April 2017


San Francisco 1978
Article By: Cornelia Benavidez

Shirley and I did not find any noontime Mariachi bands that day when we took off for the Mission in San Francisco. We ended up at this little restaurant on Albion and 16th streets. I was very amused to find an Albion anything here on the west coast, let alone a street in the Mission District with the same name as my Michigan hometown. The smells wafting out of this place made my mouth water. Shirley said “This is the place that has great Chile Rellenos.” I followed Shirley in and soon we are munching on some of the Mission’s best Mexican food. As we were eating I noticed an impressive looking woman come in, apparently for a take-out lunch. She had an amazing shade of dark red over the shoulder hair. Even though she was heavyset she had a sexy kind of Valkyrie aura about her. I whispered to Shirley, “Check out the woman with the amazing red hair.” Shirley turned around and turned back quick, her big dark eyes wide and sparkling. “Oh yes!” she barely whispered back, “I have seen her around. She’s a real witch like Starhawk (the woman who wrote the acclaimed book, The Spiral Dance) but not the same group, I think.” I laughed a little and whispered. “Shirley, you are always saying how shy you are but you know the most remarkable things about people.” Shirley’s cheeks turned a little rosy, “I just pay attention and listen,” she mumbled into her Coke. The woman left and we went down to the Rainbow health food grocery store to pick up some supplies. There I came across an early issue of Punk Globe magazine, which I grabbed and took home. Ginger Coyote’s name had come up here and there but it would be a few years before we would actually meet.

I was more than happy to kick off my shoes at home and give a snack to Balboa the rabbit and Psyche my blue black shiny cat, who were now fast buddies. Psyche was now my shadow at Project One, and she made it her business to be in my business. She was gaining quite the reputation and adding to mine. As she did the evening the crockpot guys came by with ramen noodles and veggies. I added some chicken and cream cheese and while we were waiting to sit and eat, Psyche started snarling like a panther at the door. I let her out wondering what her trip was as she slunk down the back stairs. We had our dinner and started to speak of the headlines that were like blow by blow assaults every day when one of my guests excused himself to use the bathroom. As he opened the door, he froze, letting out a horrified squeak and starts to stammer and hyperventilate. We all jump up and ran to the door to see Psyche sitting next to a huge dead bloodied wharf rat. She looks at me and then proudly at the rat about half her size. In her day she was 16 to 18 pounds of muscle. Psyche walked past us into the room, but not before looking up at the poor guy who looked like he was going to lose his dinner with a scathing “wuss” gaze. She then sniffed Balboa’s nose and lay down to wash herself. At that moment one of the basement guys came running up the back stairs to my door, executed a sudden stop and stared at the rat. “Jesus, it was her!“ he exclaimed. “Have you checked her out made sure she does not have any bites?” I walked over and started checking Psyche all over, she was surprisingly cooperative and uninjured. “I hear this loud hissing as I was going toward the loading dock”, the guy said,.slightly breathless “I thought that maybe two cats were fighting so I went to check it out. I see this one,” pointing to Psyche, “bloodying up the rat fast as lightning. She then jumps it and she broke its neck or back. I think I heard the snap, it was crazy fast, and she picks up this huge rat and takes off!”. He stared at me intently through his glasses took a deep breath and said “She is the perfect Witch cat, so bad-ass!” We all looked at her and Psyche was as cool as a cucumber washing her paws and scimitar claws. I cleared my throat and the rat was wrapped in a long pull of paper towels, allowing my poor guest to finally flee to the bathroom.

The next two weeks were strange. Everywhere I went, even at work, people were holding and reading newspapers, which were left scattered on counter tops around the store. We were trying to cope with and get our heads around so much death. The month started with the U.S. doing nuclear tests in Nevada. In Tehran, there was a huge riot with people shouting, “Allah is great”. What all this religious fervor had to do with politics was unsettling for me, partly because of the religious issues being brought up by Dan White and his people in trying to justify cold blooded murder. Religion, politics, and war, I had been taught, was a very bad combination that seldom ended without lots of people dying. It was a welcome sight when the headlines lit up with the news that Dianne Feinstein was sworn in as the new Mayor. Some whispered that she was being very brave and must love the city a lot because of the many ugly emotions that were still running between the police department and city hall. I know at one time Dianne had suffered bomb threats. She’s brave indeed no matter what you think of her otherwise. It seemed like a little light shone between Feinstein being sworn in and Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. Even though some felt that this was somehow just for show, for others it filled them with great hope. Spain adopting a constitution was also seen as good news Everyone seemed to relax just a little. But I was feeling wane and restless and to the rest of the city the coming holidays seemed like a looming joke. I was trying to read a book when there was a knock at my door. Standing there was this guy I had only met in passing at the laundry-room. I found out that he was a photographer and had his studio somewhere in the basement. He was a tall and big man between stocky and fat with scruffy hair on his face. “Hi, what’s up? I asked. “I want to make you an offer. May I come in?” he replied. I let him in but left the door open. He glanced about the room somewhat nervously and somewhat shyly continued “I would like to take a few pictures of you. I will pay you fifty dollars. He added quickly “For your time.” Fifty bucks in 78 was a bit of change I could use but I was not doing anything salacious for even five-thousand bucks. “What kind of pictures?” I asked him with a lifted eyebrow. “Oh. nothing nasty. You wear what you want. I need to practice, and I know you are a nice girl.” I looked him straight in the eye and said: “In that case, ok, come over at about noon before I have to go to work.”

The next morning, I dug through my clothes and found this really pretty sleeveless long blue lounge type dress. Decent, but looking like I should be holding a cigarette in a holder like some Hollywood actress. I also pulled out my new white gauze peasant dress as back-up. I cleared the wall where my mural was thinking this would be good back drop with my brushes. A fancied Frida Kahlo look. There was a sitting area by the window which I also cleared so by the time he got there I was ready for business. That’s a great dress he smiled and he liked my ideas and we started the picture session. By the time, I was sitting at the window there was a nice defused light shining through. I pulled my knees up and stared out, the folds of the dress falling to the floor and my long hair in waves falling down my back to my waist. I hear him clicking away and then stop. I turned and asked, “Do you need me to change into another dress?” I pointed to the white dress. He laughed and said “Naw. . . You already look like an angel and that would be too much.” He started picking up his equipment and asked, “Don’t you have a boyfriend?” “No, and I am not ready for one at this time. I came to SF partly for a fresh start.” He paused at the door. “What time do you get off work?” “I get home around nine.” He let himself out and turned to me “I will develop the pictures and we can eat dinner and look at them. Would that be all right?”

I told him that sounded like a great way to get to know my neighbor and to please keep in mind I was not looking for a boyfriend. He smiled and said he understood.

I showed up that evening right after work in a crisp pantsuit, a little amused to realize he was almost right underneath my unit. The place was stuffed with all kinds of things, which he told me was a bunch of theater equipment and props that he rented out or used himself. Then there was his studio and kitchen area from which the smells of an Italian dinner hit me. We sat down and had a lovely dinner and conversation all about San Francisco, the news of the day and that he was excited about all the bands in town that month. He offered me wine, but seemed not surprised or annoyed when I told him I did not drink. We spoke a while longer about what bands he had tickets for and hoping he would be able to take pictures. He then pulled out a large picture and said “This is my favorite.” It was the picture of me at the window. It’d been taken at an angle from the back while looking out the window. Only a hint of face and light was around my back, making me appear very angelic. “That’s a nice picture,” I told him. “Thanks” he beamed “ I have a surprise for you but I need to set it up on the table so could you wait in the other room behind the curtain here?” I assumed that he was going to set up the rest of the pictures like what he had said earlier. I glanced about the room and noticed quite a few toys like action figures when I heard some strange noises coming from behind the curtain, some of it was like a thumping or clicking like little children’s Chinese wind-up toys you find in China town. “It’s going to take a little longer please be patient” he called out to me. “I am fine,” I call back “Just looking at all the interesting stuff you have.” There were now added tones like humming or buzzing and I wondered if he was making some sort dessert as well. “OoooK, come on in. He called out in a sing song tone after a little while. I walked in to him calling out “Surprise!” with his arms raised. My eyes must have gotten as big as pie-plates and telescoped out of my head like some cartoon character. Dancing, buzzing, and thumping about the table were 20 or more penises of every size and color from flesh tones to neon blue, with this black 16-inch monstrosity that had a deep low hum in the middle of the table. It wasn’t moving so it made the others look like its dancing penile children. My eyes must have been fixed on the giant black penis because I had never seen anything like this in my life. “That’s big Ben.” he said proudly “He’s just for show so don’t worry but he makes a good back massager.”

“W-what are you doing? I thought I made it clear I was not looking for a boyfriend?” Trying to make sense of this display.

“OH ‘I respect that. You might even be gay and I respect that too but, a girl has gotta have needs so I thought I would surprise you with options and if you’re into it and care about my needs you might let me watch.” Everything he stated had a tone of utmost reasonability. Still, I started inching toward the door.

“I prefer my penis alive and attached” I stated flatly while trying to smile.

“Well, that’s too bad. I was hoping you might enjoy a little fun after a hard day’s work”

“Really that is just so . . . so thoughtful of you but I have another hard day’s work ahead of me. Lovely dinner.” I made a dash for the door and called back over my shoulder.” Sorry, the soda just went right through me and I need to go to the bathroom.” To my great relief, the door unlatched easily and I swung it open. He called out “You’re not coming, back are you?” The toys were starting to wind down with sad little buzzes and thumps.


I dash up the stairs run into my room locked it tight and I think I even pushed a chair up against the door. My rational self knew that he did not mean me any harm but 20 dancing penises were just too much for me to . . . ahem . . . handle.

As we got closer to Christmas China, the USSR twice and France twice had sets of nuclear tests. Cleveland, Ohio becomes the first post-depression era city to default on its loans, owing $14,000,000 to local banks. The talk of Jamestown and Dan White droned on. The San Francisco district attorney asked the State to investigate possible voter fraud by the People’s Temple in 1975, which seemed all way too late with the horses not just out of the barn but dead. There was also a big tenant’s rights movement centering around a place called the International Hotel. It was all depressing and Christmas was not helping, especially since I could not fly home for various reasons. With the holidays, I was missing family and even my old boyfriend very much, but little things lifted my spirits now and then such as finding out about the Deaf Club in the mission. I checked it out but it was way too loud for me (lol) but I was glad it was there. It was so hard for Punkers to find a place to practice and play. Robert Hanahan, the manager of The OFFs, was able to rent a club for the deaf so bands like the Dead Kennedys, D.O.A., The Subhumans, Tuxedomoon, X, Flipper, and The Germs now had a venue all their own. What was real cool was that deaf people came and loved it being able to feel all the vibrations and dance with everyone else.

Corneilia in her
infamous climbing dress

Corneilia in her  infamous
climbing dress

Shirley, who also was not going back to Michigan for Christmas, had invited me to a Christmas party at the Haight-Ashbury Switch board. She had bravely made Spanikopita for the party. This is a rich dish stuffed with spinach, onions, cheeses and tasty herbs, all enfolded and topped by flaky phyllo dough. Very yummy. The Switchboard had been the epicenter for helping everyone who had moved to the area from young adventuresses like me to runaways. It was the central way to provide necessary community services to handle the huge population boom that happened after 1967's Summer of Love. The place was packed and there were lots of food and fun. Little that I knew at the time that ‘78 and ‘79 were truly the turning of the wheel of time and tide for San Francisco.

I came home that night tired and changed into my nightie and bathrobe and toddled up to the Seashell to brush my teeth. It was pretty late and after 2 in the morning Project One would get more hollow sounding and opening doors sounded like opening coffins. I was heading back to my space when one of those coffin sounds echoed behind me and the heaviest foot falls I had ever heard in my life were making their way toward me somewhere from the labyrinth hallways. The loud thumps echoed like heart beats heading my direction. My heart started to pound a little harder as I told myself how silly I was being. Still, I was overcome with curiosity and ducked into a dark narrow little hallway that led to someone’s space praying that this was not where whoever was heading. The footfalls came louder and louder. I pressed myself against the wall in my nightie and robe like some horror movie heroine holding my breath as a giant figure passed. I poked my head out of my hidey-spot to watch this giant in a 1960’s short go-go dress with-go-go boots with square heels. She had waist length straight medium brown hair with a large purse slung over her shoulder. She seemed nearly 7 feet tall… My mouth dropped open as with determined loud steps and a somehow graceful catwalk the figure disappeared into the night. I found myself saying aloud, “Big Linda!”

Cornelia in collage

Cornelia  in collage

Over the next few days the air seemed to brighten. People took the attitude that they were going to party hard as a rite that will rid San Francisco of bad Ju-Ju. I was not into anything so dramatic but was planning to meet friends at Shirley’s house. I bounced over to wish happy New Year to Cassie, Harold and the kids. The girls opened the door with little hats and noisemakers. Cassie was in the kitchen with her back to me. I breezed in with a big Happy New Year and a guess what! “I think a few days ago, I finally saw Big Linda and boy oh boy is she ever impressive!”

“Well, I am so glad you think so,” came Harold’s gentle voice as he stepped out of the shadows on the other-side of the room. I turned and there stood Big Linda in all her glory. I must have looked like I had been hit in the face with a big steak because the girls started to giggle. I turned open mouthed toward Cassie who also had a surprise for me for she stepped out of the kitchen all dressed up in a man’s formal dress tails and a mustache! “Have a seat, dear.” she said to me as she put on a hat. The girls grabbed my elbows and led me to a chair as they started to chatter at me. “We are a dress-up family, Cornelia. It’s so much fun but some people do not understand. Today is grown-up time so Mom and Dad are going go to a big New Year’s party.” I turned to Harold who gently smiled at me and said “Cornelia I am a straight man who realized at as part of my artistic nature I wanted too and maybe even needed too experience and taste the world of women. This was not easy for me to do in the Midwest so we moved out here.” Cassie walked up to me her, eyes twinkling. “I love dressing up as famous men I admire so we make an odd but happy couple.” She grinned. “Will you watch the girls for a few? The sitter will be here soon.” Cassie grabbed a cane and adjusted her hat. “Sure, love too,” I answered as I got up and opened the door for them. I stood at the door and watched as Charlie Chaplin walked arm in arm with Big Linda down the hall.

* * *

My heartfelt Thank You to Punk Globe, especially Ginger and all the great people there, for allowing me the space to share my adventures and memories with all readers of this magazine. There are always more stories, even more that I remember now with the writing of this series. I am thinking of taking a break to finish some other projects and then add to the series and turn this into a book. A few friends have asked about 1979. I will think about it. If anyone has something to share or ask message me on my face book page. Let’s never forget the past and take care of our present to rock the future!

Love, Cornelia

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