With A Little Help From My Friends

Rich was in that loose circle of friends that swirl around in one’s youth. I mean, he was never my friend, exactly but not an acquaintance either if you get my meaning. In an earlier decade he would have been termed a “Good-time Charlie”, an individual who claims friendships he never really has but has enough charm to pull it off. But in the summer of love the good times seem to flow forever.

Now I was never fortunate enough to actually live in San Francisco during those times. That took connections and a certain amount of popularity, neither of which I had in sufficient quantity. Besides, i was still in the service and the clean cut look simply gave off the wrong vibes. Vibes counted for eighty percent of one’s success with the chicks, or women if one is politically correct, and the varying groups. Besides, drugs were everywhere but one had to be careful of the narcs. I still had two years left to go and I could not afford a court marshal. I was courting danger as it was since my hair was a bit longish than regulations allowed.

But Rich had gotten his deferments and when those ran out simply avoided reporting for enlistment. Who was going to turn him in? Not me, not almost everyone else who knew him. His family had a bit of money. Dad was a senior engineer with some aerospace company and Mom was a social and political figure with a great deal of influence. Rich was tolerated, I mean Richard, since his parents never referred to him in that nickname. I had met them a couple of times at their home in Atherton. His father had had the good grace to buy some property back in the fifties there and then hired an architect to build a rather stunning house.

My parents lived in San Jose, one of the older neighborhoods built just after the war, a working class neighborhood if you will. With such a disparity in our backgrounds just how did I meet Rich? Ah, easy answer. the Fillmore West. I had gone up to the city to see the Allman Brothers. It was a crowded theater where the pot just clung to the air and one could get high just from inhaling.  The times were exciting.  The west coast was ahead of everything musical.  Once the show was over and people were stumbling out the doors, literally, I happened upon Rich.  He was half propped against the wall of a building on the other side of the street.  Rich definitely looked out of it and I, being the good Samaritan, helped him to his feet and asked him where he was headed.  “I think I’m going to hell but it’s going to be a fun ride.”  It took me an hour to get him to his apartment, a rundown ramshackle place he shared with half a dozen others.  I remember a girl named Sandy opened the door after several vigorous knocks, more like bangs, on the door.  I think she had been half a wake then and just looked at rich and asked, “why did you bring him here?”

“Doesn’t he live here? was my reply.

“If you call that living, I guess.” was hers.

So I laid him on the couch and then stood there for a while looking at Sandy.  “Mind if I crash on the floor tonight, I’m in no shape to drive and the car is fifteen blocks from here.”

“Suit yourself.” was all she said and then went back into one of the bedrooms.  I heard a male voice say, “Who the hell was that?” And then a muffled reply.

I left early that morning, I needed to be in Monterrey by eight, ready for formation and roll call.  As it was, it would take another month to get a three day pass, such was how often my captain doled them out.  Keep your nose clean and you get one every month.  It was his was of buying loyalty and maybe a future reenlistment.  One learns to play this little dance in the service.  So I gave no more thought about Rich.  The wonder about the Bay Area, from Monterrey to Marin was that it was the hot bed of creativity and one could find a lot to do and places to go and ideas to absorb.  Of course from my experience was that the mass of young people found around there were little more than average people who were easily swayed.

Golden gate park was always full of kids.  There were impromptu performances by local musicians and a lot of armatures.  everybody play guitar, some well, but most bad.  But as long as the drugs were flowing, no one was bad, if you know what I mean.  And by coincidence I ran into Rich again.  He didn’t remember me, not that he was in any condition that night to know much of what had been going on.  Rich was the average kind of middle class guy.  Average intelligence, average ability for what average occupation or sport might be doing.  He was the kind of guy that others tend to take advantage of simply because they can.  Rich invited me to come back to the apartment and meet some people.  Hell, why not, maybe there would be someone interesting I could converse with.  That was an understatement.

To my surprise, Janis Joplin dropped in, picked up some drugs, and dropped back out, all in the space of ten minutes.  Through out the evening other semi-famous individuals came by.  Little by little I recognized that Rich was being used as the front.  His name was on the lease and his dad paid it every month.  His room mates were dealing in the open and raking in some serious dough.  And as their payment for their share of the lease, Rich got a few drugs.  There were always ex-members of some broken band, an intellectual on the schmooze, dropouts from Berkeley or Stanford, and maybe some radio personality.  And I was invited into the arms of some of the local chicks.  I never had so much fun on a three day pass.

Next month I was up there again in the Height-Asbury only Rich wasn’t there.  But a couple of the people remembered me and I hung out for a couple of hours before heading toward North Beach.  I thought I would take in a club.  It was Lillie Tomlin’s last appearance with The Committee and I wanted to check it out.  Sure enough, almost like radar I found Rich in the audience.  After the show we went back stage and met some of the cast although Tomlin had left earlier, she had a plane to catch for LA.  the thing about Rich was that he seemed to be everywhere and yet he had none of the where with all by which he could do it.  so I asked him how he was able to collect with all these people.  “I try with a little help from my friends.”

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