Sandy always told me that I wrote too much about myself. That I should look outward more often and inward less often. She was right, as she usually was, about me anyway. It was part of the reason we had been together for ten years, people don’t stay together unless they need each other. We moved to Santa Cruz together because it was the place she liked the best. Together we had searched a small cities around California after leaving Idaho. I had left with the intention of breaking up with her, she had left following me, assuming correctly that I would fall back into that comfortable thing we had together. We were looking for a place I could start my own picture framing shop. I preferred Santa Rosa but she was right in thinking Santa Cruz was a better art town.
So we rented a small duplex together- with great difficulty. Santa Cruz we learned was a very tough town to rent in, probably it is even tougher now. The landlords wanted to see all our financial details and past rental references, which we didn’t have, Sandy owned her own home in Boise. I really can’t blame them after witnessing what college kids can do to rentals; the parties, the unpaid rent, the damages. It was a tiny place with a kitchen placed between two small bedrooms, a bathroom off to the side and a small yard on one side. Sandy and I shared a bedroom and we sub-rented out the second room. We got a couple single mattresses and laid them on the floor. If we wanted to sit, we stacked them on top of each other. There was a small table in the kitchen where Sandy often sat, smoking contemplatively, blowing smoke out the window. She had a two cigarette a day habit.
Sandy liked to sleep with the window open, the air and the sounds coming in. The fresh ocean air was nice and you could hear the sea lions down at the wharf barking all night. There were a lot of sounds in that neighborhood; drumming from the nearby Louden Nelson Center, shouts of “No!” from the women’s self defense classes, people walking by on the sidewalk-coming and going from the nearby park, probably a few small drug sales went down outside on the other side of the duplex, once or twice a stranger slept so close to our window outside we threatened to call the police, and more than once someone peed right outside our front door.
Sandy seemed happy in that place, and living with me again. She would go get her coffee at Cafe Bene’s every morning, getting to know the regulars. We slept together, spooning each other. When she was in the mood for intimacy, she would usually start things, sometimes waking me up in the morning. She was always able to get me going, even though in my head I wanted to break up with her and find someone else. It’s funny how looking back I can have such pleasant memories about things which annoyed me at the time. It says something about the texture of life and how not being in control adds layers to it, after all we can not tickle ourselves, some one else has to do that for us. And so these moments repeated themselves and lasted for a couple years.
I noticed a small place with a “For Rent” sign in the window. It was just right for a small frame shop, right around the corner from where we lived. I didn’t even have to cross the street to get there. Sandy went with me to look right away. It was a small commercial space downstairs from a small living space. It was a tiny converted house and Judy- the house’s owner (and a real estate agent) had a good sense of humor about it. She had lived upstairs for awhile but had since purchased a bigger place. Previously it had been used as a small office and Judy had the idea that someone should have a small art print shop there. She even suggested it to one of her sons. I always felt uneasy about how people would react when realizing that Sandy and I were a couple, in Boise people just assumed she was my mom and I was some kind of mamma’s boy or maybe gay. But I was looking a bit older now and both Sandy and I felt the people of Santa Cruz were less judgmental about such things. To me it felt a little bit like “coming out” must feel, to tell people we were a couple. Judy took it in stride like it was nothing, in fact I think she was a little envious of Sandy. It turned out to be much easier renting a commercial space in Santa Cruz than a residential space. I simply signed a month to month contract and paid Judy the first months rent of $450 and I was ready to go.
A strange thing happened later that same day after I paid the rent. It was one of those warm sunny fall days in Santa Cruz, the kind of day that later became referred to as “earthquake weather”. It was the thing known correctly as the “Loma Prieta Earthquake” of 1989. It was incorrectly called the “San Francisco” quake, but the epicenter was just outside Santa Cruz in the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. I could hear the quake as it came toward our duplex and stood inside waiting for the shaking to stop; it was long and hard, knocking me off balance a little. I ran outside immediately, looking down the street toward the old Ice Plant neighborhood, a house was on fire. There was water flowing in the streets from broken water mains. A number of the older Victorian houses had fallen completely off their foundations and there were piles of bricks next to any house with a chimney. I checked the small office I had just rented and to my surprise it looked fine. Then I started walking toward the main downtown area which was full of historic brick commercial buildings. It was devastated, the old mortar between the bricks had weakened over the years leaving the bricks to crumble, just like the old chimneys. And the old Victorians which had termite-weaken foundations could not withstand the earth movements. Emergency crews were already starting to block off the downtown area. I went back home and tuned into my small portable radio, the power, water and gas had all been shut off. While listening to the radio I learned a number of people were dead in the downtown Santa Cruz area and San Francisco had also been hit hard with heavy damage and a number of deaths there as well.
The entire Pacific Ave area of downtown was taped off for several weeks. We happened to be just outside the taped off area and my new rental building seemed fine. The superficial news sources tend to make a big deal out of the fact that earthquakes spread their destruction randomly, but that is not true. Low lying areas with alluvial soils such as the old flood plain which is Downtown Santa Cruz and San Francisco’s Marina District are especially vulnerable to earth movements. Old unreinforced masonry buildings after several decades, essentially turn into stacks of bricks when their mortar weakens. Wood frame buildings (such as the old Victorians) standing on high foundations may look well maintained from the outside but termite damage or dry rot also make them especially vulnerable to earth movements. President H.W Bush paid us a visit shortly after the quake, I never saw him but apparently Santa Cruz had made the big time national news. Sandy and I owned only a tiny television and never listened to TV news, though I did read the paper every morning.
I went ahead and began building work tables and gathering together framing equipment, planning to go ahead and open my frame shop as planned. It was an odd time to be opening a new business in Santa Cruz, there was so much chaos and so many things changing that had become Santa Cruz institutions. Many of those old established Santa Cruz businesses such as: Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Hardware and Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting were moved into tents erected in City parking lots, Logos Books and Records found a temporary home several blocks away. My new business was one block removed from Pacific Ave the main st in Santa Cruz and the main area of damage. It was across from the Bagelry which was a Santa Cruz institution housed in a undamaged building.
I built all my own work tables and purchased a vacuum press for mounting posters. For cutting mats I made do with a hand-held Logan mat cutter. I purchased a miter chop saw at the local hardware store for cutting my frames. In total it cost me about $5,000 to get set up. I painted my own sign and hung it up outside. I called the business Paper Art in reference to the main type of art I planned on framing and the idea that I planned on selling a few art prints as well. My first customer was one I never actually met. Sandy had met this older couple on one of her social excursions about town. They wanted something re-framed after the glass was broken. It was some kind of family photo if I remember correctly. Apparently the couple were smokers because the glass was caked thick with brown smoke and smelled of cigarettes. Sandy picked up their picture and delivered it to them.
It was a very slow start. I spent a month getting set up and probably only had two framing jobs that second month in my new business. Business grew very gradually, a good portion of the framing jobs I had those first months were things that had fallen off the wall during the quake and needed the glass replaced. But thanks mainly to Sandy’s skill at chatting people up at coffee shops at telling people about my business, it gradually grew to the point were I could pay rent and the rent of our duplex as well.
Sandy produced a bit of art herself. It was what I would call a very naive style, almost child-like but charming in its own way. Viewing Sandy’s art told you a lot about her as a person. It was as though she was a tourist in this life, in thrall with the simplest things. She never wanted to delve too deeply into her art just as she never wanted to delve too deeply into her life. She just wanted to enjoy the moment and avoid those depressive contemplative moments.
Our place on Cedar St. turned out to be a lucky location, after the earthquake, with Pacific Ave blocked off, Cedar St. became the default main st. for a couple of years or more. The Baglery was one of the few unaffected eating places and always had good traffic. Whenever there was a parade they used Cedar St. as the parade route, ending on my block, just before Laurel St. The one parade I remember best was the Carnaval parade, which I think took place sometime in February. They had a few decent Brazilian style bands with the loud drumming. I think David Byrne had just released a Brazilian influenced album at the time so I recognized the sound. But I remember the samba dancers the best- only about 3 or 4 but they were nearly naked, dressed with g-strings, tiny tops, the feathers and the boots. It was a cold misty day and at the end of the parade they took cover under the neighbor’s porch, my side window looking out at them.
I hand painted my own small sign and hung it above my door. There was a small enclosure outside where I posted my own ads and sometimes let others post there as well. It is hard to remember now but flyers where the main way of communicating with the larger community. People would staple flyers all over town, on all the telephone poles until they were 6 or 7 deep, dripping with rusty staples. I maintained my little enclosure better than that. The people I met at PaperArt came to define my new life in Santa Cruz. Not all of them were artists, but many of them were. The following stories are about a few of the artists that I first met in those early years in Santa Cruz.