The Other Side To This Life
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Copyright © 2007 G.C. Glasser
All rights reserved
Dedicated to Fred Neil
1936 - 2001
Other side to this life
Would you like to know a secret
It's just between you and me
I don't know where I'm going next
I don't know where I'm gonna be
There’s another side of this life I’ve been living
And there’s another side of this life
Well my whole world's in an uproar
My own world's upside down
I don't know where I'm going
but I'm always bumming around
Well I don't know what I'm doing
Half of the time I don't know where I'll go
I think I'll get me a sailing boat
And sail the Gulf of Mexico
Well I think I'll go to Nashville
Down in Tennessee
The ten-cent life I've been leading in the city
It’s gonna be the death of me
Well I don’t know what to tell you
So I’ll just say so-long, goodbye
If I’m ever back this way
I’ll be singing this same old song again
And there’s another side of this life I’ve been living
And there’s the other side of this life
In 1962, news items were popping up in the media about US military advisors in Indochina.
2 August 1964, the US media reported the Gulf of Tonkin Incident.
The US Government alleged that Vietnamese torpedo boats fired on US Destroyers.
7 August 1964, the US Congress voted on a resolution which authorized the president "to take all necessary steps, including the use of armed force…”
In 1964, an underground scene was also burgeoning in San Francisco that led to the fabled “Summer of Love” and subsequent ‘cultural revolution’.
8 March 1965, the first US combat troops officially entered Vietnam, and protest against the military draft began on college campuses across the country.
To sell the war to the American public, the government propaganda machine spun “The Domino Theory:” Vietnam was the first domino in a chain that led all the way across the Pacific Ocean to the shores of California and then, throughout North America.
Thus, stopping communism in Vietnam was essential to ‘Saving America, and the world from communist domination’, or so the theory went.
The divine call to save the world from the threat of communist tyranny required manpower of which there was a short supply in the armed forces.
Poor and working class boys were the prime targets for military conscription.
The Haute Bourgeoisie wielded money and influence to keep their children out of harms way.
“So, what kind of future did a poor boy have to look forward to?”
The Other Side to This Life
By G. C. Glasser
(A fictionalised account)
Special acknowledgement to my old partners
Denny Keith & Roland Saulnier
The Other Side to This Life
1965 things started to heat up over the Vietnam War. Five-hundred-thousand conscripts and enlistees were desperately needed as the war escalated.
The next thing I knew, life became like a bizarre episode out of the old television series, “The Twilight Zone.”
People I knew seemed to vanish off the face of the earth. It was like, one day they were here and the next day they were gone. When I’d ask about them, the answer was almost always: “Didn’t you hear? They’ve been drafted” or “Sid is off in Vietnam.”
The Army and Marines were so desperate for fresh meat; the military recruiters were scouring courthouses for any flotsam and jetsam that could carry a rifle.
A friend of mine headed to prison for manslaughter was offered the choice of going to jail or joining the Marines, which at the time blew my mind.
They didn’t care about quality; it was quantity – warm bodies.
As the propaganda machine ramped up, the military began to produce more and more heroes for the hometown newspapers to entice people to enlist and popularise the war.
A guy I knew from early childhood was one of those people. In 1965, he came home with seven fingers, missing half his right foot, and a chest load of medals. Vincent got the grand reception, and made the news. He was a celebrity for several months and disappeared from the spotlight.
He first went to Vietnam as a ‘military advisor’ in 1963 and did two tours of duty.
One day, Vincent unexpectedly dropped by my house. At first, I thought the purpose of his visit was to gloat about his heroic exploits in the war and rub my nose in the shit. That wasn’t the case. He was very sombre. It was as if his spirit was broken – not at all the same adversary from the old days.
Vincent and I were never friends. In fact, we were always fighting and carried the scars of our numerous confrontations. As a matter of fact, I was the last person I thought Vincent would drop by to see for a friendly visit.
At first, the conversation was general bullshit, and then it became more serious. He said that he’d like to bury the hatchet. That one took me aback. I thought we’d be at odds until we died. After that’ he started talking about the war and what happened to him.
During our conversation, I learned that much of the hype that occurred upon his homecoming was just that. Vincent spilled his guts to me and said that they were handing out medals like candy. When he got his discharge, they sent press releases to the newspapers about his heroic deeds, and that he pulled two tours of duty in Vietnam.
Then he told me that all the shit they quoted him as saying in the papers came from a script. He said, “Man, it’s all bullshit even some of the heroic crap they said I did. I was just trying to stay alive.”
The Army recruiters used him like a Judas goat to get all his friends and associates to join. Apparently, he even got a bounty as a kickback for every head he brought in the door. The bastard was making money by talking his buddies into joining.
Once the media attention died, Vincent had served his purpose. However, in the following months, some of his friends started coming home in body bags and that’s what bothered him most.
Before he left, I remember him reaching out to shake my hand and saying, “Whatever you do, don’t let them send you to that fucking war.”
Several weeks later, the newspaper reported, “Local War Hero Dies in Tragic Gun Accident.” The truth was that Vincent blew his brains out in some rat-hole, Ybor City apartment.
I joined the Navy Reserves to keep from being conscripted into the military and ending up in Vietnam. Anyway, after what Vincent told me, the whole thing just didn’t smell right.
The bottom-line was I didn’t want to get my ass blown off in Vietnam; killed in a war I didn’t even know why were fighting or end up like Vincent.
I didn’t know too many people who were excited about being drafted into the military or even joining. In fact, most of the people I knew were trying to figure out how to keep from being conscripted. Most of us thought that the people who joined the military were a little off in the head.
The big problem with having the threat of conscription hanging over your head was that it was difficult to get a decent job. Essentially, most of the draft age guys couldn’t get a gig other than menial type stuff – jobs with no future attached. No one wanted to spend time and money training someone when they might get called up for military service at any time.
At that time, I worked as a deckhand on a towboat at night and went to college days. Naively thinking that I had a future, I figured that I was going to buy some time by joining the reserves. However, the inevitability of being required to give up several years of my life to serve in the military was the reality.
I really resented attending reserve meetings once every two weeks and simply quit going. That wasn’t too bright of an idea because within several months, I had the military police knocking at my door.
The problem for me was if I turned myself in; I was going to a military prison for ninety days, and then wind up in Vietnam anyway. The thought of being an expendable chunk of meat didn’t appeal to me in the least
I did manage to evade the military police for several months while I mulled over my options. I had my room mate answer the door and telephone. Several times, I thought I was a dead duck when the military police brought a regular cop with them. I was getting a fast lesson on what life would be like as a fugitive.
I figured that it wouldn’t be long before one of my more patriotic neighbours would drop a dime on me and tell the police I was scooting out the back door and down the alley when they arrived.
Essentially, I lost everything. I couldn’t go back to school, I lost my job, I was running out of money, and for all intents and purposes, I was a fugitive.
The cold reality of my predicament was that I had only three unattractive options: Skip the country and go to Canada, go to prison, or join another branch of the military. Consequently, I headed down to the Air Force recruiter’s office and joined-up.
Within a week, I was on a Greyhound Bus headed to the main induction centre in Jacksonville, Florida with about forty other guys.
We were put-up in cheap hotels in the skid row area. The next morning we were fed and herded into some seedy three story department store that was converted to process the ’cattle’ for impending slaughter.
There must have been four or five hundred other kids waiting outside. We were hustled into groups of about thirty, told to remove our clothes and follow the yellow line through that dingy building.
We spent close to twelve hours being probed and having fingers and instruments inserted in every body orifice during the process of dehumanisation.
It was, however, an interesting experience to witness the fear building in some people as the reality of the situation hit home: Only the rejects would be sleeping in their own beds the next evening, and the rest of us would be off into the unknown.
A few broke down and started crying. I saw a few become hysterical. Others seemed to be in a state of shock. Then there were those of us who were preparing ourselves for the bullshit to come.
None of the whining and crying fazed the slaughterhouse personnel; they kept the cattle moving toward Vietnam.
Upon observing that scene, it became evident to me exactly how desperate the need was for warm bodies in the military. I saw people who should have been rejected for physical defects pass on to the next phase of the induction line. About the only people that were rejected had obviously bad hearts; however, they weren’t immediately rejected until they were checked again and again.
When I looked around, I wondered how many were going to be killed or wounded. As for myself, I knew that my life would never be the same, but at least, I had a better than even chance of surviving the shit than most of the people in that building.
At any rate, joining the Air Force was a much better option than going to a Marine prison for ninety days then sent to the front lines in Vietnam or living like a fugitive in self imposed exile.
At the end of the yellow line we were separated, packed on buses, and shunted off. My group was taken to the airport, loaded onto an old DC-3, and landed at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas sometime in the early hours of the morning.
It was the usual reception for new recruits; a sergeant incessantly barking orders at a bunch of scared kids. For many, this was their first time away from mom’s apron strings. All I wanted to do was catch a few winks after almost twenty-four sleepless hours.
Basic training was the general bullshit – the bullies and idiots. Our training had been fast tracked because they needed warm bodies in Southeast Asia and to fill the gap in stateside personnel.
Training time was cut in half for all the branches of the military. So, for us it was a four week stint instead of eight weeks.
I’m absolutely sure I would not have made it for eight weeks without winding up in a military jail or killing some bastard.
On the first day at boot camp, some training sergeant said that we were going to be transformed into military men, and our present identity changed, stripped from us and we were to become soldiers. I didn’t like that statement one goddamn bit. I liked who I was and wasn’t about to let them change my identity.
I had a very strong sense of self-identity. Growing up, I never had what could be described as a stable childhood, my father died when I was about six from injuries he received in WW-2, and I attended seven different schools in ten years. I never became involved in becoming part of any group. I always was sort of a loner.
My only experience in social groups was about establishing my own territory, not being part of the group. If there were people who chose to associate with me, it was fine, but I never went out of my way to make friends.
My interest in psychology was another factor that came into play. I read a lot of stuff by Freud and Jung among others; I knew that they intended to propagandise me – brain washing is the more appropriate word.
The only thing the indoctrination did to me was instil a seething resentment for that bunch of assholes for thinking that everyone was as stupid as they were. I knew what they were talking about when the trainer said he was going to turn me into a “Fighting, military man who followed orders.”
Interestingly, most of the people who joined the Air Force were better educated, Bourgeoisie kids who wanted to avoid going into a war. I think that was the only thing I had in common with them. I never would have associated with the majority of them on the outside.
I really didn’t have much in common with them other than seeing the Air Force as the next best option to skipping the country or going to jail – we would all have preferred to remain civilians.
As bright and intelligent as many purported to be, most all succumbed to the indoctrination and became what I would loosely describe as ‘military men’ – indoctrinated into the system.
After the first indoctrination, my focus was on how I could get out of the mess. I hated the military, hated wearing a uniform, hated being ordered around by a bunch of assholes, and wasn’t any too happy about being stuck with a bunch of petite bourgeois twits prattling on about going to college, their cars, their girlfriends, and what they were going to do when they got out of the service.
It was interesting, though, to watch the people around me metamorphous as the instructors filled their heads with bullshit propaganda.
The people that seemed to rise to the top of the leadership chain in basic training were the most easily propagandised. It wasn’t about how intelligent a person was, but how gung ho they were. Consequently, it was the idiots that were chosen as platoon and squad leaders.
I decided I wasn’t going to put up with the bullshit from a bunch of morons attempting to bully me around. I and several of my bad boy, basic training chums caught the platoon leader and let him know in no uncertain terms that we didn’t care, we didn’t want to be there, and we would kick the shit out of him if he tried to push us around.
After that little ‘basic training’ trip was over with, I found myself on another DC-3 headed for Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi to learn how to be a radar operator commonly referred to as a ‘scope dope’. It was essentially the same crap as basic training, and I applied the same survival techniques.
Several months later, I was upgraded to a battered DC-4 (Flying Tiger Airlines) and on my way to McClellan AFB in Sacramento, California. I was assigned to an airborne radar squadron.
Apparently, it was supposed to be an ‘elite’ assignment.
Now, Flying Tiger Airlines, unbeknown to me at the time, had a nefarious reputation as being a CIA cover operation in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia. It is also rumoured that the airline was involved in large scale heroin smuggling operations to help finance clandestine operations in Southeast Asia.
Upon boarding the vintage WW-2 plane, it was obvious that it was well past its prime and should have been on the way to the scrap yard.
My seat rocked back and forth because it wasn’t completely bolted to the floor. The pilot and co-pilot looked like they’d been doing Benzedrine, drinking whisky and hanging out in a Mexican bordello for a month. From what later I came to learn about the airline, it was also evident that the plane had seen some combat from the patches covering bullet holes in the fuselage and wings.
They were going to drop me and some others off in Chicago where I was to catch a commercial flight to San Francisco; and somehow, I was supposed to make my way to Sacramento.
We weren’t in the air fifteen minutes before an engine caught fire. I’ll tell you, the Gideon bibles and rosaries appeared in a flash; the Catholics were flailing the sign of the cross and making their acts of contrition; and there were mummers of the Good Shepard Psalm intermingled with whimpers of “God please don’t let me die.”.
One asshole kept saying, “Dear God, if you let me live through this, I’ll never commit another sin as long as I live.” And just a few minutes before he was running his mouth about ‘how many sluts’ he’d ‘porked’ when he was a civilian. I figured that solemn pledge to God would be forgotten as soon as the danger passed.
The pilot came on the intercom and nonchalantly explained the situation. He extinguished the fire and just feathered the prop; it was no big deal. He said that he landed DC-4s with only one functioning engine.
Personally, I had complete confidence that he knew exactly what he was doing, but my comrades weren’t so confident about that. The fellow next to me started on a mantra of “Sweet Jesus, sweet Jesus, don’t let me die like this.” The others were clinching their bibles and rosaries or pissing their pants.
The scene was somewhat perplexing and amusing because the day before, the very same people were ready to go out onto the battlefield and kill or be killed. Then at the first sniff of danger, they were pissing in their pants and praying for God to save them.
We did have a reception of emergency vehicles upon landing.
It was also bemusing to witness all the boys recover their bravado when their feet touched terra firma.
I thought they were a bunch of useless punks. Several months before I’d been washed over the side of the towboat during a surprise spring storm. I thought I was a dead man as I was sitting on top of one swell and the towboat was sitting atop another about a hundred yards away. I saw the lights from the Big Bend power plant some three miles off in the distance and started swimming for shore. The next thing I knew, she was right on top of me. I remembered grabbing on to the gunnels and a hand snatching me onboard.
Working on the water was for the most part boring, but during heavy weather, it could get downright scary and exciting – nothing like an engine fire on a plane. I figured when your time was up, it was up. Eventually, we’re all going to die, we just don’t know when.
At the time, I was unaware that the anti war movement was heating up to the flashpoint; there were protest on the college campuses, people were burning their draft cards, and the people like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were coming to the front as the leaders of the movement. The population was becoming polarised in their views about the Vietnam War.
As for myself, I was never very political and viewed the anti war group as a bunch of rich college kids. I was just a poor kid from a blue collar background caught up in a bad situation and was only concerned about saving my ass.
While I was waiting for my flight at O’Hare Airport in Chicago, I noticed that the place was packed with soldiers from all branches of the military.
I had several hours to kill before my flight was due to leave; I was in the coffee shop when some Marines freshly puffed up from boot camp came and sat at along side me. They looked like someone shoved broomsticks up their asses, and they acted like robots. The first words out of one guy’s mouth was that Air Force people were the same as a bunch of “Chicken shit, yellow-bellied draft dodgers.”
Not wanting to get in an argument, I slugged down my coffee and started to leave while they were still running their mouths.
As I walked away, I was accosted by some college students about being part of the “Killing Machine,” a “Murderer of innocent women and children.” The next thing I knew, it turned into a heated shouting match between the Marines and the anti war people. I slid away and disappeared into the crowd as more people got involved in the argument.
I encountered a similar reception when I landed in San Francisco from a group of college students. The whole experience was perplexing and seemed irrational, but I couldn’t have cared less about what they thought and went my way.
The sun was rising when I finally made it to McClellan and reported to the duty sergeant. He escorted me to a room where I proceeded to crash on the bare mattress.
The next thing I knew, a rattling sound woke me, the room was shaking. I was so exhausted that I thought it was a big plane taking off. It wasn’t until I reported to the officer of the day that I discovered that I’d slept through an earthquake and didn’t hear the calls to evacuate the building.
Within twenty-four hours, I’d experienced an engine fire on a plane, been accosted by ‘peaceniks’ and Marines, slept through a decent size ‘shake’, and I hadn’t even officially reported for duty. Somewhat dazed, all I remember thinking was “Welcome to California.”
To that point, I felt like I had been caught up in a storm and dropped out of the skies into some strange world three-thousand miles away from home.
Upon my initial investigation, it didn’t seem to be too bad. I was in a dormitory. Glancing out the window, I had a view of the Sierras, which was novel because I had never seen mountains before.
As compared to accounts of life in the Army and Marines, the Air Force life was more like a summer camp. The chow hall was like a giant cafeteria. At breakfast, we could get eggs cooked to order. For the other meals; they actually had menus posted with three or four options.
Being on a flight crew had its benefits, as there were generally no more than two people to a room instead of three and we got dangerous duty pay of about forty dollars a month extra.
During the first few days there, I began to think that I could possibly get to like it. But, when I walked past an officer, didn’t think to salute, I was reported.
Before I’d got to know anyone other than by a passing introduction, I ended up in the first sergeants office and got my ass chewed out for not saluting an officer.
The next stop was the squadron commander’s office for another verbal thrashing. There I was told in no uncertain terms that I had started out on the “Wrong foot.”
I wasn’t on the base for a week, and I was already in trouble.
My initial punishment was to memorise the rules and regulations aside from receiving personalised indoctrination on the importance of discipline in the military.
They surrounded me with nothing but ‘goody two shoes’, sharply dressed companions who were supposed to lead me into the light of military righteousness. I hated the bastards. They were slimy snitches that would do anything to get a promotion.
For the next several weeks, I found myself being called into the commander’s office for any miniscule infraction of the regulations.
I managed to make several friends, but not the type of associations that my superiors would have wanted. However, they were the only people with whom I had any common interests.
One fellow was a folk singer and was being kicked out of the Air Force on a bad conduct discharge. When he wasn’t in jail or on base restriction, he played gigs at a lot of folk clubs in San Francisco.
He was the first person to turn me on to some good reefer. I’d hang out with him, smoke reefer and listen to tunes. He was into all the San Francisco groups like Moby Grape, Quicksilver, Airplane – you name it, he had the albums.
When I was in school, I’d smoked reefer, but nothing like the stuff he had. It was coming in from Southeast Asia. It’s like it was already cleaned and would blow the top right off your head.
For a few weeks, I managed to play the role of a good solider and was rewarded with a three day pass. My newfound friend and I took off for San Francisco. Looking back, I think that he must have known the ‘who’s who’ of the San Francisco underground at that time.
The first place we hit was North Beach and a folk club called the Hungry Eye where he met some friends. From that point, the experience became surreal as I went on a sleepless, three day run of the San Francisco underground scene. At the end of our escapade, I knew where I wanted to be and why. It was exciting and most of all; I dug the music I was hearing.
San Francisco was filled with clubs: Jazz, Folk, and Rock.
During those three days, I found myself in the company of everyone from famous Beat writers and poets that I admired to people who achieved a certain celebrity status by being Alcatraz alumni and topless Go-Go dancers.
Then there was the excursion into the burgeoning Haight Ashbury psychedelic scene.
After that, we went back to North Beach, hit a few more clubs, and sometime about three or four in the morning, I found myself sitting in a rundown apartment up on Telegraph Hill. It was the first time I ever saw people shooting up drugs. This was all happening while a casual conservation ensued and a scratchy John Coltrane album was playing on the stereo in the dimly lit, smoky room.
About five, everyone just started falling asleep where they sat, and the next thing I remember someone offering me a swig of wine and a joint. It was late morning when I woke.
I was looking around for my buddy, but he was gone, and for a bit, I was a little panicky. The environment was totally alien to me, and I didn’t know anyone. I headed out and wandered the streets, got a bite to eat on Fisherman’s Wharf and explored the city.
By shear accident, I landed in the Haight Ashbury district again where I met some hippies who took me under their wing. I found myself footing the bill for food and transportation, but all in all, it was worth the price.
It must have been about nine in the evening when they dropped me back in the Haight and pointed me to a Diggers’ crash pad. That scene was completely different – bizarre and alien to anything I ever experienced. There wasn’t much conversation happening, and the people just seemed to wander around aimlessly from room to room.
A tall black guy walked in with a bag full of sugar cubes and started handing them out. He said they were compliments of Owsley and a “Thousand mics.” A girl sitting next to me handed me one and said, “Take this. Don’t worry, I’ll stick with you. – Just put it in your mouth and let it dissolve.” It turned out to be the experience of my life – strange, but I loved that strange sort of excitement - experiencing the unknown.
It only took about ten or fifteen minutes before the floor transformed into a viscous liquid under foot. Glancing away in an attempt to regain my equilibrium, I focused my attention on an open window. A myriad of colours poured through the window, splashed onto the floor and exploded into paisley patterns that eventually faded into the austere surroundings.
Ragged, dirty lace curtains fluttered in a slight breeze wafting through an open window. I felt as if they were reaching out to embrace everyone in the room. But the breeze subsided and they fell limp, dangling against the infusion of light from the street, once again as lifeless, stained rags.
I attempted to grasp some significance from the experience, but there seemed to be none – it was just another near miss and somehow the intrinsic lesson bypassed me and was lost forever. I felt a sadness that soon dissipated into further curiosity regarding the elaborate stitching and rust coloured stains clinging to the fabric of life as I saw it unfolding in those curtains.
Some chick started coming on to me – for some reason she seemed like a serpent and her hand felt like it dissolved into my face when she touched me. She asked me some abstract question; and it seemed like it took forever to get a thought constructed into a sentence and get it out before it faded off into some distant, meaningless memory.
At times, I thought I understood everything, but then the revelations dissipated into the confusion of a conversation somewhere in the background.
Life itself seemed to be evolving around me while musing about a juicy cockroach peeking from a crack in the plaster wall – looking at me looking at him for what I thought must have been an eternity, but only lasted as until someone’s words drifted past, and I stopped to listen.
The chick that gave me the acid, came up behind, touched me softly, then melted into me. Perfume and incense filled the air and her lips fell against mine; it just felt, I thought, it might last a little longer than eternity. I thought I really knew who she was and that she part of me – breathing simultaneously – flesh against flesh. Looking into her eyes, we slipped into a trance and through the door where someone handed me a candle flickering in the diffused darkness surrounding us and cast dancing shadows on the walls.
Someone started playing the guitar. The notes drifted, echoed against the wall, and fell to the floor while each note appeared, resonated in my mind and vanished into oblivion. I asked someone if I was in a dream.
Bare walls and bare floors illuminated by a single incandescent light bulb strung on bare wire from the ceiling above – swinging, hanging there in what dissolved into some sort of celestial madness. A bare breasted girl danced up to me and said, “Did I know you from another life, or did you just come in through the window on that last puff of air – vanquished from a lost reality beyond despair.”
I tried to explain how it all worked, but the words just didn’t ring true because the swinging light suspended from the ceiling cast the wrong shadows across the room causing me to descend into a state of confusion. She disappeared somewhere in one of those moving shadows. When I saw her again, she sat on the floor with people in the next room illuminated by candy coloured Japanese lanterns.
She beckoned me into the room; her hand left a luminescent trail, and I thought either the universe slowed down or we were moving at a rate exceeding the speed of light.
Finally, some girl grabbed my hand and said, “Let’s go for a walk? There’s too much strangeness around here. I need to come down.”
Outside, the nature of fog became apparent and much more than just moisture filling the night air. Each droplet contained flashing neon signs and street lamps as crepuscular, obscure reflections captured in the listless liquid spheres. The chaotic onslaught splashed against my eyes and exploded into fractal images superimposed on the fluid street scenes that surrounded us.
I marvelled at the complexity of it all while fading in and out of streetlamp shadows cast and diffused while my companion said she thought she saw a glimmer of hope for the world. It was all so logical, but in a strange sort of way.
We walked through Golden Gate Park and on to Land’s End where we explored the ruins of the old Bath House. I said that there was something sinister about the place. It was something about the lights from the restaurant and distant music from the amusement park that created that somewhat disturbing feeling.
She said that it was the camera obscura causing the universe to collapse in on us, but “Everything would come into perspective before the night cascaded into the first morning light.”
For some reason, it all seemed logical to me; I never bothered to question the metamorphic nature of the events and got lost in billowing fog.
Some time, in the early morning hours we ended up out at the Palace of the Legion of Honour where we watched the sunrise and discussed the nature of the veins contained in a blade of grass.
I never knew her name. I wasn’t sure if she was a real person or an apparition. She vanished into the landscape.
Over the next few months my ’military career’ went steadily downhill. I began to regard my military obligation as a prison sentence and became more determined to escape. I tried to spend as much time as possible with my newfound friends in San Francisco and as stoned as possible on psychedelics.
The forays to the Fillmore and Avalon were exciting. It was like you could catch three acts for three dollars. I saw most every great act of that period. But San Francisco was at the epicentre of the music scene. It was like if a band didn’t play at the Fillmore or Avalon, they weren’t credible.
I managed to get to San Francisco most every weekend. My favourite acts were the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Jefferson Airplane, Jim Kweskin Jug Band and Tracy Nelson with Mother Earth.
Going to the Avalon was somewhat less exciting than going to the Fillmore because of the location. It was at Van Ness and Sutter and in a decent neighbourhood. The Fillmore Auditorium, however, was located at Fillmore and Gary Street. Every thing you could imagine was happening in that area – it was like where the naive hippies met the hardcore ghetto dwellers.
I remember walking up Fillmore Street stoned out on acid. I could here the bass from about a block away. As I got closer, it was like the rest of the music seemed to come in focus until I finally got in the door to a different universe than the frenetic street scene outside.
On many a fog shrouded night, I was so stoned on acid; the sidewalk undulated to the beat of the music under my feet. Street dealers would just pop up in front of me like strange comic apparitions with a hand full of coloured balloons they claimed were filled with heroin. The balloons appeared to melt into their hands and metamorphous them into harlequin clowns flashing pearly white teeth as they spoke in befuddling riddles. They’d do a little dance and come up with a masterful jive rhyme as a sales pitch, then dissolve back into the shadows.
The prostitutes just seemed to appear out of nowhere – they looked so strange – their heavy make up melted and ran down their faces like candle wax. As they attempted to snuggle up to me all while talking shit. I could feel their contempt for me; and looking into their eyes was like looking into some soulless void – they were turning tricks to get another balloon of smack from the dealer skulking in the shadowed doorway further on down the street – I was just another potential lifeless trick.
Then there were the street hustlers looking to take advantage of stoned hippies – they wore trench coats. When they came up to me, they’d open the coat revealing all kinds of sparkly shit – they were like a cheap jewellery store on two legs.
Being stoned, it was easy to get hung up looking at the glittering crap. They always had a good line, but I felt like I had just entered the pages of a surreal comic book, and their words turned to bold print stretching across the night and obliterating the street scene with chaotic afterimages of fragmented thoughts. However, they couldn’t avoid competing with the street noise and wandered back off into some innocuous doorway next to the liquor store – lurking, waiting in the shadows for another passer by.
Passing cars seemed to sparkle and stretch until they were approaching a vanishing point, then they just pop out of sight.
For some reason, I never felt threatened or paranoid. I loved the scene. As bad and as dangerous as it might have been, there was a seductive energy about it. I always wondered where those people went when they finished up for the night.
I figured most of them went to some squalid ghetto apartment and slept on a bare mattress until some time around noon. Then it was time to hit the street again. And others probably never really slept – they just bounced from one shooting gallery to another in their never ending quest for another hit of smack.
It’s difficult to describe the situation that ensued. I was flying missions over the Pacific and Gulf of Alaska. We were supposed to be on sentry watching for a Russian attack. However, in reality, we didn’t do much except watch the Russians watching us watching them. The routine was to fly out somewhere along the west coast of the US; anywhere between the Bering Straits on down to Mexico and fly around in an oval pattern for hours on end.
The planes were old prop driven EC-121 Super Constellations that had seen better days.
Most of the flights I crewed on were cut short because of some sort of engine trouble or because of a piece of the plane fell off. Something was always going wrong with them.
The whole damn thing was monotonous and draining - just a boring experience. Curiously though, some people loved flying in those raggedy tin cans. As for myself, after the first flight, I couldn’t have cared less, and the only aspect I found exciting was when we blew an engine or some sort of emergency occurred.
Because we were shorthanded, had limited operational aircraft and half the squadron was in Thailand, we were being sent on ‘missions’ every other day. Generally, a mission, in total, lasted about twenty-four hours from pre-flight to unloading the plane and debriefing. A lot of us started taking Benzedrine to keep going.
Essentially, that’s how I got introduced into the drug scene on the base. I was amazed at how pervasive drug usage actually was. At first, I naively thought that I was in an elite crowd, but that wasn’t the case. At that point, I think that about one-third of the people on the base were getting high on something. You name it, and you could get it without leaving the base.
As I became more involved with the drug scene, the more dirt I began to discover about the Thailand and Vietnam connections. There was all kinds of shit going down from smuggling dope to selling American dollars on the black market for five or ten times the value. I think that almost everyone from the top brass to the civilian workers were hooked into some sort of moneymaking scam involving the Southeast Asia connections.
I crewed on a flight to Bangkok, to deliver a plane and bring another back for overhaul. On the way home, we carried a few passengers. One of which was a lieutenant colonel who came aboard carrying a briefcase. He was holding on to it as if it contained diamonds, and appeared sickly.
Before we hit Midway to refuel, he was very ill. The pilot attempted to talk him into going to the hospital, but he refused. When we hit Hawaii, he looked like he was on his last legs, but still refused to go to the hospital. The bastard died before we hit the California coast.
Our crew was quarantined. We were hustled off to the isolation ward at Travis Air Force Base and investigators from the Office of Special Investigations came and questioned us.
We were sitting around waiting for the lab report that would show if we contracted some sort of infectious disease or not. That’s when the pilot told me why the investigators were so interested.
Small groups of people had little investment clubs, so when one of them went on a temporary duty assignment to Thailand or Vietnam, they pooled their cash to sell on the black market, then converted the currency back to American in the Philippines or Japan. The next step was to have one of the ‘club members’ ferry the cash back to the States.
The major problem was that, for the most part, the Vietcong were buying the American money. They would in turn purchase medical supplies which were stolen from American depots. Mainly Americans were stealing the medical supplies and selling them on the black market for the dollars purchased by the Vietcong from the ‘patriotic military personnel.’
It turned out that our passenger had liver flukes and put off treatment so he could get the money safely back in the states.
I always had the feeling that something was not quite right, but the extent of the decadence and corruption was a revelation. What little respect for my superiors vanished. All the bullshit they fed me about patriotism, God and country, and the American moral high ground was nothing but goddamned lies. And especially the bullshit about the Vietnam War and ‘saving the world from communism’, for them it was all about profiteering.
During 1966, the social fabric of the US was beginning to tear. For me, it was as if I’d been tossed into a maelstrom and events flashed before my eyes. Nothing seemed tangible. There was nothing to grasp onto and gain equilibrium. I only remember flashes of events – the highlights, everything else was a blur.
It became more evident that most of the people in the military weren’t satisfied or happy about being there.
There were the ‘lifers’, the people who supposedly made a career of the military, but from my perspective, most of them were essentially institutionalised – they were simply marking the days until their twenty-years was up and they could collect a retirement check.
If a person didn’t have much ambition, the military was a good place to be. Decisions were made for them and there was always a pay check at the beginning of the month. All you had to do was follow orders and play it straight.
However, I think for all the lifers, it was all about retirement checks, I don’t think that many actually enjoyed being in the military.
Alcoholism seemed to be rampant among lifers.
It was as if almost everyone was trying to escape that reality.
My escape was drugs and music – getting high and listening to music were the only things that seemed to ground me.
The breaking point, for me, came on one evening when we had to make an emergency landing at Travis AFB because of electrical problems. As usual, I along with a few others on the flight crew was buzzing on Benzedrine.
While waiting for transportation back to McClellan, we were shooting the breeze with some guys on the ground crew, and again, as usual during that period, drugs entered into the conservation.
Wasn’t long before we slid off into some dark corner and were smoking opium dipped Vietnamese pot buds. I remember hearing the radio blasting, a transport from Vietnam rolling up to the hanger and the smell of oil clinging to the night air.
One of the ground crew said, “I’ll bet it’s got another shipment of stiffs onboard.”
Mickey and I watched the transport rollup, and the ground crew go into action.
Perplexed, we just stood there watching as they unceremoniously unloaded fifteen or twenty body bags from Vietnam.
When they finished, one of the ground crew came over and told us that the shit we smoked was smuggled in the corpses’ body cavities. He also informed us that there was a thriving heroin smuggling operation and they could get us a good price on all the China White if we wanted to get in on the action.
One of the ground crew said, “Yeah man, some of these guys come back in pieces. They just stick’em in the bag and ship’em home; better them than me. Ya’ know what I mean?”
In the next breath, he changed the subject to what his plans were when his enlistment was up. He was going to buy a car, go back to school, and marry his high school sweetheart. Before we left, he handed me a bag of smack and said, “If you like it, I can get you all you want.”
The most insidious aspect that blew my mind was the cavalier nature of the comments. My thoughts slipped back to the induction centre in Jacksonville and I wondered if may have been some of those guys that got used as heroin wrappers.
On the way back to the base, my buddy Mickey said, “Man that was really fucked up. The whole thing is fucked – those guys are a bunch of ghouls.”
As I became even more aware of what was happening around me, the more incongruous the world seemed.
It was strange to listening to the people around me talk. One minute it was about what their aspirations were when discharged, and in the next breath, they were talking about gonorrhoea, killing gooks, screwing bar girls, shooting skag and even stranger, more macabre shit like taking “trophies.” What was even more bizarre to me was the fact that most of the guys were church going, middle class American kids at one time.
It was the dichotomy of the people; they were almost schizophrenic sociopaths. Most of those guys came from respectable families and were regarded as normal American boys. Once they were out of the eyesight of their parents and communities, they went fucking nuts. Any sense of morality they’d ever learned was brushed aside. Once the little taste of debauched freedom passed, they would go home and don their cloaks of respectability as if nothing ever occurred.
That’s what confounded me because I felt that the things I experienced would never leave – there was no way to escape the experiences, no place in my psyche deep enough to bury them away. I didn’t understand how anyone involved in that war could ever go back to a ‘normal’ sort of life again and just pretend like it never happened. The ghosts would catch up with everyone involved someday.
I knew that my experiences were indelibly imprinted on my psyche and remain there for the rest of my days.
Some of them even had the audacity to tell me that I was a low life and embarrassment to the military.
That is when it dawned on me as to how fucking insane that whole goddamn war was and the impact it was having on the people involved. Several days later, I went into the first sergeant and told him that I didn’t want to be a part of that shit anymore and I quit.
The expression on his face was unforgettable. He countered that I had signed a four year contract and I couldn’t just quit. I let loose and told him I wasn’t going to be a part of it and that was that – they could stick that war up their asses as far as I was concerned.
Well, submitting my resignation only got me knocked off the flight crew and into “rehabilitation” which meant I was to be re-indoctrinated about why we were fighting communism, and I was also sent to several psychiatrists.
One of the psychiatrists told me that he just wanted to know more about me so he could help other “Misguided airman adjust to military life.”
I thoroughly enjoyed feeding him a line of bullshit every time I visited the office. Anyway, the more time I spent in his office, the less time I was stuck doing menial chores. To me, he was just another condescending idiot.
I was doing quite a bit of LSD about that time and tried some belladonna once. Those experiences provided a rich source of psychotic material to feed to the psychiatrists. It made the material in Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams seem like children’s stories.
Now with LSD, I was always cognisant that my perception of reality was altered, and what I enjoyed most was the challenge of dealing with different situations.
Belladonna was another story, and I came to realise why it had the moniker of “devils cherries.” With belladonna, you are there for the ride in a different reality that is devoid of emotion, and where the bizarre is accepted as commonplace. There’s no discerning reality from hallucinations; however there seemed to be some link to being in another place – an invisible strand that connected me with reality as tenuous as it was.
That experience caused me to question the nature of reality, as I knew it. At times, I was sure that he thought I was nuts, and possibly dangerous.
The psychiatrist asked me to write down some of my dreams. I decided to give him my belladonna trip, which changed our relationship, and he more or less, gave up on trying to figure me out. I don’t think he really wanted to know anymore about me.
I just gave him one scene:
“Thought I was watching television, but apparently someone had turned it off. I don’t remember the programs, but I remember watching flashing images on the television screen. I remember people talking about something. However, someone told me that someone had turned the television off.
“One moment I was there, the next somewhere else; that’s what happened. I was alive and I was dead at the same time.
“I saw the sky, glowing fiery orange, and the sun sank into the indigo void; I became sleepy and slipped into another dream. The people were quite nice there. It all seemed to be as real as real can possibly be. Soon everyone seemed to dissipate into the diminishing incandescent light except for an old peasant man clad in tattered clothes. We chatted for a while, and when I reached out to shake his hand, he was nothing more than lifeless pile of dirty clothes.
“Then lightning crackled and flashed, clouds edges tinged in red swept past as the sky ripped apart and drenched the earth in blood. That was in a park filled with people, gray shadows with black holes for eyes, thousands of them wandering about in disarray. The trees dripped blood on the cold gray scene littered with body parts. The eyeless people screamed, ‘The universe is coming to an end!’”
That was the last time I ever saw my psychiatrist.
About that time, I became extremely belligerent toward everyone in authority. During one indoctrination film about the “Domino Theory,” I made a flippant statement bout the Vietcong being good swimmers to get all the way from Vietnam to Los Angeles. It didn’t go over well and I found myself being investigated as a communist spy.
The interrogations lasted for about a month. I wasn’t sure exactly what it entailed to be a communist operative. I don’t think my interrogators knew either, because when I asked them, they said it was my being involved in subversive activities. When I asked, “Like what?” They simply said, “That’s what we’re going to get to the bottom of.”
The only information they could get about my activities came from the snitches around me, and according to them, I was supplying the whole base with drugs as part of a communist plot to subvert the soldiers.
I think they were referring to one incident that was actually funny. A couple of guys asked me to get them some LSD – they wanted some “Really good shit.” I got it for them. They took it and wound up taking their clothes off at the guard shack, dousing them with lighter fluid, setting the pile on fire, and running down the middle of Watt Avenue buck assed naked. They ended up snitching me out when they finally came down.
Somehow, the whole bullshit trip escalated, and I was set up to be the example for others that faltered from the path of patriotism. The plan was to send me to Fort Leavenworth Federal Prison with a Dishonourable Discharge. At that juncture, I realised that I had to cause everyone so much grief that the imperative would be to get rid of me fast – discharge me.
My first course of action was to do everything wrong. Any job I they ordered me to do, I simply screwed up, even down to the simplest tasks. It wasn’t long before I didn’t have to do any work at all.
Meanwhile, I had become a celebrity of sorts in spite of the fact everyone was told not to associate with me. I had more friends than I knew what to do with!
They gave me a lot of freedom so the investigators could follow me around and possibly nail me doing something wrong. However, it was easy to lose them in San Francisco. I always hit the Haight Ashbury first where they stuck out like sore thumbs.
Sometimes the hippies on the street, thinking that they were narcotics agents, would automatically harass them. Other times, I would tell some hippies that they were FBI agents following me and people would start throwing shit at them. It was funny watching the agents run a gauntlet of mad hippies while attempting to be innocuous.
Finally, I was restricted to the barracks, and even escorted to the mess hall by the true blue, incorruptible soldiers. However, everyone is corruptible to some extent. This is especially true when almost everyone was involved in some sort of black market scam and someone like me had the ear of investigators. I simply threatened to implicate my escorts in my subversive activities if they didn’t look the other way when I wanted to skip the base.
However, one day, someone saw me leaving the base. I faced a court martial and was sent to jail just to keep me from corrupting anyone else. Most of the charges were fabricated and not remotely factual.
Actually, jail wasn’t too bad and more like a vacation away from the constant bullshit. Just about everyone I encountered was into drugs. We had our friends smuggle in shit and stayed stoned most of the time.
Shortly before I was released from jail, I was called into the Office of Special Investigations for an interview. I was astounded at the size of the file they had on me. It was as thick as a New York City telephone book.
The interviewer glanced over at me and said they wanted to “Clear a few things up.”
At the time, I thought it was a ploy to get me to implicate some of my associates. As I glanced over the various statements, it was evident that there were attempts to set me up from the start. There were several uncoordinated entities at work, thus resulting in conflicting accounts of my activities.
Several accounts had me in two different places more than two hundred miles apart at the same time, when in fact I was at neither place!
The interviewer proceeded to ask me which accounts were true. Not wanting to get any friends in trouble, I simply responded that he could take his choice or just make up another bullshit story – it didn’t matter – and at that point, I didn’t care what they believed.
As the hours passed, it became more evident that most of the witnesses’ accounts were complete fabrications. School children could have made up much more creative lies.
In one instance, they had me at a place that didn’t exist conferring with “known members of the communist party.” The closest I had ever been to a member of the communist party was passing by some guy selling the Daily Worker on the street.
I finally asked the interviewer why he was wasting his and my time with the bullshit because it was evident that it was fabricated, and I sure as hell wasn’t stupid enough to incriminate myself or my friends. He just shrugged his shoulders and said “Thanks.”
I often wondered what all those people got for telling all the bullshit stories about me. It confounded me as to why everyone had gone to such lengths to incriminate me?
The funny part was that because they had gone to such extremes, it was impossible to make a hard case against me even in a stitched up military court. The only way they could have got cold was to catch me doing something wrong or with drugs on me.
Several days later, I was released from jail, and my discharge papers were waiting for me as soon as I got back to the base.
Before I left the base, my first sergeant called me into his office and said, “You won.” I told him the Office of Special Investigations interviewed me, and went through the files, and knew about all the fabricated evidence. He looked up at me and said, “You won the game. Let it go. You got what you wanted.”
When it dawned on me that I was free, it was an odd feeling. My war with the military seemed as if it lasted for years, but from start to finish, it was less than a year.
I don’t know what I expected to happen; however, I never conceived that they would just capitulate and hand me my freedom. I processed out, got a check for two thousand dollars, and was told to be off the base by six O’clock that evening. Another stipulation was that if I were caught on a military base, I would go to prison.
I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone and was escorted off the base by military police. Almost in a state of shock, I stood on Watt Avenue with my meagre belongings, stuck my thumb out, and was on my way to San Francisco.
Upon arriving in San Francisco, I stashed my belongings at the Greyhound Bus station, and walked up to North Beach as the fog descended on the city. I then proceeded to search for a familiar face.
In one respect, I was excited, but there was also a sense of trepidation.
My first stop was the Café Trieste for a cappuccino where I sat for a while and waited for someone I knew to pop in the door. Then I went to Mike’s Pool Hall on Broadway and finally wandered the streets. I ended up crashing at the bus station on my first night as a resident of San Francisco. I bought a fifty cent ticket to Oakland. When the security guards came by rousting the bums, I showed them the ticket and went back to sleep.
I could have gone to a Diggers crash pad in the Haight Ashbury, but I felt more comfortable in the company of the derelicts and winos than with the hippies. Anyway, at that time, the cops regularly busted Diggers’ crash pads.
The next day, I managed to contact a friend and he put me up in his basement. Actually, it wasn’t too bad except it was located in the Ingleside District, which was out of the area I wanted to live.
It took a little time for me to get my head around the fact that I was a civilian, but otherwise, I was off and running.
For several months, it was all self-indulgence for me. I always dug music, Jazz and Blues mainly. So I was out to the clubs most every night and the Fillmore and Avalon on the weekends. I got to see most all the acts. But the excitement of it all started wearing thin, and my money was running out.
Fortunately, my service buddies were starting to smuggle weed into the country from Thailand. That shit was about ten times stronger than anything on the street was and twice as powerful as Panama Red, Acapulco gold or Oaxacan weed.
I could get rid of all the Thai weed I could get my hands on for top dollar. My room mate at the time was dealing pot and acid. He was having a difficult time making ends meet because the competition was pretty stiff. It was like the price for average Mexican weed had dropped from ten dollars an ounce to five within a month and there was a glut of acid on the market; good acid was going for a dollar a hit, down from five dollars.
I cut a deal with him for half the profits on his sales. We climbed to the top of the social heap very fast. The best part was that I was getting the weed at the same price as regular Mexican, and we were getting fifty dollars an ounce, which was unheard of back then.
We stepped up in the world and rented an eighty dollar-a-month pad just off of Haight on Steiner Street in the Fillmore District.
Apparently, the editors of the old Haight Street Oracle lived there before and the artists painted murals on all the walls, doors and ceilings in the flat. Talk about disconcerting, well, it was downright eerie when I got stoned – all the mingled images seemed like they were climbing on the walls or about to turn three dimensional and attack me.
There was also this chick; a topless dancer at Carol Doda’s living with us. She was heavy into Seconal or any barbiturates she could get her hands on. She was a sweetheart when she was straight, but when she did that shit, she turned into an evil bitch.
Every time, she would get into the wine and barbiturates, she would try to seduce me. However, I already saw the problems that happened to guys who took her up on the offer and squirmed out of the situations.
We eventually had to get rid of her. When she got doped up, she became suicidal. She wasn’t really suicidal, but she would cut her wrists for attention, and then she would sometimes start fights with our customers. She was just bad news.
Our next room mate, ‘Rea’ was a transvestite photographer at Finoccho’s – San Francisco’s fabled female impersonator club. Aside from our regulars, we had a steady stream of transvestite customers. It was a weird scene to say the least.
Rea was an extremely interesting and intelligent character, but he didn’t make a particularly glamorous woman in drag.
The atmosphere at our pad was totally insane. Every morning, I had to step over bodies to get to the john.
Then there were the ‘weekend hippies’. We had a bunch of what could be termed ‘respectable people’ who dawned their hippie duds and slummed it every weekend in San Francisco. They would always stop by for a bag of weed and some psychedelics.
They always stuck out because they were more into the fashion scene – Nauru jackets and the general Beatles, Sergeant Pepper attire. I thought they were about the most idiotic assholes I ever met. However, they were business and helped pay the rent, so we graciously accommodated their silliness.
Interestingly, most of them were middle aged people from the South Peninsula. They always wore expensive watches and expensive boutique hippie clothes.
I really don’t know what was going through their minds, because any experience they got was essentially vicarious in nature. It was like being a tourist that goes home and tells all his friends about his trip and how he hung out with the natives.
We’d all get a good laugh when they left on their little ‘Magical Mystery Tours’; they were all into the Beatles type bullshit.
One time, several of them decided to tag along with me over to the ‘Both And’ on Divisadero. It was a jazz club and the clientele was predominately Black folks.
A fellow called Big Black was on the bill that night. He was out there and played electrified congas. It wasn’t the stuff of neophyte or pseudo hippies.
First off, I could see that they weren’t too comfortable about being a distinct white minority. But when Big Black started his set, they didn’t know whether to shit or go blind – it wasn’t the Beatles or Stoned Poneys – it was hardcore, mind blowing psychedelic jazz.
We left after the first set, and I took them to the local BBQ joint for some ribs and coleslaw. They ordered ‘mild’, but what was mild to the locals was fire eating material to my companions. After their little excursion into the real ‘underground’ scene, I think they were happy to get back down to the safety of ‘white’ suburbia in Pacifica and Menlo Park.
I took some other wannabes with me to see Captain Beefheart at the Fillmore – they didn’t last through his first set before they were out the door.
Most of the pseudo hippies and hippies were also into the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. They were even naming their kids and dogs after the characters. It was like every time I turned around somebody wanted to discuss “Lord of the Rings.” I didn’t have the slightest interest in that stuff. I liked writers like Steinbeck, Faulkner and Conrad if I wanted to read fiction.
I always cringed when they tried to get me to participate in those stupid little fantasy games. I never could get into that playing out fantasy crap – I’d done that when I was a kid and found more interesting things to do with my life as an adult.
I enjoyed the North Beach gang – they weren’t pretentious and knowing them had its perks.
The best aspect about being friends with the people that worked in the North Beach clubs was that I very seldom ever had to pay a cover charge to go to places like the Jazz Workshop or the other clubs – the doorman would just wave me in the door.
Clarence and I were doing very well financially, and I was starting to supply people in LA. I’d make a run down there about twice a month. I liked the LA club scene; the rock groups were a little more intense and rough edged. Although, the San Francisco groups had a more intellectual approach to lyrics and often presented darker visions.
In spite of all the fables about ‘love and flower power’, there was a sense of foreboding; there was darkness about the music. There was also a tension in the air and people could feel that something was about to burst as the so called ‘Summer of Love’ approached.
There were a lot of creepy characters floating into town; Charlie Manson wasn’t the only one. Some of these guys sent shivers up my spine, but they managed to get people to follow them. Satanic worship was also getting popular.
There was a guy named Anton LaVey who was at the top of the heap as far as the satanic game went. Quite a few people were getting into that scene. I got invited to go to meetings, but the people were just a little too creepy for me. I thought most of it was just plain stupid and an excuse to get into sexual domination and bondage – play and look the role.
For some reason a lot of speed freaks and junkies seemed to be drawn into that scene.
Speed was gaining a foothold in the drug market, but that was a real weird and violent scene. Those people had no inhibitions about crucifying someone and dumping them off a cliff at Land’s End.
A big pot dealer named Super Spade got murdered. Several weeks later, the cops stopped a speed freak for a traffic violation; they found Super Spade’s severed arm in the back seat. The speed freak was carrying it around with him for weeks.
FBI agents were floating around and the police had a special intelligence unit. The group I ran with closed ranks and there wasn’t the same openness to accept new people. You could feel that something was going to break loose – trouble was in the air.
Probably, the most intimidating of the law enforcement bunch were the mounted police that often arrived at outside gatherings.
There was also a group of cops called the “Tactical Squad.” They were a bunch of scary bastards; I always had the feeling that they wanted something to happen. They were anxious to split people’s skulls open with their billy clubs. I always had the feeling they wanted to provoke an incident so they could participate in a bloodbath. Their ominous, leering presence damn sure intimidated me.
I tried to stay away from demonstrations, because the only way to counter those bastards was to have some good, lethal weaponry like the Black Panthers and just shoot it out with them. I wasn’t about to stick my head out to allow that bunch of fucking sadistic sociopaths the pleasure of splitting my head open.
One afternoon, I was making the rounds and found myself in the middle of a demonstration at the City Hall. Glancing around, I noticed the mounted police converging on the crowd like a pack of wolfs. They surrounded the crowd and several cops began to make their through the mass of people toward the speakers.
They had the perimeter of the crowd surrounded also. There wasn’t any real threat because the crowd it was mostly women with their children. There was nothing incendiary about anything happening there – the cops were just there to intimidate people.
My instinct was to get the hell out of there, which I did. I hopped on the first bus that came along, and a bit later made my way to North Beach.
Although nothing became of the incident, I still felt the rush of excitement – not so much the excitement of being a part of something, but having escaped a potentially bad scene.
While I was sipping on my espresso, one of the older people in the group sat down at my table and said, “Haven’t seen you in a while?”
Since I was first adopted into the, more or less, North Beach bohemian crowd, Ted’s presence always perplexed me because he was the person that I knew least about. He always seemed to be more of an observer than a participant. The most curious aspect was that no one seemed to know who he really was.
I heard stories that he was an eccentric movie producer, a rich morphine addict who got his kicks as a voyeur and a host of other speculations, but it seemed that no one actually knew who he was – he’s just always been there and was accepted. He was a friend of Boo’s.
There was a weird guy who lived up on Knob Hill that was a little like Ted. We used to call his place the Rat Palace.” Most all the furniture was covered in moth eaten mink, including the toilet seats. There were all kinds of phallic sculptures and carvings from New Guinea from tiny to stuff of major proportions.
He had a special layout for orgies in the mink lined basement and photographs lined the walls of him presiding over the orgies.
This guy was really weird – he’d punctuate every sentence with the word “Dada.” Most of the people in the photographs appeared to be runaways or youngish. There were a lot of young kids living there.
The ‘King’ of the ‘Rat Palace’ dressed like and even looked a little bit like Ted. Some really weird things went on at that place. I wound up there once with some people I knew and never went back again. I didn’t want to know what the parties were about – I’d seen enough in the photographs.
Ted was always appeared well dressed in a tailored suit – of all the people in that group, his dress and demeanour was the most incongruous of the bunch.
The only thing of substance anyone knew was that he’d be at the Vesuvio Caffe playing gin rummy with a group of people on most every weekday afternoon.
The chance meeting at the Café Trieste was the first time that he ever said anything to me.
At first, the conversation was perfunctory. I went on about the demonstration and the cops.
When I got to the point about how I didn’t like the speakers because there was something about them that rubbed me the wrong way, his ears perked up and he asked what it was about them that made me sceptical. I said they reminded me of people I knew when I was a kid – the people who always managed to become officers in student clubs – they aspired to be leaders.
He began probing into my background which I thought was a little odd, but I obliged him. After about twenty minutes, Ted asked me to go to his office with him down on Montgomery Street because he wanted to show what he was about.
As a neophyte to the scene, I felt quite privileged because no one seemed to know what he did, and no one I knew of had ever visited his office. I was somewhat taken aback when we turned into the lobby of the Emporium Building and the doorman greeted him with the title of Doctor.
The gold leaf lettering on the door to his office spelled it out; Ted was a psychoanalyst with about five different degrees. All that went through my mind was, “What does this guy want with me?”
The reception area and his office were cluttered with stacks of books and paper. It was evident that he didn’t see clients for psychoanalysis.
Upon inviting me to scrape newspapers off a chair and have a seat, he glanced up at me from under his reading glasses and said, “I’m a researcher. I’m doing research on a book about the psychology of group dynamics.”
Ted proceeded to unfold a sheet of paper with a diagram that looked somewhat like an atom with the name on the nucleus being Boo and a group of about ten people around him. I recognised all the names, and I was in that inner circle. From each person in the inner circle, there were like tentacles of associations and intra-associations.
I had the feeling that he was about to tell me something I really didn’t want to hear or actually didn’t want to believe.
My first suspicion was that he was one of the FBI recruiters I heard rumours about. But, as he progressed, it was more like someone unburdening themselves – a confession that turned into a life changing revelation for me.
Ted had done psychological profiles on everyone in the group. Moreover, he was making predictions on what was going to happen. One of the first was that as a social structure, the group only had a few more months before it would disintegrate. However, that was no revelation because the people were always changing; only a few closely nit people maintained any solidarity.
He kept making reference to the “Invisible Government” and gave me a book called “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays.
The inference I picked up from his couched statements, was that he was somehow involved with the “Invisible Government” and the information from his research was going to be used to quash political dissent through counter propaganda.
However, I left thinking about things much differently.
I didn’t know whether to believe if Ted was just another paranoid eccentric or telling me the truth.
Still in somewhat of a daze, I decided to stop by Boo’s pad and tell him about my little foray into Ted’s weird world.
Boo was, in fact, the lynchpin of our little group. He was probably in his mid-forties, stood about six-feet-six tall. I always thought he must have been of Zulu origin. People automatically respected him. All he had to do was enter a room and people would stop talking.
When I arrived, it was the usual scene. People were hanging out smoking dope, drinking wine, and listening to some scratchy jazz album.
I motioned for Boo to follow me into the kitchen and started telling him about what Ted said to me.
He burst into a gregarious smile and said, “Let’s take a walk and get another jug of wine.”
When we hit the street, Boo still smiling looked down at me and said, “I’ve known Ted for almost thirty years. He was a lieutenant in my company during the Korean War. We were at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. The Chinese just kept coming; it was insane. I took a bayonet in the thigh, and he got shot in the chest and eventually lost a lung. Not many of us survived.
“Jungle Jim took a hit to the head; he has a steel plate and there’s a bullet is still rattling around in his skull. The only thing that keeps his feet on the ground is smack. One of these days, somebody’s going to kill him when he goes off.
“Now, Ted just went off the deep end. But as far as him being a psychologist, that’s true. He’s well respected, but totally nuts.
“Now and again, he seems to pop up and finds me then disappears back into the woodwork. He knows his shit, but I wouldn’t take anything he said too seriously. I don’t think we’ll see him again for a while, if ever. Ted’s been getting further off-the-wall of late.”
All I could say was, “He blew my fucking mind.”
Later when I read about the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, I realised that Boo and his comrades were extremely lucky to be alive. They were surrounded by the Chinese, outnumbered almost ten to one, and fighting in forty below zero weather. Some battles ensued for more than twelve hours.
Not only did they have to fight the Chinese, but also frostbite. They didn’t have adequate clothing for the weather.
They were overrun numerous times, and when the wounded were loaded on trucks for transport, the Chinese troops would set fire to the trucks. Out of 280 men in one company, only 20 made it back.
Ted made me stop in my tracks and look around for the first time since I was told to follow the yellow line at the induction centre in Jacksonville.
I took a walk to the park and read the Bernays’ book, and then I must have wandered the streets for three or four hours. I’d never realised how inundated with propaganda the world around me was, and how it impacted every aspect of my life.
When I got back to the flat on Steiner Street, my girlfriend was there. She asked where I’d been because we were supposed to go to some sort of political activists meeting.
Gloria was a very attractive, intelligent black girl, but four years older than me. She was getting a doctorate in political sciences at Berkeley, and there was no paucity of men chasing after her. All that went through my mind was, “Why is she with me?”
I didn’t have anything going on; I was a low end pot dealer, didn’t have much of an education and not very sophisticated. I really wasn’t in her league.
When I analysed the situation, there wasn’t any sort of romantic interest. We were more or less companions – we didn’t really know one another that well. Basically, it boiled down to a relationship of convenience – I had a desirable chick on my arm and she didn’t have all the guys hitting on her when I was around.
The following days, I’d meet people on the street and what once seemed important conversation became trivial bullshit. Everything seemed trivial – people’s behaviour was predictable. I knew what most of them were going to say before they opened their mouths.
All I was beginning to see was hoards of lost people desperately searching for an identity, clinging to transient illusions they’d picked up here and there, and parroting clichés.
It was like so many people in the Haight living in what on the surface, appeared to be cozy communes and preaching world peace were oblivious to shit happening around them. In fact, they were being propagandised by the leaders of the commune.
There is never equality in any group; there are always the leaders and the followers – the ‘pecking order’.
The bottom line was that in spite of all the religious bullshit I had been fed about humans being superior creatures made in the likeness of God, we were not much different than a pack of wild dogs. We are pack animals by nature, and if anyone thought differently, they are deluding themselves.
That realization, at that point, caused me to be more observant. I often looked around and weighed my options. I watched people interact, the leaders and the followers; the subtle political infighting for who would be the leader in various communal groups; and just social interactions. There were so many people I could be. But did I want to be like any of them or did I even really have a choice?
It must have been early May of 1967 when I ran into an acquaintance on the street. He had the nickname, Peyote Tom – he hadn’t been around very long, but built a reputation fast for being a colourful character. His physical appearance had a lot to do with his rapid rise in social status. Tom was half Philippino, half White Mountain Apache and dressed accordingly.
All I knew about his past was that Tom was in the Army Special Forces. There were a lot of rumours about his involvement in clandestine activities in Southeast Asia and being in an assassination squad. People like Boo liked him while others were scared shitless to be around him. By the way some people talked, you would have thought that he was the devil incarnate.
Tom got his moniker because he was the primary supplier of peyote buttons. He had an old 1953 GMC pick up. He would head out to Arizona, pick up a load of peyote buttons and sell them in San Francisco. Most people didn’t like buttons because they’d barf their guts out before enjoying the high. I don’t think he made much money from selling the buttons, but he managed to get by.
For me, by that time, all the lustre had worn off living the ‘bohemian’ life in SF, and I was still reeling from my encounter with Ted and reading Bernays’ “Propaganda.”
I greeted Tom, and he asked what I was up to. I said I was just heading up the Café Trieste for an espresso and bite to eat. I asked if he wanted he wanted to come along.
Walking down Grant Street was becoming like a scene out of the film, “Night of the Living Dead.” People were begging for spare change, selling drugs and on occasion, I’d get propositioned by prostitutes Tom glanced over at me and said, “This place is turning into a real shit hole,” as he kicked some soggy trash into the gutter.
When we hit the Café Trieste, the place was packed which was unusual for that time of day. It was like you couldn’t go to any of the usual haunts because most all of them were inundated with tourists or people I didn’t recognise.
Up on Haight Street, the scene was even more insane. There were even tour buses hauling loads of tourists to gawk at the ‘love children.’
We headed up toward the Café Roma on the edge of the Tenderloin to escape the frenetic North Beach mess. Before we even got there, I said, “I need to get out of this fucking place. I just don’t have a good feeling about the way things are going.”
Tom asked, “Ya’ ever been to Mexico? I don’t mean the boarder – Tijuana, I mean down into Mexico.”
I said, “No, but I’d sure like to get out of here.”
Tom then said that he had just bought a car and needed to sell his stash for travelling money, and asked if I’d like to go with him. When I asked where we were going, he just said, “Mexico, I don’t know where yet – but I’ll know when I get there.”
I said that money wasn’t a problem. I had a few thousand in cash stashed at the flat and more in the bank. I didn’t have a problem bankrolling the trip – I just wanted to get out – do something different.
Tom spent all his money on a maroon 1939 Series 90 Cadillac Coupe with white wall tyres. It was in good condition – as a matter of fact - almost perfect. I was blown out because I expected something like a fifty five, rusted out Chevy on its last legs. This was going to be travelling in class.
By late afternoon, we were packed-up and on our way down the Coastal Highway as the sun was setting. Our only aim was going to Mexico – it was the first time in a while that I actually felt free as we drove off toward some unknown destination.
We didn’t say much. The only sound was the air slapping against the windshield and the steady roar of the engine punctuated by the shifting of gears on the steep grades and going into sharp curves.
We decided to head down the Coast Highway. To the west lay the vast emptiness of the Pacific shrouded in a thick cloud of fog and to the south was Mexico and the unknown.
There was something exhilarating about the damp, cold air rushing in through the windows and brushing across my face – something about just going somewhere with no fixed destination in mind. It was like a journey into infinity moving through time and space. We drove on through Santa Cruz past the flickering and flashing neon signs offering food and accommodations toward Monterey and beyond, then out of the fog and into a cloudless, starry night.
I said, “Ya know, man, I don’t think I ever really looked at the night sky before.”
Tom laughed and said, “Just wait until we hit the high deserts – you’ll be blown away.
“I grew up on the Fort Apache Reservation. I remember lying out at night and watching the sky – the sky was thick with stars. It was almost like you could reach out and grab handfuls.”
Tom and I didn’t talk that much as we switched off driving and sleeping.
We made it to Malibu as the glow of the rising sun appeared from behind the mountains. We stopped at some little dump of a restaurant for a break. Sipping coffee, eating doughnuts, and discussing our next move, I suggested that we should drive on down to Santa Monica where I had a few friends. We could get some Benzedrine and a map for the trip.
There was always something about the LA area I liked and something I didn’t. It was just too big and spread out for one thing, but there was something else that I couldn’t put my finger on that bothered me about LA.
Our side trip into Santa Monica was fruitful as far as getting some whites and a map, but we decided to keep going. It was like we had an urgent appointment to keep. For some reason, there was a sense of urgency about arriving on time.
Everything seemed to fly past constantly dissolving from one scene to another and felt as if I were in a dream instead of reality. We were barrelling through time and space toward some unknown destination.
The next thing I recall was crossing the boarder about dusk, driving through Tijuana and on into the night and sensory deprivation – the hallucinations came flashing across my field of vision until I couldn’t determine whether the images were real or not. Finally, we had to pull off the side of the road and crashed into oblivion.
I woke and rubbed the sleep from my eyes only to look around at desert and the mountains off in the distance. It was a different world from where we started. It all seemed so desolate. I shook Tom awake and asked, “Where the fuck are we?”
He groggily looked around and replied, “Somewhere in Mexico. We’ll find out when we get to the next town.”
From that point, our mood changed, the sense of urgency vanished. It was as if we made good an escape from our psychological prisons.
We started to take things at a more casual pace, but never spent more a day in one place.
Driving across the mountain passes was strange. Often there were white crosses where cars and trucks had gone over the side, tumbled and crashed hundreds of feet below into ravines. Glancing over the side, the twisted and crumpled carcasses of vehicles lay like rusty coffins in the late afternoon light.
One evening, we were driving on a road cut into the side of the mountains. It was just a steep incline above and below and the road ribboned through the mountains barely clinging to the sides. At one point we hit a turn out where we saw an Indian family sitting and waiting of a bus or something? There was nothing but mountains – it must have been a thousand feet up.
We stopped and picked them up. When Tom asked the where they were going, they didn’t respond. It was like they were aliens that dropped in from another dimension. It was like there was nothing but mountains and desert for about a hundred mile radius.
Tom and I wondered where they came from because there didn’t appear to be anyplace that would support human life around there.
The trip was starting to take it toll on the old Cadillac. She began overheating a lot, especially when we hit the mountains down in Guerrero and started southeast toward Oaxaca.
That’s when Tom began to open up about himself. I found it interesting that he had been in the same boat as my friend Vincent. He was the ‘war hero’ that was used as a Judas Goat to hook his friends and whoever else into joining the military.
It wasn’t only that but the activities he had been involved in during his stint in the Special Forces – he’s been part of a special ‘recon’ group. Tom was running away from the people who were trying to recruit him as a mercenary into the clandestine war in Southeast Asia.
One night we were camped in the mountains and just gazing up at the sky. It seemed as if I could reach skyward and my hands would disappear into the diaphones veil of the Milky Way. Tom turned to me and said, “You don’t realise how insignificant everything is until you look into the night sky.
“You know, I thought I was really somebody when they pinned a bunch of medals on my chest. I believed what I had been told to believe, but it was all fucking lies. I killed a lot of people for nothing – I was good at it. Now they want me to kill more – I just ain’t doing it anymore.”
We talked about Vincent and his ‘hero status’ and how I smelled a rat rotting in the woodwork.
Tom laughed and said I was smart, and then he said, “Fuck, man, I joined. You know, I wanted to go to war and fight. My old man was a Marine in WW-2 and I heard all the stories about him – he was like a legend on the Reservation. I felt like I had something to live up to – you know the warrior bullshit.
“The funny thing was that my old man died a broken man – there ain’t much to be said for being a war hero – the medal and ninety-nine cents will get you a bottle of wine.
“There’s gott’a be a something better out there.”
I just laughed and said, “I hope we find something before this fucking car gives up the ghost.”
The more we talked, I figured that Tom and I did about every drug available and came to the same conclusion. That was, with some of them you catch a good buzz and the world around seemed to glitter and sparkle, but you’re always going to come down to the shit world around you.
I recalled one time when I was stoned on acid and picked up a bunch of pebbles off the beach; they all looked like precious stones sparkling in the afternoon light as the waves washed across the beach, but when I came down, the were just a bunch of beach pebbles.
It was like getting stoned was a temporary reprieve from the shit reality around us; however, there was no escaping reality.
Just from the state of our car, I knew that our journey was coming to an end, but I also knew that Tom had no intentions of going back to the States. My impression was that he would commit suicide, and I didn’t know what to say. I was pretty fed up with things myself.
We chatted a little longer and decided to keep going until the car died and take things from there.
It was in an area of Oaxaca called Chochos when the old Cadillac finally gave out. There wasn’t any traffic - we were on a dusty road in the middle of nowhere.
We must have walked ten miles until we came to some ramshackle houses and a cantina. Tom’s command of Spanish was virtually useless. I remembering turning to Tom and parroting the infamous line from Laurel and Hardy, “Fine mess you got me into, now.” It was the first time I saw Tom burst into genuine laughter. Every one in the cantina followed suit without having the slightest idea what I said.
Eventually, someone must have thought we were there to visit a fellow named “Maestro” Rafael Perez. About a half hour later a slight, dark complected man sporting a pencil moustache entered and said, “What can I do for you boys?”
Tom and I just looked at each other with a slack jawed expression – the Indians there didn’t even speak Spanish and this guy pops up who has an excellent command of English. Finally, Tom said that our car broke down and we were wondering where we could catch a bus to a city.
Smiling, Rafael spoke to the Indians and again they burst out in laughter.
Rafael then said that the next bus would come by in about three weeks – that is – if it didn’t get hijacked by bandits.
He asked us what we were doing that far off of the tourist trail. We just laughed, and I said, “We just took a trip to see what we could see and we ended up here. Our car died and here we are.”
Somewhat bemused, Rafael said, “You have arrived nowhere, a place that doesn’t even have a name. There is no electricity, no phones, and no running water; there’s only me, and the few people who live here. Was your destination nowhere?”
Tom said, “Yes, we were going nowhere. We didn’t have any place to go.”
Rafael translated the cryptic exchange for the Indians who found it extremely amusing. He then said, “There is a town, Santa Magdalena Jicotlán, some distance away where a bus goes daily to Oaxaca and you can get a train to Mexico City or Veracruz.
“People from here go to the market there once a month to sell blankets and trade. It will be another three weeks before transportation visits here.”
Rafael offered to put us up – when I looked around, all there the houses were flimsy looking one room shacks made from maguey cactus, twigs and reed and the roofs were covered with what looked like grass.
The situation was, however, intriguing when the realisation hit of where we were as opposed to where we were two weeks before – it was a totally different world.
Rafael was a strange character, indeed. The one thing I was sure of was that he wasn’t one of the indigenous peoples. He looked to be of mixed heritage, European (Spanish) and some other part of Mexico - he was definitely not native to the region. Often, he also seemed to speak in riddles.
He and Tom talked a lot. Turned out, Rafael was a hotel manager in Mexico City, Miami, and Acapulco. Apparently, ten or so years before, he had a dream in which the spirits told him to come to that place. And it was there that he would realise who he was and what he was supposed to do.
Rafael proclaimed himself an Abogado – a person who intercedes with the spirits on behalf of man and pleads their case like a lawyer.
As the days passed, Tom began to take a great interest in what Rafael was saying. But then, many of the theories Rafael put forth were interwoven with the native beliefs that Tom learned as a child on the reservation.
They had heated arguments about the true nature of the coyote legends. To Rafael, the coyote was trickster and thieving scoundrel, but he was also the spirit which brought order. However, to Tom, the coyote was just a thieving, stupid scoundrel.
I must say that while I remained somewhat skeptical about some of the things they discussed, but as far as the way I saw life, much of it made some strange sort of sense to me.
Rafael said that there were spirits and non spirits, people with souls and people without souls. They were like sparks of consciousness that glowed and vanished in the night sky while spirits were like stars in the sky whose light began at the beginning of time and continued to travel through space and time never to be extinguished.
His premise for the problems in the world was that the people without souls inherently knew that their existence as a conscious being ended when they died. Consequently, they attempted to grab as much of the experience as they could and that was the reason for wars and greed.
During the days that followed, Tom and Rafael would take trips into the mountains, and soon, Tom was wandering off alone.
Rafael would sometimes speak about his beliefs with me, but more in a practical context than in metaphysical terms. However, his advice was good.
On one occasion, I went into the mountains with them. Rafael took us to some ruins. It wasn’t the temples, but a small ceremonial place snuggled in a little valley. As night fell, he unpacked a clay pipe and some herbs. For me the experience wasn’t anything I liked. The psychotropic herbs got us high, but the sensations were rather harsh.
It felt like my body was being sucked away from my spirit – like I was watching myself as I sped toward a vanishing point, and then sucked into a black hole. Then there was an emotional coldness – a strange sort of emotionless objectivity.
After a few rounds of the pipe, I was so stoned, I don’t remember much of what transpired with any clarity. All I recall was cascades of embers exploding from the fire and watching them rise and fade into the Milky Way.
I was also super sensitive to sound, it was like I could hear the scorpions and night animals crawling and creeping around far beyond the hemisphere of the crackling fire.
At one point, a coyote let loose with a howl, and Rafael smiled and said, “Ah, the trickster is out and about.”
Rafael started talking about the spirits and communicating with them. However, I figured that it was pretty easy to get somebody to imagine things when they were buzzing on some heavy duty psychotropic herbs and most definitely in an alien environment. I never really bought into the stuff he was suggesting that night.
As my days there were closing, I was anxious to get on the road. I still didn’t know where I was going, but I liked being on the road – seeing things and meeting different people.
The night before I was to leave, Tom told me that he would be staying, because the government people who were trying to recruit him as a mercenary would never find him there. He handed me a letter and asked me to deliver it to his sister at the Fort Apache Reservation and to reassure her that he was all right.
The next morning, both Rafael and Tom were gone. Over the next week, I made my way up to Oaxaca City. From there, decided to jump over to Veracruz where I could possibly book passage or get a job as a deckhand on a coastal freighter back up to the States.
I loved Veracruz, probably most of all because I was staying in a nice hotel, sleeping in a comfortable bed and had a shower on suite.
I took some time to visit several archeological sites, and thoroughly enjoyed eating seafood every day.
Each morning, I hit the docks looking for a ride back to the states, but most of the freighters were heading south to Belize, even as far south as Amuay Bay in Venezuela.
One morning, after another futile effort, I stopped off at the bar I frequented for the usual beer and bowls of shrimp when I heard an American talking to the bartender.
This guy looked like a character Humphrey Bogart would have played in a 1930s movie – Sinewy build and a sun dried, leathery face.
Immediately, he walked over to me and said, “You must be the gringo looking for a ride back to the States.”
We had a few beers along with several bowls of boiled shrimp and salsa as he was checking me out. He asked quite a few questions. Several hours later, he said, “You know, you can’t be too careful about people, especially Americans down here.
“I could use some company if you don’t mind doing a little work on the way – I might even pay you if you’re worth your mud.”
It wasn’t until then he introduced himself and said to get my belongings and meet him back at the bar in an hour.
I was back on the road again and it felt good to be moving along and watching the scenery flash past.
Mike was very talkative; I don’t think that he talked with many fellow countrymen for quite some time. In fact, he was almost ignorant of the fact that there was a war going on and about the political dissent.
He was a fighter pilot during World War 2 and said that when the war was over, ex-fighter pilots were a dime a dozen so he got a job as a truck driver, ended up hauling freight into Mexico and doing a little smuggling on the side.
We stopped off in Tampico where it turned out he had a wife and nice home on the Gulf.
At dinner, he said that this was his last trip and he was going to sell his rig in Brownsville, Texas, retire, and enjoy life.
It was easy to get caught up in the romance of Mike’s recollections, but I was somewhat seasoned at that point and realized he left out the dirt, grime and other uncomfortable aspects of his adventures.
Several days later, we crossed the boarder into Brownsville. Mike gave me a wad of cash, and asked where I was going. I told him I was heading up to Fort Apache, Arizona to deliver a letter to Tom’s sister.
He asked, “Do you need a ride?”
I told him it would be nice because I would rather ride in a truck than on a Greyhound bus or hitchhike across the badlands during the summer.
He went around the truck stop, and came back with someone. It was another working trip. Mike told the truck driver I was a good worker and that was that, I was on my way again.
This guy wasn’t Mike. Mike wasn’t in any rush, he liked to stop and take in the sights, and he was knowledgeable about the people and history of the different areas we passed through.
Willie was like a man possessed. He just kept driving. When we got to one destination, I unloaded and loaded the truck with a few other lumpers while he took a nap in the cab. We never stopped at a motel for a night – all Willie ever did was catnap at a truck stop or when he got too tired to drive.
I could have gone all the way to Los Angeles with him, but I’d promised Tom I would visit his sister at the Fort Apache to let her know that he was staying in Mexico and deliver the letter.
Willie dropped me off at a truck stop just west of Tucson and said I should hangout until I found somebody going directly to Fort Apache even if it took several days. However, I was smart enough to know that I didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of the desert, midsummer.
It did take two days to get a ride with some guy delivering goods to White River, a town near Fort Apache. As we drove off, he turned to me and said, “What the fuck do you want to go to Fort Apache for?”
When I told him that I was delivering a letter for a friend, He laughed and said, “You should've mailed it – a lot of them ain’t any too fond of white people. You could wind up buzzard bait along side the road.”
I was beginning to think that I should have mailed the letter – I could have been back in San Francisco enjoying the cool breezes and fog instead of frying in the fucking desert.
I was even more dejected when I got to Fort Apache. The guy I got a ride with knew Peyote Tom and his family. He said that all I had to do is tell the people at the store and they would get word to Tom’s family. He laughed and said, “It might be a day or two before they come to town. Willa lives pretty far away; they don’t even have electricity or a phone.”
The clerk at the post office said that she came into town every other weekday to pick up mail and she would show up there tomorrow afternoon. That was comforting to say the least.
Everybody was nice enough to me. They even let me crash in the back of a junked out van for the night.
Willa came rolling into town the next afternoon. I watched the clerk talking with her and pointing toward me. She dropped her mail and excitedly ran over asking, “Where is Tom? Is he all right?”
I handed her the letter and said that Tom was fine and he wanted to stay in Mexico.
She insisted that I come home with her so I could tell the family everything. About that time, I was in need of someplace to rest for a few days before I hit the road again and took her up on the offer although I knew the accommodations weren’t going to be very comfortable.
After I bought some food and a few things for myself, we headed out in her old fifty-seven Mercury which I didn’t think had another ten miles left in it.
Willa lived with her two children and grandmother in a one room adobe type house. There wasn’t anything but desert, mountains, cactus, one tree, and several abandoned cars.
I remember sitting down on a battered, ragged sofa and Willa asking me questions, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open and passed out. I hadn’t actually slept for any length of time for almost a week. I woke up sometime the next afternoon; they’d laid me out like a dead body on the sofa. Groggily glancing around the room, I noticed that there must have been eight or ten people there.
Willa brought me a cup of coffee and said that I slept for almost twenty-four hours. She proceeded to gathered the rest of the family because they all wanted to hear about Tom.
Willa introduced me around, but there were only about three people who spoke English with any fluency. Everyone waited patiently as I washed up and ate some cornmeal rolls that tasted like they were in between a hushpuppy and tamale.
Willa gave me background on all the people present. Her aunt was a medicine woman and told the family that Tom had gone on a journey in search of who he was.
She laughed and said, “It was ambiguous, but of comfort to the family.”
As we talked further, I found out that her husband followed Tom into the Army and died in Vietnam. Also she said that Tom came home with all kinds of medals for bravery and even had a Silver Star.
I told Willa that I really didn’t know Tom that well, we traveled down to Mexico together, but he never said much. She smiled and said, “When people are true friends, they don’t need to say much to each other. The sign of a true friend is what you have done for Tom and his family.”
Over the next few days, they interrogated me about every last detail of our trip. I had a map of North America and showed the places we visited and where Tom had stayed. Tom’s aunt was especially interested in ‘Maestro’ Rafael Perez and finally became convinced he wasn’t an evil sorcerer.
I liked Willa, and the thought crossed my mind that I would like to stay there with her. But, I knew that I could never really live in the desert – there were aspects I liked, but it was the isolation. As much as I came to dislike civilization, I was a creature of that environment.
Willa gave me a ride to a town called Show Low, and after a brief farewell, she drove off.
I got a ride to Flagstaff where I ran into another trucker headed for Reno. That was more or less an uneventful drive north through the desert.
Upon arriving in Reno, I went to the railroad yard and got a ride deadheading with some workers on a freight train to Roseville, California.
Crossing the Sierra Nevadas on a three or four mile long freight train was one wonderful experience. Sometimes, it was like watching yourself coming and going at the same time as it rounded the bends. Other times, it seemed as if we were barely clinging to the sides of the steep granite, mountain walls. There must have been about five or six engines pushing, pulling, and taking up the slack mid train.
Heading down into the foothills, it finally dawned on me that I was about an hour or so away from the end of my adventure. It was a strange feeling. Up to that point, I was anxious for it all to be over with – I wanted to jump into a hot shower and stay there for a week then crash somewhere comfortable. However, as the end approached, I didn’t want it to be over – I found myself wishing that I had another week – a little extension.
We pulled into Roseville late in the evening; I stepped off the train, and started toward the road. I passed the hobo jungle where fires dotted the landscape silhouetting hunched over figures, and thought that it was nice to have someplace to go at the end of the road.
A couple of friends of mine lived in Roseville. I knew that I could knock on Shorty or Ed’s door any time and have a place to crash.
Now, Shorty and Ed were some real characters – you might say the original Blues Brothers. When I first met them, I was in the Air Force and they were my main connection for Benzedrine. They owned a 1965 Plymouth Fury – ex-highway patrol car. They painted the whole damn car a flat charcoal gray and blue gray camouflage – we used to call it Captain America.
They even installed a switch that would turn the tail and break lights off when the cops were following them. Captain America was an honest to god ‘stealth mobile’.
We had some exciting times dodging the Sacramento narcotics cops, especially at night. Captain America just disappeared into the shadows, and we’d watch the cops drive by none the wiser.
I’d been with Ed and Shorty when we lost the narcs out on the Sacramento Delta roads.
The Sacramento River Delta was miles and miles of rice paddies and occasional farmhouses.
When Shorty and Ed thought someone was following them, they’d head for the Delta. There was no traffic at night and you could see headlights and tail lights for miles around. They taught me a few tricks about dodging the heat.
We’d turn off the lights, pull over into a shadowy spot just off the Delta road, listen to the car radio, and wait. Wolfman Jack would drift in over the airways from down Tijuana way. We watched the cops wandering around the lonesome delta roads looking for us while he was talking shit and playing music. Groups like the Electric Prunes and the Seeds faded in and out and finally dissolved into garbled gibberish as the radio signal meandered across the ionosphere.
Ed always had a steady hand on the tuner; he constantly adjusted it when the Wolfman was playing a song he liked. He had a knack for following the signal, but in the end, the atmospheric static always prevailed.
Those guys were always in trouble – the funny kind of stuff - always playing cat and mouse with the police.
Shorty’s sister was a strange duck. Linda was a lanky, plain looking girl – dark hair and coal black, piercing eyes. I never thought she liked me very much. Every time I went to his house, she would give me a piercing look and step briskly out of the room. However, I was always intrigued and somehow attracted to her, even though I thought she hated me. For some strange reason, I was looking forward to the prospect of seeing Linda again.
I was just attracted to her for some reason unbeknown to me. Linda was never short of criticism about our nefarious activities.
The funny thing was that Shorty was always telling me that his sister liked me and I should ask her out. I never got that impression from her.
I knew that I was at Ed’s place by the dim red and green lights. I knew he was home because I could hear the Jefferson Airplane blasting out on the stereo from down the street.
I always liked Sacramento, especially on the northeastern outskirts near the foothills. Come winter and the rains, the hills turned from a dusty straw colour to a soft velvety, lime green. In the Spring, the hillsides were covered with wildflowers. The California poppies are what I remembered most – the almost iridescent yellow orange flowers seemed to jump out against the green and capture my attention.
I stood outside inhaling the night air permeated with the smell of dry grass and some type of pungent herb. It felt good to be there.
I finally stepped onto the porch and knocked on the door. I heard a curt, “What do you want?”
I just said, “I need a place to crash.” Ed walked out of the shadows and came face-to-face with me at the screen door. His jaw dropped and he took off his sunglasses. He stood there for a moment and said, “Hey man, I heard you got killed somewhere down in Mexico.” Then he said, “Come on in, man, you look like shit.”
There were about four or five of the local pot mooches scattered around the living room. Ed stumbled over the bodies to turn the stereo down.
Glancing around the room, I said, “Some things never change.”
“Oh yeah they do,” said Ed. “Ya’ know they got Shorty. They busted him with stolen property. I kept telling him not to get involved with them beaners in Del Paso Heights.”
“Is he in jail?” I asked.
“Naw’, they gave him a choice,” said Ed. “It was either jail for a year or the Army for two. He decided to take his chances with the Army.”
I said, “I hope he don’t end up getting his sorry ass blown to pieces.”
I then asked about Shorty’s sister, Ed said she was still “Mean as mouse shit,” but she dropped by to see him every once in a while.
We talked about ‘old times’ for a bit. Ed then said, “Let’s take a ride. There’s something I want to discuss with you.”
I was surprised to see that Ed dumped Captain America and was driving around in a 62 Ford Falcon fitted out with an eight track tape player. He used to have a forty-five rpm record player on gimbals under the dash of Captain America. It never did work right, but he always kept trying to make it work.
I asked him where it was, and he said, “I traded it to a Del Paso beaner for a jar of whites.”
I responded, “I hope the guy don’t know where you live – he’ll be coming after you with his knife when he tries to make it work.”
We stopped by the liquor store, bought a few bottles of beer, and headed over to Folsom Lake.
Ed was saying that he didn’t like the way things were going. The Mexicans in Del Paso muscled in on the Benzedrine trade and were bringing in truckloads. He said, “There never was much money in it, but now, I can’t give’em away. The pot and psychedelic business has gone pretty much the same way. To make any money, ya' gott’a deal in volume, these days.”
I told him that Clarence did pretty good selling Thai weed. Ed shook his head and said, “I can supply weed that’s better than Thai, but I ain’t got the people to sell it too. You know how it is with the people around here; they’d rather pay ten bucks for a fat bag of ragweed than buy the really good stuff even though it is really the better deal in the long run.
“I think they would pay ten bucks for a bag or oregano and smoke it before they would pay for a bag of good weed.
“Man, they’ll all come over and mooch samples forever, ask for a joint to take home, but the assholes won’t buy anything. They just hang around to get stoned.”
I told him that was the reason I preferred to act as a middleman and facilitate deals. I had my fill of the constant traffic and the pot moochers when I was living with Clarence.
We eventually came to a rock outcrop and sat. Ed took a little vial from his shirt pocket and put a few drops of its contents onto a cigarette, and said, “Try this?”
I said, “I like to know what I’m trying.”
Ed said, “Its pure hash oil.”
I took a hit and a few minutes later, I was caught up in the moonlight reflecting off the lake.”
I asked him where he got that shit. Ed said he was making it, but couldn’t get rid of it – he needed a market.
I told him that while it was the best shit I ever smoked, people weren’t going to buy it in quantity for resale – it was like a novelty item. Most of the hippies and pseudo hippies were more into the ritual shit of passing a joint around. However, there was another market, but it might be hard to break into because they were mostly the more affluent set.
I’d been to several parties at some rich digs where they had humidors filled with different types of exotic weed and hash – they fancied themselves connoisseurs.
To me that whole scene was more or less phony and more about impressing other people rather than enjoyment. However, money wasn’t an obstacle in that crowd. My experience was that if it knocked their socks off, they would buy a quantity of the goods for a personal stash and to impress their special friends.
On the way back to Ed’s pad, he asked me if I would like to take a trip up into his place in the mountains for a few days. I didn’t have anything else to do, and I wanted to negotiate a deal on selling his hash oil.
When Ed said the mountains, he wasn’t kidding. We drove up Interstate 80; hit a two-lane blacktop road that turned into one lane and then into what looked like a timber road. But there was a sign saying “Iowa Hill 27 miles.”
It wasn’t much of a road. At times I thought the ruts were going to swallow the car. We did the twenty-seven miles in about two hours.
I remember there were a few houses and a store sitting on top of a hilltop.
Ed said, “I got a Jeep here; this is about as far as we can go in the car.”
As we began to pack our supplies into the Jeep, Ed said, “Ya’ know, my family has been here since before the Gold Rush. I inherited a piece of property up here from my uncle. It’s another thirty miles or so.”
The property Ed had inherited was originally a gold claim staked by his great, great grandfather or something like that. He said that generations of relatives believed that there was a ‘mother load’ on the property and continuously mined it for over a hundred years to no avail.
As we bounced along an old trail, Ed said, “All of them died poor, but they managed to eek out a living from hard rock mining. It’s a bastard of a way to make a living.”
I was almost pissing my pants as Ed headed down the side of a mountain – the old road must have been un-maintained for a hundred years. He kept shifting gears and said that the breaks weren’t “too good.”
Hitting the corners on that downhill run was more of an adrenalin rush than riding a rollercoaster. I’d glance out and look down – we were inches from oblivion. One mistake and we would be tumbling down a thousand feet or so to the bottom of a ravine.
We finally crawled up the road to the top of a hill where a shack sat in the middle of the mountains surrounded by stubby manzanita trees lying close to the rusty reddish earth.
Ed smiled and said, “This is my processing laboratory. Here’s where I make hash oil. And that is just part of what I have going on.”
He then said, “I want to get out of here. You know how it is? Right now, I’m just another nickel and dime dealer. There’s got to be something better. I want to make enough money to go to Hawaii and buy some property. A lot of people are going to Maui and buying property. I figure it’s got to be a better life than ending up in the joint or a switchman for the Southern Pacific. Shit, I don’t want to wind up a retired drunk playing Keno in Sparks like my old man.”
I could see his point; the whole scene around Ed was low life. Just about everyone he knew had served time in jail or were just plain losers.
We took a walk down to where there was an old mine cut into the side of the mountain with a pond in front.
Ed said that in one attempt to get at the mother load, one of his ancestors hit a spring and the mine flooded.
Glancing around, I saw a green garden hose leading out of the pond and disappearing over a ledge.
Ed said to follow the hose to the ledge. Looking over the ledge, I saw a section of bright, almost Kelly green as compared to the surrounding manzanita and reddish clay earth. There must have been about fifty or sixty pot plants.
When we climbed down, I was completely astounded at the size of the plants - they were about seven to eight-feet high. He built terraces fenced with chicken wire to keep the deer from eating the pot. Ed said that deer and rabbits loved the stuff.
I caught a buzz just walking through the crop – the smell was enough to get you high.
The experience reminded me of a time when Jungle Jim and me bought a bag of powder LSD and were capping it-up. Not realizing that the shit would be absorbed through the skin, we got so goddamn high from transdermal absorption, we couldn’t finish the job. I think we must have been whacked-out for about two days. We got some rubber gloves to finally finish the job.
I was most definitely getting that feeling as we were walking through the crop.
His irrigation system was the hose with holes punched into it by each plant and gravity fed. The water dripped out of the holes at the base of the plants.
When I asked him where he got that genius idea, he said, “Shit man, its called drip irrigation. I read about it in a National Geographic or some magazine like that. Ya’know, I gott’a friend who’s into that sort of thing; plants and growing stuff.”
Some guy he knew who was majoring in horticulture at UC Davis developed a super hybrid. Ed got a handful of seeds, a little education and started his plantation.
He told me that he recruited some people that lived around the area to grow some plants too.
Ed caressed a plant, and said, “Ya’ know most of the guys up here mine for gold during the winter – Shit, they just scrape by. This is like a real bonus, I pay’em more money to grow pot than they make all winter mining for gold. They love me.”
“I get them to bring me the shade leaves that are ready to go over and I extract the hash oil.” I got about two quarts of the stuff I need to unload to pay my rent and keep this enterprise going.”
I told him that I could probably find a market for it in Berkeley, and I had some other contacts to the wealthy crowd down in the Hillsborough area.
That night we discussed the logistics of unloading his hash oil, and down the road, selling the ‘super weed’.
I loved it up in the high Sierras, but sometimes too much solitude can get nerve-wracking even when you’re in a semi-catatonic, stoned state.
After several days, I was overjoyed when we were on Interstate 80 heading for Sacramento.
Back at Ed’s house, I called an old buddy of mine from the Air Force, Mickey. He was the only person I considered as a friend from my military days. I managed to track him down. He moved off base to an old cabin on a cattle ranch in Fair Oaks.
When I rang, some guy answered the phone and was offish until I told him my name. I thought he was going to choke, then he said that Mickey was on a mission, but he was expected back any time and to come over.
I had gained an undeserved legendary status, and the tales of my exploits in the Air Force were somewhat exaggerated to say the least. Mickey did his share of exaggerations in relating our exploits to newcomers.
Mickey was a first generation Irishman from Boston. His real name was Steve, but he got moniker Mickey because he had an Irish brogue that overshadowed his Bostonian accent.
He had a sardonic sense of humor – Mickey was a natural born public relations man. What I enjoyed most about Mickey was that he had a straight laced, pious alter boy attitude. However, he was always in the thick of things with me, but nobody ever suspected him of anything – I still don’t know how he got away with it.
When Mickey walked in the door, it was a different person who greeted me. Mickey seemed to have lost the spark he once had. I asked him what was going on, and he said that he got busted for smuggling opium into the country. Instead of sending him to prison, they’d assigned him to a forward mobile radar outfit in Vietnam. He had another week in the States.
At one time, I was almost in the same position as Mickey. The whole premise was to save the military potential embarrassment. If the media discovered that there was a drug problem in the military and the rest of the shit going on, it could jeopardise the war effort. One solution was to send undesirables off to front lines in Vietnam and hope they got whacked. I’d seen the same thing happen to a few people I knew in similar predicaments.
I decided to stay until Mickey shipped out because he was noticeably depressed. The scuttlebutt was that forward radar operators had short on-the-job life expectancies of which he was aware.
Over the next week we talked a lot about Mexico and traveling, and that it would be his last tour of duty before he got his discharge. He was pretty hyped up when I saw him off. However, I figured that Mickey would be coming home in a body bag.
I went back to see Ed and collected some of his hash oil to shop around. He gave me a lift to the freeway and I was off to San Francisco.
During midsummer, driving down the hills onto the Carquinez Bridge is like stepping into air conditioning. You know you’re approaching San Francisco. It was the most pleasurable experience I encountered in the three months I’d been on the road. In the high deserts, you burn during the day and freeze your ass off at night, and along the Gulf of Mexico, it’s the relentless humidity and heat that gets to you. But the weather in San Francisco was like heaven in comparison.
My ride dropped me off on University Avenue in Berkeley. The number of people hitchhiking on the entrance blew me away – there must have been close to one-hundred–fifty, maybe two-hundred people. Many of them were holding signs for almost any destination imaginable.
I figured, I could be standing there all night before I got a ride into the City, so I walked up to the AC Transit bus stop and waited for a bus. When I got to the City, it was getting dark, and it was a Friday night. I decided to rent a room at one of the flophouses down around Mission and Sixth Street because I wasn’t sure that I would find anyone at home.
The first person I ran into was a fellow named Tennessee. This guy was like a petty conman out of a grade B movie. He claimed to have done time in Alcatraz, but I couldn’t picture him ever having that much class as a criminal.
When he saw me walking down the street, he ran over and said, “I heard that you were dead. The Federales shot you down in Mexico.”
It was beginning to look like that everyone had heard that I was dead - killed down in Mexico.
I just shrugged it off.
Tennessee looked a little down on his luck and I asked him if he wanted some dinner. He pulled a bottle of pills out of his jacket pocket and told me they were some “righteous Blue Heavens” he’d give me a deal on. When I told him I wasn't interested, he pulled up his jacket sleeve and asked if I wanted to buy a wristwatch. There must have been about five of them.
Once Tennessee got on a roll, he just never stopped, but then again, he was always buzzed out on bennies or ‘Black Beauties’. By the time we got to the café, I knew just about all the new gossip and who’d done what to whom.
He wasn’t too interested in eating, but hustled me for a couple of bottles of MD 20-20 – ‘Mad Dog’. I bought a few beers, we found a quiet ally down off Folsom, and I proceeded to get a better picture of what was happening.
I was somewhat taken aback at how radically the scene had changed in the three months I’d been away. The only key people who still lived in San Francisco were Clarence, Jungle Jim, and Boo. He said there were a lot of the old faces around, but most of the crowd I ran with left the country, headed off to Hawaii, up to Eugene, Oregon or Colorado.
Tennessee glanced at one of his watches and said that he had to meet up with his ‘old lady’. Nestling the bottles of Mad Dog under his arm, he was off into the shadows.
I hit the liquor store, bought myself a half pint of brandy and a couple of more beers then headed back to the Hotel. The lobby was filled with wino residents clutching short dogs of wine in brown paper sacks and watching “The Streets of San Francisco” on the television. I decided to join them for a while before crashing.
It’s an odd felling staying in flophouses. For me, I always wondered if I would end up living out my days like the people there. It was more or less the end of the road – a place filled with people who had been everywhere, and for them, there was no place left to go. The people there were like a bunch of zombies, and the next move in life for them was living on the street or death. They’d basically outlived their usefulness.
I went up to my room and tried to crash, but it was a busy night with the hookers’ high heel shoes clickety clacking down the hallways with their Johns treading softly in tow.
I opened the window because the room reeked with the smell of cheap pine oil disinfectant, cheap perfume, and cheap wine blended with that telltale, musty flophouse odour. Then I smoked some of Ed’s hash oil and eventually drifted off into sweet oblivion.
I woke up the next morning in a more positive mood and hustled out before the winos made their appearance.
I had a few hours to kill before the respectable time came to start dropping by my friends’ pads to see if there was a better place to crash for a bit.
I decided to hit North Beach for a cappuccino and Cannolis then take a run up to Haight Street.
When I got to North Beach, the sun was beginning to burn the fog off, and it looked like it was going to be a nice day. But I noticed that there were lots of scroungy looking people already sitting in doorways begging for change, and the drug dealers were out in force. I did a U-turn and headed back for the sanctuary of South of Market area to grab some breakfast.
Just before I got downtown, I took a look down Powel Street and there must have been two-hundred people lined up for breakfast in front of St. Francis Mission.
It was looking like I came back to the same city only to find myself in a parallel universe. Aside from the landmarks, Tennessee and a few South of Market regulars were about the only people I recognized. It was almost like coming home to find out your family had moved.
It was also interesting how my perception of everything heightened – especially that of recognizing the natives.
Market Street was beginning to crowd up, and I found myself looking at people, and I could tell by their mannerisms who the regulars were as opposed to the invaders. The people that came into the city seemed to have a blank, sort of lost expression.
While everybody talked about ‘hippies’ and the people purporting to be ‘hippies’ were pitching ‘love and peace’, I never quite figured out what being a hippie actually entailed.
I’d been around what was termed ‘hippie families’, and for me, it was a little on the uncomfortable side – I couldn’t wait to get out of the house. There was some sort of self righteous, elitism about being a hippie that never really sat right with me.
The communes had the same effect. The only impression I went away with was the people were on the strange side and pretentious.
There were some scary characters running some of the communes. I never could figure out how people like that got others to follow them. There were a couple of places I visited where you could feel the presence of evil.
The people in a lot of those places weren’t particular about what they got high on; some of them were into mixing stuff like belladonna, speed, acid, and Dramamine. Then there were the people into the satanic shit. All that hippie communal living stuff didn't appeal to me in the least.
Somebody tried to explain it to me in the context of a tribal scenario, but for the most part, all I saw were people hustling the welfare system and pooling their benefits to live well and stay high of drugs.
That whole scene just didn’t register any sort of empathetic response from me. In fact, I was most often repulsed.
Instead of hopping a bus up to the Haight, I just started walking and thinking. I had the feeling that I didn’t want to be in San Francisco anymore, but at that time, I didn’t know any place else to go.
I guess it was a little like having become institutionalized. However, I knew I needed a change.
After three months on the road, I wanted to sit back and weigh my options, but not living in the middle of all the shit going down in San Francisco.
As I made my way up past Fillmore Street, the activity increased until I hit Ashbury Street. It wasn’t ten in the morning and Haight Street was packed with people. There were people lying in doorways, people begging, people selling drugs, and runaway kids who couldn’t have been more than fourteen or fifteen-years old milling about the street.
The Haight was never what you would call a nice place, but it wasn’t the urine soaked garbage pit I found myself walking through.
At one point, I glanced in a doorway and saw a chick and some guy copulating like a couple of flies atop a dung heap.
I walked on up to the entrance of Golden Gate Park and there were hundreds of people coming and going. I thought something might be happening and decided to investigate. When I reached Hippie Hill, there must have been a thousand people sitting on the green listening to a few conga players. The air was thick with the smell of pot.
When I left the city, I knew that something was happening, but in my wildest dreams, I never suspected that it would be on that scale.
Somewhat in awe and disbelief, I stood and watched the scene for about twenty minutes. It didn’t take long for people to converge on me – I was out of place because I had short hair. Some people came up to me, made the peace sign and said, “Love brother,” and begged change while others accused me of being an undercover cop.
The first thing that came to my mind was to get out of there and head back down the hill to Clarence’s pad. At that point, I really didn’t give a shit if I woke him up or not.
I took Page Street to avoid the crowds, but it was crowded with the overflow. People even set up housekeeping in the alleyways. There were people living in their cars, old mail vans, and school buses. The whole fucking place was like a circus of derelict losers.
About the only greetings I got were people calling me a cop. That was probably for the best because otherwise they would have been hustling me of money or drugs – under the ‘love and peace’ banner.
Things weren’t much better when I arrived at Clarence’s pad. I rang the doorbell and watched as Clarence peeped though the torn curtain. He looked surprised to see me and disappeared. Somebody I never saw before came down and opened the door – he was bare assed naked.
When I got upstairs, the living room was writhing with naked people – mostly youngish girls. Glancing around, I noticed wine bottles strewn around on the floor. The room smelled of stale wine. Pot smoke permeated the air and was so thick; it hung in layers almost obscuring the people across the room.
Then some naked girl handed me a joint, and said, “I haven’t seen you around here before.”
It was at that moment; I knew I wasn’t going to be crashing at Clarence’s pad. I figured about the only thing that would come out of it for me was a case of the crabs or if I got involved in the sex scene, I’d be visiting the VD clinic on a regular basis.
I waited around for a bit, and Clarence never made an appearance, but that was the usual scenario when he had women around.
I had about all I could stomach of that scene and split.
Starting up the street to see if Boo was around, I happened on to a familiar face. It was a girl who seemed to always appear and disappear.
Lorraine wasn’t the usual type of woman associated with that scene. She was always dressed stylishly and stood out as being different. I talked with her a few times, but never got to know her well.
Lorraine was a very attractive chick. She had an almost animalistic, predatory quality about her. I thought about hitting on Lorraine, but always figured that she was way out of my league.
I said hello and we exchanged a little small talk, and then she asked me if Clarence was home. I told her that he was, but there was a party of sorts happening and Clarence was preoccupied with a few hippie chicks.
She said, “Shit, I wanted to get a bag for a party tonight. All that’s around is street shit. You know where I can get some quality stuff?”
“Of course,” I said. “That is if you don’t mind giving me a lift downtown to the bus station.”
Looking somewhat perplexed, Lorraine asked, “Why the bus station?”
I told her that I only got to the city last night, and stashed my valuables in a locker at the bus station because I was staying in a fleabag hotel until I could find another apartment or someone who needed a room mate.
She smiled at me and said, “I’ve got an extra room, but I live in Berkeley. You can stay with me until you find something.”
Then she said, “You know that I like girls, so it’s going to be strictly platonic.”
“It’s fine with me,” I said. “I’ don’t want to in the city anyway. What you do is your business; I don't have a problem with that.”
I picked my bedroll up from the hotel, my money, and dope from the bus station and we were on our way across the Oakland Bay Bridge.
I noticed that she was eying my meager belongings and asked, “Is that all you have?”
I proceeded to tell her about the Mexican venture and how I came about traveling light. It was like the more you carry, the more of a target you are for robbers.
She then said that we were going to stop by her parents’ house in Piedmont to check up on things because they were visiting friends down in Hollywood for a few weeks. She suggested that I could take a nice hot bath there and she would have the maid wash my clothes.
To me the house was opulent, but later, in comparison, I came to realize that it was actually modest.
I’d never seen a sunken bathtub in a bathroom bigger than the living room in most of the places I ever lived. It was all quite novel.
I thought that sitting in that bathtub was one of the most pleasurable experiences I ever had. As I was about to fall off into a dream, Lorraine stepped in the door, laid out a fluffy white bathrobe, and said that lunch was ready.
The whole scene was almost too much for me to believe. It was a balmy afternoon. A nice cool breeze drifted in from the bay. We went out onto the patio overlooking a fabulous manicured garden. The maid brought us sandwiches and coffee. Then Lorraine said, “All we need is a joint to go with this.”
Mickey gave me a big bag of Thai weed, some opium dipped buds, and I had the hash oil from Ed. I asked her how toasted she wanted to get.
She said, “I got a party to go to tonight.”
We smoked a small joint and enjoyed the afternoon. Actually, it was very enjoyable because we talked about a lot of different subjects. Even among the more educated women I knew, I never had much in common with them. However, most of them were into politics and always they were trying to convert or recruit me into some movement. Lorraine was much more pragmatic and interesting than the others.
I told her that only the night before, I’d been drinking with Tennessee in an alley off Folsom and watching television with winos in that fleabag hotel on Mission Street. I said, that it was bemusing to me to be sitting on the patio of a mansion in Piedmont sipping espresso, eating sandwiches and involved in an intellectual conversation with an erudite woman.
Lorraine kept delicately pumping me about where I had been. I hadn’t quite figured it out myself because it was like crossing an ice flow, jumping from one chunk of ice to another.
About the two most significant encounters I had were with Maestro Rafael Perez and Mike the truck driver.
It was Rafael she wanted to hear about. Personally, I didn’t put much importance in Rafael as a character. He was Interesting and a little strange, but not what I would call extraordinary.
Lorraine, however, was extremely impressed. She said that everyone in her crowd had read a book called “The Teachings of Don Juan,” and I encountered a sorcerer.
I read the book and wasn’t impressed. I didn’t believe that it was real. If anything, I figured that Don Juan took Castaneda for a joy ride.
I’d taken enough psychedelics to know that if you suggest something to somebody beforehand; during the experience, it is likely they’ll experience it. I put more stock in Edward Bernays and his school because the whole game was about power and manipulation of people.
I said that I thought that Mike was the much more interesting character because he traveled all over Mexico and Central America for years and survived robbers, Federales, and knew the people. Rafael was like a naïve student compared to Mike.
The maid brought my tattered clothes all ironed, and she even put a sheen on my battered boots. However, I felt a little strange when I looked in the mirror – I’d never donned ironed Levis before.
Lorraine and I drove to her place in Berkeley. On the way, she asked if I’d like to go to the party with her. I said yes, but I would probably be a little out of place in her crowd – possibly an embarrassment.
She said that she would introduce me as a writer friend who just came back from an adventure in Mexico and everything would work out – not to worry.
I got to admit I was scared because the people she associated with were mostly grad, post-grad students, or upper crust business people.
Lorraine had a degree in business from Stanford and was accepted at Harvard for post-grad work. I quit school at sixteen. I read a lot and managed to get in a college, but nothing remotely compared to the caliber of schools Lorraine and her friends attended.
Lorraine was one of those women that people took notice of when she entered a room.
When I escorted her in the door, heads turned. She just had a presence about her. I realized that just walking in the door with her automatically made me respectable because she wouldn’t be in the company of anyone of a lesser calibre than she – or at least that’s what people perceived.
The next thing I knew, I had people wanting to meet me. I caught on pretty fast to the fact that most people are in awe of adventurers. They like to hear stories. Interestingly, I found that the people I was afraid would snub me, genuinely liked me, and my lack of education wasn’t a factor – they appeared to be in awe of me. Lorraine did establish me as a minor celebrity without much effort.
As I became more involved in the scene, something else I picked up on was the fact that I was getting the benefit of other people’s educations. They spent years learning different things only to learn how to condense the information into a casual conservational format.
At that time, Lorraine was like an angel of salvation. She plucked me out of the shit hole San Francisco became and took me to another social stratum. It was actually where I envisioned myself being before I got caught up in the Vietnam bullshit.
I did, however, come to realise that while I could fit in to some extent, I would always be an outsider of sorts. Our backgrounds were too dissimilar. It was difficult relating to them on an experiential level. It’s like the old homily, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.”
One fellow who taught at Stanford told me that I was a curiosity, an enigma, but he envied me because I lived on the edge. My perception of the people I became acquainted with in that crowd was that of people living in a preplanned, structured existence. There was very little spontaneity in their lives. I was glad that I was who I was and not sentenced to living in their world.
Everything was working out much better than I expected. Lorraine introduced me to people who were in the market for the product I was selling. Ed was doing well and I was doing well. Along with my connection for Thai weed, the people I knew in San Francisco considered me a rich dealer. However, I kept everything in perspective, because the people who were my customers were rich.
When my father died, we didn’t have any income for a while and had to move in with my grandfather in the country. We were dirt poor, but the people who lived around there were even more destitute.
The kids didn’t have shoes and went to school barefoot. I used to take my shoes off and leave them in some bushes because I would get a bunch of shit about being the rich kid.
I used to collect soda bottles to get enough money to go to the movies on Saturday – They thought I was rich because I had enough money to go to a movie.
In some respects, they were resourceful, but when it came to figuring out how to save the money from collecting soda bottles, they were clueless. They spent it on candy as soon as they cashed the bottles in at the store.
The kids that thought I was rich were only seeing that I had more money than they did at that moment, but the money I made didn’t amount to shit in the scheme of things. I really didn’t have any more money than they did, but I just didn’t squander it as soon as I got it.
That was the way it was for me in San Francisco. I tried to stay away from the hippie crowd in San Francisco because most of them were always trying to hustle me, or suggested that I should help them in some way. The truth was that they could have gone out and got a fucking job.
Also, I was trying to make as much money as possible because I knew my run at dealing was probably coming to an end. My connections for Thai weed were about to be discharged from the military, and I didn’t trust the new group. The new guys were just a little too careless and destined to get into trouble, and I was sure that they’d snitch me out to get off the hook. Then Ed was a one off deal, so I needed to buy some time until I found something else to do to generate money.
I wanted to get out of the dealing dope anyway. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew it wasn’t dealing anymore.
During that period, the most difficult problem for me was, in reality, reconciling myself to the fact that Lorraine was a lesbian. We spent a lot of time together.
I was living in a nice house off of Lakeshore Boulevard in Oakland. My roommates were a fellow studying law, and physicists and his girlfriend.
During that time, I think that Lorraine spent more time visiting me than she did with her girlfriend.
My roommate Jim was one of the top physicists in the world at that time. Lawrence Livermore Labs recruited him as a researcher in quantum physics.
I found what little I learned about quantum physics from Jim intrigued me, and it changed my perception of reality. For instance, they were doing experiments to prove that an atom can appear simultaneously in two places at the same time and photons can be either a wave or a particle.
The most fascinating concept was that a single thought could cause changes throughout the universe. Then there was Schrodinger's cat in the box theory – is it alive or is it dead – in the box it is both alive and dead. When you open the box, the cat is either alive or dead.
One time, I related my experience with belladonna. I was in a room with people around me, but at the same time I was in another reality – a touchy feely reality. To me it was real. However, I seemed to keep shifting through realities and would touch base, then in the blink of an eye be somewhere else with different people. It was all real to me. After that experience, I always wondered about the nature of reality. Could this reality simply be a figment of my imagination?
For me it was a great experience to be around people who had more on their minds than chasing down drugs and perfunctory conversation about the bullshit happening on the street.
One afternoon, I was telling Boo about Lorraine and how my relationship with her took me into an interesting crowd. He just shook his head and said I should move on. He knew her before I met her. He said nothing good was going to happen; it would all end badly.
Boo said that Lorraine would come on to me, and that she wasn’t as hooked on girls as she made out to be.
He said, “She’ll have you in the end, and you’ll be sorry, because she’ll never let go. Lorraine’s bad news and she’ll fuck you over.”
When I asked him what he meant, he said, “You know that she sees a shrink? She can switch into a viscous bitch in a heartbeat.”.
Boo went on to say that he ended up in a relationship with her and she went bananas on him. She was fine as long as it was all at arm’s length, but the minute things seemed like there was some commitment involved, she turned, and there was nothing but trouble.
Over the years he knew her, he’d seen it had happened with a few other people.
I did notice that she could be a cruel, heartless bitch. With some people, Lorraine wasn’t satisfied with simply winning an argument or getting the better of them, she wanted to destroy them. She just wouldn’t let go when they were beaten and just be satisfied to walk away knowing that she’d won. Lorraine was relentless in her quest to win an argument, and nothing less than the crucifixion of her opponent would satiate her appetite.
When I left, he said, “Just be aware, and be careful.”
I guess like the others before me, I was in love with Lorraine, just couldn’t help myself. She was, you might say, the first woman I had any sort of intellectual camaraderie with – I enjoyed her company.
It really wasn’t about sex. I could have had any number of women just because I had status and access to good drugs.
During the next few months, we took several trips down to Costa Rica and Mexico. We ended up getting together on a trip to Veracruz. When I woke up the next morning, she was gone. No note, no nothing, Lorraine just disappeared. I hung around for a few days thinking that she might show up, and on the third day I got a telegram from Berkeley saying she didn’t want to see me anymore.
Things weren’t quite the same when I got back to Oakland. I spent a lot of time hiking up in the hills, and I felt uncomfortable socializing. It was Lorraine that made things exciting, and she was gone. As a matter of fact, she left for Boston and was doing her post-grad work. I got a few letters from her suggesting that I should visit her. I didn’t want to get involved again.
As things go, my comfortable arrangement in Oakland broke up when one of my roommates got married. I found a decent pad in the Laurel District and moved in.
I lived in the Laurel District of Oakland for a bit. The Hells Angels headquarters was there. It was probably about the most crime free district in Oakland. I could leave the doors unlocked. I figured that they kept the neighborhood clean because they didn't want the cops sniffing around – I think they had a decent size Methedrine lab in the area – sometimes, I could swear I smelled the either from a batch of Meth being cooked up.
I never did feel comfortable around a group of Angels. One on one, it wasn’t too scary, but if you have several of them together, you’d be lucky to come out of the meeting intact, especially if they were drinking wine and cranked up on speed.
I watched them go off on a poor sucker and just kick the living shit out of him. One of the Angels just walked up hit the guy from behind, then they all jumped in and started beating and kicking the poor bastard. All he did was to share a joint with them - he got a broken jaw and a stay in the hospital for thanks.
I never tried to be friendly with any of them. The ‘brotherly love and peace’ bullshit only goes so far and don’t work on people like that for long.
Their whole sense of being was about machismo, intimidation, and violence; it was a pack mentality and that’s how they acted – one of the top dogs in the pack goes off on a violent kick and the whole fucking bunch follow – so much for individuality and personal identity.
I never did have a lot of respect for people with that mentality. They were perfectly capable of intimidating me with their presence, but they could never get my respect.
One time, I bought a few kilos of pot off them. We did the transaction in a garage in West Oakland. The situation didn’t inspire any sense of security. There were too many guns and surly characters around for me - I thought that they were going to take the money and whack me. I never went back to that contact again.
It wasn’t long before I was back in San Francisco. My connections for Thai weed dried up, and I was waiting for Ed to come through with his crop. That was the last loose end I had to tie up before I moved on to something new.
The one comforting thought was that, I had enough money to float for a few years if I played my cards right. I figured it would give me enough space to find something legal I wanted to do.
My old girlfriend, Gloria, moved up in the Black Panther Party, and relocated in Oakland. She let me have her basement apartment down on Haight near Scott Street.
I was bored – the hanging around just got to me, so I went out and got a real nine-to-five job. Being a delivery boy for a printing company wasn’t a bad gig – I actually enjoyed it. At any rate, it was a lot better than sitting around smoking dope, drinking wine, and talking a lot about nothing all day long.
I even met another girl, nice chick named Sarah. She went to the University of San Francisco. She moved in with me.
The problem I had after being around Lorraine was that other women never seemed to measure up.
Sarah was nice and a lot of fun, but I never thought of her as anything more than a temporary companion. However, Sarah had a knack for getting invitations to some very strange parties in unlikely places.
One weekend some weird guy flew us up to Lake Tahoe with a group of equally weird people. We landed at a private airstrip on top of a mountain stayed until Sunday, and he flew everyone back to San Francisco.
The party was bizarre – like something out of the Federico Fellini movie – “La Dolce Vita.” I just sat back like a good voyeur and watched the show in disbelief.
Another time, we went on a small privately owned ship up the Sacramento River and partied for three days then came home. The strangeness of the situation was that most of the people on that trip were middle class businessmen and the girls were mostly hippies that the boat owner hustled for the trip.
These guys lost all their inhabitations after a few hits on a joint and a half bottle of booze. I wondered how many of them were going to take an unwanted souvenir back to their wives and girlfriends. The way things went, I figured that if there was one case of VD on board, the whole damn bunch of them would be visiting the doctor before long.
However, the strangest thing I ever went to with Sarah was a trip up to Mendocino with a commune/cult called “Messiah's One World Crusade.”
The trip was about communicating with flying saucers or something like that.
We went up to someplace in Mendocino. Everyone took a few hits of acid, took their cloths off, and started danced around.
According to the founder of the group, flying saucers came from a base on the dark side of the moon and hid behind clouds. The trick was to know what kind of cloud formations to look for in order to see the spacecraft. I assumed that popping acid and dancing around naked attracted the space people.
I kind of figured that when everybody was stoned enough, they’d be seeing all kinds of things in those clouds. It was like what Don Juan did to Castaneda – a little bit of suggestion goes a long way, especially when people are whacked out of their minds on psychedelics.
I was pretty much on the money with my hypothesis, the more stoned they got; the more flying saucers that started to appear and soon, everybody was seeing flying saucers except me – but I wasn’t stoned.
Some guy was sitting buck-naked in the middle of a freezing ass cold stream talking to the flying saucer people – they were even appearing to him in the clouds as ethereal beings.
I was watching all that shit happening along with reading articles in national magazines about the “Summer of Love” bullshit. My perception of the scene was a lot different from the media accounts. To me it was funny how the media portrayed the whole ‘free love’ thing because it most definitely had its downside, and that was VD.
I knew one of the investigators for the health department. That poor guy was always ragged out and eventually quit his job. He told me that the incidents of VD in the San Francisco Bay Area was epidemic and increased around two-hundred percent in less than three years.
One day, when we were discussing the issue, he laughed and drew a chart detailing one of his investigations. It completely blew my mind how one person could be responsible for infecting hundreds of people.
The case he detailed started out in a commune and ended up with a state representative, his wife, and her lover. In between the initial contact and the politician, close to one-hundred people were infected within several weeks.
He also said that there were virtually incurable strains coming back from Southeast Asia. Instead of penicillin, they were giving courses of tetracycline in an attempt to contain them.
I heard a lot of stories about visits to the VD clinic, and it was one place I didn’t want to go.
I always thought that I was somewhat prudish and out of sync with the times because I didn’t get into that whole ‘free love’ scene, but after many discussions with that fellow, I felt vindicated.
Sarah became attracted to that communal scene and joined up with the “Messiah's One World Crusade.” I visited her once at the communal house on Page Street across from the Golden Gate Park Panhandle. I felt like an interloper. No one except Sarah would talk to me. The people there looked at me like I was an alien. When one of the leaders came in the room, Sarah allowed him to steer the conversation. I found the whole thing really spooky and never went back again.
But that was the general feeling I got when I visited most any communal environment. People seemed to need permission to speak freely with an outsider, and even then, the conversation always seemed restrained to perfunctory bullshit.
For me, at that point, the whole attraction of living around the Haight was that of morbid curiosity – I wasn’t a player anymore, but an observer of weird shit and weird people.
Distancing myself from the day-to-day social interactions, I stepped up the social and employment ladder. I went from being a delivery boy for a printing company to assistant to an account executive at a leading ad agency.
I delivered proofs to the agencies around town and made friends with some of the account execs. Several of them knew some of the same people I knew from Stanford – I was actually friends with one guy’s old professor – he was impressed. He just didn’t know that I was his professor’s pot dealer.
I found out about an opening and went for it.
The one thing Lorraine taught me was how to use contacts, and my contacts in the elite academic world at Stanford and Berkeley got me in the door.
I enjoyed the work for a while because it was enlightening. I was part of manipulating a gullible public into buying shit they didn’t need.
By that time, I sold Ed's weed, saw him off to Hawaii, and had a new girlfriend. However, Lorraine kept popping back into my life – essentially via phone calls and letters.
Sometimes, she wanted me to live with her in Boston and other times she told me how much she hated me. I guess for me, there was some glimmer of hope that I could have a relationship with Lorraine, but deep down, I knew it wasn’t in the cards.
As far as my new job went, I loved it. It was about power, not just some little dictator controlling a bunch of naïve kids in a hippie commune, but manipulating mass consciousness. I watched Bernays’ concepts come into play. I even had the opportunity to be a bit player in several national ad campaigns.
There was something very seductive about having an understanding of human nature and how to use it in manipulating people into doing what you wanted them to do. The beauty of it was that I could walk into a store and see how successful the campaign was by watching people buy the product. The proof was when the sales figures started to come in.
On one campaign we created a new image for a wine that any self-respecting wino wouldn’t touch, but the sales in the middle and upper middle class markets shot through the roof – they couldn’t keep it on the shelves for several months.
The whole concept was if a person drank the wine, it was like a magic elixir that would change their lives. We simply presented images of powerful, successful people drinking the wine and tossed in a dose of gratuitous sexual innuendo.
The general public bought the concept hook line and sinker. The reality was that about the only life changing effect the wine had to offer was a horrendous hangover.
The paradox of that scene was that most all the people who reveled in their prowess of manipulating the mass consciousness were susceptible to their own bullshit. They all had the trappings which symbolized their success and power. However, they were no different from the people they were hustling – a bunch of gullible morons.
My most enjoyment came from listening to them talk about purchasing clothing - they all went to the top end shops and department stores to purchase name brands. I went to the dingy outlets where they sold seconds and paid one-third the price with the name brand labels cut off. No one ever knew the difference. I often got comments like, “I see you’ve been to the Emporium” or “Grodins just got that line in yesterday.”
At that time, Boo was about the only person from the old crowd, I kept in contact with on a regular basis. Actually, he was the only person I knew that that understood the game I was playing. He kept my feet on the ground when it came to my ego. I could have very easily been seduced into power game; however, I didn’t play the political game very well.
In reality, I didn’t have much in common with my coworkers – they were all typically bourgeoisie and had their heads up their asses. I wasn’t into going to the Montgomery Street bars after work for hor'dourves and drinks. And I wasn’t into mutual back slapping sessions. I really didn’t want any of them for friends.
The curious part of that game was most of the people I worked with in advertising would have given anything to hangout with the people I knew. I never said anything to anyone about some of the people I associated with in the underground scene. However, one evening I ran into a folksinger I knew from Florida, Fred Neil. We were having a shot of espresso at Enrico’s. I used to see him every once in a while at a coffee house I frequented in Pinellas Park called Beaux Arts before I joined the Air Force.
Fred grew up in St. Pete and every time he was in town he’d drop by and do a gig. Sometimes he’d bring some of his friends from New York. Those were some good evenings that often lasted until eight or nine the next morning.
I ran into him at a gig at the Hungry Eye and during the break we stepped out for a café amaretto. One of my coworkers was there and later saw me at Enrico’s shooting the breeze with Fred. The bastard came up to the table with his girlfriend and tried to horn in on the conversation. Fred had invited me to a party at the Jefferson Airplane mansion on Fulton Street in earshot of my coworker and he wanted to tag along.
The next day, he condescendingly asked how I came about knowing someone of that stature. They all thought I was an unsophisticated hick because I came from St. Pete.
I blew his mind when I told him about some of the people that came to that coffee house in Florida including his hero Jim Morrison.
Most all the younger crowd at the agency were big Jim Morrison/Doors fans. I went to St. Pete Junior College with Morrison, and knew him when he played a ukulele and recited poetry at Beaux Arts – He could never change that image with me.
Rambling Jack Elliott, Eric von Schmidt, and folk singers of that calibre frequented the place. On several occasions, Jack Kerouac dropped in and read poetry. It was a casual environment, so I got the opportunity to talk to them. It wasn’t like there were crowds of people like at a regular night club.
Curiously, there weren’t a bunch of sycophants hanging around either. We paid a dollar to get in the door and people just mingled – there was nothing elite about the scene.
I don’t think he actually believed me.
It was February of 1968. I got a call from my old first sergeant. The news was that Mickey was dead. All he knew was that he died in action somewhere north of Da Nang.
The first thing I asked was why he would be calling to tell me about Mickey? Turns out, I was in a will he drawn up before he went to Vietnam and his parents wanted to talk to me. He then asked if I could come to Sacramento and talk to him.
I didn’t know what was going on, but the old bugger sounded sincere so I agreed.
I gave Mickey’s parents a call which was awkward to say the least. They said that Mickey always talked about me and considered me a good friend. They asked if I would attend his funeral and said I could drive his car there if I came.
I honestly don’t think they realized the distance involved in driving from California to Massachusetts. However, I couldn’t refuse and said that I would see if they’d let me take Mickey’s belongings also.
The next day, I went in to tell my boss that I had to go to my friend’s funeral in Massachusetts. He said to shut the door. Well, I got the ax and a shot of scotch. I let him know that I was about to quit anyway because I felt like the people I was working with were a bunch of silly school kids’ and I would never fit into their little club.
After I had said that piece, he seemed more intrigued and wanted to find out more about me. The main thing I said was that all the people my age who worked at the agency were from upper middle class families and didn’t have to worry about being sent to war. No one forced them to walk that yellow line; they went to school and learned the advertising and public relations game while a lot of better kids were getting fucked up and killed in the war. I wouldn’t allow myself to become entangled in their frivolous fucking lives.
He asked me if I was upset about Mickey, and I said that when he left, I knew he was going to come home in a body bag. I just had that feeling, and they hadn’t tossed me out of the military, it could have very easily been me in that body bag.
At the end of our conversation, my boss asked me to drop by when I got back and he would see what he could do to get me another job.
Only one girl said anything to me when I left the office. All the rest just looked at me as I left, but no one said a word. I never had much to say to them anyway – I could’ve cared less.
I had a few days to get everything together. My new girlfriend was living with me and I figured she would keep my apartment together until I got back.
Marie came up to San Francisco from Los Angeles for the summer of love bullshit and stayed. Her father was an executive for one of the big movie studios. I visited several times at their home. They lived up in the Hollywood Hills.
After the second time visiting, I hung it up because an argument always ensued about Marie dropping out of UCLA and wasting her life away in San Francisco.
I’ll never forget one of my visits to Marie’s home in LA. They actually had a bar stocked with about every type of spirits you could imagine. One of the maids asked me if I wanted a drink, and I stupidly asked, “What do you have?”
She responded, “What would you care for, sir?”
I never grasped why people owned homes with eight and ten bedrooms. Marie’s father owned about five places around the country and in the Bahamas. Possibly, I was naïve and there was a purpose in owning so much real estate – places that they only visited, maybe, once every two or three years..
Marie was entertaining, but I didn’t have any special attachment to her. I was more interested in her stories about growing up as a movie industry brat than any real romantic notions. She was also a little on the unstable side and had a propensity for taking prescription drugs.
When I headed up to Sacramento, I figured that I could trust her to watch out for the apartment, and I would come back to see everything intact.
I rented a car, grabbed some clothes from the apartment, and was off to Sacramento.
Driving east on Interstate 80 to Sacramento, I recalled the first time I went to San Francisco. It was a new experience then, but now it was a familiar route. My favourite time of year was when the cherry orchards were blooming in the Spring; there were several orchards on the hillsides around Vacaville off Interstate 80.
I knew every entrance and exit between Sacramento and San Francisco like the back of my hand. I’d been stuck on all of them at one time or another hitchhiking and in all kinds of weather.
“It was like that with everything,” I said to myself. “There are subtle surprises, but if you stayed around long enough or done something long enough, after awhile, everything becomes predictable.”
I noticed that with psychedelics, the first few times were exciting and new, but soon the trip became predictable. As a matter of fact, after the first few trips, my subsequent trips were about achieving the first experience. I took higher dosages in attempts to achieve the thrill of the first experience, but I never got there.
The same scenario occurred in my daily life: There was a certain comfort in the predictability of seeing familiar faces, but at the same time there was the gnawing thought that I was stagnating in a pond of predictability, and I didn’t like that thought.
Driving through the misty February landscape, now a lush green against the sky’s gray backdrop, I knew that with each mile, thousands of thousands of people were interacting and doing things that affected each other in subtle and not so subtle ways. It was like an enormous chemical reaction, but in the embryonic cocoon of my vehicle, I was buffered from the massive reaction around me as I headed for a specific target in an almost seamless transition through time and space.
I began to see myself as an atom traveling through a mass of atoms – a free radical or some sort of catalyst about to set off a series of reactions of which the outcome was beyond my ability to conceive.
The question for me was, “Why am I doing this?” I didn’t have to, or was it a predictable reaction to the set of circumstances placed before me?
What I enjoyed most was the illusion of freedom, or the momentary feeling of being aloof to all the events happening around me. It was like all the bullshit happenings around me were images blurred in my peripheral vision as I raced toward Sacramento.
I should have felt some sort of loss about Mickey’s death, but I didn’t. It was as if his death freed me from that stagnate pond, that for me, San Francisco became. I liked the feeling of freedom, freedom from the mundane everyday bullshit. Then there was the anticipation of venturing into, what for me, was the unknown.
I was excited when I reached Sacramento. Sitting at a restaurant across the street from McClellan, I realized that I was about twenty-minutes early, and gave my old first sergeant a ring to let him know, I arrived.
When he arrived, I think he was surprised to see that I wasn’t a stereotypical hippie, but relatively respectable by military standards.
I was surprised when he stuck out his hand and we shook hands. He said, “I’m glad that you are taking on this responsibility. You didn’t have to do this.”
I said that Mickey had been a solid friend, and I knew that, for his family, my attending the funeral had some sort of significance. I thought for a moment, laughed and said, “He would have done the same for me, but I don’t have a family to speak of. You guys planned to stick me in the same situation – I heard that the orders were drawn up.”
He invited me into the bar for a drink, and as we sat down, he said, “You know, you two guys were nothing but trouble for me. Mickey was as bad as you except he kept a low profile. You were another story.”
I said, “I wanted out, and Mickey didn’t have a problem with military life. He was like a guy that got caught doing something illegal, was sentenced to jail, and was willing to serve out his time. I didn’t feel that way – I hated the military and felt like it was a question of unattractive alternatives – I was forced into to making a decision. I didn’t have much of a choice; it was get drafted, go to jail, skip the country or join up.
“It was never anything personal with you. You were one of the few people I respected for having integrity.”
We discussed Mickey over a drink and how he was busted for smuggling opium. It turned out that the only reason Mickey got caught was because of an informer that rolled over to save his own ass on another smuggling scheme.
I said that Mickey’s real problem was that he was strung out and needed to maintain his habit – he couldn’t wait for his bigger shipment which they never busted.
I continued on about the last time I saw Mickey and said, “The main thing Mickey was worried about was his family. I told him, that he wouldn’t have done any time in jail, but actually, he would probably get a bad conduct discharge at the worst. Mickey said he would rather take his chances than go home with a bad discharge that’s why he accepted the offer. When he left, I knew he would be coming home in a body bag, mainly because he was strung out and didn’t want to face his family.”
He asked if I was going to tell Mickey’s family anything about the drugs or the circumstances of why he went to Vietnam. I said I was only going to tell them what they wanted to hear. Mickey was dead and the truth about the circumstances would serve no purpose other than to upset his family. As far as I was concerned, Mickey was a good Catholic boy and a hero.
I signed a few papers; the sergeant gave me several envelopes and the keys to Mickey’s car. As we parted, he asked me to offer his personal condolences to Mickey’s family, and wished me good luck.
I’d never been through a dead person’s belongings before. Mickey didn’t have much, but there was enough to offer a snapshot of his life. The main thing that came through was his Irish Catholic background – the rosary, religious medals, and the other trinkets associated with Catholicism. Then there were the pictures of his family, a few of me and him and the packet from Southeast Asia. Other than a few letters from his mother, there wasn’t much more.
I knew, however, that he would probably have a decent sized stash of dope and cash, and it wasn’t going to be in the belongings I was rummaging through.
I remembered the last time I was there; he took me to an old oak tree out in the back pasture. That’s where he kept anything he owned that was of value. It was because his room mates were also strung out and unarguably weren’t trustworthy. He knew that they would be scavenging through belongings looking for dope and money when he was off on a temporary duty assignment.
It began to rain steadily as I climbed over a rusty barbwire fence and walked down the hill toward the oak tree. I saw it once when Mickey took me there, but never realized how massive the tree was until then.
There was a rotted out place where a limb had broken off. I fished around in the hole and eventually came out with several plastic bags wrapped in electrical tape. I figured it was mostly opium or weed and some cash.
Not wanting to open the contents in front of his roommates for obvious reasons, I went to an old shed about a quarter of a mile away and sliced the bags open. It was pretty much as I expected except for the amount of money – when I counted it out, there was well over twelve-thousand dollars.
I found it very tempting to take the money, but I knew I’d never feel right about it. However, I did take out five-hundred dollars for traveling expenses. The dope, I repacked and stashed back in the tree with the exception of a sandwich bag containing about a hundred hits of Benzedrine. I figured I might need them for the trip.
I stashed the money and pills in Mickey’s car. Soaked to the bone, went back to the cabin. Mickey’s roommates asked me where I’d been. I just said that I needed to go for a walk to think about things.
One of them said that the weatherman said a major snowstorm was due to hit Sierras that afternoon, and I should probably stay overnight. All I thought was the roads might close for days and I should try to get over the pass before the storm hit. I knew that I could make it to Reno and get a hotel room in a few hours.
I got them to help me pack the car, gave one of the guys a twenty dollar bill to return the rental car, and I was off and running up Interstate 80 toward Truckee.
The storm was moving in from the Northwest, and by the time I reached Truckee, I could see that the clouds were getting ready to let loose – it looked nasty and I didn’t have any snow chains. I knew I had to make a run for it to beat the snow.
Mickey had a five-speed transmission installed in the GTO and a Posi traction rear end. It handled like a dream even when the snow started to fall. Luckily, I just caught the leading edge of the storm and made it into Reno before the main event.
I always found Reno a strange sort of place. As far as gambling goes, the high rollers tended to go to Las Vegas or Tahoe, but the hardcore gamblers liked Reno – especially the poker players.
Driving through Reno, I heard on the radio that they shut the passes due to snow and avalanches.
I stopped at the first hotel that I saw a vacancy sign and got a room. My main worry was that I had all Mickey’s cash. The city was going to fill with stranded travelers, and I didn’t like having that much loose money. I had a bag full of bills in all denominations.
There wasn’t much of a problem with establishing a bank at one of the casinos.
Nobody in Reno asked questions about where money came from – it was natural for professional gamblers to carry a wad of cash. I simply gave them the money; they gave me a handful of chips and a receipt that I could take back when I wanted to draw more chips. It was perfect, I gambled for a few hours, went back, told the cashier I was having a bad night, and collected eleven one-thousand dollar bills.
The big notes were easy to hide, and I slept like a baby.
The next morning I proceeded to cash in the chips, went to the bank and had a cashiers check made out in Mickey’s mother’s name.
I hit the road again. I was absolutely in love with that GTO. Heading east across the desert, sometimes, I buried the speedometer needle on clear stretches of road.
It seemed like the world around me was painted white.
The clouds passed overhead casting amorphic shadows pursued by shafts of sunlight; they slid silently across the earth as I sped eastward toward Utah and Great Salt Lake.
It’s funny how my thoughts seem to drift like the amorphous shadows and metamorphosis in almost unrelated patterns. I found myself thinking about Golden Gate Park and marveling at how it was like an abstract maze. Well, at least for me it was like an abstract maze. As far as the width of the park, it wasn’t very wide; however it was easy to get lost. There were so many nooks and crannies – little hamlets. There were hamlets where I felt like I had entered some prehistoric scene, then there was the rose garden, Speedway Meadow, the museum, arboretum, and even a place snuggled away where it looked as if ancient ruins lay. Then sometimes, I was back in Mexico.
Then I thought of how far I had come since I started down that yellow line at the induction centre. It was only a little over two years before, but it seemed like an eternity. As far as I was concerned, it was the best thing that ever happened to me, but for others like Mickey; it was the end of their journey on this plane of existence.
Then my mind turned and I thought, “Could there be another level or is this it?” People had theories, lots of them, but like Schrodinger's cat in the box theory, I’d never know until I opened the box. But if there was nothing, everything I did was of no significance – my life was meaningless. For me, it always seemed difficult to grasp that concept.
I didn’t like the concept of heaven and hell, because heaven seemed like a hell in and of itself – “eternal bliss/paradise” to me seemed as bad as burning in hell. What is consciousness without challenge?
There I was in Mickey’s car driving eastward across the ever changing landscape. The accompanying soundtrack was the roar of the engine, the sound of the brittle, winter air rushing across the windshield and my almost audible thoughts.
I never thought much about my destination or even what my future plans were. It crossed my mind, that while in the car, I was like a proton racing toward the nucleus of a distant atom to create an explosion - a chain reaction of events with far reaching effects. When I reached my destination, nothing in the universe would ever be the same again. But in between those two points, I was neither alive nor dead for the people I left behind or those with whom I had an appointment.
I recalled in my belladonna trip. There were times whether I questioned whether I was alive or dead. It was as if I were standing in a void where time didn’t exist – simply an entity.
It was the same when I stopped at roadside cafés packed with travelers; no one seemed to notice my presence, then a waitress would appear and ask what I wanted. After short verbal exchange occurred, she walked away. It was as if everyone in the café was in between a state of life and death. I thought, “Do these people only exist when they reach their destinations?”
To me they were just random entities. I didn’t see them as real people – they were in a state of existence and nonexistence. It was like the photonic theory where a photon can be a particle or a wave.
The only thing I found remotely comforting, as far as being grounded to some semblance of my perception of reality, were signs, familiar signs – advertising.
It might seem a little strange, but in a continually changing environment where every stop is a new reality, seeing a sign advertising a familiar product seemed to tie things together.
“As you travel northeast, toward the sun, the days grow shorter,” I thought. I noticed this because when we went from Brownsville, Texas to Arizona, the sun seemed like it was never going to set – we just kept driving. It seemed like the sun only disappeared below the horizon when we stopped to get a bite to eat.
Traveling east, night seemed to catch up with me fast and accelerated the further north I got. Soon, it seemed I was only driving at night.
Driving cross-country seemed to facilitate the conjuring of strange trains of thought that evolved and only were punctuated by interesting scenery, flashing lights, or the need to stop for food and fuel.
I would drive until the blue after images of headlamps appeared like flashes, floated across my field of vision, and dissipated. Sometimes, I had to take a few hits of Benzedrine, because there was no place to stop and rest.
At one point in Wyoming, I was on a stretch of highway and encountered a blizzard – All I knew was that stopping would probably mean that I might have froze to death, so I kept driving and looking for a friendly sign. Dazed and hallucinating, I managed to follow the taillights of a truck into Cheyenne. There wasn’t a room to be had in the city, so I stayed in a Laundromat and dropped dimes in a clothes dryer to keep warm.
As I neared my destination, the thought of destiny and options crossed my mind.
There was any number of options I had along the way. However, in the long-term, if there was such a thing as destiny – an ultimate purpose for my existence, let’s say I decided to go to Atlanta, Georgia instead of Mickey’s funeral, would still end up in the same place in time where I was destined to be? The question was did attending Mickey’s funeral really matter? In fact, the only people it had any real significance for, was Mickey’s family.
The second aspect was that Lorraine was also in Boston. I thought, “Was this something significant in the outcome of the game for me?”
Then again, it could all have been a ploy on my part to see Lorraine again.
Then I thought that all the thinking I had done was nothing more than bullshit just to occupy time on a long, arduous journey that didn’t amount to a pile of snake shit in the scheme of things.
In fact, I came to the conclusion that seeking a meaningful existence was bullshit – it was about people trying to find a reason for their existence so they created scenarios to satiate that need for a purpose in life.
For instance, Mickey’s family wanted to believe there was a reason for his death – some purpose in his dying in Vietnam; and they believed that he was fighting communism. The truth substantiated by history showed that there was no reason other than the quest for power and money by, basically, a few individuals imposing ideologies on other people.
Vietnam was basically beachfront property. The Russians and Chinese were supplying the Vietcong via Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. It was nothing more than a silly, life wasting game and the only way to win would have been to obliterate both China and Russia with nuclear bombs.
All the guys like Mickey who were being maimed and killed was all about nothing in the end game. However, many of them actually thought they were making a difference – they believed the patriotic bullshit.
At that point everything they believed was horseshit – it was all based on the need to believe in something and fear of the unknown.
I also knew that in the end, they would reconcile themselves in the belief that it was “God’s will.” That was a crock of shit in my book.
I couldn’t buy into any of that shit. From what I saw, Mickey made a series of decisions influenced by certain social morays – both he and I knew that he accepted a death sentence rather than face, as what he perceived to be, disgrace in the eyes of his family.
I thought about the charade of the high mass and the eulogies about Mickey being a hero. I was also sure that no one would question how a guy that only earned about $200 a month had about twenty five thousand dollars between the check I carried and his bank account. It was probably ten times the amount he would have earned during his four years in the military. Then there was the GTO; it was worth about another five or six grand.
Mickey was a good friend to me, but he sure as fuck was no hero or good little Catholic boy. The prospect of the whole scene I was about to witness was totally unattractive to me – I knew they were going to ask me to give a eulogy, and all I was going to say was that Mickey was a true blue friend and we had some good times together. There wasn’t much more to be said – at any rate, they wouldn’t want to know about the “Good times.”
I thought about religion. The thing that perplexed me was how many different beliefs there were, and it seemed like most of the major religions had their salesmen. Buying into most religions is like purchasing afterlife insurance - You're going to pay for it all your life, but there might be a clause - maybe, something to do with a preexisting condition that sends you to limbo instead of heaven.
With the Christians, you got ‘eternal bliss’.
With Islam, you got paradise which is more attractive than eternal bliss, especially if you were a man. But how long does it take before you get bored with paradise and how many vestal virgins can you have?
With the Hindus, there’s reincarnation of sorts, but you just might come back as a fucking cockroach if you don’t play by their rules. Then some bastard might squish you before you can scoot into the woodwork.
And with the Buddhists, you have reincarnation and good and bad karma until you ultimately reach the godhead – which seems, more or less, like eternal bliss.
But then, with all these religions, you got different sects. This is where the real dilemma comes into play – each sect sees things differently, and although they might believe in the same deities, they all seem to have the only surefire route to get next to him, and the other people have it all wrong.
All sects aren’t equal in the eyes of the gods. How does a person determine the right sect to join so they can enjoy the promised afterlife?
Then there are the people who believe that only one-hundred-forty-four thousand people will enjoy languishing in the eternal light of God. Personally, I didn’t like those odds. And I couldn’t see how a person could buy into that one. Millions of people do, but only one-hundred-forty-four thousand of them are going to get a ticket to the Promised Land.
I never was quite sure what the Jews believed, but I could’ve given a shit less – they were all full of bullshit as far as I was concerned.
While some might believe in the same deity, they all have a different interpretation of what they say. So who’s right, and by what criteria do you determine who’s got the handle on eternal salivation?
It’s like I grew up a Catholic in a predominately Southern Baptist area. Now, the neighborhood Baptist kids called me a devil worshipper and a worshipper of idols. That’s what the preachers taught them at Sunday school. Supposedly, we all belonged to the ‘brotherhood of Christianity’ and believed in Jesus Christ as the savior, etc. But as a Catholic, I was doomed to hell for worshiping idols and being an inherently evil bastard.
Now as a Catholic, I was taught that Protestants and non-Christians didn’t stand a chance in hell of going to heaven with the caveat that if a ‘Protestant’ (especially an Episcopalian) was a particularly outstanding Christian, God just might consider letting him in heaven. However, there seemed to be prejudice toward women, because I distinctly remembered that the word “her” was never used – it was always him.
When I thought about all those beliefs, and what a revelation it would be to the believers when they die and discovered it was all a big con. Then they realized they wasted their existence following a religion that didn’t really offer them any afterlife perks. I bet it would be quite a disappointment to realize that you sacrificed so much for a shot at paradise and you wind up selling hotdogs on a New York City street. And it can get even worse if you are a woman, especially if you’re not a vestal virgin when you die.
But then the question arose in my mind, “What happens to the vestal virgins once they serve their purpose in paradise?” Do they get tossed out, end up washing clothes, or is there some sort of vestal virgin recycling program? After all, they’re talking about eternal life, and I saw a big problem with the supply side regarding the production of vestal virgins – they were more or less a finite, use once and dispose of commodity.
The whole thing about beliefs is the word “believe” is an oxymoron – it means that one is not absolutely sure – they simply ‘believe’.
The way I figured it was that there might be something or there might be nothing after a person dies. Religion was simply a means to control people by playing on their fear of the unknown. Offer them something better than what’s here; create the illusion of a ‘paradise’ and they will follow. It was nothing more than a Bernays type sales pitch.
But then again, if there was nothing after a person dies, it didn’t matter anyway – the suckers would never know that they’d been had by a bunch of hucksters.
By the time I reached Braintree, Massachusetts, I was pissed at the thought of having to go in a church much less listen to a bunch of pontificating by some priest.
I made it there two days ahead of schedule and decided to rent a motel room rather than Mickey’s parents’ house.
After taking a hot shower and scrubbing the road grime off, I gave Lorraine a ring. I figured, maybe we could do dinner or something.
Lorraine was amenable, and said she knew a good restaurant in Braintree and would meet me the next evening for dinner.
Sometimes, we tend to think that people have changed, but the truth of the matter is that we have changed and they have also changed. That was the case with Lorraine. I was viewing things much differently, and Lorraine was much the same only in a different location. By the time the evening was over, she invited me to stay with her for a few days. I should have known better, but I took her up on the offer.
The next morning I checked out of the hotel and went to Lorraine’s apartment. As I drove through Boston, I remember thinking that it’s a place I wouldn’t want to be stuck without any friends – especially midwinter. It was just a little too bleak and cold for me.
I wasn’t looking forward to attending Mickey’s funeral, but I had to do it. I contacted Mickey’s parents and ended up at their house the next day which meant I was without transportation.
Basically, I was a stranger, and felt like a bump on a log at the wake.
Now the funeral was something else, a Requiem High Mass with all the trappings. It was bad enough sitting through all that, much less having to give a eulogy before a bunch of strangers.
All the hocus pocus just got on my nerves. I think what got to me the most was everyone hanging on to the monsignor like a bunch of sycophants believing some of his holiness might rub off on them. I found the whole scene depressing.
Then after the burial, there was the party which for me was a little much to take. I never did like going to funerals and weddings anyway.
The monsignor cornered me and began complementing on my eulogy. That was the end of the game for me. I proceeded to tell him the truth about what happened. His fucking jaw dropped to the floor when he heard that Mickey was strung out the last time I saw him, and all the money his family wound up with was made from smuggling drugs.
I showed him the check I had for his mother and said that it was more money than he would have made in the four years he’d been in the Air Force.
I then proceeded to tell him that Mickey got busted for smuggling opium and how bad and insidious the war really was.
He was white as a ghost when I finished. I walked away, made my excuses for leaving, and caught the first bus into Boston.
Over the next several days, Lorraine started on one of her vicious, neurotic kicks and wanted me to leave. At one point, she even threatened to call the cops.
It’s the shits being stuck in a strange city with nothing but slush, dirty snow, bare trees and brick buildings for company. I had a couple of friends that lived in Greenwich Village, and I caught a Greyhound Bus to New York – it was just as fucking depressing there, but the people I was staying with were more friendly.
After a week, I couldn’t stand the overall bleakness of New York anymore. I found a car-delivery company and a gig delivering a car to Memphis. I didn’t care much about where I was headed as long as it was down south away from the miserable weather and to shake off the disgusting funeral experience.
The Greenwich Village scene was also depressing. There were just too many junkies in the woodwork, and it was just a bit too decadent for my taste.
For me, the romance had dissipated from the underground scene soon after I realized it wasn’t much different from having a steady job. In many aspects, it was more like belonging to a club where the members tried to be different – there was conformity in the nonconformity. If you once broke the rules of the nonconformist club, you were out.
The most interesting aspect of the whole thing was how the hippie movement became an army of people who believed that they were nonconformists.
Back in San Francisco, I knew this guy who was one of the Alcatraz alumni. Freckles, on first appearance seemed an innocuous character in his mid-sixties. He was always in the background and never said much.
I didn’t get to know Freckles until he asked me to front him a bag of weed. I think that was the first time he ever said anything to me in the year that I knew him.
My basic philosophy was that I would trust someone until they burnt me. Well, I didn’t see him for several weeks, and then ran into him at Mike’s Pool Hall in North Beach. I forgot about him owing me any money and simply greeted him. Freckles reached into his pocket, pulled out the money.
We got to become pretty good friends after that, and I discovered he was the most interesting character I met in the whole scene.
Now, to qualify Freckles credentials: Only what the authorities considered the worst of the worst criminals went to Alcatraz. They didn’t have to be murderers and gangland types.
Freckles was a conman and ended up in Alcatraz for something to do with hustling some banker for a bundle.
Freckles knew more about human nature than anyone I ever met. Sometimes, I would sit for hours at the Café Trieste, drink coffee and listen to him tell stories. He considered himself a teacher, and conning people as teaching them a valuable lesson about greed. His philosophy was that the more greedy the person, the more susceptible they were to be conned.
His favourite movie was the “Flim Flam Man.” Freckles often quoted the line where George C. Scott said, “You can’t cheat an honest man.”
On several occasions, Freckles showed me how he worked a mark, and how to determine what a good mark was. His main criterion was to find someone who liked to flaunt their wealth – expensive watches, jewellery, clothes, etc.
We went to a little restaurant off New Montgomery Street frequented by the business crowd at breakfast. Freckles and I sat, watched and listened to conversations.
After about a week, he chose the person he was going to take for a ride. He pointed out to me that his mark always carried the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the San Francisco Chronicle with him. Then Freckles told me the sections of the papers he read first – those were his major interests and that was the key to making an initial contact – a common interest. That would be how he broke the ice.
I sat back and watched him make friends with that guy with in several encounters. The next thing I knew, Freckles was having lunch with him and invited to parties. Within several weeks, he knew all about the mark and figured out how to hustle him.
Freckles said that getting into the marks house was the most important part of his particular game because just about everything there was to know about the person would be sitting there on display.
Freckles preferred to hone in on esoteric interests, do his research, and use that avenue to establish a bond with the person.
Somehow, the things I learned about human nature from people like Freckles and Ted seemed to make me feel more alone in the world. It’s only natural for people to be gregarious – we are pack animals by nature. Humans are social creatures, but I was finding that there were fewer and fewer people with whom I had anything in common, other than myopic interests.
I found myself more comfortable being in the company of people who were surviving from day to day rather than the intellectuals and the more affluent people.
At one time, I considered moving to New York, but after staying there, I just didn’t feel like there was anything there for me. Consequently, I hit the road again. However, I too was seeking some stability somewhere I thought I would belong.
Driving down to Memphis to deliver a car, once again, I was aware of everything, but simultaneously insulated. Diving along, I was aware that people were coming into the world, people were dying, people were eating, sleeping, and whatever, but while I was aware of the happenings, I was in my own world heading to another destination. I wondered if I would find what I was searching for there?
Beliefs, what people believe fascinated me. When it came to people’s beliefs I came to the conclusion that was all bullshit. Just because I believe something doesn’t necessarily make it true – it was something that might be right or wrong – it was simply a fucking belief.
The thousands and thousands of people I passed on my journeys all had different beliefs, and there were those who sold their beliefs as fact, but in the end, when asked to prove their beliefs, all they could say was, “I believe.”
A nun once told me that I asked too many questions.
Mickey’s family’s clinging to the monsignor as if he had a direct line to god turned my stomach. I watched him work the crowd and hustle in to get a chunk of the money Mickey left his mother to have some sect of nuns pray for him at special novena masses. He suggested that Mickey would, more than likely, be suffering in purgatory and a novena could significantly reduce his sentence.
I watched him suck down the best bourbon and take precedence over everyone when the food was served.
In reality, the bastard didn’t really know anything. He had them all believing that he had some kind of special powers and could get them into heaven.
The more I learned, the more I realized that people who purported to be experts or ‘know’ were either deluding themselves or stone cold bullshit artists.
One thing that Freckles told me that always stuck in my mind was, “Never get into believing your own bullshit, because you’re going to wind up on the loosing end.”
Another homily he said was, “From the time you’re born, till you ride in the hearse, it’s never so bad it couldn’t get worse.”
When driving long distances, it’s interesting how your train of thought tends to ramble in a completely disjointed fashion. You can be thinking about stopping for something to eat, and the sight of a bird can take you to a completely different place in your mind.
By the time I got to Memphis, I decided I wanted to go to Mobile and enjoy some Gulf of Mexico seafood and caught a train on down there.
It was an absolute pleasure hanging around the docks for several days. I always loved the smell of the Gulf of Mexico. Both the Atlantic and Pacific smelled like fresh water in comparison. There was also something about the taste of the seafood that I liked better.
I found one little place with the oilcloth, checkered tablecloths and bottles of Louisiana Hot Sauce on the table. I hung around Mobile for close to a week just enjoying the seafood and being near the Gulf of Mexico again.
I was tired of driving and figured it would be interesting to ride a passenger train back out to San Francisco.
The best part about that was that I didn’t have to drive across Texas, and I could stop for a day or two in a city that caught my fancy. However, when we stopped at various cities along the way for a layover, I found that I wasn’t really interested in hanging around for more than several hours.
I gave Marie a call when I got to San Luis Obispo only to have some stranger answer the phone accompanied by background chatter and music. The troubling aspect was that she wasn’t available.
There was always something comfortable about arriving back in San Francisco. I had a love hate relationship with the city, but it was still better than most places I’d been. At any rate, it was a hell-of-a-lot better than being stuck in New York or Boston for the winter. There was also a certain crispness about the air I liked; it was like the smell of fresh celery.
I decided to drop by Boo’s to catch up on things. I was feeling somewhat anticipatory as I walked up Fell Street to see my friend.
Boo was always interested to hear about my trips and always had loads of questions. He also liked to be the person who knew everything first – at heart he was a gossip and made no bones about it.
I caught him walking out of the liquor store with a jug of Red Mountain Vin Rosé. He started laughing, but it was a ‘glad to see you’ type of laugh that turned to more of a ‘you’re in deep shit’ type of laugh.
I followed him up to the flat. The first thing he did was pop the cap on the wine, pour me a decent size tumbler full, and then he said, “I guess you just got back in town?”
A little perplexed at his demeanor, I said, “Yeah. What’s up?”
Sometimes, a person’s face says it all, and before Boo opened his mouth, I knew something was wrong. He said, “Ya’know the cops are looking for you?”
I was speechless for a moment as I tried to grasp what he was saying, and replied, “What the fuck did I do?”
Boo said, “It wasn’t a week after you left that sweet Marie took up with some guy named Shotgun Mike who just got out of San Quentin. Man, your digs turned into a shooting gallery for speed freaks. They were even cooking Meth in the bathtub. All kinds of shit was going down. Some guy got shot there and they drug him out onto the street.
“After a couple of more incidents, the landlord called the police. They sent in an undercover cop. I heard that Shotgun Mike was getting ready to turn over a load of Meth, and the cops waited until all the players were there and busted the place.
“Jim said the cops came out with a pound of Meth, a bunch of stolen property, guns, and wad of cash. They hauled the whole bunch of them off to jail. Marie’s new boyfriend is headed back to Quentin.”
I was only away for a little over a month, and it was like a year’s worth of crap came down on my head.
Marie’s father came up from Los Angeles and secured a high priced lawyer for her. She rolled over on everybody she knew and was portrayed by the lawyer as an innocent victim under the evil influence of people like me.
Meanwhile, Clarence and anyone else in the crowd remotely associated with dealing headed for the hills.
Boo said that the cops visited him three or four times asking questions. Then the only sage advice he had to offer was that I “Get out of town until it blows over.”
He knew some hippies that lived in a little town in the Sacramento Delta called Locke. It was remote, I could get a place to stay, cheap rent, and it was a good place to lay low until the heat was off.
Clarence took off to a place called Railroad Flats up in the Sierras, and another fellow headed south to the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Leaving Boo’s, I was in somewhat of a bewildered state. However, when the reality of my situation sunk in, I knew I had to get out of town.
I was pretty much on my own because I didn’t want get anyone else involved, and my best option was to go to Locke and lay low for a month or two. There was so much shit happening in the City that my name would probably get lost in the paperwork, or I would fall way down on the priority list.
I figured that I would head to the ranch in Fair Oaks, pick up Mickey’s stash and get a ride to Locke.
I had been to Locke before and there was not much there. It was the only town in the United States built exclusively by the Chinese, for the Chinese, back in 1915. It was a strange little place, almost a ghost town, plopped in the middle of the Delta flatness.
The prospect of being stuck there wasn’t my preference, but it was safe.
My next move was to catch a Greyhound Bus to Sacramento and hitchhike out to Fair Oaks. I knew there wouldn’t be a problem with Mickey’s old roommates putting me up for a few days; they would want to hear all about Mickey’s funeral anyway.
It was pleasant at the ranch. The pastures were a lush velvety green, and the old oak tree held my inheritance safely. As I inspected the goods, I even found another stash of money. It wasn’t a lot, but enough to get me through a few months.
I found out that Mickey’s roommates were assigned to another squadron in Iceland. They would be leaving in early May, and the place was up for grabs.
Interestingly, there were a lot of people who wanted it. Personally, I thought it would be nice to live there for a bit, but only just through the summer. I could grow a small crop of pot and make enough money to hangout for another year or so without having to worry about working for a living.
Although I had a substantial amount in the bank, I knew that I didn’t want to touch it for a while in case the cops had put a tag on my account.
By the time I left for Locke, I had the place synched up. I paid the first three months rent to the landlord and as soon as the others left, I was in the door.
I was off into self-exile in Locke, but it would only be for a little over a month.
Now, Locke was an interesting experience. Boo’s hippie friends were just that – stone cold, love and peace hippies. The only compensation was that they had plenty of pot, but no money. Consequently, I supplied the wine and some food, and I didn’t have to touch my stash.
The two things that were in plentiful supply as far as foodstuffs go - there was crawfish and rice was the main staple. I think that I had crawfish every way they could possibly be prepared. I even got tired of Chinese food from the local restaurant.
There wasn’t much interesting to do except catch crawfish, drink wine, get stoned, and look out over the flat delta. When a car came through town, it was an occasion.
I stayed in Locke for about a month, which was about all I could take. Mickey’s roommates were starting to pack up, and with the luck of the draw, they left quite a bit of stuff behind, including his old stereo. I even got a well used Volkswagen tossed in for a bag of weed.
They told me another guy that said he knew me wanted the place. When I asked who it was, they said it was some guy called Shorty from Roseville. Not knowing that Shorty was my friend, they said that he was also a friend of Mickey’s and just got back from Vietnam.
A little taken aback, because he supposedly had another year to go before he got discharged, and I asked for Shorty’s phone number. I wondered what he was doing back in town.
I gave him a ring just to see what he was up to. He heard that I was renting the place and wondered if I wanted a room mate. I always liked Shorty, and we always managed to turn a shit time into a good time.
Essentially, Shorty was one of those ambitionless people who always managed to find the easy around things. His main attribute was his gregarious nature; everybody liked him.
I had a feeling that having Shorty around was going to be a lot of fun.
He arrived on a chopped Harley Sportster looking like an outlaw biker. The paradox was that Shorty didn’t have a mean bone in his body.
I actually expected him in an old highway patrol car like he used to cruise around in.
We headed down the back pasture to a little bar on Fair Oaks Boulevard, bought a couple of glasses of draft beer, and started catching up on what we had done and where we had been.
I noticed that he was walking with a slight limp and asked how he got it.
Shorty laughed and said, “It’s a war wound, man! It got me out of the war and out of the Army.” I’d like to send the guy that shot me a thank you note.
“I only was there for a week, and the first day I went on patrol, I got shot in the ass – well not exactly, but close enough. I was scared that they were going to send me back, but the bullet severed a tendon and broke some bones, so here I am.”
I think what I liked most about Shorty was that he never complained and didn’t care much about philosophical crap; he just enjoyed being.
I told him that, in essence, I was ‘on the lam’ waiting for things to blow over in San Francisco.
We had a good laugh and another beer, then Shorty said not to worry about money because he was getting a fat disability check.
I said that I had money in the bank and I couldn’t touch it until things cooled down, but I did have a decent size stash that was ‘sort of’ an inheritance from Mickey.
Shorty said, “Shit! Let’s keep the stash, I’ll cover you, and you can pay me back the difference later.”
Shorty said that he was staying with his sister. He invited me for dinner and to stay the night. I was a little reluctant because Linda never seemed to like me very much.
Their parents had died in a car accident, and Linda being the older took on the responsibility for being Shorty’s moral guide. The last time I saw her - Ed, Shorty and I got a lecture about being a bums and never amounting to anything.
I asked Shorty if he thought that staying at Linda’s was such a good idea. Nonchalantly, he said, “Don’t worry, man. She’s mellowed; she always liked you anyway.”
I met Linda on numerous occasions, and I never got the impression that she remotely had any feelings other than contempt for me. Finishing my beer, I replied, “You could have fooled me. The last time I saw Linda, if looks could kill, I’d be six feet under.”
“Don’t worry; she’ll be glad to see you. I told her you were in town and she didn’t put the old hoodoo, evil eye on me; it’ll be all right. We’ll have fun, I promise.”
We went back to the cabin, told Mickey’s old roommates that we’d be back in the morning to see them off, and headed for Linda’s house.
Linda was just as I remembered her. She always reminded me of Charlotte Brontë’s character Jane Eyre. All the other guys used to joke about her austere plainness – her nickname was “Plane Jane”. But I always found her a little scary, but attractive.
I think what put most people off about Linda was that she had the appearance of a nineteenth century schoolteacher, wore glasses, and could stare a hole right through you. Normally, it was an ambivalent, Mona Lisa look, but when she was angry, she didn’t have to say anything; her eyes said it all. And it was that icy stare that greeted me in the kitchen when we arrived.
Shorty told her that I would be staying overnight and we’d be moving to the cabin the next day.
The first thing Linda did was take Shorty aside and led him off into another room.
When they came back into the room, I expected the worst and was ready for a verbal and visual thrashing, but Linda made an attempt at being pleasant. The underlying feeling I got was that she was simply accommodating me for Shorty’s sake and we’d be out of her hair the next morning.
The one thing I knew was that Linda was simply tolerating my presence.
The next morning, she made Shorty and I breakfast, gave us some sandwiches, and sent us unceremoniously on our way. She only said to Shorty, “Give me a ring when you’re settled in and I’ll drop by.” She didn’t even acknowledge my presence.
As we packed Shorty’s belongings into the Volkswagen, I said, “Man. Your sister really hates me.”
Shorty said, “No. You got it all wrong. She digs you. She wouldn’t have sent us off with breakfast and sandwiches if she didn’t like you. She wouldn’t have bothered to even get out of bed for me.”
The cabin was located at the northeast end of about a thousand-acre ranch. There were rolling hills with all sorts of interesting little nooks and hamlets.
Ed sent Shorty some hybrid pot seeds from Maui that were supposed to be the best weed in the world. Consequently, we set out exploring the ranch to find a secreted spot to grow a crop.
It took us about a week of checking out the lay of the land to find an oak hamlet snuggled in a little valley. It was perfect. There was a small flowing well and no one frequented the spot.
The area was even fenced off from the cattle. We figured that it was the main supply of well water to the all the ranches in the area and they didn’t want the cattle shitting in the water supply.
Over the next several weeks we got the plants going and decided to have a proper vegetable garden near the house.
Linda started visiting more and jumped right in to help with the vegetable garden. When we were finished, we had close to a quarter acre planted with about everything imaginable.
Shorty had this thing about attracting women, the college girls from Sacramento State in particular. He always seemed to have some chick visiting him.
Linda had graduated from the university with a degree in business law and decided to take a break before moving to Philadelphia to work for some law firm and continue in law school.
I assume that when she realised that I wasn’t just another one of Shorty’s stoner friends she warmed up to me. However, Linda was still somewhat offish, but appeared to be a little interested in me. As for myself, I was taken with her, but leery.
One afternoon, when Shorty was off swimming with his girlfriends, Linda dropped by and asked if I’d like to take a ride up to the Folsom Lake with her.
Now Linda’s whole persona was that of being formal and business like. Her invitation was more like a business proposition than simply going for a ride.
I asked where we were going, and Linda said, “It’s a surprise. It’s my favourite place. I want to have a little picnic. I have a basket in the car.”
She then said, “Why don’t you bring a little pot. We can stop and get a few beers.”
We went to a bluff overlooking a spot where the American River ran into Folsom Lake. It was late May, the grass turned brown, and the scrub oaks appeared as dark green blotches on the hillsides.
Approaching Linda’s ‘favourite spot’, there was a soft cool, and sweet smelling breeze cutting through the dusty heat of the approaching Sacramento Valley summer. It was almost narcotic like falling into an opium dream.
I watched Linda lay out the cloth on the ground and felt like I was entering another world where no one but she and myself existed. I felt like I was drifting in and out of a dream.
We must have sat there for an hour before we said anything. Linda turned to me and said, “Do you see why this is my favourite spot?”
I nodded and said, “Yeah, it’s in between an opium dream and a mescaline trip; it’s ethereal.”
Linda removed two glasses from her picnic basket and split a beer. Glancing at me, she said, “You know that I’m different from most other people?”
I couldn’t help but laugh, and say, “That’s an understatement. You’re like no one I ever met. I’ve always felt like you could see right into my soul.”
I thought for a moment and said, “I always had the distinct impression that you didn’t like me. At times, you made it quite evident. All it took was a look.”
Unwrapping our sandwiches, Linda said, “The time wasn’t right for us to be friends – to be together.”
I asked, “What do you mean by that?”
She answered, “I’m a psychic; I see things. I knew who you were, but the time just wasn’t right. You were supposed to be other places.”
I told her that I did not particularly believe in that sort of thing. She then began to tell me things about my past, one of which was about my early childhood when my father was alive. We were swimming in the river that ran by my grandfather’s house. There was a house over the dock and everyone was jumping off. My cousin took me up and my father was in the water. He held his arms out and told me to jump. I jumped without question.
The next thing she told me was something I never shared with anyone else. I didn’t like to think about the incident.
After my father died and we were living at my grandfather’s place on the river because we didn’t have any place else to go. There was a kid, the runt that everyone bullied and pushed around. Steve’s father was a mean bastard – a hopeless drunk.
Everyone in that area was desperately poor. All of us kids had to walk about a half mile up a dirt road surrounded by swamps to catch the school bus. The other kids were relentless in tormenting Steve. Sometimes I could help and sometimes I couldn’t. I always got my ass kicked when I jumped in to help Steve.
Come Christmas, the welfare people brought presents and Steve was the recipient of several gifts. His old man tossed the presents into a trash fire and tossed Steve in afterward. He ended up with third degree burns on his legs.
All that did was make it easier for the other little bastards to catch him. One afternoon when we were coming home from school, they went after Steve as usual and chased him into the swamp. I remember them exiting the swamp laughing and saying that a moccasin bit him. I went in to see if Steve was alright; I found him sitting a dry spot holding his arm. I ran home to get help, but by the time we got back, Steve was dead.
The next day, they were all laughing about it on the way to school. But, in a way, Steve probably never would have had much of a chance in life.
Linda hit the nail on the head – I didn’t know quite what to say.
Linda smiled and said, “Do you believe me now?”
I said, “I think you might be a witch.”
She found my statement humorous, and said, “I just might be, but I promise I won’t put a bad spell on you.”
“You put a spell on me a long time ago,” I replied and opened another beer.
We stayed and watched the sunset evolve into night, and started back.
Shorty was sitting in the yard when we got back. He said to me, “I was wondering where you went. What have you two been up to?”
I started to explain when Linda interrupted and said curtly, “I don’t think that’s any of your business.” She started to walk away and looked back at me and said, “I’ll drop by tomorrow. You’ll be around, won’t you?”
Chuckling, Shorty said, “Don’t worry sis, he ain’t going anyplace special – he’s a wanted man - outlaw. “
After Linda left, Shorty said, “I told you she liked you. I always knew she really dug you.”
I went inside and put some music on the stereo, rolled a joint and went outside to watch the stars with Shorty.
It was beginning to cool down to a pleasant temperature. I said, “Shorty, you know I like it here. Man, in the city you just don’t seem to get a break from the noise. Ya’know, it’s like sirens all day and all night. Even up in the Oakland Hills, you can hear the background noise from San Francisco; took me awhile to get used to the quite here.”
Shorty asked, “Do you like my sister?”
“What do you think?” I asked.
Shorty thought for a moment and said, “Man, you know, it’s like we had it tough as kids.”
I had the feeling by the way he was stumbling over words that I was about to hear some things, I didn’t really want to know.
He went on to say, “Ya’know it sort of appears that Linda and me don’t really get along that well, but we’re really tight. Our old man and old lady were asshole alcoholics. We took a lot of shit as kids. Ya’know like beatings, getting locked in closets and treated like shit. When our parents got killed in that car accident, it was about the best thing that ever happened to us.
“The old man worked for the Southern Pacific as a fireman. He was in the union and we came out with a good amount of money from the insurance policy and benefits. That’s how Linda got through college.
“I let the shit from the past go. To me, it’s just that, but Linda is still a little hung up. She never has got next to a guy as a boyfriend, and she’s always been a little strange – it scares most guys away.
“Ya’know she, like, sees things; sometimes she knows what’s going to happen before it happens. The night our parents were killed, she told me that they would never be home again.
“She don’t usually get too close to people because of that. You’re the first guy I have ever seen her cozy up too.”
Shorty asked me if she gave me a reading, I said, “Kind of, but didn’t really want to know and we left it at that.”
Shorty asked me if I wanted to use his motorcycle, and said that his back was giving him problems and preferred to use the car. Then he said, “You don’t want to go anywhere in that raggedy, piece of shit she owns. It ain’t got much life left in it.”
Sometimes, I would wander around the ranch and wonder how Mickey came to see it as such a depressing place. For me, it was the best move I ever made in my life. The rent was cheap, and it was great to have all that space to wander around and just explore. Then again, there was the company and maybe that was the difference. I had Shorty and Linda plus Shorty’s myriad of cute, young college girls always dropping by. All Mickey had was a bunch of military guys and their friends.
Linda and I spent a lot of time together. We often took the motorcycle and explored the Sierras from Mount Shasta on down to Fiddletown. We went everywhere together and enjoyed every moment. We both knew that come September, it would all be over and that time is the only shot we had at being together.
Sometimes, we discussed the first transience of our relationship and the fact that we would go our separate ways and probably never see one another again. But in the end, it was all about sharing an experience that we would carry with us for the rest of out lives and possibly beyond.
I never experienced the shear joy of just having fun with a girl before – there was a poignant completeness about it.
Our favourite pastime was exploring abandoned shacks in remote areas of the Sierras. Often, it was like the people just got up in the morning and decided to leave without taking anything with them. There were dishes and silverware on the table. Cookware sat on the stove. There were papers, postcards, letters and magazines scattered about. It was as if someone was in the middle of reading a magazine, went for a walk, and never came back. Several places cars from the 1930s sat in the ruins of makeshift garages.
We found one old place on a creek built with river rock. All that was still standing were the walls. I was rummaging around and found two bottles of brandy dating back to 1898 and a gold nugget.
Sometimes, we’d find a beautiful spot on a river or creek and stay for a few days.
The only time we touched reality is when we went home, but even that didn’t seem like we actually were touching reality. It was as if we were insulated from the strife happening in the world around us.
Only several months passed since all the shit came down on me, but at that point, it might as well have been in some distant past life a millennium before.
I guess it was around mid August; Linda and I had come back from a trip to Rainbow Falls at Mammoth Lake. Shorty said some chick dropped by asking about me. When I asked who it was, he said “Lorraine.” Then he said, “I invited her to a party we’re having on Saturday.”
She was about one of the last people I wanted to have hanging around me.
Linda took it well when I told her that Lorraine was ‘sort of’ an old girlfriend, but I didn’t want to deal with her anymore. I was going to skip out and stay a Linda’s house, but Linda pretty much insisted that I see Lorraine.
Saturday came and sure as hell Lorraine showed. She was fucked up on downers and in a psychotic mood. The first thing she came out with when she saw me with Linda was, “What are you doing with an ugly fucking bitch like that?”
Lorraine started scream at me. I managed to pull her aside. I told her that she was the only ugly bitch in the crowd and she should go in and take a look in the mirror. She clawed my face, cursed me some more and left.
Linda came over to me and said, “She’s going to have an accident.”
I said, “It don’t take a psychic to figure that one out. I don’t see how she made it here as screwed up as she is.”
It wasn’t long before one of Shorty’s friends arrived and said that ‘some crazy broad’ crashed through the front of the convenience store about a mile up the road and the cops were hauling her off to jail.
I turned to Linda and said, “That’s where she belongs.”
The one thing I realized from my relationship with Linda was the enjoyment of feminine companionship. Until that time, my relationships were about sex, convenience, or social climbing.
I also came to know that Lorraine’s apparent sophistication was merely a façade – in reality she was just like Marie. Everything they knew, they had to memorise; they just parroted what they had read or had been told. They were very clever, but that was about it.
The incident with Lorraine brought home the fact that I only had several more weeks until Linda was off to Philly.
We didn’t do much running around in the Sierras after that. Most of the time we just took long walks around the ranch and never said much.
Shorty had acquired a crazy dog that was part poodle, cocker spaniel, and daschund. It had a long daschund body a spaniel face and tail and wiry poodle hair. He called her Jude, and she would chase her tail until she collapsed. But her favourite pastime was nipping at the heels of the cattle in the pasture until the whole herd started chasing her down. Then she’d run under the fence and bark at them. The old bull would go nuts snorting, scraping his foot and huffing. I think that they all might have enjoyed the game, but it must have been extremely frustrating for the bull.
One night several days before Linda was due to leave, we were walking in the pasture when we heard the rumbling of hoofs and Jude flew past us. It’s intimidating to see forty or fifty head of cattle heading toward you in an angry mood. We made it to the almond grove and climbed up a tree. Instead of running under the fence, Jude started playing hide and seek with the fucking cattle. We were stuck in an almond tree for about an hour before Jude finally got bored.
The next day Shorty and I helped Linda pack her belongings and went out for one last meal before she left for Philadelphia. During dinner, I realized how attached we had become as we engaged in meaningless conversation and just enjoyed each other’s company. Linda stayed over with us and we spent the night talking. Finally, Linda crashed and Shorty and I got into our stash of Benzedrine as we were driving her to San Francisco International in a few hours.
Linda woke up to get in the car and then slept all the way to the airport. I didn’t feel any sadness or loss as I waved her off.
Shorty, turned to me and said, “You two should get married.”
I thought for a moment and said, “I’d like that, but I don’t think it’s in the cards. She can do a lot better than me; I’m a bum. I don’t know where I’m going.”
I figured that since we were in the area, I would go and check out my bank account. I had a bad feeling because I couldn’t do any sort of change of address and my statement had gone to my old address. I also knew that Marie’s speed freak friends had probably been through all my papers.
Things turned out as I feared, they cleaned me out with the exception of twenty dollars.
Shorty was waiting for me outside the bank. When I got in the car, he asked, “Well, how you doing financially?
I shook my head and said, “Fucked. They cleaned me out. I’m broke.”
“Don’t worry, man. I got you covered. We’re sitting on about eight grand worth of primo hooch. It’ll be ready for harvest in a few weeks.”
Shorty bought a 1965 Mercury Montego with an automatic shift because his hip was always bothering him and he had difficulty using a clutch. Shorty also started to use a cane. I guess I didn’t notice because I was so involved with Linda.
Driving back to Sacramento, I asked him about the cane. He shrugged it off and said it was because of the change in temperature.
Over the next several weeks, I noticed that his limp was more pronounced. I finally managed to talk Shorty into going to the Veteran’s hospital. They said that it hadn’t healed properly and he needed another series of operations.
According to the doctors, the bullet shattered Shorty’s pelvis and it held together with screws. It never healed properly.
They gave Shorty an open prescription for pain pills and scheduled an operation several months down the road. When I inquired further, they informed me that all the hospitals were overloaded and they dealt with things according to priority.
I said that Shorty’s condition was bad and deteriorating fast – he was a priority, but they put him at the end of the line. I wasn’t overly impressed with his treatment, but I knew that all the wounded guys got the same shit treatment. They just used people up and tossed them out on the street.
On the way home, Shorty said that he didn’t want to go back to a VA hospital. I told him that it was better than nothing, and he said he didn’t want them touching him again – he didn’t want to be around that again.
I asked him why, and he said, “You don’t want to go there, it’s like going to hell. I never want to see that again.”
I’d been at Travis Hospital and seen mangled bodies of morphine dosed soldiers in the wards, and then there was that smell – the smell of carbolic acid and death in the air. I knew what Shorty was talking about, I wouldn’t want to be there either, but it was Shorty’s only option other than him putting a bullet in his head or overdosing.
Most of Shorty’s friends were college kids, and when September came, they all went back to school. We didn’t have many visitors with the exception of one youngish girl. She was a shy sort, and it was evident she had a crush on Shorty. However, he always treated her like a younger sister. Her name was Allison and she dropped by three or four times a week.
When we got home from the hospital, she was waiting. Shorty didn’t like to be seen using a cane, so he somehow managed to hobble into the house.
Before Shorty got out of the car, he said, “Jesus Christ, I wish she would go away.”
That wasn’t like Shorty because he always enjoyed attention from women of any age.
Allison was a kind, thoughtful girl. There was a certain peacefulness about her. Her presence seemed to produce a calming effect on people.
Inside, Shorty got situated, popped some pain pills, and dozed off. I asked Allison if she would go to the grocery store with me.
Driving to the store, I told her about Shorty’s condition and that he was in a great deal of pain. I let her know that he was going to be very abrupt with people at times. Then I said that she might not want to come around until we got Shorty fixed.
I found it very difficult to speak about the situation with her. I honestly didn’t think it was appropriate for a young girl to be exposed to what Shorty was going through. I also knew that he might be saying some very hurtful things to her. Allison seemed to take it all well and said she understood, but she would help.
I was on the verge of tears, because I really didn’t want her to go through the experience, and I knew Shorty didn’t either.
Allison came around almost every day after that.
After several weeks, the pain pills weren’t doing the job, and I couldn’t get Shorty a prescription for anything stronger. I pulled out the stash of opium Mickey left me and managed to keep him relatively pain free.
I wasn’t concerned about the fact he might get strung-out because I knew they would have him on morphine for a good while after the operations.
Allison was a godsend for both Shorty and me. Most of my time was taken up making sure that Shorty was all right as he needed help to get around and was becoming pretty demanding.
It was early November and the rains started. Allison was with Shorty, and I was at the bar having a few beers and respite. Allison came in and told me that I needed to come home. Shorty was sweating, had a high fever, and was delirious. I told the barkeeper to call an ambulance and tell them that it was an emergency.
Shorty was unconscious and burning up with fever when I got to the house. At that point I knew that I had to get in touch with Linda in spite of Shorty’s orders not to worry her.
I sent Allison off to the hospital with Shorty and said I would be there as soon as I got hold of Linda.
When I contacted Linda, she immediately knew that something was wrong. I said that she needed to get a flight back as soon as possible.
I always hated sitting around at hospitals, but sometimes it has to be done. I told Allison to go home and I would call her when I knew something.
I waited around till about three in the morning when a nurse shook me out of a semiconscious state and said that Shorty was ‘resting comfortably’; and there wouldn’t be any test results back until that afternoon.
Allison was sitting in the living room when I arrived. I said, “Get some sleep. You can use Shorty’s room. We won’t know anything until tomorrow.”
“I wouldn’t feel right,” she said.
I told her to use my room and I would sleep on the couch. I sat down and drifted off. When I woke up Allison was leaning up against me, fast asleep. I slid gently away allowing her head to rest on a pillow. She opened her eyes and said, “He’s going to die, isn’t he?”
I replied, “Probably. I don’t think he’s going to make it out the week.”
She asked me if I had been to Vietnam, and I told her I didn’t like the idea of fighting for a cause I thought was built on lies and propaganda. I didn’t want to be responsible for killing people for no reason other than to make others rich. I didn’t go over there.
I made some coffee and we walked out into the pasture. Allison was looking for an answer. I said that I didn’t think there was one. The only thing I knew was that there were thousands of other guys like Shorty, thousands who came home in body bags, and even more who would have ghosts haunting them all their lives.
She grasped my arm, leaned against me, and began to sob softly. I said, “I wanted to spare you this experience, but I believe the ugliness of this war is going to touch everyone. It’s probably better that you’re here. Anyway, we are all going to die, we just don’t know when. It’s something you just have to accept.”
As we walked back to the cabin, I remembered the times I visited my father in a VA hospital. It was a nice place to die on the Gulf Coast of Florida. The beds in my father’s ward were filled with sick and dying men fromWW-2 and the Korean War.
Even as a young child I instinctively knew that most of them were dying. I think what I remembered most were smiles surfacing through the pain and suffering those men were enduring when I walked into the ward to visit my father. It was like they didn’t want me to see how bad-off they really were.
Those are scenes that stick with you all your life – they change the way you think about things.
I don’t think that any of those men ever saw their homes again.
In some ways, Shorty situation reminded me a lot of my father’s. He would either sleep on the couch or sit in an old rocking chair braced up with pillows because of the pain. I figured that Shorty was going to be more fortunate because his time was closing. My father lasted through six years of suffering before he died.
As we were walking back to the house, one of Shorty’s friends drove up the drive. He came over and said that Linda would be arriving at San Francisco International at eleven.
Glancing at Allison, I asked, “Do you want to go to the Airport with me?”
She said that she needed to go home and change her clothes and would meet us at the hospital.
By the time Linda and I arrived at the hospital, Shorty had died. Shorty developed an infection in his bones and there was nothing that anyone could have done.
They asked Linda if she wanted to see her brother, and she said no. The drive home was quite. Linda seemed emotionless.
Linda seemed offish toward me and we maintained a space between us. On the day of Shorty’s funeral was the only time we actually made physical contact.
The day before Linda was due to leave, we went out to the spot at Folsom Lake where our affair began.
I asked her if she regretted having got involved with me.
I think, I asked the question because there was a radical change in her appearance. Even though she was back in the area, she didn’t dress and act like that any more. In a few months, Linda had become very urbane. Even the tone of her voice and accent changed.
She said, “Look at us; we’re both twenty-four years old. When we were teenagers we were struggling just to survive. We never had the type of free and spontaneous relationship that most kids have. It’s like we were given the opportunity and we grasped onto it. It was a summer fling and we have the memories we will carry with us. You’ll always have a special place in my heart.”
I said, “We have Shorty to thank for that – he facilitated everything.”
She asked me what I was going to do. I said that I planned to stay on the ranch until spring and move on because there was nothing around there for me anymore.
She then asked where I planned to go. I said that I was thinking about heading back to Florida, but I hadn’t thought much about it.
She smiled and said, “You’ll eventually find what you are looking for, but it’s going to be a long journey for you. Don’t be afraid to let go of things – just make the jump, you’ll always land on your feet.”
I drove Linda to her friend’s house, said goodbye, and never saw her again.
Allison became a regular fixture around the house for a while, but she faded away, which was the best thing for her.
One reason I decided to wait until spring to unload the pot was that I could get a higher price because the sources for quality stuff tended to dry up during that period. The second was that I had visions of riding the motorcycle I inherited from Shorty across the country, and the wintertime wasn’t conducive for that.
It wasn’t difficult making ends meet. There were odd jobs on the ranches around the area and plenty of free food. It seemed like everyone was butchering a pig or a head of cattle. Then there was also venison that the hunters brought home. But that’s the way people were around there – everybody shared with one another.
Once a month, the bar also had some great feeds.
I still had Shorty’s dog – strange mutt that Jude was. One thing that always perplexed me was that she never ate the dog food I put out. But she was always healthy. I figured that she might prefer somebody’s garbage. One evening I headed over to the bar for a beer and Jude followed me. The minute I opened the door, she ran in jumped up on a bar stool and sat there with her paws up on the bar.
The bartender proceeded to fill a saucer with beer from the tap and place it in front of her. Then he went into the kitchen and came out holding a plate with hamburger on it.
I asked how long Jude had frequented the bar. He said, “Ever since Shorty got her. She’s really popular around here – the beef jerky queen – she does tricks for jerky and beer. Jude’s a regular. She comes in two or three times a day and usually stays until we close.”
I told him that I was going to be moving on in March. The bartender said they would love to have Jude; she was like the club mascot.
I said that I probably wouldn’t be able to afford to keep us both in beer anyway. And it looked like she was accustomed to eating better than me.
It was quiet around the place with the exception of a few of Shorty’s old girlfriends dropping by to buy some weed. I thought about hooking up with one of them just to have some female companionship, but after Linda, none of them seemed to interest me.
The biggest pain I had was Lorraine. She would visit and she was always fucked up on something. Her line to hook me into getting together with her again was that she was going to kill herself.
One time she called me from Berkeley and said that she cut her wrists and wanted me to take her to the hospital. I told her that it was a two-hour drive to Berkeley and she should call an ambulance. I finally got my phone number changed.
I forgot how dreary it could get during the winter in the Sacramento Valley. Once the clay earth gets a good soaking, it seems to stay muddy all winter long.
Aside from doing odd jobs, I seemed to spend most of my time chopping wood for the potbelly stove and reading. Every once in awhile, I would head up to the mountains to a place called Georgetown for stake and eggs.
I liked to wander around the old graveyard at Georgetown. There was one gravestone that was a concrete block with a brass plaque attached. The only information engraved on his plaque was his first name and date of death. Nobody knew who he really was or when he was born. I often wondered if anyone even knew where he originally came from. But it was like that in the Sierras; it was a good place for a fugitive to disappear.
I even did a little panning for gold just to pass the time. I never found much, but I loved doing it. There’s just something about watching those little gold flakes sparkle against the black sand. At the rate I went, it would have taken me about ten years to make a few dollars.
By the time February rolled around, I was ready to hit the road, but the weather wasn’t good for motorcycle traveling. I rebuilt the old Sportster and had it ready to make a long distance journey.
By mid February, I sold all the pot harvest, Shorty’s car, and waited for the weather to clear.
I didn’t get back on the road until March and it was still wet, but I couldn’t stand sitting around anymore.
As I rode off, I thought that was going to be the last time I ever came back that way again. I could see the snowcaps on the Sierras to the east as I cut across the Delta roads to Interstate 5 and started south to LA.
The rain caught up with me before I hit Stockton. All the romantic notions I ever had about riding a motorcycle cross-country were evaporating. I ended up stuck under a freeway overpass with a Hells Angel. Both of us were wet and freezing our asses off.
He complemented me on my bike although it was a college kid’s bike by his standards. It even looked squirrelly compared to his old Harley Panhead chopper complete with a suicide clutch. I was looking at a real motorcycle, and all I had was a tinker toy in comparison.
I found myself making excuses about riding the Sportster, said that I inherited it from a friend, and was just joyriding down to LA. That guy was a hardcore biker, and I knew there was no way I could bullshit him about how tough I was or that I was a biker just because I owned a Sportster.
As we sat there waiting for a break in the rain, he told me that I would be lucky to make it to LA because somebody would probably steal the bike first.
I thought I had it all covered as far as security went. I had a fat, tempered steel chain, state of art padlock, and even planned on removing the sparkplug wires.
He just laughed when I told him about my safety measures, and said, “Dig it man, the only way you’re gonna’ keep that scooter is to sleep with it. They got bolt cutters that will slice through that chain like its butter.
“When we steal bikes, we use a van. We drive up, cut the chain, roll the bike into the van, and drive off. You’d never know we were there until you noticed that the bikes gone.
“I know people who can dismantle a scooter and have it packed into the back of a van in less than ten minutes.
“You ain’t gonna have that sweetheart very long down in LA.”
By the time we got a break in the rain, he educated me on the ins and outs of stealing motorcycles and how to go about selling stolen motorcycles. Harley’s were on top of the list, and Sportsters were a hot commodity in the LA area.
After a thoroughly miserable three-day trip to Los Angeles, I was ready to sell the cycle and get a car. I knew it was going to be more of a liability than an asset. I also figured out that if I was going to do a cross-country trip, I wanted an old Pan Head or ElectraGlide because the Sportster was more of a joy riding in the country bike.
I decided to go down to Balboa Beach; I heard that there were cheap apartments for rent at that time of year. It didn’t take long to find a place to rent cheap. It was “The Alamo Apartments”, and the place was a dingy dive - tattered, musty 1950s’ décor, but there was a secure place for the bike.
The people who lived across the hall from me had a big German Shepard that barked if anyone came around at night.
I didn’t like it around there much, but I thought if I got into the scene I might change my mind. At any rate, there were some people I knew living in the area.
One guy I knew from the Air Force lived in El Monte. Besides that, I knew people in Santa Monica and Topanga Canyon; it was only a question of making contact.
I never comprehended how people can just hangout on the beach all day long. It only took me a day before I needed to get out and do something. I decided to head out and look up the people I knew. I ended up at Eddie’s house in El Monte. He was living with his parents and brother.
Eddie was in a backslapping mood when he saw me at the door. I was surprised because in the Air Force, Eddie was always sort of a reserved, almost shy person.
The first thing he did was grab a couple of beers out of the refrigerator and lead me out to the back patio.
When I told him that I was staying in Balboa Beach, and I saw a sparkle in his eyes. He said, “Hey man, that’s groovy. A lot of cool chicks hang there. All the college chicks will be going there for the Spring break.”
I liked Eddie, but he was a shallow bastard. About the only things of importance in his life were women, drugs, and drinking beer. From the tone of his voice and body language, I knew he was going to be hanging out at my place most t of the time.
Eddie’s brother came out, and before we were introduced, he said, “Man, that’s a nice scooter. I bet the chicks are crawling all over you to get a ride on that.”
I told him I was thinking about selling it and getting a car. He couldn’t believe that I would want to get rid of the Sportster. I said I was thinking about heading over to Florida, and I couldn’t afford a big Harley, so I figured I’d sell it and buy a decent car.
He had a 1967 Volkswagen that he was willing to trade across the table for my Sportster. We made the deal, went to his uncle who was a bail bondsman and notary, signed the bill of sale papers, and I drove home in a metal flaked, cobalt blue Volkswagen complete with heating and an eight track stereo.
Within several weeks, I thought I was the most popular guy around. Eddie and his friends were at my place most every day; Eddie just moved in and started sleeping on the couch. It seemed like everyone I knew was beach crazy because they all started showing up at my pad.
Soon, some basket-case Vietnam veterans started coming around, and that brought the junkies. Everything was totally out of my control.
A lot of the guys coming back from Vietnam were unpredictable - psychologically unstable. You never knew when they would go off and start punching walls, people or just go off the deep end.
I caught a couple of them shooting up smack and chased them out of the apartment. One of them went around the building punching out windows, and the other guy came back with a pistol and was threatening to kill everyone.
I got to where I could tell by the look in their eyes when they were getting ready to flip-out. Being around the basket cases could get pretty damn scary, especially when they were cranked-up on drugs and booze or the junkies were desperate for a fix.
One night, I walked in and some battle-fried vet was waiting for me. He heard that I could get weed. He didn’t have any money, but he said he had something to trade, when he showed me some objects that appeared to be dried fruit hanging on a string he wanted to trade. When I took a closer look, I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing; they were shriveled up ears. Apparently they were his trophies – I don’t know if they were real or not. I just told him to get the fuck out and never come back.
At the time I wondered how those guys would ever adjust, about the only thing they knew was war. About the only job they could hold down was that of a mercenary. I heard that a lot of them were heading to remote areas of the Northwest, and some were making their way down to Central America to work for plantation owners as security guards.
There were also rumors about Central American landowners hiring them to keep the Indians from interloping on their property. I heard a lot of the guys talking about going down to Salvador and Guatemala. Apparently, there were recruiters down in Tijuana.
The LA sleaze balls were also showing up. It was guys that had been in and out of the joint and believed they were tough guys. Most of them were nothing more than petty thieves and low-end dealers selling Mexican barbiturates and speed.
Most of the LA sleaze balls reminded me of lecherous, greasy bastards hanging out on street corners and offering little girls candy.
It wasn’t long before the police started raiding the place. By May, I was essentially living out of my Volkswagen. Everything seemed to completely spiral out of control as the college students began filtering in for Spring break. Mini riots were breaking out on Huntington Beach and the malaise in the air was palpable.
I ended up in jail for a night because some asshole brought the cops to my place – I’d never seen the guy before, and he told them that he lived there. They just arrested me and hauled me in without ever charging me with anything. But it was that way back then, and one didn’t need to be clairvoyant to see that the whole situation was on the edge of exploding.
It was mainly the college kids that exacerbated the situation, they just seemed to go nuts – it was like they were looking for trouble. I knew that they were going to find it, and I didn’t want to be around when it happened.
The police attitude didn’t help matters much. They were busting people at the drop of a hat. I was at places where they just smashed to doors down and started rousting everyone. I found myself crashing on the beach because the whole situation was getting so heavy-handed.
Probably, the last straw for me was when Eddie and I were coming home from a night at the Troubadour. He popped a load of synthetic mescaline he'd got from Timothy Leary's people in Laguna Honda.
He was totally out of it, but insisted on driving back to Balboa Beach in his 1959 Lincoln, 'LA Seconal mobile' – it was a battered old tank. I don't think he ever cleaned it out. Hamburger wrappers, garbage and milkshake containers filled the back seat and were crushed into the floorboard beneath my feet in the front. There were also quite a few cockroaches skittering around. Sometimes, they'd crawl up my leg or across the back of my neck. I hated riding in that car.
On the way home, I don't think he ever got the speedometer above twenty-five miles an hour, but he kept commenting on how fast everything was whizzing past and the strange looks people were giving him. He had a tendency to get hung-up in watching the traffic lights change - I had to tell him that the light turned green.
We made it to Long Beach before a cop stopped us for suspicious driving. It was about four in the morning. I just knew that we were going to jail.
When the cop asked Eddie for his driver's license, he just froze up. Then the cop pulled out his gun, and asked us to get out of the car and place our hands on the roof. Eddie and I complied. He handcuffed me and started to ask Eddie questions. All Eddie could respond was, "Uh." Every question the cop asked Eddie, he just said, "Uh."
Finally the cop came over to me and asked, "What's his name."
I said, "I don't know. He just picked me up – I was hitchhiking. I've never seen him before in my life."
Incoherently rambling the lyrics to some song he'd heard earlier, Eddie started wandering off toward the beach. The cop chased after him and led Eddie back to the car. He took the handcuffs off me and proceeded to handcuff Eddie to the door handle.
The cop came over to me and said, "You know, you should be more careful about who you take a ride with. This guy is fucked out of his mind. I'm gonna send him off to the loony bin until he comes down."
I told him that I only lived a few miles down the road, and I would walk the rest of the way home.
The sun was coming up as I started down the road. Eddie was happily singing and squawking back at the seagulls.
They took Eddie to the mental ward of LA County Hospital. When he got out, Eddie was pissed at me for telling the cop I didn't know him. I told him, I was the one who would have got tossed in jail - I wasn't the idiot that couldn't remember his own name.
At any rate, he started badmouthing me to everyone, and said I was a snitch.
By the time he was finished running his mouth, Balboa Beach wasn't a safe place for me to be.
I packed up and headed back up to Oakland. I needed some time to get my head back on straight, and thought things would be more stable there. Anyway, the LA scene was fucked – it was like a different world than I had become accustomed to living in. It was like being around a bunch of stupid, out of control kids looking for a good time.
I rented a rat hole apartment by the week off Piedmont Avenue in the Lakeshore District. I figured I’d hang around until I got things in order, and then I would hit the road again.
I was running around visiting friends and generally socializing before I left. However, the whole atmosphere changed, I could feel the same tension in the air as I did in Balboa Beach. The difference between Southern California and the Bay Area was that the people were much more politically aware, but the situation was probably even more volatile and dangerous because of that.
Rumors were flying around about how Nixon was planning to arrest protesters and send them to interment camps like they did with the Japanese during WW-2. It was also rumored that then governor of California, Ronald Reagan’s administration was refurbishing the old Japanese interment camps. Even the conservative students I knew from Stanford were concerned about the US becoming a fascist country.
I dropped in on Boo and found that most all the old gang had split the area. Even Jungle Jim packed up and went to Hawaii. A lot of people headed to Hawaii – Maui. It seemed like Maui was going to be the new hot spot.
I wasn’t shocked when he told me that Lorraine died of an overdose. They weren’t sure if it was an accident or suicide.
I told him that it was probably an accident, but she played the threatening suicide game with me. He said she played the same game with him and he figured Lorraine played the game just once too often.
It wasn’t as if I held any animosity toward Lorraine. She held a bittersweet place in my heart. She came along at the right time and took me out of the humdrum street life into a different crowd. She taught me how to act around a more sophisticated group of people. But at the same time, there was a price to pay, and Lorraine was into collecting debts.
There was a lot of talk about ‘revolution’ in the coffee shops and in the underground papers. The problem I saw was that the people elected a hard-nosed conservative, Richard Nixon, as the president and that asshole Ronnie Reagan was governor of California.
The general public didn’t care about who got killed in the war as long as they had full bellies; they took home a fat paycheck; and they could plop their asses in front of the television. For the average population of the US, it was about maintaining the status quo.
The government propagandists were pushing a catchall guilt phrase about if you didn't support the war, support 'our boys' who were fighting it. Myself, I didn't have much sympathy for anyone because it seemed like almost all the key players’ motives were questionable. As far as the 'boys' fighting the war, there was enough information hitting the media that they should have figured things out.
It also seemed like the Manson Family had done a pretty good job of discrediting the counterculture movement. The whole thing with the Sharon Tate murders gave the propagandists the opportunity to introduce the term "Murderous hippie cult" into the media vocabulary thus, for the most part, associating a bunch of rag tag hippies with viscous, psychopathic, Satan worshiping murderers.
As for most of the ‘young leaders’ of the revolutionary movement, I would not have followed them into a movie. I thought most of them were using the peace movement and such as a training ground to become another shit head, lying politician.
I never trusted any of the college kids because they were always looking at the scene as the potential for future opportunities in the political game.
I figured that there was no hope for humanity anyway – most of them were just too fucking stupid and lazy to think for themselves.
It was Thursday, the fifteenth of May; I ran into a girl I knew at Colonial Donuts late in the morning. She asked me if I would like to take a run up to the Bookshops in Berkeley with her. It was a beautiful day – I figured it would be more fun than hanging around reading newspapers at the donut shop or wandering around San Francisco.
We decided to catch a bus because it was always a pain to find parking in Berkeley. When we arrived, there was a demonstration, but I never thought much about it. Around that time, there always seemed to be a demonstration happening about something.
Cindy and I perused Cody’s and a few other places and decided to grab a cup of coffee at one of the cafes on Telegraph Avenue. It wasn’t long before we heard a mass of people chanting; "We want the park!"
Everyone in the café seemed to look out the window as people streamed by.
Cindy said, “Let’s see what’s happening?”
Myself, I was a little paranoid because it was easy to see that the crowd was angry, and said, “Let’s stay here; it looks like trouble to me. Those people are angry, and I don’t want to be in the middle of trouble.”
When we came into Berkeley, I noticed the police presence building. As we strolled around the area, I noticed more and more police and Highway Patrol infiltrating the area.
At first it was a fairly orderly parade outside the café; however, the people seemed to express more anger as they passed. Then they started running down the street. Everyone in the café seemed like they were in a state of shock. After a moment, most of them poured into the street and followed the crowd. Cindy wanted to follow, but I told her to stay put. If there was going to be a riot, I figured it would only last an hour or so and it would be over. The café was the safest place to be if something did happen.
Soon, the acrid smell of tear gas drifted into the café, and a crowd, many of them bloodied, ran back toward the University.
Cindy started to panic. When several cops pushed a fellow through the storefront window, I knew that Cindy and I needed to get out of there, and no place was going to be safe.
At one point, she wanted to stay. I told her that it would probably get much worse before things calmed down. By the way the cops behaved, I could see that if people started setting fire to buildings, they might not have let us out. It was evident that those guys were out for blood.
The main thing I impressed on Cindy was not to panic and run – just to try and stay calm and hang onto me. I knew that if we could make it through the mess and several blocks away to San Pablo Avenue we were home free.
I had her stay behind me and hold tight to my jacket. I knew what it was going to be like from watching the crowd surge. I wasn’t quite sure we would make it across the street.
When we hit the street, it was almost like stepping from the safety of the shore into a riptide. There were several shotgun blasts, and again the crowd surged. Then they were lobbing teargas canisters. I just remembered about swimming with a current at an angle rather than fighting it, and somehow, we made progress crossing the street.
In those circumstances, panicking people, the air thick with teargas, and general pandemonium, it was difficult to maintain composure. You instinctively want to run with the crowd. Fortunately, some of my boot camp training paid off. I learned how to function without a gasmask when exposed to teargas.
Then several cops waded through the panicking crowd, gas masks donned and cracking heads with their billy clubs. I kept facing them because I knew that I could fend off an attack. Most of the people they clubbed were running away.
A cop hit a young girl so hard, the blow lifted her scalp like a bloody rag and spattered Cindy and I with blood. Another time, I found myself staring down the barrel of a pump action shotgun. My perception of the scene was like a quick cut montage in a movie – just flashing images.
They even clubbed a mailman. Anybody was fair game for the thugs on that day.
What got to me the most was seeing the panicked faces of the people running past me.
I don’t remember how far the mass of people carried us down the street, but we made it to the sidewalk on the other side and into an ally. Cindy was completely traumatised and shaking. By that time, it was a cacophony of sirens and screaming people punctuated with the firing of teargas canisters and shotgun blasts.
It seemed like the cops were concentrating all their efforts on the Telegraph Avenue crowd and we had a clean shot at getting out of the mess. I didn’t know what was going happen, but I knew that if we got safely on the west side of San Pablo, we were out of the major shit.
When we made it to San Pablo Avenue, the police and sheriffs were starting to seal off the streets and most all the bastards were packing shotguns. I was sure that they were in a ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ mood.
We were out of harms way, but I was worried about the Oakland cops. They were some real pigs, and I thought if they saw us in that shape, they might take us to jail or just kick the shit out of us for laughs.
The one thing I knew about the Oakland cops was they didn’t have a problem with kicking the shit out of anybody and just leave them laying on the side of the road.
My main fear about the whole episode was based on the rumors about hauling protesters off to interment camps. The way they were cordoning off Berkeley, and increasing the police presence bothered me. It would have been easy to round up everyone and haul them away.
Travelling around the States, I heard too much of the bullshit line, “It’s my country, right or wrong. Love it or leave.” The reality of the situation was that most Americans would not be bothered if they rounded up the protesters and put them away in interment camps – more than likely, they would have whole heartedly supported the measure.
Most of the US population perceived the counterculture movement as a threat to the ‘American way of life’. They couldn’t have cared less what steps the government took to quell the threat.
I took all the backstreets and alleys until we got to Cindy’s apartment several hours later.
Cindy was freaked out as the events of that afternoon sank in. I told her that she needed to take a shower, change her clothes and she would feel better.
She made me stay with her even when she took a shower. Naked, she looked like someone had beaten her; it was a mass of black and blue blotches. When I examined myself, I looked much the same. I knew that we were being crushed in the mêlée, but I didn’t think it was that bad at the time. I knew that we were both going to be sore in the morning.
Cindy was a student at Mill’s college in Oakland; I knew her through a friend that taught music at the school. The poor girl was only about eighteen-years old and came from the Freemont, a middle class suburb. She'd probably been to a few peace marches and demonstrations. I doubted if she would be likely to get involved again.
She asked me if I would stay with her because she was afraid. I said I would, but we needed to go to my apartment so I could clean up and change clothes. Cindy didn’t want to go back out on the street – she was petrified. I finally talked her into going with me so I could at least get some clean clothes.
While we were watching the day’s events on the evening news, Cindy’s parents called in a panic. I wound up speaking with her father. I reassured him that she was fine with the exception of a few bruises.
He wanted to come and take her home. I said that I didn’t think that was a good idea because Reagan had called out the National Guard and the situation was volatile. I said I would take her home when things cooled down a little, but this wasn’t a good time to be travelling around the Bay Area, especially at night.
On the evening news, they quoted Reagan about the day’s riots, "If there has to be a bloodbath, then let's get it over with."
I knew that they were out for blood. The cops shot several people and the rumor was they killed a person.
I stayed with Cindy several days. I think that I got the worst of the crowd crushing because I was too sore to get out of bed the next day. She didn’t seem to have much of a problem.
I had my possessions packed in the car, so when it was time to take Cindy home; I was going to keep heading east. I didn’t know where I was going but it was away from California.
When we arrived at Cindy’s parents’ house, her parents invited me for dinner. Cindy was well over her trauma and rattling on about the incident to the terror of her parents. In her eyes, I was some sort of hero who saved her life.
Later I told her father that it was a bad scene, but not that bad. However, he was still grateful that I stuck with
Cindy, and said he heard about the whole thing on the news.
I spent the night and starting out the next morning, I felt like a cowboy in a B grade western as Cindy gave me a hug and kiss. Then I watched in the rearview mirror as she stood on the curbside waving. I almost expected to hear Roy Rogers and Dale Evans singing “Happy Trails” on the radio as I turned the corner. But it did feel nice to have the admiration of a young girl – I thought that she would always remember me as a special person in her life.
I hit Highway 101 and turned south, popped an old Fred Neil tape into the eight track. The first song that played was “The Other Side to This Life.”
I thought that in reality, ‘bumming around’ wasn’t half-bad, I was doing all right for a poor boy in a world of turmoil. I had more money than I ever had in my life, and no place in particular to go.
I decided I was going down to see the Mayan ruins in Chiapas. I could stretch my money out a long way in Mexico. I could buy two or maybe even three-four years of wandering around Mexico before I had to worry about money. “Why not,” I thought. “I ain’t going to get away from the shit that’s coming down in the States – it’s just going to follow me around.”
As I cut onto the Coast Highway, I saw a chick holding a sign saying “LA.”
I stopped; she walked up to the car, and said, “How far are you going?”
I said, “All the way down to Palenque.”
Offering me a quizzical glance, she asked, “Where’s that? Is it near LA?”
I said, “Southeast Mexico; it’s some Mayan ruins.”
“I’m just going to LA,” she said as she tossed her belongings in the back seat.
As we drove off, she said, “Did you hear about what’s happening in Berkeley?”
“Yeah, there was a riot, somebody got killed, and Reagan called in the National Guard. I heard about it on the radio.”
I didn’t pursue the subject; after several moments she realised I wasn’t interested and offered the perfunctory comment, “I’ve never been to Mexico; it sounds exciting.”
I said, “You want to come along?”
She said, “No, you can drop me off in LA.”
I turned the stereo up and said, “It’s a beautiful day for a drive down the coast, isn’t it?”