A true tale of pathos, greed, drugs (sorry, no rock and roll) and how I got into surfing. I am sorry to say that this 100% true. Though I wish it wasn’t.
I’d been travelin’ up and down the coast of California for about six months when I hit the beaches. You know Huntington, Redondo, Manhattan Beach . . . the usual. It wasn’t long before I caught sight of the surfers. Man, to that seventeen-year old boy, surfin’ looked really cool. So I got myself a job washin’ dishes at this hash house. I was still sleepin’ in alleyways and under lifeguard stands because I was workin’ for a board and didn’t want to spend money on rent. And before I knew it, I could quit that job because I had enough for a second-hand surfboard.
This was 1967 and a short board was anything under ten feet. I got me a 9’6’’ beauty. I even painted the American flag over the entire bottom. I think I was protesting the Viet Nam War. Today, I’m not so sure why I painted it on there. Maybe the surf was flat that day and I had nothing else to do, but it did look cool.
I bought the board from a shop on Hermosa Beach, so naturally I stayed in the neighborhood. I mean, how far could I go with a surf board and no car? It was summer, and sleeping on the beach was pleasant . . . most of the time. When it rained, well, that was a bitch. But for the most part, I was happy surfing all day, and cadgin’ a meal at night. I usually fed myself by going to the back door of a restaurant and asking if I could do some work for a meal. Half the time they would feed me without the required work.
One of the most memorable times of my back-door escapades was the time I knocked at a restaurant’s back door and gave my usual spiel. Well this cook, or maybe he was a chef, lets me in, walks me over to a table in the kitchen and says, “Don’t worry about the work, just sit here and I’ll feed you.”
Just as I was putting the first mouthful of his fine cuisine into my mouth, this woman walks into the kitchen from the dining room, sees me, and says, “What’s he doing here? Get him out of here!”
It turned out she was the owner. Well my friend the chef tells the owner, “When a man comes to my kitchen hungry, I am gonna feed him.” As he finished speaking, he lifted the knife he was using and pointed it menacingly at his boss. He kept it pointed at her until she turned and went back through the door she had just come through.
Anyway, back to my story. Okay, I’ve got my new surfboard, I’m eating at least once a day, and I’m surfin’. Of course, I’ve got nowhere to live, but to a seventeen-year-old that’s no sweat. I’m happy as a pig in shit. I needed nothing.
I had it worked out with one of the lifeguards to watch my board on the few occasions I left the beach. Surfin’ does work up one’s appetite. So I’d meander up the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) every once and a while to see what I could promote—food-wise. Well, on the day in question, I was attracted by some music blaring out of this storefront shop. It was Canned Heat’s Going Up The Country. So, I was standing in front of this store, just killing time until the song was over, when this dude walked up to me, and said, “I dig this song too.” He was about my age, maybe a few years older, blond hair, about 6’1’’ and kinda thin. His name was Pete. We get to talking and then he said, “Wanna blow a joint?” Now, did you ever hear of a kid in 1968 who didn’t want to blow a joint?
He took me to the house that he shared with his sister. It was only a few feet from the beach and it was painted green. That I remember. I also remember his sister; she was my age, beautiful and unattached, which did me no good whatsoever. I was too shy in those days to open my mouth, and the girls of that by-gone era were just learning to be assertive. So we danced around one another, but nothing happened. Anyway I was into surfing, not girls. Yeah right!
The long shot of it was I was invited to move in halfway through the first joint. And that set into motion events that led to my being robbed, having a knife at my throat, being the victim of a murder attempt, trying to smuggle a pound of pot across the Mexican/U.S. border, being jailed, having a near-death experience, and all sorts of fun things. And, no, Pete was not a bad guy. Pete was a fuckin’ great guy; he was just an idiot . . . like me.
After a few weeks of living with Pete and his sister, he and I start talking about how we could make real money. We thought that if we went down to Tijuana, copped a pound of primo Mexican Gold, brought it back to Hermosa Beach and sold it by the ounce, or “can” as it was referred to in Southern California back in those days, we’d be rich. Not to mention all the “free” pot we’d have. So guess what the two idiots did? If your guess was that we hitchhiked to Tijuana to buy a pound of pot and then walk it across the border . . . then give yourself a cigar. That’s exactly what we set out to do. But things didn’t quite work out that way.
On the way down, we got picked up by these two guys that were going there to cop “Reds” and “Greens.” Now I know those things have legit names, but to me they were downers, not my type of high at all. I was pretty square in those days. Sure I smoked pot, popped a little acid, shot a little acid, shot a little speed, did some mescaline, both organic and synthetic, but besides that, I was as pure as the driven snow.
Anyway, these guys are hip. They stopped before we got to the border and showed us how they were going to smuggle the shit in. It’s probably old hat by now, but, at the time, I thought I was talking to two geniuses. What they did was hollow out the carburetor on their car engine. They even popped it off and showed us where they were gonna put the two jars of pills. Genius I tells ya! Pure genius!
They drove us into Mexico, and there we split up. Each pair out to make their own score. The only difference being that those guys knew what they were doing. As opposed to the two babes-in-the-woods that Pete and I turned out to be.
I don’t remember how we found the asshole who said he’d sell us a pound of marijuana, but find him we did. He took us to the seediest whorehouse I’ve ever seen. And seeing how, at the time, it was the only whorehouse I’d ever seen, I reckon that’s not saying much.
As he’s bringing us in the back door, who the hell do you think we meet coming out of the place? You got it. The two geniuses. They’re holding big, brown, fat bottles of pills. There had to be at least five hundred pills per bottle. They stopped to show us their shit, and then asked, “Hey, you guys want some reds?”
“Sure. Why not?”
So they open one of the bottles and pour about ten pills each into Pete’s and my hands and we put ’em in our pockets. Now, this tender scene between old friends was keenly observed by our connection, which as you’ll see in a moment, plays a big part in this sordid tale.
So Pedro, or Fuck Wad, or whatever his name was, is holding the door of the whorehouse open for us so we may enter. Right then and there I should have smelled a rat. He was smilin’ so broadly, and that one gold tooth he had in his mouth made him look just like the bandit in the Humphrey Bogart movie. You know the one, Walter Houston is in it along with Tim—can’t think of his last name right now—but it’s the one where the bandit, in reply to Bogie’s request to see his badge when he, the bandit, and his cohorts are pretending to be the police; says, “Badges? We don’t need no steekin’ badges!” Great line, great movie. Holt! That was his last name, Tim Holt. Well, our doorman looked just like that bandit. And if there were any other similarities, we were in for a lot of trouble.
Once inside, we were escorted down this poorly lit corridor with rooms on each side, I’m being generous when I call them rooms. They were about ten feet by ten feet, just big enough for two people. There was some kind of bed in each room, and upon each bed was a roll of toilet paper. Because it was the middle of the afternoon, every door was wide open, no customers. That is why I can relate to you what the insides of the rooms in a seedy whorehouse, located in Tijuana look like.
Okay boys, here’s where the fun begins. It’s all been peaches and cream up to now. We get about half way down the corridor and the bandit stops in his tracks and asks to see our money. You know, just to make sure we’re legit. And being the complete dumb asses that we were, we whipped out our money to show him how legit we were.
It was at that very instant a door flew open and three guys that looked even worse than our bandit, rushed towards us. Before either one of us knew it, we both had knives at our throats. They were talkin’ Spanish, but I had a feelin’ they wanted our money.
Hey guys, you can have it! We appreciate you asking so nicely.
Behind the three guys and the knives, stood our bandit, still smiling—the son-of-a-bitch. Then our bandit says something to the new bandits in Spanish, and the next thing we knew, these guys were rooting around in our pockets. You know, it’s pretty hard to hold a knife to someone’s throat and simultaneously go through his pockets. Try it some time, and you’ll see what I mean.
My personal bandit, and by that I mean the one holding the knife to my throat, as opposed to Pete’s personal bandit, holding a knife to his throat, pulled out about six of my ten reds while still holding his knife in the prerequisite position, then he turned his head and showed his find to our bandit, who intones, “Si, si.”
Si, si is right. Yes, yes. What the fuck am I doing in a whorehouse in Tijuana in the middle of the afternoon being robbed by a character out of a Humphrey Bogart movie?
Did I say that the fun was going to start when these guys held knives to our throats? Well, if I did, I was mistaken. Now the real fun began. Pete had gone through everything I had gone through. His bandit was now holding his reds. Then the two bandits turned their attention back to us once our original bandit nodded his head in approval. Approval of what we didn’t know. But hey, no sweat, we were about to find out.
Believe it or not, these guys were all right. All they wanted to do was get us high. Now before I go any further, for all you non-junkies out there, two of these reds would put you to sleep for at least twelve hours; three, and you could kiss an entire day good-bye. Four . . . you’re talking about a trip to the emergency room. You get my drift? I don’t know how many were shoved down Pete’s throat, but I got six. Then they threw us out onto the street. I didn’t know what was going on then, but over the years my feeble mind has kind of pieced things together.
This is what I think their thinking was. One, we would either OD on the streets of Tijuana, or two, we would be picked up by the police for public whatever-you-call-it-when-you’re-really-stoned-on-reds. They had very little fear that we would go to the police on our own volition. What the hell were we going to say? “Excuse me, sir, but I tried to buy drugs in your country, and I was robbed.” I don’t think so, and our bandit friends knew so. And anyway, they probably had the police in their hip pockets. Mexico is one of the most corrupt countries in the world when it comes to the police. And Tijuana was, and probably still is, the most corrupt city in all of Mexico.
Well, whatever their plan was, we fooled ’em. We didn’t pass out until we were back in the good old U S of A—barely. This is no exaggeration. We were only two steps into this country with its wonderful jails, as opposed to Mexico’s shitty jails, when we keeled over.
Can you imagine the police of today finding a comatose seventeen-year-old boy on the street and taking him to jail? I mean, really! But that is what the San Diego County Police did. I was in their goddamn jail two days before I regained consciousness. The only saving grace as far as I was concerned was that Pete was in the same cell with me. He had regained consciousness about an hour before I did.
So there we were, two would-be drug kingpins, on the second tier of the cellblock, in the last cell.
The coppers wanted to get us for being under the influence of dangerous drugs. But to do so they needed a urine sample. So I’m the first. I’m escorted downstairs, handed a cup, and told to go into the open cell in front of me and pee into said cup.
This next part, I swear, is the God’s honest truth. When I walked into the cell, there was a puddle of piss on the floor. I knew what it was because of its fragrant aroma. I don’t know about most of you, but when I come out of a coma, I just can’t piss. Maybe it’s because my body was in the process of shutting down. You know, some people call it dying. Well, whatever the cause, I just could not pee that night. And believe me, I tried!
When the copper came to take my sample, I told him I just couldn’t go. At about that time, he saw the puddle on the floor. He accused me of being the culprit. Who me? I’ve never peed on a floor in my life. Well, at least not until recently.
Because they thought me a wise-ass, I was unceremoniously thrown back into Pete’s and my cell. By the way, we were not given a phone call, or arraigned within the time limit prescribed by the Constitution. Of course, at seventeen, I was not yet the Constitutional scholar that I am today, so I kept my big yap shut.
To pass the time while awaiting our day in court, we made a chess set out of torn paper bits. We were lucky; somehow, we came in possession of a pencil. Which meant we could identify the pieces, you know, “P” for pawn. “Q” for queen, etc . . . etc. But we didn’t have a board, so we had to imagine the squares. Three days of that shit, and I haven’t been right since.
We were finally brought before a judge. I guess looking down from his bench he saw a couple of stupid kids. After all, the charge was only a misdemeanor, so he gave us OR. Which meant your Own Recognizance, which meant no bail need be posted. They’d trust you to come back for your day in court.
So Pete and I found ourselves free and out on the street once again. And Pete says to me, “So, what now?”
And I say to Pete: “Fuck California, I’m goin’ east. Sell my board and you keep the money. Tell your sister that I have always loved her, and I’ll probably never see her again.”
And, as I am so fond of saying, I then walked into a new life.
P.S. From then on, I did all my surfing in Florida.