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Captain Fathom’s Journey

I first became politically conscious when I was about 18 or 19 years old in New York City. I began to listen to all the various socialist and communist and liberal and democratic political entities. One time I went over to Cooper Square to hear the Wobbly speaker. This was in the 50s and things were real conservative then. And this old guy got up. His name was Sam Wiener and he was 55 years old and he just wanted to live long enough to urinate on the corpses of the politicians. And I figured, shit, I mean, this is like some theater that I can identify with. 

The Wobblies are philosophical and aesthetic. There's a particular lifestyle that they seemed to engender that in some way I identified with. It was kind of like a spiritual kind of trip. You know, the sort of warm feeling you get in your belly when you see bums sitting on the sidewalk with a full bottle of port wine. 

So I got involved in wobbling with The Wobblies. The Wobblies had, for all practical purposes, died out 50 years previous to my involvement. But I identified as an anarchist and they were America's traditional anarchist direction in life. Things became an awful lot more wobbly ten years later when the hippies and yippies sprouted forth. I feel they were certainly, if not grandsons, grandnephews of the Wobblies. I am the educational director of the local chapter of the IWW, the Industrial Workers of the World. 

The Wobblies represent to me everything that is beautiful about a high and a good person, who obeys the law of the individual moral responsibility. And run your affairs accordingly. Ole! Thank you, Leo Tolstoy. 

Well, it's coming, it is coming. That is one of the reasons I moved up to Mendocino in 1967. I wanted to see if I could get a lot closer in my life to that. I wanted to live in a cooperative commune in a cooperative community and just see what we could come up with. 

What we came up with (at Bo's Landing on Albion Ridge Road) is not that, my friend. But, it's another one of these cooperative attempts to live and work together, and it has. All of us came from much different backgrounds. We've all been raised in micro- rather than macro-situations. And it's a long swim. Like we've always known a whole bunch of things that we're against. We know a whole bunch of things that didn't work, didn't work for parents, didn't work for us. and so, if you're going to try new forms, you've got to be real patient, because we've all been raised in ways that don't make that an easy transition, even though it might be, in your head. and so, real progress in interpersonal relations is a long, slow, painful battle. 

But I'm still very optimistic about that particular direction, toward a macro-family structure rather than a micro-family structure. I certainly believe in that and I believe in cooperation and socialism and peace and love. I'm a flower child, brother! Yahoo, I'm a faded petal of flower power. 

I first got to Bo's Landing in 1970. The government was absolutely desperate for troops in Vietnam, and they sent me a notice from my draft board. I was previously classified 4-F. It was at a time when there was so much activity going on that I felt that indeed they might try to draft me. I went around to all of my friends and I got money to go to Canada, and then I counted up all the money and I had enough to buy an acre. Then I went to Canada and after about six months nobody came looking for me, so I just filtered back. The note was probably from the draft board telling me I was not even fit to use as a sandbag. I'll never know. 

I bought an acre from Bo Romes. I first met Bo at this place called Lost. I was staying there and I met Bo and Margie and we established a real tight communication. We really liked each other, and he told me that he was trying to get together a community and he would let me know if it ever got together. I guess he then met Ron Facer and Ron Facer steered him over to this piece of land on Albion Ridge, and he bought this land. 

At the time I was living at this hippie commune called Caliban with Paul Williams and Donald Sprinkling and Thistle Carlton, right near Ames Lodge (off Little Lake Road east of Mendocino). We had decided to buy that piece of property, but Ruth Ryden, who said she owned Ames Lodge and negotiated the sale of the property, unfortunately didn't own it. So therefore there was real difficulty clearing escrow. 

So Bill Ames leased us the place for $75 a month including utilities. That was this 3.4 acres, twelve of us, which probably established him as the all-time benign landlord in the history of Mendocino County. After a year the lease ran out and all these things started coming together at Bo's Landing. 

There was Lost and there was Found. Well, this guy Will Maloff arrived here in Mendocino. He was a Canadian and Doukhobor. The Doukhobors are a group that are fundamentalist Christian anarchists and they refuse to serve the state because they feel the state is an instrument of the devil. They were all Russians, and the Tsar of course had no love for these people at all because they wouldn't join the army. At that time in Russia Leo Tolstoy contacted the Queen of England, Queen Victoria, and begged her to ship these people off to some far-flung corner of the British empire where they could live a beautiful Christian Anarchist life. Incredibly self-reliant, just super people by almost anybody's standards. So they shipped them to British Columbia. 

A hundred years later Will Maloff came down to Mendocino. He was about 6 feet 6 inches, maybe 280 pounds and a professional logger. He came here and somehow fell into the "art community" in Mendocino. He was just one of these really charming, extremely extroverted types of fellows who you just immediately started to like, and pretty soon he had borrowed or earned or a combination thereof enough money to buy a piece of land up Road 409 he called Found, and found Georganna. 

Then Will went on to bigger things and got a huge piece of property on the railroad tracks surrounding the Skunk Line and he proceeded then to attempt to build a new Jerusalem. He was a fine builder and terrific artist. 

How I got there. At that time I was a rich white man living in the Bay Area managing a clothing store and Georganna was an old pal of mine, from yesteryear in Mendocino. I first met Georganna in the early 60s when my pal Paul Tully moved up here. I loaned him a certain amount of money (ho, ho) and I went up to inspect what I had loaned the money on, and I found this paradise — Lost. I got lost. I just stayed. I never went back to my wife, my house, my clothing store. But the bank got Lost back, and Will Maloff left. 

I met Tully in 1960 in Berkeley. Tully was one of the leading lights of this experimental film group called Canyon Cinema. He and Bruce Bailey used to write movies and I got involved with Paul's secretary. I was greatly influenced by Paul Tully. I thought he was one of the smartest people I had never met. He had a lot of experience and had done a whole bunch more things and spent a lot of time thinking. 

Berkeley was as far as I could run from New York without hitting the Pacific. I got as far away as I could. My father gave me his bag! To leave! I was a very delinquent child. And he was real happy to get me off to college, and I was real happy to go. So I went from New York to San Francisco State college. 

I'd never been there before. When I first got to Berkeley, I thought I had arrived in paradise. I thought it was heaven. I couldn't believe it. I was utterly euphoric. I've only experienced that kind of feeling in one other place, and that's here. When I first came to the Mendocino coast, I felt exactly like I had felt in Berkeley. I just was in a state of wonder. 

I worked on the railroad, the Southern Pacific, for six years, but it was very on and off, which was the only reason I could keep the job. I could work one day out of ten, maybe. I had no interest in the job, actually, except I liked the idea of being a member of the Student Committee on Political Education and being a worker. That was really important in those days. 

I had never had a real job, except one time, with Time Magazine, in 1958. That's how I got to California. A modest beginning. When they offered me a raise I knew it was time to leave New York — at that moment. 

I went to San Francisco State from 1958 to 1960. Then in 1960 I moved to Berkeley. And I stayed there until 1967 until I moved here. I've been very stable, geographically. 

I went to graduate school but I didn't graduate. I have not fulfilled my general education requirements yet. I have a whole bunch of units and I would love to trade them. I'll even give them away if someone could use them. I've forgotten how to spell. It's all over. I spent eight years in college. 

Then, in 1964 the Free Speech movement broke out and I thought this was the revolution. I had all these credit cards and I started renting out cars and giving them to Movement people. I thought this was the final rush to the palace gates. There were 100,000 people mobilized, you know. 

I was heavy into it. I was at Strike Central. I mean, it looked like they were starting to move. Then, after the FSM went, after we had won, so called, I experienced one of my more acute depressions as the revolution was over and the bill collectors had me surrounded, and I had checks out. I was going to go to jail for fraud. I was on the ropes and so I got terribly depressed, and one of my lover's friends was a psychiatrist. And together with my wife, my lover, and Captain Fathom we went to the University of California — San Francisco Medical Center and I got put into the clinic, Langley-Porter. 

Langley-Porter, where I first began. They wouldn't let me out unless I found a real job. So I got a job. I looked in the Oakland Tribune. There was an ad for a clothing salesman. I went there and bullshitted my way into the job, and as luck would have it, within a year I was managing one of their stores. I was a phenomenal success. I skyrocketed. 

Then, in 1966, I was making an enormous amount of money for Captain Fathom who had always lived a life of acute poverty. And I bought everything I ever wanted in my life. My salary was something like $18,000. That was a lot of money. I hit mod clothing. And I bought a Jaguar and a BMW motorcycle and a Citroen, and I just satiated all of my materialist desires. I proved to myself, to my wife, and to my mommy and my daddy and to my psychiatrist that I could indeed become a success if I did choose. And then, after that happened I had no more use for that life. At all! 

And I went up to Mendocino for a weekend and saw Will Maloff at Lost and I never returned. I never went back. I sent a telegram. 

When I moved up here I was fortunate in getting involved with this thriving Caspar industry, Peerless PipeWorks, which enabled me to learn a pathetic but nonetheless fairly stable living. They manufactured dope pipes. And I had a BMW motorcycle which was a fallout from my life as a rich haberdasher, and twice a month I would load up the BMW with two saddlebags full of blowpipes and go down and pitch them in the Bay Area. Haight-Ashbury. This was the high point of flower power. This was my first job here. 

I'd always been really attracted by the ocean all my life. I had a friend I met here called the Yellow Kid, who was involved in diving. I saw him do it, and at the earliest possible time I got myself a wetsuit. And I stumbled moronically into the ocean. And only because of God's grace did I manage to teach myself how to shoot fish and dive for abalone. I just got progressively more into that. 

While that was happening, my partners became more bored with producing the pipes, as I became more and more involved in the ocean, and the business just petered away. We all just lost interest in it. They were good pipes. I don't think have any any more. Somebody does. There must be one anal-retentive person in this community who probably has a pipe. They were really good pipes. They should be a museum pieces. 

I'm very happy. I'm very happy with the world we live in. When I first came to consciousness in the middle 1950s, the macro-world around me was an Hieronymus Bosch nightmare. 

The Vietnam War is over. Praise God for that. That was a vivisection to my spirit. It was like a cloud that lived with me all during that period. I certainly thank God for that being over. 

I think I've always been pretty much the same, other than that very small period in real world time that I made a short work of as I could. And things have gotten so much better. The consciousness level, it seems, has been raised. I have a whole bunch more people I can relate to in life, and I feel better. 

(This interview originally appeared in Big River News in 1978 and is an excerpt from Alan Graham's 2002 book Captain Fathom's Fables, published by Pacific Transcriptions, PO Box 526, Mendocino CA 95460. (707) 937-4801. Courtesy, Alan Graham. )

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