I took off from home halfway through my seventeenth year when I was still wet behind the ears. I was on the road for almost five years and in that time I’ve had a few adventures. Not many, really. But the ones I had were doozies. I recently wrote about two of them (Sand Paintings, and The Swamp). They were well received, so I thought, what the hell? Might as well let it all hang out. Below is the latest installment of how I spent my misspent youth.
I’d been travelin’ up and down the coast of California for about six months when I finally thought that I’d check out the beaches. You know, Huntington, Redondo, Manhattan Beach … the usual. It wasn’t long before I caught sight of the surfers. Man, to that eighteen-year-old boy, surfin’ looked really cool. I wanted to try it. So, I got myself a job washin’ dishes at this hash house. I was 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 was able to quit that job because I had earned enough for a second-hand surfboard.
This was 1968 and a short board was anything under ten feet. I got me a 9’6’’ beauty. I even painted the bottom in an American flag motif. I think I was protesting the Viet Nam War. Today, I’m not so sure why I did it. 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 no problem … 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 work for something to eat.
One of the most memorable 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 in from the dining room, sees me, and says, “What’s he doing here? Get him out!”
It turned out she was the owner. Well, my friend the chef answered, “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—without saying a word—turned around and went back into the dining room.
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 an eighteen-year-old, that’s no sweat. I’m happy as a pig in shit. I needed nothing else.
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 to the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) every once in a while to see what I could promote—food-wise. On the day in question, I was attracted by loud music blaring out of a pair of speakers placed in front of a waterbed store. It was Canned Heat’s Going Up The Country.
So, I was standing there, 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 got to talking and then he asked, “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 around girls.
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 great guy; he was just an idiot … like I was.
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 is 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 work out quite 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”, and 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 were 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 were going to do was hide the stuff under the carburetor on their car engine. They even popped it off and showed us where they had hollowed out a space and were gonna put the 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 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 score, and then one of them asked, “Hey, you guys want some Reds?”
“Sure. Why not?”
They open one of the bottles and pour about ten pills each into my and Pete’s hands and we put ’em in our pockets. Now, this scene was keenly observed by our connection, which, as you’ll see in a moment, played a big part in this sordid tale.
So, the guy was holding the door of the whorehouse open for us. Right then and there I should have smelled a rat. He was smilin’ too 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 Huston is in it along with Tim—can’t think of his last name right now—but it’s the one where the bandit and his cohorts are pretending to be the police; Bogie requests to see their badges and one of ’em 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.
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.
Okay boys and girls, here’s where the fun really begins. It’s all been peaches and cream up to now. We got about halfway down the corridor when the bandit stopped in his tracks and asked to see our money. You know, just to make sure we were legit. And being the complete dumb asses that we were, we whipped out our money to show him just how legit we were.
It was at that very instant that 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 were pressed up against the wall with knives at our throats. They were talkin’ Spanish, but I kinda had the feelin’ they wanted our money.
Hey guys, you can have it! We appreciate you asking so nicely.
Behind the three guys stood our bandit, still smiling—the son-of-a-bitch. Then our bandit said 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 kind of 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. But these guys were good at it. They probably had a lot of practice.
My personal bandit, and by that I mean the one holding the knife to my throat, as opposed to Pete’s personal bandit who was 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 intoned, “Si, si.”
Si, si is right. Yes, yes. What the hell 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 did not know. But hey, no sweat. We were about to find out.
Now, before I go any further, for all you non-junkies out there, two of those 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 believe their thinking was: One, we would either OD on the streets of Tijuana, or two, we would be picked up by the police on a public whatever-you-call-it-when-you’re-really-stoned-on-reds charge. 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 across the border and 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 eighteen-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 probably wasn’t actually comatose, but I have no recollection of being arrested. 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, down the row, 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. 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’d 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 our cell. By the way, we were not given a phone call, or arraigned within the time limit prescribed by the Constitution. Of course, at eighteen, 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 into 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. Looking down at us, I guess 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?”
I say to Pete: “Fuck California, I’m goin’ east. Sell my board and keep the money.
And, as I am so fond of saying, I then walked into a new life.