Klaudia Nelson’s Bio
How I got to San Francisco
-Salt Lake City
Things had suddenly changed for me and nothing would ever be the same. My Dad, who was pretty much the center of my secure world had lost the bowling alley, family business, and was dead. It took a little over two years. My Mom was left in debt and starting over, my brother was out of state and was never much of brother to me anyway as far as support, so there I was. I felt all alone, standing on some shoreline and looking out at a very uncharted future, feeling all of my former plans and expectations slide from under my feet like the sand being pulled away with the tide. Shit.
I was living in an apartment close to the University of Utah campus and still headed for a degree in Theatre and English. I would be needing money and I knew my Mom did, too. She gave me a little each month and I took on more hours in the costume room at school and got a part time job at a local discount store. Nothing was really working out well and my stuffings were coming out of my seams. My grades were slipping and I needed a place to jump…..It was then that I met Roy…..and I jumped.
I proceeded to flunk out of school, but Roy and I were having fun, getting high, protesting the war, sort of campaigning for McGovern….showed up at a rally or two….and generally ‘participating in the times’ ….much like the rest of the students and flunk-outs on college campuses across the country….everyone of us feeling that this was unique to just them….must have been the drugs?
Roy and I were pretty much living together in his apartment, but I still paid my share of the rent on my apartment…..hey, it was Utah. Most of my old chums were married by then and time was running out to ‘find a good one’ ….so to speak. I wasn’t about just living with someone ….those were the times…. Roy, thrifty soul that he is, proposed in a phrase something like this…..”It’s Tuesday. If we leave on Thursday, we can be married by the weekend (the end of the month) and then would you pay half the rent?” Well, I did say yes and he spent the rest of the night telling me what a rotten husband he would be. ….but that’s another story. We got married in Carson City, Nevada….early in the morning when the rates were the lowest, by a Justice of the Peace who was anxious to get to a golf game. “Which one’s the bride?” he quipped. It’s true we were both long-haired, wearing levis, navy blue turtlenecks, matching watchbands and gladiator sandals that Roy had constructed with latigo leather, rivets and old tires for the soles of the sandals….definitely a set. George Golub once referred to us as the ‘S and M Twins’ ….never could figure out who was S and who was M….. We drove on to San Francisco, slept in the park and spent what little money we had to See Stephenwolf and The Staple Singers.
We returned to SLC and things were okay. Roy never really took to being married, but that was no big surprise and he really never took to attending his National Guard meetings either, and after a few times cutting his hair around the rim of his army cap he quit going to meetings altogether and was, of course, drafted. I hated to think it was all about his long hair, but I did wonder. Hair seemed to be a huge part of a guy’s identity at that time….
He was ordered to report to Fort Lewis, WA on December 13th…my birthday. He went to San Francisco instead to locate a draft lawyer. He found Gary Near who noted that since it was so close to Christmas he should just hitchhike on back to Salt Lake for the holidays and return to SF in January to figure out how to get out of the army. Roy did this and ended up getting busted on a freeway off ramp in Fairfield, CA….with a few joints…..and thrown in the county jail. When they found out he was AWOL, they contacted the Precidio and he was in big trouble. I ended up spending a fair amount of time on the phone with Gary Near and we became good friends. As it turns out, Gary was also Norman Stubbs’ attorney.
Things were escalating with Roy and life was getting complicated. Seems that when he went back to Fairfield to see the judge, he was carrying yet another joint that one of his fellow Precidio inmates had given him for his trip. Once again, frugal soul that he was, he decided to hang on to it for the trip back to the base……optimistic…..but that lovely plan put him back in the can because the judge busted him again. Now he was in very big trouble. This is quite the tale and it’s really Roy’s to tell…..and I hope he does. I have many letters that he sent to me from the Precidio, the Fairfield County Jail and beyond. He’s a very good writer and he made some very keen observations of his situation and the times in which we lived. Like I said, it’s his story…..I’ll be writing things from my point of view. I wonder how closely they would match up…..
Well, anyway, time passed and things were looking very grim for Roy. I talked to Gary Near a lot, my Mom wrote letters to the DA and I made calls, too. Nothing was helping much and Gary thought that maybe they would think more kindly upon Roy if I were to show up in court and let them see that he had people (wearing plaid skirts and white tights) who cared about him. I decided to move to San Francisco. Roy suggested I might earn money selling The Berkley Barb….I didn’t like that prospect very much, but I missed Roy and knew that I could find some way to get by.
I wrote to one Mrs. Mae Davies who was the landlady of some apartments where my cousin had lived about a year before, and she said that she would have a room for me as soon as her son finished fixing it up. The apartments were on the corner of Post and Larkin. My Mom helped me move out of my apartment in Salt Lake and I bought my train ticket.
My Mom was an astrologer and a follower of the likes of Edgar Cayce’s predictions….and as it turned out, Edgar Cayce had predicted that California would drop into the Pacific in April of 1969. This is precisely the time of my departure to San Francisco. The night that I boarded the California Zephyr in Salt Lake City my Mom, Aunt Lucille and cousin Ruthie came to see me off. My Aunt Lucille slipped me a five dollar bill and Ruthie (also a believer in prophecy if it’s dire) looked into my eyes, reminded me of Edgar Cayce’s prediction, and said good-bye….I think she meant forever.
The California Zephyr was lovely, just as I’d imagined, and I sat in the Vista-Dome for the whole trip. I left Salt Lake late at night and slept on the train. When I awoke we were traveling through gorgeous country…..the sun rising at my back. I knew why I was traveling to California and I knew the seriousness of Roy’s situation. I knew hated war and especially the Vietnam War. I knew that I loved Roy and that I wanted to be where he was and I also knew that I would have to find some way to make a living for myself…and I knew that, according to Edgar Cayce and Cousin Ruthie, I was headed to fall into the Pacific Ocean, but that morning I really didn’t care. That morning I was Grace Kelly sitting in a dome atop a train that was clinging to the side of a mountain on a beautiful Spring morning…..with some full-out and lush Leroy Anderson music as a soundtrack…..definitely in Technicolor…..on my way to some romantic and glamorous adventure with Cary Grant. It seemed like the way my life was supposed to have unfolded…..but I did realize that this vision of the future came to me somewhere around the age of thirteen. Nevertheless, I’ve always been a patient person and although Roy wasn’t Cary Grant he was very easy on the eyes and I figured my adventure might not be glamorous, but well adventure is adventure…..right?
I settled into my fantasy and opened The Glamour Magazine that I’d picked up at the train station. I noticed a fantastic ruffled chambray work shirt…..not quite what Grace Kelly might choose, but I looked in the back of the magazine and found that this shirt could be purchased in San Francisco at a store called I Magnin on Geary Street…..I decided to check it out.
So on I went for the better part of the day, headed downhill towards my new life…..and possibly into the Pacific Ocean. I knew my life would be different. I just didn’t realize how different.
Pemabo’s Peace Garden and Gary Near
The train arrived in the Bay Area at sundown and I was met by Gary Near and his girlfriend, Suzanne. The air was cool and damp and foggy. I thought that this must be unusual…..something I would later adjust in my thoughts. We got into his car and he mentioned Edgar Cayce’s prediction and then pointed out a sign in a restaurant window…..”Spaghetti Special….Eat your Last Meal Here!”…..I decided at that very moment that I loved this town.
Since my room on Post and Larkin wouldn’t be ready for a week, Suzanne let me stay in her apartment and she would move in with Gary. They said that her place was on Clayton Street and just off Haight Street. This pleased me because I was very anxious t experience the Haight/Ashbury district. They assured me that I would definitely experience the ‘Haight’ and they probably grinned. I had visited San Francisco as a child, visiting my Uncle Wick and Aunt Vera on one of our family road trips. I remembered my Mom commenting on how she loved the way the houses went all the way to the sidewalk and beyond with their pretty bay windows. I agreed. The houses were very pretty and right out there, not hiding behind trees and fences, many adorned with festive Victorian trim. I especially liked the entrance ways to apartment buildings….lots of crystal and tile and stairs. I also had visited San Francisco for one night after my Gala wedding at the Carson City Courthouse a year before. but our lavish honeymoon accommodations in a park and our (my) ice cream cone breakfast at the Dairy Queen across the street from that park were not around any Bay Windows or fancy apartment entrances…..I did remember boats……no crystal, but boats.
We arrived at Suzanne’s apartment way after dark. We entered from the side and through a small art gallery, which I would later find displayed the paintings of her landlord, Peter Mason Bond. Gary and Suzanne went back to Gary’s place on Telegraph Hill and I went to bed.
Oh Boy. The next morning I awoke to find that I had landed in Pemabo’s Peace Garden. This place was incredible! There were signs and sculptures everywhere…..literally everywhere. There were Bible passages and the words of Buddha and Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and on and on. There were arrows pointing the way to Jesus and Jefferson and freedom and love and more on and on. These signs and passages were mostly painted on wood and planted in concrete studded with glass pieces and bottle bottoms. It was wonderful!….and I would soon meet the very Pemabo who created this……but that was a little later. I was having coffee when the phone rang.
It was Gary, who asked me if I could sew leather. “Sure,” I said, “why not?” Gary then said that he had just been talking with one of his clients, Norman Stubbs, who operated a leather clothing shop. Norman Stubbs had mentioned that he was just now expanding his operation to include a ‘Renaissance Section’ to produce that part of his clothing line and he was looking to hire a few new sewers. Gary mentioned me to him and Norman Stubbs told him to send me around to see him. Gary told me to go to the store, East West Musical Instruments Company, on Castro Street as soon as I could get there, and he gave me the exact address and some vague instructions and said he’d call Norman to tell him I was on my way. He said to give him, Gary, call him later.
Well, what to wear to an interview for a job sewing leather at a place that was called East West Musical Instruments Company….to sew Renaissance clothing….I decided to go with a favorite little mini dress that I had sewn from one of those Indian cotton bedspreads that you could purchase at import stores. It had long flared sleeves and a hood. It was blue. I wore it with black tights and my beloved granny shoes (that doubled for tap shoes at the time) and finished my interview ensemble with my brown leather trench coat. I figured that this outfit touched as many hip/Renaissance/leather bases as I could manage.
Off I went…..past Jesus and Jefferson and lots of good advice….and out the gate. I wasn’t Grace Kelly anymore, but maybe Julie Christie …swinging my handmade leather bag as I made my way down Clayton Street to Haight Street, then on a south and east course to my East West Destination.
It was a glorious sunny San Francisco morning and I was having a lovely time walking and gawking and getting lost. I found myself on a corner of Filmore Street, hoping that this was where one of the buses that Gary had mentioned would come by. There were lots of men on that corner…all decked out in bright and fantastic clothes…..very Superfly, I would later find out. I was looking at my directions….and probably looking more like Doris Day in a straw hat than Julie Christie….when one of these guys came up to me and said “You don’t belong here. Where are you headed?” I told him the address on Castro Street and he hauled me to the curb and flagged a cab. He gave the driver the address and paid the fare “Good luck!” he said, waving and chuckling. I was lost, but I wasn’t afraid or anything. I did appreciate the ride.
The cab let me off in front of East West Musical Instruments Company. I tipped the driver….wondering if I’d given him enough….and took my first look at the place. I looked in the store window and it was indeed full of odd musical instruments that reminded me of squash and spiderwebs for some reason. There was an entrance to the retail store and then a twin entrance to the shop where there was a lot of activity and that hypnotic aroma of leather and contact cement. Straight (maybe the wrong word) ahead of me were two people, both with very long hair, one with a very long black ponytail. I walked up behind the ponytail and said “Pardon me, mam. Could you tell me where to find Norman Stubbs?”
Well, when this person turned around I saw a beard equally as long as the ponytail. I started to giggle. When he informed me that he was Norman Stubbs I figured I might very well be selling The Berkley Barb, but he either didn’t hear what I’d just said or he didn’t care. He said that Gary had told him that I would be stopping by and asked me if I could sew leather. I said I could….I hoped I could…..and he showed me around the shop. The new Renaissance Section would be three sewing machines….the closest to the front door…..this would be a very interesting placement as it turns out. He had just hired a girl named Susanne (not Gary’s friend) and so she would be first step. I would be second step. That’s how I got hired. I would start sewing in a day or two…..can’t remember…..but as I made my way back to Pemabo’s Peace Garden I felt very hopeful and I was definitely Julie Christie! I could hardly wait to tell Roy about my good fortune…..something I would find later never did sit well with him.
I spent the next week wandering some, talking with Pemabo, who was most entertaining and told me his story and his philosophy of life. We became friends and I agreed with just about everything he had to say….which is probably why be became friends….and he told me of his life as a sign painter and how he’d decided that he should use that skill to better mankind…..which he certainly had done. He took me on a tour of his house and his Art Gallery and showed me the bookthat he had written. I wish that I had bought one of those books, but I did purchase a large postcard of his painting of Golden Gate Park. Years later, Ellen Fritzlan would send an article to me about how Pemabo’s Peace Garden had burned and all of his paintings, including the Park painting were destroyed. I think he had died a while before the fire. I hope so. Well, anyway, Pemabo told me everything I needed to know and kissed me on the forehead, saying that I was now his disciple…..then he laughed. It seemed like a proper way to conclude our week together.
I also went to visit Roy in the Fairfield County Jail. I hadn’t seen him since the first part of December. They led me into a small dark room with a sort of counter and about three little alcoves, each with two telephones one either side of a window embedded with something that looked like chicken wire…..at least I think that’s what it was like. They brought Roy to the phone and he looked miserable and dark. He definitely was not the same Roy that I remembered and his voice seemed different, too. He’d been through a lot and it left a mark on his spirit. His eyes were flat and I couldn’t even tell if he was happy to see me. I felt very sad for him and tried to be cheerful and upbeat and tell him about how things were turning out fine for me in San Francisco, so he didn’t have to worry. I probably rattled on an on nervously….I really didn’t know what to do or say…..This was all new to me and I felt like I was in a movie. I think we touched our hands through the glass like they do in movies when you visit an inmate…..at least I hope we did. I remember being very confused when I left. I wasn’t sure how I should feel about my exciting new life in San Francisco and still be focused on Roy and his awful situation…..I had to divide. We were living two entirely different lives.