Gusty Winds Near the Canyons
We went to UCLA to trip, climb the oak trees in the Santa Ana winds, and do a dope deal.
We were just coming on as we blinked our way through the lights of Westwood Village. Arriving at the quad, the quiet darkness of the campus on a Sunday night released us and we flopped on the open lawn. As we settled in, sprawled on our backs, the black shapes around us beginning to hiss, then moan, creak, and scream as the warm, down-sloping wind picked up. Like the reeds of some tremendous instrument, the bellows of the high desert blew the falling autumn air to the sea, forcing it down between the hills above the campus and through the quad, shaking the trees with a violence that made the surrounding bricks resound, doubling their fury, our freely firing synapses doubling it again.
Soon the three of us had scooched and crab-walked, eyes ever up on the trees and the crystal evening sky beyond, until our heads nearly touched.
“I’m coming on so intense!” Spud’s shout atonal in the chorus of the wind.
“This is really… eh, good stuff,” I said. Everyone had known for months how good this acid was, but I kept announcing the obvious and immediately feeling stupid.
“Gee, Bobo, do you really think so this time?” said Shiner, his Looney Tunes George-to-Lenny aping thick with irony, “I mean, it could be laced with strychnine, dude, ya never know.”
Spud giggled. “Speed, too, probably.” They both began to spit and roll with laugher—which can be dangerous when you’re tripping. It can start over literally nothing and go on for hours. You end up trailing with a sore face and stomach, feeling weak.
“Awright, awright, I know, I know.” I’m not sure what I meant, but what I thought I knew was why they called me Bobo. I reached across the grassy spaces between us on either side and the laughing fit subsided. Touch always works. I remember feeling how much I loved these guys.
Bigger gusts came on like ever-larger waves before a storm, matching or rising psychic surge. I let the wind and sound wash over me, gaping at the stars and their synaptic reverberations as they flashed, brightened, prismed, and flared in the space between my eyes and brain and the universal darkness, all the while losing the tactile line between my back and the ground, becoming the ground, palms down at my side, lightly stroking the quivering grass as if it were my own skin, feeling its titillation.
The joke was that this LSD we had stumbled onto was pure and consistent. We all knew it, but I just couldn’t get over it, having had a few bad experiences with stepped-on shit. It was called windowpane. Each hit was a tiny speck of transparent gelatin, a few millimeters square. There was no room for adulteration in something so small and clear, but plenty of room for 250 micrograms of LSD. It was sometimes called ever-clear or white lighting, but I’d heard those names for other kinds of dope. All drugs were dope to us, but windowpane was windowpane. It was the best our little band of hippies ever had and we had what seemed to be an unlimited supply.
Ram Das said in Be Here Now that the highly advanced yogis didn’t even react when given massive doses of acid. They just asked Professor Alpert what the big deal was and resumed their meditation. They were supposedly already there. But I was just a nineteen-year-old hippy kid in 1971 and no matter how deep my groove I always got restless pretty fast. A yogi I was not.
“I’m gonna climb one of these fucking trees, man!” I proclaimed as if it hadn’t been the plan all along. Thinking of Bruce Lee, I leapt to my feet and assumed a pose. More stupidity, since the next gust knocked me down. This time the laughing got to us and we rolled around on each other until we were gasping for breath.
“OK, let’s get organized!” Another thing I would often say that would start everyone laughing at me, the least organized person any of us knew. But this time I took the lead—something else that usually worked for me—and ran to the nearest oak.
These trees were easy climbers. They were too girthy to wrap your arms around and shimmy up, but their bark was gnarly and studded with foot and handholds and, once you scrambled to a low branch, it was like climbing a ladder. But that night I’d only gone up a few thick limbs when even my tripped-out mind could tell that climbing higher would be truly stupid. Standing on a mighty horizontal arm, the vertical trunk-branch on to which I was not holding tightly enough suddenly twisted and shifted in my arms, and for a second I remember as both tantalizing and frightening, I was in a floating free fall. Only the whipping wind itself brought the giant limb and me together again. Hard in the face. I hugged the tree, digging fingernails into its bark. “Fucking Shit!” the deep, survival-based part of my brain gasped through my diaphragm and throat. “OK, get a grip and stay right here for a while.” I was a little shocked by the smack to my cheek and jaw and I knew it hurt—I imagined a bloom of hamburger from a swollen bruise—but vitamin L can let you dissociate from unpleasant things if you know there is nothing you can do about them at the time. Your internal trip-master just chalks it up as something to take care of later and you go on as if it never happened. Or it doesn’t and you don’t, and you obsess and hallucinate about your situation and spin out into a bad trip, like improvising in the wrong key. I’d seen it happen. Thankfully, never to me.
At some point during most trips you start to do something, just because it strikes your fancy to do it, and then you keep on doing it for most of the trip. If you think about time at all, you think you are just going to do this thing right here, right now. Then the thing becomes everything and right now continues for unnoticed hours. So, I don’t exactly know what I did in that tree except be in it in the wind for what was probably hours. Tripping isn’t like being drunk and unable to remember things that happened. It all seems to be there in your mind—vivid images that don’t even seem like memories years later, more like mental movies with the power to put you there all over again—but sequence and significance within this extended moment are condensed into a single experience. Like a geode, each crystal shines on its own but you appreciate it as a whole. I know I held on to that branch for a long time right where I was. I know I was a lizard for a while, crawling along the branches down to a low one that felt comfortable to straddle. I know that I rode that limb as it groaned and bucked like a tortured animal. I know I was many people—for a time everyone in the world, holding the world itself together against a cataclysm. And I know that I loved that tree, sometimes whooping, sometimes weeping, as the storm of dry air spent itself into the coastal night.
Another thing that often happens when you trip with other people is that, as you climb to the peak, you get detached from those around you—even in the same room. Then, when each has had their peak experience, you come back together and notice that all of you have been crying—weeping, sobbing, snotty, red-faced. Sometimes it’s acknowledged and spoken of, but everyone knows it’s beyond words. There are a lot of knowing smiles and nods, deep eye-searching and hugs. It’s become an ironic-if-still-heartfelt joke, but that’s when my buddies and I started to say “Love you, man” to each other. It became a pop culture meme, but I swear that’s how it started. There’s something there around gender and affection that we’re still trying to understand, but the meaning of friendship, love, and sex is more complicated than even our expanded minds could wrap themselves around in 1971.
It was at this post-peak point in a trip about a year later when Spud, and I, and Shiner and his girlfriend, Polly, got into an intellectually high-charged argument about sexuality. She had noticed the physical affection shown at this point in the trip and her assertion was that we men were hung up—that there was no such thing as heterosexuality, that everyone was multi-sexual, omnisexual, and that we were culturally oppressed into heterosexuality by ridged, fear-imposed homophobia. What appeared to be heterosexual orientation was really what was left of male sexuality after our homophobia and sex guilt subtracted from it. She was close to the truth as I see it now in this age of gender fluidity, but an irony lost on us at the time was that our maleness, as we understood it, demanded that we prove her wrong by showing her that we were not homophobic. Machismo to disprove our machismo.
Spud and I had that deep eye contact thing going and we were thinking along the same lines. Each of us leaned into the other and we began to kiss. Within a few moments it was deep tongue exploration and we were rolling around on the living room floor, making out like it was prom night. Like most guys, I don’t close my eyes when kissing, so I noticed Spud’s eyes noticing my eyes. We could easily have started laughing, but we had a point to prove. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Shiner looking on in astonishment, big beard to his chest, and Polly watching with increasing interest, a surprised grin on her face. What I remember probably more clearly over time than any other part of this was the taste of Spud’s mouth. We’d been roommates and travel buddies for a couple of years—even sharing a sleeping bag a time or two—so I was quite familiar with the cigarette-tainted odor of his body and felt kind of homey about it. It didn’t stir my loins. But the taste of his mouth, the metallic no-taste-at-all acid tang, the sharp oiliness remaining from his last cigarette, and the pure human mix of savor and scent as we breathed into each other, was basic sex—indistinguishable from similar experiences with women. It felt good to be close and I began to think we were going to lose the argument, but despite feeling so warm and happy rolling in Spud’s arms, something basic was missing. I was not getting an erection. I was feeling him up and down, but the hardness of his swimmer’s chest did not inspire exploration, and reaching down to rub his crotch, where I felt no hard-on, was like feeling myself up: it might work out if I kept at it and used my imagination, but of course if there’d been a willing woman on hand things would have happened pretty fast.
It might have turned out differently had Polly joined in, but despite her ardent feminism she was all about monogamy, and her boyfriend actually was hung up—Shiner had gone into the kitchen. Polly was studying us like an anthropologist. I think she was trying to detect if we were faking it some how. We weren’t. And that really was the point we were trying to make: Spud and I did love one another, but we were not sexually attracted to each other. I mean, I understood that he was a beautiful man, but he was a man. I didn’t think of men when I masturbated and, as it turned out (I hadn’t really known), neither did Spud.
After my extended moment in the tree, I wandered around the quad wondering what it would be like to attend such a big, beautiful school, knowing it would never happen. We gravitated toward our original flop site and had that silent after-peak recognition and reconnection. In the low angle of the ambient public lighting I could see the shine of emotional aftermath on Spud’s and Shiner’s faces. “Jeeesus! What happened to your fucking face,” said Spud when he finally noticed mine.
“What?” I said. Touching my cheek and feeling crusted blood, I lost my acid anesthesia and suddenly the whole left side of my face was stinging and throbbing. “Oh. I got smacked by a tree,” I said, a little ashamed, since it sounded so lame.
“It doesn’t look that bad,” said Shiner. “Well, no, I mean, it looks really fucked up, but it’s not bleeding—anymore. You can clean it up when we get to the dorm. We really oughta go. There’s dope to be scored.”
The Santa Ana winds were dying down, but they’d made it warm enough that we could have trailed on the lawn all night in just our jeans and tee shirts. If felt good to roll slowly on the cool, tickling grass in the warm, dry air, but the draw of the dope pulled us out of dreamland as soon as Shiner mentioned it. We staggered to our feet and started across the lawn in the direction of the dorm on a hill west of campus.
We had all the acid we ever wanted, but we were in need of more mundane, day-to-day kind of dope—hash—and Shiner’s roommate supposedly had some of the best ever. Just in from India. Shiner hadn’t stopped raving about his roommate since freshman year began. It had been Hank this and Hank that for the past month, all of it over the top. I’d stopped listening. Part of me wanted Hank to be a big myth, ugly, dumb, and uncool, but another part of me was hoping this hash was as good as advertised.
Being subject to the draft as soon as we graduated high school had made us all politically opinionated and, though we lacked knowledge of the actual nuts and bolts of politics and government, we all hated Nixon. We had watched the Chicago police-riot at the ’68 convention on TV. Mai Lai, the Cambodian “incursion”, the Christmas bombing—the relentless evil of Viet Nam was known to us. But we had become Leary drop-outs at least to the degree that none of us watched TV anymore, and we didn’t live the kind of settled life-styles that led to reading the newspaper every day. We’d read the LA Free Press, college papers, or the Socialist Worker’s Party rag, but mostly we just listened to music. We were sorely uninformed. Hating Nixon was a membership requirement of Hippiedom, a kind of pledge of no allegiance, but Watergate had not happened and we certainly didn’t know the names of the people who worked in the White House.
“OK, I didn’t want to tell you guys about this before, but Hank’s dad works for Nixon,” said Shiner as the massive building loomed above us, striated by the lights of Sunday night crammers and stoners.
I thought, Great. Hank’s not perfect, but I said, “Yeah, well, my dad voted for Wallace and I’m not a Nazi.”
After a load of faux-doubt was voiced about that wide-opener, Shiner had to make his point.
“No, he didn’t just work for Nixon in the election, he works in the fucking White House. Like, now. He’s Nixon’s fucking Chief of Staff. Like his right hand man.”
This knowledge must have set off a cascade of acid reverberations in our trailing minds because we didn’t say a word as we wound our way up slopes and stairs to the first floor of the mega-dorm. For my part, it started a downward spiral of doubt and self-pity. Everybody has a cooler, bigger, better life than mine! I tried to inoculate my sickly ego against meeting Superstar Hank by drilling for vitriol to use against this guy whom I had never met, but of whom I was already jealous. Fucking Nixon! This Hank dude’s gotta be a Young Republican if his dad is Nixon’s henchman! This better not be some kinda set-up. Fuck! Shiner’s gotta be smarter than that! But what’s a guy from a family like that doing living in the dorms. This situation is fucked up! I’m gonna ask him straight up if he’s a narc!
I had never been in a big dorm like that—ten stories of cement, steel, and glass. Built in the late ’50’s, it was a marvel of Cold War power architecture. But to a suburban kid who barely made it through the first year of junior college, the glassed-in lobby was impressive—like a nice hotel. I was stoked to be going up to the eighth floor in an elevator. In the suburban enclave I grew up in there were zero elevators, so it was already cool enough, but elevators are especially interesting when you’re tripping. We spent some time going randomly from floor to floor, looking at each little elevator lobby as a framed 3-D image. They were basically identical, but the students had customized each and we wanted to see them all. The doors would part and we’d stare for the few seconds they stayed open—fuck Nixon signs, flower-power and rock star posters, mostly—then hit another button and repeat, noting the differences like psychedelic art critics. We’d seen most of the floors when the doors opened to a guy standing there in shorts and a tee shirt. We jumped a little, expecting to see a subtler variation on the theme. “I’m going down,” he said. We didn’t know or care which way we were going as we stared at him with our big dilated eyes, not moving aside, unsure of what he was talking about. We must have freaked him out because he was stepping slowly back as the doors closed again.
That broke whatever stoned spell had taken us. Shiner spoke. “Let’s get this thing done. Hank said he’d be up till midnight, but I don’t know what time it is, so we better get going.” We made a point of not wearing watches and avoiding clocks when we tripped.
“It’s gotta be at least midnight by now,” I said, completely guessing, pushing the 8 on the panel.
Losing our urgency again, as trailers are wont to do, we wandered in a great, rectangular circle around the eighth floor, further losing track of time, uncaring of which dorm room was our destination, swiveling our heads down long halls lined with florid, overflowing bulletin boards and tacked-up posters. Every third or fourth door was open and I was surprised by the tiny size and splendid squalor of the actual quarters within the monumental apartment block. For someone living in a shed behind his parent’s house, it seemed like a great place to live. The whole place smelled of weed and clandestine cooking, the open rooms emanating the drowsy scent of unwashed clothes. Though turned way down for the wee small hours, the cells hummed with sound: Beatles and Stones predominated, but we heard snatches of Hendrix, Dylan, and Zeppelin, of arguing, snoring, and fucking.
“It’s 832 you guys.” said Shiner. “We passed it twice.”
Spud and I stared dumbly at Shiner, unclear for a second the significance of the number. “Oh, that’s right,” I said, “We’re on a mission. We better get organized.” Having set up for a punch-line and a laugh, I waited, but none came as we followed Shiner to the door. I was a little disappointed.
Hank Haldeman was curled up on a trundle bed reading a small, hardbound book in the circle of light from a tiny lamp clamped to a low headboard. He looked up slowly when we entered, unhurried and unstartled, though we’d fairly burst through the door, as if he knew we would be there before we arrived. He seemed so mellow. In my still-tripping thoughts he seemed to represent calm, settled order. The word beatified came to my mind as he uncoiled his long, lean limbs and rose to greet us, a slight smile on his perfectly shaved face, shining as it emerged from between the smooth curtains of straight dark hair that draped his shoulders. He wore tan pajama pants and a light blue UCLA sweatshirt. Shiner flipped a switch and the light behind the Indian print that tented down from the ceiling filled the tiny room with a red-orange glow.
With a soft exclamation Hank said, “Hey, it’s good to see you, Eliot.” Spud and I glanced at each other skeptically. We hadn’t called Eliot Scheinert anything but Shiner since little league. Shiner didn’t seem to think anything of it. I was struck by the genuineness in Hank’s voice. He’d probably been waiting for hours and his words could have been ironic or impatient, but it was clear that he really was glad to see his roommate. He stepped toward Shiner for a soul-shake and a hippie-hug.
“Yeah, Hank. Hope you had a great break,” said Shiner, sounding strangely formal.
“Yeah, Mexico was nice,” said Hank. Then, stepping back to look at Spud and me, he drew himself up slightly, his palms toward us at his sides. I thought he was going to pull us both in for a hug as well, but really it was to make a pronouncement. “Bo? Spud?” he said turning one to the other and lifting his hands ceremoniously, “Welcome to Dykstra Hall. And, before you ask, yes, it’s true: it is co-ed.”
“Yeah, we heard. Pretty cool,” said Spud.
There was the beginning of an awkward pause, so I jumped in. “I’m Bo, he’s Spud.” All we got was the soul-shake.
“Well, it’s good to see you guys. Shiner has spoken a lot about the two of you.”
“Raggin’ on about us, eh, Shiner?” said Spud.
“Au contraire, nothing but the best.” Hank did not seem to take notice of the humor, and I remember thinking that I had never heard anybody say au contraire for real. This guy really was different. “Shiner’s told me lot’s of stories. You guys have had some amazing exploits. It really is good to finally meet you. Come on in to our little den of iniquity. Emphasis on little.” he said, gesturing toward the other trundle bed and the two chairs between the built-in desks that completed their furniture ensemble.
Shiner sprawled on his bed while Spud and I moved to take the chairs. Before sitting down I was drawn to the window. It was large, sealed, and institutional with sliding slot vents along the bottom. Suicide proof. Placing my hands on the frames at either side, I brought my nose to the glass as if to penetrate like an Alice this black shining surface and enter the endless, glittering city of light beyond. I don’t know how long my fellow tripsters were patient with my flight of wonder before it ended with my breath putting a fog upon LA. I drew the letter ‘L’ in the patch and turned to sit. Hank sat on the edge of his bed, leaning into us, elbows on knees.
“So, you guys seem pretty tripped out. When did you drop?”
“In the car driving in to Westwood.” I said.
“We were just going past the Brew 102 sign,” added Shiner.
Hank glanced at a large stainless steel watch on his left wrist that seemed so incongruous to his laid-back charm I was surprised I hadn’t noticed it before. “Oh, so you’re already trailing. Did you have a good one? What did you do? And Bo, what happened to you?”
“Oh, yeah, I got run over by a tree.” This got just the right amount of laughter to lubricate the moment.
Hank’s genuine interest was disarming. We started to give him a guided tour of our collective and individual trips, but we were only minutes in when he interrupted us. “Hey, I’m sorry, but, Bo, we’ve got take care of that scrape—it’s starting to bleed.” He spoke softly and sounded truly concerned as he reached over and squeezed my forearm gently, then, letting go, he sprang to his feet saying with a chuckle, “Hey, you’re going to get blood all over the place. Come on, I’ll show you the porcelain palace.” I rose without a word, feeling like I was being led by a benevolent caregiver to a place of healing. He nearly took my arm again as he pantomimed ushering me out with mock formality.
Mirrors and florescent lights are really interesting even on the down side of a trip, but both together and over-done, they can be unnerving, even when straight. The porcelain palace, this mass washroom, toilet, and shower, was more like unhinging. I stopped and began to back away as opposing mirrors sent endless images of my florescing face and torso off to the edges of my visual cortex. Hank put an arm around my shoulder and into my ear crooned, “Just look down. I’ve got you. We’re just going over to the sink. You’ll be fine.” And like magic, I was.
Back in the room, a wet washcloth pressed to my cheek, our acid trips, road trips, and other psychedelic lore spun like tie-dyed yarn into the night. Helped along by that Indian hash that was even better than advertised.
Hank had gotten right into it when we came back from the palace. He stored it not in one of those ubiquitous plastic 35mm canisters, but in the metal film can itself. He pried the end off with a can opener. I remember that hash as being like none I’d ever seen, and I haven’t seen any like it since. It was dull green, hard, and coarsely textured in uneven clumps. The thing that was unique, that made me think it was going to be low-grade hash, was that you could see pieces of stem and seed imbedded in it. But one toke from Hank’s little water-pipe and I knew it was anything but low-grade.
“Blow it out the vent, guys.” said Hank. “I don’t want to have to bribe anybody.” I wasn’t sure if he was kidding or not. He didn’t sound like he was.
Smoking cannabis when you’re trailing, even into the next morning, can bring you nearly back to that peak experience. Not so much the physical and emotional transcendence or the meta-cognitive hallucinations, but the immediate tactile and visual highlighting of everything around you. You get the tracers and the auras back, you get the sound acuity and reverberation back, and everything feels delicious, but you are mentally and physically relaxed and have an urge and an ability to talk that just isn’t possible when you’re peaking. So tall tales flew, believed only by the fool telling them.
Spud was telling a Joshua Tree rock climbing story I’d heard too many times before. Staring at Hank’s dimpled chin, his chiseled jaw, his high, ruddy cheeks and the sincere interest in his eyes, I found myself wondering, Who is this guy?—tripping on Hank’s dad being such a top dog and how that must have been for Hank growing up, but how rich they probably were, and wondering if he was just a “fashion hippie” with his long hair and his Indian hash—He must have gone to private school to have his hair so long by freshman year—remembering guys being hauled in to the office because their hair touched their collars—when something occurred to me and I blurted, “Hey, Hank, how come you’re folks don’t kick down for an apartment? How come you gotta live in the dorms?”
“What the fuck, Bobo? Don’t be an asshole,” said Shiner.
“No, it’s cool,” said Hank. “I’ve got a place in Balboa, too, but I didn’t want to give it up to move to Westwood, and I thought the dorm life would help keep me going to class. All bets are off with my dad if I don’t get good grades. He wanted me to go to GW, but, you know, I’ve got things going on here that I couldn’t just leave.” We were all nodding through knit brows with pursed lips, trying in vain to imagine the kind of life he was hinting at. “Hey,” he added, “There is no Venice Beach on the least coast.”
We concurred uproariously and the stoned-out stories continued.
Before long, Hank was presiding over wrung-out hash-addled crash puppies. He took action. Rising and lifting his hand, rippling the Cost-Plus cotton above, rioting the light in the room, he said in a mock-authoritative voice, “OK, I guess you guys like the hash, but Shiner and I have got to get some sleep and you’ve got to get over to Tiny Naylor’s for some coffee so you can get back to Anaheim. So we need to do this deal right now.”
Opening a drawer in his desk, Hank produced a canvas satchel with a huge copper zipper and a key lock like a bank deposit bag. It was olive drab with “U.S. St. Dept.” stenciled on both sides. We were beyond fascinated. Shiner said, “I told you guys. It’s like government hash.”
“Yeah, but I thought you meant it was stamped or something like that Afghani stuff we got last year.” said Spud, eyes popping, “Not, like, from the government. Our government.”
“Did the hash really come in that bag, Hank?” I asked.
“Yeah, cool, huh? It’s a diplomatic pouch,” said Hank, clearly pleased with himself. “I know a guy at the embassy in Delhi. A ton of stuff gets moved around this way for security. To avoid taxes and customs snoops. Stuff like this has to be even more secret, though. That’s why my friend packages it in these film cans.” He unzipped the already unlocked bag to reveal dozens of familiar red and yellow Kodak 35mm film cans. “If anyone in the chain did open it up they could say all they saw was undeveloped film. And nobody’s going to open up one of these and ruin the film. Or see something they didn’t want to see. Plausible deniability they call it.”
“Yeah, but it sure smells like hash,” said Spud.
“Well, truth is,” Hank said with conspiratorial glances, “nobody actually cares as long as you follow certain protocols. Everybody’s smuggling something.”
I tried to let that thought sink in a minute, but there’s was no way it actually could until years later.
Hank broke into a slight game-show host voice. “OK, so show me some of this famous windowpane and lets make a deal!”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I don’t really trust him either. But jeeze, Nick, I really wanted that hash!” Spud only called me Nick when he was pissed at me. “We could sell that shit fast and easy, make some money—not like this acid, which, as great as it is, doesn’t sell that easy. How many times have you had to hang around with somebody while they tried it? And then that turns out to be the only hit they wanna buy. I mean, shit, we could be running some kind of acid trip guide service for a fucking fee, but I’m just trying to sell some drugs!” He was winding down from his final run at a topic even he was tired of. “And plus-which,” an odd term he always used to punch home a final argument, “there’s only so much acid most people can do.” He reached for his coffee with both hands. “So,” he intoned, muffled down into his throat, eyes intent on pulling the steaming Tiny Naylor’s cup to his face. “So, OK, we drive back in here next weekend, so we do the deal then. So, OK.” He was done. He enjoyed his coffee.
Back at the dorm I had reached into my pocket and pulled out a roll of cellophane tape. The first few inches of the roll had been peeled off and a single gelatin square had been placed on the sticky side every half inch. We would carefully roll the tape back onto the roll and pull out the number of hits needed. This is how we packaged windowpane for retail sale. Hank was looking for a wholesale deal. I had sort of known this. And Shiner and Spud had sort of told me to be ready for a stash-busting deal. And I had sort of decided to keep my own counsel as usual and leave the actual decision up to me and up to the last minute.
“What the fuck, Bo,” said Shiner, clearly annoyed, “I told you Hank wants whole links.”
“No, it’s OK, this is cool though,” soothed Hank. “So this is how you sell it, like, on the street?”
“Yeah, right,” I said, then hawked, “Getcher acid right here, folks, I gotta dispenser!” I wanted to take the heat off the situation I knew was about to arise.
“We’re not street pushers, man,” Spud said to Hank, excusing my sarcasm.
“No, OK,” I explained to Hank, “I get the stuff in a length of plastic tubing, hot-crimped every couple inches to create these, like, bubbles—we call ’em links cuz they’re, you know, like sausages in a long rope—with a hundred hits in each link.”
“Oh my god,” said Hank, acting fascinated, even though Shiner had surely told him all this before.
“Yeah, so you’ve got to be careful when you open one up.” I was expanding the story, stalling. “Even breathe on ’em and they’re all over the place at like five bucks a hit, so you gotta use a needle to stick them in place on the tape. Then you can handle them one or two at a time or rip off a hundred and you don’t have to worry about losing any.”
“Well, what? Do people just…”
“Yeah, you just eat the tape,” said Shiner, “I like to cut off as much as I can, or put it in a Coke. Either way, it works! So, show him some links, Bo. How many did you bring?”
I knew I was about to throw a stink bomb and everybody would be pissed.
“This is all I’ve got with me,” I said, feebly holding up the strip of tape.
“Is it in the car?” they said at once.
“Eh, no,” decision made. “I left ’em at home.” Then, to preempt their questions, “I was gonna leave it in the car, but I didn’t. I was late picking you guys up and I just ran out. I know exactly where I left ’em in my room.” I shrugged as if to say, Just a silly error—not my fault, though I knew it was.
When I told them I didn’t have the whole stash with me—that instead of hundreds hits of acid hermetically sealed in plastic packets to trade for dozens of grams of hash, the best we could do was ten hits for half a gram—I played it off like I was just being my same old Bobo, but really I had thought it all through. In the first place, I didn’t like the idea of tripping while holding so much stuff. So I thought if I left it in the car and everything went well with Hank—he seemed OK, the situation seemed safe, the hash was good—that we, or I, could walk back and get it when we were no longer tripping and were sure things were cool. I was the one who had the connection for this stuff in Laguna Beach. I fronted the money for the first buy. I held the stash. I let them think I had fucked up as a means of holding onto control.
In the end, I lied to all three of them to maintain control. I didn’t think about it that way at the time. I didn’t think about it at all, really, just going on gut. I did not want to do the deal and I wasn’t sure why. It was like I didn’t want this guy to have my acid. That seemed so stupid. There had to be more to my doubts about the deal, and about Hank. I didn’t second-guess myself at the time—I was going on impulse power—but after Spud reamed me all the way to the car and I showed him that the acid actually was in the car, we had to start talking about why neither of us trusted Hank.
So there we were at Tiny’s at three in the morning.
Four weeks went by. My bloody cheek had healed to a faint, dark scar. It was Christmas break before we had another time and place for the deal. Just as Spud said, the acid was not moving. We needed to convert it into something that would. I told Shiner to tell Hank that we would trade four hundred hits for twenty grams. If Hank could get five bucks a hit he’d clear two thousand dollars and if we could get a hundred a gram—which we were sure we could because this stuff was so good all we’d have to do was blow some samples and people would throw their money down—we’d clear the same, less our cost, which was, incredibly, under fifty cents a hit. By the time we finally got it set up, back and forth through a series of calls, it seemed like the rest was going to be easy. It was certainly going to be easy to sell the hash. But I remember wondering, What’s Hank gonna do with all that acid? I don’t think he needs the money. If he did, he’d sell the hash, and thinking later, Maybe he doesn’t get that you can’t just unload acid for a quick profit. Should I tell him?, and eventually just thinking, Fuck it! He knows what he’s doing and we gotta unload this stuff! (It was a real Bobo move in the first place to buy fourteen-hundred hits of acid, but, at only two hundred each between the three of us, we couldn’t say no.) The more I argued with myself, the more the whole thing seemed wrong somehow. That old paranoia that goes with every dope deal began to feel justified. And that was before things started going wrong.
We were supposed to meet Hank at his place on Balboa Island at 4:00, first Saturday of Christmas vacation. Shiner was going to meet us at the Balboa Ferry. He knew the way to Hank’s place. Spud and I would have the whole day to hang out at The Wedge—maybe do some body surfing if it wasn’t too big or too cold. Another Santa Ana wind was predicted—gusty winds near the canyons, was the clue from the weatherman—so it would be warm enough to hit the water in the late afternoon. The offshore breeze would set up the waves to be more than either of us could handle, but we could get in a few sets farther down the beach near the pier, and it would be fun to watch the experts risk their necks.
The night before I was out with my girlfriend, but I caught Shiner’s call on my parents’ phone just before I left. He wouldn’t be there tomorrow. He and Spud and I had known from the start that his parents were going to make him go to his grandparents’ house in Phoenix, but we all went along with the charade that he was going to stand up to them like he always said he was going to do. It was at times like this that I was glad my parents were essentially broke, that I wasn’t driving one of their cars, that they weren’t paying for college, and that, even though I lived in my parents’ backyard, I had lucked out with a high lottery number, I worked almost full-time, and I was free to come and go. My parents had no hold over me like Shiner and Spud’s parents had over them.
But OK, no problem, we could find the place from the address. The island wasn’t that big.
I was sleeping in on Saturday morning when the bang, bang, bang on my door made me leap for my stash. I don’t know what I was going to do with it if it had been the cops, but it’s what you do. All my friends knew not to fuck around like that. “Who is it?” I growled, crouching in my boxers behind the door.
“It’s me. Ricky,” came the familiar voice of Spud’s younger brother.
“What the fuck, man!” I bellowed, unlocking and pushing the door open in a single motion, hoping maybe to catch him with it a little. He was too fast. “Why you banging on my door so early, ya little punk!” I had known Ricky forever. I played the mean big brother to his pesky sidekick.
“It’s Randy, Nick,” he said with tears in his eyes. Ricky never called his brother Spud. He looked toward my parents’ back door and lowered his voice. “He got busted last night!”
I pulled him through the door and he told me what he knew.
Spud had been in Laguna Beach for the last couple of nights trying to get with Brook, a girl he’d known in high school. The pretense was some kind of ceramics show that Brook and her high school art teacher were putting on. Everybody thought—and Spud had been especially disappointed—that they were lesbians, but Spud had it on the solid authority of an ex-boyfriend that, in fact, Brook was straight. So Spud developed an interest in helping with the ceramics show. He was such an art lover.
Back in 1968, an ambitious Laguna Beach cop named Neil Purcell made his career by busting Timothy Leary for a couple keys of weed and hash. He’d eventually become Laguna’s chief of fucking police. Back in the day, we all knew who the guy was and that he and the Laguna cops were out to get the hippies. He was legendary for stalking the hangouts and busting people basically for how they looked, dropping shit on them if they weren’t holding, just to make the bust and rid his part of the world of The Scourge. Years later it makes a good story to have been busted by such an illustrious Drug Warrior, but for Spud at the time it was a year of expensive hell. And I thought he was under his parents’ thumb before!
He and Brook and a couple of other potters (Ha! No joke!) went to the beach Friday night to smoke some dope. A typical Laguna Beach activity. Any given night there were people going down from the cheap motels and hangouts to the comparative safety of the beach to get high. As Ricky was telling me the tale, I knew the ending and started imagining those fucking narc cops sitting around at the doughnut shop, rousing and stretching and deciding, Well, I guess we better get down to the beach and ruin some people’s lives. I remembered the time I got rousted on that very beach. I’d seen a cop’s hat shield glimmer in the moonlight above the rocks and had enough time to toss my meager stash to the wind. After they searched me and knew they weren’t going to arrest me, one of them got right in my face, the plastic brim of his little military hat creasing my forehead, and said in a low, angry voice, “Do you people think you can just come down to our beaches and smoke your dope and act like animals and we’ll just stand by and let it happen? Tell your drug-addict friends to stay out of our city!” I was thinking, But this is the best place in Southern California to score dope, you fucking asshole!, but I kept it together and just said, “No, sir…uh, yes, sir.”
Purcell only got Spud. He tossed the joint they were smoking and nobody else was holding, but he forgot about the Indian hash in his pocket. Concentrate. A worse bust than just weed. His dad was down there bailing him out, but it didn’t look like he would be coming along on any dope deals for a while. It was gonna be just me and Hank.
I parked next to the dumpster behind the pizza joint on Edgewater, near the ferry. It’s a tow-away zone, but I know a guy there and they only tow if your car’s in the way when they empty the dumpster, which wasn’t going to be until Sunday morning. I wasn’t interested in bodysurfing alone, so I didn’t get there until 3:00. I felt like just blowing the whole thing off, and I wasn’t sure why. Spud and Shiner expected me to get it done. I walked to the end of the pier and back, slower and slower as I mulled. By the time I was standing like George Washington at the front of that funky little car ferry to Balboa Island, acid in my pocket and the Santa Ana wind in my face, I was feeling better about the deal. I figured it was safe enough and I didn’t have to care if Hank could sell the acid. I wouldn’t even ask him about it. I was still reserving final judgment. I could bail anytime, but I was feeling OK.
I used to love going to the island with my family as a kid. It only cost a buck to float your car over and my dad would take us whenever we went to Newport. Sitting in our Chevy while bouncing across the harbor was high times at ten years old. We’d just drive around looking at the weird little houses while my mom made crazy plans to maybe rent one some summer. It’s almost impossible to park, so we never got out of the car. We’d just cruise bumper to bumper with the other tourists and go back to the ferry.
So, when I got off the ferry and walked toward the end of Park Avenue it was the first time I’d ever walked on the island. It was different than I remembered it. I noticed that there weren’t just miniature beach houses and tourist shops. Some of the houses were miniature mansions. And the farther along Park I walked the less miniature they were. As it turned out, Hank’s place wasn’t even on Balboa Island itself. Park went over a little bridge onto a separate tiny island. A sign read, “Collins Island”. The eight mansions on Collins Island weren’t miniature in any way. The address of “Hank’s house” was single digits. Now I understood what that meant. This was truly an exclusive address.
Coming down the arch of the bridge, the obvious presence of a private cop watching me from his private cop car sent my paranoia perception into full alert. The sudden awareness of how my ponytail, bellbottoms, and slightly psychedelic tee shirt must look to the guard added to my rising heart rate. But he just watched as I gathered my courage and stepped up to number six, a modern, white edifice that looked like one of the houses on Blue Jay Way in the Hollywood Hills. I pushed a big gold button next to double front doors that were twelve feet high and reminded me of the gates of the Emerald City.
“Psht. Hey, Bo. Up here.” I stepped back from the door and looked up to see Hank hanging out a window at the corner of the building, pointing down. “Come in the gate. It’s unlocked. Use the stairs.” His hushed tones added to the paranoid vibe. As I moved toward the “gate” that was also a twelve-foot-high white door between this house and the even larger house next door, I glanced up and saw Hank wave slightly to the security guard who had now stepped outside his car. This was both reassuring and troubling in a way I didn’t understand.
Hank was living in the servant’s quarters of his parent’s summer house. I went in the servant’s entrance, up some stairs, and into his room. It was not much different than his dorm room, only bigger. Indian tapestries, tenting and draping, Cape Code trundle bed, built-in shelves and drawers, but with a kitchen, dining area, and its own private porcelain palace. He was burning incense and playing a raga on his impressive stereo. I think he was studying to be the consummate Hippie.
“Shiner just called me. Pretty fucked up about Spud.” He lowered his shaking head as if someone had died. It was pretty bad, but Spud was going to be all right. It tended to make me angry rather than sad.
“Yeah, fucking Purcell, man. Somebody needs to take him out,” I said, trying to put a different spin on it. Hank just stared at me like he didn’t know what I could possibly mean by that. “Nice place,” I ventured to break the awkward silence.
“Yeah, it’s pretty cool. My parents live in DC and Hawaii mostly, so I have this place mostly to myself, but they don’t want me in the main part of the house because other people use it.” He was talking in this hushed, conspiratorial tone. I started to be slightly alarmed.
“Anybody here right now?” I said.
“No, no, I can give you a tour, come on.” He again ushered me out of a room, this time through another door and onto a balcony overlooking a large, tiled living room bathed in winter light through two-story glass windows. The white-themed furnishings, walls, and tile glowed a yellow red.
We walked the length of the balcony along a row of bedroom doors to spiraling stairs that brought us to the far end of the living room. Below the reddening glare of the sun as it settled into a layer of smog the offshore winds had blown to sea, I could see the bow and bridge of a large yacht as if it were sailing into the room. Moored to the private dock outside, its prow and sprit ascended toward the peak of the mansion’s roof, itself designed to mimic a ship. I felt an involuntary sense of reverence. I said, “Jesus. Fuck,” in a full exhalation of my breath, looking around at this unbelievable opulence, stepping back, almost recoiling.
“Yeah, pretty nice, huh? That’s Jerry Lewis’s house on that side and John Wayne lives next door on the other side.” Hank was still speaking in oddly hushed tones. They intruded on my rush.
“Why are you doing that?” I must have sounded a little exasperated, because Hank seemed taken aback.
“What do you mean? What am I doing?”
“You’re talking like there might be someone listening or something. Like when you’re talking about dope in your room and your parents are home. I thought there was nobody else here.”
“Oh, yeah, you know, no, there’s nobody else really here, but…” He was trying to sound normal, but it didn’t sound natural. He did not sound the same as he had in his dorm room. I began to scan around for any sign that we were not alone.
“But what?” I said.
“There are people who, like, work here, for my dad.”
“Like the security guard?”
“No, he works for the association, but you know, like the guys who take care of the boat, some of them are probably on the boat right now, and you know, there’re gofers, and maintenance guys, and gardeners, and, you know, I got into the habit over the years of just keeping it down when I’m around here, you know…” I interrupted.
“No, I don’t know. Are we supposed to do this deal,” here even I got quiet under the circumstances, “like…” looking around again, “in public or something?” I was reaching for some sarcasm, but actually I was getting pissed at Hank, and with myself for having gotten into such a weird situation.
“OK,” Hank said in his best, casually loud, I-don’t-give-a-fuck voice. “Nobody’s listening or anything. Nobody’s here except maybe a couple of guys on the boat, and they never come in the house. But if we’re gonna do a drug deal,” he got loud to make sure I understood there was nothing to fear, actually doing a fairly good impression of my voice, “I’d like to do it in my room. Come on,” and he was leading me once again. This time through the kitchen to a door that adjoined the stairs back up to his room.
“OK, I’ll get us a couple of beers and we can smoke some of that hash.” He was being solicitous, trying again to use a normal voice. I started to feel a little sorry for him as I realized that keeping his voice down was a habit he had to consciously suppress. Loud and unself-conscious was a way of life in my family.
“They’re katabatic,” Hank said, getting up to fill the bong. He’d pushed the corner window open and a warm breeze had blown some papers off the table where we sat. We were halfway through our Beck’s, lost in Ravi Shankar’s spell. Hank was at the sink. “Katabatic winds blow downhill. Any fluid going downhill is katabatic and warms up as the elevation decreases. The air in the desert today was cold, but the wind is warm by the time it gets here. It’s gravity and air pressure and friction.”
“I don’t think of air as being a fluid,” I said. “But I guess it is,” remembering my high school science. I loved those Santa Ana winds. It was cool to hear what caused them.
“Oh, yeah, well, it’s this meteorology class I’m taking. Easy way to get my science credits, but it’s actually pretty interesting.” He returned to the table and we each took a couple hits off the bong. Hank modeled blowing the smoke out the open window—another built-in paranoia habit. I followed his lead, but the wind made our attempts a joke as the smoke blew right back in. It was stupid funny. We laughed and smoked and coughed and hit the bong and laughed and coughed again and sipped our beers.
“Hey, why do they call you Bo, uh…Bo?” Hank said as a round of laughter faded. The way he said it got us laughing again, but then we got just serious enough for me to think of an answer.
“Oh, jeeze, well, it goes way back to elementary school. It’s kind of a Little League thing to shorten everybody’s last name, so Bolin became Bo. Then there was this pro wrestler named Bobo Brazil everybody liked and they started calling me Bobo for a while. That kinda died out until the Zap Comix character Bobo Bolinsky came out, and they started calling me Bobo again. I don’t expect everybody to start calling me Nick or anything. Bo’s OK. I just don’t like Bobo for obvious reasons.” I shrugged. “What can you do? The best thing is to not make a big deal about it and it’ll go back to being just Bo eventually. Unless I keep pulling Bobo moves like forgetting to bring the acid.” I don’t know why I was being so confessional. Hank seemed to have that effect on me. “But I got the stuff right here this time,” I said, patting my pocket, feeling the bulge of the links. I started to reach in to pull them out when Hank’s tone changed.
“No, you better leave them in your pocket,” he said with a hands-down gesture.
That made no sense, so I ignored it and pulled out the crimped plastic tube. “Why? Don’t you want to see ’em?” As I said this the paranoia that had faded returned. I looked around suspiciously. “We’re cool in here, right?”
“Oh, no, don’t worry. Yeah, let me see them.” He was sounding fake-casual again. He took the short length of crimped tubing gingerly in both hands as if he were handling a snake, turned it slowly and watched the slight tumbling and kaleidoscoping of the tiny squares within each link as he held it close and leaned toward the window to get a good look. It was like a clinical examination. Then he handed it back to me, with a slight shake of his head. “Yeah… nice… but, eh… I don’t have the hash anymore. The stuff in that can is all I’ve really got.”
This also made no sense for a second. When the cognitive dissonance cleared, I unloaded on him. “What the fuck, dude! What am I even doing here, then? This is like felony-level shit, man! Where’d the hash go?”
“I, uh, sold it the other day to a guy for cash.” Seeing how stunned I was, he scrambled. “I started to think how hard it would be to sell so much acid, and I needed the money.” My silence must have seemed like disbelief. He flailed on. “By the time the guy showed up with the money, this was all set up and I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal. I thought you guys could still come over and, you know, we could have a good time. I didn’t try any of the acid yet, with school and all, so I thought maybe we could all drop together. This would be a great place to trip. Then Eliot went to Phoenix, and who knew Spud would get busted, and I didn’t have your number anyway, so… “
“Wait,” I interrupted, “You needed the money?” I gestured toward the rest of the house. More cognitive dissonance. As if on cue, the last raga on the record ended with a characteristic sitar flourish.
“Oh, you don’t understand,” he said, beginning to pace. “My dad keeps tight tabs on all my money. I can’t spend it on anything without him knowing about it! I mostly just have a credit card! You just don’t know my father.” I was surprised to see tears in his eyes when he talked about his father, but I was pissed.
“A credit card?!” This was too much for me. I had never even considered the possibility of ever having a credit card. “You can fucking buy anything with a credit card!”
“You can’t buy pot. Or acid,” he said, turning toward me, palms up, pleading a case that made no sense.
“But you had both!” I shouted. I wasn’t getting this. He was squirming.
“OK, OK,” he reverted to full-on hush-tone, “but… I like to spend money on girls and my dad just can’t know about that. I have to have money off the books. Like a slush fund.”
This came in from completely outside my world and it took a moment to compute. He’s talking about fucking prostitutes! I had nothing to say at that point. Neither did Hank. I was the one squirming now. “Sorry about the hash,” he whispered.
“Oh, it’s OK,” I said, as if everything was cleared up. “Uh, I guess I’ll just split then,” I said and started to look around the room as if scanning for where I’d put the coat and hat I hadn’t brought. I headed for the door.
“Wait. Don’t you want to stay? I’ve got a couple of Thai sticks, and I thought we could still drop. I know you’ve had a lot of experience and I was hoping you’d sort of, you know, guide me.”
I couldn’t believe it was going to be one of those again. After all our hopes for a big time deal. All that great hash. This guy just wants to be friends. He was pathetic, and I felt for him in a way, but I thought about where I was and who he was and I just couldn’t sustain it. “No, man. I gotta go.”
He walked me down to the gate with more mumbled apologies. At the gate he turned and I got the soul shake and this time the full, heartfelt hippie hug.
“You know, Nick,” he said, holding up my exit with his hand on the latch, sounding more like he had in the dorm, “It was really cool what you said about tripping in that tree on the quad.” Calling me Nick brought me up a little short. What? What the fuck did I say? I repeated as much to Hank.
“Oh, I don’t know, just, your feelings about the tree, about life and death. It was… moving.”
“Yeah, it was a good trip. Thanks, I guess.”
“No, thank you. I hope we can get together again sometime. Maybe drop some acid.” One more awkward silence. I gestured at the gate and he turned and let me out. It was nearly dark on that side of the house. I could see the security guard illuminated by his dome light. I looked back as Hank closed the gate. I couldn’t tell if he was waving at me or the guard.
Coming across the harbor with the wind at my back, the lights on the peninsula were just coming up—the carousel, the restaurants, the headlights, the homes, just taking over from the deep red sky. I wasn’t sure what to make of what had happened, but I knew I wanted to stay clear of Hank in the future. I couldn’t imagine tripping with him. A paranoid trip for sure. I thought about Spud and how he must be feeling right now. I made up my mind to drive straight to his house. Maybe bring some pizza. If Ernie was working he’d give me a deal. I checked my wallet for the tenner I kept stashed deep. OK, I’ll figure out how to unload this shit. I’ll have to do it on my own, though. Spud’s dad has some legal connections. Maybe he won’t have to do any time, but he’ll be out of action for a while.
Off the ferry, I went right into the pizza joint. Ernie wasn’t working, but I got a medium sausage and onion for just under ten dollars. I ended up eating the whole thing myself waiting for a ride. My car had been towed.