Larry Fritzlan’s Bio
In the light of the street lamp, a spinning, shiny object caught my eye before it clanked loudly down Kearny Street’s steep hill and landed just north of Broadway. My next thought was, “Oh Fuck!” The Buck knife I’d kicked out of that asshole’s hand had gone right through my foot and out the bottom of my cowboy boot before becoming airborne!
And, you may ask, what does this have to do with Norman Stubbs and the East West Musical Instrument Company? Hold on, we will get there, but I think a little back story is necessary. First, I needed to hobble back down the hill after realizing that we would never catch the purse-snatcher. I got to the Garden of Eden and told the manager he needed to get someone to cover for me in the Love Act that evening because I had to go to the ER. I don’t recall if I was supposed to do the dance with Franny or Laura that night because I was certainly stoned. I did get the old Italian cobbler to stitch up the two-inch gash in my boot and I proudly wore those boots for a long time. And I did open the Organic Haberdashery the next day, high on codeine and happy to tell everyone my tale.
My winding path out of middle class Detroit to Norman Stubbs’s little factory on Castro probably started in the early sixties, right after high school, when I heard the Beetles and became involved with the growing Civil Rights movement. Then in the mid-sixties, I marched with Anti-war folks and ultimately heard the call of the Hippies and San Francisco. And pot—then acid, and more. Back in Michigan, while the Hippies were beginning to stir, we were handing out flowers to the police at a Love-In on Belle Isle in Detroit and pasting flowers on our cars and motorcycles. And there was that time I shot speed with Web and Ellen and crew in East Lansing and, on the spot, Ellen and I decided to get married—it seemed to make complete sense! Sleeping with the Maid of Honor the night before the wedding also seemed to make complete sense. Oh, those were the days!
There was a whirlwind of activity before we arrived in SF. The dean at Michigan State University had suggested I take a break and figure out if college was what I really wanted, which led to my nine-month stint working in the Pontiac engine plant, which motivated me to return to college and graduate from MSU. There was that summer teaching sailing in Wisconsin where I met Ellen, and then a year of teaching school in Chicago’s near south side, getting tear gassed in the “Police Riots” during the Democratic convention in 1966, and weekend trips to East Lansing to see Web and crew. Finally, in September 1968, Ellen and I, two cats, and a Volkswagen bug pulled a trailer holding a BMW motorcycle, a king sized mattress and a shit ton of stuff— we were on our way to San Francisco and DROPPING OUT! We had $500 and no jobs. Do people still do things like that?
264 Central, just up from Fell Street, became our new home. My brother Guy (just out of the Navy), my wife Ellen, some guy named George, and some chick all moved into a one-bedroom apartment. There were guys running up and down the back stairs selling bricks of pot for a hundred dollars—mostly sticks and seeds. We went to Cost Plus and got a bunch of tapestries, incense, Lava Lamps, candles, posters, and colored lights. Finally, official Hippies!
Paradise at last! OMG!
Here is what it was like. Get up, smoke dope, walk up to Haight Street and get coffee and a bear claw, drive to Stinson Beach and up Mount Tam, drink Ripple, eat beef jerky, smoke more dope, and come back and get ready for an evening on acid at Winterland, The Fillmore, or the Avalon Ballroom watching the Dead, the Airplane, Carlos Santana, The Who, and so many more. Or maybe sitting in a bar on Chestnut and having Janis Joplin and a bunch of Hells Angels roar up on Harleys and have Janis rush in and belt out a bunch of tunes. Or take off on our motorcycles to Mexico. Or drive down the coast to Big Sur and some nude beach. Or go to a concert in Golden Gate Park. There was KSAN, Alan Watts, Monday Evening Class, The Oracle—the list of far out, groovy, fun things to do was endless!
And then I’d get up the next day and do it all over again—maybe hooking up with a different hippy chick. This happened every day, every single day! OK, maybe not every day, but as I write this, I recall a whole lot of it happening for a number of years. But life has a way of causing us to grow up, or die, and we divided ourselves between those who became drug dealers and those who got jobs. I ended up doing both (the drug dealing ended when I sold cocaine to a cop). Some of our crew, Bobby, Guy, Bush, Ellen, and John, found this funny hippy leather maker named Norman and his little shop on Castro. Me, I got a job driving a Yellow Cab and living up the hill at 21st and Church, getting high and thrilling tourists by swooping up and down the hills of San Francisco. And I became a freelance photographer, a job I’d had for a while in college, which led to my taking pictures for Norman. I think I bartered that early work for a Swanbone fringed jacket. Boy, I’d love to have that now!
Rookie cab drivers got terrible shifts and at one point, working with the hippies at the leather factory became more attractive than being a cabbie, so I applied for a job and was hired as a pattern cutter. I’ll never forget my first morning.
“OK, Larry, you are going to make a pair of leather pants. Here are the patterns, here is a cowhide, a magic marker and scissors. See if you can lay it out in such a way that you can make the whole pair of pants out of one hide.”
So, I’m sizing up my job when Bush comes by and says, “come with us” as he led a half dozen hippie shop workers into the women’s bathroom to smoke some hash—it’s 9:30 in the morning! OK, I go back to work—only now I’m higher than fuck. It took forever to finally finish and cut out my first leg panel only to discover that there was a big hole in the middle of the knee that I totally missed! It was like that. A bunch of stoned hippies having fun, getting high, blasting music, and making the most amazing, far out creations.
And, boy were Norman’s creations far out! I recall one month when GQ, Playboy, and Esquire all did feature articles on this hip San Francisco designer and his far out leather creations. Rad stuff that blew everyone’s minds.
In 1970, I got wind that Norman was opening up a boutique, a factory outlet store called The Organic Haberdashery in North Beach. Bush had built the interior but he was not very excited about managing it because those yummy, expensive, hip jackets could be sold instantly on the street and everyone was trying to rip him off. I asked Norman if I could have a shot at running it. He said I could and he gave me the keys to the store. I put my loaded 22-caliber rifle behind the counter with a price tag hanging from it saying, “This Gun Ioaded.” Norman walked in one day and saw it, shrugged, and walked out. There was a little tiny loft in the back of the shop that various people and I “slept” in.
OMG, what crazy memories.
Little did I know that I would not leave that block on Upper Grant for nearly 25 years!
And that was wonderful because North Beach had always been a special spot for me. As a kid in college, I was drawn to the Beats, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Mike’s Pool Hall, Coit Tower, Howl, Coney Island of the Mind, Barbary Coast, and topless women. When I first came to San Francisco, I visited these legendary places, so it was fantastic that I had a job, a shop, in the heart of this famous part of this famous town in the midst of this amazing time. Boy, was I a happy dude, amazing job, working with amazing, creative folks, living large in San Francisco.
After three years I think Norman was beginning to see that the boutique project was not paying off and I agreed to purchase the shop from him. With my new wife, Laura, I began to build a business by working twelve hour days, seven days a week, moving the store to a bigger location at the corner of Grant and Green, getting other vendors, and opening up a second store in Sausalito.
While we were growing the business, my substance use finally became more of a pain than a joy. My mother had warned me when I left home that I was vulnerable to having the disease that my father was later to die from, alcoholism. In 1979, I was intervened on, and later that year, I acknowledged my problem and joined the Twelve Steppers. My daily abuse of alcohol and random other drugs stopped, and I embarked on finding how to navigate life as a sober adult. Raised in an alcoholic family and starting substance use as a teen had delayed what I now see as optimal development on the psychological, emotional, spiritual, and social axes. Basically, I was an almost 40-year-old with the bio-psycho-social-emotional-spiritual development of a 15-year-old.
The eighties were a time for me, as well as for the hippies, to grow up. The shop did well enough. In 1981, Laura and I shut down the Sausalito store and divorced, and I put my focus on getting my head, heart, and relationships on more solid ground. I entered therapy and began a process that led to starting graduate school in counseling psychology in the early nineties. I sold the shop to my manager for a dollar. Her payments put me through graduate school and an internship and kept me going right up to my getting licensed in 1996. The shop was finally shut down when the market no longer supported independent leather shops. People were now getting their leather jackets at Banana Republic and the Gap, and buying Frye boots at Nordstrom. The Jumping Jack Flash boutique era had come to an end.
Life has been good for me since then. I became a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in 1996. My clinical work as a counselor focused on treating addiction from a family systems perspective. I built up a group practice in Marin County and was busy treating Marin County families with teens or young adults who were having problems with drugs. I came to see that I had created exactly what should have been available to my family when I was a 15-year-old kid who got very drunk every weekend and was programmed with genes that predisposed me to addiction. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the many hundreds of individuals and families I have worked with and, as a result, hopefully to have helped them avoid the tragedies of untreated addiction and codependency.
Along the way, I discovered that I had a talent as a writer. I was inspired by the Arab Revolution and wrote a book called Intervention On America that suggested that our politicians’ egos were addicted to power and money, and that a motived and informed coalition of sane citizens, of sane Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, could come together, allow me to preform an intervention that would restore America to sanity using the 12 Step principles (which are basically a Western version of the Perennial Philosophy). Looking back from our Trump era, I laugh and say, “You all should have read my book! America could be in recovery today!
In 2012, our local U.S. Congresswoman announced her retirement and ten northern California citizens, including myself, signed up to run for her seat in Congress. I wrote a book called We are the 99% and We are Running for Office: Washington’s Worst Nightmare. Running for the United States Congress was a lot of work but great fun: TV, radio and newspaper interviews, and debates with real politicians up and down California’s north coast in Congressional District 2. Of course the establishment Democrat won, but my “get money out of politics” pledge resonated with lots of folks and there were several moments when people let me know that I had made a small dent in their universe. (I still have my website up: LarryFritzlanForCongress.com).
And I got married—again! I think, finally, I got well enough to attract a healthy woman. We have been together for a happy, exciting, and growthful 12 years—Avis is the love of my life!
The future? Not sure. I turned 75 this year (2016) and red lights are flashing. I’ve cut back my practice, seeing what a balanced work/play life could look like. However, you might keep an eye on AddictionTherapist.com. It is a placeholder site right now, but I may have one more goal—to leverage social media, the Internet, and bring free or low cost addiction treatment to everyone. The book Avis and I wrote, My Addicted Child has done very well and we are thinking seriously about writing two more, My Addicted Spouse and My Addicted Parent.
And then, tending the garden and chilling in the Bay Area is not a bad alternative. But if that guy had not ripped off that woman’s purse in 1973, I might not have made the drug deal that led to the date with Laura that led to purchasing Norman’s business which led to my recovery which led to. . . well, you know how things just keep unfolding.
And thank goodness Norman switched from musical instruments to garments and we all got to be part of one of the most amazing stories anyone could ever tell!
Thank you Norman Stubbs!