Down and Out in San Francisco


After returning from Sweden and flunking my draft physical, I tried a few jobs, like canvassing for one of Nader’s political action groups (see, The Mysterious Saul Alinsky), and also working phone sales for a mob operation selling discounts to Vegas casinos masquerading as radio quiz-show jackpot awards. Both those operations seemed similar and equally sleazy, although the Nader group paid in full, while the mob op disappeared overnight owing me hundreds. I also tried working in an automobile plant producing bumpers, but wasn’t cut out for that grind.

So I went back to college for free, enrolling in San Francisco City College to study journalism, film and theater. I had little money and no car, but I found a room a block from the school for $50 a month that was owned by a Filipino woman who also lived there. She had rented the downstairs to her best friend, Rose. The upstairs had three tiny bedrooms. Ronnie moved in first. Then I arrived. Then our landlady decided to move into the pantry behind the kitchen so she could rent another room.

FriscoScans-3Ronnie had once been signed to a major film company right out of high school and, according to him, was being groomed as a leading man in the John Wayne/Rock Hudson mode when his career tanked for some reason and he was obviously gay although we never discussed his orientation. Ron had a lot of stories about Hollywood in the early sixties, and was a bit bitter, but had now morphed into a master of bilking the welfare state of California, which is what I guess I was doing in a way too, collecting my free education in a state I’d just moved to. Ron became a model for a character in a play I would soon write. I even have some correspondence from him, although I lost touch with Ron quickly and I’m sure he never saw the play. That’s me in the photo holding a cigarette. Fortunately, I’d soon give up that disgusting habit.


Funny how I took a photograph of my desk, starting in Stockholm and then continuing in San Francisco. I was convinced I was going to become a famous writer some day, and was already documenting my progress. I did write one story during this period, The Stockholm Manifesto, based on my experiences in Sweden evading the draft, a story available for free on my smashwords site. You’ll notice my ceremonial elements are assembled in this photo: two candles, the record player and albums, expensive bottle of bubbly, and a bunch of manifestation prayers adorning the wall above my headboard.


One day when Rose came up for a visit, I told Bugsy I wanted to get a picture of her for my archives, so he sat in the living room and I took Rose’s picture over his shoulder. The following semester, Bugsy’s brother Don and I moved into the house next door and I think we were even paying less rent for more space.


Here’s another shot of my room, with me seated at my trusty Olivetti. Within a year, I’d write my first play on that machine, inspired by my year in San Francisco attending City College. And that play would be my first big break as a writer because it was staged at the University of Illinois and then invited to the National Theater Festival Regional, where it got a standing ovation. But that’s another story with another set of pictures. This is the real place that story was based on, inhabited by a real cast of characters. If you ever want to check out that play, however, you can find it for free on my smashwords site. It’s called Mrs. Roses’ Boarding House. Just follow the links at the top-right of this page.


Author: Steven Hager

I'm a writer, journalist, filmmaker and event producer.

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