When I was about 12 or 13, I got the idea in my head that I would start my own local business in Bolinas. I was already known far and wide for the great care that I took of my younger siblings (Trishna and Hermione at the time — Mary was to come along later). So I put an ad in the Hearsay News that read as follows:
The “Effete” Babysitting Company
$1 per Hour
When I call what I put into the Hearsay an ad, I should clarify that I simply put a note in the Hearsay that the editors gladly ran for me week after week. However, it was the Hearsay’s founder, Michael Rafferty, who was working as a butcher at the Bolinas Store, who pointed out that the word “effete” was actually French for a word that meant something other than what I thought. Michael inferred that it meant “feminine.” (I later found the translation to mean “exhausted”, or “spent”). At any rate, Michael suggested that for my next ad, that I change theword to “elite,” which is what I had meant in the first place. So I did.
Babysitters Spontaneous soon began to prosper, with babysitting jobs nearly every night of the week. I was so busy that I soon began having to farm out work to some of my friends. Someone suggested taking a “piece” of the job since it originated with me but I didn’t.
This being Bolinas in the early 1970s, you must understand that childcare isn’t what it is today – with kids glued to their video games and having the Internet keep them company. Back then, we really had to work.
For starters, one evening at the home of a family whose name I won’t mention, one of the three children (two boys and a girl) actually came into the living room crying after he had somehow tied a fishing line around his penis. The boy’s older brother was in tow, and the line was wrapped rather tight. If memory serves, Charles Whitefield was also on the scene, and was able to carefully remove the line with a some scissors from a kitchen drawer.
On another occasion, on a night where I was only supposed to babysit until 10 PM, the mother actually stayed away for three days.Nobody knew where she was. My own mother relayed messages to me via my siblings to stay with the child and that this woman would eventually return home — and would likely pay me extra. Excited at the extra income ($1 x however many hours), I stayed put, feeding the young boy (who I think was around four years old) and watching television. Eventually, when the mother returned, there was no explanation — and she was completely broke. She offered a used pair of tennis shoes that were far too large for my feet as payment for services. (Author’s Note: This unfortunate pair later wound up as part of the People’s Temple and died in the mass suicides of Jonestown, Guyana.)
Still not shaken from the experience, and with the company’s reputation gaining credibility, I kept taking jobs.
One night, I sat for a single woman who was in her thirties on the Bolinas Mesa, who said she would be home by 10 or 11, but actually returned from an evening at Smiley’s Saloon shortly after 2 AM. She was an African-American woman whose name I will again keep to myself.
“Would I like the $1 an hour that I had earned since I arrived at around dinner time, or would I like something a little more memorable…” she asked, taking my young hand and leading me into a close embrace.
“I’ll take the $12,” I said, and got out of the house as fast as I could, regretting the decision years later.
Babysitters Spontaneous continued to prosper until the middle of my 13th year, when I went to work for the late Gwenn Spangler for $1 per hour (Cash!) at The Shop (now the Coast Cafe).