Interview with Peter Demma

Ralph Abraham [R]: So we have to repeat the Q&A we did before which is, where you were born.

I was born in Oakland, California and I think I went more-or-less immediately from there
to Redwood City where–I lived at the foot of a hill above Redwood City on which there
was a big cross at the top, and there used to be Easter rituals held there each year. But for
the rest of the year it was vacant. As a little kid I used to get to go all around this huge,
huge hill with not a house in site, to see that entire hill covered with grass, and to go
down on that grass in a giant grass sled that my father built, off which I fell when it ran
over me. I think that’s probably when my mother decided that was it, she’s no longer
going to be married to this alcoholic, motorcyclist, crazy Dane. Close scrapes, man–how
did I last this long? You’d be surprised at the places I’ve been and how I survived. Lord
only knows I must have a mission. That’s what I thought. I’ve been thinking that more
and more.

R: You thought you had a mission when you were in school?

Yeah, I always thought I had a mission, even when I was three years old. Hah. What
makes a person like that? Like the Blues Brothers or something.

R: One prefers to think that there’s a mission.

Yeah, it’s a nice belief anyway.

R: Public schools in Redwood City, California?

Then I went to–after my mother separated from my father, this was actually after my
sister had just been born, and she went to live with her folks in Berkeley, and that’s where
I grew up, in Berkeley, first and second grade ages. I used to run around the streets of old
Berkeley. We called it old, but it was old. It would be old to anyone. It was a lot of fun.
We were terrorists.

R: We’re talking about 1940s now.

Mm-hmm. I went to the movies twice a week, Saturday and Sunday at least. I was really
really programmed by all those movies. I thought I was John Wayne for many years. It
was just recently that I finally had to admit to myself that I really wasn’t John Wayne at
all. That’s really fooling yourself all those years.

R: So public schools in Berkeley then, all the way?

I went to a convent in my first and second year. Nuns.

R: First and second year of–?

Grammar school. And then in my first and second year of high school I went to a Jesuit
college prep in San Jose, (Bellerman?) And then I transferred to Menlo Atherton and
graduated there in 1955.

R: Your mother was moving around these towns?

No, she remarried. That’s why my name is a Sicilian name and not a Danish name.

R: What was the Danish name?

Huderbol. It was a cockamamie irrepreducible, first-time use name that my grandfather,
who wanted to change his name from Hanson–there were very very, far too many
Hansons per capita in Denmark as there are, say, Changs in Peking.

R: So you were Peter Huderbol for some years and then you became Peter Demma–

Can you imagine that little kid out in the fucking play area, “He’s a butterball, butterball.”

R: So your mother remarried and–

Then made my name Demma, a Sicilian name, and then no one made jokes about me

R: And then they moved through these different towns, like Menlo Park–

Yeah, my mother and stepfather, we all moved to Redwood City, and we moved from one
house to another, his relatives, until we had our own house, which was suburban,
Redwood City, just outside of downtown.

R: Now tell me how you got from high school there to Istanbul.

I joined the Air Force.

R: Ah-ha. After graduating from high school.

Yeah. I put in some time at Lockheed and in Marine Reserve and knocked about different
odd jobs, and then finally went to a school, Syracuse, New York, University of Syracuse,
to learn Romanian. That’s what the Air Force wanted me to do, so I could keep track of
what Romania was doing, which was my job after I graduated, and I stayed in Turkey for
three and a half years doing that kind of work.

R: Listening to Romanian broadcasting in Turkey or something?

Yeah, along with other shenanigans.

R: Yeah. That’s where you began your life-long association with dope.

Ah. I had no idea what anything besides alcohol was. I drank enough alcohol at a sitting
to get a psychedelic experience. Well by that time pretty much on the floor, you know,
and I knew what I wanted but it wasn’t working. If there was only something else–we
would say this to one another. Heavy drinkers we were. And outside in a taxi cab with
these ladies and they passed this big spliff and it had some hashish in it that was like
TNT. At least that’s the effect it had on me. And I was an Anslinger baby, you know. I
believed that if you smoked a joint you’d get syphilis, I mean, it was just bad, it was the
last thing you’d want to do.

R: This taxi cab was in Istanbul?


R: Now this is sometime in the 1950s?

Fifty-eight, fifty-nine. And then 1961 I came back to California, saw that my sister had
taken up with a fun-loving crowd that more-or-less was living in Perry Lane area in back
of the Stanford Shopping Center, and it was through her that I met Neal Cassidy, and we
struck up a friendship that I’ll never forget.

R: He was living there on Perry Lane or hanging out there?

Well he never really stayed in one place very much at that time, but he’d always light
down on Saturday to go out to the horse races.

R: Was that Ken Kesey and the Pranksters there or some other group?

Yeah. They weren’t called pranksters. They were Ken Kesey and friends. And I got to
meet everyone that was part of that circle and adjacent circles.

R: So Neal Cassidy meeting was then in 1962 or 3, something like that?

Yeah, 1961. Yep. Then I shipped out in the Merchant Marine. While I was sailing on one
of the voyages my sister got arrested. It was the largest dope bust in Woodside. Now see
if I am quoted and this goes out, this will–

R: This goes to you. This is going to be transcribed in a word doc and it’s going to be
given to you and that’s the end of it…

And I’m the editor. Good.

R: We all have this problem. Hard to edit it for publication.

It’s hard to reflect on anything for me, because usually–I’ve always felt that the shadow
world was a lot more interesting than the straight world,

R: So there are a lot of shadows in your story, but–

Well things that probably should stay in shadows…

R: …It’s not so much a danger of getting arrested, it’s more a matter of impugning other
people whose names are given and telling stories that they don’t personally want to tell
yet, or something, right?

Yeah. In my case, I’ve seen things that I said loosely that had to do with my past that I’d
find repeated in court by this adversarial * they had where one guy had to win and one
guy had to lose, and I wasn’t winning this at all. And there are areas in the courts where
there are no such things as constitutional rights or anything else. There is an agency that
could be called a gang of thugs, that is called a gang of thugs, that’s the Child Protection
Service, and because they can get away with murder they do get away with murder. And
they love winning. They have to win. it’s either-or. It’s not, “Is everybody happy now?”
kind of deal. And they’re certainly not looking at their victims at human resources, you
know, whether or not they are.

R: So they can make use of rumors…

Oh! Bring it up, doesn’t have to have any bearing, it has to have no relevance, and if
someone says, “Well we have it on good authority, Your Honor,” then the judge can say,
“Okay, I’ll accept that.” You are amazed.

R: Well you get to edit this and to black out everything in–I got my FBI file after the
Freedom of Information Act and it was all blacked out.

All! I’m sure mine is. Yep.

R: Okay. It was Ken Kesey and friends on Perry Lane and there you met Neal Cassidy
around 1961 and then I’m interested in everything from there to Santa Cruz.

Well, Ron Bevert, who was to become my partner with the store, was at the time, a
couple of years before the store opened, a lieutenant in the army at Fort Ord training
special training, special infantry or something, and he had a friend also who was in the
army, another lieutenant, Norman Gurney. Do you know him? You’d love him. He’s a
writer, from Kentucky. Anyhow, Ron and I used to do a lot of things together, and I think
he was very impressed with my sense of mission. I was destined, ordained to have a
bookstore somewhere. It was written in Napoleon’s Book of Fate. I don’t know if you’re
aware of the Napoleon Book of Fate. It was an oracle and it was used to read my
whatever it was, you call, readout from the oracle, that I was to have bookselling as my
passion, and I just fell for it hook, line and sinker. I thought, well, not only do I really like
the idea of having a bookstore, but it’s ordained. It’s in the Napoleon Book of Fate. And
we would go to Big Sur Mineral Springs before it was called Esalen, and get a cabin there
and a tent. Let’s see, one I think where we had all gone together was Zen Flesh, Zen
Bones–again, the name of the guy escapes me. I had just thought of it. Anyhow, he was
giving a seminar.

R: ** asking you how you got to Santa Cruz, you were, at the time of going, meeting Ron
Bevert and going to Big Sur, you were still living in Palo Alto.

And had nothing to do with Santa Cruz except coming up to Santa Cruz on mad dashes
with Neal Cassidy for some reason or another. Driving with Neal is something that would
only–you would only understand what I’m talking about if you actually had the
experience, and then it would really mean something to you dramatically.

R: Neal Cassidy drove you down and that way you met Ron Bevert, who was stationed in
Fort Ord?

No. Lauren used to hang out on Perry Lane with all the writers and so on, and I’d bump
into him and he’d come to my house and then we’d all go together up to the mineral
springs for what’s-his-name’s Zen Flesh Zen Bones seminar, and in the hot tub one night
during that seminar Jim Waltman who was with us suggests, “Why don’t you have a
bookstore in–?” By this time Ron Bevert was gonna have a boookstore at one place or
another, Palo Alto, somewhere, because he liked the idea a lot.

R: Because he was gonna get out of the army.

Uh-huh. They were just about to get out, both he and Gurney. And so he borrowed some
money from his folks.

R: This is about 1963.

Mm-hmm. And we used to, to follow up on Jim’s suggestion that we should have a
bookstore in Santa Cruz, because there’s a university going there and they probably don’t
have much that’s very exciting and then there’s no ** books. Why don’t you locate it–?”
So I had early on determined that my bookstore was gonna be like Trill Harper(?) or City
Lights or something really hip, you know? And that’s one of the reasons the word hip just
sort of stuck with us when we decided what to name it. The idea was Mort Grocer’s that
wrote The Discovery of Neptune. “Why don’t you call it the Hip Pocket Bookstore?” We
were all sitting around–

R: So he was on Perry Lane also?

Oh yeah. Many people hung out there. How about Larry McMurtry–all kinds of people. I
got to meet a lot of people. Anyhow, we just thought that was just a peachy-keen idea and
Santa Cruz was gonna be the place, we come up to Santa Cruz and I see this old diner
that had been abandoned and was run by a Yugoslavian not too long ago and just sort of
gathering dust, used by a Republican campaign or something from time to time but
otherwise just pretty much vacant. That’s where we were going to have it. We secured
that and started packing the thing with books. We had enough room for not only a
bookstore but an art gallery, among other things. And it was one time that Santa Cruz had
a really decent art gallery where there was a lot of fun and people would enjoy going to.

R: So how did Ron Boise enter the picture?

Well, I said, “Gee, what should we have for a sign?” to Ron Bevert when we were
planning to have a bookstore somewhere, and he said, “Look, I know this guy, he said
he’s make us one, because he had met Ron Boise prior to my meeting Ron. And so I got
to meet him, he came up to Santa Cruz, and he says, “Well what–do you have a logo for
the store?” And I said, “Yeah, our logo says ‘Books for the Imagination’ and it has this
rune and the rune looks like two figures holding hands. This is the rune for mankind.”
And Ron says, “Well it looks like it represents two figures holding hands. Why don’t we
just put original two figures up and that will be your logo?” Sounded great, so we went
and bought $600 worth of copper and sheets and he put this man and women together up,
and it had been shown at the first Cabrillo Concert–Cabrillo Music Festival–and people
were invited from there to attend a rare showing of the original Kama Sutra sculptures
that were being shown at Vic *’s Sticky Wicket. The Sticky Wicket was a little proto-hip
manifestation where the golf link is to the right of Soquel going south, between that and
the freeway. There used to be a turn-off onto the freeway where you could get off, but
they shut it down and built this golf link. And so that destroyed the Sticky Wicket. It
wasn’t easy to get to anymore, because people used to just drive–

R: A restaurant or cafe or something?

Uh-huh. And it’s where all the Bohemians would hang out.

R: So proto-hip. So we’re going a year or two before you started up the bookstore. And
what’s his name?

Vic Jowers, and–Cindy? We’ll have to check on what her name is. I just have such a
problem with names. But she should be mentioned. She went off to Australia. She might
still be around. But anyway–

R: So Ron Boise had already done his Kama Sutra sculptures and they were on display at
the Sticky Wicket.

Not only that but he had been busted in a big constitutional issue case, First Amendment
issue, and at the music festival I met his attorneys and Marshall Krauss and his wife
Martha (Woopie?) and so much magic from that time through 1967, magic magic magic,
of different kinds. It was so thick. What is it? Is it something that happens to your mind
where you see things as magical? It was all Lord of the Rings and the Two Towers.

R: So this is now in 1964, maybe.

1964 we opened and Tony Magy was one of our first employees and Patricia Dunn I think
her name was. She was our first employee of all. And everything was pretty mellow, but
then as time went on it was harder and harder to crack the nut and “How are we going to
pay the rent?” and “I’m not getting as much…” and that’s when I met–Neal said, “I have
a friend. He’s got some money and looking to put it in somewhere here. He’d like to get
involved in this area. I’ll send him up to meet ya.” And that’s when I met Leon. And he
says, “Well, maybe I can give you a few ideas,” he says. “Why don’t you do something
like what they’re doing up in the City right now, a free speech night?” “Gee, that’s a great
idea. Okay, let’s do it.” And so we had our little (Don Alatrape?) circle started and it grew
really big. We’d meet in the gallery. It grew so big that we had to move out of the store
and find a building somewhere to meet.

R: It was a program of once-a-week presentations of an author or something?

Every Friday night I’d put in bright fluorescent letters in the window, poster paint, what
the subject was going to be, and one day the subject was marijuana, and it was in big
letters, I was just–you know how these fluorescent paints, when set off against one
another, they just kind of vibrate, you know, well the whole window was done like that.
“Tonight’s subject will be MARIJUANA!” And that’s before anyone besides ethnics and
musicians and gangsters had anything to do with marijuana. And that’s when Leon
conducted his seminar, first marijuana seminar probably he’d ever given on the West
Coast, and instructed everyone as to what it was and the possibility, asked people to
consider the possibility that people in their own families were going to be involved with
it, it was getting so popular in leaps and bounds, there was no stopping it. And by that
time there were a lot of ultra-conservative groups meeting. Weathermen and John Birch
and I don’t know what they call themselves now, but they were all concerned that we
even the audacity to start what we did and how’d we get in there and what was going on
here and it looks like this is the beginning of the end, the beginning of the apocalypse
they called it, apocalyptic. I mean I’m talking the honchos, you know, big number-one
generals, jeffes. Like Dr. Monteith, you know. These guys, there would be people found
with automatic weapons and they worked in the sheriff’s department, and they have
meetings, they had bivouacs and things. They did a lot of funny things, though. They’ve
been wackos, all right. Anyway, we were the weirdos. And when Leon laid it on them that
marijuana was going to be the next big deal in this * place, everyone was in a state of
shock. They just could not take that. They’d start quoting the Bible and they’d stand up
and talk about chemicals that were ordained by the Lord to be **** true something or
other. We said, “What do you mean by true chemicals?” We had similar concerns. Let’s
see, had I–no, that was just leading up to an incident where we were arrested for a
photography show that we gave. But it did work out the same way. The local liberals
didn’t come to our aid, you know, and champion our cause or anything. They just sort of
turned around and said, “We don’t know these guys.” But I won the hearing. They had
no right to shut our show down, there was nothing that could be seen as obscene. One of
the items that was confiscated was a photograph of a cabbage cut in half and you could
see all the erotic things taking place in the design of the cut cabbage. That was evidence.

R: I think that we already have skipped over here the story of the opening which I’ve
heard about so many times with the sculptures and pulling the sheet off the sculpture and
the mayor standing by to give a talk or something or other, so could you fill me in on

Norman Lezin said sure, he’d be glad to unveil the–because at that time we were looked
upon to be champions of some kind or another, you know, before they found out they’d
never get to know us or something. Ach! Santa Cruz was already really cliquish, you
know, but right now everyone was in a state of surprise and thrall, and we had the Beatles
singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” — we had a sound system that projected outside also,
and that’s another thing about the store. You couldn’t be anywhere near it and not know it
was there, because you’d hear this music you wouldn’t hear anywhere else. Where else
would you hear the Supremes on Pacific Avenue? So “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was
blaring out over the speakers, there were throngs–there was actually throngs there. The
police come up in a flying wedge on motorcycles because they have a warrant for
someone who was seen present at the celebration there. They ride up on us and they find
this guy, Pat Cassidy, from Big Sur. They have a warrant out. Pat Cassidy had gone on to
be very legendary–I don’t know whatever happened to him but–legendary as someone
that was pretty much responsible

[end of first side of tape]

R: So the Kama Sutra sculptures had already been on display at the Sticky Wicket–

I think before that the local gallery where Peter Stafford’s brother was the manager of that
local gallery and was arrested also. Michael. But I didn’t know Michael in those days.
And Michael had just come from a tour over in Istanbul also. We’d get together and I’d
try and remember my Turkish. As good as I was, I–oh boy, I had a lot of problem with it,
but I think if I got back there I’d just get in the swim of it once again. That’s the only way
I can learn a language is just to immerse myself with people and then start acting like
them, and then the language comes to me.

R: So the Kama Sutra sculptures were at the (Vorful) Gallery and then they were at Sticky
Wicket, then they were moved to the ** bookstore–

No. We never had the Kama Sutra sculptures.

R: The commotion was about the man and woman that you made **

Yeah, I think it was really about the penis. You know, look at–we’ve come to today,
where, you know the Penis Puppetry show in San Francisco? These are three Australians,
and they make different things out of their penises, there’s a big blowup on the screen, it’s
a show and it’s like a two-and-a-half hour show. ** construct all these things with their–
well we’ve come a long way to just see a penis anywhere, that’s something you go to
Frenchy’s * Bookstore for. Maybe, well, I don’t know, in Santa Cruz, they must have
been to Golden Gate Park, but I guess they have leaves up there, huh? Don’t they? I guess
I’m thinking of Europe or something.

R: Do you mean in Ron’s sculpture that was the two figures holding hands, a man and
a woman I presume, that the man actually had a penis?

Had a penis, that’s probably what–

R: That was the problem.

I would think it was. If we want to really get down to what the problem really was, I

R: It wasn’t the topless, it was the bottomless.

It’s just sculptures, I know, but–well, you know, mapping the territory. These literalists,
you know, they really have a problem. And so this was a little too stark, I guess, for Santa
Cruz. But we drop-kicked it into the far west, now it’s the far west. Used to be like you
went east, by going to Santa Cruz it’s like going east. But now you can’t get anymore far

R: So there was an opening for the store and the sculpture with the two figures had a
sheet over it and you were there and the mayor came to give a talk…

And unveiled the sculpture, and Bargetto Winery was hosting the wine, I mean a good
time was had by all, and there were throngs, I’m saying at least two or three throngs–
throngs, how much is a throng? Two hundred people? Gee, I mean there were a lot of
people. So, and then the police riding out in a flying wedge, that excited everybody also.
R: And the police arrived in a flying wedge because they had a warrant for arrest for
somebody named Pat Cassidy.

Someone they were told was there, uh-huh.

R: Who was not related to Neal Cassidy,


R: That was just a coincidence.

Yeah, I don’t know–

R: So they dispersed the three throngs? That was the end of the event?

You know, I just don’t know. I know–

R: There wasn’t a legal case, like you weren’t busted for that?

No, nobody was busted. I don’t even think they found Pat Cassidy. I mean we were just
so busy having a good time. And it was one big party.

R: So did people like the bookstore was open regular hours and people came in and
bought books and then you decided which books to buy and put on display and all that,
you were a proper bookstore runner?

Pretty much. And besides that, any book that you wanted, I would personally go up to
San Francisco and get for you, once a week. I did this once a week.

R: So at some point you moved to Santa Cruz, you moved your household, you rented an
apartment or something in order to begin putting together the Hip Pocket Bookstore.

You know, just before I came to Santa Cruz I was asked to manage a store in Mission
Hill, San Diego, and it was an auxiliary, an ancillary of Nexus, whose manager, Larry
McGilvry and his wife, I can’t recall her name now, he had just been arrested for selling,
oh the pornographer who got into all that trouble that lived in Big Sur, Tropic of

R: Henry Miller.

Henry Miller, yeah, he had been–I think that he was arrested for that and had won that
case on Constitutional issues. And so for a short time I managed his art supply store and
bookstore annex. And then when I learned that Ron was ready to go and move to Santa
Cruz, I packed up and–I lived in La Jolla at the time–

R: When Ron Berver(?), was he active in running the bookstore also?

To a certain degree, but he was really involved mostly with the * activity, so there was
some time where it was just all my–your baby.

R: So when I met you, which I believe was March of 1968, after I met your sister-in-law
at the Barn–

One year had gone by and I became a television repair technician.

R: The bookstore was over when I met you and you were a television repair person and
you were married then or you had a partner and you’d been together since the beginning
of Hip Pocket Bookstore or–

Yeah, since 1962.

R: So she was with you in Palo Alto and La Jolla and came with you together. I see. And
did she have any active role in the Hip Pocket Bookstore?

No, it wasn’t her schtick, at all. I certainly tried, I’d say, “Hey Karen, can you just take
care of the store, give me a break?” Naw, she wasn’t into it. So * took care of the whole
front while I went out the back.

R: I can’t remember when your children were born. Was it before–
Well Larry was born before we came–

R: –to Santa Cruz.

Larry was born in 1963. And Melissa was born after I’d had the store for a year.

R: Yeah, so basically you were a family while this whole drama was unrolling.

Pretty much, yeah.

R: Okay. Okay, well, I guess this is a good place to stop for now.