Bill Wolf






            I found myself very busy again, in San Francisco.  I was doing lots of sets, mostly now for commercial work, or more specifically, Industrial Films, which is a huge part of the total movie-making industry.  It was lots of, as I think I said, doctors’ offices!  Kevin and the gang at Ready Set had been growing and doing a lot of work and they had me on to a lot of their shoots, Toyota, Kodak, real boring stuff.  We had left the heady, exciting world of porno movies long ago and were into drudge work.


            Meanwhile, Russell was on to his next art project!  Seems he had cleaned out someone’s garage in the Sunset and had ended up with a boxful of little old rolls of black and white 8 millimeter home movies from the thirties and forties.  A handful of color reels appeared to be from the early fifties.  All silent, of course.  He began looking at them and putting them in a rough chronological order; some were dated, many were not, and began to see the lives of this family in Los Angeles, sort of middle class early suburban, centered around their children, their home, their vacations.  The repeated casualness of their doings and their actions, the meaningless repitition in the family lives began to fascinate Russell.

            He talked about the similar middle class repetition which we’ve always found in Gertrude Stein, and especially, he said, her long masterpiece “The Making of Americans.” which Maria helped read so beautifully with George Ashley at the New York reading.  He enlisted sk dunn and she began reading pieces of the Stein with the running of the home movies.  With David’s help, they cut a forty-five minute short and had it transferred to 16 mm.

            Keith St. Claire, my old friend, miraculously still in the Neighborhood Arts Program, booked them into one afternoon in the big South of Market hall.

            It was called “A Family and Its Progress.”  The images flickered through the decades onto a large overhead screen, sk sat at a microphone on the side under a small spotlight and read the haunting words of Gertrude Stein about family life over and over.  It was a beautiful and moving piece well presented to a big audience.




* * *



            That spring, Karolyn and Neil Fraser, the hunky young Scot to whom I had introduced her some years before (E-hem), ran off to his family in Scotland and got married!  Well, we were all thrilled, of course, or sort of, especially the running off to Scotland part and they returned and announced that they would be having a big reception at Karolyn’s folks’ house in Pasadena.  Karolyn said everybody could stay in the old hotel; there were certainly enough rooms.  So a bunch of us headed south, me, Jeffery, Billy, Jim, Genie Merrick, Jonathan, Bermuda, Kevin, Rachael, Iris, and such.  Russ was busy.

            We arrived throughout the day at the old hotel and each claimed a room.  Some of us quite casually, as we didn’t yet know just who would be sleeping with whom.  Billy had been there a couple days before and had set himself up in a room where he was drawing.  I took the little room in the back, far right, which I would have many times over the next few years.  Others camped around.  Karolyn had done a lot of cleaning to the place since I had last been there but it still had plenty of the old atmosphere, if you know what I mean.  Some of the guests looked a little overwhelmed.

            Kevin and the gang from Santa Cruz were staying in a “real” hotel out near Karolyn’s folks and were planning on meeting us at the reception.  It seemed they were running late, they had to find diesel fuel or something, Kevin ran into a store to buy a pair of pants right off the shelf to wear to the reception.  Back at their hotel, they’re scurrying to get dressed and Kevin puts on the pants and they’re three sizes too small!  We heard about all this later.  I don’t remember what he did.  Probably just suffered.

            The party was a great affair and went on into the night.  After a while it began to peter out and just Karolyn’s friends were left.  Jeffery was wearing Karolyn’s aunt’s antique tablecloth in the Jacuzzi and some of them were wearing nothing at all.  The older folks decided that perhaps that was enough partying for tonight and Karolyn came around and suggested that maybe we should all move the party to the hotel.


            So we all wound up back at the old hotel none the worse, and partied further into the night, hanging out in the various rooms and out the back door, which opened onto the big old metal fight escape, drinking beer and smoking pot and having a great itme.


            The next morning we woke late and moved slowly.  With nothing in the hotel to eat or drink, we ended up at Elliot and Sharon’s house in Hollywood, where we sat in the back yard in the shade and played in the sprinkler.  Iris and Rachael went off to the local mall and to look for a copy of the new book, “The Beverly Hills Diet” which was very faddish just then.  They came back loaded down with a number of copies, all signed by the author, with clever inscriptions to several AAA members.  They were all so excited.  They had run across the author signing her books quite by chance, they said, and had a great time talking with her and getting the books signed.  We were all amazed.

            Some weeks later, the girls gleefully let it escape that the whole thing had been a ruse, they had signed the books themselves and had made up the whole thing just to see the envy on our faces.  It always seemed to me a sort of dumb trick, but it certainly goes to show the kind of things those girls would pull.


            I remember sitting around one day with Kevin and Rachael and talking about their little boy, then called Cosmo, and making comments about how I always had to work real hard as a kid and how I was raised, I don’t know what, but something general.

            “Well, MY parents ... “ I began.

            Rachael cut me off, “Yeah, and you haven’t SPOKEN to your parents in twenty years!”

            She had me there.

            After the wedding and party, Karolyn and Niel never lived in the hotel again but instead took a small apartment in Glendale.  I always thought that was so boring.


* * *



            Then we had to get back to San Francisco and put the Bloolips into the Boarding House!

            As I said, when we were in New York with the Box Lunch, we, well mainly Jeffery and Jim Nettleton, had invited the troupe of British drag queens called Bloolips, headed by one mighty Betty Bloolips (!), to bring their show to San Francisco, which we knew would be a hit and we would handle everything, booking them into the club, publicity, stunts, and, we promised, a starring float in the San Francisco International Gay Parade!

            Well, they went for it, of course, and we miraculously did manage to get them into the Boarding House in North Beach; Jeffery was truly the big time producer now.  And for the parade, that June, we covered a big truck with a big, round, cartoon, cardboard Rocket Ship (sound familiar?), with the Incomparable Bloolips riding on top.  It was a big hit and everybody had a good time.

            They even stayed in our apartment for two whole months (all eight drag queens!), and Russell and I moved over to David’s apartment on Dolores Street where we had a good time with him, especially knowing it was only going to be two months.

            That’s where we watched Charles and Diana’s wedding, at some ridiculous hour, like three AM in the morning.  Well, David decided to have a big pajama party and everybody came in British-looking robes and nighties.  We all sat up late and drank champaign and had another great time.  David had gotten some souvineers of the wedding, in fact.  I still have a couple.






            But finally the Bloolips' run at the Boarding House ended and they went on their way and we’ve kept a little correspondence with them over the years.  I think Maria has seen Betty a couple times.


* * *



            Then one day I got a call from Vince Stanich, my old friend the manager of the Mitchell Brothers’ porno movie house, the O’Farrell Theater, over on O’Farrell Street.  “Come on up (the brothers’ and Vince’s office was above the lobby) and talk about a big project for you, Bill.  Jim and Artie have some great ideas!”

            Well, the O’Farrell had been always changing, with new ideas, and such, and was becoming something of a “sex emporium” with live acts, and talk-to-a-naked-girl, and private booths and dildos.  So I went to see them and see what they had in mind.

            “Bill!  Bill!  Come in!” the brothers shouted.  They were always really nice to me and asked how everything was and said they were so glad to see me.  “Come in!  Sit down, Bill!”




            In their big office upstairs, Jim and Artie really played the big porno producer act to its fullest.  Deep-sea fishing enthusiasts, they had big mounted sharks and tunas on the walls, poker tables and chips laying around, big leather sofas, and lots of nearly-naked girls running through every five minutes saying something like Oh, Jim, I gotta talk to you, real important, like right now! ...but...uh...private, you know? And Jim, or Artie would roll their big eyes and say Sure, Candi Honey, let’s go in here!. and disappear for twenty minutes.  And, like I say, they always treated me real nice.

            “Now, Bill, we got some great ideas, and I know you’re going to ... Vinnie!  Now, Vinnie, take Bill around back and show him what we talked about, you know?  Bill, you’re going to love it!”

            So Vince says Come on, Bill, and leads me out a little door in the side and we walk down a long dark corridor and I can hear the sound track of humping from the movies and music from the lobby and we wind our way far into the theater and behind the big main screen.  Suddenly, we walk into a giant dark space.  Vince flipped a switch and a couple of feeble bulbs gave some idea of the big, haphazard room, on several levels, with some kind of weird construction started and unfinished, apparently years ago all across the vast floor.

            “Now, see, Bill,” said Vince, and he started to explain that the brothers wanted to turn this into the great “Mitchell Brothers’ Sex Universe” or some such silly name and they were relying on me to transform all this into the biggest, the greatest, the sexiest, you get the idea.  “Now, this is going to be the Great Pyramid of Isis,” he said and walked over to a monstrous half-built Egyptian pyramid with a retractable opening leading down to ramped seating inside, “and over here is ...”

            Well, I looked around and realized this could be a lot of work for me, and said so to Vince.

            “Bill!  You bring in your friends!  All of Triple-A can work on this!  It’s a big project!” and he led me back to the brothers’ office where they said,

            “All set, Bill?  Good, good!  You get the idea?  BIG project, OK?  Good, good!” they said, and finally, “OK, you let us know what it’s going to cost, right?  And when you can start, OK?  Big project, Bill.  Let’s get right on it!”

            That’s how Artie and Jim always were with me, real nice guys and I did a lot of work for them, and they always treated me real good.


            It came at a good time for us; we needed the money.  I roped in Karolyn and Russell and Kevin and even Billy King, eventually, in the building of this ridiculous “world” or “universe” or such.  Building on their theme and the Egyptian pyramid, of course, we soon had built “the streets of Paris,” “the shores of Bali,” and, most peculiarly, “the baths of Ancient Rome!” where a wall of plexiglass with little holes separated the audience from naked women in a “marble” grotto and you could squirt water on the naked women with a little pneumatic water gun.

            Karolyn kind of rolled her eyes, “They’re going to squirt the girls?”

            Artie said, “The girls’ll love it!  It’ll be clean!”

            Warm water, we hoped.


            So it was several months of work, with hang-ups and delays, the pneumatic water pistols, and then they wanted to mirror the inside of the pyramid.  Everything took a lot of time and stretched out.  Then too, they had us do all sorts of other painting and small repairs around the place.  At one point, Billy King almost lost it painting the walls of the women’s changing rooms and showers WHILE the dozens of naked women performers were using it.  He almost got stuck to the ceiling above the women’s douche.

            Karolyn even made pretty little curtains for the Paris Street Scene.

            But in the end it was never used.  That’s right, they decided not to open “at this time” and paid us well and that was it.  I always sort of had the feeling they knew we needed work and made up the whole thing to help us.  But that can’t be right.


* * *



            That was the year, too, when I went to the first meeting about the new “gay cancer” in Brooks Hall in the Civil Center; Diane Feinstein led the meeting, as well as a Dr. Silverstein, head of Public Health at that time.  It was called G.R.I.D., Gay Related Immune Deficiency.  It was said it was spread by sex and that it had to be stopped.  Later much more would be learned about this disease, spread by what exactly type of sex, for example.  Much of the information would come from one of the most extensive sexual pratices investigation in the history of medicine, of the enormous and sexually very active gay community in San Francisco.

            Tommy Ammiano would later say in the studio, “Well, the good news is it’s very hard to get; you have to do only one or two things.”

            But, for the moment, a small chill touched the city, our friends, ourselves.

            It would play a long and depressing role in our lives.


* * *



            So, after the Mitchells’, I had a little money and Karolyn had been suggesting that I come down to LA and I could stay in the old hotel if I wanted.  I thought back on how enjoyable Billy King always found it and decided to go down for a month or so.

            I flew down and took a bus to the New Otami Hotel in Little Tokyo, a few blocks away.  She came to pick me up and we rode to the hotel.  She had cleaned up a little and had brought down clean linens and such from the Glendale house and was apologizing for the mess.  I kissed her!  The place looked just great to me, just the funky kind of place I loved.

            I used the furthest room on the front, there were four, as a drawing studio for me, and cleaned out the other three as a display area or gallery, using Billy King’s technique of once-over with a roller of white.  I continued to clean and paint, Karolyn would buy the paint, the rooms in back, where I slept and the kitchen and bathrooms.  Old patchworks of linoleum carpets covered the floors and halls.  I fixed up the electricity as best I could and lit the place up.

            They were idyllic days for me, working on the old building, walking into Little Tokyo for my coffee and newspaper, and downtown, I didn’t have a car, and hanging out with Karolyn and her newfound artist friends in the neighborhood.  The Atomic Cafe a couple blocks away was the hot spot at the time, staying open all night, full of punks and spreading rumors that Andy Warhol had been there.

            One day Karolyn and I got the idea to have an art show in the gallery rooms across the front and invite a few of her art-type friends to come over.  Too, Russell and Michael were planning to come down for a weekend visit and we thought it would be a perfect welcoming party.  I decided to paint a series of works for the show, scenery-painting approach.

            Karolyn had a big roll of brown newsprint at the hotel which I think she got from the Japanese California Daily downstairs and which I rolled out and cut big pieces the right sizes for each of the walls.  Some of them were pretty big.

            We had a lot of white latex paint in the place but only a small assortment of other colors.  I rummaged around and found a small can of black gloss enamel.  In the setting of the white walls and the bright light of November in Los Angeles, I thought a series of big black paintings would look great.  I stayed up late that night with the paper stretched out on the floors of the various rooms and covered the surfaces with solid, swirling masses.  I signed my name in pencil and the date ‘81.  I hung the pieces on the wall with push pins and brought in a couple bedraggled plants which I cleaned up the best I could.

            The place looked terrific.  A real artist’s hovel type.  What’s more, the paintings didn’t look half bad!  I had taken my time to make them as consistent as I could and I had often made copies of famous moderns like Franz Kline and Rothko, so I had a feel for the brush-strokes and other qualities I wanted them to have.  Karolyn looked at one and said, “Turbulent!”



            So the day came, a Saturday afternoon.  Karolyn had phoned a number of her friends, plus her folks, who I was glad to see, of course, and whom Karolyn wanted to see the hotel looking half way good (I think they’d shuddered about it in the past!).  We bought some nice champaign and plastic glasses.  Russell and Michael arrived.

            The party was a big success, with everyone agreeing I had done wonders for the old hotel.  Among the gallery types Karolyn had invited, almost no one said anything about the paintings, except one did take Karolyn aside and asked her how they cost.  “Oh, I have no idea!” she answered.

            Russell and Michael and the rest who knew me thought they were a riot and couldn’t stop exclaiming and chuckling to themselves.




            That was the first time I had painted in this manner in a long time, since the old days on Vicksburg doing my collages of Pat Nixon and Raquel Welch, for example.  That is, as art, to be hung on the wall.  All my drawing and painting had been for sets of other designs, backdrops of for my book, or the Bermuda Think Tank.  These black paintings, some fifteen or so, had started out as a lark, something to decorate the walls for a party.  They became, however, something more for me, and allowed me to find the courage to do more.

            It would be more than a year still, before I would begin painting and drawing regularly, works of art, but always those black paintings will be for me a begining.  I would do more like them and different.  Later that year I would paint a big one on my studio wall in San Francisco.  I envisioned a big one on the side of a building.





*  *  *


            I stayed on at the hotel after Russell and Michael left, Charlie the dog staying with me.  I worked on more drawings and fantasized about living the free and easy life again, like I once had in Seattle, in Pioneer Square, fixing up old buildings, sleeping late, and living the life of the artist, my favorite.


            The hotel faced onto the old First Street Bridge over the Los Angeles River.  I drew the view out the front window.




            Then, too, I loved the old buildings downtown and would walk around and make quick sketches or just look and file them away in my memory to draw back at the hotel.  I would do lots of drawings of downtown L.A. over the next few years.  They were big pieces of paper, 28 by 36 inches, and good quality.  City Hall and Union Station were nearby, and lots of old factories and wearhouses.











*  *  *


            Of course, I started to run low on money in a few days, as usual, and was having to borrow from Karolyn, who was always obliging.  And then I got sick for a few days, the flu I guess, and was moaning around the place and feeling lousy.  It may have been partly my state those days that prompted Karolyn to call me up one night at the hotel and suggest that she and Neil and I all ride out to Edwards Air Force Base the next day to see the Space Shuttle come back to earth.


            I was immediately better, all my old cares, out the window in a flash!  “Yes!  When shall we go?”

            ”Well, the shuttle lands at 1:30 pm and my Dad says it takes about an hour and a half...How’s 10 or 11?”

            “What!  Karolyn, are you crazy?  We’ve got to leave by six or seven.”


            I kept at her and she agreed to come pick me up as early as possible.  “Fine!  See you then.”

            Unable to sleep, I rose at about six AM and went to get a morning paper, thinking I’d be lucky if Karolyn and Neil showed up before 10 and was prepared to cool my heels with coffee and the news for a while.

            Minutes later, she had beaten me back to the hotel!  My blood surged.

            “Bill, I’m afraid I have bad news.  We can’t leave before eight, you see the car’s out of diesel and the station doesn’t ...”

            A stern look from me would have been dishonest.  “Fine!  Fine!  No problem!” I exploded.  Bundling Charlie into the car, we drove to Glendale to finish packing, bagels, cream cheese, ham sandwiches, candy peanuts, champagne, beer, dope, and Neil.  The map, not surprisingly, was forgotten behind.

            A tankful of diesel and we were headed north on US 5 by eight-ten in high spirits.  Mapless our conversation mostly concerned which freeway exit would take us to our destination.  A useless exercise, as “Edwards Air Force Base Next Exit” was clearly marked and a long, slow moving line of cars was turning into the barren countryside.  This was to be the third landing of the shuttle, each at Edwards, so it was not like the first time, still there were lots of people coming out to see it.

            From there the way was obvious; hastily printed signs saying “Shuttle Viewing” were stapled along the way.  It was a long road.  A dusty little crossroads store was, coincidentally that day, installing a big new sign that said “Liquors” and surrounded by cars and trucks.  “Ice and more beers!” we chorused with enthusiasm.  It was to be our last view of the old world as we had known it.

            We entered the air force base and were warned by big signs of toxic substances and other things apparently just beyond our view.  “Toxic substances!” said Karolyn, her dander up.  I told her the signs probably meant ammunition and such.  “This is the military.  Of course, they have toxic stuff here.”

            The traffic had slowed to a crawl.  Army uniforms, jeeps, and odd-looking drab green vehicles were everywhere.  We stared at a big sign with disbelief: Shuttle Viewing 12 Miles.

            After the longest 12 miles, I tell you, we finally crept onto the giant dry lake bed which is the Edwards landing area and took our place with about a million other cars, campers, buses and motorbikes.  It was 10:30 AM.

            We stepped out of the car and looked up into the sky.  It was about two-thirds covered with long, wispy clouds.  A chill breeze blew dust at us from across the valley.  Everywhere we looked the sky was abuzz with all manner of flying machines.  Helicopters in formation, ominous-looking big planes ascending and descending on the cris-cross of runways, and far overhead, swarms of tiny jets, etching loops and streaks on the dome of the sky.  I guess everybody wants to get into the act.

            And on the horizon, as far as we could see, row after row of cars, the public, like us, stepping out of their cars, and stretching and looking at the sky.

            We took Charlie and decided to take a walk.  We started forward in the direction all the cars had been instructed to park.  We discovered we were about ten rows back from a long, rickety, temporary lath fence that had been rolled out across the desert.  On this side of the fence was a wide empty area which had become a promenade for strolling.  Here the abundance of high technology showed itself, every type and size of telescope, camera, monitor, headphone, shortwave, and unfathomable apparatus was on display. 



            After what seemed a mile, at least, we came to the edge of what we thought was the far side of the viewing area.  It was not so!  The rows of cars had only taken a slight turn and continued far out of sight.  We had not come even half way.  It must go on for miles, and behind us, creeping down the sides of the valleys, rows of tiny cars continued to come.  It was then the huge size of this instant city hit me.  We would later hear there were 400,000 saw the shuttle come down.

            Back at the car, nothing would do but a toast of champagne!  To Joe, and Dick!  To their safe return!  To us!  To the hundreds of thousands of us!

          Somewhere over the Indian Ocean, we heard, the astronaughts had performed their de-orbit burn and had begun their fall to earth.

            The wait could have been longer ifit wanted; anxious of course, for the shuttle to land, but savoring every moment of our time, every emotion, every sight.

            What Charlie thought of this most unreal outing, we never will know.  The hard baked clay underfoot, the giant parking lot, the smell of the giddy, tense masses of humans.  But we empowered him with extra senses, of history, of adventure, of the cosmos.  Yes, he too, realized what a lucky dog he was.

            Time crept, more unreal than ever.

            All the radios around were tuned to the same station, every ear alert.  The sisteen-minute black-out came and went.  The ship would soon be approaching the California coast.

            Go faster, clock...no, slower!

            Karolyn admired the female soldiers’ woman-of-the-desert attire.

            Our hands, our faces, our hair were gritty with dust.  The car, inside and out, was covered with a thin white layer.  More champagne, another joint!  To the shuttle, to the shuttle Colombia!

            We left the car, now with Charlie inside, and walked to the promenade with the rest of our big new city.  Near the fence the air was rich.  Every human head and eye scanned the blue.  Here and there, an occasional shout would arise, “There!  There!” and a chorus of cheers would rise and then fall.  I stepped over to a nerdy-looking group of youths huddled around a radio.  “That’s not it!” I said, half a question.  They smiled at me.  No, no.  It’s just now over Big Sur, they said.

            Neil, Karolyn and I would catch each others’ eyes from time to time, breathless, flushed.  The wind smelled of dust, ... of humans, ... of Earth!

            “There it is!”

            Directly overhead, a tiny, white line was being drawn against the blue sky, impossibly far away.  A deafening roar arose from the valley floor.  And suddenly we knew: all the technology of NASA and mankind would not be enough!  WE would have to help!  We would have to use our very lungs and voices.

            “Come On In!  Bring ‘Er Down!  Come On, Shuttle!”

            The space ship was as small a speck in the sky as seemed humanly possible to see.  It ducked behind a cloud.  There were 400,000 gasps and then utter silence; we struggled with the unfathomable.  It was lost.

            It burst upon us.  It had a shape.  It had a tail.  It was gleaming white.  Chaser gnats flew behind.  Now, more than ever it would need our help.  Every muscle, every voice.

            It tipped us a flash of its shiny, black underbelly.  It had heard us!  We called back louder than ever.  The seconds raced forward in dizzying slow-motion, a ballet from another world.  It grew bigger, louder, nearer.

            We landed it perfectly on the broad, shimmering mirage of Edwards, a cloud of dust in its wake, then let it roll past us, further and further across the valley to a slow and gentle stop far, far away near the hangers and equipment at the other end of the long runway.  We knew they would want to inspect it and service it and dust it off.  That was their job, the NASA workers and such.  And the shuttle was theirs now.  Our job was done.


*  *  *



Below, we had always been a big "space ship fan club," of course, throwing parties for the lift-offs and moon walks and Star Wars openings, you know.  My old Getstetner machine, in fact, printed out the announcements.




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