It was Marsha Campbell who first invited me to 234 Hyde. She wanted me to check out a writing group that was meeting there. It was then that I met Ed Bowers and rAmu Aki. They and Marsha were the core of the group and were putting together an anthology of poems for Faithful Fools. The group consisted of poets (some remarkably talented) with an absurdist bent. They would set up a box out on the sidewalk to read their poems to people passing by. Because they moved about so freely in that space (234 Hyde), I just assumed most lived there. I imagined the back of the building, where I never ventured, to be an endless corridor of rooms magically extending into space.
Of course, now I know, that it was Carmen and Kay, then later Sam who live there. And while crazy poets and artist were welcomed and encouraged, the work of the Fools was more than that. They were dedicated to educating, advocating and assisting people struggling with the consequences of poverty. They did this without wrapping themselves in self-righteous cloak of martyrdom so often adapted by people doing “good works” was one of the reasons I found it difficult to figure out what was really going on in there.
In the early years, (the Fools and I both arrived in the TL a little over twenty-years ago), I would pass the building and see an endless stream of people going in and out of the it. There was something very distinctive about them. They were generally white, always smiling and gave off what I can only describe as a mellow “spiritual vibe”. For years I thought Faithful Fools was some sort of hippy cult commune. After my first encounter with Kay Jorgensen, I was certain, if they weren’t that, they were definitely something beyond the ordinary.
People complain about the crowds on Turk and Hyde but it seems to me that intersection has always been crowded. At least it was that afternoon when was I shouldering my way up Hyde St. and came upon Kay. She was in a wheelchair being pushed by a tall, regal man African American man, who I later learned was rAmu. He was wearing a Jimi Hendrix style head-band and a long robe of velvet and satin like that of some Grand Vizier. He was chanting in what sounded like a strange ancient language as he pushed Kay forward. She was wearing a floppy felt hat, a red clown’s nose and was waving a feather duster back and forth as she smiled and nodded greetings to people in the street.
The crowd (and this was a pretty tough crowd) parted in near silence to let her pass. Some spoke her name in greeting. Others hesitantly stepped forward extending their hands as if asking to be blessed by the feather duster. At Turk St. they took a left toward Leavenworth and as the crowd closed behind them, I could still hear rAmu’s deep voiced chanting above the sounds of traffic.
I thought I was witnessing one of those religious processions common in Mexico, where a saint or icon is paraded through the streets to revered by the people. It was years later that I understood what it was I was really seeing. Kay explained that the role of the Fool was to be herald to the poet and proceed before them sweeping the streets as they recited their words. So, what I witnessed was not Kay being pushed about to be honored but Kay honoring a poet and clearing a path for his passing.