cathy and I parked the car on Haight Street down by the park at a meter and started walking down the street. She had come with a handful of dollar bills and was handing one to every homeless street person she came across…when down the street comes the bus with a wave of people running and dancing and freakin’ behind. She says, “Let’s go” and we run and jump on the back. Of course they let her right on, but when I jump on, Mountain Girl says “Who are you?” and I say, “I’m with her”…that works and we head off down Coast Highway towards La Honda. Everywhere the bus went bystanders would cheer and wave and whistle and smile. When we stopped along the coast, suddenly cars would stop and pull off the road and within a few minutes a crowd would gather. It was amazing …the response. We stopped eventually at the La Honda house, where it all started, for awhile and then headed up the road to Skyline stopping at Apple Jacks and then on back to the city. By now it’s dark and we’re starting to wonder about whether the car got towed or what, but when they dropped us off on Haight Street again, there was the car and not even a ticket.

      These years all went by too fast. In 1992 Cathy was diagnosed with cancer. She decided we should move out of the house in Sun Valley and get one of the brand new apartments in a complex up in the quarry at Larkspur Landing. Here we began the most profound journey I have ever experienced. It began at Marin General where she was first diagnosed. Oncology didn’t give her much hope so off we went in search of another opinion. From USC to Stanford to Presbyterian everyone had a different opinion but not much hope…their solutions were drastic and for Cathy unacceptable. She was prescribed interferon, which was very expensive, but after taking it for a short while it made her so sick she said “I don’t want to live like this” and she quit taking it. She decided to try the alternate medicine approach and a very dear friend of mine financed her. After a trip to a clinic in Mexico we began a regimen of raw juices. Every day I would make a variety of seven different juices and she was responding well, in fact people had a hard time believing she was sick. She was feeling good and glowing. Then the time came when she couldn’t take the juices anymore. Perhaps the cancer had spread to her stomach, I don’t know, but she was starting to have pain, so we contacted Hospice and in conjunction with her Stanford doctor got her drugs and eventually a morphine pump. The nurses were wonderful and left us alone except for visits to check in and see how everything was going. One night our main nurse was watching us interact and she started crying and told me I was the most wonderful care provider she had ever experienced. She said she had never seen two people interact with the love we showed each other going through this process…then I started to cry.
      Her friends would all come by to visit and soon a party like atmosphere surrounded her. I remember Ramblin’ Jack Elliott coming by to play for her and Cathy sitting up in bed singing, “I’ve been doing some hard travelin’” with the most classic and regal demeanor…I started cryin’.
      Then, there came the time when she said to me “I don’t want anyone playing music for me anymore but you”…I started crying again.
     Friends came by to help, but basically it was the two of us. Near the end Joan Teter came to help me. Through it all Cathy showed me what dignity, grace and acceptance really mean and she went on the journey so naturally and fearlessly that she taught me something most profound about death. I have seen babies born and always thought that it was the most cosmic experience that life could show you, but my experience of dying and death with Cathy was much, much deeper. She told me of a dream she had where she was standing on a mountain and the sky turned into black birds. Then she turned into a black bird and flew away becoming one with the blackbird sky. After holding her all night, on the morning of December 12, 1992 as the sun came up on a beautiful clear day, she left. The original flower child had died in my arms. People came out of nowhere, from everywhere and soon surrounded her bed, covered her with flowers and celebrated her journey.
      There are two special stories from the aftermath I’d like to tell you.
The first happened when Caitlin and I took her ashes out to Limintaur Spit in Marin, which is one of the furthest points West. Cathy had two requests; first that we scatter her ashes out at the end of the spit where the seals hang out and where we had taken many a walk. Second that there be no praying at any ceremony for her. When Caitlin and I got out to the end of the spit, and it’s a long walk, there were two men standing there. We introduced ourselves and told them what we were doing and they told us they were Catholic priests and asked us if we wanted them to pray with us. I told them of Cathy’s request and so they joined with us and didn’t pray as we scattered the ashes. It was as if they had been sent for the ceremony, out in one of the most remote locations in Marin.
The second happened after I returned to the waterfront and moved on to my original houseboat, which was anchored-out and waiting empty for me. (this is another story) One morning I was sitting in the doorway looking East after watching the sun rise when out of the West, behind me, came a large flock of black birds flying low and circling around a black swan that landed in the water in front of me and stayed for a while, then flew off. This was not a dream. 

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