San Francisco, 1978

My friends, Mark Rehnberg and Patti Ramelli, were not gay  but that didn’t make them any less enlightened. To me they were the king and queen of all that was deeply, authentically cool and real. I met them in Laguna Canyon. Mark worked with my then boyfriend George.

George had taken me to a college production of arthur Miller’s All My Sons. Mark and Patti sat near us in the audience. We were introduced and then the play began.

Mark was from New England, son of a son of a seafaring man. It was 1975 when we met.

He had long curly hair. It was brown but wind blown and bleached by the sun from riding his really bitchin’ motorcycle.


Here is a sketch I did from memory this morning.

He was not your average biker boy. He was tall and thin, all sinewy muscle and bone. He had peirced ears, sported a well-worn brown bomber jacket with a large floral pin in the furry collar.

His little home in Laguna Canyon was filled with great old furniture that he had “liberated” from an adjacent shed somewhere on the rented property. He was very good at creating at atmosphere and in his space he encouraged things to happen. Mark called me Conrad. I loved it.

Mark found Patti Ramelli in San Francisco. She was tall herself, blonde, then, and buxom. She had escaped from Santa Maria and a ballsy, alcoholic mother named Mary. 

Though Patti liked to play dress up, too, her wild act did not hide her vulnerability. I love her for that and for her passion. She loved Marc Bolan, Roxy Music and especially Lou Reed.

Unfortunately Mark liked to play with her head and he often demanded that she be the star of his impromtu street theater drama. Sometimes she liked it and sometimes she was overwhelmed by it.  

Mark always seemed to challenge or encourage others to make a scene in public for his amusement. At times it was perverse and a bit cruel sort of like pulling the wings off of flys.

Mark and Patti were two wild, beautiful, forward-thinking people who were adopted by a group of wonderful gay boys who taught them what it means to live honestly.

Miss Jessica, I think you have my only picture of the two of them together.

Just as John Waters at that time was so on the cutting edge that he turned people’s stomach’s, Patti Ramelli used to have a saying to describe many of the more seriously hard-styling aspects of the world we eventually shared — “Too real for TV,” she’d say about something.

In 2008, John Waters is on Broadway and TV is filled with gut-wrenchingly stupid reality shows. Oh, honey! Who knew we’d get here?

I would have never guessed. I think Waters would tell you the same thing.

This is Patti’s apartment in Dore Alley. When  got to San Francisco in 1978. I arrived in the house across the street.

It was the home of Wescott a very nice and naughty gay man. Mark lived there too. This is a pic of the back of the house. Their address was actually on Folsom Street at Dore above the Brig.

The picture of Wes’s place (That wasn’t his flag) is taken from Susan’s window in Patti and Susan’s apartment in Dore Alley (see above).

Susan Dummer was Patti’s best friend from Santa Maria. Her parents Bill and Betty Dummer owned a bar there.

Susan stands, here, with the magnificent Ruby Zebra, poet, performance artist, all around ultra cool soul.

Ruby lived down Folsom street from Mark and Wes and Patti and Susan.

I met Ruby and was hooked. He was gay and great and honest and outspoken. A Scorpio with power to see the strange truth at play in the worlds both physical and spiritual.

The second time I saw Ruby I told him I had dreamed of him.

I dreamed that he was in a dark tunnel, like some strange, purgatorial carnival ride. He was conducting ghosts through the darkness. He had a flashlight in each hand and waved his arms in arcs like a spiritual traffic controller.

When I finished recounting my dream. He looked right at me.

“I dreamed about you, too,” he said. “You were really butch with big ol’ muscles. And you were all greased up,” he said. “You had a really big cock.”

Wow, I thought to myself. That can’t be a bad thing. I took it as a compliment and kept my mouth shut. That’s the way it was with Ruby. You got the truth with a big dollop of lemon icing slopped on top.

I soon to one of Ruby’s poetry performances. He was dressed in a pink miniskirt and platform shoes. He was brutally, take-no-prisoners, confrontationally riveting.

“Hooray for the Zebra killer! Hooray!” That was the opening line of the first poem. Ruby hurled it out loud and slow.

Ruby, a middle class boy born in the deep south in the late 40’s celebrated a ritual mayhem born of decades of oppression.

I miss Ruby and he can haunt me all he wants. He died a few years ago, back home in the south, a place of contradiction, that created such a heart-bending, committed rebel.

Here is one of the only online references to Ruby I can find. You have to really read through carefully  to find the references.

Here is a sort of on-the-fly obituary posted on the Neo J. Marvin guest book by a friend known back in 1978 as Houdini:

Christine Haupert-Wemmer FKA HoudiniMonday, June 27th, 2005 1:39 AM PDT
For anyone who remembers Ruby Zebra (AKA Slick Plastic, Otis Brady, Alvin M. White Jr., among assorted others): He passed away, August 2003, at his family’s home in Swansboro, North Carolina. He’d been living there for a number of years, after leaving New York City. Anyone wishing to know more, or who can pass the word on to others who knew and loved his incomparable ass in San Francisco (or anywhere else) please do so. Feel free to contact me at (living in New Orleans now).
P.S. To . . . others who comprehend Ruby’s very special relationship with death and ritual, we really should gather in North Carolina and howl him down. He died alone.

I LOVE YOU RUBY. Come back shining and full of stunning energy.

This was the negative of a photograph taken by Marcus Leatherdale a photography student that Patti knew. Here it hangs in the window of the living room at Patti’s and Susan’s place.

 From left to right: Susan, Patti (down low), Ruby and Kevin.

Kevin was Frank’s friend.

And Frank turned out to be my friend. He was Susan’s ex. When I moved in with Patti and Susan Frank came waltzing in one day and . . .

Patti and Susan decided to get rid of us for a while. They asked Frank to show me the way to the sporting goods store on Market Street. I needed a new pair of sneakers and didn’t know the way.

As we walked along the sidewalk I noticed our reflection in the shop windows. We looked cute together.

Later we went to Golden Gate Park with Mark, Patti and Susan. Frank showed me the buffalos.

That was just the beginning.

11 Responses to “San Francisco, 1978”

  1. Jessie Pratt Says:

    That picture is resting against a mirror on the mantel next to a porcelain kitty and some flowers. It looks the same, still. I can scan it for you. Also, I still haven’t seen the buffaloes, though it’s long overdue. Summer isn’t over yet.

  2. Moises Domingo Rios Says:

    Thank you for letting us visit your home.
    I want to keep moving in.

  3. My Uncle knew and interviewed Ruby Zebra. I would love to communicate with you on the matter. Please e-mail me back when you get a chance. Thanks, Robert Opel 2

  4. Christine Haupert-Wemmer, FKA Houdini Says:

    Ruby Zebra woud have turned 70 on the day after Barack Obama’s election. I believe his reflections would have been emotional, inspiring, and controversial, depending on which muse was on the mic.

    Is Frank guitarist-Frank, whom I briefly worked with in a band in 1980? If so, much love to him – a very talented and good-hearted guy. I still remember most of the songs, though Katrina drowned the tapes and lyric sheets. Still have one of those band photos taken at Project ONE though…
    Contact me if you are willing.

  5. Mark Rehnberg Says:

    Hi Connie,
    Just read your weblog. Where are you now? Contact me.
    Mark Rehnberg

    • Mark Rehnberg!!!!! Greetings and salutations. I’m ecstatic to hear from you and know that you are out there.
      I have searched on this blog site to find a link in your comment to an email but I don’t see one.
      I’m in Redding, California. Been here since 1993.
      You can reach me by email at

  6. I found your Email Mark. Will write ASAP.

  7. Patricia Ramelli Says:

    Ho# to me. I am in treatment for my liver and can,t keep anything in my mind more then 1 sec.I love you U booth and want to see u when I come up end of Jan to stay with Joey.ney so fabu to here your voice. e-mail your ph my typing is crazy. looks like everything got jumbled. So in closing send ph # or call I am at home almost 24/7
    love Pastti Ramelli

  8. Ola Bella…….get in touch Patti….love you miss you ..Shere are you? I live in Lisbon, Portugal these days ciao xxMarcus

  9. Patti or Mark….please email me your contact info……miss you ciao Marcus

  10. […] and I will have the great pleasure of joining in an alterna-family reunion. Amazing souls from our early days in the city will gather. We will travel south from Redding to Sebastopol. It’s a great little place 50 […]

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