4.10.05

Andreas

For some reason I've been thinking lately of Andreas St. Jean, a guy I knew briefly in San Francisco quarter of a century ago now. Andreas was Chilean, a small red-haired man with pale skin and an unquenchable anger at what had been done to his country. That he had ended up living in the nation whose government had destroyed his was an irony which would not let him rest, not ever, not once. The assassination of his former commanding officer during the the time of his military service, Orlando Letelier, blown apart in Washington DC in 1976 by agents of Pinochet's junta with the collusion of the US authorities, was likewise a constant goad to him. But he had more pressing problems of his own. He was himself a fugitive from justice, as they say. Andreas and his girlfriend, Marsha, a very beautiful woman whose father was the Guatemalan ambassador, had been hanging out one day in the house they lived in then over, I think, in the Avenues, when a drunken sailor stopped at their window. This guy lingered, wanting a smoke, offering them speed, trying to join them. He wasn't welcome, especially when he started hitting on Marsha. Andreas warned him off but he took no notice. He was given a second warning, also unheeded. Andreas went to the kitchen and came back with a knife, with which he widened the smile of the sailor. Widening the smile, Andreas explained, is a ritual punishment in his culture for the type of harrassment the guy was guilty of. It involves cutting the skin at either corner of the mouth, just where top and bottom lip meet. Well. They had to leave that place in a hurry, going to live with some Israelis in another part of town and then, later, moving into the flat where we lived, above a Chinese laundry at Greenwich and Gough, just a couple of blocks from Highway 101 where Van Ness Avenue turns into Lombard Street on the approaches to the Golden Gate bridge. At the time Andreas was working as a cook at a restaurant in Union Street which specialised in omelettes and was assiduous, even passionate, in his desire to master the technique of making them. He didn't let on right away the trouble he was in, waiting, I guess, until he knew me better. What had happened was that the sailor had an influential family, including an older brother in the military, and they were determined to hunt Andreas down and get their revenge. There was a warrant out for his arrest, the charge, which amused him, was mayhem. He'd been eluding capture, as he saw it, for about nine months and that amused him too. His political anger was somehow fused with his personal predicament and he clearly felt no guilt about the 'crime' he'd committed, not so much because the guy was connected to the US military as because he got what he deserved. Incidentally, Andreas and Marsha were not only very much in love, they were also one of those couples who seem absolutely right together. We were a rock 'n' roll band, gigging around the Bay Area, hanging on by the skin of our teeth, illegal in that we had already overstayed the three month tourist visas with which we'd entered the States and also working without Green Cards. It was a strange time, the Jonestown Massacre had just happened, not long after the murders of George Moscone and Harvey Milk would occurr. Every time we went down to the Fillmore where the other half of the band lived in a big old mansion on Steiner Street where various alternative therapies flourished, we passed by the People's Temple compound and saw piled up there the sea containers full of the dead pilgrims' personal belongings. One place we played regularly was the Miramar Beach Inn, south of the city on the coast, a lovely room looking out over the ocean where, I don't know, the punters liked us and we liked them. One night Andreas and Marsha came down there with us, as they sometimes did. It was a good gig and we were happy as we drove back to town in the wee small hours; we had an old Buick station wagon and a small white van for the gear. Our habit was to go in convoy to the Steiner Centre in the Fillmore to unload before heading home. We were bumping the black boxes into the basement when the cops pulled up. This wasn't unusual, we were always having to deal with them for some reason or other and usually managed to avoid trouble simply because a bunch of Kiwi musicians seemed so improbable, even exotic, even to cops. Andreas and Marsha were asleep in the back of the van, maybe they'd had a bit to drink, maybe they were just tired, but when one of the cops shone a high-powered torch in Andreas' face and asked him who he was, he told them. It was startling how quickly they came up with the information that he was a wanted man, distressing to see him manacled and hauled away, horrible to witness the cops' gleeful brutality ... needless to say, once they'd fixed on Andreas they altogether lost interest in us. He got two years. I visited him in the city jail, where he was awaiting trial, before we left SF for NY, we talked on telephones through a smeared plastic screen; a year or so later, when we were back in LA and about to return to NZ, I called him up and learned that he'd been released after serving just nine months of the sentence. It was a strange conversation, there was no ease or lightness in it as there had always been between us before; Andreas seemed dulled, perhaps diminished, by his experience in jail, which he did not want to talk about at all. It might be too much to say that his spirit was broken, it might just have been the exigencies of a long distance call between two people who, after all, did not know each other all that well ... I don't know. But, when Harry Lyon, one of the songwriters in another band I was connected with, entirely coincidentally, came up with a tune called Allende ... Thanks very much I don't like to cha cha/That old Latin beat you know it's bad for my feet/I don't like to tango/I don't want to hang though ... I could never hear the chorus, which consisted solely of a wild yearning cry of the dead leader's name, without thinking of Andreas; but I have never had any further news of him from that day to this.

6 comments:

Okir said...

That's a great story. Really. Were you referring to the haunted Miramar Inn, at Moss Beach (near Half Moon Bay)?

It's famous nowadays for its ghosts, and has been featured on a TV show.

Martin Edmond said...

Could have been - it was about an hour's drive south of SF. I only ever went there at night, the room stood alone up on the dunes of the beach, there was a highway in front? or behind?, you could stand out front & get this illusion that the cars were sliding by in the surf. They always fed the band, this great French Onion soup & served a very nice red as their house wine. A beautiful wooden dance floor. Usually someone out back with a joint. Wouldn't be surprised if it was haunted - a little bit of us might still be there ... singing Doctor Sanctify ...

Okir said...

Actually, looks like I was mixing that up with the haunted Moss Beach Distillery -- Nice webcam view from its restaurant, here: http://www.explorehalfmoonbay.com/moss_beach_lo.html

I think the two places are fairly close together.

The Coast Hwy. 1, which I drive all the time, has many ghosts.

Martin Edmond said...

yes, it was on Highway 1. see on the web there's still a gig at a Miramar Beach Inn but doesn't say where exactly it is. Along with another room called the San Gregorio Store ... might be still going!

http://coastsider.com/calendar/month.php?cal=Entertainment&getdate=20050701

Okir said...

You played at the San Gregorio General Store? That gig is still going strong! And so is the store. A favorite place for me to stop and pick up brownies on the way to SF.

(No not THOSE brownies) ; )) Last time I had one of those, I lost a big chunk of time. Never do that again.

Martin Edmond said...

no, we never played there ... I just saw it on a gig guide along with the Miramar Beach Inn & thought it might be nearby ....