It was a clean show. Really, it was. After a while, you forget about being topless. When I first started in the show, I would “hide” behind a screen to get into costume. With the quick changes between numbers, that become impractical; no, impossible. So, forget the screen, just change and get back onstage before the music starts and you’re not there!
I invited my parents to the show. I felt like I was back in high school and it was opening night for the school play. I peeked through the stage curtains and there they were in the front row. I was happy about that because I didn’t want them to see the rows and rows of Japanese men with hats on their laps sitting behind them. Busloads of tourists came to North Beach and filled the clubs with non-English speaking visitors who probably didn’t care about the choreography or the fancy costumes.
Mom beamed as I did my solo, tour jeté-ing my way across the stage in my flowing chiffon halter dress. This was the only number in the show that was not topless. Looking back, I wonder if Eddie Belasco thought it best to keep me fully covered because of my unimpressive rack that would be more noticeable without the distraction of the other dancers, and of course, Carol Doda. When Carol took the stage, all eyes riveted to one spot, well, okay, two spots; we were nothing more than moving wallpaper. I think Mom was happy to see all those years of ballet lessons finally paying off.
I fell into a routine; Marina Health Spa by day, Off Broadway by night, with classes at San Francisco State in between. Boring! Oz Bach changed all that. When he came to work as a barker at the club, I was intrigued. His polished good looks, deep rich voice, and charming manner got my attention immediately. I saw him talking to Bronco, getting barking instructions. As soon as they broke apart, I walked up to him.
“Hi, I’m C J! You working here now? I’m in the show.”
“Well, hello C J. Nice to meet you. I’m Oz.”
“Oz? Like in the wizard of?”
“No. Oz, like in I’ll sell you an ounce of pot. Or, if you prefer hashish, I got that, too. And Silly-cybin (magic mushrooms), LSD, you name it.”
Well, I didn’t know what to say to that. I just smiled and said: “Well, I better get ready for the show. See ya.”
As the days went on we continued to flirt and tease, and then it happened. The drink after work, which led to the “come up for a night-cap”, and the “why don’t you spend the night?” And shortly after, “how about I move in and we split the rent?”
Everything was great in the beginning (isn’t it always?). His real name, I learned, was Paul Back from Paw Paw, West Virginia. He had been a musician with a folk-rock group called “Spanky and Our Gang”, for whom he played the bass guitar and sang back-up. He said he also filled in bass guitar for Linda Ronstadt’s “Stone Poneys” on occasion. I listened to the stories and took it all with a grain of salt. If he was such a hot-shot musician what was he doing barking for a topless club in North Beach?
We had the same two days off work at the club. He asked if I could request a couple of days extra so we could go on a road trip to Los Angeles. Los Angeles! I had never been there. I grew up in New York, I watching 77 Sunset Strip, and I fantasized about living in California where the sunny beaches, palm trees, and surfers came from. Yes! I wanted to go. Oz said he had some deliveries to make in Topanga Canyon, with a small detour to Mill Valley. I didn’t ask too many questions; I never do. I would find out soon enough.
We loaded up his dark green Volkswagen van and headed for Mill Valley. First stop, Marty Balin’s house. I didn’t know the name until we walked in with his package, and the two men started talking about problems with the Airplane – The Jefferson Airplane! I remained silent, but inside I was going: “Oh my God! This is the guy! The Jefferson Airplane guy. Grace Slick. White Rabbit. Somebody to Love. All that!” I don’t think I uttered a sound the entire time. I was trying to look cool; not like the star-struck quivering little girl I felt like.
We got back in the van and I asked “Now where?”
“Frank Zappa’s house in Topanga. You want a mushroom for the road?”
“A mushroom? Why would I want a mushroom? Oh, you mean one of those silly-cybin things you told me about. What does it do?”
“Makes you giggle a lot and see funny things. It’s nothing. The Indians take them all the time. It’s fun.”
“O.K. I’ll try it.’
By the time it kicked in we were still a few hours from Los Angeles. Good thing, too, ’cause I was like a laughing hyena. I calmed down by the time we got to Frank’s house. He met us outside, picked up his goods, and had a brief conversation with Oz. I never even got out of the van. He looked exactly like himself with his long, flowing locks. After a few more stops, I became more relaxed in the presence of the rock stars. Oz said the final stop was a surprise and we would spend the night there.
When the door opened and a large woman shouted: “Oz Bach! Git over here. Where you been?” She embraced him and he disappeared in her bear hug. I stood behind him, stunned.
Mama Cass?! We’re spending the night at Mama Cass’s house? When I was introduced, she gave me the once over, a clipped “Hi” and turned on her heel. She had the biggest face I’ve ever seen; it was a horse-face. She must have read my mind; she didn’t like me and I didn’t like her.
Okay. This was fun. Now I’m ready to back to my own world.
It was when I was straightening up the apartment on our return that I came across the doctor’s card with an appointment penned in; Langley Porter. I had heard of Langley Porter. Wasn’t that a mental hospital?
Part 5 coming …