Deb’s Saturday Psychedelica (Double Feature!)
Written by Deb Cavanaugh on March 28, 2020
While living at Project One, we met some of the most interesting and eccentric people I had ever known. First, there were the folks living in the mini-commune known as “The Estates” where we stayed. Fred was a metal worker/engineer and was currently building an airplane from found parts in his large basement space. Diana was an artist who dreamed of going to an art school in Boston but had no money, so she decided to become a high-paid call girl. She actually did make enough money to move to Boston and pursue her dream a few years later. And there were others, Gwen, Michael, Ford, Sage … There was a garden on the roof and unusual places such as a secret recording studio/practice space for The Phantom Band, located behind hidden doors because it was against code. There were too many unusual people and things to name here. It was an amazing education socially, politically, dietarily, medicinally and more.
Soon after arriving at Project One, we got a tour of the building and met Baron. Baron was on public assistance for mental illness, but he bragged about purposely getting his diagnosis so that he could follow his chosen vocation of dumpster diving. At that time, he was the only person in the city of San Francisco to be issued a license to legally go through people’s garbage. He was a collector and had every kind of collection imaginable. He asked me and Paul what we had collected as kids. As we named various things, he opened cabinets, chests, free standing closets, drawers, etc. to reveal their hidden treasures, matchbox covers, buttons, stamps and coins, everything you could imagine. We never stumped him, though we tried hard. Paul even asked if he had LSD, and he reluctantly showed us a vial of liquid acid made by Stanley Owsley, the psychedelic chemist of the stars. Although Paul asked for a taste, he was refused because it was the only thing that cured Baron’s frequent headaches. One pin drop was all he needed, and he wanted it to last his lifetime.
After we played his game for a while, he looked me up and down and asked if he could buy my baby when he or she was born. Good thing I was standing in front of a chair. As I plopped down, and firmly said no, I told him about the negative test result I’d gotten in Pittsburgh. He pleaded with me explaining that he had plenty of money and would take care of me throughout my pregnancy in addition to paying me whatever price I asked. He had always wanted a child but wasn’t interested in the whole relationship mess. He’d always hoped to find a live baby in a dumpster but so far had only found dead ones. He strongly suggested I have another test done and asked me again to reconsider his offer. If I ended up with twins, he would gladly take one of them for me.
Needless to say, I went to the free clinic the next day for another test and was shocked to find out that I was indeed pregnant. My head was reeling. I’d been almost religious about using birth control. I was also a little worried about all of the LSD I had done in the past year or so. I was looking for a new start, but this was not what I thought it would be. We were homeless on the opposite coast from our family and friends and had no desire to go back home. We started to come up with a plan. The first thing that happened was that Paul asked me to marry him. I emphatically said, NO!” I didn’t believe in marriage and saw it as a trap for women. I was learning about so many alternative lifestyles and was trying to turn away from the norms not buy into them. I sent my parents a postcard telling them about my pregnancy, a ridiculous move, I know. I obviously wasn’t thinking clearly at the time. But my parents were not going to be understanding and, knowing how it would go, I didn’t want to talk with them on the phone.
My mom and dad were very loving and involved parents, but my mother was too involved, running every aspect of my life until I moved away. I’m sure this is why I am still so fiercely independent today, not wanting anyone to tell me what to do. Mom even came into my bedroom (in my own apartment) one day, where I was living with Paul, to wake me in time for work. She said she just happened to be passing by and didn’t want me to be late. My mom also had mental health issues making life at home chaotic and sometimes dangerous. She would go from lively, playful and engaged to angry and violent within minutes with no warning. She also invented or greatly exaggerated events that happened while my dad was at work. Dad was the enforcer, so there were frequent beatings in the evenings with a leather belt. There was no question that I was not going back home. I was finally free. However, Paul finally convinced me to call them. You can imagine how that went. After threatening to disown me unless I got married and hanging up numerous times, they finally calmed down a bit. They offered to pay for us to return to Connecticut, pay for a wedding and set us up in an apartment. I refused. I felt as though this might be my only chance to escape, and I was taking it. We would figure it out. Paul insisted on getting married, saying that he didn’t want my family to turn away from us and our child. There was also still a stigma in some places at that time about couples living together outside of marriage, and we weren’t sure where we would end up living. In Connecticut, we’d had to get a ring for me and pretend to be married to get our apartment. So, I reluctantly and unhappily agreed.
Paul immediately got a job as cook in a sleazy café on Market Street that had just become vacant when the last cook had been shot. We also played music on the streets. We learned a lot from busking in San Francisco. It was important to play upbeat and loud music to catch the attention of the passersby. One rainy morning, Paul and I stood in an alcove and played “Wild Thing” with Paul jumping out at folks, long hair flying as he screamed out “wild thing.” We made more money from that one song than the rest of the day. Totally shaken up, everyone reached into their pockets and purses pulling out dollar bills and tossing them on the ground as they quickly rushed away. We also got unusual tips in the guitar case – food, food stamps, jewelry, even a joint from a boy who looked like he was maybe 9 or 10. It was pretty cutthroat though with other musicians resenting our success and trying to undermine it by setting up right next to us causing us to move to a less populated street corner. Although we were barely getting by, we knew that this would never be enough to live on, though. We also knew that we couldn’t stay in San Francisco. Although there were other children living in Project One, and we finally felt at home here, we soon realized that this commune was not a good place to raise a child. There were three-year old children smoking pot and lots of kids mostly left to their own devices. That was not the environment we wanted for our child.
While we were busking one day, up walked our friends from Connecticut who had given us the ride from Stamford to New York City at the start of our grand adventure. We were all shocked to see each other! They had driven across the country and wanted to experience San Francisco and the whole Grateful Dead phenomena. We were all Deadheads, having gone to numerous shows together on the east coast, too many to even count. Paul and I had just randomly found the Mars Hotel a few days before and were anxious to show our Deadhead friends. It looked just like it did on the album cover without the psychedelic outer space background, unless you were tripping, I suppose. They were excited to see this landmark, but we were all saddened and surprised to find just a pile of rubble. Much to our chagrin, it had been demolished the day after we saw it. They didn’t believe us at first until we found a newspaper with an article about all the deadheads who showed up to watch its demise.
Our friends told us that would be moving on soon and invited us to join them. We were looking for another place to settle, so we went with them heading south down the coast. We went to Big Sur and camped along the northern coast. Finally, we ended up settling in Santa Cruz, California where we got married and had our daughter. But more on that in the next installment.
After camping out at Big Sur and a couple of other places along the coast, our friends decided to move on. Paul had just gotten a small inheritance from his grandmother who had recently died, so we had enough for a security deposit and rent on our own place. The first place we rented was a rather large one-bedroom apartment in an apartment complex. There was a pool table in the rec room, which was cool, but we had no furniture at all. We bought a mattress, and my parents bought us a television – a recurring theme later on. Then, we went dumpster diving and shopping at thrift stores to find some other items to get us by. Now that we were settled, or so we thought, it was time to plan our wedding. We asked the friends we’d camped with from back home to be our witnesses since they were still on the west coast, and they happily agreed. We found a ring at a pawn shop and a tails coat at a St. Vincent DePaul thrift shop. Paul insisted on buying me a new dress to get married in, so we went to a hippie clothing store for that. We found a non-denominational minister through Social Services. He’d been the prison preacher, was retiring soon and, at 85, was thrilled to be performing his first wedding ever. I’m not sure he realized at the time just what he was getting himself into. Because we had been living together for over a year, the state of California, under a special provision, waived the blood test and just issued the license immediately.
We planned to get married April 5th, 1975 on the beach in Santa Cruz, California. Paul picked the spot because it was where the San Lorenzo River met the Monterey Bay and the Monterey Bay met the Pacific Ocean. He was all about symbolism and finding meaning in everything. Also, because of symbolism, he wanted a sunrise wedding but realized that we couldn’t actually see the sunrise on the ocean at the west coast, and sunset had the wrong symbolism. He quickly decided that morning was still a good time, though not too early, because it would give us the whole rest of the day to celebrate. The reception was planned for our favorite nude beach, Bonnie Dune. Now that we’d both gotten over our modesty, we went to these nude beaches often. I decided to change my name and take Paul’s last name because of all the trauma I’d experienced when I lived at home. I had made the decision early on to someday change my name, and his was a good opportunity and a good name. Paul was pleased. Cavanaugh has now been my name much longer than my original one.
It was pouring rain when we woke up the morning of the wedding. Our commune friends, including Paul’s sister Sage, had arrived the night before and crashed in the living room. Needless to say, we’d all stayed up way too late partying and prepping food for the reception. We also had to regroup a bit since our original witnesses had traveled on to parts unknown and weren’t going to show up. So, we asked Sage and another friend to stand in for them. Paul wasn’t thrown by any of it, and certainly not by the rain. “Just have faith,” he said as he sat on the living room floor patching his wedding blue jeans. He also told that to the minister when he called to ask if we were cancelling or moving the ceremony.
We all piled into the cars in the rain, everyone shaking their heads with worry, but the rain stopped the minute we pulled up to the site. Reverend Whalen was amazed at Paul’s faith and kept mentioning it throughout the ceremony, though he was kind of incredulous when he realized that we had to get to our perfect wedding spot by walking through the amusement park. He made jokes about marrying us on the roller coaster, which I would have liked but, when we got to the gates, they were locked. The only other way to get to the site was to walk down the railroad tracks then slide down the wet sand dune. We had a person on each side of Reverend Whalen and his wife, holding on to their upper arms and sliding them right down. They both must have thought we were crazy but seemed to enjoy it thoroughly.
I remember very little about the actual wedding ceremony itself, just little bits and pieces. We had a friend playing Bach on her flute as the minister kind of droned on and on about God and family. I barely even heard him with the sound of my own thoughts so loud in my head. What was I thinking? I didn’t even believe in marriage and wasn’t religious. I was almost anti-religion. Why was I even here doing this? Once again, I was trying to please everyone else. I was 21 years old, five months pregnant and wondering who the hell I was and what was in store for me up ahead. My family had been horrified not only by the fact that I was pregnant, but that I didn’t plan to get married. My attitude at the time was, “Oh, well. Too bad.” They had threatened to disown me, which was fine with me. Paul however decided that our child needed grandparents and insisted on marrying me. So now what? I wish we had known enough to write our own vows. At least I insisted on taking out the obey part in the traditional vows. I wasn’t interested in obeying anyone anymore. Soon I would be a married woman with a new name. The new name at least was a plus. I sure wish I could have just taken the name without getting married, though. This was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, wasn’t it? That’s what I was raised to believe. And, I did love Paul, but I also knew how hard he was to live with. We argued all the time. But my parents argued all the time and so did his. I remember thinking that probably every couple did that. I guess I thought I could change him, help him get over all of that early stuff that ripped him apart. Maybe he could help me get over my early stuff, too. We’d be raising a family together. Maybe we could be happy, if we didn’t kill each other first. As Reverend Whalen was wrapping it up and pronouncing us man and wife, I remember thinking, “Oh my God, what have I done?”
The minister had consistently mispronounced Paul’s last name throughout all of the preparations. As he pronounced us married, he mispronounced it again despite all of our coaching. As soon as the ceremony ended, the clouds opened up and we drove back to our apartment in the pouring rain to have our reception at home. Some new friends lent us their stereo for the night for our “honeymoon.
The next day, life went back to normal with Paul and I looking for work. We had the biggest fight of our lives that day as the reality of what we’d done finally hit us both. As we argued, a woman came up and asked if we would join their protest demanding better treatment of homecare workers. It not only brought us out of our distress but started us on the road to activism as we both joined the march, hand-in-hand with each other and shoulder-to-shoulder with the workers.