Nicholson motored south on the 1 out of Carmel toward Big Sur. Though it was winter, the weather was nice, the road open and he drove with the top down on his ‘67 Ford Mustang, the radio blaring “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix. He was in good spirits, having recently completed his breakout role in Easy Rider, and puffed on a joint as he drove back to LA. “Think I’ll give this fellow a lift.”
“You look to be a man going places.” He grinned at me. I stepped up to the shiny burgundy car and smiled. “You look to be a man stopping to help me get there. Thank you!” I set my weapon laden pack in the back seat and climbed into the front. He wore dark glasses and his hair was a trifle wild; I wasn’t sure if I recognized him or not, though he seemed familiar. I played it cagey. “Robert. Robert Planet,” offering him my hand. He looked at me a little skeptical then smiled and shook. “Just call me Jack.” And we were off.
“Headin’ to Los Angelees. Do a little business, have a little pleasure. Where you headed, Bob?”
His voice was distinctive but I wasn’t an aficionado of his films so I didn’t realize who I was riding with. Seemed like a fairly broad minded sort, the joint smoldering in the ashtray a fine window into his sensibilities. I was a fairly ballsy pick-up to start with: wearing black machinist’s boots, black jeans, white wife beater and black bomber jacket with my Australian bush hat and round dark glasses; I was definitely not a stop for the timid. I appareled myself thusly because frankly, the timid bored me.
“Actually heading to LA myself. Looking for a woman.” Jack smiled and retrieved the joint from the ashtray. “Well you’re in luck, there’s about two and a half million of ‘em and in my experience many of them are first rate.” I watched him attempt to negotiate the winding road and relight his joint. “Can I help you with that?” He looked at the joint and me, then took his hands from the wheel and focused on the joint. “Sure…” I grabbed the wheel and steered us around a fairly sharp turn before he got it lit, but then he smiled and took the wheel back – I’d passed the test. “Would you care for--?” I snatched it from him before he could finish.
“Ah, a man who appreciates a good smoke. Tell me Bob, what brings you this way?” I puffed then returned the joint to him. “Currently, you. Prior, I was in San Francisco. At that war rally.” Jack squinted then responded slightly ironically, “The anti-war rally?” He handed the joint back to me. “So often claims don’t live up to their promise.” Jack shook his head. “Fuckin’ Free Verse Riots. Wish I could get my hands on the asshole that started ‘em. Fucked up my weekend.” He looked at me closer – did he know me? I pretended to see something off the roadside.
“Yeah, those riots fucked up a lot a people’s weekend.”
He returned the roach and clarified, “I went there to meet my friend Pete’s sister. Been trying to hook up with her for years. She’s still married. Frenchman. It’s over. Still…” This wasn’t boding well. “She said she’d meet me behind the stage, actually saw her there, but then that imbecile started rhyming and the City exploded.” I dropped the roach into the ashtray and looked at him. He had a bit of an edge. Around the edges. “It was a crazy time.” He looked sideways at me – he was sure he’d seen me somewhere. “Have we met?” I looked at him; I knew I recognized him but now dreaded that he recognized me. “Sure, I’m Robert Planet--” He cut me off, “No, I mean before. I feel like I know you…”
I tried to keep from again getting kicked out--the cliffs were steep and the ocean a long way down. “I actually feel the same about you,” I punted. “Do you know Warren Beatty?” He looked at me confused. Warren Beatty? What an odd name drop. But it was calculated; because I took him for an Angeleno, maybe an actor, I hoped to draw his memory of me a bit further south. “Actually, I do. Casually. You a friend-a Warren’s?” I thought back to Natalie, rubbing my RJ bullet wound. “We’ve had some laughs.”
This seemed to put him at ease; we had met through Warren. “So, what’s your line?” I stared ahead at the beautiful coastline, quite stoned. “You appear to be lost. May I find you?” He squinted; did I just say what he thought I said? He was stoned too. It dawned on him: ‘Your line.’ He had picked up a smart ass. What the fuck, it was a long drive. “Oh, yeah. Clever. How’s that work for you?” I turned toward him – he wore a shit eating grin. “Usually it gets a smile, but I get a lot of, ‘I’m not lost’.” He stopped smiling and glanced at me. “Yeah? What’s your response to that?” I smiled. “Well, mislaid then.”
This seemed to please him and he appeared to try it out on various women in his mind before continuing our discourse. “So, what’s your take on this so-called Sexual Revolution?” I rubbed my RJ wound – it liked to hurt a lot and I limped because of it. “Too much bloodshed. Think we need a sexual congress.” He smiled at this. “Well, they’ve done a good job screwing us so far.”
“They serve the people. That pay them the most…But, uh, I’m a big fan of loosened sexual mores being a bit of a libertine myself.” He continued my line while confirming my preferences, “Like the ladies, do ya?”
“The best part about being a man. Men usually the worst part.” He nodded at this. “We can fuck things up pretty good without a whole lotta effort.” I thought of the book so far. “Hardly have to lift a finger--or ten.” I glanced at him. He was negotiating the road with intensity as we drove deeper into the forests near Big Sur. “You a fan of psychedelics, Bob?” I smiled. “Who isn’t?” He considered me on that one. “Well, it would seem the US government for one.” I watched the road. “It would seem.” He looked at me, then back at the road quickly, as he shouldn’t have taken his eyes off it around a corner, and corrected with a little skid. What was I up to?
“Do you know something that I don’t?” I responded, “God, I hope so, or this conversation will get boring quick.” He negotiated a tight 327-degree turn then glanced at me. “You saying the government likes acid? Psychedelics?” I maintained my fix on the glorious road and forest around us. “Well, seeing as they gave us psychedelics in the first place, I would think they’d be crazy about them. No doubt hoping we’d be crazy with them.”
This struck him as very strange. Who would go around saying the government gave us drugs? Was I a narc? Some kind of government agent? Jack decided to tread more carefully until he could suss me out with a trifle more clarity. “That’s an interesting theory.” I was high and too relaxed, my mouth moving in directions propriety and basic survival would direct otherwise. The problem of cannabis – unlike most drugs (that come in bottles and cans) is that cannabis isn’t something necessarily or even ideally indulged in alone. It is the modern equivalent of the peace pipe, an experience shared from the same vessel and it is very good at getting people to drop their guard. Certainly, me kind of people.
I had the CIA, FBI, and local law enforcement dogging me owing to my awareness of this very subject; I’d been beaten, shot at and tortured horribly because of it and here I was talking to a total stranger in a late model car about governmental drug conspiracies. I was an idiot. I needed to make a clear headed choice; no more of this injudicious blathering, use my mind to recover and guide the conversation any direction but this one. “But to answer your question, yes, I love psychedelics. Why, you got any?” That should do it.
It did. We pulled over at Hurricane Point and dropped some LSD-25 he had acquired in the Bay Area for his aborted rendezvous, then smoked another joint. Jack was a boisterous fellow and beyond the fact that he hated my guts for starting the Free Verse Riots and wanted me dead for cock-blocking him with Jane Fonda, we got along famously. To him I was Robert Planet, singer for a blues cover band, Dirigible. Fortunately for me, I was never publically established as the cause of the riots, so I at least had that going for me. As long as Jack remained in the dark.
“It was me. I started the riot.” As noted above, I was an idiot. Jack considered this then looked at me. We were driving ever south and the drug was coming on mightily. While a failure as a truth serum, LSD was phenomenal at making complex things clear and understandable. I didn’t perceive Jack as an antagonist, I don’t like to lie, I reject lying to people I like. The drug stripped the filters that made subterfuge seem necessary – surely my revelation would be received with the quiet dignity it was proffered. I was not the enemy; Jack of all people would see that.
He let out a tortured scream then hit the brakes – all right, perhaps I misjudged his quiet dignity a trifle. We skidded across the roadway and spun out in a hail of flying gravel, the right rear wheel actually leaving the highway and hanging over a sheer drop for an instant as Jack struggled to maintain control. We came to rest off the roadside, a cloud of dust billowing around the car.
“Kidding. I was just kidding!” I hoped to avoid the beating that I was now sure would accompany such high speed histrionics, but Jack was out of the car, running back along the highway. I looked back; what the hell was this strange turn of affairs? Then I spotted her. Jack had his arm around her as he led her out of harm’s way in the middle of the two lane blacktop. I was so elsewhere in my come-on I hadn’t even seen her, though as it turned out, quite pleased that Jack was more presently involved. I clambered over the side of the car and ran to them.
She was hysterical. She and her friend had been hiking when this truly freaky dude accosted them. He had a gun. He took her friend into the woods. She needed help. I was out of my head, so I got back in there and thought, What would I do in such a situation? I had to fall back on all my years of totally unrelated experience. “Help us, you’re our only hope…” I heard the voice, like a plea from the future, and realized she was right. There was no one to call. Had there been, it would have taken them four hours to get there.
I wobbled a little as I took it all in. I looked at the car then back at Jack with the distraught woman. The course became irrefutable. I ran to the car and flung open my pack, removing the FBI side arms. I handed one to Jack. “Protect her.” I looked at the path into the woods she indicated, then stormed furiously into the undergrowth. The redwoods rose intensely skyward, the foliage alive and vibrant. I moved silently through a veritable garden of Paradisal beauty in search of the very element that makes paradise unattainable: human depravity. Clouds of vaporous mist hung in the verdant woods, a world thoroughly alive, yet strangely silent.
I proceeded through the trees, pistol in hand, listening. Psychedelics in me led to a high level of harmony in the wild; I was very much in my element. I moved rapidly yet with amazing silence and clarity. I heard them ahead. I inspected the pistol, a Colt .45 automatic. I checked the slide and established a round in the chamber, then removed the safety. Coming around a bend I found them: she was bent over a fallen log, pants around her ankles, weeping and trembling in mortal terror. He looked about thirty, fairly nondescript, white American male. He had set his pistol down so he could undo his pants but still held a knife in his left hand.
“Freeze!” I didn’t know what else to say, having been thoroughly programmed through the media. He spun toward me, fixing me with eyes seething malice undiluted. “Freeze?!” This was no mere rapist; this was a killer, the kind of man who didn’t necessarily care if his victim had a pulse while he violated her. I could see each evil perpetrated upon him and each he perpetrated as a result in that one look; I could see through his eyes into his sick and tortured mind. He would not be redeemed. He raised the hunting knife to menace the woman but I fired, hitting his wrist, causing him to spasm and drop the heavy blade, which plunged into his left foot.
“Ahhh!! Son of a bitch!!!”
Infuriated, he grabbed for the pistol with his right hand, so I shot his right wrist – giving him a matched set – his weapon falling out of reach as I advanced upon them, electrified.
He reached down to extract the knife from his foot, a very determined killer, where I, equally determined, stomped down on it, driving it into the ground, pinning him. He lashed out at me, his bleeding wrists pumping his lifeblood from him, but I wisely kept my distance so as to avoid sullying my clothing with his dirty squirty. I smashed his nose with the pistol grip, then swung back and slammed the gun against the side of his disturbed face, dropping him to the ground in a flailing heap; he grabbed at his head, soaking himself in his own tainted blood, moaning in pain. I grabbed his gun and slipped it into my belt.
I helped the poor woman up; she was younger than her friend, about 30 and thoroughly traumatized. We put her pants right, then wrapping my arm around her, I led her from the site of her dismay, her horrid antagonist writhing in an expanding pool of his own blood. The wrist shots were intended to be arterial and the one on the left was, which assured his death before help could arrive. Owing to the remoteness of the location and wildlife prevalent, he would likely be eaten before he died, an appropriate demise for the demented predator.
I appreciate the damage we inflict upon our fellows as being rooted in the damage inflicted upon us – I understand. Truly damaged people are not at fault for that damage, be it genetic, chemical, environmental or a combination thereof. A baby cannot control what it consumes, a child cannot defend itself from predatory adults, none of us choose our genes. We are what we get. Hence to be angry at a mentally sick person makes as much actual sense as being angry at someone with Parkinson’s Disease – none. Somehow this all seemed self-evident to me as I helped the distraught lady back to the road.
I killed a man, a bad man, a fucking downright awful man, shot him and left him to die while positively swimming with LSD-25. I had never even fired a gun before on acid. My ears rang loudly and my mind roiled a mile a second – murder. This posed the potential for serious future damage if I didn’t operate from a sound and rational perspective. I was writing a comedy book. Now I’ve incorporated murder and rape. Who did I expect to laugh?
I considered the blowback: I killed a bad guy and didn’t even throw out any stereotypical Hollywood lines mocking my pathetic victim, exhorting him to ‘Stick around,’ or ‘Have a nice slay.’ On top of that I prevented a rape and murder – that should definitely work in my literary favor. In fact, I was a hero. A fucking fictional hero.
I bow respectfully to my audience, thank you, thank you….
“You alright?” Jack looked concernified,* gingerly returning the pistol to me as the women rushed to embrace each other. My mind was racing, but it was in the lead so I let it go. I felt fine. Pretty fucking phenomenal to be perfectly honest. I looked at Jack. “Bad business back there. We should go and avoid the authorities.” Jack understood. Neither of us wanted to talk to anything in a uniform for the next say, 10 hours, not even a drive-in restaurant uniform.
Preventing serious crimes is probably best not undertaken while blazing with such amazing intensity; circumstantial interpretations can be complex, confusing. But then again it actually worked in this instance, whereas when the cops are involved, they usually only show up afterwards and find someone to blame. So I suppose you should just ignore my advice of two sentences ago and thwart crimes as you see fit.
The women, Bridget, and almost victim Kim, were still slightly hysterical and understandably unnerved. They found themselves at the junction of primal beauty and primal ugliness and that is a hard place to stop. I considered the MDMA. In a good setting with the right people, it is a highly effective therapeutic compound. Perhaps it could help the ladies through it.
We were south of Big Sur proper and I remembered a waterfall, McWay Falls, about 3 or 4 miles further. I suggested that as a temporary respite from our travails and in accord – as they were very happy to leave that particular place – we bundled into Jack’s Mustang and headed forth. We parked at the Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and made our way toward the falls. The beach was a little precarious, not actually open to public access, but we made our way down with no difficulty. I brought my canteen to help stave dehydration and offered a solution.
“I have a compound, MDMA, that is used in therapeutic settings. It’s experimental, totally legal and I have found it exceptional at making things very comforting.” They looked at me; what was I up to? Had they fled one desperate situation only to find themselves in another one? I was running around with guns in my backpack for fuck’s sake – now I had 4. Could I be trusted?
Clearly. But to put the women at ease, Jack and I took a hit as well. LSD will make you so high you will be certain there is or isn’t a God and that you have or haven’t communed directly with Him/Her/It. It tears down the barriers we have constructed to protect us from our self-imposed guilt and shame, which is why it had such an amazing track record in therapeutic applications. But the level of intensity of the ladies’ assault made that drug problematic. MDMA, on the other hand, with our calm and rational discourse, placed them both in an amazingly receptive state. On top of the LSD, it made me higher than I’d ever been. Ecstasy10.
We sat in a cave in the cliff wall directly beneath the waterfall and shared a joint. The setting combined with our demeanor placed us all at surprising ease.
*Terrified yet concerned. Duh…
“How do you feel?” Jack was tripping balls and rolling like a son-of-a-bitch, just like me. He was referring to my drugged reaction to my drugged behaviors. I had taken a course that seemed the only reasonable one, taken action that seemed best for society at large and certainly our new friends in the immediate. I felt no guilt.
“Phenomenal. Unbelievably perfect. How are you, Kim?” She looked at me, the fear and pain were gone, in their place only ecstasy. She seemed to try to intellectualize it; she shouldn’t feel good – she by any normal standards should be a basket case. But she couldn’t find the benefit of such mind squabbling. “I feel amazing. I’ve never felt like this before.” Her friend Bridget looked at her in amazement; she felt exactly the same. “Me neither. This is sensational.” Jack and I looked at each other, pleased. We had done good.
We talked there for hours until the dusk made it clear that we needed to move on. We watched the sunset from the cliffs then drove the ladies back to their car. They still rolled nicely but the intensity was quite manageable and they felt well able to drive. I warned them of the comedown, reminded them that as with all recreational drugs, it was a temporary condition. We left them with a couple of joints courtesy of Jack – who it turned out had a healthy bag of some decent bud – and Jack’s invite to look him up should they find themselves in LA. After seeing them off, we continued down that winding road, feeling positively majestic.
“Gotta say, I like that MDMA of yours. You say it’s legal?” I was driving; Jack sprawled out in the back playing with his cannabis. On the radio, The Doors’ “Love Her Madly,” the headlights making the winding road a wondrous adventure in navigation, exhilarating and terrifying. It took me a moment to process what he’d said. Or was it longer? I realized the more I thought about how long my response was taking, the longer it took because I kept drifting away from the original question. It was a question. Or was it? It might have been a statement, perhaps all I needed to do was nod. But what did he say? I was at the wheel in a highly intoxicated state. California. I knew better than looking up at what I’d written, I could write right off the road…
“Was that a question?” I had completely lost it. As far as I knew, an hour could have passed. The road before me had become strangely still. In fact, it wasn’t a road before me at all, but total blackness. Where was I? Had I driven off the cliff? And the music, I was listening to The Doors, but now all I heard was a gentle wind, oh. I opened my eyes. This seemed like a good idea, especially while driving. Why had I closed them? Had I fallen asleep? But still, blackness. This was becoming distressing.
“You say something?” Jack, it was Jack, my old crime fighting chum and best friend in the world; damn it was good to hear his voice. It seemed like hours. But then, I was analyzing my response time again instead of responding; this was becoming a problem. I needed to stop thinking all this shit and respond to what he said. Fuck! What did he say? Where was this?
“Yes. No.” I figured that I’d covered it with that. “Well, what is it?” I looked up. I was laying on the back seat of the Mustang staring at the black upholstery. I turned around, Jack was at the wheel but it was black around him, around the car. There was no road. I considered my surroundings; where were we? I looked, everything seemed sharp, defined, but there was nothing to define, Jack was driving us over the cliff, into the blackness of the sea crashing below. It would be over in a crashing second.
I opened my eyes – how did they keep getting shut? We were seated in a diner in Cambria. Jack sat across the table and studied me quizzically. We were both pretty shagged. “Feel a little light headed. Might need to darken it.” His eyes still blazed and he smiled maniacally. “Think you got a little fucked up there, Bob.” I smiled and his smile got me giggling, which got him giggling and progressed until we had to leave the place because we were laughing so uncontrollably. In fact, we got several of the other people in the place laughing as well, one old fellow looking to succumb to fatal hilarity. He survived, but this book should finish the job.
When we could breathe again, we noticed that we had drawn the unfortunate attentions of a Highway Patrolman, conversing with the proprietor of the diner – the oddly monikered Klarpy’s Hole – so we made our way back onto the road, hoping to avoid any trouble with him. Of course reason would dictate the last place you want to try to avoid the attentions of a Highway Patrolman is on the highway, but we were still extremely impaired in the whole reason department and distance in the immediate seemed a good idea.
It is fascinating how fast one can sober up with a head full of powerful drugs at the sound of a siren and the flash of a light or ten. To offer an apt comparison, as high as one can be on LSD or MDMA – amazingly, un-fucking-believably high – run ins with authority can sober you right up. Alcohol does not sober up, no adrenalin can overcome its powerful desensitizing effects, authority knows you are drunk – in the absolute. A potent drug to be certain.
But Jack and I weren’t drinking. It seemed as though it would dirty up our clean and refined highs, so we drank iced tea, my original addiction, or water. So when officer Cordoba pulled us over, there were no ostensible signs of our rampant criminality. My weapon cache/bindle-pack was safely locked in the trunk, the cooling had necessitated the return of the top, and our drugs were safely stashed in the glove box. With the registration. Redemption to perdition, my life’s recurrent theme. But he hadn’t pulled us over for any driving crime; Jack was at the speed limit and nailing the road like a Le Mans driver, crisp, precise. Booze makes the lines all sloshy and soft, easy to drift over; pot and psychedelics defined and prominent for the attentive. To a point.
So Cordoba was on a fishing expedition. Surely we could slide right through this without any problem or hitch, two bright guys, perhaps a little high but not stupid out of control; we could get him to let us go on our merry way with his piggy blessing. Surely.
“Do you know why I pulled you over?”
Standard cop patois, Jack would maneuver through this with flying colors, piece of cake.
“You don’t know either? All right, I’ll let you off with a warning this time.” Fine work Jack, really stellar planning! Cordoba looked about 35, slightly to the right of Mussolini, and very unamused. “Funny guy. Step out of the car, funny guy.” This held little positive promise and Jack labored over that particular choice as he stepped out to face our antagonist.
“You been drinking, funny guy?” Jack looked at him, slightly manic, hair decidedly askew and smiled confidently. “No. No I haven’t.” Then the devilish look came over his face, and with a sideways glance to me, “Yourself?” Ah, Jack. Why’d I go and have you say that? What were we thinking? Jack looked over at me. “Don’t blame me, this is your show.”
Cordoba snapped at Jack, “You think this is a joke, boy?” Jack leveled him with a very serious Jack-like stare. “Now actually, I don’t what this is. You pulled me over, breaking no laws and asked if I been drinking.” The cop considered this; Jack didn’t sound drunk. In fact he sounded amazingly coherent. As we hadn’t been drinking, there were no containers or smell of alcohol. As to our smoking, we had smoked before entering Klarpy’s but food and coffee had covered that nicely. What had he pulled us over for?
“Joe Klarpy tells me you two were kicking up quite a fuss at his place. Sounded all hopped up on something--” and with this he scowled suspiciously at me. Jack smiled nonchalantly. “Well, there you have us. Bob and myself do tend to get going when something sets us off. Humor is fascinating that way…But as some of the other patrons in the diner seemed to enjoy our laughing, I didn’t see it as particularly offensive. Is laughter illegal in Cambria?”
“Let me see your license.” Jack seemed puzzled at his insistence but carefully removed his ID from his wallet and handed it to Cordoba. “There you go, Officer.” Cordoba considered him suspiciously then scanned his license. He looked at it a little closer then glanced at Jack then back to the ID. Lowering it from his face, he looked squarely at Jack. “You’re that actor. From the plant movie,” to which Jack smiled receptively. “My wife loves that stupid thing. Not that your part was stupid. Just seemed kind of…” He stretched for the word. From the car I helped him out…“Stupid?”
He glanced at me; in the presence of show biz even I could be seen as helpful. “Yeah, thank you.” Jack seemed a little impatient. This driving insanely intoxicated on LSD and MDMA with a car full of felonies arrest was turning into a fan mashup, which put Jack in the superior position much to Cordoba’s chagrin. But he knew what would happen if he arrested a celebrity from a movie his wife liked: he would move to Wank Town, population him, so he accepted his role with surprising dignity.
Jack, to save him from having to ask, obliged. “Be happy to sign an autograph for the little woman, if you think she’d appreciate it.” She would. An autograph from a star moved him right to Twatlevania, population happy, and he was smart enough to know what was good for him. “If it wouldn’t be too much trouble?” Jack smiled. “Not at all,” noting the ticket-book, “but I’d prefer something without all that writing on it.” Cordoba realized he was offering his ticket-book as something to sign. “Uh, oh, yeah, sorry.”
He rustled up a shopping list his wife (Irene) had given him from his back pocket. Smoothing it out, he offered its blank side and his pen to Jack who smiled. “What’s the little lady’s name?” to which Cordoba responded, “uh, Irene. To Irene…” Jack smiled again and scrawled something, then returned the pen and the list. Cordoba seemed pleased, glanced at the autograph then back at Jack.
“Well, thank, thank you Mister Nicholson. This’ll tickle Irene something. Sorry to trouble you.” He offered Jack his hand which Jack shook; then Jack cleared his throat. “Uh, do you think…?” Cordoba realized he still held the license. “Uh, oh, sorry. Thanks again.” Jack received his I.D. and leapt into the car. “No problem officer, have a lovely night.” Jack fired up the car and we drove off with Cordoba staring after us. After about a mile I asked, “So, what wisdom did you offer the officer’s wife?” Jack smiled. “I wrote, ‘Irene, Give this man a BJ. Best wishes. Jack.’ ”