I took the messages that came in for my clients, and then they called me to pick up those messages. It was natural that we got to talking. And quite a few of them were friends, out there in the world.
Hokum W. Jeebes, for example, juggled on the street and occasionally at the Bohemian Club. He knew Lennie Sloan, the dancer, who produced “Three Black and Three White New Minstrel Show.” Lennie knew Doug McKechnie, who once played Moog synthesizer number three. And Doug knew Harvey Warnke, a self-taught electronics whiz who built computer-controlled light shows.
So when someone mentioned the benefit for Doug McKechnie, to be held at the Intersection Coffee House, on Pacific above North Beach, somehow I got invited.
And I went.
The show was a blast, featuring a film Doug had done for NASA, with a far-out soundtrack. Hokum juggled, and Harvey was operating the lights. The others were my clients, but I was meeting Harvey for the first time.
And that reminded me of a project, so I made an appointment for Harvey to visit at the studio apartment where I answered the phones. I’d envisioned a gadget that would answer the phoneline and make a sparkling sound. Then, after a delay, it would connect through to me. This way, clients could set their call-forwarding easily but I’d not be burdened with taking those calls. I described it, and Harvey sat in my bentwood rocker, with his finger to his temple, nodding sagely. Yep, he said, he could do that.
We never did the project, but we did become friends. I learned that Harvey had no memory of anything in his life before the age of twelve. And as a teen out of high school, he’d taken a job at the planetarium, and learned to repair and modify the machines that moved the stars across the heavens.
From there, he’d learned to read data sheets. A data sheet is kind of like a cheat sheet for a computer chip. A data sheet will describe how many pins you’ll find around the edge of the chip, and if you put a signal on this one and that one then this other one will show a signal … or some other complicated arrangement. You don’t have to know what’s going on inside the chip. The chip is just a black box, and the data sheet tells you how to hook it up. Your computer is filled with such chips, and somewhere there is a data sheet for every one of them.
From reading data sheets, he learned how to control lights with relays and circuits, and that’s how he came to design the light shows for the loud-music clubs over on Haight Street. When I met him, he was casting about for new projects.
And about then he met Lin, a dancer and conceptual artist. I didn’t know what that meant, but when I visited their apartment I found photos of Lin dancing, except that there was no light except the blue laser that painted her body as she danced. Huh! So that was what a conceptual artist was, I thought.
I remember a photo, included with their wedding invitation. It showed the two of them, climbing on some rocks, and they looked so young, so alive, so happy.
By then, I’d found my Lori, and we were getting married too. I guess it was in the air or in the water.
Projects and dinners came and went. Harvey made frames for Lin’s canvasses for a show. The canvasses showed invisible women wearing bikinis in colorful beach settings, and the frames were made of plastic pipe. They were a creative couple, and so many nights, sharing dreams, laughing, roaring with enthusiasm, so fun!
Harvey and I exchanged a project. He designed the relays and sensors for my “Line Seizer” device for my answering service. In turn, I wrote the software that drove his “Counter Intelligence” device, which was a clever add-on for movie film editing machines. You just stuck a colored wheel on one of the shafts, and an infrared beam bounced off the wheel to a receiver, and the thing would calculate how many feet and frames of film had moved beneath the editing head. A great boon for the cutting room floor, I think. But the marketing didn’t work and that was the end of the company.
At that same time, Harvey and Lin were trying to purchase the condominium they occupied in North Beach, but it all bogged down, and they moved away from San Francisco, down to the Hollywood area, where Harvey worked for the movies. If you saw the movie “War Games”, in the final scene where the large screens in the war room are showing the missles, then you saw Harvey’s work. He made those big screens.
Somehow, Harvey and Lin came to a parting of the ways. I don’t know much about it, though there was much sturm und drang in the air. By then, they had a son, whom Harvey loved, a lot.
So the youngster spent years growing up, sometimes with Lin, and sometimes with Harvey. Harvey continued attempting to resurrect the Counter Intelligence device. Lin went on to expand her art, and I learned of her only now and then, in the newspapers.
Sometime after my own marriage was fried, Harvey told me about a woman named Beatrice. I met her and I liked her, and she had a young son who became a friend for Harvey’s son, growing up. Harvey’s business teetered and tottered, but then he contracted a heart ailment. He invited me to a dinner, and seated at the counter, awaiting a table, he told me what the doctor had said; it wasn’t good.
He was smoking a cigar. I asked if it was wise. He said that it wasn’t going to make any difference in this case. “I’ve learned that my life,” he said, “my life is going to be very different than I’d expected.”
In short, unless a heart donor appeared — and Harvey was very low on the list — then Harvey could expect his own heart to fail, utterly and soon. It was not cholesterol or any of that, but another malady entirely. His heart was enlarged, and weakening.
Harvey’s office was locked up for back rent, and all his circuit diagrams thrown away as trash. Harvey moved in with a friend, a fellow who does soundtracks for movies, and spent his last days living there. One day, visiting at Bee’s house while she was out of town, his heart stopped, and he was with us no more.
Bee called me, and told me about the service.
“God***m it!” I cried out.
The service was on a remote beach which was very difficult to find. The soundtrack wizard was there, and other folks I didn’t know. There was some sort of a service, and then a lady let loose a cage of doves.
With a rustle and soft explosion of wings they wheeled and rose. One made a beeline for the horizon, out beyond the point, with the ocean far below. The others circled upward and became orderly, wheeled and turned to the north, and flew out of sight beyond the woods.
In the far distance, I watched the lone dove flying until it became a dark point, and then vanished into the blue.