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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Saved By The Blonde

by Lynn Downey (writer), Sonoma, March 01, 2007

Whenever I tell people I spent three years in a San Francisco religious cult in the 1970s they always ask how I got out. The easy answer is the Jonestown suicides, which happened while I was still living there. That’s not exactly the truth though, because the honest answer is hard for people to believe.

The real reason was Goldie Hawn.

I saw her movie Foul Play in the fall of 1978, the last year I was with the Christian Spiritualist Church, a small cult located in an Edwardian building across from Dolores Park. The CSC was founded by a wealthy south of Market clothing manufacturer named Floyd who had a midlife crisis around 1973 and decided that instead of buying a red Ferrari he would start a church. This being the 70s the theology was nominally Christian, but it was spiced with enough references to healing, channeling and natural foods to attract everyone from lapsed Catholics to the Birkenstock crowd.

The CSC was textbook. I sold flowers on the street (my territory was 9th and Irving), renovated Floyd’s residential building at Oak and Fillmore, and then ran a produce store on Mission Street in the Excelsior. We were celibate vegetarians who fasted every Sunday, although Floyd felt himself exempt from the celibacy rule because he singled me out more than once for a spot of sexual terrorism.

Despite this, I was committed to the work of the CSC, which held regular church services for the public. Every Sunday morning and Wednesday night spiritual messages were channeled through our mediums and we gave free psychic healings. I’d joined the church in my senior year at Sonoma State College and dropped out of school just before graduation. Years of introspection have helped me understand that I got sucked into this cult because I wasn’t ready to enter the adult world, but in 1976 all I knew was that I was ready to give up everything for this place.

We had a few hours of free time every Sunday, and though movies (like reading books and listening to music) were not on the approved list of activities, I went anyway. The contrarian streak which sent me to the CSC in the first place also made me hold little rebellions from time to time. Sometimes I’d go to San Francisco Public Library, just to hold a book in my hand for awhile. Other times I would go to the movies for the simple pleasure of losing myself in a story that had nothing to do with my life. So when I chose to see Foul Play at the Regency Theatre that crisp afternoon I wasn’t expecting anything but a couple of hours of escape from my produce store job and Floyd’s unwanted attentions.

I got a lot more. I snapped. I experienced that moment of pure clarity that people in abusive relationships get when what’s wrong becomes clear, and a way out presents itself. I got my moment sitting in the dark in a faux red velvet seat with a forbidden bag of popcorn on my lap.

In Foul Play Goldie Hawn plays a San Francisco librarian named Gloria, who lives in a flat in a charming Victorian building, and we first see her apartment about twenty minutes into the plot. It’s feminine and comfortable, full of plants, big pillows and quilts, with a fireplace and an antique bedstead. The rooms are small and homey, designed for a single woman’s comfort and peace.

As the camera moved through her flat I sat in my seat unable to breathe or move. There was something about Gloria’s life, her apartment and her movements that looked familiar, but I couldn’t place it. However, it didn’t take me long to figure it out.

Gloria was living the life I was supposed to have.

She lived in San Francisco, in a flat like mine, though she had a bed with an afghan, and I slept on the floor. We both wore skirts and sweaters but hers were prettier than mine. She was blonde, like I used to be. And finally, she was a librarian, the career I had chosen when I was fourteen years old but which I’d left behind when I joined the CSC. She had the life I wanted before I had given it up to give myself to God.

When the movie was over I made my way to the J Church streetcar and got off at Dolores Park, my brain buzzing. For the first time since joining the cult I could admit to myself that I didn’t want to be there any more.

We all talked about dropping out at one time or another, especially after the second year when Floyd’s behavior had become more erratic. But he made sure we were so isolated we didn’t know how to live any other kind of life. That afternoon, though, I began to realize there was something for me outside the church’s confining walls. And I didn’t know it until I went to the movies. No wonder Floyd feared books, films and music. Like all despots he knew that art could give us big ideas.

Foul Play showed me that life was waiting in a city I loved, and in my chosen profession. It had a face: Goldie Hawn’s. It even had a theme song by Barry Manilow. I was ready to take a chance.


About the Writer

Lynn Downey is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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4 comments on Saved By The Blonde

Log In To Vote   Score: 6
By The Dez on March 02, 2007 at 07:42 am
like woah.
 Report abuse

Log In To Vote   Score: 5
By Ron on November 20, 2007 at 10:38 pm
Story serves as a reminder that cults have very human consequences. Rather than bringing glory, they bring misery. Same for war.
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Log In To Vote   Score: 4
By Charles, Jr on December 04, 2007 at 10:22 pm
We have mini want-to-be cults in my school so I really liked this story.
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Log In To Vote   Score: 4
By Kent J. on December 05, 2007 at 12:47 am
Great story.
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