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Interview with Henry Schaeffer

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Henry Schaeffer cuke page


Henry Schaeffer
interviewed by DC

three interviews first undated; October 26, 1995; November, 1996


Suzuki Roshi said he’d come over here because he couldn’t be himself in Japan and couldn’t experience the Zen he wanted.


Roshi used to say his master called him Crooked Cucumber.

He said when I was young and had left my father and mother and followed another master and grown up and was a young man in late teens or early twenties he’d gone into a cooler of a monastery, Eiheiji I believe, that had hooks where they hung things - metal steel hooks. Since he wasn’t so together he’d gone in there and had closed the door behind him or it had closed and there was no light and he tried to find the door and one of those hooks stuck in above the eye - the one that was higher than the other I guess as a result of that - and there he stopped. And he had to wait there until someone came looking for him. I was there when he told it. I remember it very clearly. I heard it between 65 and 70 at a Wednesday night lecture at Sokoji. He just stayed there and then someone came in. He felt the blood flowing down his face and he didn’t know which way the hook was in his eyebrow and was afraid to move. He was stuck in the total blackness. Someone came to look for him. He did say it was an important experience.

Suzuki Roshi said he’d come over here because he couldn’t be himself in Japan and couldn’t experience the Zen he wanted. He’d tried to come over before the war when he was young and his master had said no and later the war begin and finally he could come and he felt like a failure. Living Zen hadn’t really happened for him. But here real Zen was happening - the vital way.

Remember Yvonne’s apartment - the hashish party when they gave Suzuki Roshi the hashish ball and he put it in his pocket. Bill Kwong was there. He ate it but no - it was acid.

DC: Bob Solomon gave him acid. I think he said Roshi flushed it but I’m not sure.

HS: He ate a hash ball and got a little stoned. Loring would know. I called Loring from Rimpoche’s place and we’d lost our cook and he left Tassajara and was the first cook for the first seminar at the Rocky Mountain Dharma Center.

There was a woman in Big Sur who lived above Dietchins and had a big nursery - lots of plants.

DC: Succulents?

HS: Yes.

DC: I remember her - long white hair - she had a commune down by Gorda.

HS: Yes - she wanted to give that land to the Zen Center and I went down with Dick and Ginny and Suzuki Roshi to look at it. It was several hundred acres. Suzuki Roshi liked it. He said the pines on the slopes reminded him of some monastery in Japan.

DC: Maybe Eiheiji.

HS: I knew her through people I knew in Big Sur - Archie Lee. We met a black guy named Billie White living on the land in a tent or shed or something and he offered Roshi a joint.

DC: Right after we got Tassajara I went in with Silas in his Camero and rode in the back because there wasn’t room for all of us up front and I about froze to death. There was snow on the road going over Chew’s Ridge. When we got to Tassajara I fell down when I got out.

HS: I went down there some. I was loading horse shit on a truck with a tall handsome guy - Bill Shurtleff - Bill Shurtleff. It was very hot.

Suzuki’d asked me if I wanted to go to Tassajara for the first two practice periods and I had to decide by a certain day and twice I’d missed the deadlines because of being with women and both times he told me I had to learn o follow the rules and since I hadn’t I couldn’t go. I think he thought I needed to be shaped. He saw the wildness and that it was one-sided and it was too much.

In 1968 there was the gathering of roshis at Tassajara. I’d been at Tassajara and left a little early so I could come back for that gathering. There was some sort of constraint like you could only be there for so long in such and such a period of time. I was living in Guerneville on the Russian River and hitchhiked there. I had very long hair in a huge Afro. In the article on Zen Center, Paris Match had a picture of me as a typical Zen - me being in there and I’m sure that Suzuki Roshi didn’t like it.

Three carpenter’s assistants picked me up and took me to where highway 116 passes Guerneville and they stopped there. I got my stuff - had a bag over my shoulder and one under my arm and I started walking. I heard a car door open, a wave of heat around me, loud voices saying “kill the fucker!” and they beat me with a hammer and tore at my hair. I yelled, Enough! Enough! and went through a black tunnel backwards - grey to black going very fast. The next thing I knew, I was sitting in the back of someone’s pickup truck at the emergency entrance to a hospital and a guy was saying I’d banged on his door. I was in the hospital a week or two or maybe just a few days. I’d lost all my things including two sets of glasses. That didn’t matter at the time though because my eyesight became perfect. I didn’t need my glasses. Six weeks later I saw a pretty girl at a party and lusted after her and my eyes got bad again.

I’d been at Tassajara before that - trying to see Suzuki Roshi and had told Dick Baker so and was there for a couple of days and was down by the pool walking on the road and Suzuki Roshi and Dick Baker were approaching and as soon as Suzuki Roshi saw me and my hair was open and not tied and bigger than my shoulders and the beard - he grabbed Dick and spun around on his heels and walked the other direction. Dick told me later in front of the stone rooms - I’d said, what happened? - that Suzuki Roshi said that when Henry’s hair was shorter but this big it was still very long and I didn’t like it but it was okay but now it was this big I don’t like it - just too much for him. He wouldn’t see me.

So I’d been in the hospital and had had my hair torn out and bruises all over my face and back and arms and indentations on my skull. They’d only hit me with the head of the hammer and not the claw and my brain was still functioning.

October 26, 1995

At Tass Soen gave a talk in his white robes and Roshi spoke very little and then said he was turning it over to Soen-roshi. And then we went off to the peak and shouted at the moon.

DC: Was that when the sun set and the full moon then rose up there?

HS: We went off with some other people - Tai Shimano and some others - there were eight of them there but Yasutani didn't go and I don't think Roshi went. Then some of us went to the Narrows and then went to the hot bathes. That was July or August of 68.

DC: I ended up with Soen Nakagawa Roshi in the pool in the creek outside the bathes - we'd built a little damn to hold the water and a lot of hot water went in at that point and we were in the pool and I showed him how you could go under the water and down into an opening in the root system of a large old Sycamore, maybe a stump, and come up in a hollow where your head could stick above the water. And then we went in the middle of the night down creek way past the narrows to a canyon where we got in the water with straight cliffs on both sides and showed him how to make popping sounds with my hands cupped against my mouth for echo. He had been clapping for echo. Then we sat zazen on a rock for a long while and then we went back. The next day when he gave lecture he walked back and forth on the alter full of life and told about our walk and had me stand up and demonstrate the pop and Baker was a little pissed at me for that and for coming in late to the lecture (due to dining room duties) and sitting down in front right in front of Soen. It was during the day - a morning lecture I believe.

HS: The one I'm talking about was at night and Soen looked so much like a warrior general. So when you said you were up all night I thought about that and thought there must be a full moon above your head and it all came together.

November of 96

I went back down to Tassajara with my hair tied with a leather thong which I would occasionally do. And there were the visiting roshis - a total of eight including Suzuki Roshi. Soen gave a lecture in white robes. And we went up to the ridge and scattered Senzaki’s ashes under the full moon

DC: I remember the sun set on one side and then the full moon rose on the other.

HS: And Soen led us in shouting at the full moon and then let us go wild shouting on our own.

And you DC went with him down to the narrows and a few of us went with you but you and Soen went down past the narrows. That was an extraordinary night.

That day when I got down there and had registered in the stone building - the office - and they told me where to go and had a bag on my shoulder and I was walking along the gravel path and I was walking and I heard flip flops coming up the gravel and it was all the roshi and I could see without glasses and was carrying the bag and had my hair tied back and I spun around and saw them all clearly and Suzuki Roshi was with them and I found myself gashoing to them and I nodded and they nodded to me and I turned and walked on - it was one of the most powerful moments of my whole life. Sometime later that day I ran into Suzuki Roshi and I gashoed and we were talking and he said, “You’ve changed,” and I told him what had happened. He was really knowing and accommodating. I was suddenly really with him in the way I should be or in a way he saw as a good way. When I saw that young girl two weeks later at the Avalon and I wanted her and went up to her and my eyes went out. Suzuki Roshi confirmed my experience and we had a mutual knowing. I know if he was crooked I’m very very twisted but I’ve been blessed by being with three different schools and two I think I experienced the heart of with Suzuki and Trungpa.

DC: Wasn’t Suzuki Roshi upset and concerned?

HS: Not really. I have a kind of spaciousness that’s never been resolved. I’m not focused. Trungpa said I have a lot of prajna but not skillful means.

Trungpa felt I was inhibited and needed to work and develop - on a certain level, Roshi didn’t want to see that in me. I told them both they were my teacher. I went to Trungpa’s first talk in California or maybe the US in June of 1970. Roshi was in Japan. [DC note: not in June, August] He went to Page Street one day in the afternoon and gave a talk or met with a small group of people.

There was a picnic in Golden Gate Park before Roshi went to Japan in 1970 - in April or May of 70. [DC note: again, it was August through December] It was wonderful in one of the meadows and we were gathered and Roshi was there with Okusan and they had a picnic cloth on the ground and we were all talking and Suzuki Roshi got underneath the table cloth and rolled around and then Okusan started play-acting beating him with a stick while he was rolling around inside in it, saying “bad boy!” It was that perky, fun, affection of Suzuki Roshi. He had said at Bush Street that he was going to Japan and was going to go into the mountains and find an abandoned temple and practice there alone. “And maybe I won’t come back.” I asked him about it at the picnic and he said yes, maybe I won’t come back. There was some wine or sake there. He asked me if I’d been drinking and I said, yes, apple cider, and there was some wine and he had me pour him a glass of it and we drank it together because he might not come back. Maybe it was not wine but cider or something else.

Around that same time Trungpa had run off with underage Diana in England and had eloped to Canada where they stayed till they could get into the US. He went to Boston for a few days where he lectured on work, sex and money and then he came West.

DC: That’s when he first came to Tassajara. That’s where he and roshi met no? Alan Marlowe met him there and they sat up and drank and Rimpoche would hit Alan with his stick.

HS: I went to his first talk. I saw a notice at Sam Bercholz's Shambala Bookstore - hand written. I sat right by him and after the lecture Diana came down and said that he’d like me to go to Vermont. Kunga and four early American students including John Baker had been looking for a place for Rimpoche and one of them, Joan, owned a farm in Vermont that they chose and which became Tail of the Tiger.) So I said I’d go there but I got hepatitis (either from raw abalone at a small Japanese restaurant in San Francisco or from a surfer who had had it and whom I smoked pot with) and couldn’t go. I almost died.

Trungpa had visited Zen Center in June of 70.

DC: He came to Tassajara in May I think

HS: I got a letter saying that Rimpoche was going to Boulder and that I should go there. Then on November 17th I went to a recording studio on Judah street where the Airplane and the Dead recorded and where Osley stashed acid ( he was now in prison) and we took acid (2 drops at 80 micrograms each) and smoked pot and I realized I should go to Boulder and hitchhiked out a couple of days later. In Boulder I stayed in Rimpoche’s house for a few days. He’d had an operation on his left foot. I was the first person to arrive there to study with him who hadn’t come with him. In December Rimpoche said that I should go to the next two seminars in Vermont and that he’d pay my airfare or they could be free but not both and I said well all I can do for money is go to San Francisco and sell grass and he said okay so I went to San Francisco and lined up a bunch of grass deals right away. He’d told me to be in Vermont by four pm on the 24th and I was twenty-four hours late.

Trungpa Rimpoche wanted me to drink with him but I said I’d had hepatitis and couldn’t and he said that if I trusted him I wouldn’t get sick. So I said I trust you and drank and I didn’t get sick and then I went to a dance and drank and I got real bad sharp pains and didn’t try that again. I told that to Suzuki Roshi and he reacted strongly. “He told you that!” with his eyebrow raised. “Don’t drink till I to talk to him,” he said. Trungpa told me to tell him what Suzuki Roshi said and I didn’t tell him that. I told Roshi that I was going to Tail of the Tiger. He told me to tell Rimpoche to come visit. “I want to see him”

So I got to Vermont on Christmas day and Trungpa told John Baker and some of those people to bring us some grass and they didn’t know he knew they had it and they said oh we don’t have any grass and he said come on and so they brought him some and he and I smoked about eight joints and I told him that Suzuki Roshi said for him to call right away and he wanted to see him. But I didn’t tell him Suzuki Roshi told me to tell him he didn’t want me to drink till they’d talked.

Rimpoche came in May of 71 with Diana. He gave a talk in the dining room at Zen Center drinking and smoking. I went to Suzuki’s Sunday talk and in it he said that when Alan Watts came to Tassajara he smoked and drank and he couldn’t accept it but that when Rimpoche drank alcohol the way I’m drinking this water now I gave up. He’s a Bodhisattva. You have no idea how much support he’s giving you.

We stayed in the fireplace room at Tassajara. Rimpoche gave a talk and Suzuki Roshi took us to visit his ashes site which he’d selected up on the hogback. I stayed in the room behind the screen door off the fireplace room. Rimpoche spanked Diana that night. It was fun.

And when we came to town that time I told my friends with the Family Dog about Rimpoche and Bill Ham had this warehouse on Shotwell and Jerry Granelli who was a drummer and who’d lived across the street from Zen Center was involved there and Rimpoche gave a talk there to 400 people and his first words were that this is going to be a practice center.

When I saw how connected the two of them were - Suzuki Roshi and Trungpa - I saw Buddha was really awake - this is really what I’d always longed for. There were only thirteen people for Trungpa’s talk - I’d seen a notice at Sam Bercholz’s Shambala bookstore on Telegraph in Berkeley, a handwritten note Sam had put there that a young Tibetan Lama was going to give a talk and I’d gone over there to buy a book of poems by Wallace Stevens. When Trungpa came in - it was a round building - and there was a chair and a table with flowers along side of him and he wore grey slacks, a blue blazer, a nice blue shirt and an English ascot. Dianna was with him and she was sixteen or so. He sat down and sat for quite a while without saying anything and I’d never seen anybody so composed. Totally composed, relaxed and alert and such a bright intelligence. He and Suzuki Roshi were expressing the same thing but Trungpa had a composure and a beam there that was more glorious than Suzuki Roshi. I don’t know if I should say that.

DC: Well, there's a thing in Japan called en or goen. It's how you vibe with someone, karmic tie, magnetism, chemistry

HS: I had en with Suzuki Roshi too but it was strange because I was so indulgent. And in his way Trungpa was an extreme disciplinarian. He was a true transmitter and carier of his lineage and so he had absolute respect for the caring of the heritage and he had ways of working with people that if you did so you’d step into that tradition and care about it and be a true fully rounded person. Suzuki Roshi said the same thing - you have to see the essence and when you do you have to carry it forth. They felt about each other in this way.

When Roshi was real sick Trungpa got a call from Zen Center to come right away. Rimpoche had me fly out. He came the next day or so. He told me to go see Roshi and to insist if they said no. Yvonne said I absolutely couldn’t see him - that nobody was seeing him. I talked to Rimpoche on the phone and he told me to go to his room and to just walk right in. But I didn’t do that. Trungpa was always trying to make me do exactly what Suzuki Roshi didn’t like me to do.

Trungpa called Suzuki his accidental father. He said he was the only sane man he’d met in America. Later he said that Grandpa Joe, Little Joe, at the Taos Pueblo was the second sane person he’d met

DC: You say enlightened but I remember Trungpa saying “sane.” Things Trungpa said traveled fast.

HS: I went to New Mexico and met Little Joe and he was wonderful like Suzuki and he said my coming was a good omen and I would help his son and he was going to do a peyote rite for his alcoholic son Henry in a couple of weeks so I came back for that and it was wonderful. During the ceremony Joe was wonderful with his cataract eyes. He did the peyote ritual and reminded me of Suzuki Roshi doing service at Sokoji.

Before Suzuki Roshi died he and Trungpa talked about starting a Buddhist University and an exchange program to send students back and forth with each other. And they wanted dual tape libraries of their lectures. I was Rimpoche’s attendant in this whole period of time - I was the go-between.

In '71 I was Trungpa’s attendant in the dining room where he talked because it held more people and he smoked and drank. He got extremely drunk and extremely clear. Roshi was at that lecture and so was Katagiri.

Suzuki Roshi was extremely handsome - almost like a movie actor. He played a lot and it transmitted in a magnificent way but he wanted to play more. He was a little bit formal and he wanted to go beyond that himself and that’s why I think he was so attracted to Trungpa Rimpoche. I remember what he said in the dining room after Rimpoche gave that lecture. Roshi really loved him.

Yoshimura was so wonderful and elegant and handsome - when he died it was a true tragedy. He was a handsome man open to men and women both. And his good looking wife and children. She didn’t like the Western world - she wanted to go back to Japan. She kept telling him that. She was frightened about all the crime. He was a Japanese Siddhartha. His teacher called him back to Japan. He said he didn’t want to stay in Japan and would try to find a way to come back to the States. He’d read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and he said the essence of it was that Siddhartha said, “I can wait, I can think...” three things - I can act? It was the essence to me of being a real person. And he said that when Siddhartha came out of the woods and decided to stop fasting that the first thing he drank was fermented milk that a maiden gave him - it was alcoholic. I met Yoshimura and his family when they first came. I was walking up the street to Bill Ham's on the South side of Bush Street by the live fish store and it was raining hard and they were living cattycorner from ZC and were on the landing without umbrellas wondering what to do and they paused at the top of the stairs and I still had my long hair and beard and motioned to them and went over and helped them cross. We connected then and I was close to him from then on.

Suzuki was always pretty hard on me. He said I didn’t do things the right way, that I always broke the rules.

DC: I always broke the rules and he never seemed to care.

HS: I was fairly formal behind the hippie hair and dope. But anyway, once when Trungpa was in San Francisco - in May of 71 or so, he told me to go over to Page Street at ten thirty and to tell Suzuki Roshi to get ready for him that he and Diana were bringing their new son Tiga(sp?) Who’d been born in February over to get Suzuki Roshi’s blessing. I said please don’t send me over to do that, that he’ll get mad at me because that’s not the way they do things - on the spur of the moment, but Trungpa insisted so at ten thirty the next morning I went over and told Yvonne and she went upstairs and told Suzuki Roshi and he came downstairs and sure enough he was angry when I told him what Rimpoche was saying as Rimpoche told me to say it. And then Rimpoche and Diana came to the door with their baby and Suzuki Roshi was still angry and Rimpoche came in and started walking in circles, turning around and Suzuki Roshi and he greeted each other and Suzuki Roshi forgot me and said he’d put on his new ceremonial robe for the first time and he came back down all decked up in this yellow robe with a high hat and had a blessing ceremony in the Buddha hall and then we all went into the dining room and had tea and talked.

Philip Wilson was a physically intimidating person with crazy energy who would get close to you and talk crazy. He would flip out throw things around and say I might kill you. He indulged himself with his power. Philip Wilson went to Eiheiji and he and Tatsugami were talking about something that Philip had done and Philip challenged him to a fight and Tatsugami said okay lets go into the rock garden.

DC: Tatsugami was the sumo champ of Eiheiji I’d heard. Philip was a large thick strong All-American lineman

HS: Philip said that Tatsugami beat him up so bad that it scared him and turned his hair prematurely grey. Before that he said that Suzuki Roshi had just hit him with Puppy blows.

I used to see Suzuki Roshi in Japan Town but I didn’t know anything about him. I sat with a Korean master first.

One day I was coming out of my mother’s apartment on Fulton Street near GG Park and there was some sort of talk going on in an empty grocery store. I looked in and there was a priest in there giving a lecture and he motioned for me to come in and sit by him so I did. His name was Beo Seo, Dr. Seo. I learned that there was a sort of ecumenical Buddhist service that night at the Unitarian Church called Wesak - like confession and renewal. So I went there and there were many Buddhists there. Aitken Roshi was there.

DC: Iru Price put that event on I think

HS: Everyone was giving talks but Suzuki Roshi didn’t give a talk. All I remember is Katagiri helping him and him standing in the center of the stage with a lion’s mane whisk and a lion’s mane hat and Katagiri handed him the whisk and he flicked it from side to side. Very formal. That made an impression on me.

So I was sitting with Dr. Seo and Neville Warwick was there too - they were pretty tight. Dr. Seo had a little place on Octavia where we’d sit and he’d give lectures. He and I got along well too. We connected from the first. He wanted me to go to his monastery in Seol. Korean Zen is a combination of Zen, Hinayana and Pure Land and I found it interesting. One day though Dr. Seo told me to get out of there and other people told me I wasn’t welcome there. I had no idea what had happened but then Warwick’s girlfriend told me that he’d told Dr. Seo that he had a friend in the FBI who had shown him my file and that I was a dangerous criminal and subversive. Dr. Seo was staying at a woman’s estate in San Carlos and I called him up to try to explain that it wasn’t true but he would only say, “Go away - you bad - you no good.” And I tried to explain again but he just said, “No - stay away!” Then I remembered the lion main and went to see Suzuki and started sitting with him. Dr. Seo was at Suzuki Roshi's funeral sitting in the Buddha hall with his grey Hinayana robe on and his eyes closed most of the time. Warwick portrayed himself as everything. He told Dr. Seo he was the reincarnation of Milarepa. Years later when I was with Trungpa he’d come to a lecture and see me and pretend nothing had happened. I’d see him remember and then cover it up. He’d ingratiate himself to me when he saw I was close to Trungpa. Warwick had that military group, mountain hiking yogis or something, that dressed like the Australian military.

I lived at Pine and Webster in one of the Family Dog houses.

DC: Chet Helms from Fort Worth was part of that scene and started the Avalon Ballroom.

HS: Bill Ham did the lights - one of the first light show men.

DC: I remember his garage where he worked out of and stopping to talk to him on Webster by Pine.

HS: The family dog was Sancho, a big white dog that was owned by David Hemming and traveled from house to house staying with different people. They started the dances at the Avalon.

I went to the Zen Center and saw on the bulletin board that there were lectures on Wednesday night as well as the sitting and so I started to go and I really liked them. I understood them. A lot of people couldn’t. He’d invite me to have lunch with him and Okusan and Katagiri and we’d talk. At one point I did stop coming because Suzuki Roshi asked me to cut my hair shorter, but I eventually did cut it. In 69 in the spring - the lectures had moved downstairs to the big room - he’d said during a lecture while looking right at me, “If you want to get the teaching you have to do what the master says.” So I had a friend cut my hair off and all of my long haired friends stopped talking to me but Suzuki Roshi was real happy.

I was with Trungpa at Suzuki Roshi's funeral and I handed him the white scarf after he’d said a few tearful words. It was white silk and folded. When he threw it it opened up twenty yards long and sailed over the casket covering it.

When Suzuki Roshi died, Dick Baker wasn’t interested in continuing the relationship or carrying out any of the things that Trungpa and Suzuki had talked about. Trungpa said to give Dick room - he feels threatened. Dick was saying that Trungpa wasn’t a good teacher

DC: And once that he was a dharma snatcher which made Trungpa angry.

HS: Then the Karmapa came to San Francisco and did the Black Hat Ceremony with Dick and Bill Kwong on the dais and the Karmapa did a ceremony at the Zen Center and Rimpoche came down to the car and Dick ran down to say goodbye. He was impressed with Trungpa for a change. Trungpa lowered his electric window and Dick said let’s talk about doing all that stuff you mentioned and Trungpa said, I’ll call you. And as we drove off he said, good, now we can forget about that.

Suzuki Roshi was very playful, but Zen Center became very dry with a deadly serious quality. Suzuki’s spirit went dormant when he died. It’s not totally lacking in his influence but it lacks fruition. Whenever real vitality exposes itself, it’s right there and he was right there. But whenever I encounter Zen Center, I feel it’s dormant.

He was like my father too and it was like he was this enlightened Zen master and I’d thought such a person couldn’t exist. It was only when I saw Trungpa reflected back onto Roshi that I understood there was a real Buddhism. I saw the basic trueness in both of them even though they’d come from so far from each other.


Henry Schaeffer from tape dated 9-11-96 which is then crossed out.

Suzuki Roshi gave a talk in the Buddha Hall and I remember him standing, tears in his eyes, saying he’d invited Tatsugami and that Tatsugami had put locks on the doors. He said that with Tatsugami present.

DC note: If it wasn’t translated Tatsugami wouldn’t have understood it.

HS: There was a big open house with a dining room reception.

“And he put locks on the doors,” Suzuki said, pointing to Tatsugami. “I tried to do something different, shame on you.” Suzuki bowed to Tatsugami crying. Henry cried too.

In the dining room Tatsugami standing in the corner smoking a cigarette with a cigarette holder, taking puffs, blowing smoke. He knew I was angry. He had violated Suzuki Roshi’s attempt – was going to do what he wanted regardless, didn’t care what Roshi thought.

[tape made from handwritten notes seems to be cut off here, maybe some lost. I remember it as being rather long. Think I have a copy back home.]

DC comment: I want to ask Henry how long he worked for the Cable Car system in San Francisco and how has that been.


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