Chapter Four: Spoons
Chapter four could be "Spoons".
of Mike Bear, Brighton, and America.
My greatest hunger is for a friend. A special friend. I'm looking for that mesh: the excitement of finding someone who can follow my thoughts. Someone who'll be there. Not much to ask. Better than a million dollars. Mike Bear was not that friend, but he was as close as I've got, and that shows my poverty.
Long ago this was, in the Camelot days of hippy Brighton. nineteen seventy-two. Vietnam war winding down. Nixon was new. We talked first, Bear and I, in some Steve's house. Mike talked of personal growth and Sue Bear bubbled beside him. They drew energy into, drew presence into the dark rooms where some semi-transient Steve hosted Bear to a transient lair. What marked that house? Throw rugs? Pottery? Cushions on the floor! that's it. No couch, no armchairs. Sit on the floor, head tilted back to stare at the mandalas and psychedelic posters, like flags and badges on the walls.
Bear and I went off to a darker room to talk. We crouched down by the foot of a bed, toe to toe, and fountained. I had seen Bear, been introduced, in the weeks before. With an acquaintance I was renting a workshop above Ananda, the local Headshop, where we crafted hardwood pipes - rosewood and exotic woods - each pipe individual. I've never seen pipes as nice. But it was hardly a living.
Mike and Sue Bear had arrived in Brighton chasing Matte, Mike's ex, chasing proximity with his first two sons. The two Bears rented a workshop in Ananda to make candles. So I met them first, Mike in colourful baggy rags, the holes in the bum that's now so fashionable; Sue in a flowing gown; carrying pots of paint and brushes to paint their work room. "If we're going to work in it, it has got to be a nurturing environment." So Bear, with determination, and Sue Bear, with smiles, painted. Did they actually get round to making candles? I don't recall. The past is shrouded.
Steve's house. Dark room First real meeting with Bear. What Bear radiated, for me, then, was excitement. Bear thought life was for voluptuous consumption. Bear thought life should be delightful, and would be if you grabbed it and played with it. And Bear back then had a mind as sharp as a razor. No. I take that back. As a cutting tool he was woolly. What he had was fireworks. Sparks and crazy lights. Strange illuminations. Wizzbang!
Bear and I went off to talk. And meshed! He understood what I was talking about! And he had more to say on the matter. What matter? Everything!
One of the things Bear spoke of was Kingsley Hall. He had worked in R.D. Laing's famed anti-psychiatric experimental house where kooks, in principle, healed themselves through free flow. In practice it was for the most part free fall. My father rages... (Forgive these asides. My story rambles, like Bear.) My father, Robert, rages that Kingsley Hall was a dud and a fraud. They left his sister, Sarah, to suffer the whims and sins of sadists, he says. Even their one celebrated success, a lady who found herself through paint (worked her way up from shit to oils) later relapsed. "Paranoid exploiters," says Robert and "Marijuana blissed-out creeps, preyed on the crazies," daddy says.
"Hey, Bear never did that."
"Yeah, but he was too stoned to help anyone. Some crazy beat up on Sarah."
"What was Laing doing?"
"Bathing in glory."
What Bear remembered of my aunt, Sarah, and recounted in that first talk, was Sarah being upset with his treatment of his then wife, Matte, and therefore, and there's some crazy logic in it somewhere, she, Sarah, put all Matte's clothes into the bath and shat on them. "Of course it makes sense," says Bear. "She was mirroring my behaviour."
"And did that help anything?"
"We grew, we grew," says Bear.
My next vivid memory is of Bear's wedding. A different house. They moved through several squats. The first a basement ruin. Sue Bear then was great with child, so they moved on into a more settled squat, where Sue bore Bear his third son, Ardy, after R.D. Laing. To celebrate Ardy's birth they married. My vivid memory, actually, is of myself sitting under an "orange blossom" tree bearded like Alan Ginsberg. I've got a photo. That's why it stays vivid. My most vivid memory of Bear is of his indifference. He confided in me at the reception that he was dissatisfied with Sue. She wasn't into growth or changes, and sex was getting boring. He was readying to move on. She'd bear him another son, his fourth, before then. And first they moved on again together. Moved in to Joy Corbet's College Terrace commune.
Was Joy's place a commune? Moot point. Whether it was, or not, the basement apartment that the Bears moved into was self-contained. "We've got stuff to work on."
Actually, anywhere the Bears visited began to feel like a commune. Bear was no respecter of private property. Things vanished from cupboards. Bear was, however, for the most part, a great respecter of persons, and his appropriations of stuff, borrowings, rarely caused offense. At this period, though, his double standards did raise eyebrows. Joy found his use of her "commune", her space, and the privacy he demanded for the Bear's lair hypocritical. There were other contradictions. Bear gave a series of vocal classes, for non-musicians, and taught us to feel free to sing, to make noise, to vocalise. It certainly freed up my vocal chords, though they're not to this day as free as Bear's. I recall driving with him and Sue to Wales, a year later, to visit my children. In Joy's car. Out of the blue Bear would sing "Allah!" in a clear free voice. "It releases energy." Sure does. I'm still working on it, though, two decades later. (I've sort of mastered it now, decades later.)
While Bear was freeing up our vocal expression, Joy recalled bitterly how one evening he told Miranda, her twelve year old daughter, not to join in with an awful din on her recorder. "Stifled her," said Joy. "She didn't play that thing again for two years." That's almost as bad as "spoons". Am I going to tell you about spoons? I'll have to meditate on that. "Spoons" is secrets.
Bear brought me "spoons", and Bear brought me meditation. Well, he brought me Rached. Rached was middle-aged, large girthed, white haired and bearded, gay and rather camp. An actor who had some years before gone out to Egypt where he met a sheik who, as far as I can tell, shook him and in turn made him a sheik. I guess that's how it works. One sheik makes another. So now Rached was a Sufi guru. Guardian of the mysteries. Strange, though, to emerge from meditation, from listening to his "psychic" perceptions, and then to watch him bickering with his young boyfriend, Kim. To me it made him very non-threatening (the Maharishes, with their serious pomp, scare me psychically shitless). Rached, just because of his limitations, was no threat to me, and I could use him as a guru. He taught me to sit before the "Beloved". It was Bear who found Rached for us, and through this I owe Bear my introduction into meditation.
Bear, Bear, were you there when we stripped the wall paper off Rached's new house and painted and decorated the meditation room? Yes, there you are, down there with the boys, unlike Rached, who would pay for his inactivity (and his diet) soon with heart attacks. (But lives into his eighties, bless him.)
Where to next, Bear? You through several more houses, and another son, a fourth, Flame, and then parting over what issues with Sue. Into phase two.
Bear fell in love. Again and again. And when he wasn't falling in love he was womanizing. He fell in love with Sally, and that took him to London, and brings us back to R.D. Laing, to a second generation of therapeutic households. Laing had set up a Foundation, the Philadelphia Association, which outlived its best known incorporation, Kingsley Hall. It was through the Philadelphia Association that Bear met Sally. Sally ran a house for the association on a Mayfair road, Wood Green, twixt Hackney and Highgate. So Bear moved up to London, or sort of commuted between London and Brighton, between Sally and me. I often felt like his other woman. Abused like his other woman. Though there was never any hint of, you know... Just that as time went on in phase two it felt like he took me more and more for granted.
Bear went up to London town and worked as a busker, a street musician. When he could get out of bed. Bear was a flautist. But his talent was in moving people, in moving "energy". He also had a talent as a lyricist, though this was seldom exercised. He brought me a lyric for my novel, "Pipedreams".
"They say if you rub two boyscouts together
You can start a fire
Bet if we rubbed our souls together
We could get even higher."
Bear wanted to be a musician, but as a singer and as an instrumentalist he was a journeyman, and the incongruence in his aspirations led him to doubt his talents, and pulled him towards the grave.
Sally. Sally was an American heiress. Sally drove a Porsche. Not a new one. One of those old beauts. Sally's inheritance came in dribs and drabs. Large dribs and drabs, and Bear helped her spend them. On a trip to Paris, as they sat in a Boulevard Cafe drinking, drinking the day away, Sally agonized about the ruby ring heirloom her mother had given her. A mother of a stone. But Sally felt the ring had bad vibes: death was trapped in the crystal. Blood ruby. "Here, give it to me," said Bear, and he threw it in the ashtray. "Shit!" thought Bear. "The waiter will pick it up, someone will end up wearing it, and the bad karma will still be there." So he wrapped it up carefully in a serviette, and threw it in a trash can.
Bear took risks. Bear was a lover. Bear was an explosion of enthusiasms.
"Sally's bosom. I love Sally's bosom. I've never met a woman with such wonderful tits. Not that they're anything to look at, but they're so sensitive. She's so sensuous. Ecstatic tits."
That was the thing I loved most about Bear: his enthusiasm. He celebrated his friends the way he celebrated Sally's bosom (though that was the only bosom secret of Sally's that he shared with me). Trips to the Mayfair Road house were a delight. Bear lavished the attention on me that I'd craved since infancy. Bear honoured me. Every day was a party. And you, my friend, are invited.
Breakfasts at Mayfair Road were simply toast, bacon, eggs and coffee. That they were, but through Bear's life and gusto they were every day a feast. Then after breakfast there would be our constitutional walk, to the liquor store.
When I first met Bear he had been a polydrugger, not settled on any one poison, and in that somewhat protected from any particular rut. Now, however, he began to focus more and more on booze. Oh, he still did lots of smoke, and memorable mushrooms. I remember Bear "exploding" the garlic into the air into the Mayfair Road kitchen, and a night of hilarity fuelled on 'shrooms. And later, in Brighton, when speed and acid floated us to the beach, I picked up a small piece of driftwood with a delicate pink seaweed ruffled on it. Shoved my nose into it. Smelled the gentle sea. "Here. This is beautiful."
"Botticelli!" screamed Bear.
While Bear commuted between London and Brighton, Sally commuted between London and California. This made for a communications problem. And it accentuated the drinking problem too. Bear's wit addled as a drunk, and drunk he'd cringe and cry. Maudlin beseechings. He on his knees, clawing at me. "I want her! I need her! Why? Why?" Did I fail him? He was so draining. Still the spark would come back, would come through, in fits and starts. Erratic Bear. So many cautionary tales, as for instance that night when I was sharing an apartment with Steve the Creep, when I thought that Steve's estranged wife, who (he claimed) was giving him so much grief about access to his kid, when this Linda was being, it seemed, so cute, so provocative: Bear picked up a small potted cactus and lofted it across Steve's room to splatter on the wall above Steve and Linda. It seemed appropriate. Bear's accidental demolition of the kitchen later that evening seemed less apposite. And later when I found out that this was a different Linda, not Steve's "bitch" wife, the whole evening, in retrospect, lost much of its savour. Steve was tolerant, considering, but it did put a curse on that house-sharing. Still, on the information Bear had it was a creative piece of destruction.
We're walking down the street, past a men's shop. There's a snazzy jacket in the window. Bear goes in to try it on. Pouts and frowns. It isn't him. "Here, you try it on." Italian designer's menswear. Just a beach jacket, but expensive. "It looks great on you. It's yours." I glowed in this demonstration of caring.
Next day my phone bill arrived. Bear had run up five times the cost of his expensive gift phoning Sally in San Francisco. The phone company cut me off, called me in, and put me on an installment payoff plan.
I still have the jacket Bear bought me. It's rags now, but still my Linus blanket. And eventually Bear did pay the phone bill, though this waited months, awaited his return from San Francisco. Bear's first trip abroad. Oh, the stories he brought. The meeting in a San Francisco bar with the Indian."Straight spine, clean mind," he said. And the thugs who smashed Bear's hand and his lip, then stole his flute. "You won't be needing that now." Poor Bear on a roll.
The moves from house to house, woman to woman, consumed the years. In the late seventies, there's Bear back in Brighton, driving Sally's Porsche. He's arranging to ship it to her in California. How did I trust him, with no apprehension, to jaunt around with my two young kids piled in there with a bevy of his boys? Was I numb, dumb, or psychic? He crashed the Porsche, of course. No one was damaged, Just some parked car and a thousand pounds worth of Porsche repairs. And when the cops found him they didn't even notice that he was drunk. Just some merry fool.
Then in seventy-nine Bear moved to California chasing Sally. Sue Bear, an American, coincidentally also returned to California. And I, too, followed a while later, spending six months in LA with my father on my way to Canada and new careers. Bear was up in St. Helena, in the Napa Valley above San Francisco. Wine country. Sally's family mansion was there. Sally, however, checked out, off to New York, no forwarding address. Bear was living with Lucy, a dancer, who was grubbing a living as a car mechanic in St. Helena. Teresa and I drove up to see Bear there. Phase three.
Up rickety cantilevered wooden stairs in the back, back by the tall bamboo grasses, to the walled-in windowed porch adapted as kitchen. California night, St. Helena style. Endless balmy winter's evening. Where's Bear? Danny, a would-be novelist (so many of us) wanders in. "Oh, you're Bear's friend. He'll be here."
Danny's into philosophy. Danny remarks how Bear is the only person he's ever known who could just sit and sweat from frustration.
Bear is working as unskilled labour cleaning up on a house construction. I'd join him at this for a few days. Evenings he is rehearsing for a play. A small amateur local theatre group.
Bear rolls in late, elated to see us, and excited on his own account. "We put on a revue this summer. A sort of free form thing, involving the audience. Singing and dancing. It went over great." Lucy is nursing Bear's fifth son, Joshua. Bear goes to the cupboard. Pulls out Smirnoff and smoke. Old days. Trickle away. There's no room for us to sleep comfortably at Lucy's. Dan's crashing there on the sofa, and the rooms are small. Bear leads us cross town, past midnight, to Sue Bear and Marvino's cottage, to a room with two mattresses, and no light. Sue and Marvino, Ardy and Flame are driving up from Sue's mother's in Pasadena. They'll be arriving. Don't be alarmed.
My first introduction to Marvino the following morning is a fist clenched hand creeping out from under the bedding on the other mattress. It lifts tentatively into the morning light. Slowly he stretches his little finger, his ring finger. Marvino's morning exercises. Marvino is a clown. He wears a toy bird in his shapeless woollen hat, and shoes sprayed silver. All over St. Helena you'll find the silvered outlines of his feet. Marvino is a clown with a cruel wit. He puts out a newsletter. He doesn't take to me, it seems, for in his newsletter he refers to me as "the novelist's son."
Over breakfast six year old Ardy is acting up. "Eat your pancakes," scolds Marvino. "If you don't behave I'll send you over to your father's and you can have vodka for breakfast."
Bear had a staph infection on this wrist. After our week in St. Helena, when we returned to LA I developed a staph infection in the identical spot!
A few weeks later we returned to watch Bear perform. He's playing Bob Cratchett in A Christmas Carol. He's more "theatrical" than the rest of the amateur cast, but there's no great stage presence here. I sense that Bear is looking desperately, last chance, for something meaningful in his life, and I sense his disappointment.
We go out drinking after his performance, and drunk we wander home through the northern California streets. Christmas lights. And I know, and I know we had a poignant exchange, but I'd had to much drink to recall. Did he tell me he loved me? Did he thank me for loving him? Did he explain his life, or mine? Did he tell me he felt my frustration at genius not attained, his and mine? Did he berate me for some betrayal? Did he tell me about spoons? No, that was much earlier, in Brighton, and here comes the betrayal.
Spoons is our code for darkest secrets told in confidence, to be kept for ever. When Mike Bear was younger, pre-Bear, still working in advertising but shifting into hippy gear, he shared a kitchen with, among others, a woman with a two year old child. The child was quite wild, and quite a pain. One day it was banging a wooden spoon on its highchair. Mike started banging the kid on the head with the wooden spoon. Mike was horrified as he observed himself. It was this incident that told him that he needed to change.
I don't think it was spoons, or the like, that pulled Bear apart. I think it was his appreciation of fine things, and his wish to create them with talents he lacked. His talent was as a catalyst, and he had scant respect for his talent. And alcohol was easier for him than diligence or patience.
We all have our spoons. Mine include that I spill them, spill spoons, but only after years have passed, and with love.
Bear loved California. "Do you know, there's thirty-three percent spirit in Vanilla essence, and you can get it in the all night supermarket."
The last I heard of Bear he was arrested for shoplifting Vanilla essence in the Napa A & P.