86’d Stories: Sammy Reid and Jeff Dickinson

Jennifer Blowdryer


Sammy Reid was the first great adult I ever met. He came walking into this warehouse on Howard Street in San Francisco in 1978, just when my band was auditioning keyboard players. He had on sweat pants and mariachi sandals, and casually sat down and dominated my Fender Rhodes with this full, peppy, ‘60s sound. I gave up playing ensemble piano on the spot because this man, a former musical prodigy from Philly, scrappy, tough, and fun, was so real and good. A lot of how I tell a story or a joke today, 30 years later, is from listening to Sammy talk when I was a teenager: any mortal humiliation can become a triumph if the timing’s right. I still believe that. Sammy has been evicted from multiple apartments in downtown San Francisco and kicked out of a few restaurants. Bring on the evictions! Life, is that all you got?!

86ed: So, you were evicted from three apartments, all of them on Bush Street! Do you remember the first place you were evicted from?

Sammy: I think it was in 1974. It was the very first apartment I ever had here. I was 19. 797 Bush St. It was right on the corner of Bush and Mason, a basement apartment. I had a separate basement entrance, so you could enter my apartment by coming downstairs from the lobby or you could come in through this side door that came off of Mason Street. I was the only person in the basement. It was kind of like the lowlife apartment.

I didn’t have much of an income – this is the bad part – so I had put an ad in the paper to sort of attract business. A few people came over. I guess it was prostitution, but I didn’t do it for very long. You know, considering this story and a few other stories, I wasn’t really cut out for it.

I had a landlady who lived on the first floor. One night this guy comes over. I don’t remember much about him. He had dark hair, you know, he was kind of shady, and as far as I remember I charged $35 at that time. I remember at the store across the street, milk was 28 cents a gallon, so you could think of it like that. It was actually pretty good money.

Please don’t tell the law or anybody about this. He came over. I had this little drawer set right near the door, and ’cause he was real shady, I asked for the money either halfway through or before anything started. It wasn’t even that much we did but I took the money. I put it in the drawer, which was right near my door when you leave the apartment. So anyway, not much happened. I forget what I had on but it wasn’t very much. I think shorts, you know, cut-offs.

Just when he was leaving I thought I heard the drawer open and close, I heard the noise, and I thought, “I wonder if that fucking guy is taking the money.”

He left the apartment, and I ran right over to the drawer. I opened the drawer. The money was gone. So I just kind of like – I just saw red. I ripped the door open. He’d gone out the lobby way, upstairs. I ran up there, opened the door. I saw him. He had a VW Bug that he’d parked right outside the door.

On the ground was a brick that they used to hold the door open, so people could move furniture. I was half-dressed, and his Volkswagen was starting up. He knew I was coming. He saw me, and he tried to pull away from me real fast. I took the brick, and I threw it. It went right through the back window. Of course, he wasn’t going to stop. I was like “Yeah!” I thought I really got him. I felt really justified in doing that.

Just then I turn around and the landlady’s standing right there in the lobby, just looking at me. It’s 2 a.m. and she’s in her housecoat. I said, “Hey,” like nothing had happened. She just looked at me and said, “You are outta here tomorrow morning.” That was the end of my stint at 797.

86ed: Do you have any other kick-outs that you remember, or any times that you kicked somebody out?

Sammy: Yeah. I was like 20. I got kicked out of the Grubsteak, on Pine. I’ve never been one to take drugs that much, but I did speed. I don’t even think it was meth, I just think it was black beauties or some kind of speed. I was really high and I went in there. The person I went there with disappeared, I think, because I was just acting so weird. I saw this old drunk guy. He had passed out on his table. His head was down on the table and there was no place else to sit. While I was looking they brought him his food. Eggs and bacon and toast, like a breakfast. The waiter put it in front of him and goes, “Here’s what you ordered, sir.”

The guy didn’t wake up. He just kept his head on the table. I thought, “Well, I’m on speed and everything and I’m not that hungry, but I just can’t see that food going to waste.” So I pulled up to the seat right across from him. I was talking to him, and I just pulled the plate of food over and took his utensils and started eating it. All of a sudden I felt something behind me picking me up. They dragged me out to the sidewalk and I basically got physically evicted from there. He was asleep through the whole thing. They just threw me out. That was in, like, ’75.

Jeff is also a talented singer-songwriter and actor, who has given me some of the best laughs of my life. He’s a tough straight guy from Kansas that gay guys go wild over. He has that thing, boy and man at the same time. When Jeff gets drunk he gets a certain look in his eye and I know to give him about four feet of space. He refers to his wild alter ego as Darryl Kravitz. Jeff’s not sweet but he’s good. Darryl, on the other hand, is a pain in the ass. I met up with Jeff at a bar in Broolyn called No Exit and interviewed him while he was drunk but not yet in full tilt rebellious mode to do my interview; he talked more or less nonstop about a particular evening in which he’d ended up having French Toast at Bellevue. Throughout the interview a drunk girl kept asking for a light and interjecting her own opinions.

Darryl: So that night I was going drinking from bar to bar. At the first bar I ordered a shot of whiskey on the rocks. A man bought me a Heineken, all the while advising me that I should not mix my whiskey and my beer. So, ignoring his opinion, of course, I went on and had more Heinekens. I played some pool, I won and I lost, and I had some more whiskey, and kept moving on, because I was, bar-hopping. I ended up somewhere down around the 50s, on 7th Avenue, and I was in this bar and I had my shoes off. I wasn’t wearing shoes at this point because I was trusting God.

I left to get cigarettes, and I went across the street, and I was trying to ask the man what kind of cigarettes he had, but he refused to tell me. He asked me what I wanted, and I said “What do you have?” and he asked me what I wanted and I said “What do you have?” I said, “Well, I want Camel Filters,” and he said, “We don’t have that.” And I said, “Well what do you have?” He wouldn’t tell me, so I had to peek behind the counter, against his wishes. He was standing right there, so it was hard, so I had to go, and do that.

Meantime, a bum was trying to buy something – Just a second. I called him a bum, but I don’t really know him. He was trying to buy something, and all he had was 90 cents. He needed 10 more cents to buy what he wanted, and the guy was refusing to give him even 10 more cents. I was so insanely angry at the man that I tore up a dollar bill and I threw it in his face, and he threw it back at me and I took it, and I put it in my pocket and I left and I tried to piss on the place, but – I didn’t have to piss. So it was just a few little ‘sssp’ ‘sssp’ and nothing else.

So, I tried to piss on the building and I succeed, in a very limited sense. Then, I try to find the bar where I had left my bag and the shoes. and I can’t, so I go walking down the street in my bare feet and I find this prostitute, and we get to talking and I’m like, “Well, I need to find my shoes,” and she’s like, “Maybe let’s try this bar.” So we go to this bar, except for it’s down an avenue which I’m absolutely sure – positive – is not the avenue I was on. We go down to this other place, and it’s very well lit and red, and I buy her a drink and I buy myself a drink. She sits at the other edge of the bar. I sit there and I’m like, “Well, why isn’t she talking to me?” I mean obviously I just bought her a drink, but that’s not the problem. I’m the problem.

I’m drinking, and I finish my whiskey. I’m thinking, “Well, where the fuck are my shoes and my bag? I have to work tomorrow. I’m teaching children gymnastics, and my uniform’s in the bag!” So I take off running down the street. I turn down the avenue. I turn up the street, and I go up to a different avenue. I see this guy that I remember vaguely from the bar where I left my shoes. I hadn’t really been looking at anybody, I was just bothering them. But I remembered looking at him. So I’m like, “Where’s that bar we were at?!” I notice that he has three hot chicks with him but I can’t really do anything about it ‘cause I really need my shoes and my bag.

He’s like, “It’s right there.” It was exactly across the street from the place I tried to piss on. I bang on the window because the bar is closed. The bartender looks through the window and sees me, holds up his fingers to say ‘just a moment,’ and returns with my bag and my shoes.

I return to the bar where my, I say, my – not truthfully, but in my mind – my prostitute had been waiting but she wasn’t there. I was triumphant and alone, and I drank two more drinks. I started noticing that every girl in that bar had at least four big guys around her, but I couldn’t keep myself from staring and feeling like I was getting in trouble. Then I saw a gas mask on a shelf on the wall and I thought to myself, “Nobody, nobody, not one person, is going to escape a gas attack. Not one person. Why? Because they’re privileged, because they’re strong enough to take it from everybody else.”

So I rip it down, my shoes and my bag are completely ready and I run. I don’t even take it; I just rip it down and throw it on the floor and I run out of the bar. I’m running in my bare feet, down the streets of Manhattan, down Eighth Avenue, and the bartender is chasing me, which I didn’t expect. And I turn on an avenue. I hear the footsteps approaching closer. I turn around and it’s a cop. The cop grabs me and wrenches my arm, wrenches my arm up behind me. I’m screaming now, of course, because I’m in pain, and I hurt, and when I scream my voice echoes off the wall and bounces from the buildings. It is very loud. I’m screaming, “You are in complete control, there’s no reason to hurt me.”

There is a cop on each of my bare feet – one cop holding my arm wrenched up behind my back while my face is pressed against the back of a squad car. I start to realize the helplessness of my situation. I look into the crowd of cops – now there’s 20 cops; It started with two. My face was against the back of a squad car, and I was staring at this huge fat cop like a stereotypical pig, little beady eyes and a huge fat unused body. So, my face is pressed against the squad car, and I start licking the dirt off of the back of it. I’m staring into his face. I’m thinking, “What these guys really want is my supplication. What these guys really want is my humiliation and my degradation.”

I was standing up and they try to press me back down onto the cop car, but I refuse. I have knowledge at this point that the cop’s spatial pressure on my body cannot force me down; there are not enough cop hands to make me bow if I don’t wish to. An ambulance pulled up, right? I get in. They strap me in, still handcuffed behind my waist. I’m yelling at the cop who’s with me, and there’s this, uh, girl cop whose bending to get out of the ambulance. You have to duck your head, and I fucking sweep my feet out, slip kind of under my belt, and kick her right between the legs. I can’t even say ‘ass shot’, because it was right between the legs and not even that hard. I got thudded over the head by a cop. Just for the record, I have no record.

Then, I’m in the ambulance, I’m trading cops with insults, I mean I’m trading insults with cops, all the way to Bellevue. They take me out. I’m able to wiggle around in my handcuffs. I take my hands and I lower them below my feet and I step over them so they’re in front of me. The cops are a bit stupefied at first and then they accept it. After they’ve tied me to a gurney, they just let me go. I’m at the Bellevue emergency psychiatric ward. I talk to a psychiatrist, assure her that I love my parents and that tonight really just kind of, you know, got out of hand.

And that’s that. I got my own room. I told the people behind the glass that I was hungry. They gave me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich along with a half pint of chocolate milk, which I get to eat in my own room. I wake up and some people are taking my blood. I fell asleep again. I had French toast with a very pretty girl, who was also in the emergency psychiatric ward, and I had an interview with a psychiatrist who told me that I should take a good look around and see if I wanted to come back here. By the time I went back to take a look around, the pretty girl I’d been talking to was doped up on her meds and already asleep. They had called my work and told them that I was in the emergency room. They did not tell them that I was in the psychiatric emergency room, and they did not tell them that the police had taken me there, for which I’m eternally grateful.

So I left the Bellevue Emergency Psychiatric Ward. I picked up my wallet again. I bought a Payday on my way to the subway. The sun was shining and the world was beautiful. I felt great. I had the day off, and the next day I went to work and told them that I was mugged.

You can hear Jeff Dickinson’s complete interview and other 86’d stories at Jennifer Blowdryer’s website.

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