January to May 1968 – I dropped out of Antioch College in Ohio, becoming prime bait for the draft, and hit the road for California. I hitchhiked to Boulder, Colorado, where I first encountered the psychedelic cactus peyote. With a diverse group of characters, I set out in a 1947 Cadillac ambulance on a search for the fields where peyote grows. After many adventures with Navajos, vigilantes, and rednecks, we find the fields, but are soon busted by the Border Patrol and spend a week in jail in Rio Grande City.
January 1971 to August 1972 - “Caribbean Sailing Adventure. Treasure-diving cooperative seeks volunteers to crew a sailing ship to the Caribbean to search for sunken treasure. No experience necessary.” I was then a 23-year-old hippie living in San Diego, and I couldn’t resist answering this mysterious ad. I found myself a member of the Summerland Pirates, a strange "para-naval" adventure group of unforgettable characters and misfits, living outside the law and conventions, with a dream of sailing an antique sailing ship to the Caribbean to search for Spanish treasure.Buy from Amazon
July 1973 to January 1974 – I set out to see the world and have adventures. After nearly two years on a schooner in North Atlantic gales, I was looking for warmer water. I flew to the Kingdom of Tonga, where my brother was training Peace Corps volunteers. Although I loved the people and country of Tonga, my tourist visa expired and I had to leave. With no money, my options were few. Then I found a yacht that would take me on as navigator – Warana, the Australian nuclear protest vessel, bound for Mururoa atoll in French Polynesia, to anchor at ground zero to prevent the French from testing more nuclear weapons there.Buy from Amazon
Memoirs of the life and times of a wandering hippie and the adventures that life provides the young and reckless. See below to read four stories online, free.
I was twenty years old and a geology major at Antioch College in Yellow Springs Ohio. My provincial suburban upbringing had been blown away nearly two years before when I was introduced to sex, grass, and acid all on the same night by the same remarkable woman (thank you, Ms. Horsefield, wherever you are). I had grown my hair long and was trying every experience the cornucopia of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll could bring me. Even in small-town Ohio, the hippie revolution was all over the media. The national magazines all had feature articles on the phenomenon, and TV news showed strangely-dressed people grooving on the streets of London, New York, Paris, Prague, and especially San Francisco. Progressive radio stations were playing music by scores of new bands with funny names. The Monterey Pop Festival in April brought these west coast bands - what we would call garage bands today - to national attention. Suddenly they were all over the airwaves, and we were listening to Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, Country Joe, and the Jefferson Airplane - plus of course continuing with the Beatles and the Stones, the Doors and the Cream. The songs were great music, but most also carried a message. I realized these bands were other young hippies like me, and they were sending me a summons. Come to San Francisco. We are changing the world. Join us.
Antioch had a work-study format in which you alternated quarters. I had spent the winter working as a lab assistant in a geology lab. For the spring quarter I had signed up to go to Wyoming on a geology field trip with students from several other colleges. We traveled there in buses, examining the geology on the way, then spent eight weeks cracking rocks and drawing maps in the high county in the Wind River Range. It was great fun and a great adventure of climbing, caving, and exploring. But it wasn't a full quarter like an academic program normally was. The program ended at the beginning of June and I had six weeks before I had to go to my next job. I announced to my parents I was off for San Francisco and started hitch-hiking.
Traveling was relatively easy that trip. I got several long rides that got me pretty quickly to LA, where a couple of guys hoping to get into the film industry dropped me off on Sunset Strip. I wandered around gawking at the kaleidoscope of people thronging the street. I thought I was dressed pretty fashionably - ragged and very tight pants with multi-colored stripes and bell bottoms, a tie-dyed tee shirt, a headband made from an Indian block print bedspread, and a tie just above my left knee (you never knew when you might need a tourniquet). But these LA hippies were into costumes. The Beatles had just released Sergeant Pepper, and old band and military uniforms were in vogue. People were strolling to see and be scene, and it wasn't like the hippie scenes I'd experienced in the Lower East Side or even Yellow Springs, where everyone was a head. It seemed like more American marketing to me, not a revolution. Maybe it was all Valley Girl hippie wannabes. In any case, I slept in a crash pad and headed north in the morning.
I was stuck most of a day in Santa Barbara where hundreds of hippie hitchhikers were strewn on the grass on the median of highway 101 as it hit the stoplights going through town. But my hitching style was pretty effective by then, and I was soon on the road again. Somewhere near Salinas (as Bobby McGee says), I got dropped off and had a long wait before a straight-looking dude in a panel truck picked me up. Finally, just as the sun was starting to go down, my goal was in sight - the towers of San Francisco loomed ahead. The freeway ended abruptly in the middle of downtown (as it still does). The guy asked me where I was going, and I said Haight-Ashbury. He wasn't familiar with the city and had never heard of the Haight, but he was a nice guy and we drove around a bit trying to find it. We were driving along Market Street when I saw a familiar name on a street sign. "Dig it, man," I said. "This is Haight Street right here. It's gotta be nearby." He pulled over to the curb and I thanked him and got out, dragging my big green army duffel bag out of the back. He drove off and I looked around. Everybody looked straight. Where were all the hippies? This was like a haj pilgrim arriving in Mecca and not being able to find any Muslims. I saw that Haight Street did not continue east of Market, so it had to be west. I shouldered my bag, hoping I looked manly and far-traveled, like the Old Spice guy. I had come 2,500 miles - a few blocks of walking wasn't a problem. But after block after block of a very gritty urban neighborhood, I started wondering how far it was. The street sloped gradually but steadily uphill as far as I could see ahead. My bag was heavy and awkward and I kept trying to find a more comfortable way to carry it. Among other essentials, I always carried a set of four recorders, soprano to bass, in case I ran into someone else who played early music (I never did). Also, it was cold and windy. This was June in California - shouldn't it be hot and sunny? Still, it felt good to walk after a week of riding in cars, and I was going to Haight-Ashbury.
Twenty minutes later it was fully dark and the fog had come in. I had heard that San Francisco was foggy, but I had visualized the London fog I'd seen in British movies - a thick yellow haze that filled the still air and mysterious hansom cabs rattling over wet cobblestoned streets. This fog had someplace to go. It was racing at twenty miles an hour, streaming down the street in a discrete tube, like a rolled-up sweat sock. I could stand on the sidewalk and be in the clear, but be unable to see the other curb. Traffic and pedestrians passed through it at high speed, apparently oblivious. It had the cold decomposing fish smell of the sea about it, and a biting cold edge that cut right through my Navy-surplus pea-coat. I hunched my shoulders, buttoned the coat tight around my neck and plunged on. Ten long blocks turned into fifteen and still there was no sign of any hippie street scene. The houses were tall elaborate old Victorians, clearly mansions and not likely to be the venue for a hippie community, which were always in the very lowest-rent districts. There were few people on the street and those hurrying to their destinations through the fog. Where were the hippies sitting on stoops and sprawled in the parks like in Thompkins Square in New York? Where was everybody?
Finally, after trudging twenty blocks, nearly two miles, I started seeing head shops and other signs of hippie stores. At last I looked up at yet another street sign and it said Ashbury. I had arrived. I looked around. Haight was very commercial - all small stores and businesses, all closed by now. Ashbury started up a very steep hill into a residential neighborhood, but it was still all large fancy-looking houses. Where were the crash pads? In New York it had never taken me more than an hour of asking various freaks to find a place to crash. Here there was nobody to ask. It was just too cold to hang around on the street at night.
I spotted several heads sitting on the steps of a building. The sign said it was the Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic. I sat down and talked to the guys. Two were there to get rid of the clap; one was there for a clean needle exchange. I asked about a place to sleep.
"Oh, man," groaned one. "You're too late. You gotta get there early and throw down your gear to reserve a space. Spread it out bigger than you need because other people will keep pushing it over you know, and then you'll be sleeping in a full lotus or something. But you gotta do it by noon or so cause they all fill up." He handed me a paper from a box beside the clinic's door. "Dig it," he said. "Here's a list of crash pads. But I can guarantee you they'll all be full."
"Shit. I just got here from Ohio. Where can I sleep tonight?"
"Sorry, brother," said another guy. "You're fucked."
"There's always the park," said the third.
"What park?" I asked, not relishing a night on the ground. I didn't even have a sleeping bag, just an old moldy blanket my dad had been issued in the Navy thirty years earlier.
"Golden Gate. It's down there a few blocks. You can't miss it - it goes on for miles."
I peered down the street, squinting into the blowing fog. "How far is it?" I asked.
"Just a few blocks. There's a bunch of trees on the right just inside. I slept there a few nights."
"Okay. Thanks, man."
I flung my pack onto my shoulder again and set off. Soon the street ended and a wall of black trees loomed up across Stanyan Street. Fog streamed through the trees and was illuminated by the street lights as it emerged. I stooped under the low branches and duck-walked back into the complete darkness, dragging my duffel behind. I immediately stepped on a body.
"Hey, shit," growled somebody. "The fuck? Find your own tree, fucker."
"Sorry, man, sorry," I mumbled. I shuffled over a few steps and froze like that, waiting for my eyes to adapt. Gradually I could make out the surroundings. A half-dozen people in sleeping bags were scattered around in the bare dirt, surrounded by heaps of trash - food wrappings, bottles, chip bags, and sodden rags of blankets and clothing. Everything was damp from the fog and filthy with the clingy mud under the trees. It was most unappealing to just throw down and sleep there. Also, I hadn't seen anything of these people and had no idea if it was safe or not. Sleeping in an alley or on a fire escape in New York, there was always a chance of getting rolled. I had no idea what the scene here was really like. This was certainly not the flower children dancing around a maypole with flowers in their hair that I'd seen on the news. I considered for a long while and then decided I didn't like it. I'd rather find someplace where I could be alone. I crept back out and started back up Haight Street. I stopped a head cruising by and asked again where I could sleep.
"You can try the other park - Buena Vista. It's two or three blocks back up Haight."
"Okay, thanks, brother." I plodded back the way I had come. The guys on the clinic steps were gone. The street was empty. I found the park, but it seemed to be just a row of funny bushes (melaleucas, I later learned) on a steep bank beside the street. I clambered up to it and pulled my way under the shrubbery. It was still cold, dirty, and damp, but the bushes cut the wind somewhat and there didn't seem to be anybody else there. I pulled out my thin blanket and rolled myself up like a burrito. Still feeling exposed and vulnerable, I got my knife out of my boot and clutched it in my hand, and tried to sleep. I'd made it to Haight-Ashbury.
I slept only fitfully, waking every time a car went by and its lights illuminated my little cave in the bushes. I finally fell asleep toward morning, but I was so cold and uncomfortable I got up as soon as it was light. I kept my blanket, now filthy and muddy, wrapped around my shoulders against the cold. The fog had risen a couple hundred feet so it was like a dirty gray woolen blanket being dragged over the tops of the houses, but the wind was still blowing hard and it was still very cold. I got back on Haight Street and wandered aimlessly down toward the park.
The only person I knew in the City was a former college girlfriend, Ellen Fishman. She was on a work quarter, working at a health clinic in San Francisco. We'd had a brief affair the year before and I'd spent several nights in her room in Birch Hall, the women's dorm at Antioch. One memorable night there was a fire alarm and the dorm was evacuated. Since I wasn't supposed to be there, we decided to wait it out. Soon a fireman unlocked the door and found us huddled naked under the covers. "Well, shit," he said, and closed the door. The affair was casual and only lasted a few weeks. It ended abruptly when she caught me in bed with her roommate Hillary. Thinking back on that, I wondered how happy Ellen would be to find me on her doorstep. Still, it was worth a try - better than another night in the melaleucas.
I dug a worn scrap of a paper from my wallet and peered at it in the half-light of dawn. It was just a phone number she'd scrawled on a restaurant napkin when we were both leaving the campus a few months before. It was clearly too early to call, so I got a cup of coffee at a diner and wandered down to Golden Gate Park to see what I could find. Several scruffy people were emerging from the grove of trees I'd tried to crash the night before. As I strolled along the sidewalks running deeper into the park, I found people creeping out of shrubbery everywhere. They were standing in clusters, wrapped in blankets or sleeping bags, looking frowsy, cold, and sleepy.
The sweet scent of weed floated from one group and I wandered close, trying to look needy. Sure enough, a guy offered me a hit and I took a deep drag. I passed the joint and struck a conversation. Most of these people were like me, newly arrived from all over the country. I asked one girl I thought was cute if she could recommend a place to eat.
"Sure man," she said. "Wait till about nine, then head up to the Panhandle. The Diggers set up tables there and give out free food."
"They give away food for free?" I asked in surprise. "Who pays for it?"
She shrugged. "Who cares? It's free."
"Who are the Diggers?"
She just shrugged again, but a guy in a floor-length fur coat and a Russian hat spoke up.
"A bunch of people trying to build a cash-free economy. Lots of restaurants and grocery stores give them their day-old food they're not allowed to sell anymore. The Diggers cook it up and serve meals three times a day."
"Pretty cool. Where is it?"
"The Panhandle. Hang around, we're all heading up there soon."
I started feeling better about my long cross-country trip to get here. The people were friendly, not as hostile and scary as on the Lower East Side, and I had already learned how I could eat for free. Now all I needed was a place to stay. I was torn between trying to locate some of the crash pads on the list I'd gotten at the Free Clinic to stake out a space, and waiting till I could call Ellen. Sure I'd been a shit to her, but we'd parted on friendly terms and I hoped she'd at least let me crash at her place. I decided to wait and call her after breakfast.
After eight o'clock or so people started drifting slowly west, back toward the Haight. I saw other groups assembling from every sheltered area in sight. They were a motley bunch, in every kind of hippie attire, from Carnaby Street Mod to thrift shop scruffy. There were a lot of furs, uniforms, ponchos, boas, and hats of every description. The sole principal seemed to be to find something no one else was wearing. In many cases, this made for some bizarre outfits indeed. Most people had long hair, the girls' hanging long and free, the guys in ponytails or like me, Indian-style headbands. People with curly hair wore it in huge pseudo-Afros or long frizzy braids.
I followed my group back to Stanyan Street, the eastern end of the park. They turned left there and went down two blocks from Haight Street. There was an elaborate entrance to the park there, where John F. Kennedy Drive began weaving westward through the hills and forests of the park toward the ocean, still three miles away. But east of Stanyan was a long one-block wide extension of the park, running between Park and Fell, called the Panhandle. It reminded me of a college campus, with huge trees and wide green lawns criss-crossed with serpentine sidewalks. Streams of hippies were converging from every direction, forming a milling mass in the center of the lawns. Several wildly-painted trucks were parked there, and a group of people were busily setting up folding tables. I joined them and started unloading tables out of a box truck and setting them up on the grass. Other people were unloading big boxes of food out of other trucks. Lots of people were helping, and soon there was nothing for me to do. There was a temporary sign board set up with public notices and I idly read some of them. Many were personal, in the nature of "Billy - we're here. Come to 225 Fell Street. Sally and Annie." Others were public notices. I read one posted by the Diggers:
THE DIGGERS demand an ERECTION!
THE BALLING BOWL
A FREE PUBLIC structure in the panhandle where individuals can swim in vinyl pools filled with Vaseline, WAIL LOVE to downcast brows, and carry-on as much as they want until they think it beautiful to stop.
THE DIGGERS fully understand that the cost of erection can be added to the PUBLIC debt and especially appreciate Captain Kiely's generous offer of men and machines to quicken the rise of the ERECTION and give meaning to its eventual climax.
UP THE BALLING BOWL!
I was bemused. Were they serious? Did they really expect the city to build a balling bowl? The other notices were just as whimsical, though there were also more useful notices - such as a place to go for bad trips, accidental poisonings from bad drugs, and the Free Clinic for STD's and injuries.
Twenty or thirty people were busily unloading the trucks and setting up big industrial-looking gas cooking stoves. They were remarkably organized and efficient for hippies - clearly they had been doing this a while. The food was soon steaming and being dished out. I grabbed a paper plate and a fork and joined the line. There were already several hundred people in it, but it moved fairly quickly. I got a ladle full of some kind of vegetarian chili, beans, and some pieces of browning canned peaches. I found an unoccupied tree and sat down to eat. Like most vegetarian food I'd tried, it was boringly unspiced, chewy, and rather glutinous. Still, it was hot and filling and went down very easy.
I was grateful for the people who had put the operation together and liked the idea of hippies feeding hippies without joining the cash economy. I thought if I was not otherwise occupied at meal times, I might come down and help. I was curious about who the Diggers were - did they have straight jobs? They didn't seem to have a religious agenda like the soup kitchens. Mostly they looked like the rest of us, though I thought their average age might be a few years older. I wanted to ask questions, but they were all very busy and clearly didn't need some dude bugging them. I thought I'd try after they had packed up. I wish I had, because some people I later came to admire, like Gary Snyder and Peter Coyote, were among them.
As I ate I looked around at the crowd. There were probably two thousand people gathered there eating, with more pouring into the park from the houses and streets on both sides. It was quite a show - soon tourists would be paying money to come look at us. They seemed to be mostly college-age kids, wearing every imaginable kind of rig. A group of Hare Krishnas were dancing and chanting to finger cymbals, looking very cold in their saffron robes and shaved heads. I thought they were idiots, but that's my general reaction to anything religious. Most people ignored them. A girl I thought might have been cute before she cut off her hair came up to me and shook a can in my face. "Love offering, brother?" she asked. I sent her away with a dismissive nod. As she walked away I could see her legs were goose-pimpled with the cold and her bare feet were crusted with dust to the ankles. I took another bite of food, thinking, "If you want to wear saffron and go barefoot, go to Thailand where it's warm. You'll catch your death here."
Looking around, I saw that probably half the people were barefoot, their feet as filthy as the acolyte's. I don't know if it was part of the hippie creed, that shoes were a product of the military-industrial complex or something, but I was having no part of it. The sidewalks were the usual city filthy, with broken glass, dog shit, and various unidentified sharp litter. If you're on the street you're going to be walking a lot, and I intended to have shoes on.
There were a lot of young girls that looked to be high-school age. Many didn't wear bras (those bonds imposed by military-industrial patriarchal bra manufacturers), and their nipples could be clearly seen wobbling around under their thin tops, a sight I found endlessly fascinating. In general, I thought the percentage of hot women was extremely high. They were especially appealing because they were hippie girls. They are plenty of cute sorority girls, but I knew we'd have nothing in common. To them I wasn't a colorful character - I was dirty and unwashed. And there would be moral objections to fucking - saving it for their husbands, or not wanting to lose my respect, or whatever. Hippie girls were much more likely to take a proposition in the spirit it was offered - "Hey, wouldn't fucking be fun?" Generally speaking, hippie girls were easy - and proud of it.
So I was gradually warming to the Haight scene. The weather was much worse than I had been prepared for and the place was very dirty, but it had a good vibe. Everybody was smiling and friendly. There was no sign of the hostility from the straights that had been universal everywhere else I'd been - in fact there were no straights in evidence. No strolling citizens looking askance at the particolored people, no shouting rednecks, no cops, at all. Everybody I could see was another freak, there to soak in the experience of finally, finally, be among our own people.
I dumped my plate in a garbage bag and wandered off to find a public phone. It was several blocks before I found one in a drugstore on Haight. I called the number Ellen had given me. Then she picked up. "Hello?"
"Hey, Ellen Fishman! It's me, Brian. Remember, from Antioch?"
"Oh, yeah. Are you here in the city?" I tried to judge from her voice if she was happy to hear from me. At least she didn't hang up.
"Yeah. Just got in late last night. Slept in the park. Pretty cold out there."
I waited, hoping she was going to invite me to sleep at her place (whatever that might entail).
"Listen, my place is small and I have roommates. I don't think I can let you crash here. But I've got some friends who might be able to help. Come over this evening."
"Oh, great. Thanks, Ellen. That would be great. So I don't need to stake out a spot in a crash pad?"
"No, we'll find something for you. Come over after dinner, ‘kay?"
"Uh, yeah, sure. I'll see you then. Thanks." I hung up. So she was inviting me into her bed or feeding me. She clearly hadn't forgotten that night with Hillary. Still, if it resulted in a warm place to sleep, I couldn't complain.
I spent the day wandering around, getting familiar with the layout. There was nothing special about the intersection of Haight and Ashbury - there was nothing there but the Free Clinic a couple of doors down. But the corner was roughly the geographic center of a poorly-defined neighborhood where the majority of the freaks lived. The head shops and hippie clothes shops lined the road for four or five blocks from there to the park. All the other streets were residential, almost entirely big fancy white Victorians like wedding cakes, with bay windows, high-peaked gables, and tons of gingerbread. Many were painted up in gaudy colors - pink and purple and orange and green, all mixed in one elaborate facade. Paisley print curtains and American flags and psychedelic posters lined the windows. Most of the posters required several minutes of close inspection to determine what they were advertising, clearly nothing that had come from Madison Avenue. But they were artistic and beautiful and they sent messages out through the community, announcing concerts and Be-ins and tribal gatherings in a language straights couldn't read.
And the names of the bands were so whimsical and mysterious they were funny - the Chocolate Watchband, the Doors of Perception, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Grateful Dead. I was sure these were jokey pick-up bands and no one would remember their names in six months.
Music was everywhere, pouring out of every car and open window. Hippies wandered the streets, plunking on guitars, playing recorders, harmonicas, tablas, bongos, and Jew's harps. Groups of hippies would gather around to listen, to sing or chant along.
Everyone was basically high all the time. Drugs were easily and openly available. People sat on the curb or the steps of a house, passing joints to passersby and chanting, "Hash, acid, lids," until somebody stopped and bought some. In a country where you could get a life sentence for possessing one grass seed in some states, death for trafficking, I had developed extreme caution in buying and selling drugs. You never exchanged names or sources, you never called a drug by its true name, you never dealt where could possibly be seen, and always in cash, no bills larger than twenties. Here people often had their wares displayed around them, and signs with prices. It made me very anxious and I could looking over my shoulder. In any other city in America there would be a phalanx of riot police moving down the street, busting heads in more ways than one. Here there was no sign of the police at all. Where were the pigs?
Not relishing the vegetarian gumbo in the park again so soon, I stopped in a café and ordered a burger (take that, Buddhists). All the patrons were hippies, but the staff looked like your average straight American. They must have been pretty jaded by then, because they didn't raise an eyebrow, no matter what walked in. It was amazing to see what people put on when they wanted to "go hippie." Beads and fringe were ubiquitous, homespun and hand-died were common, and odd combinations of cast-off period clothing seemed to be the coming style. Hairstyles too ran the gamut. Lots of younger guys just brushed their mid-length classroom-and-church hair forward over their eyes and peered out through the straggling bangs so you could hardly see their eyes. I thought they looked like idiots, but they appreciated the hippie culture and wanted to associate themselves with it. So the hippies were generally nice to these kids, some as young as 13 or 14, whose parents drove them over to the Haight for an evening. I suspected that many of the cute young girls were taking home more reminders of their visit than a poster and a string of beads. The girls were on the pill and couldn't get pregnant, so why worry? VD was rampant, and I never encountered anyone using condoms. They're so artificial, you know, honey.
I strolled in the park, still lugging my duffel. I couldn't think of a safe place to stash it. A pretty good band was set up in one meadow and hundreds of people were dancing in front of their makeshift stage. I was pretty loaded by then, having been imbibing in the free drugs all day. I joined the crowd dancing and lost myself in the music for an hour or two. The wind had finally died and the sun broke through the overcast and the sun was warm on my back. It felt great. I have no idea what band it was, but they had a great harmonica player.
As the sun dropped into the offshore fog and the warmth went out of the air, people started wandering back toward the Panhandle for a Digger dinner. I joined them. The food was much the same, but they also had corn bread that was good. I waited until it was well after six o'clock, then sauntered slowly over to find Ellen's place. I found that Waller was the next street south of Haight, up a steep hill from the main drag. I wandered along till I found the address. It was a big white building on the north side of the street, with a tall set of steps leading up to a covered front porch. It was not a Victorian, but it had clearly once been somebody's mansion, as most of the houses appeared to have been. I went up and knocked on the door. A hippie dude opened the door and looked at me in surprise, then at the big green duffel on my shoulder. His smile faded - I had the feeling he had been expecting someone else. He came out past me and looked up and down the street, then turned again to me.
"Who the hell are you?" he asked, in a somewhat belligerent attitude.
"My name's Brian. I'm here to see Ellen." He looked blank. "Doesn't Ellen Fishman live here?"
"Ellen?" he said. "Oh, yeah, the chick in back. Okay, come on through, then." We entered a long straight hallway that went straight back into the house. Several doors opened off it. Clearly the old mansion's large rooms had been partitioned into several separate apartments. He turned right through an open doorway. I glanced in and saw six or eight hippies scattered on the floor around a big hookah in the center of the room. Music was playing loudly - some crashing heavy metal. I caught a glimpse of a skinny blonde girl doing a line of powder off a mirror. Everyone turned to look at me as I stood there.
"It's not Rick," said the guy who had let me in. "No sign of him yet." He looked at me. "Ellen's in the back apartment. End of the hall."
"Thanks," I murmured, and continued down the hall. I knocked at a door, and a moment later Ellen opened it. "Hey, Ellen," I said, giving her a hug.
She hugged me back. "Hey, Brian," she said. "You made it all the way out here, huh?"
"Yep. Just like I said I would. Bet you didn't think I'd show up, huh?"
She shrugged. "Seems like everybody is coming to San Francisco this summer."
"Yeah. Wearing flowers in our hair," like the song says.
She smiled and led me through a small living room bedroom combination into the kitchen. Maybe she didn't want to sit on a bed with me. I sat down at the table and she poured us each a glass of cheap red wine. We chatted a while. She told me about her co-op job and I told her about my summer in Wyoming and some of the adventures of my trip. The music from the front apartment came right through the thin plywood walls.
"Jesus," I said after a particularly loud blast. "Is it always like that?"
She gave a wry smile. "Yeah, pretty much. They're okay, but they're into harder drugs and they're pretty loud. They seem to be especially rowdy tonight for some reason."
We sat there drinking wine and chatting about mutual friends. Neither of us brought up the subject of where I might be able to crash, though it was in the front of my mind. I hoped she was judging me, trying to decide if she was going to let me sleep there. I tried to look friendly and harmless. I really wasn't trying to hit on her again, I just needed a floor. When she didn't broach the subject, I was just wondering if I should ask. Suddenly there was a loud crash from the front of the house, followed immediately by excited shouting. We had left the door of her apartment open, and from where I was sitting I could look straight up the long corridor to the front door. Cops were pouring in, squeezing through the doorway, bellowing and shouting. I heard breaking glass and splintering wood.
"The fuck?" I said, starting up. A big burly cop with a nightstick rushed into the kitchen and looked at the two of us staring back at him, our mouths open. He glanced around the room, confirmed we were alone and there was no rear exit, then glared at me. "Siddown!" he growled.
"What's going…?" I began, but he shoved me back into my chair. "Sit down and shut up, both of you. Don't even think about moving. Got it?"
"Yes sir," said Ellen, in a scared voice. He looked at me. I put up my hands. "I won't move, officer."
He spun around and ran back up the hall. From the sounds, there was a violent fight going on in the front apartment, and it looked like he didn't want to miss a chance to crack some heads. Ellen and I looked at each other in horror as we heard screams and grunts and the sounds of bodies slamming into the wall. In a few minutes it was over. The cops started leading people out the front door in handcuffs. Our guy came back and confirmed we were just where he'd left us.
"Anybody else here?" he asked.
"No," said Ellen. "This is a separate apartment. I don't even know the people in the front apartment."
He ignored her and started searching the apartment, opening cupboards and drawers. I was so glad I wasn't carrying any dope. I'd been just smoking the stuff people handed me, and didn't have a stash of my own yet. I had no idea if Ellen did. She wasn't a stoner type back at college, but everybody smoked weed, didn't they?
If she had a stash, the cop didn't find it. He took our names and wrote them down. I tried to explain that I didn't even live there and was just an innocent college boy visiting an old chum. He didn't buy it. He had us stand up and handcuffed us, then started heading us toward the front. As we reached a doorway on the right, another cop came back to us.
"Just these two back here, sarge," said our guy.
"Did you check in here?" asked the sergeant.
"That's just the bathroom," said Ellen.
He opened the door and we all looked in. There was a hippie guy sitting on the can, his pants around his ankles. He had a tourniquet around his arm with the ends in his teeth and held a homemade ‘fit he had just pushed into his elbow. He looked up at us and seemed remarkably calm.
"Hello, officers," he said through his gritted teeth. "Just about done here. Mind if I finish?"
The cops seemed taken aback, but the older one nodded. "Go ahead, buddy. Then we're all going for a ride."
The guy squeezed off the hit and released the tourniquet, sending a surge of heroin into his bloodstream. Then in one motion, he threw his ‘fit into the sergeant's face, pulled up his pants, and jumped through the window.
The sergeant flinched back from the needle, then batted it away and let out a roar of rage. Both cops tore out the front door and took off down an alley after the fleeing junkie. Ellen and I looked at each other in amazement. I had to hand it to the guy - talk about keeping your cool in a challenging situation. But it didn't end well for him. He had difficulty running, both from the scag rush and because his pants kept falling down, and the cops had him before he could get fifty feet. They both jumped on his back, crushing him the ground and raining blows on his head and shoulders with their sticks. Soon they were dragging his semi-conscious form around to the front of the house.
The attempted escape was so spectacular that it hadn't even occurred to me to take off running when they left us unattended, and in seconds it was too late. Both cops were furious now, red-faced and puffing, and they pushed us roughly to the front door.
"Love your place, Ellen," I managed to get out before we were shoved into a Black Mariah. The eight other people, most of them bloody and bruised, were slumped on the bench seats along the sides. The junkie was tossed on the floor. Two cops with guns sat at the back. Ellen and I squeezed in with the others, and the paddy wagon took off, siren wailing and lights flashing.
I hadn't driven in San Francisco yet, and this was my first experience of the steep hills. I could have sworn the driver was trying to get airborne from the steep angles the van was taking. Each time we crossed a street, the road leveled and we were all thrown around, then the nose pointed steeply either up or down and we were off again. It would have been a fun, exciting ride in other circumstances. It occurred to me that I hadn't been in San Francisco for twenty-four hours yet, and already I was busted.
I wondered what the consequences were going to be. These guys were doing heroin, which I hadn't encountered up to that time. But I knew it was serious shit. If Ellen and I couldn't separate ourselves from these guys, we could be in deep shit. What chance did we have of that? There were drugs and paraphernalia all over that front apartment. And the doors between the apartments had been open when the cops came in, so it would look like a single operation to them. I didn't feel good about this.
Ellen looked terrified, and I felt sorry for her. I put my arm around her and tried to comfort her. I didn't think my arrival had done anything to cause all this, but it wasn't a fun date so far. Combined with the Hillary Mis-step, I didn't think I'd done anything to improve my chances with Ellen. But I had solved the problem of where I was going to sleep.
After what seemed a very long Wild-Mouse type ride, the van pulled into an underground garage and parked. A moment later the doors were opened and we faced a number of angry-looking cops. They rousted us out none too gently and marched us through a series of corridors painted institutional green. The injured junkie was barely conscious and they took him away on a cart. We were separated from the three girls and put in a big holding tank, then taken out one by one to be booked, fingerprinted, and photographed (how I'd love to see that mug shot now). When we'd all been booked, some guards led us to the drunk tank and we joined a dozen other guys. A few were hippies, but most seemed to be standard older drunks. We checked each other out, then sat on metal benches and waited.
I chatted with some of the other guys from the bust. Some of them were pretty badly beaten up. They told me they'd been expecting a buddy of theirs when I showed up. They'd sent him to New York on a scoring run and he was supposed to be arriving that night with a suitcase full of good New York white horse.
One of the other guys said he'd overheard some of the cops say that they'd gotten wind of the run and had met the courier at the airport. They didn't bust him, but followed him to the house. While Ellen and I had been talking, he'd arrived at the front door. As soon as he came in, the cops rushed into the house and started jumping on people.
I told them about the guy shooting up in the bathroom, and they laughed. "Yeah, that's Big Joe," one said. "He was giving the stuff a taste. I guess he didn't like being interrupted."
I was way too wired to sleep, so I spent the whole night sitting up and worrying about what was going to happen. In the morning, we were sent in groups of four to the showers, presided over by a guard watching through a window. I got cleaned up, washed my hair for the first time in two weeks, and put my old dirty clothes back on. I admired the towels. They were white with a stripe down the middle bearing the words CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO in embroidered red letters. I considered what a great souvenir of this adventure one of those towels would be. I left the towel draped around my neck as we walked back to the tank.
Nothing more happened for several hours. Some of the more experienced guys said the next thing would be an initial arraignment hearing to tell us the charges and determine if they had enough evidence to charge us. I figured a suitcase full of heroin was more than enough. After that, we'd get nice orange jumpsuits and wait for trial. I figured my college career was over. At least I no longer had to wonder what I was going to be when I grew up.
Sometime in late afternoon a guard came and called my name. I was taken to another room, where I found Ellen sitting, looking ever more scared. I wanted to hug her, but it wasn't allowed.
A guy in a suit came in and sat down. He looked at me.
"Mr. Crawford, from what Ellen tells me, you're a friend from college who just stopped in for a visit. Is that right?"
"Yes, sir," I said. "I'd just gotten there a few minutes before the bust."
"Yeah, we saw you go in. We saw that big duffel you were carrying and thought you might be part of it. But there was nothing in it. What are those things - some kind of musical instrument?"
"Recorders, sir. Very popular in the Renaissance. Not so much anymore," I added lamely. I didn't think he wanted to talk about the evolution of end-blown fipple flutes during the Baroque period, as interesting as I thought it was.
"Well, we also determined that there are two separate apartments on that floor, and Miss Fishman is the tenant of the rear apartment only."
Ellen and I looked at each other. Could there be some hope after all?
"Now I don't know if you two were involved or knew it was going on or what, but the fact is, we only had a search warrant for the front apartment. I'm afraid some of the officers might have been - overzealous. I don't suppose you gave them permission to enter your apartment, did you, Miss Fishman?"
She shook her head. "They just barged in," she said.
He nodded. "That's what I thought," he sighed. "Hell, this whole operation was FUBAR."
Ellen clearly didn't recognize the military expression for Fucked Up Beyond All Repair, but I liked the sound of it.
He sighed again. "Okay, you two can go. Go collect your stuff."
Ellen's face lighted with relief and she grinned at me. I must have looked the same. We were separated again and a guard led me back to the tank. I briefly explained to the others what had happened and they looked at me enviously. "The detective is really pissed about the whole operation," I told them. "Maybe they made other mistakes on you guys."
They didn't look convinced. It was time to go. I reached down to pick up my pea coat and saw the towel lying next to it. I grabbed the towel and thrust my arm into my coat, pushing the towel deep into the heavy material of the arm. Making sure it wasn't hanging out at either end, I hung the coat over my shoulder and went to the door. The guys saw my move, but the guard didn't. He let me out and walked me through the jail to the release office. There were a couple of other guys getting released at the same time, and I had to wait. I was very conscious of the weight of the towel against my back, and was terrified it was going to fall out. What would happen if they found it? Would they just turn me around and put me back in for petty larceny? Boy, would I feel stupid then.
But I was processed and they gave me back my wallet, watch, belt, headband, and tourniquet. They buzzed me through the door, and I walked out into a San Francisco sunset. Ellen was waiting on the steps, grinning at me.
"How do you like San Francisco so far?" she said.
I pulled the towel out of my pea coat and showed it to her with a grin.
"It's all good, man," I said.
I have recently acquired a working turntable and have been copying all my old vinyl LP's to MP3 (hey, it's a new century - technology changes). So I've been listening to a lot of great old rock'n'roll I haven't listened to in decades - the first albums by the Dead, the Airplane, Country Joe, Cream. While listening, I've been studying the album covers and liner notes to read the histories of the bands. Good stuff, and it sure brings back memories.
I picked up one album - Children of the Future, one of the trippiest of Steve Miller's - and noticed a name written in magic marker on the back: Siemens. Who the hell is Siemens, I wondered. I leafed through a few more albums and found that all the Steve Miller albums and several others bore the same name. I was pretty sure I never knew anybody named Siemens, and if I bought them second hand, it was strange that I had a bunch owned by the same guy. It was mysterious. Then some very tiny faint bell began to ring. The guy in Champaign! My mind went back nearly fifty years.
It was 1967. I was living in Yellow Springs, Ohio, supposedly attending Antioch Colege, but mostly just hanging out and getting high. To support some fairly expensive drug habits, I was selling drugs around the Midwest. That makes it sound like a big gangster operation, but it was really just a large circle of friends. In addition to my many stoner acquaintances in Yellow Springs, I had friends at several colleges in Ohio and Indiana, and I supplied their needs. Every few months when supplies ran low, I made a run to New York, where I knew a little gnome-like guy on the Lower East Side who could get anything and was reasonable and fair - a most unusual combination. So it was a casual, intermittent operation, providing just enough for food, rent, and drugs.
But at some point that fall all the usual sources in Yellow Springs went dry around the same time. Everybody was running low and nobody was selling. I decided to do a major run. I talked to all my friends at Antioch and took their orders. They all knew me and fronted me the cash (it was a more innocent time), and in two days I was on my way to New York with several thousand in cash rolled up in my underwear. I figured it improved my look.
I met my man acceptably quickly (“first thing you learn is you always gotta wait” - Leonard Cohen), went through the usual rituals and negotiations, and in two days I was climbing onto a Greyhound with an army duffel bag full of goodies. I had boxes of acid, uppers, downers, envelopes full of crystal speed and smack, good quantities of several interesting hashish varieties, and three kilos of good weed. I kept reaching down under the seat to pat it contentedly. I was broke again, but I had a treasure with me. I remembered the old joke that every woman is sitting on a fortune.
When I got back to Yellow Springs, it was like Santa had arrived. I made the circuit of my friends' houses. It was a good time. Everyone was very happy to see me, and swept me in to cheers and applause. I handed out my presents, and of course was invited to partake, so I remained more than usually ripped for the next week.
When this orgy was over (and I like to think it is still fondly remembered here and there around the world), I still had a shitload of stuff. I called my friends in a rock band in Cincinnati called The Sacred Mushroom and asked if it was time for a topping up of their stashes. It was. A friend drove me the hour down to Cincy. The band welcomed us into their big old house – a place as strangely decorated as any I visited in San Francisco. In spite of their name, they were mainly interested in acid and mescaline. I sold them a lot of it, then we all dropped and had a memorable 24-hour mutual trip - including playing a gig at a fraternity house. I helped out as a roadie. I knew the band was just as fried as I was and I was astounded they could still play that great. I remember the drummer telling me that he kept wanting to really rip off some riffs a la Ginger Baker, but the frat boys only wanted to dance. All he had to do was keep up a steady four-beat, accent on two and four. That covered 95% of all rock’n’roll, blues, and R&B songs.
Found this online
When I got back to Yellow Springs, I still had an embarrassment of riches. Somebody said there was a nascent hippie scene of sorts at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. So I looked it up on a map and jumped on another Greyhound. I got off the bus in Champaign around noon on a Friday and asked around till I found a city bus to take me to the campus. It was a pretty place, with a wide grassy lawn crisscrossed by sidewalks full of students. It looked a lot like my first alma mater, Ohio State, but much smaller. I wandered around looking for long hair.
There wasn't much. Most students had short or buzz cuts, wore Madras short-sleeved shirts and pressed slacks, and looked Midwest-style preppie. I was wearing tight bell-bottom pants with red and blue stripes, a tie-dyed tee-shirt, and a head band, and I attracted no little notice. I wandered for hours. It was getting late and I was exhausted from my all-night bus ride and lugging around that big duffel bag. I flopped down on some steps that seemed to be fairly central to the campus. Then I saw a vision of loveliness – a girl was coming toward me.
She was obviously a hippie, her long straight brown hair tied in a head band. She was wearing an Indian block print dress that was so thin I could see her body shadowed against the setting sun. She wasn't wearing a bra, and her large full breasts swayed heavily. The dress was daringly short, and she had strong deeply tanned legs and was barefoot. I thought she was gorgeous and was trying to think of an opening line. But she walked right up to me with a huge grin on her face, sat down beside me, and said, “Hi. Who the hell are you?”
“I'm, uh, I'm Brian,” I replied cleverly.
“I'm Elissa. I thought I know all the hippies in this town, but you're new. Where you from?”
“Just on the road,” I replied, which struck me as cooler than Yellow Springs.
“What are you doing here?”
I decided it was time to be direct. If such a hot chick was a narc, my hippie senses were worthless. I glanced around to make sure no one was listening. “Know anybody who wants some grass?”
She nodded her head ruefully. “Yeah. Everybody.”
“You mean there's none around?” This could be good for business.
“I haven't seen any weed in a month,” she said. “Whoever was bringing it in must have gotten busted or something. This town is dry.”
“I may be able to help,” I suggested.
She looked at me. “You have some grass?”
“Might be able to find some.” I patted the duffel bag meaningfully.
Her eyes widened. “How much you have in there?”
“Used to be a lot, but I've been moving product pretty well. Only got a key left.”
“A key?” she squeaked. “You mean a kilo?”
I looked around again. “Yeah, but keep it down, will you? You know anybody who might be interested?”
“Shit, yes, lots of people. But it will take a while.”
“Yeah, that’s a problem. I mean, I’m pretty conspicuous here. I’m getting nervous and I’d like to make this deal and clear out before someone official notices me.”
She nodded her head vigorously (and charmingly). “Oh, yeah, I get it. How long you planning on hanging around?”
“Ideally I’d like to be on the road again tonight.”
“Oh wow, tonight? You know, it’s Friday and everybody’s going to want to party tonight. It will take a while to find all my friends. Some of them might not be coming home tonight, if you know what I mean. It might take till tomorrow.”
This seemed like an opportunity. “Well, I guess if I had a safe place to crash for the night, that might be okay.”
She laughed. “Hell, man, if you’re telling the truth about that key, you can sleep anywhere you want.”
That struck me as a very promising prospect, so I resolved to cast my lot with Elissa and see what happened. “Sounds good,” I said. “Where do we start?”
“My friend Jerry’s. Sometimes a bunch of freaks hang out there.” She got up, tossed her huge woven purse over her shoulder, and walked away. I threw my duffel over my shoulder and was happy to follow – she sure got everything moving under that thin dress.
We walked off the campus and a few blocks down a residential street. She turned into a building that appeared to be an apartment block. We went up a couple flights of stairs and she rapped at a door. I could hear rock music, and it got much louder when the door was opened by a moderately straight-looking guy. I recognized the type – a dude still in school so he couldn’t get too hippie for class. But when he went out partying, he had a set of hippie regalia to put on. He as wearing a fringed vest over his dress shirt and had a string of beads around his neck. He had brushed his hair down over his forehead, all John Sebastian. He looked at Elissa and his face lit up with a big smile. Then he caught sight of me behind her on the dim landing. “Hey, Elissa,” he said. “Who’s this?”
She grinned. “Someone you guys are going to want to meet. Okay if we come in?”
He looked me over cautiously. These were the days when a joint could get you life in prison. “I don’t know. Is he cool?”
“Very,” she laughed. “Let us in, Jerry.”
He stood back and we entered a typical 60’s college apartment. Indian bedspreads and movie posters on the walls, an American flag serving as a curtain for the kitchen, and rows of books on a bricks-and-boards bookcase. There were four people sitting on the floor or on low ratty furniture – three guys and a chick, all two or three years younger than me, and all sporting some items of hippie gear. It could have been an apartment in Yellow Springs, except there was no sign of a pipe or a joint. Still, they looked like nice enough kids. Elissa and I flopped down on the floor and they shuffled around to make room. I leaned back against my duffel.
“Guys,” began Elissa, “this is Brian.” She rattled off their names and I forgot them as soon as I heard them. The girl was quite cute. The guys looked like they might be English lit majors and probably went to poetry readings. It might be fun to get into a metaphysical rap with them. They were all looking me over as we chatted. With my shoulder-length hair and considerably more outlandish clothes, I was clearly something they hadn’t encountered before. None of them asked me where I was from and no last names were exchanged, so they weren’t completely inexperienced. I decided to get right to the point.
“You guys interested in scoring a little dope?” I asked. They looked at me in some surprise. “We might be,” said Jerry, the guy who’d let us in. He was being noncommittal. “What you got?”
I shrugged. “Pretty much anything. Grass, hash, acid, smack, speed, whatever.”
They flipped out. It turned out they all smoked weed but had never tried anything more exotic. Suddenly they were all excitedly asking questions. They wanted to know about all these new drugs. They were like kids in a candy store. And I could roll out my best drug rap.
“Shit!” said one of the guys. “I’ve never even heard of some of that stuff. I know grass, and hash is hashish, right? And acid is LDS?”
I shrugged. “That’s actually the Mormon Church, but they’re kind of tripped out too, so a lot of people make that mistake. Acid is LSD, lysergic acid diethylamide-25.”
“I read about that in Life Magazine,” said the girl. “Doesn’t it make you go crazy?”
“That’s what the straights want you to think. Actually it helps you see through all their bullshit. It’ll change you for sure. After you’ve tripped, the think of your life as in two parts – before and after. You know that Jimi Hendrix album ‘Are You Experienced?’ That’s what it’s about – are you before or after your first psychedelic experience. Not to be taken casually.”
“Have you tried it?” asked Elissa, her eyes wide.
“Sure, hundreds of times. Acid’s my favorite drug of all. But it’s very powerful, and I don’t recommend it for people who aren’t comfortable with losing control. You’ll see all kinds of strange shit, and think about things you never thought of before. It really helps to have someone experienced to guide you.”
They looked at me in wonder and, I hoped in Elissa’s case at least, some degree of admiration. I was rather proud of my knowledge of illegal drugs.
“What was that other stuff you mentioned? Was it slap and speed?”
I laughed. “Smack and speed. That’s heroin and methamphetamine crystal. You snort them; or shoot ‘em if you’re hard core. They’re both pretty scary and dangerously addictive. I don’t think that’s for you guys. But have you tried hash yet?”
“No,” said another guy. “Isn’t it just like grass?”
I smiled knowingly. “It’s made from the same plant, Cannabis sativa, but it’s a completely different high.”
“Grass, weed, shit, pot, or boo is the leaves and flower buds of the plant. The stuff that gets you high is called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. It’s mostly in the flower buds, so they’re about ten times stronger than the leaves. Around here mostly we get just the leaves swept off the warehouse floor after the Mexicans have smoked the buds. But it’s especially concentrated in the pollen. And hash, my friends, is made from just the pollen.” I waited for the appreciative “Oohs,” and continued. “So it’s much stronger than grass, but the high is different, too.”
“Like how?” asked Elissa.
“Well, it’s more…” I considered various descriptions, then gave up. “Fuck it, let’s just do some. A toke is worth a thousand words.”
I opened my duffel and started digging through it, dragging stuff out. Mostly it was a lot of rather rank dirty clothes I’d been lugging around for weeks looking for a crash pad with a free washing machine. I tossed them hurriedly aside, then dragged out my set of four recorders, my patch cord for my (now hocked) bass, and a couple of girlie mags. The kids watched all this in wonder. Finally, from deep in the bag (sometimes officials lose enthusiasm when confronted with dirty underwear), I emerged with a round tin can – The Stash.
It had started life as a tin of cookies my Mom had sent me for Christmas. They arrived in a dorm room packed with ten or fifteen stoned hippies and lasted maybe five minutes. The tin, however, was stout and waterproof, and I began keeping my stash in it. The lid was a handy work surface and I’d often cut coke and lined speed on it. We’d experimented with smoking banana peels on it (a spurious urban legend), so the painting on the lid (a jolly Currier and Ives sleighing scene) was soon blistered and cracked. One night in a speed frenzy, I’d gotten all OCD about cleaning it up and scraped off every speck of paint with my Buck knife. Now it shined like burnished silver, and the millions of scratches gave it a sparkly, ever-changing glamour. The heated metal had turned prismatic and gave it a lot of interest. I placed this hallowed object on the floor between us.
I removed the lid with a flourish and everyone leaned forward to peer inside. There was a fad among heads in those days for small cheap translucent plastic boxes of varied sizes, shapes, and colors. I had bought a bunch and carefully worked out the proper pattern for packing them in so they did not rattle and no space was wasted. The interstices were filled with pill bottles, packets made of paper or foil, and small wrapped bundles. Pipes, roach clips, rolling papers, lighters, and matches filled a central compartment. I was quite proud of The Stash.
The kids stared wide-eyed. “Let’s see, hash,” I said. I pulled out a yellow box, opened it, and poured out a lumpy, rather turd-like object the color of brown sugar. “Lebanese brown,” I said, passing it to Jerry. They passed it from hand to hand like show-and-tell day. Elissa handed it back to me. I pulled my knife from its sheath on the back of my belt and shaved off a generous paring. I took out a little brass opium pipe with a long bamboo stem and tamped the hash into it, then lit a match. “It’s harsher than weed, so it tends to make you cough. Hold it in as long as you can, but if you have to cough it out, go ahead. Don’t hurt yourself or anything.” I took a long hit, and the hash bubbled and curled. I passed the pipe to Jerry. We all took deep hits and stared at each other in silence, as only happens in stoner parties. Pretty soon we were all grinning at each other. The other girl fell over onto her back laughing, and one of the guys was just staring off into space. That was great hash.
I put the Lebanese away and pulled out a small enameled snuff box. Inside was a black, shiny, tarry substance. I dipped out a small quantity with the tip of my knife and reloaded the pipe. “Now this is Nepali black, from the high Himalayas. It’s supposed to be the purest. They send virgin girls to run naked through the fields and then scrape the hash off them.” I lit the match before anyone could ask me anything further about that legend. Hey, somebody told me that, and I wanted to believe it.
The pipe made a second round, and by now everybody was lying flat on the floor. We all felt pretty cosmic. One of my favorite parts of getting really high with people, is that it’s impossible to stay cool. I’d seriously impressed these kids with my wares and my rap, but now we were all just lying around giggling, listening to Donovan and talking about how spacey his lyrics were.
After a while I realized it was getting late and I hadn’t made a sale. I sat up. “So, how about it? Anyone interested?” They all pushed themselves to their feet and all the guys bought small packages of both hashes. Still, it didn’t add up to more than a hundred bucks. I needed to move some weed to put this trip into the black.
“What’s your situation on weed?”
“Oh, man,” said one of the guys, “we’ve been out for weeks. The whole town is dry, I think.” The others shook their heads in sad agreement.
“I think I can help with that.” I dug into my duffel and pulled out the key. It was wrapped in a Mexican newspaper and tied with brown string. I untied it and opened the wrapping. “Best Michoacán,” I said. The kids’ eyes bugged at the sight of the pressed block of weed. They’d never seen so much pot. I pulled a pinch off the side, crumbled it between my palms, and rolled a joint. I fired it up and passed it around. Everyone was still woozy from the hash, but there was no question the weed was having its effect. Soon we were all flat on our backs again. An old dog sauntered in from the kitchen, looked at all of us, then walked over to me and flopped down leaning against me. Everybody laughed as I rubbed his ears and he closed his eyes in pleasure.
“Man,” I said. “Look how much he’s into it. You, know, heads are always looking for something trippy to do when they’re high – lights or funny glasses or something – but this is one of the best things to do. Time spent petting a dog is never wasted.”
One of the guys snorted and patted the leg of the girl beside him. “Fuck the dog, man. Pet a girl.” We all considered that comment in silence for a few seconds. At first it made perfect sense, then Elissa started to giggle. “You sure you don’t have that backwards?” she asked. And we all guffawed and went into one of those communal belly laughs that straights rarely get to enjoy. Each time I’d catch my breath, someone else would break out and set us off again. When we finally settled down, I considered that my business still wasn’t done.
“Speaking of fucking the dog,” I segued smoothly, “does anyone want to buy some weed?
They all sat up and stared at the brick of weed. “That’s good shit,” said Jerry. “How much is it?”
“Twenty a lid,” I said. I had several lids already baggied up, and clipped one to my hand-held scales. I held it up. “An honest ounce, see? Most lids are seriously short. You can cut this up into five nickel bags, sell four and break even, and have a bag for free.”
Everybody pulled out their wallets and started trading twenties for baggies. But Jerry kept staring at the kilo.
“How much for the whole thing?” he asked.
We all stared at him in surprise. I started doing some quick arithmetic. A key is 35 lids, so worth about $700 retail (though I never managed to actually get more than a couple dozen lids before the key was somehow gone). I’d paid $250 for it in New York and taken considerable risk buying it, transporting it, and flogging it around. On the other hand, selling it a lid at a time to 35 strangers was pushing my odds of hitting a narc or being ripped off. One sale to one guy minimized that risk.
“Five hundred,” I said, rather proud of myself for doing that much mental math in my condition.
From the several gasps I realized this was a sum much larger than any of them had ever put into a deal.
“Dig it, man,” I said. “Look at it this way. That’s 35 lids, so they could yield 175 nickel bags for close to $900. And if the town has been dry a long time, you could make smaller nickel bags and make a grand or more.”
“He’s right, Jerry,” said the other dude – Tom, perhaps. “You know people would snap them up. It’s Michigan weed, he says.”
“Not Michigan,” I said. “The Free and Sovereign State of Michoacán. It’s in Mexico.”
He shrugged. “Wherever. It’s dynamite shit, Jerry. We could make a fortune. Let’s do it. You other guys in?”
“Not me,” said Elissa. The other chick – I never caught her name – said she could put in fifty. The three guys got out their wallets. Between all of them they had $375.
“Oh, man,” said Jerry. “It’s Friday night. The bank will be closed till Monday.” (This was in the days before ATM’s and electronic transfers, dear younger reader.) “Will you take a check?”
I gave him the fish-eye. “Yeah, why don’t you give me a piece of paper with your full name and mine on it? You could add a memo: ‘For a kilo of weed.’ That’s not how this works, Jerry. Cash and carry.” I wrapped the brick up again and prepared to put it back in my duffel.
“Oh, man,” Jerry groaned. “I really want that key.” He looked around his apartment. How about my stuff? Anything you want to take in trade?”
I looked around. There was nothing there I had any interest in. “No, thanks. Reckon I’ll be moving on. Nice doing business with you guys.”
“No, wait!” Jerry cried. “My stereo. Look at the stereo. It’s brand new, almost.”
I got up and went over to his stereo. It had a turntable and a tape deck and was portable, with detachable speakers that could be clipped to the front of the amp so you could lug it around like a big suitcase. It was good quality – definitely better than the wimpy old stereo I had back at my place. I didn’t know much about the value of the thing, but I guessed it might have cost a hundred and fifty.
“I’ll give you a hundred for it,” I offered. “No more.”
“We’re still $25 short,” moaned Tom.
“Take something else, man,” Jerry urged me. “Anything. Anything at all.”
I started feeling like a repo guy or something, but we were approaching a deal here. “How about some records?” I suggested. “I’ll take ten. My choices.”
He gulped and looked at his record collection, then back at the key in my hands. “Yeah, okay. Ten records.”
I started flipping through his albums. I soon hit a Steve Miller. I pulled it out and read some of the cover notes. “These guys are good,” I said. “I heard them once at the Straight Theater on Haight Street. But I don’t have any of their albums.”
“Yeah, they’re great,” he said wistfully. “I got several of theirs.”
I went through his collection and pulled out five Millers and five others more or less at random. I looked at him as he watched me piling them into a stack. Each one had his name, “Siemens” written neatly on the back. “You sure you want to do this?” I asked.
“Yeah. What the fuck – I’ll be able to replace them all next week, right?”
“Right. Well, here you go then.” I handed him the kilo and he clutched it to his chest like a baby. He helped me unplug the stereo and clipped it closed, stuffing all the loose wires inside.
“Thanks, man,” I said, shaking hands with him. “Been a pleasure.” I turned to Elissa. “I’m beat, babe. You said you knew a place where I could crash?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “I do.” She gave me a look that caused my hopes and things to rise. I handed her the stack of records, shouldered my duffel, then bent to pick up the stereo. It weighed a ton and was very awkward to try to walk with. It was going to be a bitch to haul the duffel and the stereo back to Ohio on the bus. I staggered out of the apartment under my load. Elissa walked beside me with a happy grin.
“That was so cool,” she said. “Those guys will never forget that.”
“Yeah, thanks for hooking me up with them. Where are we going?”
She gave me a wicked grin. “My place,” she said, putting her arm around my waist.
I just smiled. Suddenly my load wasn’t heavy any more.
A woman’s screams woke me at four in the morning, just as they had the night before. There were no words, just a long shrill wail like that of an injured infant, terrible to hear from a grown woman. I buried my head under my pillow, but it wasn’t enough to muffle another person’s agony. I wondered what demons came to her every night; what horrors stalked her dreams. The soft squeak of rubber soles hurried past my door, and after a few minutes the shriek broke up into blubbering sobs, then whimpered reluctantly into silence.
I was still awake three hours later when the day nurse came in with the medication cart. She handed me a glass of water and a tiny paper cup containing a single oblong red tablet.
“One lousy red?” I complained. “On the street I used to take a half-dozen of these at a time, or three or four black beauties, just for the buzz.”
“This isn’t the street, Brian,” she said. “And this Nembutol is to relax you, not for fun and games.”
“I’ll say. I can’t even feel one lousy red.” But I popped it anyway, disdaining the water. After she left I got dressed in my tie-dyed tee shirt and ragged bell-bottoms. I pulled my hair back in a rubber band and shuffled down to the common room.
There were only a couple of other patients there this early. Harry was in his usual chair in front of the TV. He looked like a high school quarterback, big and blonde and good-looking, but he hadn’t spoken in the two years since he’d gotten back from Nam. His face was impassive, but he was rocking intently as he watched Cal Worthington and a sad-looking muzzled bear hawking used cars. Carl, tall and black and thin as a licorice whip, was already at the table where he spent every waking hour, patiently working a huge complex jigsaw puzzle even though everybody knew there were dozens of pieces missing.
Neither of them looked up as I came in. I pulled a dog-eared John D. MacDonald off the shelf and flopped into a big worn easy chair. At eight one of the orderlies called us to breakfast. The other patients emerged from their rooms and the dining room was soon filled with conversation and the clatter of plastic plates on metal tables. I held my book in one hand as I forked soggy pancakes.
“Hi. Can I join you?”
I looked up at Abby standing beside me with her tray. She was a petite blonde, quite pretty, and one of the few patients around my age — she looked no more than sixteen, but you had to be eighteen to be admitted to Eight East.
“Sure,” I said, putting down my book and sliding over to make room for her. I was pleased — she seemed quiet and shy, but I’d noticed her watching me ever since I’d been admitted. I’d been looking at her too, of course -— she was the only attractive girl on the ward.
“You’re Brian?” she asked as she sat down close beside me.
“Yeah. The new kid. And you’re Abby?”
She seemed pleased that I remembered her name from the quick introductions when I was admitted. When I smiled at her she dropped her eyes shyly, so we both concentrated on our food as we talked.
“Was that your parents that came to visit yesterday?” I asked.
“I guess,” she shrugged. “They always act polite and pretend like it’s perfectly normal to be visiting their daughter on a mental ward. But they’re always really nervous when they’re here. They don’t know what to say to me. They think I’m crazy.”
“I’m schizophrenic,” she replied around a mouthful of pancake.
“Schizophrenic? Like split personalities?”
“No. Everybody always thinks that. There’s lots of different kinds of schizos. Multiple personality disorder is just one kind. I’m one of the other kinds. What about you?”
“I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
“Yeah, right. ‘Just visiting,’ like in Monopoly?”
“It’s all a mistake. These straights just don’t understand me. I’m saner than they are, but they just don’t see it.”
She glanced quickly at me, making eye contact for the first time.
“Listen, Brian,” she said. “Don’t go into a big denial trip on me. You’re new here. Let me tell you how it is. You’re on a psych ward. Every one of us is here for a reason. Some are raving loonies, like old Gordon over there.” She pointed with her chin at a gaunt wild-eyed man with tufts of long black hair sticking out from his head. He was stabbing at his food with his fork clenched in his fist. “They’re here because they can get dangerous,” she went on. “Some are just severe depressives, like Fat Alice and Jimmy and poor Wanda there, here for their own protection. Harry’s shell-shocked from seeing too much in Nam. Most of the rest of them are schizos or autistics or some kind of neurotic. Their families got tired of trying to deal with them, or they don’t have families. But everybody’s here for a reason. So what’s yours?”
“I’m a political prisoner,” I said. “I’m here because I’m a hippie. I’m too liberal, too free. The government put me in here because they were afraid of me.”
“Oh, paranoid delusions. Okay, I can dig that.”
“Listen,” I replied angrily, “you don’t get it, do you? I’m a member of the underground. I turned on, tuned in, and dropped out, like Leary said. I do dope, I proselytize, I resist the war machine. I’m a social revolutionary. I have committed the ultimate sin in America: I am not a consumer. What I do is illegal in this country. My own government plots against me and they lock me up when they catch me at it. That’s why I am here. These are not just paranoid delusions and I am not crazy.” I must have raised my voice, because two or three of the patients turned to look at us.
“It’s okay, man,” said an intense-looking young dude across from us. “Chill out, okay? You don’t have to pretend here.” I glared at him.
“Peter’s right, Brian,” said Abby. “There’s not too much good about this place except for one thing. You don’t have to try to cover it up any more. In here, it doesn’t matter. Here we can be ourselves.”
“This is myself. I am not a psycho.”
“How’d you get here then?” asked Peter.
“Look, last year I was still in college, pretty heavy into the dope scene. There was this big circle of people doing the same thing, and we’d be going around from one room to another, doing shit and making out and listening to music and having deep talks. And there was this one dude around the scene, kind of a nerdy little guy. He was another student like me, going to classes, taking lots of dope. We did a trip or two together, always with other people. He was just another guy, you know? Anyway, one time he heard I’d gotten some mescaline and he asked me for some. So I sold him a cap for five bucks and forgot all about it. That was a year ago. Then last week I’m in Jersey and I called home to talk to my folks and they tell me there’s a warrant out for me. Turns out the little guy was an undercover narc, and he turned over the names of everybody he’d dealt with all year. Thirty-four of us — just about everybody I knew. It was all over the local papers, how the cops had finally cleaned up that nest of Commie agitators and hippie pot heads out at the college. Feelings were running really high against us. Most of the people on the list had already been arrested in a series of big dramatic dawn raids; a few were already convicted. They were getting hard time: mostly three to five, but a couple had gotten five to ten.”
“Oh, man,” said Abby. “What did you do?”
“Well, I wanted to head to Canada, get the hell out of reach, but my parents really thought I should come home and turn myself in. They said they would bail me out right away and they’d hire a good lawyer. Unlike the other defendants, I was a local kid. I didn’t have a record. My parents were well known in the community; they knew the sheriff personally. They’d talked with him. He wouldn’t cut any deals, but he said if I turned myself in voluntarily, he was pretty sure I’d get a suspended sentence.”
“But no guarantees, huh?” said Peter. “You can’t trust the Man, man. They’ll take your balls if they can.”
“So what did you do?” asked Abby again.
“I thought about it for a long time. The lady I was with was really supportive, and we talked it over. She was a lot older than me, and she was a mom. She thought I should turn myself in. She said she’d never sleep knowing her kid was on the run from the law. I thought it over and decided to do it — better than being a fugitive the rest of my life. So I called my folks and agreed. They sent me bus fare and I came back to Ohio last Friday. They made me call the sheriff myself and tell him I was coming in. On Saturday morning my parents drove me over to the courthouse and I turned myself in. That was about the hardest thing I ever did.”
“What happened?” asked Abby, her eyes big.
“They booked me and brought me up to be arraigned right away. As soon as my charges were read, the sheriff requested a conference with the judge and my parents.”
“But not you?” asked Peter.
“No. I had to stay in the courtroom.”
“Bad scene, man. They’re going to mess with you.”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t too worried. I figured they were just going to agree on the conditions of my bail or something. Anyway, a few minutes later they come back out. My parents looked really freaked out. I thought at first maybe the judge had set the bail really high or something. But then the judge sits down and asks if anyone present will pay my bail. And there was this long, long, long silence. I looked at my folks, kind of wondering what the delay was. But neither one would look at me. My dad was just sitting up straight, looking straight ahead. My mom was crying real soft. They didn’t say anything, and the judge remanded me into custody pending trial.”
Peter slapped his hand down on the table. “I knew it! They will fuck you over every time.”
“Oh, man, that’s cold,” said Abby. “Why’d they do that?”
“Because they’re straight and I’m hip. Because I believe in being free and making love instead of war. Because I rejected their religion and their politics and everything they always believed in.”
“So what happened? How’d you get here?”
“Well, I’m sitting there in court feeling lower than whale shit, wondering just what I did to deserve this. Then the sheriff gets up and says he doesn’t want me in his jail; that he has reason to believe I’m insane and a danger to myself and others. So here I am.”
“Come on,” said Abby. “They don’t throw every busted druggie in the looney bin. There must have been something else.”
I pushed a sausage around on my plate. “Well, maybe I did get a little melodramatic.”
“Aha!” they both said. “How?”
“Well, that last night before I turned myself in I was really scared, you know? I mean, the suspended sentence was no sure thing. I could still get ten years in the pen. It was an absolutely terrifying thought to me: to never go outside again, never go to a beach, never be alone, never get high, never get laid. Ten years is a god-damned lifetime to a twenty-year old. So I felt that my life was in the balance. I figured I was like Damocles, you know, that king with the sword hanging by a thread over his head? So to dramatize the point, I hung a big butcher knife by a thread over my pillow.”
“Oh, wow,” exclaimed Abby. “Did you sleep under it all night?”
“Yeah, sure. But it wasn’t going to really fall. It was a symbol. Anyway, after I’d gotten up my mom saw the knife over my bed and freaked out. I guess she thought I was going to cut my throat or something. So they decided they wanted me locked up for my own safety. They called the sheriff and told him about it and he said he didn’t want some stoned-out druggie messing with the other prisoners or hanging himself in his nice clean jail. The only way he’d take me was if I could be locked up in solitary so I couldn’t hurt myself. That scared my parents all over again, thinking they might have to stand a suicide watch or something, and they decided they wouldn’t bail me out after all. So in the conference the judge came up with a plan. He gave me the choice of staying in solitary until my trial, which could be months away, or coming here for a week of evaluation. If the medicos said I was okay, my parents would pay the bail and I’d be released to them. So it was solitary or the nut house, my call. That didn’t take me long. I’ve been in the can once or twice before. Jail sucks, man, it really does. I said I’d take a week in the hospital any day. I was in and out of that jail in an hour, boy.” I chuckled smugly at my cleverness.
Abby shook her head. “I’ve never been to jail,” she said. “I hear it’s pretty bad, but I’m not so sure you made the right choice.”
“Why not?” I asked in amazement. “Anybody’d tell you a hospital is better than jail. The food’s better, the rooms are nicer, they give you free drugs, and there are girls here. Even really pretty ones,” I added with a grin at Abby.
She smiled at that, but shook her head. “At least in jail you know when you’re going to get out. You could spend the rest of your life here.”
“Hey, I haven’t been committed or anything. The judge just sent me for a week’s observation. I already talked to a shrink yesterday, Doctor Warner. He seemed pretty cool. We had a nice rational talk. When the week’s up, they’ll release me back to the sheriff, my parents will bail me out, and I’ll be on the street next week, awaiting trial.”
“Oh, Brian, you don’t know how it is,” said Abby with a pitying look in her eye. I felt my smugness evaporating.
“Listen to the chick,” said Peter. “I came in ‘just for observation’ too. But the doctors decided I needed treatment and wouldn’t release me at the end of the week. That was three years ago.”
My blood ran cold. “Hey, listen, man,” I said. “Look at me. I’m perfectly rational and coherent. I’m no looney. Anybody can see that.”
“Can you prove you’re sane?” asked Peter, poking his fork at me.
“How can anyone prove they’re sane?” I replied heatedly. “The docs have to prove that I’m insane. They can’t just keep me here forever!”
“What’s to stop them?” asked Peter with a careless shrug. “You obviously don’t have the picture yet, friend. See, in a trial you’re presumed to be innocent; they have to prove you’re guilty. Here it doesn’t work like that. This isn’t a court, it’s a hospital. The doctors decide when you’re sick or well, not you, not the judge, not your lawyers. If you ever want to get out of here you have to prove to them that you’re sane. It’s all up to your psychiatrist. And remember: to him, you’re just another inmate on a psych ward, one of dozens he has to evaluate every week. There must be something wrong with you or you wouldn’t be here, that’s the way they think. There’s nothing you can say. And dig it, brother: if he says you’re crazy, then as far as the state is concerned, you are. There’s no trial, no appeal, no review. That’s all she wrote, brother. You’ll be weaving hot pads and doing finger paints until you’re old and gray.”
“But they can’t do that! I’m perfectly sane!”
“Sure, man,” said Peter wryly. “We all are.”
“I’m not,” said Abby angrily. “And neither are you, Peter. You’re paranoid. You always think the whole staff is out to get you. Leave Brian alone. You’re freaking him out.”
“Just telling it how it is, little lady,” he shrugged.
“Is that true what he said?” I asked her. “Can they keep me here indefinitely?”
“Yeah, that part’s true. They’ll keep you here until they all agree that you’re okay to be let out.”
“Shit, man. You mean I have to convince a whole bunch of straight shrinks and nurses and whatnot that I’m normal?”
“Oh, Christ. Look at me. Look at my hair; they way I’m dressed. Dig it, people, I’m a hippie. Do you know what that means? That means I don’t think like ‘mah fella ‘Merkins,’ as Lyndon Johnson calls them. And that means most people think I’m weird. People think I’m crazy just for having long hair and wearing hippie clothes. But that’s nothing compared to what’s inside. I am in the Resistance Movement. I take illegal drugs, I avoid the draft, I refuse to pay taxes. I’m working against the government and its thought police and its storm troopers.”
“Wow,” said Abby. “Why?”
“Because they are doing evil in our names. I believe the United States is crushing out democracy in the third world. I believe the FBI murdered Kennedy. I believe the war in Vietnam is a creation of the arms industry. I believe the CIA smuggles cocaine to finance death squads in Nicaragua. I believe drug laws are political weapons to eliminate free-thinking citizens.”
Abby stared at me thoughtfully, obviously taken aback. But Peter just snorted.
“Well, I don’t know if any of that stuff is true or not,” he said. “But if I were you, I’d keep my mouth shut about it. On the outside those opinions are just something to argue about over a beer. At the worst, they could earn you a punch in the nose in most bars. But in here, I’d say they’re a lifetime pass to the funny farm.”
“Oh shit,” I moaned. “I should have taken solitary.”
“That’s the first thing you’ve said that sounds sane to me,” Peter replied.
“Dammit, Peter,” said Abby. “Can’t you see you’re terrifying the poor guy?”
“Okay, okay,” said Peter. “Don’t you get on my case, too. I was just giving him some advice.” He picked up his tray and moved off, muttering “Man, why is everybody always coming down on me?”
I sat with my head in my hands, my food forgotten. What had I done? Had I just made the biggest mistake of my life?
“Hey, Brian, it’s okay,” said Abby. She slid over and put her arm around me. It felt like a sisterly hug, but I was very aware of the warmth of her breast pressed against me. My body responded and she must have been aware of it, because she leaned closer. Lot of good an erection was going to do either of us in this place, I thought. But it felt good to have her there with me. I smiled gratefully at her.
“Not so close, you two,” came a voice from behind us. I looked up to see a muscular young black man in a white smock.
“Hey, we were just talking, man,” I said. “Back off.”
“Back off yourself, man,” he said. With one effortless shove he slid me two feet down the bench. “Hey!” I began indignantly, but one look at Abby’s face told me all I needed to know about the wisdom of objecting.
“We were just talking,” I growled. “The lady wasn’t complaining.”
“The lady isn’t likely to, is she?” he said with a nasty laugh. “But I am. Keep your distance from her or you’ll be confined to your room.” He glared at me until I looked away, then he moved off to the back of the room.
“Who the hell is that Nazi?” I grumbled after he left.
“That’s Ray, the orderly,” she whispered. “He’s always watching me. He thinks he’s my protector or something. Don’t mess with him. He’s bad news.”
“What’s he going to do? Work me over with a rubber hose or something?”
“No, but he reports to the psychiatric evaluation committee. If you ever want to get out of here, don’t get on his bad side.” She got up and took her tray to the window. I finished my breakfast alone, feeling cold dread slowly grow inside me.
At eleven I was led to a tiny consulting room. Dr. Warner was a slim young man in jeans and a jacket over a turtleneck. He didn’t fit my image of a psychiatrist, and I’d felt comfortable with him at our first session the day before. He was writing on a yellow legal pad when I came in, but he looked up when I sat down.
“Hi, doc,” I said. “What do I have to do to get out of this place?”
He gave me a level look. “Are you in a hurry to get out now? You seemed happy to be here yesterday.”
“I’ve been thinking it over — my decision to come here, I mean. I’m not so sure I knew just what I was getting into when I agreed to it. I just want to know how it works. Is that some kind of secret or something?”
“No, not at all. There is a psychiatric evaluation committee that meets once a week. They decide when you will be released.”
“Who’s on this committee?”
“It consists of the psychiatric staff of course, plus representatives from the hospital administration and from the nursing staff. We review each patient’s case. We hear a brief report from his therapist about their sessions that week, and we talk to the nurses and orderlies about behavior they have observed on the ward. Often…”
“Wait a minute,” I cut in. “Let me get this straight. All these people on this committee, some of whom I’ve never even met, they make the decision for me? I don’t even get to express an opinion?”
“That’s right. You must see that we can’t allow the patients to have a voice in the committee. As the therapist assigned to your case, I represent your interests and your opinions to the committee.”
“So I take it, Doc, that as my therapist, your opinion will carry the most weight in this evaluation committee. You basically make the call, right?” He shrugged and nodded.
“I make a recommendation and most often they go along with it, yes.”
“But they all have to agree if I deserve to live the rest of my life?”
“The committee has to concur with me that you no longer need to be confined, yes.”
“All of them?”
“The decision doesn’t have to be unanimous, but if one member has a strong objection to release, the others are unlikely to override him.”
“So you all have to agree I’m sane?”
“Well, sanity is an inexact term. We don’t use it ourselves. But yes, we all have to agree that you are not a danger to yourself or the community. That you’re functionally more or less normal.”
“Yeah, that’s what worries me. What does normal mean? I mean, whose concept of normal do I have to meet? Look at me, I have long hair, I wear hippie clothes, I take dope, I’m against the establishment. Lots of straight people would say I’m abnormal just for that.”
“This isn’t a police state yet, Brian. You’re still free to dissent. This country was founded by dissenters. ”
“Yeah. But I think most people don’t see hippies in quite the same light as the founding fathers.”
He chuckled. “Refusing to conform doesn’t make you insane, Brian. We’re looking for evidence of psychological disorders — hallucinations, delusions, compulsive behavior, severe depression.”
“This place would make anyone depressed.”
“But it doesn’t,” he said, leaning forward intently. “Haven’t you noticed it in the other patients? Some are deeply disturbed, of course, but many of the others, the ones who look quote normal unquote — they often aren’t depressed about being here at all.”
“Yes,” I admitted. “I did notice that. I guess I expected people with their hands in their coats claiming to be Napoleon, but still raging against the injustice of being locked up. I guess I expected everybody here would deny being crazy.”
“Like you,” he said with a sly grin.
“Ouch, touché. But I talked to Abby this morning and she admits that she’s not sane. She seems to think this is the right place for her right now. She talked about how she doesn’t have to pretend in here.”
“Yes, I think that’s it. Many lay people seem to think mental illness is something that just happens to you, like a stroke or a heart attack. You’re cruising along perfectly fine and suddenly you go insane. But it’s not like that, not for most people. Of course, sometimes it does begin suddenly, as a result of some trauma. But most patients feel they’ve always had their condition, have always known they were different. They spend their lives denying it, fighting it, attempting to hide it. For them, the appearance of sanity is not a natural state but a disguise, one that is always crumbling and falling off. For such people just moving about in society, interacting with others, is a constant effort. It’s a struggle that drains their energy and leaves them with not enough to battle the real causes of their disease. Finally it gets to be too much. When they come here, they often see it as blessed relief. They don’t have to pretend to be normal. Here no one looks down on them if they talk incessantly or retreat into silence or spend the day rocking in front of the TV. Nothing is expected of them. Finally they can be themselves and perhaps work on a solution to their problems.”
“But that’s not me,” I said. “Sure, I always felt that I was different from most people, but I thought that was good. One look at a newspaper should tell you that the world is not being run by sane people. People are building bombs for world peace; they’re killing people for liberty. This is not logical behavior. When I was growing up I thought I saw the world more clearly than most people; that I understood more. I knew I was different, but I never thought I was insane.”
Dr. Warner watched me attentively, and I wondered what he was thinking. Did my arguments make any sense to him, or did he think I was only rationalizing? Perhaps he thought I was raving. Gathering my nerve, I asked the question that was haunting me.
“So do you think I’m nuts, Doc?”
He rolled his pencil between his hands, considering.
“I’m going to be frank with you, Brian, more so than I would be with most of my patients. You’re a very bright young man, well-read and well-educated. But in my opinion, you were borderline delusional when you were admitted. You weren’t violent, but you were withdrawn, defensive, and depressed.”
“Look, doc,” I replied. “Here’s my situation. Last week I was living with a beautiful woman in a lovely house in the woods of New Jersey, high as a kite and happy as a clam. It was a very exciting time in our relationsip. We’d been eyeing each other for weeks, each secretly wanting the other and afraid to speak up, and then finally it happened and it was great. It was that wonderful time in a relationship when you’re just exploring each other sexually and everything is incredibly intense and exciting. Anyway, I felt happier than I had in way too long. So I decided to call my parents and tell them that; I hadn’t talked to them in months and I knew they must be worried. So they tell me that my whole damn college has been busted and all my friends, these lovely gentle people, are going to jail, some of them for a long, long, time. A warrant has been issued for my arrest.
“Well, that brought me down fast. I was a wanted criminal. My picture would be in the post office. I could get twenty years if I were caught. Even if I were never caught, what would life be like? I couldn’t leave the country, I couldn’t vote, I couldn’t go back to college, I couldn’t buy a damn car. My American dream, my pursuit of happiness, had been stripped away forever. And for what? Did I kill or rape or sell atomic secrets to the Soviets? No, I sold a man a pill he asked me to sell him; and I smoked a common roadside weed. I was bitter, I was angry, and mostly I was really, really scared. And my new lady is devastated, too. I mean, she meets a new lover, and then a week or so later she finds he’s a wanted felon. But she was great. She just sat down and started trying to work out what I should do. My folks wanted me to turn myself in, and she finally came to agree with them.
“I couldn’t decide if that was a good idea or the absolutely stupidest possible thing I could possibly do. I had an image of me sitting on a cot in a cell, with all these guys laughing and smacking their foreheads saying, “You mean the cops busted you while you weren’t there and you walked into the cop shop?” Har, har, har. We did a lot of thinking and talking, and I finally decided that for once in my life I was going to do the right thing, the sensible thing, even though it would probably mean doing some jail time, which frankly scares the crap out of me. So I come home to turn myself in, and I find that my grandfather is visiting my parents. He’s this nice gentle old man in his eighties who’s always been very nice to me. But he’s as straight as J. Edgar Hoover. He’s old, he’s from Germany, he’s a minister. He doesn’t have a clue about what’s been happening in this country in the last few years. He doesn’t know about hippies and drugs and draft resisters. And he sure as hell wouldn’t understand about me selling drugs. So my parents haven’t told him what’s going down; they told him I’m on my way back to college, and they make me promise to not let him know or it might kill the old guy.
“So there I am, having dinner with mom and dad and grandpa, and I’m thinking that this is probably my last night as a free man for the next decade or two. I am scared absolutely shitless, not at all sure that I’m doing the right thing. I could really use a good long talk with my folks, or somebody. But we can’t even mention it. Grandpa is asking me what subjects I’m taking and how my grades are and if I’ve met any nice girls. He’s asking me about my love life and I’m thinking the next sex I get will be four big black dudes holding me down across a toilet. These reflections did not make me a sparkling dinner guest.”
“I can see that situation could be hard to take,” said Dr. Warner. “Did you say anything to your grandfather?”
“No, man, how could I? How could I ever explain any of it to him? I sat there and ate and smiled and lied to his face. Mom and dad did, too. We told him I was majoring in geology and I expected to graduate in June. We lied and lied and he nodded and smiled. After dinner we played cards, man. Mom and dad and I all knew what was going down in the morning and none of us said a word. We played fucking cards. That was the longest damn evening of my life. I just felt dirty, you know? Unclean. Like I’d slipped a turd in the old man’s dessert and he didn’t know it and he was eating it up. On top of the lying, I felt like my life was ending in the morning and I couldn’t even bring up the damn subject.”
“Is that why you hung the knife over your bed?”
“Yeah, I guess. We couldn’t talk about it, but I wanted something to mark that this was not just another night. I felt this terrible doom rushing toward me and there wasn’t a god-damned thing I could do to avoid it. I felt like I was on death row, just waiting for my execution at dawn.”
“No one gets executed for drugs, Brian. There’s still a good chance you’ll just get probation. You haven’t even been convicted yet.”
“I sold dope to a narc, man. That tiny blue tablet I sold that little shit last year is now in a baggie marked Exhibit A. What am I going to do — deny it? Pretend I didn’t know it was illegal? Plead temporary insanity? There’s no possible defense, no hope of getting off.”
“They could let you off with a fine and a warning.”
“Not in this county. The sheriff got elected because he promised he’d clean out the ‘outside commie agitators and drug pushers’ on the college campus. He’s making his career here. He wants to make an example of us, burn us so bad that it will scare all the local kids away from drugs forever. He’s asking for the maximum sentence for every one of us. That’s twenty years. I’m twenty-one, doc. I’ll be in my forties before I get out. To me that’s the same as a death sentence. And it’s all completely out of my control. It’s up to a jury of my peers. Who are my peers? Do I get twelve hippies to judge me? No, I get middle-class white burghers, the kind that glare at me on the street and won’t serve me in their restaurants. I keep thinking that there are these people I’ve never met and probably wouldn’t like if I did, and they’re going to decide if I get to have the rest of my life.”
“I can understand that you have reason to be anxious. So do you feel that all of this is the cause of your depression?”
“Depression? Look, Doc, this has not been the greatest week for me. In the last seven days I’ve been busted, forced to leave a wonderful new woman, ordered to lie to my grandfather, been betrayed by my parents, sent to jail, kicked out of jail because I’m psycho, and locked up in a mental hospital. This is not my idea of a good time. Of course I’m depressed. Who wouldn’t be depressed?”
“Depressed enough to consider suicide? Apparently your parents thought so, the sheriff thought so, and the judge thought so.”
“Not true,” I said decisively. I hesitated, then decided to explain. “I’ve thought about it, sure. Sometimes when things are all fucked up and I get really depressed, I think about it. Who hasn’t? I always know that if things ever get bad enough, I could take that way out. I’m not afraid of death, not of being dead anyway; I think it’s just the end of experience. I mean, I don’t believe I’m going to hell or committing a sin or anything. But in a funny way knowing I have the option gives me the strength to go on, take a few more slings and arrows, you know? It’s like I say to myself, ‘this is pretty bad, but I can still take it. And if it gets too bad, I can just step out the exit.’ It makes it easier to bear the hard stuff. But I have no intention of dying yet. There’s still too much I haven’t done. I’ve never even been close to exercising the option.”
“And yet you continue to take massive quantities of illegal drugs, fully aware of the dangers. You told me yesterday you’ve had several friends who’ve died of overdoses. Perhaps you’re trying to tempt fate? Putting yourself in the way of an accident would still be suicide, you know.”
“I’m not trying to kill myself with drugs, I’m trying to find myself. Of course people can get hurt with drugs, but not many actually do. You hear so much about bad trips and people never coming down and so on, but it very rarely happens. The vast majority of drug users take them all the time with very little ill effect. They wouldn’t keep taking them if they didn’t enjoy them. Of course there’s a risk. But race car drivers and mountain climbers take risks and no one thinks they should all be locked up. Do you think they all have pathological death wishes? Why should taking a potentially dangerous drug be particularly irrational?”
“They’re also illegal. Aside from any question of the health dangers, they’re still controlled substances. If you’re caught using them you’ll go to jail, possibly for a good part of your life. You’ve been arrested before, the idea of prison terrifies you, and yet you persist in taking them. Is that rational behavior?”
“I think it is. I think certain drugs are important. They allow us to learn things we could not know by other means. I think it is immoral that the government tries to deny them to the people who want to use them. We don’t make cars illegal when someone has an accident. We don’t make planes illegal because one crashes now and then. People are going to take drugs; they always have, in every culture, all the way through history.”
“Drugs are dangerous. People have been terribly damaged, even killed.”
“If drugs are bad for you, and some certainly are, it should be a medical issue or an educational issue, not a legal one. We’re not harming anyone else. It’s supposed to be a free country. Whose concern is it but ours?”
“Many people feel drug use is a disease.”
“If it is a disease, why do we put its victims in jail? Treat those who request treatment. If it’s not a disease, it’s just a social custom, and what business does the government have trying to tell us what to smoke or eat or drink? The police should be catching murderers and rapists and burglars and stopping domestic violence, not pretending to be students to trick people who aren't hurting anybody. I’m not standing around school playgrounds pushing dope, for Christ's sake. I sell it to friends who ask me for it. I’m supplying a social need. Didn’t the first Prohibition teach us the law has no business trying to dictate what people put in their bodies? All criminalization does is put the trade in the hands of gangsters and make a bunch of good people outlaws. And it drives the prices up so high people do illegal or immoral or dishonest things to be able to afford them. How many girls would be turning tricks to get dope if it cost two bucks at any liquor store? When drugs are outlawed, only outlaws will use drugs.”
Doctor Warner could see he’d touched on a sore subject with me. He gestured for me to calm down. “So why do you take so many drugs?” he asked. “To escape those slings and arrows of reality?”
“I’m not trying to avoid reality, doc, I’m trying to divine it — in both senses of the word. I want to divine the truth about reality, figure out just what the hell it is; and I also want to make it divine, to imbue it with some higher meaning. Surely this whole beautiful elaborate world wasn’t created just so we could sit around eating TV dinners and watching Lost in Space reruns. I want to see God, or be Him, or at least ask Her some questions. I’m trying to understand, if that’s possible.”
“Trying to understand what?”
“It. Everything. Why we’re here. How we got here. What should we be doing with our time here. What could be more important than the answer to those questions? I see psychedelic drugs as a tool — a vehicle for exploration. I see myself like Captain Cook -— you know, ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before.’”
“Wasn’t that Captain Kirk?”
“James Cook said it before James Kirk.”
“Did he now?” He made a note on his yellow pad. I tried to see what he was writing.
“Hey, doc, I said I was like Cook, not that I am him. That was an allusion, not a delusion.”
“I know, Brian,” he chuckled. “I was noting down that bit of trivia for my Star Trek friends. So that’s why you take drugs? For a religious experience?”
“Not always. Sometimes it’s just for fun, or as a social thing at a party of something, you know. But usually, yeah, it is for a religious experience, though I don’t usually call it that. I am not a religious guy; I don’t have a spiritual bone in my head. I think all these hippies going on about the tarot cards and the I Ching and whatnot are nuts. Basically I believe in the scientific approach. But when I trip I see things I’ve never seen; understand things I’ve never understood before. I become aware of relationships I’ve never noticed before; levels of meaning become clear. There’s nothing empirical about it; it’s just a flash of pure comprehension. It’s true experiential learning. And it works. It really does. I’ve had scores of these experiences. But every trip is completely different. Sometimes it’s just fun. Sometimes it’s to really get to know somebody, maybe some chick, you know? Sometimes it’s just to experience being alone with yourself with all barriers down, all constraints removed. You always see new stuff, but which stuff you get into depends on where you are, who you’re with, how you’re feeling. It’s the setting, as Tim Leary says. It’s different every time. But always it feels like you’re raised above the ordinary plane of existence.”
“I don’t know exactly,” I said. “Every tripper knows what I mean, but it’s hard to put into words. It’s nearly impossible to describe to someone who’s never experienced it.”
“Well, I don’t really know how. It’s like trying to describe what a banana tastes like to someone who’s never had one. We don’t have the words for it.”
“In what way do you feel different?”
“Everything is different. You feel different, but also the whole world around you seems different, too. You could just be sitting in your room like you have a million time before, but now the experience is completely new. There’s a sense of significance, an immanence that pulses and glows in everyone and everything. You feel connected, however briefly, to a reality infinitely higher and deeper and more resonant with meaning than the everyday world.”
“That’s very moving, Brian. You put it poetically.”
“There’s no other way to talk about it. That’s why people use music and poetry to try to describe it. Listen to Jimi Hendrix or the Grateful Dead or the Stones or the Beatles or the Jefferson Airplane. They know.” I watched him scribbling hurriedly and I suddenly became anxious. I remembered that this was a psychiatric session.
“Hey, does that sound crazy to you? Are you writing that I’m spaced out, irrational? If we were just two guys talking about this you might agree with me or disagree and it wouldn’t matter. But you’re here to judge me. If you disagree with what I say, you could write down that I’m crazy and I’d be stuck here forever.”
“I am not writing down that you’re crazy. I noted that you have experienced hallucinations. You don’t deny that, do you?”
“No, but only when I’m tripping. Look doc, these are powerful drugs we’re talking about here. Some researchers call them psychomimetics; they say that they mimic a psychosis. I don’t know enough about psychosis to know if that’s true, but I do know about tripping. I take a pill, my perception changes, and I see things I don’t normally see. For want of a better word, you call them hallucinations. But is it a temporary psychosis, is it a glimpse of God, or is it a window torn into a higher plane of being? I don’t know either. I’d like to find out. That’s why I take them.”
“But still,” he said. “The fact remains that you have experienced hallucinations recently. That could be symptomatic of other psychological conditions. I can’t ignore the possibility.”
“I don’t like the term hallucination. It implies illusion, falsehood, seeing something that isn’t there; in short, madness.”
“It’s all right, Brian,” he said reassuringly. “Anyone can experience hallucinations. It’s not always a sign of mental illness. Any number of stimuli can cause us to see things that aren’t there — trauma, exhaustion, fever, psychosis, trance, drugs. The illness lies in not being able to tell what’s real.”
“But maybe some of them really are there, but we just normally don’t see them. Like phosphenes, those paisley patterns on the surfaces of our eyes. If you stare up at a blank sky and look for them, there they are, right in front of you all the time. They’re like little iridescent paramecia and spinning starbursts. We noticed them when we were children, but our parents told us they weren’t real and we learned to ignore them. But trippers temporarily lose the ability to filter them out. They see them everywhere they look. And they’re really beautiful — that’s why paisley prints have come back into style. That’s a hallucination. But it’s real too. There really are patterns on our eyes.”
“Hmm,” he said. “Do you contend there may really be pink elephants in the bars?”
I sighed. “That’s not LSD, that’s the DT’s. No, I don’t believe there are pink elephants flying around in bars. But tripping has taught me to be more tolerant of other people’s perceptions. I’ve experienced altered perceptions myself, so I know how real they can be. I’m no longer so sure that what I see at any one time is the whole reality. If a drunk tells me he sees pink elephants flying around, I don’t believe they’re really there, any more than I did before I started tripping. But now I might put a hand over my drink, just in case.”
He chuckled. “So you deny the truth of the drunk’s hallucinations, and yet you seem to feel that your own have some deeper significance. How do you reconcile that?”
I considered for a minute. “The experiences are different in kind. Okay, here’s a case in point. One winter evening I was tripping by myself in my dorm room. Sometime in the middle of the night I decided to see what it was like outside and I went out on the porch. I found to my surprise that it was snowing heavily, and the snow was a deep blood red. Red flakes drifting down, deep red drifts on the ground and on the bushes. Was that a hallucination?”
He nodded. “Sure. Snow is white.”
“Not that night, it wasn’t. See, we had a red porch light on the dorm.”
“Oh, I see,” he smiled. “You didn’t mention that. So it was really white snow, but with a red light on it.”
“No, it was red snow. Look, if you took somebody who’s never seen snow out on that porch and asked him what color the stuff on the ground was, he wouldn’t hesitate for a second: he’d say it was red.”
“But he’d be wrong.”
“No, he’d be right. There’s nothing intrinsically white about snow. The color of an object is just the wavelength of light reflecting off it. Snow reflects all colors of light that fall on it equally. We normally say snow is white because we usually see it in white light. But that night that snow was reflecting red light, so it really was red snow. If we weren’t tripping, we’d look out there and see the red snow, but our minds would say, ‘Wait a minute. Snow’s not red, it’s white. There must be a red light shining on it.’ But because I was tripping, that internal conversation never happened, and the snow remained what it truly was — red. That’s the way I think psychedelic hallucinations work. The drugs break down the filters we’ve erected between ourselves and the world and allow us to see things we’ve been trained to ignore.”
The doctor had laid down his pencil and was staring at me. I realized that in my enthusiasm for my subject I had gotten carried away again.
“Uh, listen, doc,” I said. “You did ask me to tell you about drug hallucinations.”
“Yes, I did, and I would very much like to hear more, but we’re out of time for today. Brian, this drug craze that’s sweeping the country, it’s new to this area. We’ve had very little experience with these street drugs here in Dayton. I venture to say that nobody on the medical staff of this hospital knows as much as you do about them. I mean about their street names, why people do them, what they feel like, how people react when they’re on them. I think you could do us a huge service by telling us whatever you can about the drugs and their effects.”
“You mean acid in particular, or just any drugs?”
“Anything you want. Why don’t you make a list of all the drugs you’re familiar with and then in our next session we can go over it and you can tell me whatever you think might be useful about each one.”
“Should this list be like a dictionary?”
“Whatever format you want. Will you do that?””
“Sure, man. That’d be fun. It’ll give me something to do.”
“Great. Let’s call it your therapy for this week.”
The screamer woke me up at four again. I lay rigid in my bed, listening. It was excruciating to be able to hear her naked terror so intimately without even knowing who she was. It was embarrassing, too, like listening to somebody throw up. No one should hurt like that alone in the night. Part of me wanted to get up to see if I could help, but much stronger was the sense of relief that I didn’t have to go to her, that the nurses would deal with it. I tried to picture what they were doing in that room. Were they talking with her, comforting her, or were they just ramming more downers down her throat, trying to get through their shifts without further disturbance? Was she being restrained? I was glad I didn’t have to be there, in the presence of such pure misery.
It was impossible to get back to sleep. I kept turning, tugging the sheets into knots, trying to find a position that would let me rest, let me drift back into the agreeable dreams I had been torn from. Long after the sounds had faded away I lay staring at the ceiling, reflecting that, as difficult as my life had become, there were depths of pain I had never even glimpsed.
That day in the common room I studied the women, trying to guess which was the screamer. Wanda, the nervous frightened little mouse? Fat Alice, with her darting, suspicious eyes and ponderous hips? Or was it Beryl, the scowling unfriendly black woman? Hard to imagine any of them shrieking like that.
When I went in for my session with Dr. Warner, he asked me how my drug dictionary was coming.
“Pretty good. I started with grass cause it’s the easiest.”
“Yeah. Sometimes called pot or weed or Mary Jane or hemp or smoke or shit or most often just plain dope. It’s the dried leaves of a common roadside plant, Cannabis sativa. There’s also Indian hemp, Cannabis indica.”
“How does it make you feel?”
“It depends on how you’re feeling. Usually just happy. A lot of times it makes you kind of giddy and giggly. Sometimes kind of thoughtful and pensive. Sometimes mystical. It really enhances your senses. Food tastes absolutely great, smells smell wonderful, colors seem brighter. A lot of times I’ll get high and just listen to music for hours, and it seems like I can hear every note. I can listen to the same record over and over and each time I listen to a different part. I’ll listen to the lyrics and the way the singer sings it, then I’ll listen to the lead, then the bass, then the drums, then the rhythm guitar. You really get to understand the whole music that way. And sex is usually way better.”
“It doesn’t interfere with sex?”
“Occasionally if you’re really stoned out it can get in the way, but usually it intensifies the sensations. Sometimes the silliness gets in the way. I once saw this list of the ten dangers of marijuana. The first was that it ruined sex, as in ‘Oh darling, your pickles are nuppered.’”
Dr. Warner laughed out loud. “I can see that might change the mood.”
“I also really enjoy having a smoke and then going for a walk in the woods. Just being by myself in nature feels so perfect.”
“I see. And you smoke it, right?”
“You can smoke it or eat it. Smoking it comes on real fast. Eating it takes longer, but it lasts longer and it’s stronger. It tastes a little like hay, so it’s better ground up fine and cooked with something stronger tasting. It’s great in brownies or chocolate cake.”
“Does it come in different kinds?”
“Oh, sure. Mexican dope is stronger than the California weed. And the stuff from Southeast Asia seems to be the strongest. That may be the only good thing that’s come out of the Vietnam War. There’s Acapulco gold and Vietnamese black and Panama red and lots more.”
“It’s different colors?”
“Not really. But the buds are kind of hairy, and the colors refer to the color of the fuzz. The stuff that grows around here is generally light green.”
“It grows around here? I thought it was all smuggled in.”
“Nah. It grows great around here. It’s a weed. It grows naturally in the fields and along the roads. It used to be very common everywhere until they made it illegal. Now it’s all been pulled up, either by the cops or by the heads.”
“Why do you think it’s illegal? Don’t you think that indicates that it’s dangerous?”
“Nah. People have been smoking grass all through history. But when Prohibition ended there were all these drug agents that would have been out of a job. Since they couldn’t bust into peoples’ houses and smash all their bottles anymore, they jumped on the next most popular drug and made grass illegal. That’s the only reason. Until they started this big campaign against it in the thirties, it was a common household remedy. People used it to help them relax or to relieve pain. It’s supposed to be good for hypertension and glaucoma, too.”
“So does that about cover marijuana?”
“Are you kidding? I haven’t even started on hash. That’s hashish, made from the pollen and resins of the flower of the hemp plant. It mostly comes from the Middle East or southern Asia. The legend is that young girls cover themselves with oil and run naked through the pot fields to collect the pollen. It comes in blocks. Some is soft and crumbly, almost like light-brown dried mud. That’s Lebanese brown. Others, like Afghani black, are hard and sticky, more like tar. Nepalese hash is very hard and shiny, you have to shave it off with a knife. Some people stick a chunk on a pin and heat it. I usually put a little bit on top of a pipeful of pot. It has a wonderful smell when it burns and gives a more intense high than grass.
“Then there’s THC, tetrahydrocannabinol. That’s the active ingredient in grass. It’s pretty strong, but a hassle to extract so you don’t see it around much. Then there’s hash oil, a liquid form of hashish, and Thai sticks, which are the dried flowers and buds all tied up in little skinny bundles. Oil and sticks are both very strong.”
Dr. Warner watched me a moment.
“Okay,” he said. “So have you covered marijuana now?”
“A brief overview. In a nutshell.”
“I can see that this drug dictionary is going to be a bigger effort than I thought.”
“Is it too much?”
“No, no. It’s all very useful. Be sure you get it all written down. But I hadn’t intended for it to take up all our time. We’re nearly out of time for today.”
“We can talk about something else if you want. You’re the doctor.”
“No, it’s fine. I suspect for me to understand where you’re at in your life right now I’m going to have to know about the street drugs. I tend to think of them as a symptom, an indication of a deeper problem that I have to get to. But with you, they’re not just an escape. They seem to be pretty central to your life style.”
“They are central. I mean, there’s this whole hippie thing going on these days, and it has many facets. There’s the usual rebellion of the younger generation against the older, there’s the whole anti-war movement, there’s this resistance to the cold war space race military establishment thing, there’s the civil rights thing, there’s an unwillingness to just get a boring job to make the payments. Young people everywhere are refusing to follow the courses their parents laid out for them. The Provos in Paris, the Prague Spring, the East Village, Haight-Ashbury, Carnaby Street, Soho… it’s happening all over the world. But I feel that it’s all really held together by this discovery that people have made about drugs — that they can open your mind. And the communication medium is the music, the rock’n’roll. The Beatles put out a song that tells you to turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream, and kids all over the world do just that. Jimi Hendrix asks Are You Experienced? and millions of people scream back Yes! In this case, the medium really is the message. The drugs are not just recreational. They are both the medium and the message.”
“So if I want to know what makes you tick, I guess you better tell me what you know about them. Keep going on your project. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Paranoid Pete and I were playing a game of gin rummy that evening. I was counting up my points when someone leaned against my back. I looked up.
“Hi, Brian. How was your session?”
“Okay. He has me writing up a paper on street drugs for the medical staff.”
“Cool. Sounds like more fun than my therapy.”
“Yeah. It should be interesting.”
“That’s not therapy,” said Peter.
“What do you mean?”
“They’re never going to actually use your paper. It’s diagnostic. They just want to see just how wigged out you really are.”
“Hey, I’m not wigged out. You talk like I’m some spaced-out junkie or something. I haven’t had so much as a joint in ten days and I’m not climbing the walls or anything. I like dope, sure, but I’m not dependent on it.”
“Maybe so, but they’ll figure anybody as much into drugs as you are is unable to cope with the real world. ‘What is he trying to escape?’ they’ll ask.”
“I don’t take drugs to escape. I try to push the limits, to see what’s out there beyond the horizon.”
“That sounds looney even to me, and I’m a looney. If you’re not really careful, they’re going to get you for sure.”
“Oh, Peter,” said Abby. “You always think the staff is out to get us.”
Peter looked at me in disgust. “That’s the trouble with being paranoid,” he grumbled. “Everybody is always picking on you about it.”
We both laughed and he left in a mock huff. Abby ran her hands down my shoulders and over my chest. I pressed back against her softness with a sigh.
“Why do you do that?” I whispered. “You know how it turns me on, but it’s hopeless in here. Besides, if Field Marshal Ray sees us we’ll both be in trouble.”
“To hell with Ray. He’s off duty now.”
I looked around. The only attendant visible was Mercedes, the little Puerto Rican nurse, working with Weird Mary at the modeling clay table.
“Do you wanna mess around?” whispered Abby in my ear.
“Sure, but we can’t.”
“Don’t you find me attractive?” She pressed her breasts into the back of my head.
I sighed in pleasure. “Well, of course I do. What do you think? But we can’t do anything in here and I don’t want to fuck up our chances of getting out.”
She jerked away from me. “It’s your chances you’re worried about, not mine,” she cried. “You don’t give a shit about me!” The other patients turned to look at us.
I spun around in surprise. “Hey, what makes you say that? I like you, Abby.”
“Yeah, sure you do. Because I’ve got nice boobs, right? That’s the only reason you’re around me. I know your type.”
I stared at her angry face in amazement. “What is that supposed to mean, my type? Hey, what brought all this on?” I said. “I didn’t do anything. Weren’t you coming on to me?”
“So I have to make all the moves? What’s the matter, can’t get it up for me?”
“What the hell are you so mad about?”
“Because you ignore me. You’re always pushing me away.”
“I’m not. I think you’re great. I like you and I think you’re hot. If there was a chance we could get away with it I’d be on you like a goat. But in here there just doesn’t seem to be any point in getting ourselves all worked up.”
“But you like it when I flirt with you, don’t you?”
“Sure I do.”
“Why do you like it if I come on to you, but you never try to hit on me? Do you just like playing hard to get? You like being pursued for a change?”
“Well, yeah, sure. It’s kind of fun.”
“You ask that question a lot, don’t you?”
“I’ll keep asking until you answer. Why do you like to feel pursued?”
“Well, I don’t know. I guess it’s flattering. It makes me feel good. I mean, everybody wants to feel wanted, don’t they?”
She stared at me, but her expression had changed. Her flash of anger was gone.
“Do they?” she said, in a tone that made me realize it wasn’t a rhetorical question.
“Well, yeah. Sure. I mean, I think everybody does.”
“So it makes you feel good about yourself if a girl comes on to you?”
“Of course. Well, not any girl. I mean, not if she’s a hooker or really ugly or something. But if a nice chick gives me the look, man, that’s a great feeling.”
She came over and swung her leg over the next chair. She rested her chin on the back and looked at me with her head tilted.
“What about me?” she asked.
“What do you think, Abby? You can’t tell I find you attractive? I develop a limp every time I walk past you.” I lowered my voice even more. “Want to know the truth? Every night since we met I’ve made love to you through about six walls.”
She giggled. “Really?”
“Sure. Why should you be surprised? You’re smart and funny and you know what’s going down around you. You’re out front and you don’t take no bullshit. Not to mention you’re beautiful. You’re a foxy lady, Abby. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that?”
She stared blankly for a second, then met my eyes.
“No,” she said. “No one ever did.”
“Come on. You must have guys chasing you around all the time.”
She nodded emphatically. “There’s lots of guys that want to fuck me, that’s for sure. But no one ever told me I was a ‘foxy lady.’”
I laughed. “You can’t ever say that again.”
She smiled, but her eyes were distant again. “No, I guess I can’t, can I?”
Whatever had caused her anger seemed to have passed. We sat in companionable conversation for a half hour or so, then it was bedtime. I gave her a gallant bow and offered my hand to help her up. She laughed and leaned close.
“What you said?” she whispered. “About making love to me when you were alone in your room?”
“Yeah?” I replied with a blush. I was suddenly sorry I had mentioned it. What if I had offended her?
Then she was gone, down the corridor to the women’s section. Just before she disappeared, she gave me a lecherous wink.
The screamer woke me as usual the next morning, but after listening for a few minutes I fell back to sleep. When I woke up I thought back on it and wondered if I were growing calloused or simply getting used to life on the ward. I wanted to ask somebody who the screamer was, but I didn’t feel that I could. I had noticed that, while many patients spoke quite openly about their own psychological problems, they rarely discussed those of other patients. Carl worked on his puzzle with fierce intensity, Harry rocked and watched inane television, Lucy walked around wringing her hands and berating herself; but they were neither gawked at nor shunned. It would have been considered rude of me to ask Carl why he worked on the hopeless puzzle. No doubt the other patients would have come to his defense, even though they might have never exchanged a word with him. In the same way, no one ever mentioned the screamer. She had a right to scream. After all, if you can’t scream in a madhouse, where can you scream?
I spent the morning working on my dictionary of street drugs, then got up a game of hearts with Abby and Peter later. They were both intelligent perceptive people and it was an enjoyable conversation. Peter was angry with his therapist, who had been trying to explain to Peter the difference between normal anxieties and the kind of paranoid delusions that kept Peter terrified of life outside Eight East.
“But what he couldn’t tell me,” he complained, “was how I was supposed to differentiate between the two. I mean, I’m afraid there’s going to be a nuclear war and we’ll all be incinerated. Is that paranoid?”
“Yes,” said Abby, just as I said “No.”
She looked at me in surprise. “You really think that could happen?”
“Sure,” I said. “It has to. There’s thousands of nuclear weapons, targeted at every major city, with people sitting with their fingers on the triggers. How long can that possibly go on? Ten more years? Fifty? One day either the Soviets or the Americans are going to decide it’s better to give than to receive, especially if you get your licks in first. They already talk about ‘acceptable losses’ of a hundred million casualties.”
“Or someone’s going to crack,” said Peter. “All those military types sit there year after year, running their fingers around those buttons, thinking about it, wondering what it would be like. They control the most powerful boy toy in the world and they never get to play with it.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Or what about those guys who shoot up a restaurant full of strangers before they kill themselves? What if one of them loses his house and his wife is cheating on him with their Schnauzer and that night he goes on duty in some missile silo in Omaha?”
“Hell, what if there’s just a malfunction?” asked Peter, excited by having someone agree with his fears. “Those things are all computerized. Computers screw up all the time. Some day one of them is going to burp and signal a general launch. Oops, sorry, humans,” he added in a flat robot tone.
“Face it, Abby,” I said. “The only way we’re not going to end up as radioactive ash is if the leader of either the Soviet Union or the United States one day says, ‘Look, we can’t stand it any more. We’re going to dismantle all our weapons and leave ourselves at your mercy. Please don’t shoot us.’ That couldn’t happen. His own people would shoot him.”
“Okay, okay, you two Pollyannas,” she said. “So we’re toast. Is it paranoid to worry about it?”
“No,” said Peter, at the same instant I said “yes.”
“Why is it paranoid?” he demanded. “You just agreed it’s a real danger. We have good reason to be frightened of nuclear annihilation.”
“Of course we do, and we are. But it’s paranoid to let it paralyze us. We’re all going to die someday, and we’re afraid of that, too. But if we let that fear rule our lives, if we protected ourselves from every possible danger, we’d miss life and we’d die anyway. The only sensible thing to do is to go on living and try to enjoy life in spite of the fear.”
“Until we all get blown up,” pointed out Abby.
“Exactly,” I agreed. “That’s a given.”
“How can we not be paranoid about death?” asked Peter. “To me, that seems really crazy.”
“What is death?” I asked airily. “To sleep, perchance to dream…”
“With apologies to the Bard,” said Abby. “That’s a load of dingo kidneys. If we’re dreaming, we’re not dead — we’re just asleep.”
“Right, and nobody’s afraid of sleep,” I added.
“Speak for yourself,” said Peter. “I’m sometimes afraid of sleep.” Abby gave a quick vehement nod.
“You’re right,” I acknowledged. “I guess I was speaking for myself. I forgot about the screamer.” Peter and Abby exchanged a quick uneasy look, and I realized I’d broken the unspoken rule against discussing other patients behind their backs.
“Abby’s right,” I went on quickly. “If you’re dreaming, you’re not dead. Dreaming is part of life.”
“Dreaming is all of life,” said Abby.
“Dreaming and waking,” Peter amended.
“Same thing,” she insisted.
“No,” said Peter. “Dreaming is illusion. Waking is reality.”
“That’s an arbitrary distinction,” I said.
“Do you believe there’s no difference between illusion and reality?”
“If there is, I don’t believe we are capable of making the distinction.”
“Yes, we can,” Peter insisted. “One happens when we’re asleep; the other when we’re awake.”
“But when you’re dreaming,” put in Abby, “you don’t know it’s a dream. It appears to be reality.”
“Yeah, I know the old Chuang Tzu paradox,” said Peter, holding up his hand like an Oriental sage. “‘Here is question, little grasshopper: Am I a man dreaming I’m a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming I’m a man?’ Well, that’s crap. I know I’m a man dreaming I’m a butterfly. I wake up from the butterfly dream. I walk around and talk to other men. We have this discussion about dreaming. We may have all dreamed at one time or another of being butterflies, but in fact we are all men. Present company excluded, of course,” he added with a nod to Abby.
“You know,” she said, “my therapist told me something interesting about that the other day.”
“She told you you were a butterfly?” I suggested.
“No. She said that they’ve been doing these studies on dreaming people; you know, mapping the activity in their brains. They find that dreaming seems to be a conversation between the interpretive center of the brain and the emotional center. It’s like they’re just tossing thoughts back and forth. Like one’s saying, here, suppose this happened, how do we feel about this? What would we do?”
“Cool,” Peter said. “It’s almost like we’re practicing hypothetical scenarios, working out how to deal with them.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “That makes evolutionary sense. So we’ll be ready for new situations when they happen. That’s neat.”
“It gets better,” Abby went on. “They also mapped brain activity in waking people. As you would expect, the sensory areas suddenly become active because there’s all this new input — the whole visual cortex just lights up. But the rest of our thinking is exactly the same. The same dialog continues, exactly the same as when we’re dreaming.”
“Oh, wow,” I said. “So dreaming consciousness and waking consciousness are exactly the same thing. It’s like we’re always dreaming.”
“Yes,” she said, “except that our eyes are open. Our brains are still making up hypothetical situations, but our waking dream is constrained by what we see and hear around us. We’re no longer free to dream anything at all, as we can when we’re asleep. Now we have to dream a dream that matches what we can see.”
“And what do we see?” asked Peter with a victorious crow. “It can only be reality. Not a dream. An external reality.”
“Not necessarily,” said Abby, shaking her head emphatically. “Not at all. It simply forces us all to share the same dream. Because we all experience it, by consensus we call it reality. But some people see a different world, or at least they interpret it differently. They refuse to accept the consensus; they dream their own dreams. It’s completely subjective.”
“So you’re saying there’s no ultimate yardstick that defines reality?” asked Peter incredulously.
“Cool,” I said. “I like it. A shared dream. That would explain why hallucinations seem so real. They’re just as real as anything else.”
“Reality by consensus,” said Abby. “It’s just everyone’s collective interpretation of what’s real and what’s not.”
“It’s like paper money,” I added. “It only has any value at all because we all agree that it does.”
Abby looked down suddenly at the cards forgotten in her hand.
“Or that we value ourselves only as much as others value us,” she added in a low voice. “If everyone around us despises us, we can only assume that we must be despicable.”
“Man,” said Peter. “This is the heaviest card game I’ve ever been in. I think I’ll go worry about something less deep. Like what’s for lunch.” We laughed as he got up and wandered off. A few moments later I was called to see my shrink.
“Hello, Brian. How’s the dictionary coming?”
I handed him a few more pages of notes. “Here’s the next chapters. All the pot stuff we already talked about, so I went on to the opiates.”
“We use those medically, so I’m more familiar with them.”
“Okay, so I’ll just run quickly through what I know. First is opium itself, made from the sap of the opium poppy flower bud. It starts as a white liquid but turns into a dark-brown sticky paste. It’s usually smoked in a pipe, but a lot of heads smear it on a joint or smoke a dab of it on a knife. It tastes very smooth and good and gives a dreamy, pensive high. The movies always make opium dens out like they’re full of these stoned-out people unable to move, but actually it’s possible to function fairly well on opium. It’s just that you don’t feel like doing much. Most of it comes from the Middle East, especially Turkey. It’s a relaxant and pain-killer. It was common in a lot of medicines until recently. It’s still in paregoric, which is an over-the-counter medicine for colicky babies. You have to boil the paregoric to evaporate the alcohol, then freeze it to separate the opium from the camphor, then shoot that. Opium is usually called ‘O’, or just opium. You don’t see it much around here, but it’s fairly common in New York. It’s a very nice relaxed high but it’s really addictive if you use it a lot. If you purify it you get morphine, which you’re no doubt familiar with as a pain reliever.”
“Yes. It seems to be very effective.”
“It is, but it doesn’t just numb you like an anesthetic. It’s a lot like opium, only much stronger, You wander off into dream worlds inside your mind and get so distracted that you simply forget about the pain. It works much the same for psychic pain, too. A lot of really depressed people get into it — poor people, hopeless people. It takes them out of their depressing lives for a while. It’s even more addictive than opium. I never really got into it myself. I’ve usually seen it in pill form, but I hear you can smoke it, too.”
“Then there’s heroin.”
“Right. It’s called ‘H’ or horse or crank or skag. It’s opium that’s further refined and concentrated, so it’s the straight stuff. It comes as a powder, from white to dark brown. The effects are much the same as morphine only much more intense. It’s possible to snort it, but most people dissolve it in water and inject it. It doesn’t dissolve easily, so you put it in a bent teaspoon and heat it over a match or candle. Even then it doesn’t all dissolve and leaves crud in the mixture, so you have to strain it through a bit of cotton to get the lumps out. Syringes are hard to come by, so most junkies make their own fits. They use the barrels from eye droppers, but then attach them to the nipples from pacifiers because they hold more. You need something absorbent to seal the needle to the dropper, so you tear off a little strip from the edge of a dollar bill and wrap it around it. It’s just the right material. You can always spot a shooter because his bills have all these torn edges. When you shoot, you use a tourniquet to get your veins up, then just tap lightly on the pacifier until the needle pops in. You can tell when you’re in the vein because a little squirt of blood swirls up into the dropper. It’s called ‘getting your flag.’ Then you squirt it in, stopping just after the last liquid disappears so you don’t shoot an air bubble and give yourself an embolism. Junkies get all these little rituals about their fits and their techniques. It gets almost sexual, like fetishes. Some people can’t shoot themselves; others can only hit other people, so it often turns into a communal shooting scene. There are these sleazy little apartments on the Lower East Side where people just go to shoot up. They call them shooting galleries.”
“What’s it like? The effect, I mean.”
“Very, very intense and very fast. A big hit comes on like a ton of bricks, before you can even get the needle out. I’ve seen people lying around with their fits still dangling from their arms. It’s creepy. You feel swept away, like a big wave just smashed into you and swept you off your feet, head over heels so you don’t know what’s happening. That’s called the rush, and it lasts from a few minutes to maybe twenty minutes for a really big hit. A really strong rush is an incredible feeling; it’s a little like an orgasm. I’ve heard a lot of junkies say they prefer it to an orgasm, so you know it’s pretty good.Then you just feel really, really mellow for a few hours.”
“Do you feel happy? Is that why people do it?”
“I wouldn’t say you feel happy, but you certainly never feel bad. I think it’s mostly an escape for people who aren’t happy with themselves or what’s going on in their lives. It can be pretty self-destructive. Depressive people sometimes really get into it, pushing the dosage higher and higher until they OD. And crashing from smack is the worst.”
“Coming down off a high. You feel sick and weak and nauseous and even more depressed than when you started. You can’t avoid crashes, and so when you start to come down you start to think about how bad it’s going to feel. And of course the only cure for a bad crash is to do some more and get the rush back. Then after doing two in a row the crash is going to be twice as bad, so you do more to put it off some more. It’s easy to get into a run, where you just stay high day after day. The longer your run goes on, the more reluctant you get to face the terrible crash you know is waiting for you. But the more you do the more you need to stay up, so you start doing these huge doses, doing five or ten hits at a time. That’s how people overdose.”
“It sounds really dangerous.”
“It is. Another problem is that there’s no quality control. All smack is cut with other stuff; often every dealer it passes through has mixed in a little more lactose or something to increase his profits. So when you buy some on the street you never know what’s in it or how strong it is. If you ask, the dealer always says it’s the strongest shit in the world. So you just have to guess at how much to take. If you get used to doing a spoonful of some deep-cut smack and then you do a whole spoonful of pure New York White, it’s going to kill you for sure.”
“It’s a wonder junkies stay alive at all.”
“I know. Most of the anti-drug propaganda is just bullshit. Every kid has heard that grass rots your brain and is addictive and ruins your health, and half the kids in the country do grass all the time and know that all that is a lot of crap. So they think the stuff about smack is a lie, too, but it’s not. Medically heroin is not very harmful to your system at all, not like methedrine or glue or something. If you had an unlimited supply of quality heroin you could do it all the time and stay reasonably healthy. But if you ever have to come down, watch out. It’s a very dangerous drug indeed. It’s intensely addictive and very hard to kick. It’s all too easy to get trapped into the cycle.”
“It sounds awful. Is this something you do a lot?”
“Oh, no. I’ve done it maybe twenty times at the most. Too scary. But if you think of yourself as a doper, you’ve got to try it to see what it’s like. It’s like being a mountain climber and passing up a chance at Everest. It’s the big one, no doubt about it. There’s all this romantic lore about junk, and the scene in a real shooting gallery is all enticingly sordid and gritty. Watching a lot of junkies get off is an amazing experience. Everybody does it a little different. But it’s not my thing at all.”
“What is your thing then?”
“Tripping, without a doubt. Do we have time to go over tripping?”
“Sure, go ahead.”
I flipped over a few pages. “Well, let’s skip over the synthetic opiates then, and move right on to the psychedelics. I did the synthetics like STP, MDA, and the various tryptamines first. Then I did the organics like acid, psilocybin, and mescaline.”
“But LSD is a synthetic.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s not a great distinction. All three have been synthesized and that’s what people usually take these days. But they also occur naturally. LSD is lysergic acid diethylamide and it was was first found in fungus and then in morning glories. Psilocybin is from mushrooms, Psilocybe mexicana. And mescaline comes from the peyote cactus, Lophophora williamsii. Each of the source plants has lots of other psychoactive alkaloids, so eating them is very different from just taking the extracts. But either way, they give a completely different trip from the man-made drugs. Nobody could ever mistake them.”
“How are they different?”
“It’s hard to describe. The organics feel organic. The hallucinations tend to be living things. Except really good strong acid can be pretty edgy and neon, too, almost like a tryptamine trip.”
“What are these tryptamines? I’ve never heard of them.”
“They’re what they call designer drugs, invented especially to get you high. These organic chemists analyze the organic psychedelics and figure out which parts of the molecules actually lock onto receptors in our brains. They find other compounds with similar shapes and they tweak around with them until they find others that gets you high. The tryptamines are a related family of drugs: DMT is dimethyl tryptamine, DET is diethyl, DPT is dipropyl.”
“What does it look like? I mean, how does it come?”
“I usually see it as a powder, white or pale yellow. Real fine and cakey, and it sticks together, like flour.”
“How do you take it?”
“I sprinkle it on a little pot and smoke it in a pipe.”
“What’s it feel like?”
“It comes on really fast. The organics take a lot longer, an hour or more, and they come on gradually. But if you smoke a pinch of tryptamines, in just a few minutes you’re flying. It’s a great rush, like going up in an express elevator.”
“How long does it last?”
“It varies. DMT is real quick, up and down in maybe half an hour. They call it the businessman’s lunch because you could take it at lunch. DET is more like an hour or two. DPT I only did once and it seemed to go maybe four hours. STP, or angel dust, is another related drug, and it goes on a real long time. Too long, maybe twenty or thirty hours. A lot of people freak out on STP because it just goes on and on and they think they’re never going to come down.”
“Do you like these drugs?”
“Sometimes. They’re not my favorites. DMT and DET are so quick they’re like candy. They’re fun for a party or a little extra kick with a lot of other drugs, but I can’t take them too seriously. You’re not tripping long enough to get into any heavy stuff. It’s just for a bit of fun, you know. I mean, nobody’s going to get cosmic on them. And STP is too much. I only did it once and wouldn’t do it again. It was just too exhausting. The land of psychedelia is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
“How do they compare to the other psychedelics?”
“The organics? Like a nursery rhyme compares to a symphony. They’re both tripping, but the experience is completely different. And the organics are really different from each other, too, so it’s hard to compare them.”
“Tell me about the organics, then.”
“Well, acid is by far the most common around here. I only had psilocybin twice and mescaline maybe a couple of dozen times. I just don’t run into them often enough. But acid’s everywhere and really easy to score.”
“What’s acid look like?”
“Usually it’s in pills. Tablets most often, but sometimes in capsules. There’s this guy in California, Stanley Augustus Owsley III, who makes the best acid pills around. It’s always pure and it comes in distinctive shapes so you know how much you’re getting. He makes lots of different kinds: these wide flat ones called Purple Haze, and funny-shaped ones called Orange Wedges, and also White Double Domes. They’re all good. Occasionally the acid is just dripped on something, like sugar cubes or little bits of paper or something.” I laughed. “For a while there was some going around on the Lower East Side that was soaked into little bits of cloth that you sucked or soaked in a cup of tea or something. The story was that a dude was bringing it in from Europe in a mason jar inside his sports coat. After he got through customs he flipped the coat over his shoulder and the jar fell out in the airport and smashed. There he was with a hundred thousand five-dollar hits of acid in a puddle on the floor. So he wiped it up with his sports coat and cut it up into little pieces and sold those. They called it houndstooth acid. It was really good, too. Supposedly it was pure USP quality, right out of the Sandoz lab in Switzerland.”
“He had a hundred thousand doses in a jar?” asked the doctor. “How big was the jar?”
“Just little, I imagine. Maybe a half pint? Acid is one of the strongest drugs known. An average dose is maybe a hundred micrograms. I mean, think about it. That’s one tenth of a milligram, not enough to see. One aspirin has five hundred times more active ingredient in it. The pills are tiny little things like a BB, but still they’re mostly all filler, like milk sugar or just chalk, just so there’s enough to make a pill. In its pure form, a teaspoonful of acid could get thousands of people high. Really high. That’s why the cops are always freaked out that somebody’s going to put some in the water supply of a city. It would be really easy to do.”
“Do you think that might happen?”
I shrugged. “Who knows? There are a lot of weird people out there. I’ve heard some heads saying it would be a good idea, that it would loosen people up. Like if we could get LBJ on a trip maybe he’d stop the war.”
“What do you think would happen?”
“It would be total chaos. A disaster. People would be freaked out. I heard about a guy once who slipped some in his girlfriend’s drink, kind of like a joke or something, but it was awful. She didn’t know what was happening when it started to come on and everything began to change. She thought she was going crazy and ran away from him and jumped off a bridge.”
“Did that really happen?”
“Who knows? It’s an urban legend. But as much as I love acid I wouldn’t want somebody to slip me some without telling me. When things really start happening and you’re hanging on to reality by a fingernail, it’s really comforting to tell yourself, ‘This is all just the result of my taking a pill and it will be ending in a few hours.’ I can’t imagine what it would be like to just have shit that bizarre start happening for no reason.”
Doctor Warner looked at his watch in surprise. “Oh hell,” he said. “This has gone well past your time. I’m supposed to be having lunch.”
“I do rather go on about it, don’t I?”
“No, it’s great. Very interesting. I’m fascinated. I can eat any time.”
“So should I keep working on the dictionary? I can do a lot more if you’d like.”
“Yes, certainly. Whatever else you can add would be very helpful.”
“Hey, listen. Is this really for the staff, or is it just therapy for me instead of making coil pots?”
“It’s both. I thought it would give you something to do, maybe distract you from your legal worries for a while. Discussing it with you will give me opportunities to learn more about you, perhaps help you. But I really do intend to make it required reading for the psychiatric staff, and probably the ER people as well. If we start getting people on bad trips, those people should at least know the names and effects of the drugs. So it could help somebody in trouble.”
“That’s cool. I’m enjoying doing it. I just didn’t want to waste my time doing busy work you were just going to throw away.”
“No, it will be put to good use.”
I worked on the dictionary the rest of the day, scribbling hurriedly at a little scarred wooden table in a corner of the common room. That evening after dinner I went back to it. Peter wandered over after a while.
“Feel like cards tonight?” he asked. “I’ll see if Abby is up for it.”
“Not tonight, man,” I replied. “I’m in a groove on this thing now. I want to get it done.”
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“Great. Writing is really a blast when it’s rolling like this — when I’ve got something I want to say and I know how to do it.”
“Can I see?” he asked, pointing to the growing pile of sheets covered front and back with dense handwriting.
“Sure, go ahead. Keep them in order, though.” I went back to my writing.
He read for a while, and I heard him pick up a second page a moment later.
“Wow,” he said after a few minutes. “Is all this shit true?”
“Sure. Some of the info about the drugs isn’t really scientific; it’s just stuff I heard from other heads mostly. Some of it’s probably crap. But I wanted to put it all in here, everything I know about each one.”
“I don’t know, dude,” he said, tossing the papers back on my stack. “You’re admitting that you’ve done all these illegal drugs, and in writing, no less. What happens if they give this to the police?”
“Nothing, I think. I mean, I can’t very well claim I don’t do drugs. I sold shit to a narc, for chrissake. I can claim that it was entrapment, but that’s not much of a defense. They know I’m a head — I mean, look at me. And this bust is for this one specific sale, one little blue pill. It doesn’t matter if I do other drugs, too.”
“It could affect your sentence. They could wave this under the judge’s nose and say, ‘See what a despicable character this man is! Do you want him selling pot to your little girl? Better give him hard time.’ They’ll put you away, man.”
“Doctor Warner said he wouldn’t give it to the police.”
“And you believe him? He is the Man, man. Like the hospital authorities are the Man, and the cops and teachers and lawyers are the Man.”
“What about doctor/patient confidentiality? He is my therapist.”
“They’re the worst of all. Listen, they tell you to trust them, to help them to help you. So you lay out your whole fucking life to them, spell out every painful terror, open your poor little bleeding heart up like a book for them, and what do they do? They write up a report that says, ‘This patient has paranoid delusions and chronic debilitating anxiety and is not ready to rejoin society at this time.’ Wise up, Brian. Your shrink is the last guy you should trust.”
“What? That’s bullshit, Peter. He’s your doctor, he’s getting paid to try to help you. Maybe he can, maybe he can’t; but it doesn’t make sense to hold back.”
“Maybe I don’t want his help,” he snapped. “I’ve talked to plenty of shrinks, and most of them don’t know the first thing about what I’m going through. They’re my problems and I’ll deal with them myself.”
“Look, if you could get through this shit on your own you wouldn’t be in here, would you? You need somebody to work with you, to try to find the way that’s going to fit best for you, help you get through it. To do that, he’s got to know you, know what makes you tick. If you hold back from the one guy who’s trying to get you out of here, who the hell is going to do it? It’s like a guy who gets burned in love and says he’s going to stay away from girls until he stops feeling so bad. How the hell can he start feeling better without opening up to people, taking another chance? Sure, he might get dinged again, but what’s the alternative? Staying unhappy?”
He stared at me for a moment. I thought he might be angry, but then he grinned.
“Christ, I must be crazy,” he said. “Listening to advice from a god-damned long-haired hippie.”
“Yeah. Like people come to me for sage advice on how to live an impeccable life, right?”
“Yeah. I can just see your face on an ad: ‘Learn wisdom at the feet of Sri Brian Baba. Would you trust this man?’ Oh, preserve us.”
I laughed as he wandered off. I returned to my writing until lights off.
When the screamer finally stopped that morning and I lay awake, I distracted myself by thinking about what I wanted to add to my dictionary. I waited anxiously until I could get back to the common room to work on it. Except for breakfast, I worked steadily on it until it was time for my session. I put the manuscript together in a rubber band and showed it off proudly to Dr. Warner when I entered the room.
“Making good progress,” I said. “I’m enjoying it; more than I thought I would.”
“Good. I’ll look it over later. How are you feeling otherwise?”
“Okay, I guess. Anxious to get out of here.”
“Is it so terrible being here?”
“No, not terrible. Most people are nice. I’m even starting to make some friends.”
“I’m glad to hear it Which ones?”
“Well, Peter and Abby mainly. They’re both bright and not too obviously weirdo. We had a good talk yesterday about the meaning of reality.”
“What did you conclude?”
“Abby thinks reality is subjective. Peter believes in some kind of absolute reality, independent of our perception of it.”
“And which do you believe?”
“Generally I side with Abby. I’ve experienced enough alternate realities to have developed real suspicion about this one. But deep down I have to believe that there is some underlying basis for it all. Our perception of it may be flawed, may even be dead wrong, but I can’t believe there is nothing but illusion.”
“But you couldn’t convince Peter of that?”
“No. I think Peter’s just too uptight to let go of the comfortable framework of ordinary reality. He’s strictly Cartesian.”
“Cartesian?” he asked, looking up over his glasses.
I nodded. “Orthographic. Straight lines, right angles, formulas to explain everything, everything in its place. With most people I think a good heavy acid trip would be good for them, force them to re-evaluate their assumptions. But some people aren’t ready for that. It would terrify them. Peter is a guy I would not recommend acid for.”
“What about Abby?”
“I don’t know. The shifting realities wouldn’t bother her, she’s used to that, I think. But she seems so… I don’t know… insecure about herself. I’m not sure she’s ready to see herself as she really is. See, one thing tripping does for you is strip away any illusions you may have about yourself.”
“In what way?”
“Well, it’s impossible to be cool when you’re tripping. No matter who you are or how cool you think you are, if you trip with somebody, they’re going to see the real you. You’re going to forget what you were saying or go ‘oh wow’ about all the pretty colors and look like a real dork.”
“You don’t mind looking like a dork?”
“Well, sometimes it can be embarrassing, especially if I’m trying to make some chick or impress somebody. But in general I think it’s good for people to experience that. It keeps us from thinking we’re so smart and important, and it allows us to see behind the masks people usually wear.”
“So you think people are all wearing masks?”
“Most of the time, yeah. Like right now you’re wearing your shrink mask.”
“I really am a psychiatrist.”
“I know. But that requires you to wear a mask, especially when you’re talking with one of your patients. But if I went home with you and met your family and we sat around drinking beer, you’d be different. We’d talk differently. You wouldn’t be asking me all these questions, trying to draw me out, find out what makes me tick. We wouldn’t be doctor and patient anymore. You wouldn’t have your psychiatrist mask on, but you’d have another one for that situation. The good host mask or the loving husband mask or whatever. I’m not saying it’s phony, or even that it’s bad. It’s just what people do. But if we dropped acid together, it would all change. At first we’d just change masks. You’d be the novice and I’d be the experienced professional. But pretty soon we’d just be two guys giggling and getting cosmic together. It’s not that the masks are always deceitful, but they are necessarily false images. They keep us from really seeing each other.”
“Are you wearing a mask now?”
“Of course, my ultra-cool street-smart druggie intellectual rap mask. We all have our collections of masks we’ve made for ourselves. We wear one mask when we’re talking to our parents, another with our friends, yet another with a lover. I mean, when I was a kid I kept waiting to grow up. I thought growing up would be a transformation, that one day I’d find myself wise and mature and responsible and knowing all the things that grown-ups know. But it didn’t happen that way. Other kids started acting grown up, but nothing seemed to happen to me. I just got bigger and my balls got hairy, but I felt the same as I always had. As I got older I started being embarrassed that I was still a kid. I started pretending I was growing up too, pretending to like the taste of beer, trying to develop adult mannerisms, have adult discussions. People started buying it. They accepted that I was really growing up. Girls bought it. I started getting laid. I was constantly improving my adult mask, stealing bits from people I admired, learning what worked by trial and error. One day I realized that I didn’t know any other way of behaving except with the adult mask on. The mask had become so good that it had become the only face I had. I realized that there wasn’t going to be any goddamn epiphany or anything. I let the mask grow onto my face, because I didn’t dare ever take it off again, or people would discover I’m still just a little kid inside. And I realized that that’s what growing up was: not a metamorphosis, but a permanent deception.”
“But when I started tripping it became too hard to maintain it. Things get to happening so fast and everything is so strange that you literally forget how to act. You start fucking up, making a fool of yourself. You get distracted, forget what you were talking about, start to free associate. It can be very embarrassing. But then I realized that everybody I tripped with was doing exactly the same thing. I’d meet these guys I thought were so hip and cool, and I wanted to be like them. Or I’d see some beautiful intelligent woman I idolized. They seemed so mature, so self-assured; like they’d always been adults. And then we’d trip together, and they’d blow their cool completely. They’d act like little kids, giggling at silly stuff and staring at pretty things.
“That’s when I found out that everybody else had done the same thing — faked it until it was real. It was great. I’d be having this sexual exploration with some woman, you know, seeing if we’re going to get together, and we’d drop some acid. And suddenly, instead of being a sexy babe and a cool cocksman, we’d giggle together like little kids about the silly games we’d been playing. One time I scored some acid from this really heavy dealer dude in this sleazy brownstone walk-up on the Lower East Side. He had this big long black beard and was covered in tattoos. I’d been scared when I came in; I mean this guy had guns and heavy drugs and money and contacts all over the world. I felt like this adolescent country hick next to him. But then we dropped acid together and spent the night talking about the smells that came in our bedroom windows at night when we were kids.”
“Did you lose your respect for him?”
“No, but I lost my awe. I found that the people I had admired the most were the ones that survived the unmasking the best. I had seen them naked and defenseless and they didn’t mind. Now that’s real self-confidence. I admired that even more. The people who get terrified when their personae are stripped away are the ones who have something small or mean or selfish to hide. It’s a great litmus test for a person, how they react to that stripping away of illusion.”
“So you think most people should take acid?”
“Hold on, now. I never said that; I never urge anyone to take acid. It’s a powerful, life-changing experience and not for everybody. I’ve told lots of people of my experiences and how important I believe it is. Some of them ask me if they should try it. Some I tell no; some I tell yes. I even volunteered to guide some people on their first trips.”
“How many people have you guided?’’
“I don’t know. Maybe fifty?”
He looked startled at that. “But listen,” I went on. “I’m not an evangelist. I’m no dope pusher. I have never pressured anybody to take it, and I’ve told many people they should stay the hell completely away from psychedelics. I tell them, whatever they fear in themselves, that’s what they will meet on their trip. Acid will show you the truth, not necessarily what you want to see.”
“Is that what you would tell Peter?”
“Definitely. He’s too afraid of too many things. I would never offer to guide him. He’s a candidate for a real bad trip.”
“What about Abby?”
I considered for a moment. “I’m not sure about her. She seems insecure, unsure of herself. I’m not sure she’s ready to see herself as she really is. But maybe, with a very experienced guide who really cares about her, it’d be good for her. Yeah, I might consider it. She’s a real fox, and she seems so horny all the time. I’ll bet we could have some outrageous sex on acid.”
“Has she approached you?”
“Oh. Well, she’s friendly,” I hedged, unwilling to tattle on her.
“Well, yeah. She seems to like me. But this is a lonely place. She’s been here a long time, I think.”
“Nearly a year.”
“Well, who wouldn’t be lonely? If I were here that long I’d be fucking the donuts.”
“Abby is a very disturbed young woman, Brian. If she comes on to you, I have to ask you not to encourage her.”
“Hey, listen,” I bridled. “She’s a nice girl. I like her. We’re both adult, healthy, and single. What’s so bad if we’re attracted to each other? I can’t control my hormones.”
“No, and neither can she. I can’t discuss her problems with you, Brian; I can only say that you could do her terrible harm if you encouraged her fantasies about you.”
“What harm could it do? Loosen up, doc. This isn’t the fifties. It’s 1968, the era of free love. Personally I think it might do both of us a lot of good if you just gave us a room together for the night. She’s lonely and insecure and needs comforting. Maybe a good fucking by someone who cares about her is exactly what she needs.”
“It most assuredly is not. She was raped, Brian, frequently and brutally, by her own father, ever since she was a child. It has taken years of therapy to get her to the appearance of normality she exhibits today. It could set her back years to have a casual liaison with another patient.”
“I… I didn’t know,” I stammered.
“No. But the attachment between you two has been brought to my attention. Knowing both of you, I was afraid that you would find some way to get together. Some kind of sordid, awkward, secret sex in a bathroom stall might seem like an amusing adventure to you, Brian, but it could do irreparable harm to Abby. If you care for her as you say you do, you will find polite, friendly ways to refuse her advances.”
“Advances? You talk like she’s a nympho or something.”
“That’s exactly what she is, Brian. She makes no secret of it, so I’m not betraying her confidence by telling you.”
I stared at him in surprise. “She really is a nymphomaniac?”
“Do you know what that means?”
I shrugged. “It means she really really likes sex. I always thought a nymphomaniac is a woman who feels about sex the way a man does.”
“You couldn’t be more wrong. She hates sex. But she was always treated as a sexual object, and she has come to see that as her only value as a person. She thinks that if a man desires her he must love her, so she is constantly trying to get men to have sex with her. But it’s love she needs, not another ‘good fucking.’”
I was silent. My flippancy was gone.
“I only told you because I was afraid you would give in to her, and because I trust you to do the right thing if you know the truth. She is very vulnerable. You must not take advantage of her misfortune, Brian. Will you promise me that?”
“Yes, of course. I understand.”
“That’s all I ask.”
That evening I finished my document about drugs. Abby came and sat down with me as I finished the last page and put the bundle of sheets together.
“So, is it done?” she asked.
“Yeah, that’s all I can think of.”
“No one will ever read it, you know.”
“Doesn’t matter. It kept me entertained.”
“So are they going to let you out?”
“Well, on Saturday it will have been a week, but there’s no guarantee. Hopefully they’ll let me know tomorrow.”
She laid her hand on my arm.
“I almost hope they don’t let you go,” she said quietly. “I’ll miss you.”
“I know,” I said. “I’ll miss you, too. But I’ve still got a trial and sentencing to face. It could be a long time before I’m on the street again.”
“You’ll beat it, Brian. I know you will. They’ll let you off.”
“I hope you’re right.” I looked at her, saw a wistful look in her eyes. “When do you think you’ll be getting out?” I asked.
She looked down. “I don’t know. Not very soon, I think. It doesn’t matter.”
“What do you mean? Don’t you want to get out?”
“Well, it would be nice to be free, you know? To be able to do what I want. But it’s scary, too. I’m afraid of being on my own. I don’t know what to do when I’m alone. I need to have people around me, people to tell me what to like, what to do. I’m just weak, I guess.”
“Bullshit. You’re neither weak nor shallow, Abby. You’re brighter than most of the people I knew in college. You have your own opinions. You think you need someone to validate them, but you don’t. You just need someone to love you.”
“Yeah, I guess,” she said, twisting a strand of her hair. “But I always seem to attract the wrong kind of guy. They don’t treat me the way I’d like.”
“Yeah, or they’re jailbirds like me. But it’s up to you how they treat you, you know. If they’re jerks, tell them to fuck off. You don’t need them or owe them anything. There are lots of guys out there, Abby. You’re smart and pretty. Don’t sell yourself cheap. The right one will come along.”
“Do you really think I’m pretty, Brian?” She looked so small and defenseless, like a frightened little girl. My heart went out to her, and I wanted to put my arm around her. I just patted her hand.
“You can’t tell?” I said. “You’re a beautiful, intelligent woman, Abby. You’re well-read, you’re sensitive and insightful, you have a quick mind, you’re funny. You have things to say. Any man would be lucky to be with you. You don’t have to settle for a jerk.”
She glowed at the praise. “I’d settle for you right now, Brian,” she laughed, putting her hand on my thigh under the table.
“Huh-uh,” I said, removing her hand. “No hanky-panky here. I don’t want to mess up now when I’m getting short.” She gave me a pouting moué, but she didn’t seem hurt by my rebuff.
After dinner that night we all watched “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” on television, a truly bizarre experience in a nuthouse. People laughed at all the wrong places, especially at the Big Nurse. The consensus was that Kesey had never been on a ward.
I slept till breakfast call and awoke refreshed, hopeful that this would be my last day on the ward. Surely I had demonstrated to the doctors that I wasn’t crazy. Still, an iron band of doubt hung heavy around my heart. Lots of these loonies thought they weren’t crazy. Half of them probably woke up every day thinking they might be released. If I wasn’t released today then clearly my best efforts had failed. How do you prove you’re sane? What can you possibly do or say to change the mind of someone who’s convinced you’re crazy?
I had a vision of myself still here twenty years from now, still thinking I wasn’t crazy, still unable to prove it. Of course, by then I really would be crazy and I wouldn’t have a chance of getting out. I had no appetite for breakfast and avoided the others as I waited for news. I was a nervous wreck by the time I was called for therapy.
“Good morning, Brian,” the doctor began, clicking on the tape recorder.
I handed him my drug compendium. “Here,” I said. “I finished it.”
“Thanks,” he said, leafing through it and scanning a few lines. “This is remarkable. I can’t believe you’ve taken all this stuff and you can still walk and talk.”
“Amazing, isn’t it? Takes a licking and keeps on ticking.”
“So after trying all these drugs, which is your favorite?”
“Oh, that’s a tough one. Well, I always love a good smoke. Grass, hash, opium, Thai sticks, whatever. It mellows me out, makes everything really nice and pleasant. Good for a lot of laughs, great for listening to music. And speed is fun, too.”
“Speed?” he asked. “You mean stimulants?”
“Yeah. Benzedrine, Methedrine, Dexedrine, cocaine, whites, uppers, crystal. Wonderful stuff. You can eat it, smoke it, snort it, or shoot it. It makes you smart, it really does. It’s great for school work or doing some big project. You can think faster, concentrate better, have more ideas, and stay up longer. I once had to do a term paper on trilobytes for a paleontology class. As usual, I let it go till the last minute. Finally it was due in three days and I hadn’t started. So I started doing speed. Six hours of library research, eight hours in the lab going over specimens, sixteen hours to write the paper. I worked non-stop and turned it in on time. Got an A and my prof suggested I apply for a grant to develop my paper for publication. Best academic work I ever did. I really got into it after that. I like a speed rush even better than a heroin rush. You feel physically strong, mentally quick, incredible alert, and you have unlimited energy. I once ran all the way around the town in the middle of the night, just because it felt so good to run. I wasn’t even tired afterwards. It makes you feel like Superman. I love to stay up for two or three days, talking philosophy and religion and physics with a bunch of smart people. You wouldn’t believe what we come up with.”
“And these are pills?”
“The prescription ones are, but the home-made stuff is a white crystalline powder. It’s got a very bitter taste and it numbs your lips and tongue for a while. Most people snort crystal using a straw, like cocaine, but I really got into shooting it. You can’t believe what it’s like to go from a normal down state to that incredibly awake, alert, capable-of-anything, state of a speed high, all in a few seconds. Bit of a strain on the heart, though, I hear.”
“What about depressants?”
“I’ve tried most of the downers: Nembutol, Phenobarbital, black beauties, reds. Then the tranquilizers like Librium and Valium and like that. I’ve done most of the heavy-duty painkillers like Vicadin and Percodan, too.”
“What did you think?”
“Nothing great. Okay if you’re stressed out or something, but that doesn’t happen to me much. I can get depressed without help. I’m looking for good times.”
“So is speed your favorite?”
“Yeah, it’s right up there. But for sheer thrills and chills and cosmic truths, I’d take a psychedelic trip anytime.”
“What do you feel when you take a trip? How does it start?”
“Well, you drop the acid or eat the mushroom or whatever, and nothing happens for a long time. Maybe thirty minutes with ‘shrooms, an hour for mescaline, as much as two hours for acid. At first you’re all sitting there looking at each other, waiting for something to happen. But it takes long enough that you can’t just sit there. After a while you do something else: read a book, get in a conversation, have something to eat, listen to music, go for a walk. And then you notice this funny feeling way in the back of your throat, or maybe in your tonsils or something. Kind of a metallic taste. Makes you want to swallow, or maybe yawn. It’s neither pleasant nor unpleasant, just different. I can’t describe it, but it’s usually the first sign that the trip is starting, so I’ve come to really like the sensation. Like the bell for Pavlov’s dogs, I guess. It doesn’t really feel good, but it means good stuff is about to start. Then the trailing begins.”
“Yeah. Moving things leave trails behind them, like a cartoon rocket. A lot of times you see people dragging their hands sideways across in front of their face, like this. They’re checking for trails. When the acid starts to come on, your fingers look like they get real long when you do that. They streak out. That’s when you know you’re really on your way. Right after that the colors start.”
“What are they like?”
“Outlines around things, shadows, afterimages. With mescaline and psilocybin it’s usually browns and greens and like that. Earth tones. Maybe sometimes a pastel purple or salmon, but muted, you know? Subtle. Swirly, roundy corners. like the writing on the psychedelic posters. With acid it’s much brighter and in your face: dayglow reds and neon greens and hot pinks, a lot of electric blue. Like those cloth panels the Mexican women sew with all the bright colors and flashing mirrors. Jaggedy shapes, flashing, changing. And it gets hard to see edges.”
“Things get out of focus?”
“No, no. Just the opposite. Everything is clearer than you’ve ever seen it before, as if you’ve just cleaned your glasses for the first time in your life. The amount of detail is overwhelming, But you become aware that there aren’t lines around the shapes. We tend to think objects look the way we’d draw them, with a black line filled in with color. But that’s not the way it is at all. There’s no black line between that chair and that wall; the wall just ceases at one point and that defines the chair. The color changes and the texture and the light, and we see the relation between the two objects. When you’re straight you tend to categorize them: that’s a wall, that’s a chair. You’ve seen lots of walls and chairs; you understand them; there’s no reason to observe them. But if you’re tripping your mind doesn’t dismiss them so easily. You haven’t seen that particular chair against that particular wall before. The lack of edge between them is fascinating. It becomes filled with color. Now look at the shadow of the chair on the wall. What color is it?”
He looked. “Grey?”
“Sure. You can say it almost without looking, because you know shadows are grey, right? But look at it. The wall is sort of a light green, right? But the light through the window has a lot of dark green from the trees. You can see it moving as the trees move. And the chair is reflecting some kind of tan or yellow light on the wall, too. Do you see that? So that shadow isn’t grey at all, it’s a lot of different colors. A tripper would see them all at a glance. They’d all be so bright and distinct he couldn’t miss them. Everything becomes outlined with color, like you’ve taken a magic marker and outlined every object with two or three different colors. It’s very very beautiful.”
“It sounds distracting.”
“It can be really disorienting until you get used to it. I mean, you may see a tripper walking along the street and he’s going really slow and stopping and looking at things a lot. People think he’s all messed up, like a stumblebum drunk; that he can’t walk. It’s not that at all. He can walk fine. It’s just that there’s so much to look at. It takes a while to figure out which things you have to walk around and which ones you can walk through.”
“So is it just pretty colors?”
“That’s the way it starts. Sometimes that’s all that happens for visuals. But if you take enough, you start to see some special effects. With mescaline especially I’ve seen some truly bizarre shit.”
I thought for a minute. “Like one night I was tripping in the Haight and I stopped in this little diner, one of those long narrow places with all fluorescent and formica, you know? And I was having some difficulty reading the menu and deciding what I wanted and all. And the whole time there was this other dude at the counter next to me and his face was like dripping off or something. I mean, it was all droopy on one side and his eye was mostly covered with skin and his mouth was like this slit. And I glanced at him and I thought, ‘Wow, man, that guy’s face is falling off. This is some dynamite shit. Groovy visuals.’ So I thought nothing more about it, because plenty of other weird stuff was happening at the same time. But if I hadn’t known I was tripping I would have been freaked out, because it was really pretty gross. Then the guy pays his bill and leaves and the counterman leans over to me and says, ‘Wow, did you see that guy’s face? I guess the poor guy had been burned or something.’ The counterman must have thought I was crazy because I hadn’t noticed.”
“So you like to see people’s faces fall off? That’s fun?”
“No, not especially. But you have to learn to take whatever comes. Some of it is beautiful and cosmic and soul-changing, and some of it is dark and ugly and scary. You have to let it flow, kind of like a dream or something, you know? Let it flow over you. I tell myself ‘this is something my mind created for me to see and it must have a reason for it.’ I just take it all in and try to sort out any meanings later. You can’t analyze it while it’s happening. It’s too intense, too all-involving.”
“So what kinds of things do you see?”
I waved my arms helplessly. “I don’t know. Everything. What kinds of things do you see, doc?”
He laughed. “Okay. So aside from the visual effects, what is it like?”
“It can be mystical, it can be hilarious, it can be sexual, it can be sensuous. Me, I’m an outdoors guy. I like to go off for walks by myself, go for a hike in the woods, take a walk in the park. Nothing amazes me more than nature. I spent a whole summer day lying on a foot bridge over a stream, just watching the patterns the water made going over the rocks. Some of my heaviest trips have been up in the mountains or on a beach. I once tripped in an abandoned gold mine in the Grand Canyon, in complete darkness. Another time I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge in the fog.”
“Do you feel safe out by yourself?”
“Occasionally I’ll get a paranoid flash or something, but usually I feel real comfortable anywhere outside. I’m usually more nervous in a city. More bad stuff can happen. I’ve tripped in Thompkins Square Park in the East Village, surrounded by junkies and hookers and muggers. Even got mugged by a junkie while I was tripping. Bastard got my watch, but I later talked him into giving it back.”
“So you like to get outside, one way or another.”
“Yeah, usually. There’s more to see. For a while I collected state houses. I’ve tripped in six different state capitols. They’re pretty places. I also did the Statue of Liberty and the Lincoln Memorial. Oh, and the Saint Louis Arch, whatever they call it. But I’ve also done a lot of indoor trips. They tend to get more philosophical or religious or sexual, depending on who I’m with, of course. Sometimes all three. But the common thread is that feeling of meaningfulness that I talked about yesterday. Everything seems to be dripping with significance. Every object seems symbolic, every person magical, every event seems to be an omen.”
“I don’t know. That’s just it. The drugs allow you to draw your own conclusions. They’re tools or windows or portals or something that bust you loose for a few hours from your usual routine, let you see things in a new way. But what you do with the experience, that’s up to each person. Some people get religious, some just go for the thrill, like going on a roller coaster. But everybody is changed by it. Everybody.”
He didn’t reply to that. He glanced at his watch.
“Time’s about up, Brian.”
I gathered my nerve to ask. “Are you going to let me go, doc?”
He looked up at me over his reading glasses. “Yeah,” he said. “I am.”
“Really?” I couldn’t believe it. He grinned at me.
“Yes. That’s what I’m going to recommend to the evaluating committee this afternoon.”
“Can they override your recommendation?”
“They could, but they won’t.”
“So you think there’s nothing wrong with me?”
He laughed. “I wouldn’t say that about half my friends. No, there’s plenty wrong with you, Brian. Your politics are extreme, your religious ideas are half-baked, you’re squandering your life and risking your health and your life taking all these drugs, and you think you’re Don Juan. I think you have a lot of growing up to do and you have some hard lessons still coming to you. But no, I don’t think you’re psychotic and I see no reason to keep you here any longer.”
“Thanks, doc. I am very relieved to hear you say that. I’ve been so scared. I know lots of people would think I’m crazy for doing what I do. Hell, my father thinks I’m crazy just for voting democratic. I’ve been afraid I’d have to pretend to give up every belief I have just to try to get out of here.”
“Being eccentric is not being crazy, nor is being a damned fool. If it were, everyone would be in here.”
“Is that it then? Are we done?”
“Yes, we’re done, unless you have anything else you’d like to talk about.”
“No, I guess not.” I started to get up.
“Oh, just a minute,” he said. “There is one more thing.”
“You must have said something to Abby.”
“Well, we had a couple of talks.”
“Well, whatever you said seems to have had a good effect. She was in a very good mood in our session this morning.”
“Good, I’m glad. She’s a nice chick. She deserves better than she’s gotten so far.”
Doctor Warner met my eyes. “She likes you a lot, too. I think she’s going to miss you when you go.”
“I know. I wish I could do something for her.”
“I think you have. You’ve accepted her as she is and appreciated her for her talents, not just tried to get into her pants.”
“Not that the thought didn’t occur,” I said. “It’s really hard turning away a good-looking chick. It ain’t natural.”
“I know. But I appreciate your caring enough to try to help her.”
Abby was in her group therapy when I returned. I told Peter and a few other friends the news and received fairly hearty congratulations. I put my handful of belongings in a cloth bag they gave me. Abby came in just as I returned to the common room. She glanced down at the bag in my hand and then to my eyes.
“You’re outa here,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Told you I wasn’t crazy.”
“I believed you,” she smiled.
I took both her hands. “Thanks. I know. It helped me a lot.”
“You helped me a lot, too. Just talking together. Just talking and laughing.”
“I know. It was fun. I’m really glad I met you. Now when I think back on my week on Eight East, I won’t remember the bad stuff — I’ll think of you instead. And years from now I’ll remember your face just like this, and I’ll smile.”
Her eyes flicked between mine, her face intent and serious. “Whew,” she said. “You know how to lay it on!”
“Yeah, I’ve been rehearsing that speech for the last hour.”
She laughed and slapped my shoulder, acknowledging my move to lighten the mood.
“Don’t suppose we’ll meet again, on the outside?” she said.
I felt my face flush. I didn’t want to give her false hopes, but I was afraid to shatter her delicate contentment.
“We’ve always been honest with each other,” I said. “I think it’s unlikely. I’m probably going to have to do some time. Even if I get off, I don’t want to hang around in this town. San Francisco is where it’s all happening now. I got to get back there.”
“Yeah,” she said. “That’s what I figured.” I couldn’t tell how she was feeling about it.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Yeah, I guess. I’ll miss you, is all.”
“I’ll miss you too, Abby.” Impulsively I wrapped her up in my arms. Her body seemed so frail, and smaller than I’d imagined. I gave her a long kiss on the lips. We broke at last and smiled nose-to-nose. She glanced past me, scanning the room.
“Fuck Ray,” I whispered.
She yelped with delight. “Yeah! Fuck Ray and all his fascist friends.”
After this tender farewell we ended up spending another two hours sitting and waiting while my paperwork was processed and a marshal drove over from the county seat to pick me up. We talked about music, had a pleasant argument about free will with Peter, talked for the first time about our families. Late in the afternoon the marshal arrived and signed for me. Abby and I stood and watched the little ceremony, and I was reminded of a slave watching his bill of sale being signed. The marshal turned to me and I held out my wrists. Abby looked on in disgust as he tightened the handcuffs.
“Yuk. How medieval,” she said.
“It doesn’t hurt,” I said. The marshal clipped the cuffs to a chain leash attached to his gun belt.
“It’s degrading,” she said. “I hate seeing you treated like an animal.” She gripped my hand as the marshal opened the door.
“You helped me, Brian,” she whispered. “You helped me a lot.”
“Good. I can tell. You smile more. You move easier.”
She nodded. “I feel easier. Do you know this is the first night since I’ve been here that I didn’t have the nightmare? Thank you forever for that.”
“Goodbye, Abby!” I called. Then I was out in the hall. The door swung closed behind me. I felt as if I were in a dream. I stumbled along awkwardly. The marshal paced stolidly beside me. It wasn’t until we were in the elevator that I thought about the screamer and what Abby had said and it all clicked into place.
copyright 1996 by Brian K. Crawford
I really didn’t need this. I’d already had so much trouble with the police my friends had started calling me “Bustable Brian.” It started two years earlier when I’d hitchhiked to San Francisco, eager to join in the Summer of Love. Within twenty-four hours of arriving in the city and locating a crash pad, it was raided and I was hauled off to jail. I spent a half day in jail before they discovered I had nothing to do with the heroin dealers in the front apartment. Six months later in January ‘68 the Border Patrol picked me up while picking peyote down by the Rio Grande. I spent a pleasant week in a small town jail.
Only two months later I was busted for vagrancy and loitering at my 21st birthday party in the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens. Those charges were dropped when the ACLU agreed to take my case.
Two arrests in Texas in as many months finally convinced me to get out of the state. I went to New Jersey. I called home and my parents told me there was a warrant for my arrest in Ohio. It turned out that one of the other students back at Antioch College had been an undercover cop. A year after I dropped out, he turned in the names of eighty-six people, including me for the sale of mescaline. After a great deal of soul-searching, I went back and turned myself in. I was convicted and sentenced to a year in county jail, but the sentence was suspended provided that I a) not associate with drugs or anyone who used drugs; b) begin sessions with a therapist; and c) not leave the state. Since none of that was compatible with the life of a traveling hippie, I was determined to skip town as soon as I could afford it. Of course, there was some risk. If caught, I would have to serve my year for the mescaline, plus more time for jumping probation.
By then I had a new girlfriend Ann Lydenberg, a tall beautiful ash-blonde modern dancer I’d met at college after I’d already dropped out. We rented a house on the outskirts of Yellow Springs with some other hippies while she finished her fall quarter and I worked as a land surveyor to save up enough money to hit the road again. Then Ann took winter quarter off and we moved in with my parents in Beavercreek. We bought a red VW minibus and converted the back into a bed. Ann sewed paisley print curtains and I put stained glass contact paper in the upper windows. We named the bus Li’l Red. On February 8, 1969, we said goodbye to my parents and headed for California, happy and in love and excited about our big adventure. Twice before I had set off for California and each time got diverted and distracted. This time we were determined to get there and either start or join a commune where we could live on the land and be free.
It was winter and very cold and the bus had the most inadequate heater ever installed in a motor vehicle. We stopped in St Louis to drop acid and go up in the newly-opened Gateway Arch. I planned our route to pass through Fort Worth and visit my friends at the McCart Street Commune – just a brief layover before we headed to palmier climes.
For months I had been regaling Ann with my tales of the wonderful folks I’d met in Texas on my last aborted trip to San Francisco. I wanted her to meet all those characters, and I also wanted to show off Ann – to show those guys I’d gotten my shit together, at least woman-wise.
So we burrowed through snow flurries and a thousand miles of cold gray depressing little farm towns, that poor little overworked 40-hp engine barely dragging the bus up the hills. We hit Texas and the scenery didn’t improve. Mile after empty mile of featureless flat scrub country whizzed by. No doubt about it, east Texas is just butt-ugly, especially in winter. Finally we circled around Dallas to Fort Worth, its smaller, drabber cow-town neighbor thirty-five miles to the west.
We arrived at the McCart Street house late one afternoon after driving twenty hours straight. Jim and Bev, the owners of the house, were very glad to see me, and they welcomed Ann like a beloved daughter-in-law. The stoning party that had been roaring non-stop when I left the year before was still going on. Ann and I moved in with no definite date of departure.
It was great seeing everybody again. Some things had changed in the year I’d been gone. Joe and Big Martha were married now. And James and Muriel, who had been only fringe visitors before, were now regulars and a couple. Like Jim and Bev, James looked very straight and conservative – like Mormon missionaries, I always thought – but he was a stoner and tripper and we’d had some good talks. He was quick and bright and interested in science and cosmology and philosophy and many of the same things I was. I wasn’t surprised that he and Jim had gotten close, because that had been a bond between Jim and me as well. James’ girlfriend Muriel was very pretty but quiet. She smoked with us, but it seemed to me that she was watching everyone else more than participating. The gay couple Rick and Ron, the latter better known to all as Pussyface, came over in their Pussymobile – a customized MG roadster – and we smoked ourselves silly and talked and laughed and listened to music every night.
Everyone seemed to really like Ann. Joe had come to visit me in Ohio a few months before and had met Ann, and he had told everybody in Fort Worth how great she was, dubbing her Supergirl. It wasn’t long before Ann learned of her big build-up. Of course she was flattered until she learned that her fame was due less to her many talents and accomplishments than to her magnificent breasts, which all agreed were very fine.
I was happy to hang out and chill, but Ann didn’t know these people and wanted to get on with the trip. On Valentine’s Day she asked me when we were leaving. I said the family was talking about a big underground film festival in Dallas the following night. Everyone said how great it was going to be. We agreed that we would leave the day after the festival.
On Saturday, February 15th we all got dressed up in our concert rigs and dropped some orange wedge acid. Besides Ann and me, the party included our hosts Jim and Bev, Joe and Martha, and James and Muriel. Because there were so many of us going, we decided to take our minibus. Before we left I explained again about my probation problem. “If I get stopped even for a traffic ticket and they run my ID, I’ll have to go back and do that year in jail.” I asked everyone to not be holding while in my car – “We’re already tripping, for chrissake, can’t we go four hours without smoking dope?” They all agreed and emptied their pockets and purses. We got in the bus with Ann in shotgun and the six of them piled on the bed. At the last minute a guy I didn’t know named Eric also squeezed in. I got on the freeway and headed for Dallas.
As we drove into the big city I was feeling more than usually paranoid. Dallas didn’t have a good reputation with me, especially its police. They had a reputation like LA cops – brutal and uncontrolled. And it wasn’t like we were inconspicuous – a red VW bus with stained glass windows and paisley curtains and the VW logo changed to a peace sign, filled with far too many people and way too much hair.
Perhaps it was my addled state of mind, but with seven stoned people rolling around on the bed all trying to give me directions at once, I could have sworn we were driving in circles for hours. I started worrying again about being stopped. I shouted to everybody to shut up and asked them again to check if anyone was carrying anything. They checked their pockets again. Sure enough, Eric soon turned up a couple of joints and Muriel and Martha each found an amyl nitrate popper in their purses. We were too loaded to do them now and weren’t about to throw them out. So Ann found an empty baby food jar (don’t ask) and passed it into the back. When it came back there were three joints, the two poppers, and a red (Seconal, a powerful downer). She capped the jar and put it in the shelf under the dashboard, ready to toss into the bushes if we were stopped. I felt a little better after that.
We finally got to the festival. It was much bigger than I had imagined. I had been imagining a movie theater, but this was in a huge concert auditorium with a vast parking lot around it. It was quite a scene, with hordes of people wending through the packed parking lot and into this giant hall. It was challenging driving through the crowds of people to find a parking space, plus the acid was really starting to peak about then. The crowd was mostly stoned and very colorful, especially to our psychedelic eyes. There seemed to be dozens of stairs to climb before we finally emerged in the nosebleeds just under the roof. The place was immense – at least four or five thousand people making quite a bit of noise. The air was blue with smoke.
Then the lights dimmed and the films started – maybe twenty or thirty short films, and a bizarre collection they were. Each was stranger than the last, some animated, all bizarre, and the crowd loved it. Tripping as we were, it was a very strange experience to be taken to all these different places by such different artists and directors. It was like we were all sharing a series of psychedelic visions.
It ran many hours, and it was one in the morning before it was over. Though we were past the peak of our trip we were all still really ripped and we crept down all those flights of stairs about one step a minute in the dense crowd. We held hands to stay together in the press and traveled by a sort of Brownian motion to the exit. It felt great to be out in the clean air. It was very cold – cold enough to snow, but the sky was clear. Then we had to cross the parking lot again, but now all those thousands of cars were all moving, inching along through the press of walkers.
Just as we got back to the car, someone shouted, “Hey, Joe!” It was some friends of Joe’s that I didn’t know. They chatted a while, then Joe said he’d go back with them. Joe asked for a joint and I gave him one out of the baby food jar. Eric decided to go with them too to ease the crowding in the bus. We said goodbye and they disappeared into the crowd.
All the cars had their lights and engines on but nobody seemed to be moving. No one had a clue where the lanes were, and everyone just aimed at the exits and waited while pedestrians moved between them. This could take a long time. I decided I didn’t feel like doing that as stoned as I was, so we just chilled until the crowd thinned out. We talked about the show and the various films and how ripped we were on this great acid.
It was nearly two o’clock before the parking lot finally emptied out. We were one of the last cars in sight. I started the old bus, we wiped all the fog from the windows, and headed for home. When we reached the exit, I noticed a car parked in front of the auditorium with its bright lights on, blinding me. I could see nothing of the car, but my paranoia struck deep, and I was sure it was the heat. I rolled to a full and complete stop, put on my turn signal (thank God we’d gotten it fixed a few days before), and slowly and carefully turned right. The other car immediately pulled out and started to follow us. I told everyone about it and they all peered back into the glare.
“Jesus,” said Martha. “I see a light bar. It’s the cops, all right.”
I dug out the stash jar and gave it to Ann. “If they stop us, babe, you throw this sucker as far as you can into the bushes.” Seconds later he turned on his red lights and I pulled over to the curb. We hadn’t gotten a hundred yards.
“Lose the stash,” I hissed. Ann looked out the window but there was just a sidewalk and a building there. The jar would smash with a loud noise and drop to the concrete where they couldn’t miss it. Not good. Everybody was shouting advice, but I didn’t hear any good ideas.
“Somebody’s gotta eat it!” somebody called. Ann looked at me in desperation, but I couldn’t think of anything better. She opened it and gulped down the contents in a single swallow. Wow, I thought: two joints, a red, and two glass vials of amyl nitrate. Supergirl, indeed.
I got out my license and registration and waited. I kept peering nervously into my side mirror. What were they doing back there? Their lights were so bright we could see nothing beyond them. It seemed that we had been sitting there for a long time and they hadn’t gotten out yet. Were they just running the plates, or were they loading up to blow us all away?
I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Why hadn’t they come up to my door? I wasn’t supposed to get out and go talk to them, was I? On the other hand, wasn’t it suspicious to just sit there in the blue-white spotlight and flashing lights and not do anything? Wouldn’t a normal citizen go back and ask why he had been stopped? Of course he would.
“I guess they’re waiting for me to come to them,” I said at last, and got out of the car. It was freezing outside, with a biting wind off the prairie whistling down the empty street. I put my hands in my pockets and pulled my old pea coat tight around me as I strolled casually back to see what was up. I was practicing my most innocent, “What seems to be the trouble, officer?” when both doors of the police car popped open. In a second two cops were kneeling behind their doors with their weapons clutched two-handed on the windowsills and pointed at my heart.
“Suck tarmac, motherfucker!” one of them shouted.
I froze. I was lost; I had no idea what that meant. I was still trying to get my tripping head around the idea that there were loaded guns pointed at me. Suck tarmac, motherfucker! A curious expression, I mused – I wonder what it means? Was it some Texan sexual act? The second part was clear enough at least, and was often associated with shots being fired. I did so want to understand what he was telling me. Tarmac – I’d heard that word somewhere. Wasn’t that a quaintly hick old-fashioned synonym for blacktop? Then “suck tarmac” must mean… oh. I pulled my hands from my pockets and threw myself face down on the pavement, waiting for the bullets to start. It seemed to have been a good guess, because the cops ran toward me and one kneeled on my spine while the other handcuffed me.
“Don’t ever walk up to a police car with your hands in your pockets, asshole,” one informed me.
“Hey, it’s cold and…”
“Shut the fuck up. Stand up. Get in the car.” I soon found myself folded and inserted into the back seat of the police car. Things didn’t seem to be going well, though I had avoided being shot – so far. They took my wallet and ran my license and the car registration. I waited glumly for them to say, “Hey look, Buford, this guy’s got an outstanding warrant from Ohio,” but nothing happened. The older one got in the back seat with me while the other turned around in the passenger seat to cover me.
They asked me all the usual yadda-yadda. I explained that I was a college student taking an early spring break and visiting my outstanding Texas Republican cowboy friends and was most certainly not a goddamned Yankee pinko hippie coming down here to stir up their good Christian children with my Godless hedonistic ways – or something to that effect. I considered telling them I was a law enforcement major, but thought better of it.
I finally got up the nerve to ask why they had stopped me. I certainly wasn’t speeding – I wasn’t even sure speeding was possible with seven people in a VW bus.
“Changing lanes without a signal,” the older one said.
“I didn’t change lanes. I had just pulled out into the right lane and stayed there.”
“Shut the fuck up,” he explained helpfully. “Hey, Billy Bob, go check out the others.” The younger one got out and went up to the bus, loosening his gun in its holster. I could see many worried faces peering out the back window. He went to the passenger door and knocked. Ann slid back the window. They talked for a second, and then she got out. I could see she was scared and I felt sorry for her. She’d never been busted before; she was with a bunch of people she didn’t know, and she was in a very strange state – more than one, actually. I wanted to protect her from all this, but I was helpless. They had the guns and the authority – Ann’s feelings and my wish to spare her were irrelevant. They could do anything they wanted, and I was powerless to stop them. It’s emasculating. How I hated those cops right then.
Then the young cop opened the side door and people started climbing out – lots of people. It looked like one of those clown cars in the circus. And they were all dressed to go out. James wore an old band uniform. Bev wore a chiffon ball gown and a rhinestone tiara. Martha wore coveralls. It had all been hip and funny when we left home, but the gear just looked sordid and depraved at two thirty on a cold empty winter street. My Texas friends were not living up to the good old boy build-up I’d been feeding the cop.
The cop with me rolled down his window and leaned out. “Hey, Leroy! Better search that vehicle; see what you can find.”
The young cop crawled into the back of the bus and started rooting through everything. There was a lot of crap back there. The bed was covered with blankets and sleeping bags and coats and dirty clothes. Beneath the bed was all the clothes and food and books and luggage Ann and I had brought, plus my army duffel bag full of recorders. So it took him quite a while to go through it all, while everybody stood around on the sidewalk, shivering and watching glumly. I kept trying to think of what I might have missed. After all that had happened in that bus, it was hard to imagine that it could ever be totally free of contraband.
But after a long time, the young cop came back and got in to warm up, blowing on his hands. “Nothing,” he told his partner, and I took my first breath in twenty minutes. “It’s a mess in there, but I couldn’t find any weapons or drugs.”
“Really?” asked the old one. “Are you sure?”
“Pretty sure. They got nothing.”
“Shit.” He looked really disappointed. He had been just as sure as I was that there’d be something in the car.
“Listen, Eugene,” said the older one. “You must have missed something.” Then he said, very slowly and clearly: “Go back and look one more time.” Their eyes met. The young one looked back at me and I thought a caught a glimpse of humanity. But then he shrugged. “Okay, Horace.” He got something out of his glove compartment and slipped it into his pocket, then got out and walked back to the bus. He knelt in the side door and leaned into the car, and almost immediately stood up and walked back to us. He held out two half-smoked joints rolled in red, white, and blue papers.
“Yeah, guess I missed these the first time,” he said.
“Those are not mine!” I shouted. “I don’t use those American flag papers!” The old cop just gave me a mean smile. I knew I was toast. Busted for dope while violating probation on a drug charge. Lions and tigers and bears. God, I hated Texas. I sank back in the seat, defeated.
“And I never leave them half-smoked,” I added bitterly.
So they called a Black Maria and we were all loaded into it. As they locked us in and we rolled away, I looked back at Li’l Red. She looked small and empty and scared, like the rest of us. I remembered how happy Ann and I had been when we’d been decorating her for the trip. Our little love nest. What would happen to her? Would I ever see her again?
At least Ann and I were together. I sat next to her, but my handcuffs prevented me from putting my arm around her as I yearned to do.
“How you doing, babe?” I asked.
“I’ve had better nights,” she replied, then leaned close. “I believe I’m getting really, really high,” she whispered. Oh shit, that’s right. The weed and downer would just be starting to come on, on top of the acid trip. Plus she’d just swallowed two amyl nitrates whole, I suddenly remembered. The glass vials were covered in fabric. Would they break open in her stomach, or pass like ships in the night? She was in for a long interesting night.
After whipping around numerous corners at unsafe speeds with sirens blaring, the van suddenly turned and went down a long ramp. It led into a parking garage beneath a big building. It stopped and we were taken out and lined up in front of a row of big cardboard drums along a wall. I glanced into the drum behind me and saw it was two feet deep in joints, pipes, baggies, pills, and roach clips. Man, if they let all drug bustees stand here before they were searched, they must not convict many. On the other hand, they must collect an immense quantity of great shit. Maybe that was the whole point. I felt constipated not having anything I could contribute. I yearned to purge my soul into that drum and come out washed clean.
Then Jim whispered to me. “Hey, Brian, check it out.” He was pointing with his foot at a brass plaque set in the concrete floor. I leaned forward to read it: “On this spot, Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and killed by Jack Ruby. November 24, 1963.” I was astonished. This was the parking garage I had seen so many times in that video of Oswald being shot. I remembered the surprised look on Oswald’s face, the big incompetent thug of a deputy just beginning to shout, the natty little fedora Ruby wore. So this was where it happened. What a vote of confidence for the Dallas police! I was surprised they had even put in a plaque. Leaving aside for the moment from their inconceivable security lapse in leading the most hated man in America through a crowd of angry citizens, there was also that little slip-up with the president in Dealey Plaza two days before that. It didn’t give me a great deal of faith in their competence. And these were the idiots who now had complete control of my life.
They finally came for us and we were separated by gender. The girls were led away – Bev tall and slim and tight-lipped, Big Martha swaggering bravely and waving to us, Muriel looking dazed and confused, and my Ann, beautiful as ever, but scared to death and looking like she was going to be sick. I prayed she wouldn’t throw up any evidence.
Jim, James, and I were taken to another room for booking. We were fingerprinted and photographed, then put into a holding tank with some drunks. Finally we could talk.
“What’s the story?” they asked me. “They didn’t tell us anything.”
“They said I changed lanes without signaling. They searched the car once and didn’t find anything. But then they searched again and claimed they found two roaches.”
“Bullshit! That car was clean!” said Jim.
“I know. The young cop took them out of his glove box when he went back the second time.”
“They can’t do that!” said James indignantly.
“Are you sure they weren’t some of ours?” he asked. “Maybe that guy Eric dropped them.”
“No, man,” I said. “I saw them. They were in American flag papers, and they were both about a quarter smoked.”
“I’ve never seen anybody use those stupid papers,” said Jim.
“I know. They don’t burn even and they always get runners.”
“To hell with that,” said James. “What can we do about it?”
“I can’t think of a thing. It’s our word against theirs, and we’re hippies and they’re cops. Who’s gonna believe us?” We stared at each other helplessly.
“Poor Ann,” I sighed. “She really took a bullet for us. She’s going to be really fucked up.”
“So are we all,” grumbled Jim, trying to make himself comfortable on a hard metal bench. We all tried to settle down, but I couldn’t sleep. I was worried about Ann. Was she in danger? If those poppers went off inside her, it might kill her. She must be terrified. And it was all my fault – she’d never have set foot in Texas if I hadn’t brought her here. Was she mad at me; did she blame me for all this?
She’d just had a terrible year – her mother had died a long slow lingering death of cancer, and Ann was fragile and vulnerable. Our road trip was supposed to have been a fun adventure. I’d show her the Grand Canyon and Death Valley and we’d see LA and go up to the Haight and maybe find one of those communes up in Mendocino. All those dreams were dead now. We’d been on the road just over a week, and already I was back in jail.
And likely to be there for a very long time, as I well knew. None of the others had a record. Mine was going platinum. This was my third bust in Texas alone. As soon as the cops learned of my checkered past, I would be doing hard time for sure. And when I finally got out as an old man, it would only be to do more time in Ohio. No doubt about it – I was toast. And on top of everything else, the damned acid trip seemed like it would never end, and for once I wanted it all to stop. I just wanted to cry.
After a short, sleepless, and uncomfortable night, we were put into a smaller cell, just the three of us. We talked about the bust and what our chances were and how it really sucked after such a nice trippy evening. None of us was quite sure of the penalties for possession of marijuana in Texas – none of them had ever been popped, and I had somehow missed that one so far. The guesses centered around eight to ten years. It was not a cheering prospect. Later we talked to an old homeless guy in another cell, and he straightened us out. “Ten years?” he laughed. “Nah, that’s for murder. For dope it’s twenty to thirty.” We all stared at him in horror, unable to speak. “Of course, that’s for first offense,” he added. “If you been busted before, you can kiss your ass goodbye. That’s mandatory life with no chance of parole.”
I had to go sit down. I had heard such rumors on the street before – how some poor schmuck – always a friend of a friend – had gotten life for having a seed in his pocket. I’d never known the details; never confirmed the story. But apparently it was true. So it wasn’t the year hanging over me in Ohio I should be worried about; it was that rinky-dink peyote charge from down at the border.
That bust had been a laugh – five days in a comfortable pokey with clean beds and lots of great home-cooked Mexican food. I’d thought I was in heaven. It had been a minor inconvenience – it just made a good story to tell. But that made this a second offense for possession in Texas. That little escapade was going to cause me to go to prison for the rest of my natural life. There wasn’t a chance they didn’t know all about it by now. No, I was quite certain – those two American flag roaches falsely planted on us were going to destroy my life.
It was difficult to contemplate; I couldn’t get my head around it. You mean I’ll never go outside again? Never hike; never sail; never travel; never see my friends; never go to a concert; never make love again? How could that be? And this was a product of what we call our justice system? I wanted to rattle the bars and scream, “You don’t understand. I’ve never harmed anyone. How can you just take away my life? Don’t you get it? Your absurd laws don’t apply to me. I renounce your whole system.”
But in spite of all this internal drama, the gears of the system slowly ground us through the machine. That Sunday morning we were let out one by one to make phone calls. I thought about calling my parents in Ohio. I imagined the phone ringing at their house. Dad would pick it up with his crisp businesslike, “Crawford talking.” And when he heard my voice he would cup his hand over the receiver and I would hear him shouting, “Ruth! Ruth! It’s Brian!” and I’d hear her glad cry in the background. I was terrible about keeping in touch, and when I was on the road sometimes months would go by without a word from me. Most of these conversations were something like, “So I met this guy and we’re going to try to find this commune thing out in Colorado. But we’re going to stop in Taos to see some friends, and they were talking about going to Mexico, or maybe Alaska, so who knows? Later.”
So they’d be very happy to hear my voice again. Mom would ask me where I was. And I’d have to tell them, “Well, I’m in jail again. Yes, unbelievably, in spite of your warnings and all common sense, I have been busted yet again, and this time it’s for life. But enough about me – how are you guys?”
I couldn’t do it. I was too depressed. I couldn’t bear to place the call that would turn their lives upside down. And besides, I rationalized, until my bail was set, they couldn’t even get me out. No point in worrying them before they can do anything. I deferred my call until after the bail hearing. I wondered if Ann had called anybody. Who could she call? Her mother was dead and her father was teaching at a university in France. Her only other relation was her brother Steven, a student at Cornell.
Jim and James called their friends or parents, and soon they were showing up, horror-stricken to see us all behind bars. There were a lot of grim faces and tearful scenes. But I was too despondent to take much interest – and too worried about Ann. The guards wouldn’t tell me anything about her. It was a very long depressing day.
Early in the afternoon Joe came to visit. He’d already been to see Martha and the other women. He said Ann seemed okay but was very scared and depressed. She’d called her brother Steven and he was flying down from Ithaca. Joe told us the other women’s families were already contacting attorneys, pressing for a quick bail hearing so they could bail them out. I wondered if they’d even offer me bail. Facing life in prison made me a flight risk. Maybe I’d be held until trial, and from there I’d go straight to the pen. I might never see the outside again. In the late afternoon Jim and James were bailed out, and I was alone.
I felt terrified and helpless. But hearing about what the other families were doing made me realize that there were things my parents could do. I realized too that I was not sparing them by delaying telling them – they would be more hurt to find out about it later and realize I hadn’t called them right away.
Finally I gathered my nerve and requested my phone call. But the guards were in no hurry. They have some time limit when they have to let you have your first call, but since I’d deferred, they had no interest in getting off their butts. I waited all day and still no one came to escort me to the phone room. Then they turned the lights out and we were locked down for the night. I was frustrated and furious. I needed some serious help and couldn’t even make a damn phone call.
Though I didn’t know it, much was already happening on the outside. Ann’s brother Steven had arrived in Dallas that same Sunday evening. On Monday morning he hired a law firm, Anderson, Scott, and Garner, to represent both of us. They learned that our bail had been set at fifteen hundred dollars each.
Monday night Joe called my parents in Ohio and told them the story. At 1:30 on Tuesday they wired the attorneys the bail money plus a five hundred dollar retainer. Ann’s bail had been received as well, so our new lawyer Mr. Anderson came down to the jail and paid our bail. At 3:30 Ann and I were both released. She looked ragged and worn, as I’m sure I did.
Mr. Anderson was a man around forty, tall and blond, wearing a gray suit. He introduced himself, then took us out to his car and drove straight to his office. He showed us into a conference room. Ann’s brother Steven was there, and he hugged Ann long and hard. He shook hands with me, but I felt no warmth from him. No doubt he saw me as the cause of his sister’s predicament, and who could blame him?
Soon the other two partners arrived for our preliminary meeting. Mr. Scott was in his fifties, dark haired and pot-bellied. He looked askance at my long greasy hair and disheveled appearance, but said nothing and took his seat at the polished mahogany conference table.
Mr. Garner was in his late sixties, tall and large-boned with a bald head and a prominent aquiline nose. He wore a cream-colored suit and looked like a Southern politician.
“Tell us exactly what happened,” he said in a deep Texas drawl.
We told them everything we could remember, leaving nothing out. They asked us about our backgrounds, where we lived and what we did, our majors in school. They asked us if we had been arrested before. I listed my prior convictions. They took notes and said little.
“Now we have to know the truth,” said Mr. Anderson when we had finished. “Where did the marijuana come from?”
“I swear,” I said, “that was not our grass. They planted it on us.” Ann nodded.
Mr. Garner just shook his head. “Y’all should just forget that,” he said. “It’s your word against theirs, and nobody’s going to believe you. Arguing that’s just a lost cause.”
“But we didn’t do anything!” I said. “We didn’t break the law.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Garner replied.
“How can it not matter?” Ann cried. “It doesn’t matter that we’re innocent?”
“Myron’s right,” said Mr. Anderson. “No jury will believe you, so there’s no point in even mentioning it. It will just prejudice them against you because they’ll think you’re lying.”
“But we’re not lying!”
“Doesn’t matter,” Garner repeated. “What does matter is the traffic violation. Under state law, your vehicle can be searched only if you were observed breaking the law. If you didn’t change lanes illegally, the evidence is inadmissible.”
“I didn’t change lanes at all,” I said. “I turned right out of the parking lot onto Maple Avenue and I was going to turn right at the next block, so I stayed in the right lane the whole time.”
“Again, that’s just your word against theirs,” said Mr. Scott. “But we have a better chance of beating that charge than the marijuana possession. If we can, the possession charge has to be thrown out.”
“I have a question,” said Steven. “If the charge does stick, who would be charged? All seven of them?”
“That’s possible,” said Mr. Garner. “On the other hand, since the vehicle belongs to you two, they might just charge the two of you. Or since Mr. Crawford is the only registered owner and he was the driver, they might just charge him.”
So any way this turned out, I thought, I was dead.
“But the joints were found in the back of the car,” I pointed out in desperation. “Isn’t it more likely they belonged to someone back there?”
“The other five defendants have hired separate counsel in Fort Worth,” said Mr. Anderson. “I’m sure they’ll take the approach we would recommend if they were our clients – to try to dissociate their clients from you two. They’re all local and have no prior arrest records. You’re Yankees and you do have a record, or Brian does. The farther they can distance themselves from you, the better off they’ll be. No doubt they’ll claim they barely know you. They can claim that they just got a ride with you and knew nothing of the drugs in the car.”
“Or they might say that the drugs were yours, Mr. Crawford,” said Mr. Scott. “If they testify to that, they’d be pretty sure to get off. You can bet that’s what their attorneys are pressuring them to do – and their parents.”
“Hey, we’re all friends,” I said. “They wouldn’t try to screw me.”
The attorneys looked at each other with knowing grins. “One thing you learn in this business, Mr. Crawford,” said Garner, “is that friendships and loyalty tend to disappear pretty quickly when you’re talking about doing time in Huntsville Penitentiary. It has a reputation. People will say or do just about anything to avoid that.”
“And you can be sure,” added Mr. Anderson, “that the other five are in their attorney’s office right now, and he’s urging them to do exactly that. They are also being told to stay as far as possible from you two. We concur in that. It is now two separate cases, and neither is likely to aid the other. In fact, they could ruin you. It is very important that you have no further contact with them. Anything you say to them could appear as evidence against you. Do not visit them; do not telephone them; do not write to them. Is that clear?”
That chilled me. I couldn’t believe Jim or Bev would betray me. Jim had once bailed me out of the Fort Worth jail when he’d just met me. But Martha wasn’t a close friend and I barely knew James and Muriel. How much loyalty would they feel to some out-of-town drifter – ten year’s worth? Twenty?
“It’s clear,” I replied.
“So what happens next?” Ann asked.
“All this will take some time to play out,” said Mr. Anderson. “We intend to ask for an examining trial to determine the facts of the case. Most likely the judge will grant us that, though he could just send it to the grand jury. If we get the examining trial, we will attempt to show that the search of the vehicle was not a legal search. If we can do that, the marijuana evidence will not be admissible, and you’ll be free. If not, the case will go to the grand jury to determine if there is enough evidence to charge you. If they return an indictment, you will be arraigned and it will go to trial. It could be many months.”
“What do we do until then?” asked Ann. “Will we have to go back to jail?”
“No. Your families have paid for bail bonds so you could get out of jail. When you appear in court, the money will be returned to them, minus fees. If you do not appear, they will lose their money and nationwide bench warrants will be issued for your arrest. Also, the bail bondsman will hire private detectives – bounty hunters – to find you. We strongly caution against any thought of not appearing. When you are apprehended – and you will be – you will face additional charges. Also, you will have angered the judge and alienated any jury before the trial even starts. They will certainly consider it an admission of guilt. If the bail bondsmen’s thugs catch you first, your future would not be bright. So don’t even think about it.”
“Do we have to stay in Dallas all that time?” I asked.
“Not necessarily. You can leave the state and go home if you’d like. In fact, we’d recommend that. But you need to keep in touch with this firm so we can let you know when you have to come back. You will need to appear at the examining trial, assuming we can get one. We may ask you to attend the grand jury hearing as well, though your presence is not required by law. And of course the trial if it comes to that.”
“What should we do now? We’ve got nothing. Everything we own was in the car.”
“All that was confiscated as evidence. We can advance you some spending money. We’ve arranged for you to stay in a hotel near the courthouse. The first thing you should do is to get cleaned up. Brian, get a haircut and a shave. Both of you get some clean clothes – something conservative.”
“But this is how we look,” I complained. “It’s our statement that…”
“Nobody cares about that,” said Garner with a wave. “If a jury sees you like that the case will be over in ten seconds. Get yourselves cleaned up. Do whatever you can to look like fine upstanding young citizens. Nice college kids, maybe from Southern Methodist – that’s the look we need.”
I shrank at the thought. My hair was important to me. I’d been beaten up for it and thrown in jail for it and had many arguments with my parents about it. It signified my membership in the underground community. But clearly the lawyers were right. There was no such thing as a jury of my peers in Texas. I was going to be judged by a bunch of straight white Christian southerners, not by a jury of hippies. I’d always said I’d cut my hair when I had a good reason. I certainly had one now.
“I’ll do it as soon as we check in to the hotel,” I said to Ann.
“That’s another thing,” Garner went on. “You can’t stay together.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“You’re not married.”
“We’re adults. We’re lovers,” I said. “We’ve been living together for months.”
“If you share a hotel room, you’ll be breaking the laws against cohabiting and fornication. It’s likely the police will be keeping an eye on you. They could arrest you again for immorality.”
I gave up the argument in disgust, but I had no intention of getting separate rooms. The nights we’d already been apart had been agony for me. We were both frightened and depressed. I needed Ann right then more than anything I could imagine. I guessed that she felt the same. I was sure we could get separate rooms, and then get together secretly.
“So what do you think will happen?” Steven asked. “In the trial, I mean. Do you think you can get them off?”
“I’ll be blunt,” said Garner. “We’ll certainly fight the traffic violation, but I don’t have much hope for that. I’ve tried it, and it seldom works, not for drugs. They have the marijuana cigarettes, so they’ve got you nailed and they’re not going to want to let you go on a technicality. I think it’s most likely you’ll both be indicted for possession.”
“But we’re innocent,” I exclaimed. “They planted it on us!”
He just shook his head. “As Mr. Garner said, we wouldn’t even stand up in court and say that. And with the evidence of the cigarettes, almost certainly you’ll be convicted on the narcotics charge as well. We would then appeal the conviction. If it goes as far as Federal court, Federal law takes a different view of search and seizure than Texas does. The police have to have reasonable cause to believe a felony is being committed before they can search the car, so we’d base our appeal on that. But since it was municipal police that arrested you, I think that argument’s unlikely to get very far.”
Ann’s voice was trembling as she spoke up for the first time. “And what would that mean? If we’re convicted, I mean.” It was the question I’d been afraid to ask.
“Ann, you and the others have no prior criminal offenses. The penalty for first-offense possession of marijuana in the state of Texas is a minimum of two years in the state penitentiary in Huntsville. If the judge doesn’t like you, he can make it ten, twenty, forty, even life. It’s happened.” Ann paled and I saw her lips tighten and tremble.
“In actual practice, many sentences are suspended. You may do a few months in prison and the rest on probation, especially if we can convince the judge you didn’t know about the drugs. But there’s a lot of strong public feeling against drugs these days. People are scared and angry and they want to see convictions and stiff penalties. It won’t be easy to get a full suspension. Most likely there’ll be some prison time, from six months to a year.”
I was trying to take in the full impact of that when he looked at me.
“On the other hand, Mr. Crawford here is the owner and driver of the car, so the judge will be less likely to believe he didn’t know about the drugs. Also, he has a criminal record, including priors for narcotics possession and sale. If they learn of the other narcotics conviction – and they will – they’ll know he’s already jumped probation once. He’s from out of state. He’s not in college. He has no job or visible means of support. Frankly, he is exactly the sort of person for whom these laws were written. In my professional opinion, if he goes to trial he will get life in prison with no chance of parole.”
Ann looked at me in stunned shock, then she looked down, unable to meet my eyes. Even though it was what I had suspected, it was a shock to hear it stated so baldly. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was in one of those nightmares where terrors just keep piling up and you can’t move your legs to run away. But I wouldn’t wake up from this nightmare – ever.
“I just don’t understand it,” I moaned. “How can having two joints in my car deserve life in prison? I didn’t hurt anyone. It’s not like it was heroin or something. Why are the Texas laws so insane?”
Mr. Garner gave me a cold glare. “Listen, son. You don’t understand. Under the law, marijuana is the hardest drug there is. It’s classified as a schedule one narcotic, the same as heroin.”
“But that’s just plain wrong. They’re not alike at all. Pot is harmless.”
“Most Americans don’t think so. They don’t like people using these drugs, and they’ve passed laws to put a stop to it. He shuffled through his briefcase and pulled out a sheaf of Xeroxed pages. He slipped on his reading glasses. “Here, listen to some of these state statutes for first offense possession. Alabama: not less than five years, up to forty years; no parole or suspension. Louisiana: not less than five years, up to fifteen years of hard labor; no parole. Rhode Island: mandatory ten years.” He looked at me over his glasses. “So Texas is not out of line with the rest of the country, Mr. Crawford. You are.”
“But who am I hurting? I’m not pushing dope to school kids or something.”
“Damned good thing they’re not charging you with possession for sale. If you sell it, it’s even more severe.” He read again. “Rhode Island: first offense, mandatory twenty years; up to forty years. Illinois: mandatory ten years for first offense; mandatory life for a second. Louisiana: sale to a minor, first offense, mandatory thirty years of hard labor, possible death sentence. In Georgia, sale to a minor is mandatory ten years, up to life; for a second offense, it’s the death penalty. Missouri: sale to a minor, first offense; death.”
I was shaken. I’d had no idea.
“People get executed for selling pot?” I stammered. “That’s crazy. Pot never hurt anybody.”
Mr. Anderson leaned toward me. “Make no mistake, Mr. Crawford. You are being charged with one of the most serious offenses in the statutory code. The penalties are considerably more severe than for rape, kidnapping, or second-degree murder.”
I looked at Ann. She seemed about to cry, and I felt the same. I was twenty-one years old, and my life was already over.
“Is there anything I can do?” I asked, my voice cracking. “Throw myself on the court’s mercy? Plead guilty to a lesser charge? Anything?”
All three shook their heads. “No,” said Mr. Garner. “We believe your only hope is to avoid trial altogether. If you walk into that court room, you’ll never walk out.”
Mr. Anderson drove us to the Hotel Adolphus, a very ritzy hotel. I complained about the cost, but he told us it was already paid for by our parents. We thanked him and he drove off. For the first time since the arrest, we were alone. We stood on the sidewalk and stared glumly at each other.
“Not a very encouraging meeting,” I said.
“I just can’t believe it,” she said. “It doesn’t seem real.”
I just shook my head. We looked up at the imposing hotel.
“Well, I guess we get a night in a fancy hotel out of it. Let’s ask for rooms close together, and I’ll come knock on your door later. All I want to do is to get into bed and cuddle up like a pair of kids.”
She looked at me in shock.
“Are you crazy?” she said angrily. “After all that’s happened? We are going to do exactly what they told us to do: get cleaned up and sleep in separate rooms.”
I was taken aback. This was the woman I loved. We were going through this terrible ordeal together. The least we could do was to comfort each other.
“Listen, I’m sure the cops have better things to do than to watch us to see where we sleep. Tonight of all nights, I really need you.”
“To hell with that,” she shouted. “Were you listening at all? Do you want immorality charges filed against us too?”
Suddenly it was more than I could bear. The whole world was arrayed against me, determined to lock me away forever. There was no escape; no way out. I had nowhere to go. We couldn’t go back to see our friends in Fort Worth; we weren’t even allowed to talk to them. The only person in the world who was there with me, the only person I wanted to be with, was Ann. I needed to feel that we were in this together, that I wasn’t alone in my misery.
“Don’t you understand?” I shouted back. “They’ve taken our car, they’ve taken away our hopes and plans, they’re taking away my hair, and they’re hoping to take away my freedom. It’s them, don’t you see, honey? It’s the straight people. They don’t understand hippies with our peace and love and thinking for ourselves. They want to stop us; they want to change us. Now they want to stop us from sleeping together.”
“It’s not about that!” she cried, tears running down her face. “Do you like being in jail, Brian? Well, I don’t! I hate it; it scared me to death, and I never want to go back. So if sleeping in separate rooms can avoid that, that’s what we’ll do!”
I completely lost control. I was crying too now. I started screaming at her. “But that’s letting them win! That’s exactly what they want! This isn’t about two stupid joints; it’s about them and us! They want to take away everything that’s good; everything that’s full of pleasure and joy and life! Don’t do it, Ann! Don’t let them win!”
But she shook her head, furious now. “No! We are going to do exactly what the lawyers told us. Our families paid for their advice, and god damn it, the least we can do is take it!”
I was raging now, my heart breaking. All I wanted was to be together with the woman I loved most in the world, and she wouldn’t let me.
“Yeah, well fuck you then,” I screamed at her. “Just fuck you!” People were staring at us with looks of horror or amusement, but I didn’t care.
“Not tonight,” she hissed, and turned on her heel and went into the hotel. I stood there crying like a baby. I had never screamed at anyone. It was so completely unlike me. I was shocked that I had yelled at her, the last person in the world I wanted to hurt. But it seemed like the final blow in a long series of brutal pummelings. Furious, hurt, and alone, I started to storm away, but then stopped. Where could I go? I paced the street until I had calmed down, and then walked into the sumptuous marble lobby. Ann was not in sight. I checked in while the clerk eyed me warily – a dirty longhaired kid with wild eyes and a tear-streaked face. I had no luggage or clothes. I asked the desk clerk about a barbershop. There was one in the lobby. I took one last look at myself in the mirror, and then marched to the barbershop. The barber was in the chair, reading a newspaper. When he saw me come in, he tossed the paper aside and stood up, looking me up and down like a lumberjack judging a tree to be felled.
“I need a haircut and shave,” I said, and his face lit up.
“Buddy,” he replied, “You just made my day.”
An hour later I was in my room, clean-shaven for the first time since I left high school. My hair was so short I looked almost bald, though it was long enough for a little part on one side. I hated everything about it, but it did look straight, which was the whole point after all. I still felt trapped in a nightmare.
Alone for the first time since the bust, I collapsed on the bed and tried to think what I could do. There didn’t seem to be anything. It was all up to the lawyers and judges and juries. I had no choice, no options whatsoever. My days of freedom, of traveling, of having control over my life, were over – probably forever.
Thinking back on the scene with Ann, I felt even guiltier. It wasn’t her fault. Of course she was scared. She didn’t need me screaming obscenities at her on a street corner. She was just being sensible. But I didn’t want sensible right then – I wanted a co-conspirator, someone who’d continue to be anti-establishment, who’d be beside me in this terrible time. Now I felt even more alone.
I decided it was time to call my parents. I placed a long distance collect call.
I listened to the phone ringing so far away, still with no idea how I would start the conversation. They both answered the phone, dad on the extension in the bedroom.
“Someone named Joe called us last night,” my mom said. “We’ve been wondering why you hadn’t called us.”
“Tell us exactly what happened,” my dad said.
They listened silently to my rambling account, though I heard my mother stifle a sob once or twice. “And so it’s life this time,” I finished.
There was a long shocked pause, then my father’s voice: “Do you mean life in prison?” He was just trying to clarify what he thought he’d heard.
“Yes. It’s a second offense, so there’s no chance of parole.”
“How can that be?” he asked. “Even murderers get paroled eventually. This is for pot? They just lock you away forever?”
“Yes. That’s what’s going to happen, I guess.”
“Not if we can help it,” he said, and I could hear that stubborn tone in his voice that I knew so well.
Mom came back on. “We’re going to make some discreet inquiries with your probation officer here, without telling him what’s happened or where you are. We just want to know what you might be facing here. Do you need us to come there?”
“No, I don’t think so. Ann’s brother Steven is here. The attorneys seem like good guys. I can’t think what you could do here and it would just cost you a lot more.”
“Okay, if you’re sure. I’m in the middle of the school year, and it would be hard for me to get away. But if you need us, none of that matters. We can be there tomorrow.”
“No, I don’t think that would help. I’m okay, if really down. This sure isn’t the way we saw this trip turning out. I’ll stay in touch and let you know as soon as something happens.”
“Goodbye, son,” my father said. “We love you.” I heard Mom crying.
“I love you guys so much,” I said, my voice breaking as I teared up. “Thanks for being there for me.”
After I hung up, I wondered what they were saying to each other right then. Mom would be crying, but not sobbing, not out of control, still efficient as she made plans and discussed options. Dad would be grim-lipped, his thoughts deep and slow as he went over it in his mind. They’d both be mad as hell, too, and what could I possibly say? Yes, I did remember that unpleasantness with the Ohio Probation Office just a few months ago. No, I hadn’t really thought about the consequences. That was obvious. If I’d known the draconian laws in this benighted state, I never would have soiled my feet with its dust. Yes, you would think that if I were flagrantly flaunting the law, I should at least be aware of the penalties. No, there was no possible excuse for not being more careful. Yes, I did realize how it would be for them when the news hit the papers that their son was in the penitentiary. They were pillars of the community, well-known and well-liked. Mom was the superintendent of schools, for God’s sake.
Yes, they were angry, frightened, and facing a long, embarrassing, difficult, and expensive ordeal. Their retirement savings were at risk. I had put them through a lot already with my various busts; but it was quickly becoming clear this was going to be The Big One. But they had not disowned me; had not berated me for my foolishness. And they were ready to help in any way they could. My love and gratitude welled up and nearly choked me.
I longed to go see Ann, to curl up in her arms and take comfort there – and give it as well. I wanted to do whatever I could to ease her fears, to be strong for her. I felt very protective of her. I was responsible for getting her into this mess and was determined to be strong for her. I called her room.
“Hello?” Her voice sounded very small and very young.
“It’s me. How are you doing?”
“I’m really tired. I got almost no sleep in jail, and it’s really hitting me now.”
“Do you want to talk? Are you still mad at me? I didn’t mean what I said.”
“No, I know you’re scared too. I just want to go to sleep.”
“Oh. Okay. Good night, honey.”
“Night.” She sounded so solemn, so sad. I felt like shit for hurting her again.
I had a terrible time falling asleep. I felt completely out of place in this luxury hotel. It was so strange after living in the bus and then in the jail to be lying in the pillowy softness of the bed. What was I doing here? I was like a tramp that had sneaked into a hotel room for a nap. I didn’t want to be here; the hotel probably didn’t want me here. Also, I kept thinking of how much money it was costing my parents. They had already spent two thousand dollars and there were sure to be a lot more bills before this was all settled. I resolved that we should move to a cheaper hotel in the morning.
As I thought over all that had happened, I kept catching myself reaching up to stroke my beard. It felt like touching someone else’s chin. I hadn’t realized what a mannerism I had developed. I ran my hands over my stubbly head, trying to get used to not having long hair. I better get used to it – I’d probably have a prison haircut for the rest of my life.
As I contemplated a life in prison and tried to imagine what that would be like, I realized that I could hardly breathe. My chest was tight and felt constricted, like somebody heavy was lying on top of me. Thinking back, I realized it had started in the paddy wagon as I began to realize how bad the situation was. Then it had grown much worse in the lawyers’ office as the full reality of what I was facing finally sank in. I remembered how my voice had sounded strange even to me, as if I couldn’t get enough air to speak. I still had it. It was the weight of that awful future pressing down on me. It probably wasn’t going to go away.
In all my previous misadventures with the law I had never experienced this oppressive weight. I had certainly been frightened and depressed, especially in the mescaline bust in Ohio, when for a while it had looked like I might be committed to a mental hospital. But even at my lowest times, I had felt sure that it would end in the foreseeable future. At the worst I would spend a year in the county jail or maybe some months in the mental ward before I could get myself released. But it had an end.
Now the future stretched out in front of me, an endless vista of gray walls and bars and concrete. I was going to be removed from society. I tried to think what that would mean. Apollo 8 had just gone around the moon. The United States was on the verge of landing a man on the moon. Would I even be allowed to watch it? That malevolent schemer Dick Nixon was newly elected president by only a half million votes and promised to stop the race riots and re-establish law and order – by which everyone knew he meant crushing the underground. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the only voices of reason and peace, were both murdered. Blacks were burning down the cities. What would happen to the country? I’d be no part of it. I wouldn’t even be allowed to vote. My wasted vote for Hubert Humphrey last year would be the only presidential ballot I’d ever cast.
My mind started ranging farther out. In seven years the country would celebrate its bicentennial – but not me. Thirty years from now we’d enter a new millennium – and I’d be 53 and still in prison. All the hopes and dreams my parents had for me would evaporate. I’d never have a career; never achieve or produce anything; never leave a mark on the world. I’d never marry; never have children. My father’s bloodline would die out. My parents would grow old and die and I’d still be in prison. In the past there had always been an end in sight, perhaps far away and a hard road to get there, but undeniably there. Now the only end in sight was dying of old age in prison.
Mercifully, my exhaustion finally overtook me and I slept.
The phone woke me. I flailed across the rumpled bed to pick it up. It was Ann.
“Are you awake?”
“Yeah, I think so. What time is it?”
“Nine. Steven’s here. Want to find some breakfast?”
“Yeah, I guess. How are you feeling?”
“Pretty low, but at least I got some sleep. How about you?”
“Okay. See you in the lobby in a half hour.”
I took a hot shower. It felt great to get clean of the stale sweat and the jail smell and the stink of fear. I combed my pathetic hair and parted it neatly on the side. I took one disgusted look at myself, then went down to the lobby. I found Steven pacing the floor nervously, waiting for me. He glanced at me, looked away, and then did a double take at my appearance.
Ann was slumped in a big leather chair, twirling a strand of hair thoughtfully, just staring sightlessly. When I stopped in front of her, her eyes focused on me. She sat up in surprise.
“Jesus!” she said. “Do you ever look different!”
“I feel like Mr. Clean.”
She studied me. “I’ve never seen your chin.”
“Like it?” I showed her my profile.
“At least you have one. C’mon, I’m starving.” She got to her feet. I stepped toward her to give her a hug, but she turned quickly away. I felt a pang, but said nothing. We went out onto the street. It was a cold gray winter day and Dallas looked bleak and uninviting, the last place we wanted to be. We walked along in silence for a few blocks, then found a coffee shop. We ordered, then sat in silence while we waited for the food. I couldn’t think of anything to say. The lawyers had said it all.
When the food came, Ann started talking without looking up.
“The way I see it, our only hope is if someone testifies that the joints were theirs.”
“Not much chance of that,” I mumbled through my toast.
“You don’t think any of your friends would do that?” Steven asked.
I thought about it. “I hardly know the others, but I know that Jim and Bev are very honest and moral people. If the dope was really theirs, I think they would admit to it. I don’t think they’d let me take the fall for something they did.”
“Do you think it could have been theirs?” Ann asked.
“No. We were so careful about it. Of course, if someone was holding and forgot about it until we got stopped, they might have just dropped it on the floor. I wondered about that guy Eric – I’d never met him before. But he went home in another car – would he have left his stash with us? And I’ve never seen those rolling papers anywhere around here. I don’t think it belonged to any of us. I’m pretty sure the cops planted it.”
“There’s no way we can prove that. If they did it, they sure as hell would never admit to it.”
“Yeah,” I said glumly. “And if it was planted by the cops, nobody in the car is going to confess that it was theirs. Why admit to something the police know you didn’t do? I think they’re all just as innocent as we are.”
She just shook her head. “We are so screwed.”
“I know. I can’t think of any way out.”
“What do you think we should do now?”
I looked out at the gray, dramatic skyline of Dallas. “I want to get out of fucking Texas as soon as we can.”
“I agree. We never should have come to this awful place.”
“But where can we go? With that suspended sentence in Ohio I don’t dare go back home or to Antioch.”
“That’s for sure. And if we have to keep coming back for trials, there’s no way I can go home to Provence.” She slammed her fork down. “I am so pissed that dad didn’t even offer to come over.”
“I called him right after you called me,” said Steven. “We talked about it. He’s in the middle of teaching a class, and you know he doesn’t have tenure yet. It would be very awkward for him.”
“Awkward!” she snapped. “His only daughter is facing life in prison! That’s pretty awkward as well. He could have at least offered.”
“I don’t think he understands how serious it is. In France it would be a fine and a slap on the wrist. He has no idea what it’s like here.”
“Did he bother to find out?”
“When I told him I was coming down straightaway, he seemed very relieved. I think he’s trusting me to represent the family in your interest. I’m sure if there was a good reason for him to fly over, he’d do it.”
Ann didn’t seem mollified, but she dropped the subject. We ate in silence. I felt uncomfortable in the midst of this emotional family tension. Clearly there was more history here I didn’t know about, probably left over from their mother’s terrible death just the year before. I thought it time to change the subject.
“So,” I said, “we’re back to the question of where we’re going to stay until the trial. Not here, not Ohio, not France. Where else?”
Steven picked at the remains of his breakfast. “Well, you could come to my place in Ithaca, I suppose, but it would be crowded. It’s a one-bedroom apartment and I share it with my girlfriend Robin.”
“Oh, Steven,” said Ann, putting her hand on his. “That’s so kind of you. But we can’t impose on you like that. We’d be on top of you.”
“Do you mean both of us?” I asked. Whatever happened, I needed to be with Ann.
“Of course both of you. Ann needs you.”
“That’s a very generous offer,” I said, “but Ann’s right. We couldn’t do that to you guys. Maybe we can find an apartment somewhere.”
“For how long?” he replied. “You don’t know when you’ll have to be back here. Nobody’s going to give you a lease like that. And it would cost you a fortune. No, I think Ann needs to be with family right now.”
“What would Robin say about that?” Ann asked.
“You’re my sister, Ann. It’s my decision. And it won’t be for very long. We’ll make it work. I insist.”
“Wow, man,” I said. “That is so good of you. What do you think, honey?”
She shook her head. “I can’t think at all right now,” she said. “But we need a place to stay and I can’t face the prospect of looking for a transient hotel or an apartment.” She looked at Steven. “And it would be nice to have at least one member of my family there with me.”
“Fine,” he said decisively. “That’s settled then. I’ll get tickets back to Ithaca for all three of us. I’ll call Robin as soon as we get back to the hotel.”
I wondered how that conversation was going to go and didn’t envy him telling his girlfriend that his sister and her jailbird boyfriend were descending on them for an indefinite stay. I hoped it was going to work out. But I felt better just knowing that we had a plan for the immediate future.
We moved out of the Adolphus to a more moderate hotel nearby, the Baker. We still had separate rooms, which continued to bother me greatly, though I didn’t bring the matter up again. We had enough things to worry about without another screaming argument. That had shocked me – the anger, the bitterness that had burst out of me. I realized that the sheer terror was affecting me more deeply than I was admitting to myself. I’d never before lost control like that, and I didn’t want to again. I was in a constant state of horror, and all I could think of was getting out of Texas – as if this insanity would disappear if I could only get somewhere else.
But we couldn’t leave immediately. Travel arrangements took time. Over the next two days we had two more meetings with Mr. Anderson, who was to represent us. We told him we were going to stay with Steven in New York, and he seemed to think that was a good idea. He questioned us some more. He seemed most interested in gleaning background information about us, trying to work up some argument for why a judge and jury might be merciful toward us. He told us he had formally requested an examining trial and thought that it would most likely be granted. As soon as it was scheduled, he would write to us in Ithaca to let us know when we had to appear. He had been in contact with a Mr. Musselwhite, the attorney in Fort Worth who was representing the other five defendants. He did not plan to have his clients attend the examining trial, but he wanted a copy of the transcript. Mr. Anderson had agreed and the other attorney would pay half the court recorder’s charge. I hadn’t realized defendants had to buy their own court transcripts.
Steven booked us tickets to Ithaca for Friday. We caught the red-eye to New York that night, transferred to a regional airline, and arrived in Ithaca Saturday morning, February 22nd, bleary and sleepless. Robin met us at the Syracuse airport. She seemed nice and was very sympathetic to our problems. We squeezed into their VW bug and headed for their apartment.
I’d never been to upstate New York, and my geology training kicked in as soon as I saw the landscape. Ithaca is at the southern tip of forty-mile long Cayuga Lake, one of the Finger Lakes, a series of lakes gouged out by the glaciers in the last ice age. The rock is limestone, at one time mountains but now planed off to gradually rolling hills by the ice. It was very pretty countryside, if grim and leafless in the middle of a Northern winter. The ground was covered with several feet of snow and dirty heaps lined the roads. God, how I hated Northern winters. I always felt cold and longed to be going to a warm place instead.
We rolled into the city through some charming neighborhoods of old houses and huge trees. This was the environs of Cornell University, where Steven and Robin were graduate students. He already had an English degree from Columbia; now he was working on an MFA in theater arts.
As we drove through the campus, the road went across a long bridge and I glanced down as we crossed. I was startled to see that we were crossing a deep gorge with vertical walls at least sixty feet deep over an ice-choked river tumbling along at the bottom. It was dramatic and startling to see in the midst of an urban neighborhood. I had seen gorges like this before – the result of glacial meltwater lakes suddenly draining. I decided the area might be fun to explore – in what little time I might have left, I remembered with a jolt.
We parked in front of a large brick apartment building. It was on the very edge of one of these gorges, the brick wall melding into the stone precipice. The sound of rushing water filled the air. We ascended several flights of steps and Robin let us into the apartment. It was quite nice and attractively furnished. There was a bedroom and bath, kitchen, and living room. The living room had a big bay window with a built-in settee that looked out directly into the gorge a hundred feet or more below.
“I thought we could give you the bay window,” Robin said. “We can hang a curtain or a blanket across from there to there and give you some privacy. The bench is big enough for two, and we can give you some bedding. It should be comfortable.”
“Robin,” said Ann, “This is so very generous of you. We’ll try to be very small and very quiet.”
“It’ll be fine,” she said. “It’ll be fun.” I hoped she was right.
And so we settled into life in Ithaca. Steven and Robin were in class all day and often studied at night, so Ann and I spent a lot of time alone. At first Ann was paranoid that the police might be watching us, but I assured her it was absurd to think they’d bother. We weren’t important enough. Still, we tended to stay inside and keep a low profile.
A few days after we arrived, we got a letter from Mr. Anderson. He told us the examining trial had been approved and was scheduled for March 5th, just a week away. He also said he’d talked with a Mr. Thermes, an attorney in Dayton. Somewhat to my alarm, he’d explained about both the Ohio conviction and the current proceedings. Mr. Thermes had said there would be no revocation of the Ohio misdemeanor probation unless I were convicted in Dallas. Further, he said there was no supervision in cases like mine and it was very unlikely the Greene County Ohio authorities would ever learn of the offense in Texas. That eased my mind considerably.
There was little for us to do in Ithaca. We read a lot and did what little cleaning and dishwashing the apartment required. We tried to be good guests and not be in the way. We kept the apartment clean and kept our few belongings out of sight behind our curtain. If Steven and Robin were entertaining, we usually went out somewhere, though they told us we were welcome to stay. But we were poor company and didn’t feel like small talk with strangers: “So why are you guys living in a window seat?” “Oh, we’re facing life in prison.” Talk about a line to kill a party.
On Tuesday, March 4th, we flew back to Dallas. The next morning we met again with all three attorneys. I had bought a suit and Ann wore a tasteful dress and stockings. They looked us over and approved. They told us to answer only what we were asked, to be polite and respectful, and always address the judge as Your Honor. We were not to touch or hold hands.
At 3:15 that afternoon, we appeared in the Justice Court, Precinct #1, Place #2. As in my previous court appearances, I was struck by the friendly camaraderie and exchanges of pleasantries between the court officials, prosecutors, and defense attorneys: “Hey, Jim, how’s that little girl of yours? Golf on Saturday?” Of course for them it was just another day at work with the people they worked with all the time. I was just a boring little case, a bit of product for them to move along through the formalities. But I couldn’t help but view the police, prosecutors, and court officials as the enemy. It was their job to put me away for life, and I didn’t want to hear they were playing golf with my attorney.
The purpose of the examining trial was solely to determine if the state had just cause and sufficient evidence to arrest us. Mr. Anderson hoped to show that there had been no traffic violation and thus no reason to search the car. The older cop was called to testify first. He said that he had personally found the joints on the floor between the passenger seat and the right front door. I nudged Mr. Anderson and told him it was the younger cop who found the joints. The old guy never even approached the car. Also, it was “found” at the side door of the car, not the passenger door. Mr. Anderson just shrugged, but he made a note.
We had been afraid that the cops would try to strengthen their case by saying they found other contraband in the car. But he said nothing about that – just two half-smoked joints.
Mr. Anderson questioned him about the illegal lane change. He seemed disorganized and confused, but eventually he swore under oath that he had seen me change from the left lane to the right without signaling. I fussed and fumed at his blatant lies, but there was nothing I could do. We were not there to defend ourselves. We would tell our story at the trial.
Then the younger cop testified. His story differed from his partner’s in several respects and he too gave some conflicting replies. For instance, he said that he was the one who had personally found the joints in the car in the front seat – Ann’s seat. However, he also swore that I had changed lanes illegally and added that I was driving “irregularly,” but not recklessly. Under questioning, he said that neither of the officers had seen the marijuana or any evidence of it until they searched the car.
Then another officer was called to testify. He said that when Ann was searched during booking, several “grains” of marijuana were found in both her purse and the pocket of her coat. We looked at each other in alarm. No one had mentioned anything about this before. I wasn’t terribly surprised at the news, as we were all constantly around pot. I was surprised nothing else had been found in the car.
Finally the judge closed off questioning. He asked where we were living and inquired about our being flight risks. He seemed satisfied with our answers. Then he ruled that the state had acted properly and that he would forward the case to the grand jury. And that was that. It had taken less than twenty minutes.
We returned to Mr. Anderson’s office to discuss what had happened. I said it was obvious that the cops were lying because of all the inconsistencies in their stories. They couldn’t even agree who found the dope or where. But Mr. Anderson didn’t think that was damaging to the state’s case. They had legally stopped and searched the car and had found marijuana. We had lost our only hope of having the charges dismissed.
“Nevertheless,” he added. “I am slightly hopeful. It is still possible the state will decide to drop charges. It is a small amount of marijuana. You were not causing a disturbance or driving recklessly. You submitted to arrest without resisting. You come from good families – and I might mention you’ve hired a well-known and respected law firm. You’re not just indigent transients.”
Ann and I looked at each other in surprise. This was the first encouraging news we’d heard since that terrible night.
“Do you really think they’ll drop the charges?” I asked hopefully.
“I think it’s possible they’ll drop the charges against the other five. But the police officers have sworn in court that they found marijuana on you. They will never change their stories now. That would be admitting to perjury. And the prosecutors are not going to just drop it, not in the current political climate.”
“What do you mean?” asked Ann.
He paused, ran his fingers through his hair. “There has been a great deal of publicity recently concerning drugs, especially their use among minors. The papers are full of angry letters and editorials.” He took some newspaper clippings from his briefcase. He found one and read it.
“This is a quote from the official bulletin of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics: ‘Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death. Marijuana is the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind. Marijuana leads to pacifism and communist brainwashing.’”
“But that’s crap,” I said. “That sounds like McCarthy’s ranting. It’s all lies.”
He picked up another clipping. “’If the people in authority can’t stop this plague of illegal drugs, we should elect some who can.’”
He dropped the clippings. “In light of that, the prosecutor’s office is under considerable pressure to bring in convictions and stiff sentences.”
“Can they win?” I asked.
“The State’s case is solid. The pot had to belong to one of you. So I don’t think they’ll drop charges against all of you. No grand jury will doubt the evidence, so they will indict. And the same for a trial. They’ll look at the joints and the people who owned the car and think – it must have been theirs. And we have no argument except ‘Did not!’ I am fairly certain they will convict you. We would then appeal to the Texas Court of Appeals, though it’s just a formality because they have no reason to reverse it. When we lose there, we will appeal to the Federal District Court of Appeals. There is some chance the conviction would be overturned there because Federal law stipulates that the officers must have some reason to suspect a felony is being committed. However, I think it unlikely they would overturn a conviction that was valid under state law.”
Our spirits dropped again. “However,’ he went on, “in the interest of saving the state the considerable trouble and expense of a jury trial, the prosecutor might be willing to drop charges against the others if one of you pleads guilty. They might even consider giving that person probation instead of prison time.”
“What would probation entail exactly?”
“Since you live out of state, you’d be allowed to return home or to college. You’d report to a probation officer there, usually once a month. If you skip town or if you’re arrested again, for anything, you’d be returned to Texas to serve the rest of your term in the penitentiary. If you stay out of trouble for the year, the probation would end and you would be free. However, as a convicted felon, you should be aware that you would be giving up many of your civil rights.”
I shook my head. “I understand it makes sense to plead guilty and get a plea bargain if you’re guilty,” I said. “But we’re innocent. We broke no laws. Doesn’t that make any difference?”
He looked at me in exasperation. “Are you determined to go to prison? Have you been listening to what I’ve told you? I think the grand jury will indict you, and I think the jury will convict you. I will do everything in my power to see what I can do in terms of a plea bargain, but it may not be possible in this climate. If you won’t even agree to that, Brian, it is my professional opinion that you will die in Huntsville Penitentiary.”
“So our only hope is to perjure ourselves – to swear we did something the police know we didn’t?”
He steepled his fingers and gave me a level gaze.
“Yes. That is my advice.”
“And you think if I plead guilty, you could get me probation?”
He snorted. “With your record? Not a chance. But Ann…”
“No,” I said. “No way.”
“If she testifies that the cigarettes were hers alone, they’ll have to drop the charges against everyone else, including you.”
“Unless one of the other five confesses, I believe it is your only hope. Plus, there is the marijuana found in her purse and coat. That would lend credence to her confession. With that evidence, a jury is unlikely to believe that she was not involved – even if you plead guilty, Brian.”
“That’s not acceptable. Ann had nothing to do with this. She’s done nothing.”
“Neither did you, if you’re telling me the truth.”
“No, I didn’t do anything wrong, not in this case. But let’s not pretend. Anybody who saw me in my hair and beard and beads knows I’m a hippie. I’ve been doing drugs for years; it’s basically what I do. But Ann’s never been a part of that scene. She’s taken drugs, but it’s not really her thing. She could take them or leave them, you know? So for her to do time for drugs is just stupid.”
“None of this is relevant, Brian,” he replied. “The fact remains that Ann is the only person who can keep you from going to prison for the rest of your life.”
“I will not let her take the rap for me. How could I do that? What kind of man would I have to be to let my lover go to prison for me? It would ruin her life. She’s been through too much already.”
“Why don’t we let Ann speak for herself?” he suggested.
We both turned to look at Ann, who sat looking at her hands in her lap. She looked up with tears in her eyes.
“I have to think about it,” she said at last.
We flew back to Ithaca the next day. The airline tickets had cost us the last of the money I’d worked so hard for – money we’d saved for our trip. I was broke again and totally dependent on my parents. It humiliated me to have to keep asking them for money. I knew they were spending their retirement savings on the attorneys, plus there were continually other costs – court fees, recorder’s fees, and phone and postage fees from all the correspondence going between Ohio, Texas, and New York. If this did go to trial, then to state and Federal appeals, I feared they would have spent their life savings. They assured me they were willing to do whatever it took, but I felt awful about accepting it.
One day there was a heavy rainstorm, then when the temperatures dropped at night everything froze. The ice storm broke tree branches and downed power lines throughout the area. We lost power and lit candles. The ice had frozen in huge waterfalls down both sides of the gorge, making it look like an ice palace. The river fell silent for the first time. Power was restored the next day. The following night we were awakened by a thunderous roar. The entire building shook. We opened the window and leaned out. A piece of ice ten feet thick and the size of a football field had broken off the cliff below us and plunged into the gorge.
The next day was a Saturday and we did our only family outing of our stay in Ithaca. The four of us got in Robin’s bug and drove to Watkins Glen, about twenty miles west on the next lake. It has another deep glacial gorge, and the town is most famous as the site of a grand prix auto racing track. The track was closed for the winter, but the glen is a state park and famous for its scenery. There are beautifully-built stone-walled paths cut into both sides of the gorge. Unfortunately the sun had not yet warmed the deep-cut gorge and the ice still flowed across the trails in places, sloping out over the retaining walls. It was most disconcerting trying to cross these thick ice flows, knowing a slip would drop us a hundred feet into the river. It occurred to me more than once that such an end would be preferable to what I was facing.
It was now the middle of March, three weeks since we’d arrived in Ithaca. Steven and Robin were extremely hospitable, but we were clearly crowding them. We tried to take up as little space as possible, but the apartment was very small. One of us was always in the bathroom when they wanted to pee or in the kitchen when they wanted to cook.
And we were not good company. We were both very depressed. There was nothing for us to do in Ithaca but think and talk about the bust, the trial, and the dark future before us. We were still close and deeply in love, but there was no denying that the strain we were under was wearing on us. We snapped at each other and had arguments about trivialities.
We knew we couldn’t just stew like this for three more months until the trial. We had to have something to do. Ann needed some semblance of normality back in her life. She wanted to return to Antioch and start the spring quarter in April. If so, she needed to get back to Yellow Springs soon to start looking for an apartment.
I could return to school as well, but I was more inclined to go to work. Paying tuition was starting to look like money wasted with the future I was facing. And I desperately wanted to make some money to stop draining my parents’ meager reserves.
The Ohio probation seemed less of a threat after Mr. Anderson’s talk with the probation officer and the research my parents had done in Ohio. It was unlikely the Greene county authorities would ever learn of the Texas bust. If they did, they couldn’t take me unless I was convicted. And even if I was convicted, they couldn’t have me until all my appeals were exhausted – and that would take considerably more than a year, long after my suspension had expired. Everyone seemed to think they would not try to put me in jail again.
So I wrote to my parents and proposed returning home. They replied that I was always welcome and they would love to see me and offer me the comfort of home. However, they were concerned about the probation. The information we had was purely conjecture. It was possible that the sheriff would come pick me up as soon as I arrived.
Their letter cooled my enthusiasm for going home, but we had to do something. The attorneys had encouraged us to go back to school or get jobs so we were no longer just unemployed hippies. Clearly getting back into school would be the best thing for Ann’s spirits.
When I left my civil engineering job before we left on the trip, the company had told me I could come back if I wanted. I was eager to return to the job, which had been relatively interesting and well paying. I liked working outside, and the job offered a pleasant mix of hard physical labor (driving survey stakes with a twelve-pound sledgehammer) and mental work (doing the calculations for the surveys and level circuits). I was out on construction jobs, but not fully a laborer – more of a light-blue collar job. It suited me.
So we started making arrangements to go to Ohio. On Friday, March 21st, Steven drove us to the Syracuse airport. We thanked him again and again for all the support he and Robin had given us. Then we boarded a TWA half-fare to Dayton. My parents picked us up at the airport and welcomed us with big hugs. It was the first time they had seen us since we drove off in the VW bus on February 8th. Mom exclaimed over my appearance, saying over and over how nice I looked with my hair cut and clean-shaven face. My parents had really liked Ann when I first brought her home, and had mostly adopted her since. We had lived at their house for months while I had been working as a surveyor, and they thought of her as the daughter they never had. Ann seemed to feel comfortable with them as well, which always made me happy, especially considering that her mother was dead and her dad was distant in more ways than one.
We went straight to Yellow Springs, where Ann registered for the spring quarter, due to start on April 7th, two weeks away. Then we returned to Beavercreek and home. It felt wonderful to walk into the house where I had grown up. In those first terrible days in jail, I had thought I would never see it again. Yet here I was back in my old childhood bedroom, just like the old days – except for the fact that I had a beautiful blonde sharing my bed. I was so grateful to my parents for providing this refuge we so needed. Many parents wouldn’t have permitted such a sleeping arrangement. Then again, most parents would have probably disowned me when I went to jail.
Ahart Engineering hired me back without questions, for which I was very grateful. I was in no state to go around begging for work. I had to borrow Dad’s car to go to work every day, but at least I had money coming in for a change.
We talked about what Mr. Anderson had told us – that my only hope was for Ann to take the fall for me. None of us was clear about the loss of civil rights. The next day Mom wrote to Mr. Anderson for clarification. Which rights exactly, and for how long? Could they be restored? How long would that take? She also asked about the impact on my situation with the draft. In her letter, she enclosed a check for an additional $300 for Mr. Anderson’s fees through the trial.
My relationship with the draft board was complicated. I had been called up the year before, soon after I dropped out of school and lost my college deferment. I had gone to Cincinnati for the physical, but was thrown out after I called the examining doctor a quack to his face (well, he was). They re-classified me as delinquent and called me up again, saying if I caused trouble again I would go to prison for five years as a draft evader. I went back and took the physical again, noting on my application that I was gay, a drug addict, and opposed to war in any form. I had taken several chemicals supposed to make me look like an addict on the verge of death and had spent a long afternoon giving myself scores of needle marks. But in those dark days of the war, the Selective Service was anything but selective. I passed with flying colors and was classified 1-A, meaning eminently suitable for cannon fodder.
I had filed as a conscientious objector, and after months of hassling, paperwork, and even letters from my alleged minister, it was granted. But just before I was to report for alternative duty (as a hospital orderly in Seattle), I had been busted for sale of mescaline. My service had been deferred until that case was settled, and of course after I was convicted and released, I had hit the road for points west. We all assumed that if I ever got out of jail, I would then be shipped to either Seattle if they would still consider me a CO, or Vietnam if not. We were reluctant to report to the Selective Service that I was back in town, especially as the office was just down the block from the sheriff’s – and we had no intention of letting him know I was in the reach of his long arm of the law. Also, the local Selective Service office in Xenia had mysteriously burned down in April with the loss of all their records. Many suspected that it had been the work of those Commie hippies at Antioch College (and I happened to know they were right). All in all, the local community was not friendly to me and my kind. I was sure they’d snap me up if they ever caught me out of jail, though that seemed less and less likely.
Mr. Anderson replied to Mom’s letter on March 25th. First, he reported that Ann and I had been indicted by the grand jury for possession of marijuana. He said the other five occupants of the car had appeared at the hearing and testified that they knew nothing about any marijuana, but they were all indicted as well. This indicated to him that the state intended to prosecute aggressively.
He said the case would now be placed on the schedule of cases before the district attorney. The schedule was long, and he did not expect the trial to be set before June. He was interested in which DA was going to be assigned the case, and said, “Now the maneuvering begins in earnest.”
He recommended that I notify the Selective Service that I had been indicted for a felony in Texas because that would make me temporarily ineligible for the draft. Of course, I never did that. The less the draft board knew of my doings and whereabouts, the better.
As for the loss of civil rights, a convicted felon is forbidden to vote, hold a passport, serve on a jury, hold certain types of jobs, purchase a firearm, or run for public office. The rights would be restored after the sentence or probation was completed.
The attorneys had talked amongst themselves about representing both of us. It is more common for two defendants to be represented by different attorneys because the interests of one are not always the interests of the other. However, as Ann and I had told exactly the same story and were facing identical charges, they felt there was no conflict of interest in representing both of us. We were pleased, as we both felt Mr. Anderson was competent and always straight with us.
He also told us that under Texas law any vehicle in which contraband is transported can be seized by the state and sold at auction, usually for a small fraction of its value. This is true even if the owner is not convicted for possession – or even knew the contraband was in the car. This was independent of the cases against us. So there was a second case now moving through the courts – the State of Texas versus a little red VW bus. So long, Li’l Red. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
So we settled down to a new life of waiting. Ann didn’t have a car, so she needed to move to Yellow Springs. She found an apartment on the outskirts of town and moved there on her own. I was still afraid of showing up in Yellow Springs where I was well known and could easily be identified. It was just a few miles from Xenia, where the sheriff and the draft board both awaited me.
I stayed at home and worked at Ahart Engineering. Life was much as it had been six months before – except for the knowledge that I could be going to prison in a few months. It was literally incredible to me; I could not bring myself to believe that while I went to work every day, men in Dallas were negotiating the end of my freedom. It was not a relaxed or happy time for any of us.
Ann’s father wrote to say that he now planned to attend the trial, though it would be very difficult for him to get away from the university at that time. My parents invited him to fly to Dayton and they could all drive to Dallas together. He accepted their offer, but he could not book flights until the trial date was finalized. On May 20th, we had still heard nothing, so Mom wrote to the attorneys again. She asked if it would help if they flew to Dallas. She asked if he could guess when the trial would be held, because Ann’s spring quarter would end June 14th and she hoped to be able to complete her courses before the trial. Mom also wanted to know what length of sentences were being handed down in Dallas in similar cases. Were people really getting life sentences for possession of pot? She also gathered her nerve and asked him for his best estimate of the chances that I would go to the penitentiary.
He replied on May 22nd. He guessed that the trial would take place around June 25th, so Ann should be able to finish the term. He said the range of penalties being handed down was so broad it was difficult to give an average, but most young people charged with marijuana were getting from two to fifteen years, though some of these were probated. Any sentence of more than ten years could not be probated. He said that while the attorneys would be most happy to meet both the families, their presence would not be of any particular benefit to the case. No doubt sensing Mom’s anxiety, he added, “Each member of this firm feels that we can assure you that neither Ann nor Brian shall be required to go to a penitentiary. We believe that one of them is going to be required to accept a probated sentence for a term of years, but I am not in a position at this time to say for what period.”
This statement really changed the atmosphere for all of us. It was the first hint that I might not spend the rest of my life behind bars and the first really encouraging news we’d had since it all began more than three months before.
Since their presence was not likely to help the case, my parents decided not to go to Dallas. When Ann’s father heard that, he decided he would remain in France. Ann took this news very hard, feeling resentful that he wouldn’t even be with her for the trial. I think she felt that her mother would have been there, and it was another sign of her father’s distance. On June 14th, she finished her spring quarter. In spite of everything, she had completed her studies and done well. I was very proud of her.
On June 17th, the attorneys wrote to say the trial had been set for Thursday, June 26, just over a week away. They had met with the DA who would be prosecuting our case. He agreed that if one of us would plead guilty, they would drop charges against the other six. He also intimated that he would not necessarily insist on prison time.
We talked it over with Mom and Dad. We were all very reluctant to agree without a definite commitment. We called Mr. Anderson immediately to see if the agreement could be made more specific. He said these things could not be committed to writing. However, if another thousand dollars were wired immediately, he would see what he could do. We were never entirely clear, but this sounded suspiciously like a bribe. Mom and Dad wired the money the next day. He called back to say the DA would not agree to a suspended sentence for me. The best he could get for me was two years in prison and then parole. However, if Ann pleaded guilty, her entire sentence would be suspended.
On June 21st, Ann wrote to Mr. Anderson herself, requesting a written statement on the firm’s letterhead that she would not have to go to prison. Since there was not time for it to arrive before we left for the trial, she asked him to give it to her when we arrived.
Ann and I booked flights. I again quit my surveying job. On June 25th, we flew to Dallas. We went straight from the airport to a conference with all three attorneys.
They seemed more upbeat than in our previous meetings. They were pleased with the outcome, saying that it was the best we could have hoped for. They seemed to take for granted that Ann would plead guilty, though we were still not convinced. They told us they could not give us a written commitment because it was not their agreement; it was up to the DA. He had given them a verbal commitment but would not put it in writing.
“What’s to stop him from just changing his mind?” I asked. It was against my hippie nature to ever trust The Man, and nobody’s more The Man than a Dallas District Attorney. “You said yourselves that everybody’s up in arms about drugs these days and leaning on the DA to get more convictions. Isn’t it to his benefit to talk us into pleading guilty and then shaft us with a stiff sentence?”
“Yes, no doubt. But we believe he will keep his word.”
“Why?” I persisted. “If Ann stands up there and takes the rap, what’s to prevent him from saying he doesn’t remember anything about any agreement and giving her forty years?”
“Well, nothing. But we all have to work together, the prosecutors and the defense attorneys. We’ll appear against each other many more times, and if one side doesn’t keep its promises that would be very difficult for all of us. It’s how things work.”
“And what about the judge?” Ann asked. “Doesn’t he have the final say on sentencing? Is he in on the agreement?”
“No. But if the DA agrees to a suspended sentence, he’s not likely to override that.”
“But he could, right?” she persisted.
“He could, yes.”
“And he needs to be re-appointed, too, right?” she asked. “So if he’s tough on crime and locks away some druggie for a long time, he gets some political points, right?”
Mr. Garner interceded. “Now let’s hold up right here. Ann, are you saying you won’t plead guilty? We worked very hard to broker this deal. It wasn’t easy, believe you me. I am convinced – we all are – that this is the best possible outcome for you kids. If you back out now, I think you’d be making a terrible mistake. If you go up before a jury, there’ll be no deal and I don’t believe you’ve got a hog’s chance in Chicago of getting a suspended sentence.”
Ann and I looked at each other. I needed her to do it for me – it was my only hope of staying out of the pen – but I would never even suggest it, much less try to talk her into it. It had to be her decision alone. I desperately wanted to have some definite commitment that she wouldn’t do time, but apparently that was impossible.
“I’ll do it,” she finally said. The tension in the room broke and the attorneys all smiled. “Good,” said Mr. Scott. “I think that’s a wise decision.” I just looked at her, unable to speak. What does one say? Gee, thanks?
The next morning, we showed up at the courthouse. Ann was dressed in a demure dark blue dress with small white dots. Her hair was up and she looked very beautiful, but I thought she also looked very young, small, and frightened. I was in my only suit and incredibly nervous. We sat on a long wooden bench in the echoing marble corridor while people in suits hurried by with briefcases. We didn’t talk to each other. I kept thinking what I would do if the DA or the judge sent her to prison. Murderously violent fantasies flashed through my mind.
Mr. Anderson showed up and greeted us warmly.
“This will all be over in a few minutes,” he said with a confident smile. “Ann, please listen carefully. When the case is called, we will go into the courtroom and sit in the front row on the right side. Just walk in, sit down, and don’t say anything. The court officer will announce the charges against you. When the judge asks how you plead, I will get up and say that you are pleading guilty. He will then ask you to stand up and will ask you some questions. He will ask if you understand the charges against you, the potential penalties that could be applied, and that you can choose to not plead guilty and have a trial. He will ensure that you understand that by pleading guilty you are giving up your right to a trial by jury and that you are pleading guilty of your own free will. You will simply reply in the affirmative to all questions. Do not – I repeat – do not say anything else. He will then find you guilty and ask the state for its recommendation for a sentence. The District Attorney will say the state recommends a suspended sentence, and the judge will impose that sentence immediately. Do you understand all that?”
She nodded nervously.
“What should I do?” I asked.
He looked at me. “You should stay right here. I think it better than you not appear in the court room.”
“What? No, I need to be with her. Why?”
“Because I don’t want to take a chance of prejudicing the DA or the judge.”
“I’m cleaned up. I’m in a suit, for Christ’s sake!”
“I can’t stop you, but my advice is that Ann and I go in there alone.”
“I need to be with her. She needs me there!”
She looked at me sadly. “Let’s not do anything to make it worse, Brian. Please, this is hard enough for me as it is.”
“But I – but I want to be there for you.” I was almost in tears. All this time I had felt so terrible about her doing this for me. The only thing I could do for her was to be there with her. Now I couldn’t even do that.
“Just do as Mr. Anderson asks, Brian. That’s what I need from you right now.”
“Yes, yes, okay. All right. But I’ll be right here, right outside the door. If you want me in there, just look at the door, and I’ll be there in a second.”
The bailiff came out of the courtroom and announced the case.
“Here we go,” said Mr. Anderson to Ann. “It’ll soon be over.” She stood up and he held the door for her. They walked into the courtroom and the door swung shut behind them. I looked through the little oval window. There were only three or four people in the audience, and none of them looked up as Ann and Mr. Garner took their seats. Several men in suits were gathered around a table on the other side of the barrier. I assumed they were the prosecutors.
After a few minutes the judge came in and everyone rose. I could hear nothing, but I saw the scene play out just as we’d been told. Ann stood up and answered a number of long questions with short one-word answers. She nodded. There was discussion between the prosecutors and the judge. Then Mr. Anderson and the DA approached the bench.
I started to panic. What had happened? Was it going wrong?
But a moment later they returned to their places. Ann and Mr. Garner stood up again and the judge talked for some time as if lecturing her. He banged his gavel, and everyone stood up as he left the room. The attorneys started stuffing papers into their briefcases, anxious to get on to the next case, no doubt.
The doors opened and they came out. I searched Ann’s face, but she appeared to be white with shock. My terror rose up again.
“What happened?” I cried. “What did they say?”
“Just as we agreed, Brian,” replied Mr. Garner. “One year in state prison, sentence suspended, no restrictions. Ann is free to leave the state. In one year, if she has stayed out of trouble, her rights will be restored. Ten years after that, she can apply to have her record expunged.”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“If the court agrees, the record of her conviction will be sealed from public access. She can then legally answer the question, ‘Have you ever been charged with or convicted of a felony?’ in the negative – unless she is testifying under oath before a court. In essence, for college or job applications and so forth, she will no longer have a criminal record.”
“So we’re free to go?”
“Ann is, yes. The charges against Brian and the other five defendants are still outstanding. They have to be formally dismissed. It should happen within a few weeks. I’ll let you know. There’s also still the case against your car.”
“But nobody’s going to prison, right? It’s done; it’s settled; they can’t change their minds?”
He smiled. “Yes, it’s over. You’re both free.”
I shook his hand. “You did it – you got us off! Thank you so much, Mr. Anderson.”
Ann seemed to be coming back to herself. “Yes, thank you. How can we ever thank you enough?”
“Just stay out of trouble – both of you.”
“We will,” we said. He walked off, and for the first time in more than four months we were not staring into the dark tunnel of prison. We called my parents to give them the good news, then went straight to the airport. Neither of us wanted to ever see the state of Texas again.
Two weeks later, charges were officially dropped against me and the Fort Worth Five. On July 15th, the bail bond was returned to my parents. Two months later, we unexpectedly received another letter from Mr. Anderson: “We wish to advise you that we have been successful in preventing the State from forfeiting your automobile. If you could come to Dallas and contact us we will arrange the release of the vehicle to you.”
My reaction was mixed. I was overjoyed at getting L’il Red back out of the clutches of the Dallas pigs, but it meant I’d have to go to Texas again. I was determined to spend as little time as possible in that benighted state. I flew down, met Mr. Anderson, got a release for the car, and went down to the impound lot.
The car had been there so long it was buried way in the back of the lot and dozens of cars had to be moved to get it out. It was a sorry sight – covered with dirt and bird poop, one headlight broken, all four tires flat, and all four corners bashed in. They had left the windows open. When they finally towed it out, I got in. It was musty and stale and our sleeping bags were sodden and moldy. The pretty curtains Ann had made were faded and water stained. It wouldn’t start.
I had it towed to a garage and got the headlight replaced. The tires just needed inflating. They drained the coagulated gas out of the tank, replaced the fuel pump and battery, and filled it up again. It fired up with its usual wheezy whine. I paid the bill and headed northeast for Ohio. I drove fourteen hours non-stop until I was well out of Texas, then couldn’t go any farther. I parked in a rest area in Missouri, crawled in the back, and fell asleep.
I woke an hour or so later with a police officer rapping on the window. Oh, crap, I thought, here we go again.
“You can’t sleep here, buddy,” he said. “This isn’t a campground.”
“It’s a rest area. I’m resting.”
“Not any more. There’s no sleeping here. Hit the road.”
“But I just drove fourteen hours. I was falling asleep.”
“You want me to run you in, kid?”
“Okay, okay. I’ll go fall asleep at the wheel instead. Crazy laws around here.”
I took off and drove until I couldn’t stay awake another mile. I pulled into a truck stop and parked surrounded by big rigs. It was a noisy, rowdy place with lots of drunks staggering around and making noise. I was worried that some of these good ole boys would come hassle me. I walked around the car and made sure every door and window was locked – and there are a lot of them on a VW bus.
The driver’s door couldn’t be locked from the inside, so I opened the window, leaned out, and locked it with the key. Then I crashed on the smelly old mildewed mattress. It was a lousy place to sleep but I was so tired it didn’t matter.
I woke up sometime after sunrise and jumped in the driver’s seat. I wanted to put more miles between me and Texas. I’d driven an hour or so when I saw a car broken down on the shoulder. It was an old beat-up car, and a young man was peering morosely under the hood. I’d been there myself lots of times, so I pulled over behind him to see if he needed any help. I left the car running and got out to talk to him.
“Naw, I think it’s just overheated,” he said. “It’ll cool off in a while. But thanks for stopping.”
“No problem. Good luck, man.” I went back to the car and discovered it was locked. Of course. I had locked the door with the key last night, and when I got out and slammed the door, it locked again. I went around the car several times, cursing my thoroughness in locking it up last night. Finally I picked up a big rock and smashed out a wing window. The damned car was mostly a wreck anyway, but it hurt me to add to its miseries. Like me, it had been through a lot.
Ann and I stayed together for another six months, but something had changed in our relationship. One day she broke it off, saying it just wasn’t working for her anymore. There was nothing I could say to that. I took it hard and always wondered how it would have all worked out if we’d gone to California instead of Dallas. I left Ohio and traveled. My parents retired to San Diego and I liked the place and moved there too. In 1970 I joined a group that had bought a schooner in Nova Scotia and spent twenty months in the North Atlantic. Later I fulfilled a lifelong dream and went to the South Pacific. In Tonga I met a Peace Corps volunteer from Virginia named Linda Brooks and fell in love again. I used my nautical experience to sail from Tonga to Australia, then worked there as a surveyor. In ‘74 Linda and I got together again and went to live with my parents in San Diego. In December of that year we were married. Three years later my parents were killed in a plane crash in the Canary Islands. In 1986 we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and had a son two years later.
When the Internet came along, one of the first things I did was search for Ann’s name, but I could never find her. Then in 2006 I stumbled across her brother Steven when I found his name as manager of a mutual fund I was thinking of getting into. I wrote to him, and he put Ann in touch with me. She lived in Fresno, just a few hours away. She came to the house for a visit.
It was very strange to see her after nearly thirty years. I don’t think either of us would have recognized the other. She assured me that the conviction had not ruined her life, as I had always feared. The probation didn’t really affect her and she’d had the record expunged. I asked if she hated me for letting her take the rap and she said that she didn’t – it had obviously been the only sensible resolution. She absolved me of the guilt I’d always felt. But it was clear she didn’t remember me nearly as fondly as I did her. She thought I’d been cheating on her (I hadn’t) and didn’t remember that I had been just outside the courtroom door during her ordeal. She said that the main reason she’d agreed to see me was because I had some letters from her dad to my parents from those days. She’d always been hurt and resentful that he had not come to her trial, and I got the impression that it had poisoned their relationship. He was dead now, and she wanted to read the letters to see if they would change her feelings or explain his motivations. I gave her his letters.
She stayed only an hour, then said she had to go. I suggested we keep in touch. She gave me that sad little smile I remembered so well. “No,” she said with a shake of her head. “I don’t think that’s necessary. We both got what we wanted from this meeting. What more is there to say?”
That horribly empty, helpless despair I’d felt during those terrible times swept over me again – that sadness that all our hopeful beginnings should end this way. I suppose she was right; we had nothing more to say. But I kept feeling that there should have been more.