Thin he was, as it turned out, though no taller than myself. He’d started an art gallery in a warehouse cum arty-mall, and he needed a bookkeeper. Somehow he felt that Simple Simon was the guy.
He hired me. I grew to enjoy him tremendously as a friend, perhaps partly because he was as strange as the artwork.
He only sold art of the “Fantastic, Surreal, and Visionary” type.
It was wonderful stuff. To this day, I own an Arthur Bell painting called “Little Red House over Yonder.” (Bell’s work has been featured in Heavy Metal magazine, or as the French say, le magazine Metal Hurlant.)
I also have two Schroeder lithographs, one of a Lion with paw raised in greeting, and one called Tiger Ship featuring a tiger face in the sky with eyes of crescent moons above a ship sailing a black night sea, all with a border of oroboros clasping his tail.
I like these things. There is something both wonderous and somehow disturbing about them, and the fact is, in artwork that’s something I like a lot. Or rather, perhaps I should say I don’t know what I like, but I do know Art, having hung out so long together.
Alas! Will Stone, of the Will Stone Collection, was never satisfied with my bookkeeping work, and somehow it always led to my charging him less. After a while I began to see a pattern there. These days, I’ve come to believe this may be a pattern of guys from New York, because when I listen to Michael Savage on the evening radio, darned if he doesn’t sound like Will Stone!
So this one late afternoon Will and I were going to dinner. There was a humble place south of market called Communion. For $1.99 you could eat dinner there. It was always brown rice, indian vegetable dishes, and warm fresh pan (bread), served with lhassi (yogurt drink) and tea.
The only catch was that nobody was allowed to speak at Communion restaurant.
It was some sort of commune. These abounded at the time. Once, a commune that ran another restaurant off Mission Street wanted to hire Simple Simon to fix up their books, but they wanted to pay me with marijuana, because apparently their restaurant was really a front for a pot-growing business. I passed on that one.
I guess these things were not so rare at that time. My first bookkeeping client, Phil Groves (Raskin-Flakkers Ice Cream Store), had moved to a nice second-floor apartment out in the Richmond district, way out by Mamounia restaurant. One morning Phil came downstairs to find cop cars surrounding the place. The business downstairs, named “Grandad’s Original Sourdough”, turned out to be a cocaine-smuggling operation. They shipped the cocaine in plastic bags stuck down inside cans of sourdough starter. Hah! San Francisco sourdough!
But getting back to Communion restaurant. This was a really swell restaurant, except that you couldn’t talk. I enjoyed Will’s company, but as he talked incessantly, having a break over dinner wasn’t so bad, and since he said he liked the place, that’s where we went.
The first half of the dinner went fine.
The problem was when the lady came in with a child. They sat at a table across the room, and then the child began to fuss. Will glared. The child fussed. Will glared at the woman. The woman didn’t notice. Will glared at the child. The child fussed some more.
Therefore, there in the non-speaking restaurant, Will walked over to their table and said sternly, “Lady, this is a non-speaking restaurant. Please make your child be quiet.”
When he came back to our table, he clearly felt righteous, but I was embarassed as hell that he’d broken the Rule of Communion Restaurant! Even the virtuous fact that I was the only one who had not spoken failed to cheer me.
The pattern repeated. In North Beach, he was the only person I’ve ever known to send a dish back to the kitchen twice. Another time, when we went to brunch downtown, he wore a bathrobe, pretending it was a dinner jacket, and then gave the cook hell over a bagel. Slowly it became clear that he was always dissatisfied at restaurants just as he was always dissatisfied with my bookkeeping. It bugged me.
So finally, when I saw this clearly, that he would never be satisfied with any provider, I resigned as his bookkeeper, and just enjoyed being a friend.
But, somehow, we never went out to dinner any more.