Stories from our parents' surprisingly romantic youth. This week: two free spirits exchange psychic readings in '70s San Francisco.
My parents, Doug and Mer, exchanged psychic readings on a blind date. Though they've since divorced, I recently reunited them to ask about their unusual romance.
I would like you, my beloved parents, to take a trip back in time. It is now January of 1977 —
D: Oh really? What drug are we smoking now?
You tell me. How did you guys meet?
M: We met because of Barb. She was my good friend and also my business partner at that time. She and I had a marijuana brownie bakery, and business was really starting to boom. Barb met your dad because she had a crush on your father's roommate, John, and went out with him a couple times, though I don't think they dated seriously.
D: I'm pretty sure I met John through the Berkeley Psychic Institute.
So Barb introduced you. Was it a blind date?
M: Well, how blind is two psychic readings?
D: It wasn't a date. I think Barb gave me your number, and said I just had to call you. So we talked on the phone and came to the understanding — since Mer did tarot readings and I did aura readings — we decided to trade readings. I mean, if there's a question about it, blame Barb. "Match-maker, match-maker, make me a match!"
Describe the moment you met.
M: I think you came to me first, Doug.
D: Yes, that is correct.
M: I lived in an apartment on Frederick Street, in the Haight. It had a big staircase where you could stand at the top, and it rounded around so you could see who was coming up the staircase. My bedroom was the first doorway to the right. I had a king-sized bed, and I did the reading right on the bed with the cards.
D: I had, of course, heard from the match-maker all about this incredible tarot-card reader, and I had goosebumps, like, "What am I in for here?" I remember ringing the bell. The door opened and there was this long set of stairs with this lady up at the top. I think the light was behind you. I knew there was no way you were going to come down, and I had to go up those stairs. It was kind of like one of those Twilight Zone things where the stairs get longer and longer. And I was very aware of Mer's presence and her social power. You know, her aura was very — the way you were standing on that landing, you weren't going to budge. I had to come up to you.
Mer, what was your initial impression?
M: I thought he was good-looking, handsome, tall. And I knew he was an artist, and that's what Barb saw in common. Barb and I had just read Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, so we were playing around with a cowgirl theme in our lives. She had bought me a cigarette lighter that was actually a little pistol. And I remember Doug coming up the staircase and wearing a cowboy hat.
D: Yeah, I had a leather cowboy hat, and definitely cowboy boots.
M: He kind of fit the whole idea. I was wearing turbans and stuff, but very often, I had a cowgirl theme. I wore cowboy boots, vests, stuff like that.
Cowboy boots and turbans.
D: That sums you up, right there.
How was the reading, Doug?
D: I was just blown away, absolutely. No doubt about it. I think it was the first real tarot reading I'd had and I was really impressed with your mom's ownership of her space in the reading. She knew what she was doing, she knew what she was talking about, she believed in it, and she did a great job.
Did you kiss?
D: No, it wasn't a date.
M: But I was attracted. I thought, boy, he's good-looking…
D: I remember thinking, Mer, that you were exotic.
M: Oh, cool.
D: Let me tell you, there were very few exotic girls around. I mean, the way you did your eyes. You always did your eyes with a Grace Slick kind of look. Didn't you use kohl?
M: I still do use kohl around my eyes.
D: You had a mysterious quality around you that was extremely attractive, no doubt about it.
What was the next step?
M: I went to the warehouse where your father lived for my reading.
That had to be quite an experience.
M: Well, the warehouse was a really cool environment. To begin with, you didn't know what you were getting into, walking in the door. It was so plain from the outside, and then you walk in and it's this enormous 4,000 square-foot room. Naked wood floors and forty-foot ceilings with skylights.
Tell me about the reading you had from Doug.
M: I remember parts of the reading. You read my aura, and one of the things you saw was a Shirley Temple picture, which — as for who I was as a little girl — was right on the money. I mean, I was an entertaining little moffet-headed little girl. I could walk in and entertain everybody in the room. I could tap dance. Jesus, I could dance.
D: I believe it.
M: You said, "I see a Shirley Temple picture." I remember that clearly, because after the reading was done, you indicated that you didn't want to go out with me. You rejected me. And you rejected me when I was vulnerable. I had just opened up for this reading. You'd just read my aura from bottom to top, top to bottom. I felt very exposed. And you decided you didn't want to go out with me. And I was furious! I was so mad that I wrote a note and sent it with Barb. It said, "Shirley Temple isn't Shirley Temple-Black for nothing. ‘Twasn't necessary to shoot."
D: Right. Nobody rejects Shirley Temple.
M: That motherfucker! I was so mad. I was like, what's wrong with this guy? First he reads my aura and then, "I don't think I want to go out with you." That made me feel like he saw something awful in me.
D: Oh, probably some poor timing on my part. That's my Mercury in Scorpio, my Mars in Libra.
Obviously, you did get over your initial conflict.
M: He apologized.
He apologized and asked you out?
M: Barb delivered the note and probably read you the riot act. You know Barb. She wouldn't pussyfoot around, she'd just let you have it. She would be like, "What the fuck is wrong with you?"
D: Oh God, no doubt about it. But, Mer, I think I knew where Barb was coming from when she said, "You've got to meet this lady. She's incredible." And that's what I was responding to, for whatever reason.
M: But then he called and said, "I'm sorry, and I want to take you out and wine and dine you."
Did that happen?
D: Oh yeah. I remember going to restaurants. I don't remember where we went on the first date, but I do remember looking into her eyes a lot.
M: I seem to remember wine at the table and French food. And I think it was then that you said, "I have a being travelling with me — and I have for a while — that wants to come through." There was a lot of magic in it.
And this "being" was me?
D: Yes, it was.
M: We had a contract to have you, right from the beginning. I mean, Doug probably said that to me on our first or second date.
D: To tell you the truth, I'm wondering how long it took before we got into the sack. I don't think very much time passed. It was the seventies.
M: Yeah, I think that was pretty quick. Maybe after the date where we had French food.
That was my next question. The first time you had sex was unusual, right?
D: Oh. That. And in fact, that happened at your house, didn't it?
M: It didn't happen at my house, but I can't remember where we were…
Let's get to the juicy stuff! Come on!
M: The juicy stuff is, in the middle of the night, your dad had an epileptic seizure and I didn't know he had epilepsy. And it's right out of a sound sleep. I had no idea what the hell was going on. I'd never seen a seizure. It was dark in the room, and the bed was shaking violently, and I just remember thinking, "Geez, what a rough sleeper!" In the morning, that's when he said he'd had a seizure. I had no idea.
D: I think I peed in the bed too.
D: Because I usually did, when I had a seizure back then.
What sort of impression did this leave you with?
M: Still really liking him, being very sweet on him.
Did the seizure make him somehow more mysterious?
M: I'm compassionate. It just sort of woke up my compassion. I was like, wow, that's a drag to have to deal with that. That's challenging. It made him seem more vulnerable and more real, in a certain way.
What did you think about the pot-brownie bakery?
D: What I remember is that I did more drugs in the first week of being with your mother than I had ever done in my life previously. And it wasn't just more quantity, or more quality, but also more kinds of drugs. I mean, the memory that I have, in the midst of coming out of a stupor or whatever, was lying on the kitchen floor, just unable to move from laughing so hard. I think we were making brownies or something. Whatever it was, I just was so overcome, I couldn't move. And I was just laughing and laughing and laughing. It was so much fun. But I'd like to say something about this drug-intake thing. You know —
M: I wish I had something to intake.
D: The drugs were just like one of the rooms in the house that was the complete relationship. Sometimes we went to the drugs, and it was a very rich place from which the rest of our lives together would be affected. But we weren't just in a drug stupor; that's not how this relationship began.
M: I'd say that's true. It was more the spiritual stuff and the art. There was a lot of magic in it, and for me that was very strong. I had been with a lot of men, but there weren't a lot of men who could handle my intensity. Doug was just as intense.
D: The fact is, your mom and I were both two odd ducks. Neither of us knew what crowd we were supposed to swim in. We were drawn to each other like two magnets. There wasn't anybody else out there like us, and we seemed to work well together. We definitely had problems and things that didn't work. I could be extremely direct and hurtful at times. I've known that about myself. We weren't perfect. But we were so much more compatible than anything else out there.