copyright 2003 by Kipseeks
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My Early Influences
My parents divorced after 4 years of marriage in the early 1960's when I was about 4 years old. My mother remarried quickly with a man 20 years her senior who had three marriages and four other kids (almost all estranged) under his belt. My relationship with my father was very good, but my relationship with my stepfather was rocky. My mother's relationship with my stepfather was rocky. My real father did not remarry until after I changed custody to live with him in 1975, when I was 15. I did not have a Norman Rockwell stable-family-life.
Another major influence in my life was reading Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, in the middle 70's. I used to get stoned in my driveway late at night then read Tom Wolfe's book until early in the morning. I regretted that I had missed the 60's and glorified it as a golden age. I absorbed what I could of the feelings of the era. I believe one of my reasons for going to UC Berkeley was its reputation as a place for radicals - from the 60's.
My Introduction to Kerista
While getting my BA at UC Berkeley in Political Science, I fell in love with a professor named Karen and during my senior year in 1982 she moved into the house where I was renting a room, and then we moved in together in a house in El Cerrito. Within a year I had taken a rental room in Berkeley with an old friend, but was still sleeping at Karen's house every night and trying unconvincingly and unsuccessfully to break up with Karen. I was gardening for clients and making no money. My cousins got me an interview at Moto-X-Fox in the South Bay in the summer of 1983, but I quit after six months.
My introduction to the Kerista Commune was Bluejay Way coming into my workplace in March of 1984. I had stopped working at Moto-X-Fox around December 1983 and I took a job selling typewriters for Gordon's Office Equipment on Bancroft Way in Berkeley. At the time, Gordon's was pushing a typewriter that hooked up to a little minicomputer & display that gave you a screen for editing and a calculator-sized keypad that had all the editing commands as buttons. It was called a Lexorwriter. I never sold a single one of them. People were buying little Apple's instead of typewriters. It was hard to sell typewriters in 1984.
Way came into the store to renew Gordon's ad and she sort of homed in on me. I demo'ed the Lexorwriter for her. I remember she talked about being in a rock-n-roll commune, Joan Jett, and I remember she was wearing red tights under a black dress and at some point during the demo she grabbed the tights under her skirt and pulled them up. I heard the tights slide across her thighs and I got a little interested. I was familiar with the Utopian Classroom, as they were delivered all over the East Bay, but I had never thought much about what it was or who did it. There were several free newspapers around Berkeley, and the Utopian Classroom hadn't caught my interest. But Way did catch my interest, and I decided at some point to go to a Growth Coop in San Francisco. I was in a burned out relationship with Karen, and we weren't really talking, so I was unoccupied.
The Growth Coop
I thought about going to the Growth Coop for several weeks and then I called the number on the magazines and Fir answered the phone and was very helpful at giving me directions. I drove an old '68 VW window van into the city and followed Fir's directions to the Storefront Classroom in the Haight. There were about 20 cheap plastic overstuffed chairs in the storefront with a bunch of hippie art with various logos. Way was called when I arrived and she came down shortly with Eve and some others. I remember there were a lot of attractive women there, and (in hindsight) I remember there were pretty interested in me. But I was unaware of that at the time. The Growth Coop turned into about 20 hippie types in this storefront in all these overstuffed chairs talking about all kinds of things late into the night. It was fun and stimulating.
I started going to the Growth Coop every week and I spent a lot of time with Tye and Way, who would stay late with me - after the rest of the group broke up for the night - talking about things. I think it was those talks that seduced me into the commune. I had the hots for them, I was pretty convinced that I was having trouble with monogamy, and Kerista was sort of like being in college: lots of idealistic talk and plenty pretty girls.
I liked the Growth Coop, and I liked the women paying attention to me, and when I was transitioning out of my rental apartment, I briefly moved in with a woman who was checking out the commune named Linda B. Linda lived in the Sunset District about 10 block from the Kerista flats. Linda had some standards that I don't remember, and I think we tried to have some standards but I don't remember them.
Why I Joined
My two big problems with joining Kerista was 3 months of transitional celibacy and no drugs. I just wasn't the kind of 24 year old male that planned for 3 months of celibacy, and never getting high again. To me, celibacy and sobriety only happened by unfortunate accident, and only after great efforts of prevention had been expended. Way and Tye were talking to me about celibacy, and making pretty overt promises of great sex with lots of women after the transitional period. So I was feeling reassured about the sex. Also, I was a pothead and the commune's public standard of no drugs was discouraging. However, one night during a Growth Coop some people invited me back to one of the flats afterwards, and Azo came in with a shopping bag full of pot, and proceeded to dump the whole thing out into two large baking pans and began rolling joints in quantity, while crowds of commune people surged into the room. I started to feel that I could survive the "No Drugs" standard.
Within a few weeks of starting to live at Linda's, I was at the Growth Coop when Jud came back from a dinner with Linda and he announced that she wanted to join. Within an hour I rode the wave of enthusiasm and said I wanted to join too. Both times I joined the commune, a woman I was close to had just joined.
The First Six Months
My first kiss came from Loki Doke in the bathroom of the Church. I was first 'on' with Zia. There were nine women in the BFIC when I joined and I don't remember all that much of the first few months, except that I fucked like a bunny. I worked with Ram on the gardening business. I went to camping trips. I washed dishes and cooked food at the Flagship. I was becoming a 'pet', which was a derogatory way of saying that I was just there for the sex. As I look back, I dont think that was true, but it was hard to get centered in Kerista, and I was having trouble. One thing that happened was we got an IBM PC with a 10 MB hard disk, and we eventually hooked a used-Linotype as the backend of the IBM PC, and dumped files to be typeset. Loki was doing the commune spreadsheets in Lotus on the IBM PC, and I learned MultiMate word processing. After writing my senior thesis on an Apple II, this was the first software skills I had developing.
A 'schiz-out' was our expression for leaving the commune, as in, you had to be diagnosed as schizophrenic to decide to leave utopia. After joining, I pretty quickly fell in love with Lee, who had spent a lot of time with me, but more importantly, was a type that I easily liked, and easily became very close very fast. After 6 months or so, I was feeling strongly that I had a special relationship with Lee that wasn't duplicated with the other girls, even though I really liked all of them. When it came time for my vasectomy after 6-months in the commune, I had a complication that resulted with me laying around the Church for a few weeks, and during that time the board came out that I was suffering from 'Romance with Lee'. I acknowledged it as true, and left the commune, right before Christmas 1984.
In hindsight, I think I was pretty shocked by the vasectomy complication, as my testicles grew to the size of a softball, and turned black with blood. Also, I was just settling into the commune life, and had started to experience the stress of living communally. There was nowhere to hide, no one to trust. Everything you said, in any context, could be used against you, at any time. It was difficult to manage, and I was hitting a wall.
So I left the commune, and went to live at home with my parents for a while, then moved to Hugh's house in the Richmond.
Fortunately for me, Eve decided to leave right after I did, and after I went to Hugh's, she called me up and wanted to hang out. We talked for a while, then had sex. It was good. I liked Eve, and I needed someone to talk out the whole commune trip. I wanted to be her primary, but she was only willing for me to be a 'secondary' to her. Having a primary meant you were ineligible for the commune, because of the dreaded Romance. We had long discussions about this. I think we were both negotiating to be back in the commune, but she was negotiating harder.
During my time outside Kerista, I started working for the SFUSD in the Special Education Department as a computer person. The Special Ed Department was being run by a high school friend's father, and he gave me a break. Thank you, Mr Cooper! The SFUSD started me working on computers, as they needed a Special Education manual and they had MultiMate. So I became the multiMate expert and wrote a 300-page manual for the Special Ed Department. Eventually, this introduced me to the SFUSD Information Processing Department, where I met two men who changed my life, one brought me into the Information Processing department where I had a desk separate from Special Ed, and the second who taught me databases and programming. He was a dBase II Plus programmer, and over time we transitioned to FoxBase since Ashton-Tate was lame and you couldn't compile dBase, I eventually learned bunches about databases and management information. This turned out to be the beginning of my present career, as I am doing roughly the same thing now as I was doing in 1985, running databases and management information. I kept this job until Abacus started doing computer work in the late 80's.
Abacus was quite a ride. It started with me working for the Abacus printing department, using Macintosh PageMaker on nights and weekends, and turned into using a Windows computer to run Ventura Publisher and dumping output to Apple laser printers, starting a Fido bulletin-board system, and eventually attaining the coveted status of Director of Management Information, which meant I was networking and sysadmin'ing the accounting servers. I installed the first Appletalk network at the Flagship. I ran huge twisted-pair cables all over Stanyan And Frederick to connect our flats. I installed the first email server at Abacus, QuickMail. I maintained the various accounting servers, first on Macintosh and then UNIX. I learned many different databases, and programmed several version of accounting systems in FoxPro and DoubleHelix. I eventually learned SCO UNIX and Oracle. I learned computers at the SFUSD, but I became a computer guy at Abacus, primarily by making a lot of mistakes.
The Hetch-Hetchy Trips
If Abacus was my Work Theater, the camping trips to Hetch-Hetchy became my Play Theater. My father had goven me a love of camping, and one summer we decided to take a camping trip. I put the trip together, got all the equipment prepared and ready, and led 3 women (Tye, Way and Fir) and 1 man (Ram) walking in 6 miles across the dam and along the northside of the reservoior to a river running next to a big campground area. After the first trip, we took several more trips to the Hetch-Hetchy, including a last trip right before 1991 when we decided the time was ripe for an assault on Jud's privileged position. I loved the camping trips. Jud wasn't strong enough to make the hike, so we were absent our leader. The ladies liked to get away from Jud, too. We would spend a week in the woods, and everything made sense afterwards - at least briefly - until we got home.
The second trip was a big improvement over the first, mainly because Eve came along this time and she turned out to be highly useful in the wilderness, always pitching-in and helping to do all the manual things that need to be done. Otherwise, I was the main-man and had to do everything, often without much help from the others, especially the ladies. I believe I fully fell in love with Eve on the camping trips - because she helped me. She still pitches in and helps me, and I still love her.
A moment I will always remember is one of the last camping trips when we had Geoff B with us, and we were discussing the kibbutzim, and Geoff mentioned that they had terrible trouble with succession. The first idealistic leaders of each kibbutz would be so important to each kibbutz that they could not transition away from the leader. The second tier leaders were unable to wrest control over from the founders, and accused them of losing their idealism. It reminded me of our discussions where Jud would go crazy when we tried to exercise a little power in the commune to make things better, and I asked Geoff whether there had been any successful transitions in the kibbutz. He said No. I was shocked. The kibbutzim had failed to implement successful succession plans, in all cases? Yes, he said. Each kibbutz was slowly shrinking, losing their idealism and losing their youth. I remember thinking, 'If the kibbutzim can't do this, how can we?' and having No Answer. Geoff had no answer either, and now the kibbutzim are almost completely privatized. We failed with succession in Kerista just like Geoff said the kibbutzim had failed.
Lessons Learned - The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly
What was consistently good about Kerista was the sense of belonging. No matter how troubled the situation, no matter how urgent the fleeting emotion, the feeling of not being alone and belonging to a community is priceless and exquisite. Having someone to talk to at any time of the day or night, having someone to call when you need a hand, the canoe and camping trips, the potluck volleyballs, all gave a strong sense of YOU BELONG! And it was good.
The worst thing about Kerista was the endless nighttime gestalts, with someone ... about something. Now I see this as Jud orchestrating 'shadows-on-the-wall' to keep us mesmerized and avoiding the real inconsistencies, contradictions and untruths we lived with every day. We wouldn't rebel if we knew that ostracism was immediate and imminent. While there was a strong sense of belonging, there was never a strong sense of security. You belonged, but you could lose it at any minute for any reason. This kept us all in a state of nervous impression-management, that we called 'Utopian Psychology: Working on Yourself with Friends'.
Eventually, we did try to force Jud to live by the same standards that we all were living by, and he did refuse to agree to play-as-equals, as well as refuse to accept any moderation of his status as Prophet and head-dude, even though it would have meant more members and more financial success. In the end, Jud's ego prevented him from achieving what he ambitiously desired. Jud's most-abused standard may have been 'Renouncing Ambition'. After Jud refused to be an equal in Kerista, we dissolved up the commmune. We were too tired to keep it going. Not everyone felt that way, but enough of us did.
It is an ugly truth of Kerista that for all we talked about Equality, Shared-Leadership, Everyone-Having-One-Vote, No Special Privileges: in the end, Jud refused to accept those standards when it applied to him. All he had to do was accept the standards the way we had all accepted them, but he could not. His ambition and ego was larger than his idealism. And in the end, our frustration and exhaustion trumped our desire to be a commune.