A Tribute to Ellen Fritzlan
Ellen was THE central figure in the operation of East West in the early years. She was my secretary/bookkeeper and coordinator. She had a positive, cheery disposition that was an anchor for all the rest of us. Leather jackets are seasonal whereas employees are not. This created constant stress on cash flow and our nerves. Tony and I have both experienced anxiety dreams worrying about sales and the cash to keep the ball rolling at East West up until recently forty years later. Ellen was the medium through which all this stress passed. There is no way to express what in her dedication to East West she did for the company. Each week while I was away at home in Hawaii, she sent a package of analytics that kept me abreast of the condition of the company.
This tribute begins with Larry telling how she and he arrived in San Francisco and became involved with East West. Then George Golub describes her central administrative role. Lastly, have pulled excerpts from her weekly letters that came with the financial packet to me in Hawaii.
Ellen and I Arrive in Hippydom
By Larry Fritzlan
North Start Camp for Boys was located on a series of lakes in Northern Wisconsin. It was one of those idyllic places where upper middle class parents sent their kids for 8 weeks each summer. I was 23 and had been hired to be the sailing instructor. I arrived on my motorcycle, after traveling by ferry across Lake Michigan from Michigan State University. There were a couple dozen other male staff members gathering in preparation for the kids’ arrival. The camp had only three women—the camp director’s wife, an elderly nurse, and this pretty blond 20-year from Carlton College who had just arrived to be the camp secretary. Her name was Ellen and I fell for her.
That was the summer of 1965 and it would take three years for Ellen and me to finish college, have a hippy wedding, and spend a year working in Chicago before we put everything, including Ellen’s two cats, in her VW bug, and, pulling my motorcycle in a big trailer behind us, we drove across country to Hippydom in the Haight. The next few years seemed like an endless adventure. We lived on Central just up from Fell, then Noe and Henry Streets, and finally 21st and Church. Along with John Ellis, we drove our motorcycles down to Mazatlan, and to Mt. Tam, Stinson Beach, Tahoe, Peyote Beach, Big Sur, Golden Gate Park, went to numerous nighttime concerts, and hitchhiked back to Chicago to see old friends and “do business.” In 1970 we separated and sometime later divorced but remained quite close.
In addition to being adventurous, Ellen was loyal and smart. She was loved by every employer she ever worked for, always putting in a little more than was required for the job—every employer was sad to see her leave.
The years when I had my shop on Grant Ave. and she worked at East West were wonderful, and allowed us to have regular and random connections. I’m not sure about her time working there, others can describe that. I recall her coming to my apartment above our Sausalito shop in the late 1970s on her way back to West Virginia and then, when she returned to San Francisco, periodically having lunch with her when she had her word processing business in the financial district.
The chronology is fuzzy in my mind. The early eighties were the bewildering –years of waking up to my confused, naked, raw, non-medicated and sober self—I pretty much threw myself into AA and into waking up to a new world, and somewhat shunned my old substance using life and pals. Ellen and I continued to stay in contact, and I remember being concerned about her heath.
I’m not sure who told me, maybe Franny, that Ellen had died. Her death took me by surprise. I didn’t realize how much I loved her and how much her love for me mattered. She was a wonderful, loving person and she holds a very special place in my heart, in the history of our lives, of Norman’s company, and of those times.
by George Golub
It seems as if Ellen was always here. And although she is gone now, I can’t think of the seventies and of EW without her presence all over it.
She and Larry appeared in the late sixties, I think, as we all did. I met them one evening where they were staying, and they were both the warmest, most open people. They were so happy to have arrived in San Francisco and they were infused with the joy of the times.
By the time we were at the factory on Folsom, Ellen was fully in charge in the office. She had the front desk that faced the window wall so that she could see everyone who came and went. Ellen had a professional background and was good at all the office skills. She was the bookkeeper, answered all the phones, she could type up a storm. We had an IBM Selectric in the corner and she taught me to type.
Parenthetically, after EW, she opened a business of her own – Word Processing for Lawyers. I visited her at this office where she had a keyboard and behind a glass divider there was some enormous computer/printer assembly. Henry once remarked to me that “the woman can type 130 words per minute”.
Ellen did the payroll; she was in charge of all communication with vendors. Since at the beginning our business was all COD, she did not have to do billing. She was the center of requests for purchases from all the managers at EW. Make no mistake, Ellen was not a conservative woman, she was fully a part of the wonderful culture of our times. But she was completely professional and had no problem, in her understated way, of calling bullshit on someone, like me, when the call was warranted. Here she is with Webb, but I got that same look at times.
Ellen and I were pushing Norman hard from a several thousand mile remove to get a factor and go to a credit business. We really wanted the company to grow. So I wrote a little poem which we included in our weekly package to Maui. To this day I remember it.
What’s the poop
Ellen just loved it. I felt so proud. And very shortly after that we signed with a factor and started operating as a credit business. The poem must have done it, ya think?
When I was still working in the shipping room, there was a phone in the corner. But mostly I couldn’t hear it ring, thanks to the music. So, if a call was for me, she would go to the elevator and yell upstairs for me to pick it up. The technology was different in those days. Barbara Lawrence did this little cartoon sketch of that dynamic about 1970.
When Ellen died, years later, I was living in Oregon when the phone rang one morning at my girlfriend’s house. It was Klaudia calling to tell me that Ellen had died of a catastrophic hemorrhage in her brain – I think that’s what it was. I hadn’t thought about her for years, but this news took the wind out of me. I fell back on the bed with no strength in my legs. Some people have a deep meaning for you and she was one of them.
There is probably a lot more about her and our interactions in the running of the core at EW. But a lot of it is lost in the smoke rings of my mind – as the song says.
Ellen was a special woman. And I did love her.
Excerpts from weekly letters written to Norman
offered by Norman
July 1, 1971
Here’s installment one for this week. It’s been very busy, at least for myself and I am sure everyone else. Suddenly there is a time limit—-the start of vacation.
Besides getting everything ready for the show, George has been really busy with the catalog. He really gets to work when he has to make decisions. The printing was finished yesterday evening, and they are being collated now. I got the envelopes ready over the weekend, and George and I will stuff and mail them on Tuesday. ……………
The flow sheet is really blowing my mind the more I use it. Partly this is because of the information that it provides. But most important to me is the process of working on it. It involves constant, daily review of all the little pieces that fit together the financial picture……….I seem to think constantly about money. And Bob Shaw. I have everybody scared to spend money. …………
Nancy has really been frazzled. She is the one person who has to deal with a small number of people in an intense way. George, on the other hand, has to handle people’s egos and trips-but a large number of people whom he has to relate to less often. I ignore everyone.
I think that part of the pressure that she feels is due to the fact that she has no idea where the limits of her responsibility lie. …..A picture doesn’t have meaning if you can only see the little pieces. …………..
Bill is keeping everything connected and some how flowing in their different directions. He’s really the center and mainstay of everything that is going on.
It’s 2 am, and I’m exhausted. I was up until 3 am last night finishing the compensation records. So I’d better sleep sometime or nothing will be working for me tomorrow.
August 17, 1971
….I don’t know quite how to word the following, but we decided on one thing pending your acceptancee and approval. Since we’re not sure at this point just how tight (money) it’s going to be, the managers are volunteering to withhold cashing their pay for all or part of this next month until after September 15. It will be a voluntary thing each week, and whatever amount is withheld will be deposited in the tax account rather than the payroll account. It’s kind of a token gesture, but even $2,0000 might make the difference at the end. We feel with the business you have your whole way of life at stake, but each of us has something at stake, too———something very valuable to us. And if it might make the difference, we’d be glad to put off cashing a few paychecks. We’ll start on Monday unless you have some objections to this.
April 8, 1972
This week I missed Bill, but I’ll mail his report first thing Wednesday. He really worked hard on it, but then forgot to give it to me. I usually gather up all the materials for the packet during the day on Friday and Saturday and throw them in a folder as I go along and then bring them home to put together for mailing. Especially if everybody is running slow or things are uncoordinated. Yesterday was uncoordinated. Bill’s mother flew into town and he picked her up at the airport, brought her to the factory where she spent about an hour, and then they left early to meet with other family people……
….I ‘m going to tie both Bill and Klaudia down to write their feelings about the step system. Klaudia has been tied up with lots of repairs and also an unusual amount of buttonholes, whatever that means. She’s also going through a heavy dentist trip with her bridgework, whatever that means. The step system is already moving so far away from wholesale prices that it’s almost meaningless. All of the new garments have adjusted steps a little, most of them with different values for different steps, etc. And it seems to make more sense
I know that you might be curious and probably a little worried about Bill. Oh, Norman, he just blows my mind. He’s strong and mature for his age. I don’t think you can imagine what he’s been going through with Nancy. None of us can, really. She hasn’t wanted to see anybody since she has been back in the hospital……..
I’m just trying to think of little odds and ends that people forgot to write. Things that some weeks I just don’t have the time or inclination to sit down and blurt out. Take the things that I say with a grain of salt. It’s one person’s point of view, and sometimes I hear half of things and don’t hear the rest. But think that I know everything. So find out the facts if you’re interested in hearing more from the people involved, rather than a very biased bystander.
February 17, 1973
Dear Norman and Camille
Today we’re having the first day without rain in over two weeks, and it’s glorious. Other than that, it’s been very busy. The xerox machine has been installed, and Klaudia and I are now “key operators” which means…….
The main reason I’m writing is to comment on our growing pains. At least that is the word that Tony just used, and it’s a good description. The workers here haven’t yet gotten a good idea about what the new coats and the new volume really means. And they don’t know how to obey orders from their superiors. There’s too much discussion and messing around when Tony or Webb asks them to do something. I think Tony really understands it now, and can take care of it.
We’re REALLY busy this days. I hardly have time to fuck off anymore. Oh, yes, Larry just gave notice to the club he dances at and is now full time manager at Organic Haberdashery. No more of these ridiculous all-night trips for him. I think he’s kind of worried about what he’s doing for East West; knows that he’s being watched carefully and has to perform.
February 25, 1973
This envelope is a tad short, but I trust Michael Rizor and Tony will communicates separately, or have already. The state of affairs is far from disappointing……
Norman, the cash flow looks rather precarious but in fact we’ve just shifted to the other side of the cycle for the first time since Christmas. ……
But it’s been so HEAVY. Much heavier in every way compared to any other time I know about. Tony seems almost to be growing bigger physically every day, in order to accommodate all the additional problems and people and concepts that hit upon him each day. He is very patient when looking through problems, but not at all patient once the solution has been identified. He’s gotten to know the people there much better (personally) while becoming a little more aloof in proportion to his role of decision maker and problem solver. He’ got it covered. ….
Well, Norman, in general it’s really heavy and a lot of fun. There are absolutely no dull days at East West. None at all. It’s challenging, sometimes difficult, and almost always delightful.
February 27, 1974
Here’s a bunch of stuff. I have a sore in my mouth, a paper cut on the edge of my thumb, and scratch on my eye, but other than that I think that this is the first day that every single key member of the team is some state of reasonable health in a long time.
I have invoices and a zillion other things waiting but please give Camille and Poco our love. Bill and Diana moved to Napa, where Diana’s father has a farm and vineyard. Henry and I spent the week-end there, and it’s the first time I’ve seen Henry so relaxed in a long, long time. He and Bill just trudged through the fields, tying up sprouts and talking for hours on end. His boots are covered with cow shit and it’s great. ……….
Tonight we’re going out to dinner with the Godersky’s. (How do you make a Polish name plural?) And then to a lecture and film at Margo’s hospital by a guy that photographs auras. (That wasn’t spelled right.!) Tomorrow night we’re going to dinner at Bob Shaw’s…….
And I am so grateful to you, Ellen