Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


A House On Franklin Street

1945 Franklin Street, San Francisco, California 94109, USA

April 16, 2008



This essay, A House On Franklin Street, is the companion piece to
  1. Werner's Space
  2. There's No Such Thing As Too Much Rigor
  3. Our Living Room
  4. How Do You Spell The Sound A Ratchet Makes?
  5. Zen Of Laundry
in that order.

It is also the tenth in an open group Encounters With A Friend:
  1. Showing Up
  2. Poet Laureate
  3. A Man In The Crowd
  4. Real Men Cry
  5. A Different Set Of Rules
  6. Nametag: A True Story
  7. Half Life
  8. Waiting On You
  9. Erotica On Schedule
  10. A House On Franklin Street
  11. NeXT
  12. Reflection On A Window
  13. Here And There
  14. How To Enroll The World
  15. Demonstration
  16. Two Of Me II: Confirmation Not Correction
  17. Holiday Spectacular
  18. Hello! How Are Things Going For You?
  19. Regular Guy
  20. A Scholar And A Gentleman
  21. Images Of You
  22. With Nothing Going On
  23. Where No One Has Gone Before
  24. Attachment: Causeway Between Islands
  25. If You're Not Then Don't
  26. Images Of You II
  27. Living Where Life Is
  28. Create Me The Way I Am
  29. How Do You Spell The Sound A Ratchet Makes?
  30. You Don't Ask "Why Me?"  When It's Raining II
so far, in that order.

It is also the fifth in a quintology on Homes:
  1. In The Face Of Commitment
  2. Stellenberg Avenue
  3. Faery Cottage
  4. Creekside Cabin
  5. A House On Franklin Street
in that order.

I am indebted to Arnold Siegel and to Beverly Prior and to and to Catherine Place and to Charlene Afremow and to Chauncey Bell and to David Granados and to Dennis Tyler and to Don Cox and to Doug Bell and to Dr Robert Lee "Bob" Culver and to Ed Forbes and to Ed Gurowitz and to Emy Ceglia and to Francine Epstein and to George Elkins and to Hap Maxwell and to Helen Gilhooly and to Jack Rafferty and to Jayne Sillari and to Jeff Galbraith and to Jerome Downes and to Jim Adams and to Johnny Wiley and to Joseph Gerbosi and to Josh Liebner and to Karen Beebe Gerbosi and to Kenneth Yamamoto and to Kent Knight and to Larry Bangs and to Laurel Scheaf and to Linda Leyerle and to Lew Epstein and to Mac Carter and to Maxine Mandel Potts and to Michael Bromberg and to Michael Reid and to Michael Wick and to Missi Gillespie and to Molly Partridge and to Nadja Krylov and to Nancy Scott and to Palmer Kelly and to Pat Campbell and to Pat Shelton and to Patty Hatfield and to Peter "Squirrel" Sillari and to Raz Ingrasci and to Rich Aikman and to Ron Mann and to Steven Jaber and to Stewart Campbell and to Susie Fitch Kralj and to Vic Gioscia and to Wayne Terry and to Wernher Krutein who inspired this conversation, and to Palmer Kelly and to Nancy Scott and to Francine Epstein who contributed material.




Photograph courtesy Google Maps - Collage by Laurence Platt
Franklin House
Satellite View
I speak with an interesting accent. Or so I'm told. To me it's just the way I sound. To others it's an interesting accent.

I began life born in south London surrounded by the cockney  accent, one of the most recognizable accents in the world. Next, my parents took me to Cape Town in South Africa where, for the most part, I learned to speak.

My base accent, therefore, is South African. But by now it's layered over with various accents from various countries in which I've stayed long enough to accumulate an accent. It's a blend of South African, British, French, Kiwi  ie New Zealand, Aussie  ie Australian. It certainly has a lot of Californian pronunciations with traces of Fijian thrown in to the final mix. Its origins, while intriguing to people, are not immediately recognizable, and the original cockney is totally bleached out.

Given my accent, I'm often asked "Where are you from?", and I often counter-ask "Do you mean where was I born? or do you mean where did I grow up? or do you mean where did I immigrate from?" (the answers are London England, Cape Town South Africa, Nadi - pronounced Nandee  - Fiji).

That's how I've learned almost everyone who asks me "Where are you from?" really wants to know where I grew up. So I tell them I grew up in Cape Town South Africa. And that's true - interimly. But ultimately I grew up  - in the Zen sense of the words - in a house on Franklin Street in San Francisco. Really.

The house on Franklin Street in San Francisco where I grew up in the Zen sense of the words was a house with no name - just a number: 1945 Franklin Street, San Francisco, California at the corner of Washington Street in the 94109 zipcode. It was Werner Erhard's home. He referred to it, appropriately, as the Franklin  house.

The Franklin House, from the outside, is just another house on Franklin Street, just another ordinary Victorian  house on Franklin Street, perhaps just another ordinary gothic  Victorian house on Franklin Street painted rich, dark military green (today it's repainted a cream color). No pedestrian walking by, no commuter driving by would be unimpressed with its elegance, with its perfect neatness and tidiness, with its consciousness. Extraordinarily, the public sidewalks outside the Franklin House on both Franklin Street and Washington Street were swept and scrubbed clean by the Franklin House staff and assistants. It was a routine item of maintenance. It was both a statement and a gift to the community. It was the way Werner intended it.
Werner, when asked "Have you ever lived in a monastery?", responds "I do  live in a monastery. My monastery is the whole world.". In Werner's whole world which is a monastery, the Franklin House is a totally extraordinary monastery within a monastery. When meals were prepared in the Franklin House at a breakthrough, impeccable, immaculate pace, the likes of which aren't seen anywhere else even by royalty, the saying "If you can't stand the heat stay out of the kitchen!"  arose - in the Franklin House kitchen.

It's been said you can get enlightenment by coming to terms with surfaces. In a Zen monastery, once you know what's available, one of the most coveted jobs is cleaning the bathrooms - with a Q-tip  and a toothbrush.

I mastered cleaning bathrooms at the Franklin House. Then I upped the ante  to cleaning fireplaces. When I refer to cleaning a fireplace, I'm not simply talking about sweeping out ash and wood debris and re-laying a new log arrangement just so. I'm talking about stripping down to a used pair of Levis, removing my shirt, clearing out the hearth, and sitting in under the chimney which is a good position to get into to really  clean a fireplace, immaculately, impeccably, from the top down  ...

Thumbnail sketch. Werner enters the Franklin House through the front door. Sitting cross legged in the fireplace, back to the back wall, shoulders, arms, and upper torso out of sight up the chimney, an array of brushes and cleaning material at my feet, I sit, grabbing the items I need, sight unseen. "Who's cleaning the fireplace?" Werner asks. From where I sit, I only see the hems of his crisply pressed tan slacks, and his just right  brown Ferragamo loafers. "Lar Werner" responds the amazing Susie Fitch Kralj, the Franklin House cleaning manager (Lar  is Werner's term of endearment for me from the Roman god of the house). "Lar Thank You for cleaning the fireplace" Werner says. "You're Welcome Chief" I say, shoulders, arms, and upper torso still out of sight up the chimney.

Those are my credentials. Those are my qualifications. I want for none other. That's my Zen training right there.

Photography by Laurence Platt - 2:10pm Wednesday April 16, 2008
Franklin House (repainted)
Street View
The house, aside from its roof, walls, floors, and foundation appears to have no fixed form. One day a room is set up as an office, a space for executives and directors. The next day it's a conference room, a-buzz with visiting managers reporting in, planning ahead. The next day it's an elegant dining room serving mouthwatering gourmet cuisine to family, friends, and recipients of various honors and acknowledgements. And yet the day after that it's a Las Vegas casino, replete with tuxedo clad croupiers, roulette wheels, and black jack  tables. Ironically this latter incarnation is perhaps its most apt, given this is Werner's home after all. What it says, what it stands for  is this: if you're going to play with any chance of winning at the tables of Life, you've got to put something at stake.

In place of introverted modesty here, there's full blown Self  expression. And that's just the Franklin House itself I'm talking about - we'll get to its people in a moment. A large Douglas Fir is transformed into an extraordinary Christmas tree. It's lit to the point of not merely twinkling like a traditional Christmas tree. Rather, it emits dazzling  white light. Even more remarkable is its main set of decorations aren't traditional glass orbs. They're Japanese Geisha fans. They're not merely hanging decoratively on the tree, splayed wide open, symbolically representing Christmas like ordinary ornaments. They're fanning the Spirit of Christmas  from dying embers into a roaring blazing empassioned fire.

Outside the main upstairs suite window, three single lights in formation are clearly visible from Franklin Street below. This audacious display evokes the three wise men, Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. the magi, arriving to celebrate the first Christmas. It's brilliant. It's evocative. It's bound to be controversial. But then again, Werner Erhard's not exactly known for meekly cowtowing to the status quo. If anyone else did it, it would reek of false bravado and inauthenticity. But when Werner does it, amazingly it raises the consciousness of everyone and anyone fortunate enough to be in the vicinity of the experience. If anyone else did it, it would be a self aggrandizing boast. But when Werner does it, it's a breakthrough for humanity, amazingly it's a new possibility of being for human being. And even after the amazement wears off, what you're left with is its obviousness. You're left with "Why didn't I think of it myself?".

A staff meeting is in progress. A complicated, complex set of plans is set in motion for activities which will occur in the Franklin House over the next few days. Everyone gets to input what's wanted, what's needed, and in what sequence things must happen to expedite these impossible plans, these sheer grandiose conjectures that you have to be so far out there  on the edge to even give them the tiniest chance of succeeding.

Showing up almost as a distraction to the enormous minutely detailed agenda at hand is a light in a tool closet which isn't working. They could be talking about the hundreds of expected guests and related logistics. They could be talking about the teams of drivers who'll park cars. They could be talking about the nine course meals which will be prepared and served from the Franklin House kitchen by an army of sharp as a whip  culinary assistants. Incredibly, no one has any doubt whatsoever that the big stuff  will get done. But what grabs everyone on an unconscious, subliminal level is the little  stuff. The unasked question, the unspoken concern which hangs like a fog in the room is this: will the little  stuff get done? Or will it be glossed over, unconscious, "who cares?", business as usual?

The days fly by. At the end of the series of events, a completion meeting is held. The sharing is electrifying. The events succeed beyond everyone's wildest imaginings. All guests are totally and completely taken care of. People attending the events are utterly blown away  by the brilliance of the production and by the workability  of it all. All intended and expected business is accomplished. The meals roll off with exact precision like timed commando operations. The gourmet food served rivals the finest restaurants. Not one thing  doesn't work. Everything is impeccably and immaculately cleaned and put away afterwards. The place is ready for the next intricate, interwoven set of operations manifesting Werner's intention. The participants in the meeting are satisfied, happy, and ready to do it all again in a heartbeat. But they haven't really let loose  yet.

Then, in the silence of the end game  of the meeting, an assistant who works closely with the Franklin House electrician says in an almost chance, offhand comment "By the way, the light in the tool closet is fixed.".

The silence suddenly gets deeper. One or two people gasp audibly and turn around. Then, slowly at first, the applause begins. Then the cheering. Then the laughter and even some tears. People are shaking hands. Some embrace. This is true  completion. Even the light in the tool closet is fixed!  It's disproportionate to the massive  accomplishment of the series of events just completed. But what it represents is 100% total whole nothing left out, no detail too small to spare, absolute  completion.

There's nothing  like this anywhere. This is the magic of the Franklin House, Werner's monastery within a monastery, just another house on Franklin Street.



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