This was in 1976. I was visiting my cousin in Oakland, on the way to Madison, Wisconsin, where I would be studying for an M.A. in English.
My cousin had a huge two-bedroom, two-story house with a towering lemon tree in the backyard, all to herself. This was just across the street from Lake Merritt, a body of water originally connected to the ocean, but walled off to form a manmade lake. Sometimes when I would visit her there, I’d see the Oakland Raiders, my favorite football team, running very serious laps around it.
One morning my cousin suggested we go into San Francisco and have lunch with her buddy Carlisle. This was a name my cousin had given her. I never did find out her real name, but I knew that they’d met in an adult education Spanish course at a nearby community college.
Carlisle lived just a few blocks from the infamous street intersection of Haight and Ashbury, in a non-descript apartment building. In the mid-‘70s, we were not too far removed in time from the love, peace, and tie-dye ’60s when the Haight-Ashbury area had represented everything in the world you ever wanted to picture, or not, about “hippy” culture.
As we wove our way on the sidewalk to the restaurant, there were a great many people who, sitting on the sidewalk — I mean like right in the middle of the sidewalk — or wandering the streets, or hanging out in various head shops and vegetarian restaurants, all looked very much like escapees from the 60s, or rather like souls who still believed the 60s were going on.
We arrived at the restaurant, a nice cool, quiet, semi-dark venue. We were seated and handed our menus. Our server asked if we’d like anything to drink. Carlisle and I ordered beers, and my cousin asked for a gin and tonic.
After the drinks arrived and we’d put in our orders, my cousin said, “You’ll never guess why this is Carlisle’s favorite dive.”
Carlisle let out a huge sigh.
I had no clue, so I said, “I bet I won’t.”
My cousin laughed. “It’s because she claims that she met the Rolling Stones in here last summer.”
“What is it with the always ‘claims’ thing,” said Carlisle, sitting up straight. “I did meet the Rolling Stones in here late one night last summer. After they’d done a concert.”
I looked around. It was so hard to see anything. And this was broad daylight. I could imagine that in pitch-black night, everyone in this area might look like a member of the Stones.
“Yeah right,” my cousin quipped in her droll fashion. “And as part of this grand illusion, she also claims that the group went home with her.”
“They did, Lanning, I swear,” Carlisle shot out, putting her beer bottle down emphatically. “They all came back to my apartment, and we all had a very nice time together.”
My cousin rolled her eyeballs. “And guess what proof she has of this much celebrated monumental event?” she asked me.
“Again, I have no clue.”
“Nothing!” my cousin laughed. “Not one thing. Nary even the tiniest shred of evidence.”
“Lanning, I had a napkin they all signed for me, here in this place,” Carlisle said.
“Yeah, right,” my cousin said. “And you see that the operative word here is ‘had.’ She had a napkin, so where is it?”
Carlisle sunk back in her seat. “I lost it,” she said. “But it’s true, Lanning. I had it. And when this place closed we all went back to my apartment and –”
“Had milk and cookies,” my cousin interjected.
Carlisle gave her a quick screw-you look.
“No, we had some wine, and they took turns playing my guitar. We sang all kinds of songs until the sun came up, and then they left.”
It sounded pretty tame. A little too tame. I said, “All of the Rolling Stones were in your apartment drinking and singing all night long, but there was no wild stuff. No screaming and jumping around. No breaking a chair or a vase or something? They didn’t do drugs? No coke? Not even smoke some grass?””
My cousin chortled. Carlislie said, “No. Nothing like that at all. They were super polite and really well-behaved gentlemen.”
My cousin practically choked on her water. I thought she might shoot some out her nose.
I didn’t know whom to believe. I didn’t know Carlisle very well. I knew she wrote short stories and that she was a professional painter, mostly water colors that she sold with some regularity. Maybe she made up things like this story?
I said, “Too bad you didn’t paint them.”
My cousin snorted.
Our food arrived and my cousin moved the discussion into painting. She too had graduated from the Califonia College of Arts and Crafts, but unlike Carlisle, she worked a nine to five job doing reservations with United Airlines.
After we finished we wove our way back through the sea of the great unwashed and heavily stoned. The smell of incense mingled with the smell of weed, and I was transported to a time to which I’d rather not have been transported.
“Carlisle, can I go up and use your bathroom?”
“Sure. You both wanna come up?”
“Nah,” my cousin said. “I’ll wait here. See you, love.” She and Carlisle hugged, and then we went up.
Carlisle pointed the way to the bathroom. I went in and stood facing the toilet. There was a mirror behind it, so I could see my face while I peed. What a brilliant feature.
Then something over my shoulder caught my attention. I stared at it in the mirror, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I flushed and turned to look at it. I caught my breath. It was a bar napkin, framed, with the signatures of Mick Jagger and the rest of the group.
I washed up and ran out into the living room. “Carlisle, why did you say you lost the napkin? It’s right there on the wall in your bathroom.”
Carlisle laughed, then frowned. “Your dear cousin gave that to me for Christmas.”
My adrenaline ceased pumping. “Oh.” I spotted her guitar in the corner by the sofa. “Is that the guitar they all played?”
“Yes.” She smiled.
“Too bad you didn’t get them to sign that.”
Carlisle nodded. “True, that would have been great.”
I thanked her and went downstairs.
“I saw your little gift to Carlisle hanging in the bathroom.”
My cousin laughed. “Yeah, I had a bunch of friends sign it. Pretty cool huh?”
“Cuz,” I said as we sat down in her car, “why don’t you believe her? About the Stones? You really think that couldn’t have happened?”
My cousin turned the ignition. “Well, they did play over in Daly City last summer. I suppose it’s remotely possible that they could have come over here to soak up a bit of The Haight ambience.”
“Yes,” I said. “Right. It could’ve happened. Damn. If she’d only not lost the napkin.”
“Yeah, right,” my cousin said. “If only.”