It Takes a Village, Idiot
I dropped the Doc at San Francisco Airport then headed north. He caught a flight to Chicago to cover the Democratic National Convention – where they threw their collective support behind triple threat Hubert Horatio Humphrey and enjoyed the Daly riots – leaving me the car, many of the drugs and the girls. “If any of what Al said is true, uh, I’d say we made a powerful enemy. I’d be careful with the car, the drugs, definitely the story – I suggest, uh, just being careful. Very, very careful. I’ll see what I can come up with.”
I gave him a thumbs-up. “Appeal to their greed. It drives them,” and then sped out of the parking lot toward the 101. Kate sat beside me, Brenda semi-conscious in the back. “What the hell was all that? What happened with Al?” She was understandably concerned as the last time she saw him we were all getting along famously. “Bad reaction with the drug and strong drink. He started getting crazy, had to leave.”
Kate looked at me. “I’ll say. That Thompson is crazy sober. I mean if such a thing were possible.” I smiled; she was right, we were the crazies, especially going up against Al and the Agency. This did not bode well for my well-being, but was conversely excellent for the book, so it appeared that like it or not, I would have to abide it for the greater good.* “Al is into some bad shit. The less you know is probably better. But I would be very careful in his regard. He is a dangerous man.”
Kate rested her head on my lap. “I prefer the fun type.”
I did too. The dangerous ones were too inclined to shoot at me. I didn’t understand why this whole life thing had to necessarily be so hostile and aggressive. Why men were so angry and volatile. It seemed we had created ideas that we somehow deemed more important than life itself, certainly when it came to other people’s lives, and would do anything to anyone to preserve them, even if it meant destroying them in the process. The very things we were told we fought during the Second World War – fascist aggression and human barbarity – we subsequently imported into our social zeitgeist and embraced as our nation’s operational ethos.
I mulled this as I stared at the clouds of ocean fog billowing overhead and dissipating in the afternoon breeze. I had dropped off the girls at a friend’s house, though we hadn’t actually established whose friend it was, eventually settling on Waldo, and driven to Golden Gate Park to regroup. I was whipped. I got up with a start as the crazed old lady flailed at me with her switch, screaming about her marigolds, and fled, chastened. It turned out that I hadn’t been lying in the park but in poor Mrs. Waterbottom’s flowerbed on Geary Street. This drug was offering some curious side effects.
“That your car?” I sat in the actual Golden Gate Park, inspecting my stripes, courtesy of Mrs. Waterbottom. The query did not offer promise of respite. I was seated on the grass amidst the frolicking hippy types in Fineblossom Meadow near the Conversatorium, and his shiny black Florsheims and business suit slacks stood him in sharp contrast to the near naked flesh bounding around nearby. I remained nonchalant, not even looking at his face as I responded watching the show, “Naw, man. Got no car.”
He had placed himself at maximum advantage, standing over me with the sun at his back, effectively obscuring him. “That right?” He wasn’t buying it for a second – I had been made. “Can’t speak for right, but it’s true.” I glanced up at him. “Why, you wanna buy it?” I made out a little of his face; I didn’t recognize him. He was rather thin and officious and highly skeptical of my line. “So it is your car.” I leaned back affecting a relaxed posture, placing my bindle in easy reach. “Told you, don’t have a car. But I know who the owner is.”
He stepped into my line of sight and very seriously responded, “Introduce me.” Sitting up, I grabbed my bindle pole with my right hand, and the prick stepped on it, pinning my hand to the grass. And still the hippies frolicked. “You don’t need that.” I glowered at him, “Oh but I do…” and kicked his other leg out from under him while jerking my pole, sending him toppling to the grass beside me. I clambered clumsily to my feet and then smacked him with the business end of my bindle, the pistol within adding additional motivation for him to bug somebody else. He went down harder and I assessed my present predicament. Beside the tainted car on the street beyond, another suited fellow, reaching into his jacket, displeased, headed my way with urgency. Through the hippies and the park lie my freedom. I went with the hippies.
I was horribly diminished; all of my assorted shootings, crunchings, crashings and punchings made even thinking about moving agonizing, its realization excruciating. I stumbled and ran as a drunk, wobbling and insanely off-balance, which on one level made my progress painstakingly slow, but also made me an exceedingly difficult target. Sadly the frolicking hippies appeared to be less difficult and they dropped around me as I scrambled gracelessly through their midst, the assholes behind firing recklessly into the crowd. Screaming, scrambling, scattering, their love dance turned into the flight of panic, I fled in terror into the park.
I bounced off of bushes and trees. Branches tore at my face and ravaged body as I made my way through the foliage away from the escalating madness behind me. Focus, I had to focus. How could they be on me so fast? And why would they shoot innocent bystanders? I hadn’t even committed a crime. Wait a damned minute. I hadn’t committed a crime. MDMA wasn’t illegal; the Doc had given it to me after Al had thrown it at him after I returned it to him after my bout of conscience, so it wasn’t even stolen. The Doc had the tapes, but he was right, they were his tapes and Al did agree to use them for recording the session. I was being pursued for no crime. Again.
Now I was pissed. I found my way into a clearing removed from the encroaching carnage and crouched behind a public restroom. I extracted my pistol, tossing my bindle onto the roof. I was finally going to shoot back. I looked around the edge of the lavatory for my deadly pursuers. Then it went black.
I woke handcuffed to another hospital bed, this time both wrists. I was in such a state as made California a distant imagining. This place was swimmy and foggy and noisy and very hard to comprehend; wait, it was California. Around me loomed things, wondrous things in white and pink, floating in and out, and so many sounds, movement, physical activity, voices. So many voices. But words made no sense – that’s California for you. But it wasn’t.
“My head is swimming. Think my brain needs a snorkel…” I heard the words, I even understood them, but they still made no sense. What was the point of this? Who was proffering this nonsense? I tried to focus, focus tried to I, we could not reach accord, it stayed blurry by and by. Whatever I was on was having an add verse effect. I swam to the pier.
“I’ll have the banana dog. With sour kraut…can I have that on a corn bagel with cream please?” Now it was becoming more clear, I recognized that fellow’s voice. Someone was here to speak on my behalf. Though I had my doubts about the banana dog. Through the fog a face appeared, fairly pleasant, speaking in slow motion. “Miisssssssssssssstterrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…” This was maddening; I’d die of old age before they got a sentence out. “For God’s aches, talk faster…” That should do it, clearly they must have something important to do, no sense spending the whole day addressing me.
“Haammmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrr….” It had no effect. Whoever this was, was trapped in some sort of slow motion hell – a desire to commune but the utter inability. My head cleared a little, with an 80% chance of pain for later in the evening – the slow motion person was a woman. Perhaps I could appeal to her femininity. “I like your panties…Pants. I’d like your pants…Banana dog?” I wondered if that would help. She had stopped talking but still floated above me, almost luminous.
Then a face, no woman this, strange and awful, jabbering at me like a baboon, teeth growing as the mouth snapped open wide as a bear trap, and closer as if to bite me. And the sound: horrible, disconcerting, ripping into my head as if issued from a 10 gauge shotgun mouth, chaotic and confusing, shredding my consciousness, making me the crazy in this maze of madness. Running in mortal terror then realizing I’m lashed, the jarring jerk as my constraints drag me back into the awful swirling fog; somewhere near, pain, and lots.
The rubber room. White, padded, nothing but the smooshy floor and canvas walls over ancient decomposing foam. Up close, it wasn’t white at all but stained with decades of pain.
Face prints of sweat, slobber, tears, snot and blood; human agony slammed directly into the walls creating the embedded décor of this chamber of loss. The floor, rubberized with the ubiquitous drain – all the rooms here had floor drains – where the piss and shit and blood could be hosed out of sight, just as the patients here were, washed out of our thoughts. North America’s disappeared.
It was my third stay here in this horrid accommodation. I had been addicted to morphine then forced to withdraw 3 times, each in this soft cell of hell. I was a physical shambles and mental miasma, a slow wit in quicksand. The first had been the worst: I shivered and dry-heaved for days, my head pounding, body racked with agony, sure I would die. Soon as I had kicked it, they got me hooked again. It was fucking horrible.
My strength existed in the fact that I didn’t like narcotics. By the third go round, I had come to hate every shot of morphine they gave me, hated every sensation of relief and contentment it offered, every respite from its hungers and want. So when it came time to kick it cold once again, I was so glad to be rid of it, the monkey on my back just sat quietly in the corner and left me alone. We did play rock, paper, scissors for a bit, but when he cheated we retreated to our neutral corners and sulked.
I had no idea how long I’d been here, or even where here was, but I’d come to know some names and faces; come to know human depravity on an institutional level. There was Sidney Gottlieb, the awful Black Sorcerer who ran this place, who oversaw the CIA’s druggings, sensory deprivation, forced addiction and withdrawal, the electro-shock and the maddening tape loops. He drove the official insanity as torturer-in-chief for MKULTRA and most likely acted as Al’s direct liaison at the Agency. High friends in places…
The rubber room door opened – here would come the next horrid round of gut churning addiction. Stanley and Bob, the big orderlies who kept patients subdued, flanked the open door. I felt really lousy and was probably less friendly than they would have preferred. “Oh good, Sidney’s apes. Back to dope me to mental purity?” Between them strode Dr. Banyon with his ever ready syringe. I fixed Banyon with contempt. “Never got the distinction between the Hippocratic oath and being a hypocritical oaf, eh doc?” Then the struggle, I resist with all I have – No, I do not want your drugs and I will not submit, you pieces of shit. I fight with all I have, but that is nothing, no physical strength, mental acuity, reasonable prospect of hope.
Then the injection and its unyielding black.
“Move it buddy, you can’t sleep here.” The annoying tap on the feet, the rumbling grinding sound, movement. The black gives way to light, so much light, blinding, unrelenting. The man behind the voice, a transit cop, I’m on a train. Sitting up, holding my head, through the windows, I see it is a subway train. “Next stop, Greenwich Village.”
I wandered around the Village dazed for dazeds. I had become like every other skeeved out junkie on the street. I was thin and gray, eyes sunken and black, clothes a smelly mess, unshaven, unkempt and unpleasant. The prime difference was that I had been made into a junkie, not become so electively. This made me think of Al and the Agency – did any of us actually become addicted of our own accord, or did our culture via our government demand it of us and as good citizens, we willingly complied? Did it matter? Once you’re there, how you arrived is of little consequence. Once you’re there, there’s no turning back.
I had lost my sense of self, had no purpose beyond immediate survival. I had no money, ID, food, shelter or friends – I was cast adrift on to the streets of New York from one of Gottlieb’s numerous demon labs, established on campuses all across the nation, little incubators of addiction set up by a police agency with too little work of positive social value to do. So much of our applied science comes from our brightest thinkers seeking new and exotic ways to destroy a human at the behest of their paymasters. Many of them would work as diligently to save our species as destroy it if only someone would pay them for that.
“Arturo?!” I knew the voice; it was my favorite kind, the friendly female kind. I looked up hopefully – this certainly wasn’t another hallucination. It wasn’t – it was poor little rich girl, Edie Sedgewick and she was happy to see me. “My God, what happened to you?!” It took me a minute to process this; Edie? I know Edie. “Edie…” and I collapsed at her feet. She had some amazing shoes.
Back at the Chelsea I discovered a side of Edie I hadn’t seen: motherly. She had drifted from The Factory and Andy, trying her hands at real acting as opposed to the standard Warhol “bad acting.” But she wasn’t really an actress, just a really sad girl with really good looks, in a really hard business in a really hard town that didn’t really care about her one way or another. She came from money and always seemed to have more when it should have been all gone, came from position yet could not find her place. Nurturing me back to health gave her something to do of higher purpose than destroying herself.
I had been there a couple of months, had gotten stronger and, as importantly, smarter. I had Edie bring me a new book every day, the second one a dictionary. I was off the grid; Edie had agreed to keep my presence there our little secret and was sadly so self-absorbed most of the time that she actually forgot I was even there occasionally. This was problematic when Dylan showed up trying to work a little of his old magic on her.
“Sara doesn’t dig it, baby. She’s too mommy now, it’s not fun. You’re always fun, baby.” Edie was wasted, Edie was always wasted, she didn’t handle sobriety well. I had tried to convince her there were better ways to hide from her comfortable yet unfulfilling life, but her relation with heroin was far more intimate than it was with me. Longer running as well. I had little pull.
Dylan looked at my notebook. I had had Edie gather me one and scrawling implements with the dictionary. That way, when I came across words I didn’t understand, I wrote them down and then followed up by writing the definition down too. Something about writing by hand really helps lock stuff in the memory. Quite useful. Before long, I had returned to composition.
“ ‘Open Up For Dick’? What’s this?” He picked up my notebook and started reading my paean to then newly erected Richard Nixon aloud, Edie baffled by his lack of focus:
Open Up For Dick
If you’re feeling hungry
Maybe you’re feeling sick
Could be you are tired
Of the standard rhetoric
Too deeply ensconced
In unreal politic
Into ethic’s breach my friend
Once more should do the trick
No old school campaigner
Not some prolapsed Catholic
Not some snooty elitist
His is the nose we pick
Who would have believed it
Once more around to kick
Prepare oh for despair oh
And open up for Dick
Dylan was impressed and disturbed at the same time. This was good shit, but way too good for Edie. “Who wrote this?!” I had been asleep on the floor beside the bed when they came in. I clambered up onto the bed then sat cross legged. “You like it?” Dylan looked over at me, startled. “Jeeze…Art! Didn’t see you there.” I smiled at him, the cool center of Creation, recovered and better than before. “How ya doin’ Bob? How’s the new baby?” The baby: I cock blocked him with the spawn of his own cock.
“Good, good. Well, I should be goin’, stuff to do…Good to see you Art.” He looked imploringly at Edie, nodded for her to join him in the hall. “Bob…” He started out the door. “Uh, Bob.” Halfway out, he looked back. “Yeah, uh, yeah Art?” I nodded at my notebook, still clutched in his hand. “Leave the notebook.” Distracted, he acknowledged the notebook and for an instant looked as though he would take his chances fleeing with it. “Uh? Oh, right. The book. Good stuff there, Art. ‘Open Up for Dick.’ Funny stuff.” He nervously returned the notebook to the bureau.
“See ya, Art.” Then they stepped into the hallway.
It was time to go. Edie’s other guests couldn’t care about me one way or another. But Bob and I had history. Not that he disliked me; he was threatened by my talent, a common problem among insecure creative types. Our culture presents all of our existential activities as a competition with big winners and hard losers. Exceptional capacity terrifies those of moderate ability which would safely include pretty much every popular act ever. Amazing performances of mediocre material.
So Dylan couldn’t view me as a fellow musician, just another competitor. And as a competitor he was duty bound to see to it I failed where he succeeded. This was not personal – it was business, show business. But it aptly explained why our art, our culture, was becoming a vapid shit-heap of repeated banalities and empty sloganeering: no artist promoted talent greater than their own. Too threatening to the tenuous position with the indeterminate shelf-life that show business offers. Better to promote crap that makes your own work shine by comparison.
Al had warned me off the harshest way imaginable, educating me how law enforcement is in many cases little more than vendetta against indiscretion revealed. I had been compromised; God knows what they had me doing on film on drugs. My credibility was controlled exclusively by the Technical Services Division of the CIA. I needed to get it back.
I needed to meet with the Grandfather. My uncle.