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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Is that George I see before me? - 1987

So picking up where i left off in (http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/#!/2011/10/offers-are-not-what-they-seem-sometimes.html), we avoid the Gay Haight/Asbury district and its unique offers of “friendship”, jump in a cab and head off to the Waterfront.  Towards the Ghirardelli Square end of the waterfront, there was (no longer there and boarded up) a Houlihans Bar, Restaurant/ Nightclub.  The place was rammed with people and we grabbed a beer and sat people watching.  The American guys in the bar were all very much "into themselves" in a big way, pretty much trying to be John Travolta, in a modern 1980’s pop way.

Mark and I were probably no different to some degree, except that we had in our ammo box the "English accent", which had succeeded in getting us into town in the first place.  As I have mentioned, I was a big George Michael fan, his album “Faith” was a smash hit globally and as his track “I want your sex” came over the sound system, I went onto the dance floor and started my groove thang!  
A group of girls dancing nearby were my target and I slid my way over as coolly as you like and carried on dancing away, Mark spotting an opportunity, hit the floor as well and we slowly weaved our way into their group, and found ourselves dancing with them.  The girls, Debbie, Karen, Tina, Sam and Kate seemed pleased to see us and became a firm group of friends during my time in the States and here they are, with me in my element.

A couple of American guys seeing our success started to sidle across the floor, hoping to ride the shoulders of giants I presume and one came over and said to me, as George started to belt out “Faith”, “Hey man”, “Hi” I said, “I love your music man” he said, “what?” I turned to look fully at him and he was pointing to the Video screens around the ceiling of the club, showing the “Faith video”.
George was holding his acoustic guitar, dancing by the juke box in the video, and I looked at Mark and back at this guy, “gotta love that tune, your music is great” he said.  It dawned on both Mark and I that he thought I was George Michael!  This was the first time anyone had mistaken me for George and I laughed at the idea, but smiled back at the guy and said “thanks”.  Because I was English, this reinforced his notion that I was George and he went off around the bar telling people who I was, pointing me out.  Pretty soon, the dance floor was jammed with women and men, all eager to get close to me and share their love of George and offer me plaudits for “my” music. 
I have to admit, that it felt great, all these people surrounding me, wanting to know me.  I decided then that I would start to really fashion myself on George, after all what was there to lose, he was obviously “straight” was in the papers almost every week, pictured with another  girl, including Brooke Shields and Madonna, what was not to like?
So, the evening was a great success, Mark was cracking up about the whole “George” thing and we grabbed a cab back to our offered bed at the apartment of the girl we thought (see http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/#!/2011/10/offers-are-not-what-they-seem-sometimes.html) was a certainty.  To be fair to her English boyfriend, he let us in, helped us bed down and made us coffee and pastries the next day.
Apart from our visit to San Francisco, we’d mainly concentrated our efforts, (as we did not have a car), to Main Street San Mateo and the Irish Bar.  One evening we went for a few beers and they had a Karaoke night in progress.  Karaoke was new back then and everyone in the bar was having a go at singing a song or two.  A couple of girls (sisters), who we had consistently “bumped” into (turned out they were a little bit of the stalker type and Brit Mad), happened to be there.  They were not the prettiest girls in the world, and in fact the one who liked me was of a fairly large figure, so definitely not my type.  The other one was mad for Mark and he was being nice, as Mark has always been a gentleman and would happily talk to any girl.
After a few rounds, the guys and girls who we knew told me to sing.  Apart from a few sessions of singing with Al Tonner, back in Neinburg, when on guard duty in the cellars of our squadron block, and a sing along in Rhodes (see http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/#!/2011/10/all-roads-lead-to-rhodes-and-police.html) I had not really sung in front of anyone.  I wanted to be a singer, had written pages of lyrics, (can’t play an instrument mind) and singing along to my cassettes and records had been the limit of my career thus far.  But I had confidence I could sing and given enough prodding, I asked the Karaoke guy if he had any songs by George Michael.
The song choice was Faith, Club Tropicana and A Different Corner.  I chose Faith and had to clamber up onto a stage, turn and face a packed American Irish pub crowd and sing.  The song started, the familiar strum of the acoustic guitar and off I went.  Unlike the talent shows on TV nowadays, there wasn’t any of the whooping and screaming, as everyone recognises the lyric and the singer makes not too bad a fist of the first few bars.  But they listened and cheered at the end, I was patted on the back and Mark said, “I never knew you could sing like that”.
We left the pub along with the girls and wandered down the street to our apartment, I was intent on not letting them in; Mark was intent on letting them in.  It ended up with Mark in the bedroom and me in the lounge, fighting off this nutty girl.  I managed to avoid a serious lowering of standards and they left in the early hours of the morning.
Paul’s brother Victor had come over from Florida and started working with us, he could paint and so we had a three man team now.  Mark had found a Karate Studio where he could train, Fred Valari’s Studio of Self Defence.  Fred Valari had a chain of Karate studios countrywide and Mark was going almost every day as he had finally found his “thing”.  Pretty soon, the studio manager asked Mark whether he would consider taking on his own studio.  This would mean finishing with the construction job and taking management training courses, after which he would have his own centre, which was going to be a few miles down the peninsula near Interstate 92.
The main problem would be that Mark would not have any income whilst he was training, and therefore it would fall to me to cover all bills.  To me this was no big deal, he was my best friend, it did not occur to me to say no way, or even to consider it a problem really.  He was pursuing something he was passionate about and needed my support.  Simple!
When Mark was Best Man at my wedding Ten Years later, he spoke eloquently and emotionally about how this support had enabled him to go on and develop his career, marry, have children, who he dearly loves, and become a successful Karate Instructor (Sensei) to many thousands of children and adults.  He lives in Manteca, California and continues the owner of his own studio.  Look at the Facebook profile below to see how much enjoyment, happiness and self defence awareness he brings to his students. http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=100000450177182
So I was pioneering the latest George Michael look and having some limited success.  I had bought a leather jacket, a pair of crocodile leather cowboy boots and some Levi 501's.  I needed some photographs to use as promotional pictures should I ever join a band and even joined a model agency in San Francisco.  As I left the agency, I passed a street vendor's shoe shine stall and he spotted the boots and said, "Shine sir?"  Why not I thought and I sat down and the guy gets to work.  After a moment he looks at me and says "are you that George Michael", I just smiled at him and for the next ten minutes, whilst shining my boots, he is calling out "I got George Michael on my stand, George Michael!". It took bravery to post this picture by the way!!

Our nights out continued, although to a lesser extent and we went back to San Francisco a few more times that autumn.  One evening we found ourselves on Broadway, in San Francisco, a street of bars and clubs, at the Embarcadero end anyway.  As we sat at the bar, two girls came in, one was slight, pretty and petite, the other chubby and not so pretty.  They were sisters and Mark was knocked out with the prettier one. 
For one of only a very few times, I agreed to have “get the goppa”.  Mark settled into his patter with Debbie and I sat and chatted to her sister (name escapes).  They were in town to see the Australian Doors, a tribute band playing at a club on Broadway.  I was never keen on The Doors, but given Marks ever growing attraction to Debbie, “we”, meaning he, decided to go to the gig as well.  As we crossed the street, Debbie spotted a “wrap” lying on the pavement and picked it up.  This is where our naivety comes in, we had no idea what a “wrap” was.  “This could be coke” said Debbie.  The penny dropped. She and her sister popped down an alley and came back a few minutes later.  Mark and I looked at one another, shrugged and joined them walking over the street to the gig.
The band was fantastic and played a full set of Doors songs with the singer acting out the part of Jim Morrison superbly.  Mark and Debbie had hit it off and we walked back to her car for a lift home.  She had a small Honda 2 seater and there were four of us!  It ended up with Mark and I squeezed in the boot under the hatch back, faces pressed against the glass.
Mark and Debbie were starting to see a great deal of each other and I was always either gooseberry or having to entertain her sister.  When on my own with them, I was always rammed into the boot and we’d go off on trips across the Bay Area.  We went to a number concerts at the Shoreline Amphitheatre where we saw; Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, OMD, and Erasure.  Mark got his Studio and each day went to work in a “Karategi” or “gee” and I went to work in my painter overalls. 
Paul was keen to keep me sweet.  He knew i wanted to do something in music, singing, joining a band etc and he and I started spending more time together after work and at weekends whilst Mark was working. I wanted to travel home for Christmas and Paul wanted to make sure I was coming back, so paid for a “return” ticket on British Airways.  I was keen to make a good impression when I got home, so started visiting a tanning salon in the Crosby Mall, I wanted to give the impression that California meant year round sun and sand, when in fact the climate in the Bay Area was usually, fog, mist and rain in autumn and Winter.
Just before I departed for home, Paul took me to Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo and bought me a full length Black silk coat, that I’d had my eye on for some time.  It cost $500 and was the nuts.  An air ticket and a silk coat, plus a bonus as well.  I was to fly home mid December and return just before Christmas itself, and was to spend that festive season with Paul, Shirley, Mark and Victor.  Soon after, Mark was to move out and live in Sunnydale with Debbie; I was to be alone in that apartment, with just my tanning booth and a writing pad for company.  Oh dear

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