11/23/05 from Rio K Bullet
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My Brief Encounter with Kerista
by Roger Knull
An Outsider�s Account
�You may be done with the past, but the past may not be done with you.�
Youth is a currency all it�s own. It is the means to travel and have adventures that money cannot buy. Much has changed in my life since those days. Twenty years have now gone by in the blink of an eye. Gone is my long hair, leather jackets and my progressive love of making music. It has all been replaced with career goals, meetings, equipment deadlines, and putting up with all the miserable assholes that show up here every year... all the things I swore I�d never do or put up with.
This is what it�s like to be an adult? If it is, you can have it.
When one is in their twenties, life is like a hand full of sand: hopes and dreams spill forth as if there were no tomorrow, to which there really isn�t. Not the one I wanted, anyway.
I first went to California around 1984. I traveled there with a band that had enjoyed some minor success in Boulder, and now we went forth to make the big time. It was a disaster. I could write an entire book on What Can Go Wrong When You Decide to Waste Your Life in the Music Business, but that isn�t the idea.
As far as the band was concerned, it is enough to say that after all involved abandoned the project, I was left alone.
To proud to go home, I considered my options: I had no money, no job, and no friends. After fleeing an apartment that had three months rent due, I lived in my Dodge van behind a Denny�s. I found sporadic work through a temp agency up the street, and I spent my days sitting at the far end of the counter drinking coffee and waiting for the pay phone to ring. When I did manage to get paid, I went to the movies and some nightclubs. I even managed to get laid once. Man, you should have seen the look on her face when she found out I was a temp worker scraping paint off windows with a razor blade for five bucks an hour, living in a truck.
Anyway, I let another year slipped by and it was time to do something, anything. My bohemian living was turning into a lifestyle. I saved up a small bankroll and drove north to San Francisco. I had no idea how how I was going to proceed once I got there. But I was too excited to worry about the details. Driving across the Bay Bridge for the first time was an awesome experience. What a sight. The energy of it overwhelmed me. Things happen here, I thought.
Life wasn�t any easier there than it had been anywhere else. I still didn�t really know anybody and my money dwindled fast. I ended up parking down on Jefferson Avenue (better known as Fisherman�s Warf), and played out on the street. I made maybe 15 to 30 dollars a day, and it was enough at the time to get by. At night I curled up on a piece of lawn furniture in the van and read old paperbacks by candle light.
Eventually, I met and networked with other musicians. Within another year, I had built up some respectable gigs and found work as a maintenance man at a hotel in North Beach. It was called the Golden Eagle, but it might as well been called the Big Shit Hole, but it didn�t matter. I was doing what I wanted and had a real roof over my head. Not to mention, the place was full of interesting characters, most of them not too dangerous.
One of the residents was a whore named Charlie. What a riot she was. None of the hotel rooms had private baths. Charlie would go around to the hallway toilets at the top of the stairway on every floor and bang on the doors and say, �Hey baby, I�ll give you a blow job for five bucks. C�mon, Baby! I just need five bucks for a rock.� Somehow, no matter what throne I happened to be seated upon, she never knocked on my stall door. Perhaps she sensed just how repulsive I thought she was, and would never agree to any kind of business transaction. The rent for a room at the Golden Eagle was $100 a week. Every Friday Charlie would show up at the front desk to pay her rent, in cash. If one might consider her expenses (rent/crack/occasional food), it is reasonable to assume Charlie sucked an average of sixty to one hundred cocks a week, five bucks a pop.
The really sad thing is, just from looking at her, you could tell she had been pretty once. Maybe even beautiful. What happens in a young girl�s life to reduce her to fillatiating men while they take a shit on public toilets? Maybe she could explain it to me, but that was twenty years ago. I doubt she�s around anymore.
One day I was walking past Washington Sq. Park. Like all big cities, there are loads of alternate and underground publications in the form of newspapers, most of them free of charge. I bent to look in the windows of the metal boxes on the sidewalk to see if there was anything I might like. One had an intriguing title: RockHead. I took it back to my hotel room and read it.
The paper was published independently by an organization known as the Kerista Commune, a self-proclaimed band of progressive thinkers who lived communally and had their own unique ideas on sex and relationships in general. The paper espoused much of their philosophies and also devoted a great deal of print, praising local artists and musicians.
There was an ad on the back page. It featured a photograph of two longhaired figures looking lovingly back at the camera. In large letters, the copy read �Just because you�re a hippie doesn�t mean you can�t change the world.� Or something like that. Anyway, I was intrigued.
I fancied myself something of a writer in those days, and I had an ancient LC Smith Brothers manual typewriter that must have weighed 20 pounds. It clattered very loudly, and my neighbor, Richard, would bang on the walls when ever I was working on something. I banged out a letter to the Kerista Commune congratulating them on their progressive thoughts and ideas (as if I knew what I was talking about), and included a twenty dollar donation to The Cause. After that, I forgot all about it.
I must have been convincing. A week later, I received a letter at the hotel. It was from the commune. A woman named Gem, who seemed very nice, wrote it. She said they were all very thankful for the letter and donation, and were extending an invitation to a picnic they were having in the park, next week.
The place was somewhere off Lincoln Street, a good distance from North Beach. I walked the whole way to get there (my van was long gone, stranded with a bad transmission and expired out-of-state plates, the police confiscated it shortly). There were maybe 30 to 40 people there. They were playing frizbee, baseball, beating drums and having a BBQ. Some sat in a great circle, talking and laughing.
I can�t remember the name of the first Keristan I met, but she had pretty eyes and really bad hair extensions. She introduced me to two other women, Way and Lee. These women were obviously two of the brightest lights in their community, their intelligence and physical beauty somewhat overwhelming. Way was a spunky Jewish girl with a ten-thousand-watt smile and an energy that could drive a battleship. Lee, On the other hand, was a little more reserved, but outgoing. A classic Swedish beauty with long straight blonde hair and beautiful brown eyes. Any man would have fallen for her. They in turn introduced me to Eve, an attractive but very puzzled and detached looking girl who seemed to be in some kind of a trance. I would find out later she was actually a highly evolved being. Because of her creativity, Eve was just on an orbit a little further out than the rest of us. At the time I surmised she was just plain strange.
My attention turned to the big circle. At it�s center was a very large older man. He had a long gray flowing mane and beard and could have passed for Moses in any theatrical production. He seemed to move and speak in a slow and deliberate way as if to communicate every move he made in crystal clear fashion. As I observed him from several yards away, he turned and we locked eyes for a moment. His demeanor changed suddenly, looking at me as if I was some kind of lone wolf out to take down one of his sheep. His name was Jud, and in time I would get to know him more than I ever wanted.
The afternoon went pleasantly. As I walked around, I found somebody I knew. His name was Dave Ridgemont, a guy I had played several gigs with over the last year. Dave was a little weird. He was thirty years old. In his apartment, he had every available space on the walls covered with photos of Tiffany, torn from magazines. Rather than mingling, Dave sat at a picnic table far from the crowd, brooding. I went over to him.
�Dave! How are you doing? What are you doing here? I said.
He grimaced. �Man,� he says, �You know what this whole thing is?� He asked.
�What do you mean?�
�This whole thing,� he said, sweeping his hand across the scene in the park, �This whole thing is... bullshit.�
I wondered what had happened. Everybody there had been pretty nice to me, anyway. He got up from the table and walked off into the trees. He didn�t come back.
My life, up to this point, was relatively good. I was employed at the hotel by day, and at night I pursued my budding career as a semi-professional. North Beach had a great blues and jazz scene, and I was having the time of my life.
I picked up gigs with some great players. People like Johnny Nitro, Big Bones, Cathy Lemons, Lisa Kindred, Johnny Ace, Alligator, Boz Skaggs, The Judy Hall Quartet, Chico David, and the late great Stu Blank. Twenty years later I found out Stu died of skin cancer.
My time was divided between work, play, and the pursuit of women. Well, girls really. Sometimes I think that that was the only reason I was there. A young, unattached and beautiful girl was a thing of magical proportions. For a time, it was the ultimate reward. Now in my middle age, I find them something to be feared and avoided. I know why that is, but I won�t reveal that here. It is somewhat incriminating to my character as a human being. That or maybe I just grew up. I don�t know.
And there were the Keristans. I would drift in and out of their circle several times over the next two years, and not always with good results.
The Keristans, in the early days, were able to fund their activities through their own businesses. Originally cleaning houses for a living, they had evolved into one of the biggest Mac re-sellers in the Bay Area. This proved to be quite profitable, and they now had enough money to expand their philosophies as well as their business interests. This is the time period in which I had come along.
Over time, Way would prove to be my best friend in their inner circle. She seemed to always listen to me more than the rest. She was always concerned with my welfare. My friendship with her would end up costing me, and her as well. But I welcomed her late-night telephone calls and the talks we had.
I myself, would never become a member. Jud had seen to that. I wouldn�t have liked it anyway. There were some women I didn�t find very attractive in that commune, and I wasn�t going to sleep with them.
I can still remember how Jud once scowled at me and said in his darkest tone, �Rio, I have a very serious grope to make against you: I don�t believe you will ever be happy on this scene or any other for that matter.� I wanted to say something like, �You know what, you sure wouldn't be happy about it�, but of course, I said nothing. I never would have thought I could be so easily intimidated. That was Jud. A Goddamned master hypnotist with an agenda.
Every Tuesday night or whatever, they met in a large room in one of their houses up in the Haight. I was invited to these meetings where I was asked all kinds of questions. I found it all very flattering. Aside from playing the drums, nobody before this had ever cared what I thought about. Little did I know at the time that this was just one of Jud�s delegated techniques for determining �who is this guy?� and �can we use him?�.
We sat on comfortable chairs and couches with the lights down low and spoke of all kinds of things. Then Jud would take his turn. I found him predatory and oppressive. He was also brilliant, which in turn meant he could be potentially dangerous. Anytime he looked my way or spoke, the proverbial hairs stood up on the back of my neck. His role wasn�t to make nice. His role was to identify and destroy.
Though I had made several friends in their community, I found their philosophies evolved and elaborate, but their techniques transparent and hypocritical. It was kind of like spending time with a Jesus freak who�s a burn-out. The guy�s dug himself in so deep, he doesn�t know how to talk about anything else. And Jud, their founding father, was at the forefront. Aside from Jud, I sense this wasn�t always so. I think this was due to the fact that their world was changing. Because of their success in the business world, gone were the days of humble living and wearing robes and loving one another unconditionally. The Money was changing everything and everyone in it.
The best example of this was the structure of their BFIC system. As I understood it, all of the families had a constitutional right to equality and freedom. What I saw was a caste system, the Purple Submarine being at the top of the food chain. No big deal, the best and the brightest always enjoy the Lion�s Share, it was just that everybody acted as if that wasn�t the way it was. That, and Jud using his position as founder to manipulate, even though he outwardly didn�t do much of anything. He sure as hell didn�t 9-to-5 it like everybody else. He only seemed to come out at night and bully the masses.
The whole idea of it was like an eight hundred-pound gorilla walking around the room. Everybody knew it was there, but no one would speak of it, and if you did, you could have your ass handed to you. All of those insights are only in retrospect now: In some ways at the time, I was just a nervous kid trying to make friends and say all the right things.
At one point, I was ex-communicated. I believe my violation was Speaking My Mind in all the Wrong Places, but I don�t remember exactly. I was told that my punishment would be having no contact with any of the Keristans for three months. It dinged my ego a bit, but nothing I wouldn�t survive. I had cultivated another world that I already existed in (unlike the others I had come to know), and I still had a sense of purpose.
After only a week, I got a phone call-- it was Way.
�I thought we weren't allowed to speak until Christmas.� I said.
�You know, we all talked about it, and you were so good about the whole situation, we considered it a mensh (sic?).�
There was one inter-action with the commune I did really enjoy. Music. Every couple of weeks we�d all get together and play. The name of their house band was Sex Cult. Their songs were a little raw and totally punk, but the energy was refreshing. I think the thing that made it most enjoyable was the fact that Jud was never around. He had no interest in it. As a result, all of the Keristans that I knew were more relaxed, more free with their opinions.
Eventually, Way offered me a job in their company. I would be a secretary/assistant in their main sales office. The job paid $9 an hour, which beat the hell out of cleaning toilets and picking up hypodermic needles at the hotel, so I accepted.
What a mistake.
From day one, something was wrong. Most of the employees were non-members or referred to as �The Outer Circle� or �Friends of Kerista�. Almost everyone there acted afraid of me. Or were openly hostile, including their top saleswoman, Dairy Layles, and the office manager, Mallory Shittenbat. Things got so bad for me there that I often rode the bus to work in the morning with a stomachache. But I needed the job. I wasn�t able to quit just then.
There was a bar in SoMa known as the Hotel Utah. Many of the employees liked to hang there on Friday nights after work. I would usually go, too (not everyone hated me). One night, sitting at the crude wooden tables in the Hotel Utah, a fellow employee, Cheryl Sleimnitz, sat glaring at me. I didn�t know her very well. She was drunk. It went on for a few more minutes, then I finally spoke.
�Jesus, Cheryl. What is your problem?� I asked.
�It�s true, isn�t it?� she said.
�Is what true?� I was annoyed. This wasn�t going to be good.
�You only got the secretary�s job because you�re fucking the vice president.� she sneered.
�You mean Way? That isn�t true. Way�s a friend, that�s all.� I almost laughed.
�Oh, everybody is well aware of how good a friend she is of yours!�
I left and walked home. I wanted to throw a pitcher of beer on Cheryl, but didn�t. Her angry revelation pretty much explained everything. The whole Goddamned operation was just another sub-culture within a sub-culture, complete with rife and all the same politics. Many of the employees were simply wanna-bees who competed with one-another to stay in good graces with the Keristans, and they considered me to be a threat because of this long-rumored tie to Way. What a bunch of assholes. I never slept with Way. Not that I wouldn�t have minded, but that isn�t the point: It never happened.
Within a few weeks, I was transferred to work in building maintenance under Phil Dikinhanze, a full Kerista member. Relations had become so strained with Mallory, it was that or nothing. I should have known I was in trouble: my first day on the job, Mallory found it necessary to explain to me that she was both black AND a woman. What? I don�t have eyes? What a cunt.
Good ol�e Phil turned out to be the most miserable experience of all. He was a clown. A big, fat, arrogant dork who walked around with a swagger and an attitude. A real sweetheart. Phil belonged to one of the lower caste BFICs, and he didn�t like it. He had no real say in anything, and he knew it. A cheap Jud-clone. Beating up on me gave him something to do.
Once we went together to one of their warehouses to organize it�s contents. In one large room, there was scattered about hundreds of copies of the newspapers they published, all back issues. The Node, Utopian Eyes, RockHead, you name it. Phil wanted me to organize them into piles. It looked impossible. But I got busy anyway. I first separated them by title, than years, than months, than issues. I had been at it maybe an hour when I heard Phil coming up behind me. Already I could sense his anger.
�WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU�RE DOING IT ALL WRONG THAT ISN�T THE WAY YOU�RE SUPPOSED TO BE DOING IT!�
I threw down a pile of papers, �Why the fuck are you yelling at me?�
�BECAUSE YOU�RE NOT DOING WHAT I SAY!!! YOU�RE NOT DOING WHAT I SAY AT ALL!
This illustrates another small ongoing problem I had with the Keristans: A few select individuals of that group (far from all, just a few) had no problem justifying the expression of anger towards my person, but if I in turn expressed anger in return, here would come Brother Jud, insulting my intelligence by implying anger was some kind of hideous character flaw, as if such things were only expressed by the mentally weak and retarded, and I would be tossed into yet another abusive gestalt session.
Possibly that rumor about me and Way had circulated through the inner circle as well. I lasted maybe a couple more weeks, than I quit. Or was let go, I don�t remember.
After that, my contact with the commune was minimal. I would bump into a few of them here and there, sharing a bit of small talk, and I would still get an occasional call from Way, wondering how I was doing.
My own life was changing. Seven or eight years had now passed since I first came across The Bridge. A career in music wasn�t nearly exciting now as it once was. I started out as a serious musician masquerading as a drug addict, and ended up the reverse. It was time to move on and start over.
Little bits of information came my way. Jud was eventually ex-communicated. The company had been sold. Kerista was disbanded. Lee married some writer. I tried to track down Keg a few years ago, but he had disappeared. I did run into another ex-Keristan up in North Beach who�s name I can�t remember. He was a smaller guy with a wilted arm. He showed me a pamphlet he had designed. It advertised another commune he wanted to start up. I laughed.
�You haven�t learned anything, have you?� I said.
�No, no!,� He insisted. �This one can work!�
Shortly before any of this had taken place, I went to one last party they threw up in The Haight. It was a warm summer night. I wandered about drinking beer, chatting. It was in a large house, and many people were there. Music pulsed and people danced. Way suddenly appeared and took my arm.
�Come with me. Let�s talk.�
We secluded ourselves in her bedroom, shutting the door to the noise and music outside. We spent the next hour talking of many things. It was one of those special talks, the kind that don�t come along very often.
�If I�m so special to eight different people, than I�m special to no one� She said. She didn�t seem particularly sad about it. She spoke of it more like a traveler who has come to the end of a very long road.
Q. -How do you get to know what a Keristan really thinks?
A. -Get them away from other Keristans.
Around midnight, we said goodbye. I didn�t know it at the time, but I wouldn�t speak with her again for a very long time. The party no longer interested me, so I set out to go home. I lit a cigarette out on the street and then pissed on a neighbor�s bushes. I paused for a moment, trying to see what the future might hold. I received no insight. Even today, I end up in situations with responsibilities involving people I never planned on. I have no plan. I do not know the future. The lights and noise of the party faded away as I walked, disappearing into the night.
Something else. I was watching a music documentary on cable the other night. Part of it featured an interview with Joan Jett, the once adopted Matron Saint of Kerista.
She shaves her head now.
November 23, 2005