Milton and I lived together breifly at 525 Haight but wanted a bigger place now that there were two of us and we started looking for another apartment. We walked around the neighborhood looking for signs that said “For Rent” in windows as that was the best way to find a place in San Francisco. We were walking up Waller Street when we saw a door was open and someone was shampooing a carpet in an apartment that looked empty. There was no “For Rent” sign but we asked the guy that was working in the place if it was for rent and as it turned out it was. He let us come in and take a look and we immediately fell in love with the size of the place for the bargain price of $505. Soon we were living at 465 Waller Street, between Fillmore and Steiner.
We lived at 465 Waller for about 12 years. During that period the neighborhood transitioned into a somewhat alternative neighborhood. New businesses moved in and you saw more young twenty-somethings with tattoos and piercings. There was a biker bar on one side of the street at the corner of Fillmore and Waller and at 2am every morning the neighborhood was awakened by the roar or Harley motorcycles. Across the street from that was one of the best Tai restaurants in The City.
Waller Street was a typical San Francisco flat. There was a flat below us and a flat above us. When you came up the front steps, you came to three doors. Ours was the center door. When you entered the flat, you walked up a flight of stairs and at the top of the stairs was a long hallway. At the front end of the hallwa, overlooking Waller street was a bedroom. To the right of that room when facing it’s doorway was the living room. The fireplace was no longer operational but it had a nice mantel with a mirror. The living room was divided from a parlor by sliding wood pocket doors. The palor also had it’s own door from the hallway as well.
Further toward the back of the flat was a doorway to the bathroom with a tub and sink and then a powder room with just a toilet. At the back end of the hallway was the kitchen and to the left of that, facing the kitchen, was the dining room. We closed off the doorway between the kitchen and dining room and made the dining room into a bedroom as it was large and quieter as it was furthest from the street.
Behnd the kitchen was a small back porch and we would eventually put a washing machine out there and also use it for storage. The kitchen had a large pantry but not many cabinets. The floor of the kitchen was linoleum but the rest of the flat had some decent carpet. Over the twelve years we were there, the landlord should have replaced the carpet but he never did and never did any maintenance he didn’t absolutely have to do.
The woman that lived upstairs from us was a hold over from the hippie era and had a man living with her but it was always obvious from the loud fights they had it was her place and she was in control. There is not a lot of insulation or sound proofing in some of these old San Francisco buildings and you can definately hear loud arguments or loud music from people that are too self absorbed to be considerate of others. When our neighbors were inebriated, which they often were down through the years we lived there, we could hear all their issues.
The people below us came and went and I don’t remember ever hearing much from them. There was another building with flats next door to us and our dining room/bedroom windo looked out into a lightwell that was shared by one of their windows. A black family lived there that we really never got to know in the years we lived there although we could occasionally hear them. There was a woman that lived there that would sometimes sing opera in an incredible voice. I don’t know if she was a professional opera singer or not. I think that it was the first Christmas we were there that we heard that all their Christmas presents got stolen. I can’t remember how it was that we would have come to know this but maybe one of them asked if we had seen anything.
Across the street from us lived some ner-do-wells that obviously drank quite a bit and were probably doing other substances as well. There was much coming and going of urban black men, and large black women that didn’t seem to care much about how they looked. There was a lot of yelling over there and we would look out our front windows to see what was going on. I remeber calling the police once when I saw toddlers in diapers crying out on the steps in the middle of the night with no adult supervision.
I am not sure if it were these particular people that did it but I always suspected them of being the ones that dropped firecrackers through our mail slot around the fourth of July that first year we lived there. It was late in the evening and we were relaxing in the living room of our new flat, watching t.v. when we hear some noice out in the hallway that sounded like someone was coming through our front door downstairs. Then we started hearing loud pops like gunfire and we thought someone was actually coming up the steps shooting guns. We quickly locked the ourselves in the living room and with adrenaline pumping and fingers shaking, I called 911.
The popping of what sounded like gunfire ceased as soon as I had finished calling 911 and we stepped out into the hallways and could smell gunpowder but when we looked downstairs, we saw that the smell was coming from a pack of firecrackers rather than guns and the front door was still closed and just as the police arrived outside the door, we relaized what had happened- that someone had dropped a pcak of firecrackers through the mail slot. The police saw what had happened too and left. The people across the street were out on their steps observing it all and I always had a feeling that this was their way of welcoming us to the neighborhood.
As I said previously, I was still in therapy when I met Milton. I had gone to “therapy” intermittently down through the years and felt that I had benefitted from it. After my experience with John, and that relationship being so tumultuous, and his resistance to working on issues, I asked Milton if he would be willing to see my therapist in “couples counseling.” Although he was obviously not eager to do so, he was willing to go for my sake. We had already started having a few problems during the first year we were together. We were still young and drinking alcochol and had an “open relationship,” which meant that we had permission to have sex with other men. This was not an uncommon arrangement in those days as many gay men had not desire to duplicate the heterosexual model. It was accepted that you could love someone and want to live with that one person, but it was not necessary that this one person satisfy all of your sexual needs. Sex was not seen as something serious like a relationship was. Sex could be recreational. You could have sex outside the relationship that really didn’t have any emotional strings. It was only for fun.
When Milton and I first met, before the AIDs epidemic came along and shut down the baths, we would sometimes go to the baths together for recreational sex in the same way that I had done with previous lovers. It was my first lover, Jim, that introduced me to bathhouses in the first place when I was about eighteen. Milton and I would go together or go separately. It didn’t really matter. But life is interesting in how you can have beliefs about this or that and think you are so liberated and free and able to create new lifestyles, and then jealously comes along and raises it’s ugly head. Trying to navigate an “open relationship” with no real roadmap could sometimes be difficult. Anonymouose bathhouse sex was not so much of a problem but ultimately, there were other liaison’s found in the streets or at work or elsewhere, in which there was actual conversation and chance for intimacy. Those were the threats to security. The imagined resolution seemed to be an agreement that one could have such encounters as long as one were careful not to intrude these into the relationship. Many people in relationships, especially women, will overestimate and over rate the power of honesty. There are many advantages to the agreement between two people for deception. Of course, it does require agreement, though.
But even then, we agreement to deceive, there is still the requirement for consideration. Now, as anybody knows, if one person is at home, making dinner and expecting the other person at six in the evening, and that other person doesn’t show up until nine in the evening, and there is no phone call to explain the delay, the first person cooking said dinner is gong to be a little upset. It’s just about the word “consideration.” It is not about who or what the other person is having sex with. It is about the other person being considerate enough not to be delayed when someone is waiting dinner for them. Young men are easily distracted, though by their testosterone driven brains and can sometimes be quite inconsiderate. All that is usually required is a phone call but back then, there was no such thing as cell phones and so one would have to find a pay phone that worked and have enough change to make the call, and if one had a man at hand standing by, heated and ready to go, a phone call just seemed like it could be such an inconvenient delay and anything you was going to do, you didn’t plan on taking so long anyway. So this became a source of some conflicts. If you made plans for dinner or something else and had expectations, it would be pretty aggravating to have to stand by, wondering when diinner would be. If your going to have sex with somebody else, please don’t make me go hungry while your doing it!!
Now, add to those unpleasant, inconvenient delays on dinner, a little alcohol while waiting. Alcohol and frustration and immature insecure men are a terrible mix. This was becoming more and more the situation with Milton and I. The therapist had his work cut out for him to help us sort through all of these issues.
I have a lot of great memories from Waller Street. I was in my thirties and still working part time at Saint Francis. As I mentioned previously, the males on the unit were often the ones that were called upon to handle the violent patients. Over the years, female R.N.’s would put me into dangerous situations repeatedly. Registered Nurses were the ones that were usually in charge and could give orders to the Licensed Psychiatric Technicians. Otherwise, there really wasn’t that much difference between what the Registered Nurses did and what the Licensed Psychiatric Technicians did. The Registered Nurses made much more money though, and had much more power over their own safety and the safety of others. I came to a point where I decided to go back to school to get my R.N. license. None of the time that I had spent at Valley Vocational to get my L.P.T. license would apply to the R.N. program. Essentially I had to start over.
Although they called the nursing program at San Francisco City College a two year program, the fact was that nobody actually did the entire program in two years. Before you could even apply to the program, you had to have finished quite a few ‘pre-requisites.” I had a few credits from over the years when I had taken a class here or there, but I had a terrible grade point average because I had taken classes when my life was pretty chaotic and had quit going to classes without officially withdrawing from there which resulted in incompletes. Some classes, I had not done the work and had gotten low grades. The first thing I had to do to get into the nursing program was to take the pre-requisites and bring up my grade point average. The nursing program was very competitive as there was always a waiting list and they only accepted those with the best grade point averages.
A friend from work, another L.P.T., named Randy, started with me at City College in Anatomy but for some reason, he struggled more than I did. He was unable to get accepted into the program at City and eventually left and went to school at a private four year college where they hold your hand a little more through the program, but of course you pay for that hand holding. In all the years that I have been a nurse, I have never been more impressed with any nurse that went through a four year college than I was with nurses that went through the supposedly two year program at City College, although four year nurses often go into management rather than direct patient care.
Thankfully, City college was willing to remove some of the incompletes from my record if I maintained a good grade point average for a couple of semesters, which I was able to do. I was more focused and determined at this point in my life. I had been through the L.P.T. program and had a better idea of what it took to succeed academically. Early on, I met a guy named Ron Green and he and I would become good friends. We were both gay and both liked men of color. Ron was a better student that me, though. It would never have occured to me to join a study group but Ron saw to it that we were always a part of a study group with others. I don’t know that I would have done nearly as well in nursing school if it had not been for Ron. Sadly, toward the end of the program, Ron contracted AIDS and died the year I graduated and got my R.N. license.
I was working toward being a Registered Nurse at City of College of San Francisco. Milton was going to school for an Associate Degree in broadcasting and working at the V.A initially in the media department and then later, my ex-lover Stanley helped get him a job where he worked at the Holiday Inn on Van Ness.
My mom came down periodically during the 12 years we were living there and would stay with us for a week or so at a time. We had a couple Christmases where Roger and Darlene and Darlene’s husband Larry and Darlene’s kids Chris and Misty were all there. Donna and Teddy visited with their kids as well. Everybody seemed to come to Waller street at some time or another and it was great. Milton’s mom even came out from Texas and stayed with us for a week.
At one point in the late eighties(?) Darlene had moved up to Washington and was having a hard time handling Chris and Misty. Mom was going to let Misty live with her and asked if Chris could stay with us. I discussed it with Milton and, although reluctant at first, he did agree to let Chris stay with us. He would live with us for a couple of years until he was eighteen.
I did the same thing with Chris as I had with David some years before. I wrote up a “contract” of several pages outlining what my expectations were as far as his going to school and working. He accepted the contract and did get have a couple of different jobs during the time that he lived with us. He also went to school during this period. He did pretty well under the circumstances. I think that in the case of David and also with Chris, I had some leaverage because each knew no one else when they first came to live with me so there were initially no outside influences for a while. Both were from small town America and I think that living in the big city may have been a litte intimidating for each of them so they were more open to advise. They each knew that they were in somewhat of a desperate situation at the time and had to make it work. The written contracts helped as well.
Chris especially did well when he had a girlfriend. Her name was Angela. I think it is true for many heterosexual men, that they are too testosterone driven and a females influence, calms them down. If they are just hanging around other guys, they want to compete, be aggressive and fight. When a female comes into their life, they become more civilized and want to work hard to make money to spend on her. They want to impress the girl with manners and common sense.
Chris introduced me to rap and hip-hop. I hated it at first but then came to like some of the beats. He would put cardboard down over the carpet in his room and practice break dancing. He was actually pretty good at that and what he called “popping.”
Milton and I had settled into our relationship and rarely had the drama that we had in the first couple of years of our relationship. I think I nagged him quite a bit about getting a better job than just working as a housekeeper at Holiday Inn and he decided to go back to school and got into a Psychiatric Technician program which lasted a little over a year. He would finish the program because he started it but it just wasn’t something he liked. He eventually took the State Board but failed it, which is not unusual the first time. Most people just study some more and go back and take the test again, but Milton was done with it. He had no interest in going back to take the test again.
At one point, in the eighties, Milton decided that he wanted to take a course in electronics. Although he could have done so, through a community college, he stopped in at a private, for profit, technical school in San Francisco that had nice brochures and fast talking sales people that told him whatever they needed to tell him to convince him that he could take this program easily and get financing for the entire thing. It did seem easy at first, right up until the time that the student loan check was cashed by the school. Then it got very hard. Once they had him in debt for about six thousand dollars for a lot of hype, he felt forced to drop out.