Nobody Gets Off the Bus:
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It was early in 1971. Three years earlier, my wife and I had dropped out of the day shift culture. With a Master's in hand, I had abandoned work on a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. My wife, like all good women of her generation, had been preparing herself for the raising of our country's young. She had been an undergraduate in an elementary education program. Instead of going on with these mundane tasks, we had joined the great migration westward, in our case, to Los Angeles. There, we expected to join the generation of peace and love, stay blissfully stoned, and do our part in developing the counterculture that was inevitably going to sweep the country.
In reality, I didn't drop out too far. Almost immediately after arriving in LA, I got a job as a clinician in a mental health center in West Hollywood. It was a civil service job. I was still serving the government which I despised. My wife had done somewhat better. After forging documents which allowed her to do the same work as myself, she quickly abandoned the civil service, and enrolled in art school. There, she pursued the field which she really had wanted to all along--painting.
This story is set on a typical night in 1971. Our new California friends, who, three years before, had been using pot and hallucinogens, were now involved with harder drugs. They, the members of the love generation, were beginning to carry sidearms, to protect themselves during deals. Peace and love seemed a long time ago.
I'd just finished Thursday's work. Driving home, the voices of my patients were still in my head.
Margaret Joie had told me, "I feel miserable."
To the other medications she was taking, I had added Mellaril.
Donald Blocton had reported that he was getting no sleep, and his appetite had decreased. He had been eating only one meal a day. He had vague suicidal ideation, but with no clear plan or intent. He had the feeling that his dead brother was with him. I had asked him to draw a clock for me. He could only drawn a series of clock hands, like this:
I talked about Donald with my psychiatrist. Donald was psychotic, but he was always psychotic. I would see him next week, and judge whether his depression was getting more serious. We might have to adjust his medication.
I was late coming home that day because of Teresa Cooper. At 5:30 that afternoon, I'd had to write a Physician's Emergency Certificate, committing her to the County hospital for 15 days. She'd had a baby the week before, which had been born with sickle cell blood. After the birth, Teresa'd left her house for three days, staying with friends and getting high on heroin. When she'd called home this morning, her mother told her that the baby had been turned over to Protective Services. The grounds were abandonment. My patient had felt worthless, and said that she had pains all over her body.
When I saw her that day, she was mute, lethargic, and wanted to kill herself. She didn't want to commit homicide. She appeared to have auditory hallucinations, and I believed that they were voices telling her to commit suicide.
She stated, "I certainly do want to die."
Teresa had been born on 3/27/47. She lived at 304 West Avenue, Apartment A. Her Social Security Number was 129-87-4789. She listed her brother, Fris Patterson, not her mother, as her next of kin. Her City Welfare number was 145912.
Before we'd sent her to the hospital, my psychiatrist and I had feared that she might suddenly come out of her lethargy, and act on her suicidal impulses. So we'd injected her with 100 mg. Of Thorazine.
My wife Jeannine and I had moved to her sister Franklin's house, at the back of a lot. It was a one bedroom house, on a low hill that looked west over Hollywood. That evening, the girls were in the front room, getting ready for a party. They were fixing their makeup, and smoking dope. Sunny was brushing her long, red-gold hair. Peter's girl was passing around speed. Jeannine didn't want any. She didn't like it. She wasn't crazy about pot either, but she liked cocaine, when it was available. She'd stopped taking acid. Raymond Kekacs was in the front room, with the girls. Bayard had been having an affair with Raymond's girl friend, Emily, and Raymond was staying near her, possessively. In the bedroom, the boys were also getting ready for the party. Kenny was hunched on the end of the bed, moaning that he needed junk. Peter and Bayard were going through their satchels, looking for some. I told Bayard that I wanted junk, too. Bayard looked surprised. He didn't know that I shot up.
"If there's enough," he told me. "Kenny has to have his."
He saw my disappointed expression, but I knew that he was right. Kenny was schizophrenic. Junk was the medication upon which he depended.
"We'll fix you with something," Bayard told me. "Don't worry."
I went into the kitchen. Through the living room windows, the sky overhead was already a soft black, although it was only eight o'clock. Out at the horizon, there was still a line of purple and rose. To the north, lights walked softly up into the tiny mountains. Daylight still glowed on the tops of the highest hills. The streets and freeways of Los Angeles hummed gently.
The kitchen was only a nook, with its window also facing the sunset. At the window's top, my sister-in-law had pasted a Tiffany transparency, that let light through like red jewelry. Out the window, I looked down to Hoover Street, where cars whizzed past. Street lights and the dark shapes of palms stretched west. I walked back to the refrigerator, and took out a two-liter bottle of white wine. I set it on the counter and brought down a water glass from the cabinet. I filled the glass with wine. As I had all day, I felt powerful, but my hands trembled, and my stomach was sour. I drank the wine down, in long slow gulps. It was the first food I'd had since Wednesday.
Jeannine came into the kitchen. She watched as I drank the wine, and put the glass in the sink. She was so tired of my drinking, although I'd really cut it down a lot. She was wearing a burgundy velvet dress. It had fold after fold of material, but it was very short. It looked like a prince's tunic. From all her time in the sea and the sun, her hair was closer to white than gold. With the light behind her, she looked very desirable. She was twenty-three. We had been married four years. I still couldn't believe that she had chosen me. She was so pretty, so sensible, she came of such good stock. Yet, with enthusiasm, she'd dived into the grab-bag hell holes where I'd lived with her.
We'd lived three years in Los Angeles, and she'd done much more to pull her life together than I had. I hadn't changed much, shuffling along in a civil service job in mental health, being a weekend hippie. My main vocation had been to get stoned. To me, drugs had meant a great deal. They had allowed me to stop trying, to let Karma direct my life. I was now using stimulants like speed, rather than depressants like alcohol. But the essential thing was that I was still getting through my days on chemicals. I'd stopped having friends who read books. I had become too wise for books. Books were just another part of the straight world, which I'd grown beyond. Now my friends were people who had been out on their own since an early age, people who had withdrawn early in their lives from the world of schools and careers.
While I had been making these adjustments, Jeannine had gone back to school, and completed her Bachelor's. Advised by a curator at the County Museum, she had been accepted in an avant garde graduate program at the University of California at San Diego. She'd even gotten an assistantship. Now here she was in the kitchen, watching her wasted husband as he got ready to rejoin his addicted friends. Over the years, she'd adjusted to the fact that I was such a bum. But in part of her mind, I still held my original promise, as a bright scholar, who would one day become a professor.
I went back into the bedroom. Bayard was shooting up Kenny. Kenny and Peter had gotten all the junk. Peter was slumped back against a wall, relaxed and vacant. As Bayard took off the tie, Kenny closed his eyes and lowered his head. Bayard looked over at me.
"We can shoot up with reds, that's all that's left," he said.
That was good enough for me. Just so it was something from a needle.
"I've never shot reds," I told him.
"That's okay," said Bayard "I'll show you."
Bayard was an evangelist about drugs. He'd turn anyone on to anything. Except dust. Only bikers and rednecks did dust. Bayard showed me how to empty the capsules out into a spoon.
"We need a bigger spoon," he said. "We'll shoot it all. That's five apiece."
When the Seconal was in the spoon, he whirled in a little water with the needle, and used the tip to mix it. The powder soaked up the water. He shot in more water, began drawing the stuff into the syringe, and splurging it back out. Suddenly, it was all solution. He asked me to tie him off first. I wrapped the piece of surgical tubing below his biceps and made the knot. After he'd shot up, Bayard tied me off.
"Make a fist," he said. "Boy, I'd kill for veins like those."
I was thin-skinned. My blood vessels looked like snakes. Bayard tapped a vein on the inside of my elbow. It popped right up. He shot in the reds. I pulled off the tie and unclenched my fist. I could feel a scarlet pulsing in my head, and everything seemed withdrawn and muted. There wasn't much of a rush, though.
"Reds won't give you that," Bayard said. "But you'll get off. Give them a while."
The party was in Echo Park, towards downtown. A guy named Bill was giving it. He lived in a six-family building. Bill worked at my Center. He was interested in me because he was dropping out, and he sensed that I had dropped out further. He was growing his hair and he had a bushy mustache. He wore jeans to work. He bought drugs from me, mainly ounces of grass from the kilos which Raymond Kekacs and I always had. From time to time, he bought a little of my speed. Bill had a graduate degree in sociology, and was trying to radicalize the mental health system. Most of his friends were political, and well-schooled. They looked like him, with mustaches, grown-out hair, and granny glasses. Their girls wore the long straight hair, and had the glasses too.
Bayard, Raymond, Kenny, Sunny, Shelley, Peter, and Emily made quite an impression on these scholars. My gang had definitely not been to college. Bayard knew Moby Dick as a good movie. My gang's clothes made less compromising fashion statements. Bayard was all in black leather, including his vest and flat-brimmed cowboy hat. Kenny was in the same clothes he'd been wearing the week before. Sunny's blouse was more a brassiere. She did not iron her hair. It was a curling, tousled, red-gold glory, that tumbled over her shoulders and back, down to her waist. Bill's pals realized they were taking a giant step towards the counterculture. They offered wine, asked questions, made conversation. Peter's girl, Shelley, asked if they had any hash.
Bill said, "No, but I could roll a few numbers."
Shelley rolled her eyes. "Would you do that, please?" she asked.
The political girls didn't know what to make of Sunny. Her hair alone was enough to daunt them, plus she was wearing complicated makeup. She looked like an opera singer, not like Gloria Steinem, but she was so loaded that she was stumbling. Even Jeannine, dedicated as she was to infiltrating the academic ranks, felt out of place.
"What do you do?" she was asked.
"I paint," she said.
"That's nice," a girl bleated weakly.
Bill's crowd mobilized and marched. To them, fine arts painting was bourgeois and selfish.
At the party, the boys in our gang were a disaster from the start. We were all so fucked up. We weren't high, or mellow, or cool. We were trashed on downs. Our eyes were rimmed with red, it took a lot to get our attention, and even if we could understand what our hosts said, we could not manage a reply. We seemed to be concentrating on mysterious inner processes, which made the visible world irrelevant. Also, we were always bumping into things, and we were touchy.
There was a brief flurry of empathy when Bill's crowd discovered that Kenny was mentally ill. Was he getting good treatment? Did the medications work? Was his psychiatrist hip? But Kenny told them that treatment made him sicker. He preferred heroin to Stelazine, and the only time that he saw psychiatrists was when he was an inpatient. Bayard added that both he and Kenny were patients at the same Center where Bill and I worked. One day, after consulting with me, he and Kenny had gotten loaded on cocaine, marched into the office, and applied for services. Bayard told Bill's people that, for him, the main benefit of Center treatment was that his psychiatrist gave him Valium.
"Now all I do is deal drugs and get stoned!" he said.
Bill and his friends exchanged uneasy glances. Bayard did not seem to exemplify the bright new world which they were trying to build by taking ranks with the people.
At the party, I was just impossible. My blood was soaked in Seconal, and I was lurching around in a dark fury. Everything that I heard riled my temper. I was forever on the verge of popping off at somebody. Bill and his pals seemed like stupid wannabes, and even if I was a wannabe myself, I wasn't as stupid. Jeannine saw signs that I was losing it, and came over to me.
"I'm going to clock one of these assholes, I told her.
Jeannine asked me to try to stay cool while she talked to Bayard Although he was as loaded as anyone, he was always the leader.
"What's going on, man?" he asked me.
"I'm mixed up," I told him. "These people are supposed to be my friends. But they're treating me like an alien."
Bayard liked the idea of aliens. He wasn't so sure that being mistaken for an alien was a bad thing. Just then, Kenny stumbled by. He had been unrolling toilet paper all over the apartment, according to an arcane design which existed in his head alone.
"Fuck it, man, let's go to the beach," said Bayard
So we left the party. The whole gang agreed that it was a good idea, even Jeannine.
"Those guys are assholes," she said.
Bill's gang was especially sorry to see our women leave. Even if the girls had been bored, their presence had suggested orgies. One of Bill's crew had taken Shelley's number. Shelley had been bemused. She was always open to new experiences. As we left the party, our contingent broke up. Jeannine wanted to be dropped at home. It was late, and a school night. Peter and Shelley had business up in Pacoima, so they drove off north. The rest of us piled into Raymond's big black Plymouth, for the run to Venice. It was the middle of the night. Everyone was quiet. Our drugs were wearing off. Cruising on the Santa Monica Freeway, thirty feet above the surface streets, we watched the lights of the town flash by, while the hills moved more slowly behind them.
Finally we started to smell the ocean. The palm trees were becoming shorter. Off to the left, the buildings looked darker and funkier. Over there was Venice. We got off at the last exit, and drove down Washington. Little houses stood by canals. Los Angeles' hum was replaced by the sound of waves breaking.
"Let's go see Stanley!" Bayard suggested.
Stanley was one of Bayard's connections of long acquaintance. Bayard made it a practice to drop in on him. He never knew what drugs Stanley had just received.
Raymond protested, "Let's just go to the beach."
Raymond didn't want to buy more drugs. He was trying to leave the drug scene, and to take Emily with him. But Emily wanted to go with Bayard.
"Come on, Raymond," she said. "Let's visit Stanley. Then we'll go to the beach." Stanley lived in a shabby hotel, about a block from the water. The six of us trooped up to the third floor. There were faded red carpets on the floor, and old, flowered wallpaper. The hall was dimly lit. The hotel didn't smell too good. Bayard knocked on the door.
"Stanley? I'm here with some people."
The door opened an inch and we could see an eye.
"Jesus, Bayard! That's a lot of people!"
"It's okay, Stanley. They're friends."
Slowly the door opened and we filed into a dark room. Stanley held the knob with one hand. He was a big, tall guy, with an intense mustache, and hair cut so short that it was almost shaved. In his other hand, he was holding a pistol, with the barrel pointed at the floor. He closed the door after us. The only light came from a little kitchenette. Stanley eyed the group silently.
"How've you been, Bayard?" he finally asked.
Stanley was more involved in cocaine than anyone else Bayard knew. He was always paranoid, but there was nothing paranoid about his need for the gun. Stanley dealt in quantity, and large sums went in and out of that room. He needed the gun. He must have had a lot of money, although you wouldn't know it to look at him. He was dressed in army surplus clothes, and lived in a flea bag. That night, Stanley didn't have any junk. Bayard had wanted Kenny to buy heroin. Kenny was the one with the money. Bayard looked after Kenny. All Stanley had was cocaine. Kenny didn't like cocaine. It made him sicker. "But this is very pure cocaine," Stanley told him. "It won't make you sick." Kenny agreed to try it. It was already chopped, so Stanley just laid out a line. Kenny sucked it up, cleared his throat, and asked Bayard to try it. Bayard sniffed up a line, smiled broadly, and turned to Kenny.
"This is great shit! You ought to get some."
I don't think the cocaine had made Kenny feel as good as it had made Bayard feel. Bayard didn't have schizophrenia. But Kenny was grateful to Bayard for looking after him. He would buy the drug and share it with his friend, even if it made him sick. Sunny asked if the rest of us could have a taste. Stanley said "Yeah, as long it comes out of what Kenny buys."
Stanley was being stingy, but it would have been bad manners to say so. So we all got a little. It was good cocaine. Suddenly everyone wanted to go down to the beach and run around. As we were getting ready to leave, Bayard told me that I should ask Stanley about speed.
"I've got white cross flats," he said, meaning the ten milligram size. "A hundred for ten."
That was the going price. I paid that everywhere.
"Is it lower if I buy more?" I asked.
"I'll sell you a thousand for fifty," Stanley told me.
That was very good price, about two months' worth of the drug for fifty dollars. But I was a little short. Stanley was implacable.
"I'll sell you four hundred for forty. If you have fifty, I'll sell you the thousand."
Finally Raymond Kekacs offered me the money I needed, in return for a part of the thousand. Although everybody used it sometimes, Raymond and Shelley were the only other ones in our crowd who took it consistently.
Then we were down on the beach. At Venice, the beach was a sinister place at night, with characters lurking around the playground, and in the bathrooms. People without homes, and passed-out addicts slept in the sand. We ran down to the ocean's edge. There was a nice surf, with breakers as tall as a man. They loomed up out of the darkness, showing phosphorescent when their tops broke into foam. It was April, so the water was freezing, but we didn't care. We stripped off our clothes and piled them at the high water line. Then we ran into the surf, screaming. God, was it cold. But right then, for us, cold was just another rush. Raymond wasn't a good swimmer, and in the dark, the breakers scared the girls. But Kenny, Bayard, and I swam out, to try to catch a wave. We swam past the breakers, and paddled on our backs for awhile. Even in the middle of the night, jets were taking off from the Los Angeles Airport. To the south, we could see their lights, as they flew out over the Pacific. Finally, we realized that we had swum out too far, and that we would have to go back in closer if we wanted to ride waves.
I had done so much body surfing that I even could do it in the dark. I would come roaring into the shallows, riding the shore break. Sometimes I would pile into naked Emily or Sunny, and my dick would jump up. Bayard wasn't very good at body surfing. He hadn't done it much. After awhile, I realized that Kenny didn't know what he was doing at all. He was so drugged that he was having trouble keeping his head up to breathe. Just then, a breaker caught him, and he disappeared. Bayard and I swam anxiously through the turbulence, trying to see his head reappear. No Kenny. Oh, shit. We turned to the shore and yelled to the other three that Kenny was missing. No one could hear us, because of the surf, so we swam in closer and closer, trying to get their attention. Just as they heard us and turned around, we saw Kenny. He was standing in water only up to his knees. He was swaying. He was out of it. The wave that had caught him had carried him all the way in to the beach.
We were finished swimming. We were cold, detoxified, tired. I was going to have to be at work in three hours. We got dressed and trudged across the sand to the Plymouth. We stopped for a light at Venice Boulevard. Across the intersection was an LAPD black-and-white. We were perfect for a bust: it was late at night, we were young people in a bruised-up car, just coming away from the beach. If they'd stopped us, they would have found a lot of drugs. We would have been taken to jail. The light changed and our cars rolled past each other. All the time now, we were having these near-misses with the cops. Raymond swung onto the Santa Monica Freeway, and headed towards Hollywood. Kenny was smiling privately, and muttering to himself. Raymond picked up speed.
"God damn it Bayard!" Kenny cried. "I wanted junk, not cocaine!"
Bayard started to reason with him, but Kenny tugged at the car door.
"Kenny!" Emily screamed.
"Kenny!" Bayard yelled. "Stay in the goddamn car!"
Raymond was going about sixty when Kenny opened the door and lurched out. At the last minute, he must have decided not to die, for he caught the door frame, and swung around it. He held onto the door handle, with his arm through the open window, while he travelled backwards, his heels dragging on the pavement. Raymond was trying to slow the car down without skidding or knocking Kenny loose. Kenny was hanging on grimly, one elbow crooked through the window, the other arm wrapped around the door post.
Finally, Raymond was able to stop on the freeway shoulder. Kenny was still holding on to the open door. He was moaning. The backs of his shoes were gone, and his heels looked like red pulp. But we didn't have time to examine him. We had to get him into the car and be moving, before the Highway Patrol passed by. Bayard and I pulled him off the door, and carried him by the arms. Kenny was limp and crying. We put him in the back seat between us. With his knife, Bayard cut off Kenny's shoes and socks. Although they were bloody, Kenny's feet didn't look too bad. He'd lost a little meat, but we couldn't see any exposed bones. The feet had to be dressed, though. And cleaned.
We were on the part of the freeway just below Hollywood. To our right was the ghetto. We pulled off, and drove down into it, to the Crenshaw Medical Center Emergency Room. Kenny couldn't use any of the ER's in Hollywood. He had unpaid bills at all of them. We were the only white people in the Crenshaw Center. Everyone else, at this hour of the morning, seemed to be a victim of violence. Shootings, stabbings, head wounds from beatings. The doctors had plenty to do. Kenny would have to wait to be fixed up. Because his feet were so torn, the attendants put him up on a gurney. Kenny was feeling really bad now. He was crying and he was biting on his forearm to keep from freaking out. Emily had put her jacket over him, and she was standing by his head, stroking his hair. Bayard went up to the triage nurse and asked if Kenny could have some Valium. The nurse got permission, and soon Kenny began to calm down. I stepped out through the ambulance entrance. The sky was already light. Against the clouds, there was a pattern of telephone wires, and behind them, a series of houses with fake brick paper siding.
I went back into the ER. Kenny was still way down the list. I told the gang that I would have to leave for work.
Beside the Medical Center, there was a bus line that ran straight up into the part of Hollywood where I worked. I rode through the ghetto, up past USC, back under the freeway, and into Hollywood. The people who kept getting on and off the bus were all black. They were dressed to go to their jobs. I was dressed for work too, but only because I hadn't changed my clothes since I'd come home the day before. In the meantime, I'd taken them off to go swimming, and Kenny had bled a little on the trousers. In my jacket pocket, I had a sealed pharmacy bottle, which contained one thousand ten-milligram tablets of dextroamphetamine sulfate. I opened the bottle, broke the seal, and removed the cotton. A couple of passengers looked at me. I paused to consider, and then took out four of the tablets. That left nine hundred and ninety-six. I swallowed the pills and waited for my stop. I hadn't gotten any sleep that night, but I was confident that I would have a productive day.
On Beverly Drive, next to the building which housed my agency, was a little takeout window. There, I bought a ham and egg sandwich. I stood on the sidewalk, and watched the traffic and the people as I ate. The sandwich was the first thing I'd had since the wine the night before, and the first solid food I'd eaten since Wednesday. I'd lost forty pounds in the last year. When I was finished, I went into my building and walked up to my floor. I was early. I sat down in my office, and telephoned my wife. She was already awake. She was irritated, because I hadn't come home.
"So I suppose you didn't get any sleep again," she said. "How long do you think you can go without sleep? You'll crack up."
I said, "Look, Jeannine, "You're right. I've lost control of my habits, and I'm not living a coherent life. I see that living with someone as fucked up as me makes it harder for you to keep your own act together. I'm acting like trash."
There was a moment of silence, and then she said, "Well, there's no need to get sarcastic."
"I'm in earnest," I said.
"You really are fucked up," she said. "You're fucked up in how you live, and in what you do with your time."
"I have no excuse for going on like this," I said. "I should have you buy a straight razor and slit my throat from ear to ear. Then we would both be done with my mess."
"That's not what I want," she said. "I don't want you dead, I just want you improved."
"Do you think I can improve?" I asked Jeannine. "I want to."
"How should I know if you can?" she cried. "If you want to, you'll do it. Look, I can't talk any more. I've got to get ready for school."
"I'll be home after work," I told her.
"You'd better be, asshole," Jeannine said.