Pride Month — Herr Roy

My high school German teacher was Herr Roy (in order to show our respect because he was our elder, we were always to address him as Herr Roy, never by his first name).

Herr Roy — from my yearbook.

Herr Roy was an obese homosexual with a pencil moustache. As Hitler rose to power, his family feared the future. First they fled from Germany to France and later, as Hitler threatened all of Europe, they fled to America. Despite our student/teacher relationship in class, we became friends. As I tried to learn the craft of songwriting, I frequently shared the lyrics of my first songs with him after class, and he offered his insightful critiques. Our friendship was unique, and none of my classmates shared the relationship we had.

As summer approached in my junior year, 1967, I had expressed my curiosity about the Bay Area’s music scene and all the great bands arising there — Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and Fish, Big Brother, etc. Herr Roy told me he was spending the summer with a friend in San Francisco and perhaps I could come visit them for a weekend and check it out for myself. That sounded like a great idea, and I gave him my phone number so we could make arrangements.

A few weeks later that June, my trip fell into place — as agreed with my parents, a friend of mine and I would board a Greyhound bus in Fresno Friday afternoon, and Herr Roy and his friend would pick us up at the bus station in San Francisco that evening.

Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)” was in the Top 10, so as soon as we arrived, they asked us why we weren’t wearing flowers in our hair. They even brought flowers with them for us so we’d fit right in with all the flower children in town.

My friend and I slept on the couches in the living room, and Herr Roy and his friend treated us as more than just friends. We were royal guests. The two old men were complete gentlemen who offered us every respect and courtesy without a single untoward word or gesture of any kind. If they were romantically involved, they never displayed any of that to us. What would you expect of them? We were kids.

Saturday morning, they decided we needed to take a tour of the Bay Area. Even though I was an inexperienced driver who had just obtained a license, they shoved me behind the wheel. We headed south on 101 in a big, tuna boat Buick sedan, crossed the skinny laned bridge to Hayward, roared back up through Oakland and Berkely and then crossed the Bay Bridge back to the City. I was scared to death the whole time my inexperience would wreck us and kill us all!

After dinner on Saturday night, it was time to visit the Haight. They dropped us off at that famous intersection and said they would pick us up there two hours later. Not only did my friend and I get to experience the Haight during the heady days of the Summer of Love, we visited a couple of the district’s famous coffee houses (The Blue Unicorn, no less) to listen to the music there. Seeing these big city players performing in the very heart of the counterculture, I discovered I had a long way to go to reach my musical dreams.

I was shocked. I’d never seen anything like this. The streets were packed shoulder-to-shoulder with young wasted kids high on drugs seeking some kind of freedom they thought they’d find there. One guy was so stoned out his mind when he ran into a woman walking the opposite direction in the crowd, he put his hands on her shoulders and said, “You’ll do.” I don’t know if he found any takers. The level of public intoxication out on the street overwhelmed me. That fall, the Haight would declare The Death of the Hippie because the local scene had been overrun by so many young outsiders it had become untenable. I guess I got to personally witness the drug rot that was the beginning of the end of all that promise.

Unscathed, Sunday morning my friend and I were back on the Hound, headed for Fresno.

For many years, I’d stop by and visit Herr Roy at his house in Fresno near Hamilton Junior High School, not far from William Saroyan’s house. He once told me the kids had changed since my time, and he didn’t enjoy teaching so much anymore.

One day I stopped by as I was passing through town, and he was gone.

Rest in peace, Herr Roy. I will always fondly remember our friendship and your contribution to my life.