The Great Shark Hunt

Gonzo Papers, Vol. 1

Strange Tales From A Strange Time

by Hunter S. Thompson

a.b.e-book v3.0 / Notes at EOF

 

 

Back Cover:

 

REBEL WITH A CAUSE

From Nixon to napalm, Carter to cocaine, Hunter S. Thompson captures the crazy, hypocritical, degenerate, and worthwhile aspects of American society with razor-sharp insight and greater clarity than anyone writing today.

Always fresh, irreverent, original, brilliant, and on-the-edge, Thompson hurls himself headfirst into each assignment and situation and comes back with a story only he could write. He aims for the naked truth and hits the nation's jugular vein. There is no one quite like Thompson; he is unique, and we are all richer for it.

 

"No other reporter reveals how much we have to fear and loathe, yet does it so hilariously." -- Chicago Tribune

 

 

 

 

THE GREAT SHARK HUNT

This book contains the complete text of the original hardcover edition.

 

Published by Fawcett Popular Library, a unit of CBS Publications, the

Consumer Publishing Division of CBS Inc., by arrangement with Summit

Books, a Simon & Schuster Division of Gulf & Western Corporation,

and Rolling Stone Press

 

Copyright 1979 by Hunter S. Thompson

Bibliography 1979 by Kihm Winship

 

All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form

 

ISBN: 0-445-04596-5

 

Printed in the United States of America

First Fawcett Popular Library printing:

September 1980

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

 

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint the articles and excerpts listed:

BOSTON GLOBE

"Memoirs of a Wretched Weekend in Washington" by Hunter S. Thompson, February 23, 1969; reprinted by permission of the Boston Globe.

DOW JONES & COMPANY, INC.

"A Footloose American in a Smugglers' Den" by Hunter Thompson; reprinted by permission of The National Observer,

Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 1962; all rights reserved.

"Chatty Letters During a Journey from Aruba to Rio" by Hunter Thompson; reprinted by permission of The National Observer,

Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 1962; all rights reserved.

"Democracy Dies in Peru, But Few Seem to Mourn Its Passing" by Hunter Thompson; reprinted by permission of The National Observer,

Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 1962; all rights reserved.

"Living in the Time of Alger, Greeley, Debs" by Hunter Thompson; reprinted by permission of The National Observer,

Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 1964; all rights reserved.

"The Catch Is Limited in Indians' 'Fish-in'" by Hunter Thompson; reprinted by permission of The National Observer,

Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 1964; all rights reserved.

"The Inca of the Andes" by Hunter Thompson; reprinted by permission of The National Observer,

Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 1963; all rights reserved.

"What Lured Hemingway to Ketchum" by Hunter Thompson; reprinted by permission of The National Observer,

Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 1964; all rights reserved.

"When the Beatniks Were Social Lions" by Hunter Thompson; reprinted by permission of The National Observer,

Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 1964; all rights reserved.

"Why Anti-Gringo Winds Often Blow South of the Border" by Hunter Thompson; reprinted by permission of The National Observer,

Dow Jones & Company, Inc. 1963; all rights reserved.

THE NATION

"The Nonstudent Left" by Hunter Thompson,

copyright 1965 by Hunter Thompson; originally appeared in The Nation.

THE NEW YORK TIMES COMPANY, INC.

"Fear and Loathing in the Bunker" by Hunter Thompson,

copyright 1974 by Hunter Thompson; reprinted by permission of The New York Times.

"The 'Hashbury' Is the Capital of the Hippies" by Hunter Thompson,

copyright 1967 by Hunter Thompson; reprinted by permission of The New York Times.

PLAYBOY PRESS

"The Great Shark Hunt" by Hunter S. Thompson,

copyright 1974 by Hunter S. Thompson; originally appeared in Playboy magazine.

RANDOM HOUSE, INC.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson,

copyright 1972 by Hunter Thompson, reprinted with permission of Random House, Inc.

Hell's Angels by Hunter S. Thompson,

copyright 1966, 1967 by Hunter S. Thompson; reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc.

THE REPORTER

"A Southern City with Northern Problems" by Hunter Thompson,

copyright 1963 by Hunter S. Thompson; originally published by The Reporter.

ROLLING STONE

America by Ralph Steadman,

copyright 1974 by Ralph Steadman; reprinted by permission of Rolling Stone Press.

"The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat" by Hunter S. Thompson,

copyright 1977 by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.; originally published in Rolling Stone magazine.

"The Battle of Aspen" by Hunter S. Thompson,

copyright 1970 by Hunter S. Thompson; originally published in Rolling Stone magazine.

"Fear and Loathing in Limbo: The Scum Also Rises" by Hunter Thompson,

copyright 1974 by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.; originally published in Rolling Stone magazine.

"Fear and Loathing at the Superbowl: No Rest for the Wretched" by Hunter Thompson,

copyright 1974 by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.; originally published in Rolling Stone magazine.

"Fear and Loathing in Washington: The Boys in the Bag" by Hunter S. Thompson,

copyright 1974 by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.; originally published in Rolling Stone magazine.

"Fear and Loathing at Watergate: Mr. Nixon Has Cashed His Check" by Hunter Thompson,

copyright 1973 by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.; originally published in Rolling Stone magazine.

"Jimmy Carter and the Great Leap of Faith" by Hunter Thompson,

copyright 1976 by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.; originally published in Rolling Stone magazine.

"Last Tango in Vegas: Fear and Loathing in the Near Room" by Hunter S. Thompson,

copyright 1978 by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.; originally published in Rolling Stone magazine.

"Last Tango in Vegas: Fear and Loathing in the Far Room" by Hunter S. Thompson,

copyright 1978 by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.; originally published in Rolling Stone magazine.

"Memo from the Sports Desk: The So-called 'Jesus-Freak' Scare" by Hunter S. Thompson,

copyright 1971 by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.; originally published in Rolling Stone magazine.

"Memo from the Sports Desk & Rude Notes from a Depression Chamber in Miami" by Hunter S. Thompson,

copyright 1973 by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.; originally published in Rolling Stone magazine.

"Strange Rumblings in Aztlan" by Hunter Thompson,

copyright 1971 by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc.; originally published in Rolling Stone magazine.

STRAIGHT ARROW BOOKS

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 by Hunter S. Thompson,

copyright 1973 by Hunter S. Thompson; originally published by Straight Arrow Books.

 

 

 

"To Juan and. . ."

 

 

"To Richard Milhous Nixon,

who never let me down."

H.S.T.

 

 

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."

-- Raoul Duke

 

 

 

Contents

 

PART ONE

 

Author's Note

Fear and Loathing in the Bunker

The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved

A Southern City with Northern Problems

Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl

The Temptations of Jean-Claude Killy

The Ultimate Free Lancer

Collect Telegram from a Mad Dog

"Genius 'Round the World Stands Hand in Hand, and One Shock of Recognition Runs the Whole Circle 'Round" -- ART LINKLETTER

Jacket Copy for Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream

A Conversation on Ralph Steadman and His Book, America, with Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Strange Rumblings in Aztlan

Freak Power in the Rockies

Memo from the Sports Desk: The So-Called "Jesus Freak" Scare

Memoirs of a Wretched Weekend in Washington

 

PART TWO

 

Presenting: The Richard Nixon Doll (Overhauled 1968 Model)

Author's Note

June, 1972: The McGovern Juggernaut Rolls On

Later in June

September

October

Epitaph

Memo from the Sports Desk & Rude Notes from a Decompression Chamber in Miami

Fear and Loathing at the Watergate: Mr. Nixon Has Cashed His Check

Fear and Loathing in Washington: The Boys in the Bag

Fear and Loathing in Limbo: The Scum Also Rises

 

PART THREE

 

Traveler Hears Mountain Music Where It's Sung

A Footloose American in a Smugglers' Den

Why Anti-Gringo Winds Often Blow South of the Border

Democracy Dies in Peru, but Few Seem to Mourn Its Passing

The Inca of the Andes: He Haunts the Ruins of His Once-Great Empire

Brazilshooting

Chatty Letters During a Journey from Aruba to Rio

What Lured Hemingway to Ketchum?

Living in the Tune of Alger, Greeley, Debs

Marlon Brando and the Indian Fish-In

The "Hashbury" Is the Capital of the Hippies

When the Beatniks Were Social Lions

The Nonstudent Left

Those Daring Young Men in Their Flying Machines. . .

Ain't What They Used to Be!

The Police Chief

 

PART FOUR

 

The Great Shark Hunt

Jimmy Carter and the Great Leap of Faith
Address by Jimmy Carter on Law Day: University of Georgia, Athens, GA

The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat

The Hoodlum Circus and the Statutory Rape of Bass Lake

Ashes to Ashes & Dust to Dust: The Funeral of Mother Miles

Welcome to Las Vegas: When the Going Gets Weird the Weird Turn Pro

Last Tango in Vegas: Fear and Loathing in the Near Room

Last Tango in Vegas: Fear and Loathing in the Far Room

Bibliography of Works by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, by Kihm Winship

Bibliography of Works on Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, by Kihm Winship

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEWS RELEASE

AIR PROVING GROUND COMMAND

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, FLORIDA

 

OFFICE OF INFORMATION SERVICES

Telephone 26111-2622

 

EGLIN AFB, FLORIDA-(Nov8)-S/Sgt. Manmountain Dense, a novice Air Policeman, was severely injured here today, when a wine bottle exploded inside the AP gatehouse at the west entrance to the base. Dense was incoherent for several hours after the disaster, but managed to make a statement which led investigators to believe the bottle was hurled from a speeding car which approached the gatehouse on the wrong side of the road, coming from the general direction of the SEPARATION CENTER.

Further investigation revealed that, only minutes before the incident at the gatehouse, a reportedly "fanatical" airman had received his separation papers and was rumored to have set out in the direction of the gatehouse at a high speed in a mufflerless car with no brakes. An immediate search was begun for Hunter S. Thompson, one-time sports editor of the base newspaper and well-known "morale problem." Thompson was known to have a sometimes over-powering affinity for wine and was described by a recent arrival in the base sanatorium as "just the type of bastard who would do a thing like that."

An apparently uncontrollable iconoclast, Thompson was discharged today after one of the most hectic and unusual Air Force careers in recent history. According to Captain Munnington Thurd, who was relieved of his duties as base classification officer yesterday and admitted to the neuropsychological section of the base hospital, Thompson was "totally unclassifiable" and "one of the most savage and unnatural airmen I've ever come up against."

"I'll never understand how he got this discharge," Thurd went on to say. "I almost had a stroke yesterday when I heard he was being given an honorable discharge. It's terrifying -- simply terrifying."

And then Thurd sank into a delerium.

 

 

 

 

 

HEADQUARTERS

AIR PROVING GROUND COMMAND

UNITED STATES AIR FORCE

Eglin Air Force Base, Florida

 

ADDRESS REPLY

ATTN: Base Staff Personnel Officer

Personnel Report: A/2C Hunter S. Thompson

 

23 Aug 57

 

1. A/2C Hunter S. Thompson, AF15546879, has worked in the Internal Information Section, OIS, for nearly one year. During this time he has done some outstanding sports writing, but ignored APGC-OIS policy.

2. Airman Thompson possesses outstanding talent in writing. He has imagination, good use of English, and can express his thoughts in a manner that makes interesting reading.

3. However, in spite of frequent counseling with explanation of the reasons for the conservative policy on an AF base newspaper, Airman Thompson has consistently written controversial material and leans so strongly to critical editorializing that it was necessary to require that all his writing be thoroughly edited before release.

4. The first article that called attention to the writing noted above was a story very critical of Base Special Services. Others that were stopped before they were printed were pieces that severely criticized Arthur Godfrey and Ted Williams that Airman Thompson extracted from national media releases and added his flair for the innuendo and exaggeration.

5. This Airman has indicated poor judgment from other standpoints by releasing Air Force information to the Playground News himself, with no consideration for other papers in the area, or the fact that only official releases, carefully censored by competent OIS staff members, are allowed.

6. In summary, this Airman, although talented, will not be guided by policy or personal advice and guidance. Sometimes his rebel and superior attitude seems to rub off on other airmen staff members. He has little consideration for military bearing or dress and seems to dislike the service and want out as soon as possible.

7. Consequently, it is requested that Airman Thompson be assigned to other duties immediately, and it is recommended that he be earnestly considered under the early release program.

8. It is also requested that Airman Thompson be officially advised that he is to do no writing of any kind for internal or external publication unless such writing is edited by the OIS staff, and that he is not to accept outside employment with any of the local media.

 

W. S. EVANS, Colonel, USAF

Chief, Office of Information Services

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART 1

 

 

 

 

 

Author's Note

 

"Art is long and life is short,

and success is very far off."

-- J. Conrad

 

Well. . . yes, and here we go again.

But before we get to The Work, as it were, I want to make sure I know how to cope with this elegant typewriter -- (and, yes, it appears that I do) -- so why not make this quick list of my life's work and then get the hell out of town on the 11:05 to Denver? Indeed. Why not?

But for just a moment I'd like to say, for the permanent record, that it is a very strange feeling to be a 40-year-old American writer in this century and sitting alone in this huge building on Fifth Avenue in New York at one o'clock in the morning on the night before Christmas Eve, 2000 miles from home, and compiling a table of contents for a book of my own Collected Works in an office with a tall glass door that leads out to a big terrace looking down on The Plaza Fountain.

Very strange.

I feel like I might as well be sitting up here carving the words for my own tombstone. . . and when I finish, the only fitting exit will be right straight off this fucking terrace and into The Fountain, 28 stories below and at least 200 yards out in the air and across Fifth Avenue.

Nobody could follow that act.

Not even me. . . and in fact the only way I can deal with this eerie situation at all is to make a conscious decision that I have already lived and finished the life I planned to live -- (13 years longer, in fact) -- and everything from now on will be A New Life, a different thing, a gig that ends tonight and starts tomorrow morning.

So if I decided to leap for The Fountain when I finish this memo, I want to make one thing perfectly clear -- I would genuinely love to make that leap, and if I don't I will always consider it a mistake and a failed opportunity, one of the very few serious mistakes of my First Life that is now ending.

But what the hell? I probably won't do it (for all the wrong reasons), and I'll probably finish this table of contents and go home for Christmas and then have to live for 100 more years with all this goddamn gibberish I'm lashing together.

But, Jesus, it would be a wonderful way to go out. . . and if I do you bastards are going to owe me a king-hell 44-gun salutr (that word is "salute," goddamnit -- and I guess I can't work this elegant typewriter as well as I thought I could). . .

But you know I could, if I had just a little more time.

Right?

Yes.

 

HST #I, R.I.P.

12/23/77

 

 

 

 

 

Fear and Loathing in the Bunker

 

". . . the milkman left me a note yesterday.

Get out of this town by noon,

You're coming on way too soon

And besides that

we never liked you anyway. . ."

-- John Prine

 

Woody Creek, Col.-- Strange epitaph for a strange year and no real point in explaining it either. I haven't had a milkman since I was ten years old. I used to ride around on the route with him, back in Louisville. It was one of those open-door, stand-up vans that you could jump in and out of on the run. He would creep that rancid-smelling truck along the street from house to house while I ran back and forth with the goods.

I was the runner, the mule, and occasionally the bagman when some poor wretch behind on her milk bill had to either pay up or drink water for breakfast that morning.

Those scenes were always unsettling -- some half-awake, middle-aged housewife yelling at me in her bathrobe through the screen door. But I was a cold-hearted little bastard in those days. "Sorry ma'am, but my boss out there in the truck says I can't leave these bottles here unless you give me $21.16. . ."

No argument ever fazed me. I doubt that I even heard the words. I was there to collect, not to listen and I didn't give a hoot in hell if they paid or not; all I really cared about was the adrenalin rush that came with sprinting across people's front lawns, jumping hedges, and hitting that slow-rolling truck before it had to stop and wait for me.

There is some kind of heavy connection between that memory and the way I feel right now about this stinking year that just ended. Everybody I talk to seems very excited about it. "God damn, man! it was a fantastic year," they say. "Maybe the most incredible year in our history."

Which is probably true. I remember thinking that way, myself, back on those hot summer mornings when John Dean's face lit my tube day after day. . . incredible. Here was this crafty little ferret going down the pipe right in front of our eyes, and taking the President of the United States along with him.

It was almost too good to be true. Richard Milhous Nixon, the main villain in my political consciousness for as long as I can remember, was finally biting that bullet he's been talking about all those years. The man that not even Goldwater or Eisenhower could tolerate had finally gone too far -- and now he was walking the plank, on national TV, six hours a day -- with The Whole World Watching, as it were.

That phrase is permanently etched on some grey rim on the back of my brain. Nobody who was at the corner of Michigan and Balboa on that Wednesday night in August of 1968 will ever forget it.

Richard Nixon is living in the White House today because of what happened that night in Chicago. Hubert Humphrey lost that election by a handful of votes -- mine among them -- and if I had to do it again I would still vote for Dick Gregory.

If nothing else, I take a certain pride in knowing that I helped spare the nation eight years of President Humphrey -- an Administration that would have been equally corrupt and wrongheaded as Richard Nixon's, far more devious, and probably just competent enough to keep the ship of state from sinking until 1976. Then with the boiler about to explode from eight years of blather and neglect, Humphrey's cold-war liberals could have fled down the ratlines and left the disaster to whoever inherited it.

Nixon, at least, was blessed with a mixture of arrogance and stupidity that caused him to blow the boilers almost immediately after taking command. By bringing in hundreds of thugs, fixers and fascists to run the Government, he was able to crank almost every problem he touched into a mindbending crisis. About the only disaster he hasn't brought down on us yet is a nuclear war with either Russia or China or both. . . but he still has time, and the odds on his actually doing it are not all that long. But we will get to that point in a moment.

For now, we should make every effort to look at the bright side of the Nixon Administration. It has been a failure of such monumental proportions that political apathy is no longer considered fashionable, or even safe, among millions of people who only two years ago thought that anybody who disagreed openly with "the Government" was either paranoid or subversive. Political candidates in 1974, at least, are going to have to deal with an angry, disillusioned electorate that is not likely to settle for flag-waving and pompous bullshit. The Watergate spectacle was a shock, but the fact of a millionaire President paying less income tax than most construction workers while gasoline costs a dollar in Brooklyn and the threat of mass unemployment by spring tends to personalize Mr. Nixon's failures in a very visceral way. Even Senators and Congressmen have been shaken out of their slothful ruts, and the possibility of impeachment is beginning to look very real. Given all this, it is hard to shed anything but crocodile tears over White House speechwriter Patrick Buchanan's tragic analysis of the Nixon debacle. "It's like Sisyphus," he said. "We rolled the rock all the way up the mountain. . . and it rolled right back down on us."

Well. . . shucks. It makes a man's eyes damp, for sure. But I have a lot of confidence in Pat, and I suspect he won't have much trouble finding other rocks to roll.

I have not read "The Myth of Sisyphus" for a while, but if memory serves there is nothing in that story to indicate that the poor bugger ever gave any thought to the real nature or specific gravity of that rock that would eventually roll back on him -- which is understandable, perhaps, because when you're locked into that kind of do-or-die gig, you keep pushing and ask questions later.

If any of those six hundred valiant fools who rode in The Charge of the Light Brigade had any doubts about what they were doing, they kept it to themselves. There is no room in Crusades, especially at the command level, for people who ask "Why?" Neither Sisyphus nor the commander of the Light Brigade nor Pat Buchanan had the time or any real inclination to question what they were doing. They were Good Soldiers, True Believers. . . and when the orders came down from above they did what had to be done: Execute.

Which is admirable in a queer kind of way. . . except that Sisyphus got mashed, the Light Brigade slaughtered, and Pat Buchanan will survive in the footnotes of history as a kind of half-mad Davy Crockett on the walls of Nixon's Alamo -- a martyr, to the bitter end, to a "flawed" cause and a narrow, atavistic concept of conservative politics that has done more damage to itself and the country in less than six years than its liberal enemies could have done in two or three decades.

When the cold eye of history looks back on Richard Nixon's five years of unrestrained power in the White House, it will show that he had the same effect on conservative/Republican politics as Charles Manson and the Hells Angels had on hippies and flower power. . . and the ultimate damage, on both fronts, will prove out to be just about equal.

Or maybe not -- at least not on the scale of sheer numbers of people affected. In retrospect, the grisly violence of the Manson/Angels trips affected very few people directly, while the greedy, fascistic incompetence of Richard Nixon's Presidency will leave scars on the minds and lives of a whole generation -- his supporters and political allies no less than his opponents.

Maybe that's why the end of this incredible, frantic year feels so hollow. Looking back on the sixties, and even back to the fifties, the fact of President Nixon and everything that has happened to him -- and to us -- seem so queerly fated and inevitable that it is hard to reflect on those years and see them unfolding in any other way.

 

One of the strangest things about these five downhill years of the Nixon Presidency is that despite all the savage excesses committed by the people he chose to run the country, no real opposition or realistic alternative to Richard Nixon's cheap and mean-hearted view of the American Dream has ever developed. It is almost as if that sour 1968 election rang down the curtain on career politicians.

This is the horror of American politics today -- not that Richard Nixon and his fixers have been crippled, convicted, indicted, disgraced and even jailed -- but that the only available alternatives are not much better; the same dim collection of burned-out hacks who have been fouling our air with their gibberish for the last twenty years.

How long, oh Lord, how long? And how much longer will we have to wait before some high-powered shark with a fistful of answers will finally bring us face-to-face with the ugly question that is already so close to the surface in this country, that sooner or later even politicians will have to cope with it?

Is the democracy worth all the risks and problems that necessarily go with it? Or, would we all be happier by admitting that the whole thing was a lark from the start and now that it hasn't worked out, to hell with it.

That milkman who made me his bagman was no fool. I took my orders from him and it never occurred to me to wonder where his came from. It was enough for me to cruise those elm-lined streets in a big, bright-colored van and deliver the goods. But I was ten years old then and I didn't know much. . . or at least not as much as I know now.

But every once in a while, on humorless nights like these, I think about how sharp and sure I felt when I was sprinting across those manicured lawns, jumping the finely-trimmed hedges and hitting the running board on that slow-cruising truck.

If the milkman had given me a pistol and told me to put a bullet in the stomach of any slob who haggled about the bill, I would probably have done that, too. Because the milkman was my boss and my benefactor. He drove the truck -- and as far as I was concerned he might as well have been the Pope or the President. On a "need to know" basis, the milkman understood that I was not among the needy. Nor was he, for that matter. We were both a lot happier just doing what we were told.

George Orwell had a phrase for it. Neither he nor Aldous Huxley had much faith in the future of participatory democracy. Orwell even set a date: 1984 -- and the most disturbing revelation that emerged from last year's Watergate hearings was not so much the arrogance and criminality of Nixon's henchmen, but the aggressively totalitarian character of his whole Administration. It is ugly to know just how close we came to meeting Orwell's deadline.

Meanwhile, it is tempting to dismiss the ominous fact that Richard Nixon is still the President. The spectre of impeachment lends more and more weight to the probability of his resignation. If I were a gambling person-- which I am, whenever possible-- I would bet that Nixon will resign for "reasons of health" within the next six months.

It will be a nasty gig when it happens; a maudlin spectacle in prime time on all four TV networks. He will kick out the jams in a desperate bid for martyrdom, and then he will fly off, forever, to a life of brooding isolation-- perhaps on one of Robert Abplanalp's private islands in the Bahamas.

There will be all-night poker games on the palm-screened patio, with other wealthy exiles like Howard Hughes and Robert Vesco and occasionally Bebe Rebozo. . . and Nixon, the doomed exile, will spend the daylight hours dictating his memoirs in a permanent state of high fever and vengefulness to his faithful secretary and companion, Rose Mary Woods. The only other residents on the island will be Secret Service guards assigned on a six-month rotation basis by Acting President Gerald Ford.

 

That is one scenario, and the odds would seem to favor it. But there are quite a few others-- all based on the grim possibility that Richard Nixon might have no intention at all of resigning. He just may have already sketched out a last-ditch, D-Day style battle plan that would turn the tide with one stroke and scuttle any move for impeachment.

Which brings us back to the question of nuclear war, or at least a quick nuclear zap against China, with the full and formal support of our old ally, Russia.

There is a fiendish simplicity in this plan, a Hitieresque logic so awful that I would not even think about printing it unless I were absolutely certain that Nixon was at least a year ahead of me in the plan and all its details. Even now, I suspect, he spends the last half hour of each day keeping it constantly up to date on one of his yellow legal pads.

So here it is -- the Final Solution to Almost All Our Problems:

1) A long-term treaty with Russia, arranged by Henry Kissinger, securing Moscow's support of an American invasion, seizure and terminal occupation of all oil-producing countries in the Middle East. This would not only solve the "energy crisis" and end unemployment immediately by pressing all idle and able-bodied males into service for the invasion/occupation forces. . . but it would also crank up the economy to a wartime level and give the Federal Government unlimited "emergency powers."

2) In exchange for Russian support for our violent seizure of all Middle East oil reserves, the United States would agree to support the USSR in a "pre-emptive nuclear strike" against targets in China, destroying at least 90 per cent of that nation's industrial capacity and reducing the population to a state of chaos, panic and famine for the next hundred years. This would end the Kremlin's worries about China, guarantee peace in Indochina for the foreseeable future, and insure a strong and friendly ally, in Japan, as kingpin of the East.

 

These are merely the highlights of the Final Solution. No doubt there are other and uglier aspects, but my time and space are too limited for any long screeds on the subject. The only real question is whether Mr. Nixon is mad enough to run the risk of paralyzing both the Congress and the people by resorting to such drastic measures.

There is no doubt at all, in my own mind, that he is capable of it. But it will not be quite as easy for him now as it would have been last year.

Six months ago I was getting a daily rush out of watching the nightmare unfold. There was a warm sense of poetic justice in seeing "fate" drive these money-changers out of the temple they had worked so hard to steal from its rightful owners. The word "paranoia" was no longer mentioned, except as a joke or by yahoos, in serious conversations about national politics. The truth was turning out to be even worse than my most "paranoid ravings" during that painful 1972 election.

But that high is beginning to fade, tailing down to a vague sense of angst. Whatever happens to Richard Nixon when the wolves finally rip down his door seems almost beside the point, now. He has been down in his bunker for so long, that even his friends will feel nervous if he tries to re-emerge. All we can really ask of him, at this point, is a semblance of self-restraint until some way can be found to get rid of him gracefully.

This is not a cheerful prospect, for Mr. Nixon or anyone else -- but it would be a hell of a lot easier to cope with if we could pick up a glimmer of light at the end of this foul tunnel of a year that only mad dogs and milkmen can claim to have survived without serious brain damage.

Or maybe it's just me. It is ten below zero outside and the snow hasn't stopped for two days. The sun has apparently been sucked into orbit behind the comet Kohoutek. Is this really a new year? Are we bottoming out? Or are we into The Age of The Fear?

The New York Times, January 1, 1974

 

 

 

The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved

 

I got off the plane around midnight and no one spoke as I crossed the dark runway to the terminal. The air was thick and hot, like wandering into a steam bath. Inside, people hugged each other and shook hands. . . big grins and a whoop here and there: "By God! You old bastard! Good to see you, boy! Damn good. . . and I mean it!"

In the air-conditioned lounge I met a man from Houston who said his name was something or other -- "but just call me Jimbo" -- and he was here to get it on. "I'm ready for anything, by God! Anything at all. Yeah, what are you drinkin?" I ordered a Margarita with ice, but he wouldn't hear of it: "Naw, naw. . . what the hell kind of drink is that for Kentucky Derby time? What's wrong with you, boy?" He grinned and winked at the bartender. "Goddamn, we gotta educate this boy. Get him some good whiskey. . ."

I shrugged. "Okay, a double Old Fitz on ice." Jimbo nodded his approval.

"Look." He tapped me on the arm to make sure I was listening. "I know this Derby crowd, I come here every year, and let me tell you one thing I've learned -- this is no town to be giving people the impression you're some kind of faggot. Not in public, anyway. Shit, they'll roll you in a minute, knock you in the head and take every goddam cent you have."

I thanked him and fitted a Marlboro into my cigarette holder. "Say," he said, "you look like you might be in the horse business . .. am I right?"

"No," I said. "I'm a photographer."

"Oh yeah?" He eyed my ragged leather bag with new interest. "Is that what you got there -- cameras? Who you work for?"

"Playboy," I said.

He laughed. "Well, goddam! What are you gonna take pictures of -- nekkid horses? Haw! I guess you'll be workin' pretty hard when they run the Kentucky Oaks. That's a race just for fillies." He was laughing wildly. "Hell yes! And they'll all be nekkid too!"

I shook my head and said nothing; just stared at him for a moment, trying to look grim. "There's going to be trouble," I said. "My assignment is to take pictures of the riot."

"What riot?"

I hesitated, twirling the ice in my drink. "At the track. On Derby Day. The Black Panthers." I stared at him again. "Don't you read the newspapers?"

The grin on his face had collapsed. "What the hell are you talkin about?"

"Well. . . maybe I shouldn't be telling you. . ." I shrugged. "But hell, everybody else seems to know. The cops and the National Guard have been getting ready for six weeks. They have 20,000 troops on alert at Fort Knox. They've warned us -- all the press and photographers -- to wear helmets and special vests like flak jackets. We were told to expect shooting. . ."

"No!" he shouted; his hands flew up and hovered momentarily between us, as if to ward off the words he was hearing. Then he whacked his fist on the bar. "Those sons of bitches! God Almighty! The Kentucky Derby!" He kept shaking his head. "No! Jesus! That's almost too bad to believe!" Now he seemed to be sagging on the stool, and when he looked up his eyes were misty. "Why? Why here? Don't they respect anything?"

I shrugged again. "It's not just the Panthers. The FBI says busloads of white crazies are coming in from all over the country-- to mix with the crowd and attack all at once, from every direction. They'll be dressed like everybody else. You know -- coats and ties and all that. But when the trouble starts. . . well, that's why the cops are so worried."

He sat for a moment, looking hurt and confused and not quite able to digest all this terrible news. Then he cried out: "Oh. . . Jesus! What in the name of God is happening in this country? Where can you get away from it?"

"Not here," I said, picking up my bag. "Thanks for the drink. . . and good luck."

He grabbed my arm, urging me to have another, but I said I was overdue at the Press Club and hustled off to get my act together for the awful spectacle. At the airport newsstand I picked up a Courier-Journal and scanned the front page headlines: "Nixon Sends GI's into Cambodia to Hit Reds". . . "B-52's Raid, then 2,000 GI's Advance 20 Miles". . . "4,000 U.S. Troops Deployed Near Yale as Tension Grows Over Panther Protest." At the bottom of the page was a photo of Diane Crump, soon to become the first woman jockey ever to ride in the Kentucky Derby. The photographer had snapped her "stopping in the barn area to fondle her mount, Fathom." The rest of the paper was spotted with ugly war news and stories of "student unrest." There was no mention of any trouble brewing at a university in Ohio called Kent State.

I went to the Hertz desk to pick up my car, but the moonfaced young swinger in charge said they didn't have any. "You can't rent one anywhere," he assured me. "Our Derby reservations have been booked for six weeks." I explained that my agent had confirmed a white Chrysler convertible for me that very afternoon but he shook his head. "Maybe we'll have a cancellation. Where are you staying?"

I shrugged. "Where's the Texas crowd staying? I want to be with my people."

He sighed. "My friend, you're in trouble. This town is flat full. Always is, for the Derby."

I leaned closer to him, half-whispering: "Look, I'm from Playboy. How would you like a job?"

He backed off quickly. "What? Come on, now. What kind of a job?"

"Never mind," I said. "You just blew it." I swept my bag off the counter and went to find a cab. The bag is a valuable prop in this kind of work; mine has a lot of baggage tags on it -- SF, LA, NY, Lima, Rome, Bangkok, that sort of thing -- and the most prominent tag of all is a very official, plastic-coated thing that says "Photog. Playboy Mag." I bought it from a pimp in Vail, Colorado, and he told me how to use it. "Never mention Playboy until you're sure they've seen this thing first," he said. "Then, when you see them notice it, that's the time to strike. They'll go belly up every time. This thing is magic, I tell you. Pure magic."

Well. . . maybe so. I'd used it on the poor geek in the bar, and now, humming along in a Yellow Cab toward town, I felt a little guilty about jangling the poor bugger's brains with that evil fantasy. But what the hell? Anybody who wanders around the world saying, "Hell yes, I'm from Texas," deserves whatever happens to him. And he had, after all, come here once again to make a nineteenth-century ass of himself in the midst of some jaded, atavistic freakout with nothing to recommend it except a very saleable "tradition." Early in our chat, Jimbo had told me that he hasn't missed a Derby since 1954. "The little lady won't come anymore," he said. "She just grits her teeth and turns me loose for this one. And when I say 'loose' I do mean loose! I toss ten-dollar bills around like they were goin' outa style! Horses, whiskey, women. . . shit, there's women in this town that'll do anything for money."

Why not? Money is a good thing to have in these twisted times. Even Richard Nixon is hungry for it. Only a few days before the Derby he said, "If I had any money I'd invest it in the stock market." And the market, meanwhile, continued its grim slide.

 

The next day was heavy. With only thirty hours until post time I had no press credentials and -- according to the sports editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal -- no hope at all of getting any. Worse, I needed two sets; one for myself and another for Ralph Steadman, the English illustrator who was coming from London to do some Derby drawings. All I knew about him was that this was his first visit to the United States. And the more I pondered that fact, the more it gave me the fear. How would he bear up under the heinous culture shock of being lifted out of London and plunged into a drunken mob scene at the Kentucky Derby? There was no way of knowing. Hopefully, he would arrive at least a day or so ahead, and give himself time to get acclimated. Maybe a few hours of peaceful sightseeing in the Bluegrass country around Lexington. My plan was to pick him up at the airport in the huge Pontiac Ballbuster I'd rented from a used-car salesman named Colonel Quick, then whisk him off to some peaceful setting that might remind him of England.

Colonel Quick had solved the car problem, and money (four times the normal rate) had bought two rooms in a scumbox on the outskirts of town. The only other kink was the task of convincing the moguls at Churchill Downs that Scanlan's was such a prestigious sporting journal that common sense compelled them to give us two sets of the best press tickets. This was not easily done. My first call to the publicity office resulted in total failure. The press handler was shocked at the idea that anyone would be stupid enough to apply for press credentials two days before the Derby. "Hell, you can't be serious," he said. "The deadline was two months ago. The press box is full; there's no more room. . . and what the hell is Scanlan's Monthly anyway?"

I uttered a painful groan. "Didn't the London office call you? They're flying an artist over to do the paintings. Steadman. He's Irish, I think. Very famous over there. Yes. I just got in from the Coast. The San Francisco office told me we were all set."

He seemed interested, and even sympathetic, but there was nothing he could do. I nattered him with more gibberish, and finally he offered a compromise: he could get us two passes to the clubhouse grounds but the clubhouse itself and especially the press box were out of the question.

"That sounds a little weird," I said. "It's unacceptable. We must have access to everything. All of it. The spectacle, the people, the pageantry and certainly the race. You don't think we came all this way to watch the damn thing on television, do you? One way or another we'll get inside. Maybe we'll have to bribe a guard -- or even Mace somebody." (I had picked up a spray can of Mace in a downtown drugstore for $5.98 and suddenly, in the midst of that phone talk, I was struck by the hideous possibilities of using it out at the track. Macing ushers at the narrow gates to the clubhouse inner sanctum, then slipping quickly inside, firing a huge load of Mace into the governor's box, just as the race starts. Or Macing helpless drunks in the clubhouse restroom, for their own good. . .)

By noon on Friday I was still without credentials and still unable to locate Steadman. For all I knew he'd changed his mind and gone back to London. Finally, after giving up on Steadman and trying unsuccessfully to reach my man in the press office, I decided my only hope for credentials was to go out to the track and confront the man in person, with no warning -- demanding only one pass now, instead of two, and talking very fast with a strange lilt in my voice, like a man trying hard to control some inner frenzy. On the way out, I stopped at the motel desk to cash a check. Then, as a useless afterthought, I asked if by any wild chance a Mr. Steadman had checked in.

The lady on the desk was about fifty years old and very peculiar-looking; when I mentioned Steadman's name she nodded, without looking up from whatever she was writing, and said in a low voice. "You bet he did." Then she favored me with a big smile. "Yes, indeed. Mr. Steadman just left for the racetrack. Is he a friend of yours?"

I shook my head. "I'm supposed to be working with him, but I don't even know what he looks like. Now, goddammit, I'll have to find him in that mob at the track."

She chuckled. "You won't have any trouble finding him. You could pick that man out of any crowd."

"Why?" I asked. "What's wrong with him? What does he look like?"

"Well. . ." she said, still grinning, "he's the funniest looking thing I've seen in a long time. He has this. . . ah. . . this growth all over his face. As a matter of fact it's all over his head." She nodded. "You'll know him when you see him; don't worry about that."

Creeping Jesus, I thought. That screws the press credentials. I had a vision of some nerve-rattling geek all covered with matted hair and string-warts showing up in the press office and demanding Scanlan's press packet. Well. . . what the hell? We could always load up on acid and spend the day roaming around the clubhouse grounds with big sketch pads, laughing hysterically at the natives and swilling mint juleps so the cops wouldn't think we're abnormal. Perhaps even make the act pay: set up an easel with a big sign saying, "Let a Foreign Artist Paint Your Portrait, $10 Each. Do It NOW!"

I took the expressway out to the track, driving very fast and jumping the monster car back and forth between lanes, driving with a beer in one hand and my mind so muddled that I almost crushed a Volkswagen full of nuns when I swerved to catch the right exit. There was a slim chance, I thought, that I might be able to catch the ugly Britisher before he checked in.

But Steadman was already in the press box when I got there, a bearded young Englishman wearing a tweed coat and RAF sunglasses. There was nothing particularly odd about him. No facial veins or clumps of bristly warts. I told him about the motel woman's description and he seemed puzzled. "Don't let it bother you," I said. "Just keep in mind for the next few days that we're in Louisville, Kentucky. Not London. Not even New York. This is a weird place. You're lucky that mental defective at the motel didn't jerk a pistol out of the cash register and blow a big hole in you." I laughed, but he looked worried.

"Just pretend you're visiting a huge outdoor loony bin," I said. "If the inmates get out of control we'll soak them down with Mace." I showed him the can of "Chemical Billy," resisting the urge to fire it across the room at a rat-faced man typing diligently in the Associated Press section. We were standing at the bar, sipping the management's Scotch and congratulating each other on our sudden, unexplained luck in picking up two sets of fine press credentials. The lady at the desk had been very friendly to him, he said. "I just told her my name and she gave me the whole works."

By midafternoon we had everything under control. We had seats looking down on the finish line, color TV and a free bar in the press room, and a selection of passes that would take us anywhere from the clubhouse roof to the jockey room. The only thing we lacked was unlimited access to the clubhouse inner sanctum in sections "F&G". . . and I felt we needed that, to see the whiskey gentry in action. The governor, a swinish neo-Nazi hack named Louie Nunn, would be in "G," along with Barry Goldwater and Colonel Sanders. I felt we'd be legal in a box in "G" where we could rest and sip juleps, soak up a bit of atmosphere and the Derby's special vibrations.

The bars and dining rooms are also in "F&G," and the clubhouse bars on Derby Day are a very special kind of scene. Along with the politicians, society belles and local captains of commerce, every half-mad dingbat who ever had any pretensions to anything at all within five hundred miles of Louisville will show up there to get strutting drunk and slap a lot of backs and generally make himself obvious. The Paddock bar is probably the best place in the track to sit and watch faces. Nobody minds being stared at; that's what they're in there for. Some people spend most of their time in the Paddock; they can hunker down at one of the many wooden tables, lean back in a comfortable chair and watch the ever-changing odds flash up and down on the big tote board outside the window. Black waiters in white serving jackets move through the crowd with trays of drinks, while the experts ponder their racing forms and the hunch bettors pick lucky numbers or scan the lineup for right-sounding names. There is a constant flow of traffic to and from the pari-mutuel windows outside in the wooden corridors. Then, as post time nears, the crowd thins out as people go back to their boxes.

Clearly, we were going to have to figure out some way to spend more time in the clubhouse tomorrow. But the "walkaround" press passes to F&G were only good for thirty minutes at a time, presumably to allow the newspaper types to rush in and out for photos or quick interviews, but to prevent drifters like Steadman and me from spending all day in the clubhouse, harassing the gentry and rifling the odd handbag or two while cruising around the boxes. Or Macing the governor. The time limit was no problem on Friday, but on Derby Day the walkaround passes would be in heavy demand. And since it took about ten minutes to get from the press box to the Paddock, and ten more minutes to get back, that didn't leave much time for serious people-watching. And unlike most of the others in the press box, we didn't give a hoot in hell what was happening on the track. We had come there to watch the real beasts perform.

 

Later Friday afternoon, we went out on the balcony of the press box and I tried to describe the difference between what we were seeing today and what would be happening tomorrow. This was the first time I'd been to a Derby in ten years, but before that, when I lived in Louisville, I used to go every year. Now, looking down from the press box, I pointed to the huge grassy meadow enclosed by the track. "That whole thing," I said, "will be jammed with people; fifty thousand or so, and most of them staggering drunk. It's a fantastic scene -- thousands of people fainting, crying, copulating, trampling each other and fighting with broken whiskey bottles. We'll have to spend some time out there, but it's hard to move around, too many bodies."

"Is it safe out there? Will we ever come back?"

"Sure," I said. "We'll just have to be careful not to step on anybody's stomach and start a fight." I shrugged. "Hell, this clubhouse scene right below us will be almost as bad as the infield. Thousands of raving, stumbling drunks, getting angrier and angrier as they lose more and more money. By midafternoon they'll be guzzling mint juleps with both hands and vomiting on each other between races. The whole place will be jammed with bodies, shoulder to shoulder. It's hard to move around. The aisles will be slick with vomit; people falling down and grabbing at your legs to keep from being stomped. Drunks pissing on themselves in the betting lines. Dropping handfuls of money and fighting to stoop over and pick it up."

He looked so nervous that I laughed. "I'm just kidding," I said. "Don't worry. At the first hint of trouble I'll start pumping this 'Chemical Billy' into the crowd."

He had done a few good sketches, but so far we hadn't seen that special kind of face that I felt we would need for the lead drawing. It was a face I'd seen a thousand times at every Derby I'd ever been to. I saw it, in my head, as the mask of the whiskey gentry-- a pretentious mix of booze, failed dreams and a terminal identity crisis; the inevitable result of too much inbreeding in a closed and ignorant culture. One of the key genetic rules in breeding dogs, horses or any other kind of thoroughbred is that close inbreeding tends to magnify the weak points in a bloodline as well as the strong points. In horse breeding, for instance, there is a definite risk in breeding two fast horses who are both a little crazy. The offspring will likely be very fast and also very crazy. So the trick in breeding thoroughbreds is to retain the good traits and filter out the bad. But the breeding of humans is not so wisely supervised, particularly in a narrow Southern society where the closest kind of inbreeding is not only stylish and acceptable, but far more convenient -- to the parents -- than setting their offspring free to find their own mates, for their own reasons and in their own ways. ("Goddam, did you hear about Smitty's daughter? She went crazy in Boston last week and married a nigger!")

So the face I was trying to find in Churchill Downs that weekend was a symbol, in my own mind, of the whole doomed atavistic culture that makes the Kentucky Derby what it is.

On our way back to the motel after Friday's races I warned Steadman about some of the other problems we'd have to cope with. Neither of us had brought any strange illegal drugs, so we would have to get by on booze. "You should keep in mind," I said, "that almost everybody you talk to from now on will be drunk. People who seem very pleasant at first might suddenly swing at you for no reason at all." He nodded, staring straight ahead. He seemed to be getting a little numb and I tried to cheer him up by inviting him to dinner that night, with my brother.

Back at the motel we talked for a while about America, the South, England -- just relaxing a bit before dinner. There was no way either of us could have known, at that time, that it would be the last normal conversation we would have. From that point on, the weekend became a vicious, drunken nightmare. We both went completely to pieces. The main problem was my prior attachment to Louisville, which naturally led to meeting with old friends, relatives, etc., many of whom were in the process of falling apart, going mad, plotting divorces, cracking up under the strain of terrible debts or recovering from bad accidents. Right in the middle of the whole frenzied Derby action, a member of my own family had to be institutionalized. This added a certain amount of strain to the situation, and since poor Steadman had no choice but to take whatever came his way, he was subjected to shock after shock.

Another problem was his habit of sketching people he met in the various social situations I dragged him into-- then giving them the sketches. The results were always unfortunate. I warned him several times about letting the subjects see his foul renderings, but for some perverse reason he kept doing it. Consequently, he was regarded with fear and loathing by nearly everyone who'd seen or even heard about his work. He couldn't understand it. "It's sort of a joke," he kept saying. "Why, in England it's quite normal. People don't take offense. They understand that I'm just putting them on a bit."

"Fuck England," I said. "This is Middle America. These people regard what you're doing to them as a brutal, bilious insult. Look what happened last night. I thought my brother was going to tear your head off."

Steadman shook his head sadly. "But I liked him. He struck me as a very decent, straightforward sort."

"Look, Ralph," I said. "Let's not kid ourselves. That was a very horrible drawing you gave him. It was the face of a monster. It got on his nerves very badly." I shrugged. "Why in hell do you think we left the restaurant so fast?"

"I thought it was because of the Mace," he said.

"What Mace?"

He grinned. "When you shot it at the headwaiter, don't you remember?"

"Hell, that was nothing," I said. "I missed him. . . and we were leaving, anyway."

"But it got all over us," he said. "The room was full of that damn gas. Your brother was sneezing and his wife was crying. My eyes hurt for two hours. I couldn't see to draw when we got back to the motel."

"That's right," I said. "The stuff got on her leg, didn't it?"

"She was angry," he said.

''Yeah. . . well, okay. . . Let's just figure we fucked up about equally on that one," I said. "But from now on let's try to be careful when we're around people I know. You won't sketch them and I won't Mace them. We'll just try to relax and get drunk."

"Right," he said. "We'll go native."

 

It was Saturday morning, the day of the Big Race, and we were having breakfast in a plastic hamburger palace called the Fish-Meat Village. Our rooms were just across the road in the Brown Suburban Hotel. They had a dining room, but the food was so bad that we couldn't handle it anymore. The waitresses seemed to be suffering from shin splints; they moved around very slowly, moaning and cursing the "darkies" in the kitchen.

Steadman liked the Fish-Meat place because it had fish and chips. I preferred the "French toast," which was really pancake batter, fried to the proper thickness and then chopped out with a sort of cookie cutter to resemble pieces of toast

Beyond drink and lack of sleep, our only real problem at that point was the question of access to the clubhouse. Finally we decided to go ahead and steal two passes, if necessary, rather than miss that part of the action. This was the last coherent decision we were able to make for the next forty-eight hours. From that point on -- almost from the very moment we started out to the track -- we lost all control of events and spent the rest of the weekend churning around in a sea of drunken horrors. My notes and recollections from Derby Day are somewhat scrambled.

But now, looking at the big red notebook I carried all through the scene, I see more or less what happened. The book itself is somewhat mangled and bent; some of the pages are torn, others are shriveled and stained by what appears to be whiskey, but taken as a whole, with sporadic memory flashes, the notes seem to tell the story. To wit:

 

Rain all nite until dawn. No sleep. Christ, here we go, a nightmare of mud and madness. . . but no. By noon the sun burns through -- perfect day, not even humid.

Steadman is now worried about fire. Somebody told him about the clubhouse catching on fire two years ago. Could it happen again? Horrible. Trapped in the press box. Holocaust. A hundred thousand people fighting to get out. Drunks screaming in the flames and the mud, crazed horses running wild. Blind in the smoke. Grandstand collapsing into the flames with us on the roof. Poor Ralph is about to crack. Drinking heavily, into the Haig & Haig.

Out to the track in a cab, avoid that terrible parking in people's front yards, $25 each, toothless old men on the street with big signs: park here, flagging cars in the yard. "That's fine, boy, never mind the tulips." Wild hair on his head, straight up like a clump of reeds.

Sidewalks full of people all moving in the same direction, towards Churchill Downs. Kids hauling coolers and blankets, teenyboppers in tight pink shorts, many blacks. . . black dudes in white felt hats with leopard-skin bands, cops waving traffic along.

The mob was thick for many blocks around the track; very slow going in the crowd, very hot. On the way to the press box elevator, just inside the clubhouse, we came on a row of soldiers all carrying long white riot sticks. About two platoons, with helmets. A man walking next to us said they were waiting for the governor and his party. Steadman eyed them nervously. "Why do they have those clubs?"

"Black Panthers," I said. Then I remembered good old "Jimbo" at the airport and I wondered what he was thinking right now. Probably very nervous; the place was teeming with cops and soldiers. We pressed on through the crowd, through many gates, past the paddock where the jockeys bring the horses out and parade around for a while before each race so the bettors can get a good look. Five million dollars will be bet today. Many winners, more losers. What the hell. The press gate was jammed up with people trying to get in, shouting at the guards, waving strange press badges: Chicago Sporting Times, Pittsburgh Police Athletic League. . . they were all turned away. "Move on, fella, make way for the working press." We shoved through the crowd and into the elevator, then quickly up to the free bar. Why not? Get it on. Very hot today, not feeling well, must be this rotten climate. The press box was cool and airy, plenty of room to walk around and balcony seats for watching the race or looking down at the crowd. We got a betting sheet and went outside.

 

Pink faces with a stylish Southern sag, old Ivy styles, seersucker coats and buttondown collars. "Mayblossom Senility" (Steadman's phrase). . . burnt out early or maybe just not much to burn in the first place. Not much energy in these faces, not much curiosity. Suffering in silence, nowhere to go after thirty in this life, just hang on and humor the children. Let the young enjoy themselves while they can. Why not?

The grim reaper comes early in this league. . . banshees on the lawn at night, screaming out there beside that little iron nigger in jockey clothes. Maybe he's the one who's screaming. Bad DT's and too many snarls at the bridge club. Going down with the stock market. Oh Jesus, the kid has wrecked the new car, wrapped it around the big stone pillar at the bottom of the driveway. Broken leg? Twisted eye? Send him off to Yale, they can cure anything up there.

Yale? Did you see today's paper? New Haven is under siege. Yale is swarming with Black Panthers. . . I tell you, Colonel, the world has gone mad. Why, they tell me a goddamn woman jockey might ride in the Derby today.

I left Steadman sketching in the Paddock bar and went off to place our bets on the fourth race. When I came back he was staring intently at a group of young men around a table not far away. "Jesus, look at the corruption in that face!" he whispered. "Look at the madness, the fear, the greed!" I looked, then quickly turned my back on the table he was sketching. The face he'd picked out to draw was the face of an old friend of mine, a prep school football star in the good old days with a sleek red Chevy convertible and a very quick hand, it was said, with the snaps of a 32B brassiere. They called him "Cat Man."

But now, a dozen years later, I wouldn't have recognized him anywhere but here, where I should have expected to find him, in the Paddock bar on Derby Day. . . fat slanted eyes and a pimp's smile, blue silk suit and his friends looking like crooked bank tellers on a binge. . .

Steadman wanted to see some Kentucky Colonels, but he wasn't sure what they looked like. I told him to go back to the clubhouse men's rooms and look for men in white linen suits vomiting in the urinals. "They'll usually have large brown whiskey stains on the fronts of their suits," I said. "But watch the shoes, that's the tip-off. Most of them manage to avoid vomiting on their own clothes, but they never miss their shoes."

In a box not far from ours was Colonel Anna Friedman Goldman, Chairman and Keeper of the Great Seal of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels. Not all the 76 million or so Kentucky Colonels could make it to the Derby this year, but many had kept the faith, and several days prior to the Derby they gathered for their annual dinner at the Seelbach Hotel.

The Derby, the actual race, was scheduled for late afternoon, and as the magic hour approached I suggested to Steadman that we should probably spend some time in the infield, that boiling sea of people across the track from the clubhouse. He seemed a little nervous about it, but since none of the awful things I'd warned him about had happened so far -- no race riots, firestorms or savage drunken attacks -- he shrugged and said, "Right, let's do it."

To get there we had to pass through many gates, each one; a step down in status, then through a tunnel under the track. Emerging from the tunnel was such a culture shock that it took us a while to adjust. "God almighty!" Steadman muttered. "This is a. . . Jesus!" He plunged ahead with his tiny camera, stepping over bodies, and I followed, trying to take notes.

 

Total chaos, no way to see the race, not even the track. . . nobody cares. Big lines at the outdoor betting windows, then stand back to watch winning numbers flash on the big board, like a giant bingo game.

Old blacks arguing about bets; "Hold on there, I'll handle this" (waving pint of whiskey, fistful of dollar bills); girl riding piggyback, T-shirt says, "Stolen from Fort Lauderdale Jail." Thousands of teen-agers, group singing "Let the Sun Shine In," ten soldiers guarding the American flag and a huge fat drunk wearing a blue football jersey (No. 80) reeling around with quart of beer in hand.

No booze sold out here, too dangerous. . . no bathrooms either. Muscle Beach. . . Woodstock. . . many cops with riot sticks, but no sign of a riot. Far across the track the clubhouse looks like a postcard from the Kentucky Derby.

 

We went back to the clubhouse to watch the big race. When the crowd stood to face the flag and sing "My Old Kentucky Home," Steadman faced the crowd and sketched frantically. Somewhere up in the boxes a voice screeched, "Turn around, you hairy freak!" The race itself was only two minutes long, and even from our super-status seats and using 12-power glasses, there was no way to see what was really happening. Later, watching a TV rerun in the press box, we saw what happened to our horses. Holy Land, Ralph's choice, stumbled and lost his jockey in the final turn. Mine, Silent Screen, had the lead coming into the stretch, but faded to fifth at the finish. The winner was a 16-1 shot named Dust Commander.

Moments after the race was over, the crowd surged wildly for the exits, rushing for cabs and buses. The next day's Courier told of violence in the parking lot; people were punched and trampled, pockets were picked, children lost, bottles hurled. But we missed all this, having retired to the press box for a bit of post-race drinking. By this time we were both half-crazy from too much whiskey, sun fatigue, culture shock, lack of sleep and general dissolution. We hung around the press box long enough to watch a mass interview with the winning owner, a dapper little man named Lehmann who said he had just flown into Louisville that morning from Nepal, where he'd "bagged a record tiger." The sportswriters murmured their admiration and a waiter filled Lehmann's glass with Chivas Regal. He had just won $127,000 with a horse that cost him $6,500 two years ago. His occupation, he said, was "retired contractor." And then he added, with a big grin, "I just retired."

The rest of that day blurs into madness. The rest of that night too. And all the next day and night. Such horrible things occurred that I can't bring myself even to think about them now, much less put them down in print. Steadman was lucky to get out of Louisville without serious injuries, and I was lucky to get out at all. One of my clearest memories of that vicious time is Ralph being attacked by one of my old friends in the billiard room of the Pendennis Club in downtown Louisville on Saturday night. The man had ripped his own shirt open to the waist before deciding that Ralph was after his wife. No blows were struck, but the emotional effects were massive. Then, as a sort of final horror, Steadman put his fiendish pen to work and tried to patch things up by doing a little sketch of the girl he'd been accused of hustling. That finished us in the Pendennis.

 

Sometime around ten-thirty Monday morning I was awakened by a scratching sound at my door. I leaned out of bed and pulled the curtain back just far enough to see Steadman outside. "What the fuck do you want?" I shouted.

"What about having breakfast?" he said.

I lunged out of bed and tried to open the door, but it caught on the night-chain and banged shut again. I couldn't cope with the chain! The thing wouldn't come out of the track -- so I ripped it out of the wall with a vicious jerk on the door. Ralph didn't blink. "Bad luck," he muttered.

I could barely see him. My eyes were swollen almost shut and the sudden burst of sunlight through the door left me stunned and helpless like a sick mole. Steadman was mumbling about sickness and terrible heat; I fell back on the bed and tried to focus on him as he moved around the room in a very distracted way for a few moments, then suddenly darted over to the beer bucket and seized a Colt .45. "Christ," I said. "You're getting out of control."

He nodded and ripped the cap off, taking a long drink. "You know, this is really awful," he said finally. "I must get out of this place. . ." he shook his head nervously. "The plane leaves at three-thirty, but I don't know if I'll make it."

I barely heard him. My eyes had finally opened enough for me to focus on the mirror across the room and I was stunned at the shock of recognition. For a confused instant I thought that Ralph had brought somebody with him -- a model for that one special face we'd been looking for. There he was, by God -- a puffy, drink-ravaged, disease-ridden caricature. . . like an awful cartoon version of an old snapshot in some once-proud mother's family photo album. It was the face we'd been looking for -- and it was, of course, my own. Horrible, horrible. . .

"Maybe I should sleep a while longer," I said. "Why don't you go on over to the Fish-Meat place and eat some of those rotten fish and chips? Then come back and get me around noon. I feel too near death to hit the streets at this hour."

He shook his head. "No. . . no. . . I think I'll go back upstairs and work on those drawings for a while." He leaned down to fetch two more cans out of the beer bucket. "I tried to work earlier," he said, "but my hands keep trembling. . . It's teddible, teddible."

"You've got to stop this drinking," I said.

He nodded. "I know. This is no good, no good at all. But for some reason it makes me feel better. . ."

"Not for long," I said. "You'll probably collapse into some kind of hysterical DT's tonight-- probably just about the time you get off the plane at Kennedy. They'll zip you up in a straitjacket and drag you down to the Tombs, then beat you on the kidneys with big sticks until you straighten out."

He shrugged and wandered out, pulling the door shut behind him. I went back to bed for another hour or so, and later -- after the daily grapefruit juice run to the Nite Owl Food Mart -- we had our last meal at Fish-Meat Village: a fine lunch of dough and butcher's offal, fried in heavy grease.

By this time Ralph wouldn't even order coffee; he kept asking for more water. "It's the only thing they have that's fit for human consumption," he explained. Then, with an hour or so to kill before he had to catch the plane, we spread his drawings out on the table and pondered them for a while, wondering if he'd caught the proper spirit of the thing. . . but we couldn't make up our minds. His hands were shaking so badly that he had trouble holding the paper, and my vision was so blurred that I could barely see what he'd drawn. "Shit," I said. "We both look worse than anything you've drawn here."

He smiled. "You know -- I've been thinking about that," he said. "We came down here to see this teddible scene: people all pissed out of their minds and vomiting on themselves and all that. . . and now, you know what? It's us. . ."

 

Huge Pontiac Ballbuster blowing through traffic on the expressway.

A radio news bulletin says the National Guard is massacring students at Kent State and Nixon is still bombing Cambodia. The journalist is driving, ignoring his passenger who is now nearly naked after taking off most of his clothing, which he holds out the window, trying to wind-wash the Mace out of it. His eyes are bright red and his face and chest are soaked with the beer he's been using to rinse the awful chemicals off his flesh. The front of his woolen trousers is soaked with vomit; his body is racked with fits of coughing and wild choking sobs. The journalist rams the big car through traffic and into a spot in front of the terminal, then he reaches over to open the door on the passenger's side and shoves the Englishman out, snarling: "Bug off, you worthless faggot! You twisted pigfucker! [Crazed laughter.] If I weren't sick I'd kick your ass all the way to Bowling Green -- you scumsucking foreign geek. Mace is too good for you. . . We can do without your kind in Kentucky."

Scanlan's Monthly, vol. I, no. 4, June 1970

 

 

 

A Southern City With Northern Problems

Louisville

 

Quino's Cafe is on Market Street, two blocks up the hill from the river in the heart of Louisville's legal and financial district, and often in the long, damp Ohio Valley afternoons a lot of people who might ordinarily avoid such a place will find themselves standing at Quino's white formica counter, drinking a Fehrs or a Falls City beer, and eating a "genuine twenty cent beercheese sandwich" while they skim through an early edition of the Louisville Times. If you stand at the counter and watch the street you will see off-duty cops and courthouse loafers, visiting farmers with five children and a pregnant wife in the cab of a pickup truck, and a well-fed collection of lawyers and brokers in two-button suits and cordovan shoes. You will also see quite a few Negroes, some of them also wearing business suits and cordovan shoes. Louisville takes pride in its race relations, and the appearance of well-dressed Negroes in the Courthouse-City Hall district does not raise any eyebrows.

This city, known as "Derbytown," and "The Gateway to the South," has done an admirable job in breaking down the huge and traditional barriers between the black man and the white. Here in the mint julep country, where the Negro used to be viewed with all the proprietary concern that men lavish on a good coon hound ("Treat him fine when he works good -- but when he acts lazy and no-count, beat him till he hollers"), the integration of the races has made encouraging headway.

Racial segregation has been abolished in nearly all white public places. Negroes entered the public schools in 1956 with so little trouble that the superintendent of schools was moved to write a book about it, called The Louisville Story. Since then, restaurants, hotels, parks, movie theaters, stores, swimming pools, bowling alleys, and even business schools have been opened to Negroes. As a clincher, the city recently passed an ordinance that outlaws racial discrimination in any public accommodation. This has just about done the deed; out of ninety-nine establishments "tested" by NAACP workers, there were only four complaints -- two from the same East End bar. Mayor William Cowger, whose progressive Republican administration has caused even Democrats to mutter with admiration, spoke for most of his fellow citizens recently when he said, "The stories of violence in other citites should make us proud to live in Louisville. We enjoy national prestige for sane and sensible race relations."

 

All this is true -- and so it is all the more surprising to visit Louisville and find so much evidence to the contrary. Why, for instance, does a local Negro leader say, "Integration here is a farce"? Why, also, has a local Negro minister urged his congregation to arm themselves? Why do Louisville Negroes bitterly accuse the Federal urban-renewal project of creating "de facto segregation"? Why can't a Negro take out a mortgage to buy a home in most white neighborhoods? And why is there so much bitterness in the remarks of Louisvillians both black and white? "Integration is for poor people," one hears; "they can't afford to buy their way out of it." Or, "In ten years, downtown Louisville will be as black as Harlem."

What is apparent in Louisville is that the Negro has won a few crucial battles, but instead of making the breakthrough he expected, he has come up against segregation's second front, where the problems are not mobs and unjust laws but customs and traditions. The Louisville Negro, having taken the first basic steps, now faces a far more subtle thing than the simple "yes" or "no" that his brothers are still dealing with in most parts of the South. To this extent, Louisville has integrated itself right out of the South, and now faces problems more like those of a Northern or Midwestern city.

The white power structure has given way in the public sector, only to entrench itself more firmly in the private. And the Negro -- especially the educated Negro -- feels that his victories are hollow and his "progress" is something he reads about in the newspapers. The outlook for Louisville's Negroes may have improved from "separate but equal" to "equal but separate." But it still leaves a good deal to be desired.

 

The white power structure, as defined by local Negroes, means the men who run the town, the men who control banking and industry and insurance, who pay big taxes and lend big money and head important civic committees. Their names are not well known to the average citizen, and when they get publicity at all it is likely to be in the society sections of the one-owner local press. During the day, their headquarters is the Pendennis Club on downtown Walnut Street, where they meet for lunch, squash, steam baths, and cocktails. "If you want to get things done in this town," according to a young lawyer very much on the way up, "you'd better belong to the Pendennis." On evenings and weekends the scene shifts to the Louisville Country Club far out in the East End, or clear across the county line to Harmony Landing, where good polo and good whiskey push business out of sight if not out of mind.

Anybody who pays dues to at least two of these clubs can consider himself a member in good standing of the white power structure. This is the group that determines by quiet pressure, direct action, and sometimes even default just how far and fast Louisville will move toward integration. Among themselves, it is clear, they are no more integrated now than they were ten years ago, and they are not likely to be at any time in the near future. They have for the most part taken their sons and daughters out of the public schools or moved to suburban areas where the absence of Negroes makes integration an abstract question. The only time they deal actively with Negroes is when they give the maid a ride to the bus stop, get their shoes shined, or attend some necessary but unpleasant confrontation with a local Negro spokesman. Despite an ancient conditioning to prejudice, however, they are in the main, a far more progressive and enlightened lot than their counterparts in Birmingham or even in a lot of cases than their own sons and daughters.

There is a feeling in liberal circles, especially in New York and Washington, that the banner of racial segregation has little appeal to the younger generation. And Murray Kempton has written that the special challenge of the 1960's "is how to appease the Negro without telling the poor white." But neither theory appears to apply in Louisville. Some of the bitterest racists in town belong to the best families, and no Mississippi dirt farmer rants more often against the "niggers" than do some of Louisville's young up-and-coming executives just a few years out of college. At Bauer's, a fashionable pine-paneled tavern much frequented by the young bucks of the social set, the sentiment is overwhelmingly anti-Negro. Late in the evening some of the habitues may find themselves carried along in the confusion of drink and good-fellowship toward Magazine Street in the heart of the colored section. There, at Oliver's and Big John's and the Diamond Horseshoe, the action goes on until dawn and a carload of jovial racists are as welcome as anybody else, black or white. The Negroes suspend their resentment, the whites suspend their prejudice, and everybody enjoys the music and the entertainment. But there is little or no mingling, and the activities of the night are quite separate from those of the day.

You get a feeling, after a while, that the young are not really serious either about denouncing the "nigger" for "not knowing his place" or about ignoring the color line for nocturnal visits to Magazine Street. Both are luxuries that will not last, and the young are simply enjoying them while they can. Mayor Cowger likes to say: "People are different here. We get along with each other because we don't like trouble." Others will tell you that Louisville has no overt racial problem because the greatest commitment of the majority of white citizens is simply to maintain the status quo, whatever it happens to be.

In such a society, of course, it might be argued that almost anything can happen as long as it happens slowly and inconspicuously without getting people stirred up. All of which naturally frustrates the Negro, who has said that he wants freedom now. If the Negro were patient -- and who can tell him he should be? -- he would have no problem. But "freedom now" is not in the white Louisville vocabulary.

 

A good example of the majority viewpoint shows up in the housing situation, which at the moment is inextricably linked with urban renewal. As it happens, the urban-renewal project centers mainly in the downtown Negro district, and most of the people who have to be relocated are black. It also happens that the only part of town to which Negroes can move is the West End, an old and tree-shaded neighborhood bypassed by progress and now in the throes of a selling panic because of the Negro influx. There is a growing fear, shared by whites and Negroes alike, that the West End is becoming a black ghetto.

Frank Stanley, Jr., the Negro leader who said "Integration here is a farce," blames urban renewal for the problem. "All they're doing is moving the ghetto, intact, from the middle of town to the West End." Urban-renewal officials reply to this by claiming the obvious: that their job is not to desegregate Louisville but to relocate people as quickly and advantageously as possible. "Sure they move to the West End," says one official. "Where else can they go?"

It is a fact that whites are moving out of the West End as fast as they can. A vocal minority is trying to stem the tide, but there is hardly a block without a "For Sale" sign, and some blocks show as many as ten. Yet there is "hardly any" race prejudice in the West End. Talk to a man with his house for sale and you'll be given to understand that he is not moving because of any reluctance to live near Negroes. Far from it; he is proud of Louisville's progress toward integration. But he is worried about the value of his property; and you know, of course, what happens to property values when a Negro family moves into an all-white block. So he's selling now to get his price while the getting is good.

Depending on the neighborhood, he may or may not be willing to sell to Negroes. The choice is all his, and will be until Louisville passes an "open housing" ordinance to eliminate skin as a factor in the buying and selling of homes. Such an ordinance is already in the planning stage.

Meanwhile, the homeowner who will sell to Negroes is a rare bird -- except in the West End. And arguments are presented with great feeling that those who will show their homes only to whites are not prejudiced, merely considerate of their neighbors. "Personally, I have nothing against colored people," a seller will explain. "But I don't want to hurt the neighbors. If I sold my house to a Negro it would knock several thousand dollars off the value of every house on the block."

Most Negro realtors deny this, citing the law of supply and demand. Good housing for Negroes is scarce, they point out and prices are consequently higher than those on the white market, where demand is not so heavy. There are, however, both white and Negro real-estate speculators who engage in "block busting." They will work to place a Negro in an all-white block, then try to scare the other residents into selling cheap. Quite often they succeed -- then resell to Negroes at a big profit.

According to Jesse P. Warders, a real-estate agent and a long-time leader in Louisville's Negro community, "What this town needs is a single market for housing -- not two, like we have now." Warders is counting on an "open housing" ordinance, and he maintains that the biggest obstacle to open housing without an ordinance is the lack of Negroes on Louisville's Real Estate board.

In order to be a "realtor" in Louisville, a real-estate agent has to be a member of "the Board," which does not accept Negroes. Warders is a member of the Washington-based National Institute of Real Estate Brokers, which has about as much influence here as the French Foreign Legion.

 

Louisville, like other cities faced with urban decay, has turned to the building of midtown apartments as a means of luring suburbanites back to the city center. In the newest and biggest of these, called "The 800," Warders tried to place a Negro client. The reaction was a good indicator of the problems facing Negroes after they break the barrier of outright racism.

"Do me a favor," the builder of The 800 told Warders. "Let me get the place fifty per cent full-- that's my breakeven point-- then I'll rent to your client."

Warders was unhappy with the rebuff, but he believes the builder will eventually rent to Negroes; and that, he thinks, is real progress. "What should I say to the man?" he asked. "I know for a fact that he's refused some white people, too. What the man wants is prestige tenants; he'd like to have the mayor living in his place, he'd like to have the president of the board of aldermen. Hell, I'm in business, too, I might not like what he says, but I see his point."

Warders has been on the firing line long enough to know the score. He is convinced that fear of change and the reluctance of most whites to act in any way that might be frowned on by the neighbors is the Negroes' biggest problem in Louisville. "I know how they feel, and so do most of my clients. But do you think it's right?"

The 800 was built with the considerable help of an FHA-guaranteed loan, which places the building automatically in the open housing category. Furthermore, the owner insists that he is color-blind on the subject of tenants. But he assumes none the less that the prestige tenants he wants would not consider living in the same building with Negroes.

It is the same assumption that motivates a homeowner to sell to whites only-- not because of race prejudice but out of concern for property values. In other words, almost nobody has anything against Negroes, but everybody's neighbor does.

This is galling to the Negroes. Simple racism is an easy thing to confront, but a mixture of guilty prejudice, economic worries and threatened social standing is much harder to fight. "If all the white people I've talked to had the courage of their convictions," one Negro leader has said, "we wouldn't have a problem here."

Louisville's lending institutions frustrate Negroes in the same way. Frank Stanley, Jr., claims that there's a gentlemen's agreement among bankers to prevent Negroes from getting mortgages to buy homes in white neighborhoods. The complaint would seem to have a certain validity, although once again less sinister explanations are offered. The lending agencies cite business reasons, not race prejudice, as the reason for their stand. Concern for the reaction of their depositors seems to be a big factor, and another is the allegation that such loans would be a poor risk -- especially if the institution holds mortgages on other homes in the neighborhood. Here again is the fear of falling property values.

There is also the question whether a Negro would have any more difficulty getting a mortgage to buy a home in a white upper-class neighborhood than would a member of another minority group -- say, a plumber named Luciano, proud possessor of six children, a dirty spitz that barks at night, and a ten-year-old pickup truck with "Luciano Plumbing" painted on the side.

Mayor Cowger, a mortgage banker himself, insists that a Negro would have no more trouble than the hypothetical Mr. Luciano. Another high-ranking occupant of City Hall disagrees: "That's what the mayor would like to think, but it just isn't true. Nobody in Rolling Fields, for instance, would want an Italian plumber for a neighbor, but at least they could live with him, whereas a Negro would be unthinkable because he's too obvious. It wouldn't matter if he were a doctor or a lawyer or anything else. The whites in the neighborhood would fear for the value of their property and try to sell it before it dropped."

Another common contention is that Negroes "don't want to move into an all-white neighborhood." The East End, for instance, remains solidly white except for alley dwellings and isolated shacks. The mayor, who lives in the East End, has said, "Negroes don't want to live here. It wouldn't be congenial for them. There are some fine Negro neighborhoods in the West End -- beautiful homes. They don't try to buy homes where they won't be happy. People just don't do things like that." Some people do, however, and it appears that almost without exception they get turned down flat. One Negro executive with adequate funds called a white realtor and made an appointment to look at a house for sale in the East End. Things went smoothly on the telephone, but when the Negro arrived at the realtor's office the man was incensed. "What are you trying to do?" he demanded. "You know I can't sell you that house. What are you up to, anyway?"

No realtor however, admits to racial prejudice, at least while talking to strangers. They are, they point out, not selling their own homes but those of their clients. In the same fashion, mortgage bankers are quick to explain that they do not lend their own money. A man making inquiries soon gets the impression that all clients, investors, and depositors are vicious racists and dangerous people to cross. Which is entirely untrue in Louisville -- although it is hard to see how a Negro, after making the rounds of "very sympathetic" realtors, could be expected to believe anything else.

 

Housing ranks right at the top among Louisville's racial problems. According to Frank Stanley, Jr., "Housing is basic; once we have whites and Negroes living together, the rest will be a lot easier." Jesse P. Warders, the real-estate agent, however, rates unemployment as the No. 1 problem area, because "Without money you can't enjoy the other things."

The Louisville Human Relations Commission, one of the first of its kind in the nation, agrees that although the city has made vast strides in the areas of education and public accommodations, the problems of housing and employment are still largely unsolved because "These areas are much more complex and confront long-established customs based on a heritage of prejudice." Of the two, however, the commission sees housing as a bigger problem. J. Mansir Tydings, executive director of the commission, is optimistic about the willingness of merchants and other employers to hire Negroes: "Already -- and much sooner than we expected -- our problem is training unemployed Negroes to fill positions that are open."

 

Yet there is still another big hurdle, less tangible than such, factors as housing and employment but perhaps more basic when it comes to finding an ultimate solution. This is the pervasive distrust among the white power structure of the Negro leadership's motives. Out in the dove-shooting country, in the suburbs beyond the East End, Stanley is viewed as an "opportunist politician" and a "black troublemaker." Bishop Ewbank Tucker, the minister who urged his congregation to arm themselves, is called an extremist and a Black Muslim. The possibility that some of the Negro leaders do sometimes agitate for the sake of agitation often cramps the avenues of communication between white and Negro leaders.

Even among Negroes, Stanley is sometimes viewed with uneasiness and Bishop Tucker called a racist. A former president of the Louisville NAACP, on hearing the statement that local Negroes "resent the national publicity concerning Louisville's progress in race relations," laughed and dismissed Stanley as a "very nice, very smart young fella with a lot to learn." (Stanley is twenty-six.)

"He wants things to go properly," said the NAACP man. "But difficult things never go properly -- life isn't that way." He smiled nervously. "Forty years ago I came back here thinking I could be a Black Moses -- I thought I was going to set my people free. But I couldn't do it then and it can't be done now. It's not a thing you can do overnight -- it's going to take years and years and years."

Nearly everyone agrees with that, and even with all its problems, Louisville looks to be a lot further along the road to facing and solving the "Negro problem" than many other cities. Even Stanley, who appears to make a cult of militant noncompromise, will eventually admit to a visitor that he threatens far more demonstrations than he ever intends to produce.

"The white power structure here tries to cling to the status quo. They keep telling me not to rock the boat, but I rock it anyway because it's the only way to make them move. We have to keep the pressure on them every minute, or we dissipate our strength.

"Louisville isn't like Birmingham," he adds. "I think there's a conviction here that this thing is morally wrong -- without that, we'd have real trouble."

 

The Reporter, vol. 29, December 19, 1963

 

 

 

Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl

 

Grim Notes of a Failed Fan. . . Mano a Mano with the Oakland Raiders. . . Down and Out in Houston. . . Is Pro Football over the Hump?. . . A Vague & Vengeful Screed on Texas, Jesus, and the Political Realities of the NFL. . . Will Ron Ziegler Be the Next Commissioner?

 

I

 

". . . and whosoever was not found written into the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. . ."

-- Revelations 20:15

 

This was the theme of the sermon I delivered off the 20th floor balcony of the Hyatt Regency in Houston on the morning of Super Bowl VIII. It was just before dawn, as I recall, when the urge to speak came on me. Earlier that day I had found -- on the tile floor of the Men's Room on the hotel mezzanine -- a religious comic book titled "A Demon's Nightmare," and it was from the text of this sleazy tract that I chose the words of my sermon.

The Houston Hyatt Regency -- like others designed by architect John Portman in Atlanta and San Francisco -- is a stack of 1000 rooms, built around a vast lobby at least 30 stories high, with a revolving "spindletop" bar on the roof. The whole center of the building is a tower of acoustical space. You can walk out of any room and look over the indoor balcony (20 floors down, in my case) at the palm-shrouded, wood and naugahyde maze of the bar/lounge on the lobby floor.

Closing time in Houston is 2:00 AM. There are after-hours bars, but the Hyatt Regency is not one of them. So -- when I was seized by the urge to deliver my sermon at dawn -- there were only about 20 ant-sized people moving around in the lobby far below.

Earlier, before the bar closed, the whole ground floor had been jammed with drunken sportswriters, hard-eyed hookers, wandering geeks and hustlers (of almost every persuasion), and a legion of big and small gamblers from all over the country who roamed through the drunken, randy crowd -- as casually as possible -- with an eye to picking up a last-minute sucker bet from some poor bastard half-mad on booze and willing to put some money, preferably four or five big ones, on "his boys."

The spread, in Houston, was Miami by six, but by midnight on Saturday almost every one of the two-thousand or so drunks in the lobby of the Regency -- official headquarters and media vortex for this eighth annual Super Bowl -- was absolutely sure about what was going to happen when the deal went down on Sunday, about two miles east of the hotel on the fog-soaked artificial turf of Rice University stadium.

 

Ah. . . but wait! Why are we talking about gamblers here? Or thousands of hookers and drunken sportswriters jammed together in a seething mob in the lobby of a Houston hotel?

And what kind of sick and twisted impulse would cause a professional sportswriter to deliver a sermon from the Book of Revelations off his hotel balcony on the dawn of Super Sunday?

I had not planned a sermon for that morning. I had not even planned to be in Houston, for that matter. . . But now, looking back on that outburst, I see a certain inevitability about it. Probably it was a crazed and futile effort to somehow explain the extremely twisted nature of my relationship with God, Nixon and the National Football League: The three had long since become inseparable in my mind, a sort of unholy trinity that had caused me more trouble and personal anguish in the past few months than Ron Ziegler, Hubert Humphrey and Peter Sheridan all together had caused me in a year on the campaign trail.

Or perhaps it had something to do with my admittedly deep-seated need to have public revenge on Al Davis, general manager of the Oakland Raiders. . . Or maybe an overweening desire to confess that I had been wrong, from the start, to have ever agreed with Richard Nixon about anything, and especially pro football.

In any case, it was apparently something I'd been cranking myself up to deliver for quite a while. . . and, for reasons I still can't be sure of, the eruption finally occurred on the dawn of Super Sunday.

I howled at the top of my lungs for almost 30 minutes, raving and screeching about all those who would soon be cast into the lake of fire, for a variety of low crimes, misdemeanors and general ugliness that amounted to a sweeping indictment of almost everybody in the hotel at that hour.

Most of them were asleep when I began speaking, but as a Doctor of Divinity and an ordained minister in the Church of The New Truth, I knew in my heart that I was merely a vessel -- a tool, as it were -- of some higher and more powerful voice.

For eight long and degrading days I had skulked around Houston with all the other professionals, doing our jobs -- which was actually to do nothing at all except drink all the free booze we could pour into our bodies, courtesy of the National Football League, and listen to an endless barrage of some of the lamest and silliest swill ever uttered by man or beast. . . and finally, on Sunday morning about six hours before the opening kickoff, I was racked to the point of hysteria by a hellish interior conflict.

I was sitting by myself in the room, watching the wind & weather clocks on the TV set, when I felt a sudden and extremely powerful movement at the base of my spine. Mother of Sweating Jesus! I thought. What is it -- a leech? Are there leeches in this goddamn hotel, along with everything else? I jumped off the bed and began clawing at the small of my back with both hands. The thing felt huge, maybe eight or nine pounds, moving slowly up my spine toward the base of my neck.

I'd been wondering, all week, why I was feeling so low and out of sorts. . . but it never occurred to me that a giant leech had been sucking blood out of the base of my spine all that time; and now the goddamn thing was moving up towards the base of my brain, going straight for the medulla. . . and as a professional sportswriter I knew that if the bugger ever reached my medulla I was done for.

It was at this point that serious conflict set in, because I realized -- given the nature of what was coming up my spine and the drastic effect I knew it would have, very soon, on my sense of journalistic responsibility -- that I would have to do two things immediately: First, deliver the sermon that had been brewing in my brain all week long, and then rush back into the room and write my lead for the Super Bowl story. . .

Or maybe write my lead first, and then deliver the sermon. In any case, there was no time to lose. The thing was about a third of the way up my spine now, and still moving at good speed. I jerked on a pair of L.L. Bean stalking shorts and ran out on the balcony to a nearby ice machine.

Back in the room I filled a glass full of ice and Wild Turkey, then began flipping through the pages of "A Demon's Nightmare" for some kind of spiritual springboard to get the sermon moving. I had already decided -- about midway in the ice-run -- that I had adequate time to address the sleeping crowd and also crank out a lead before that goddamn bloodsucking slug reached the base of my brain -- or, even worse, if a sharp dose of Wild Turkey happened to slow the thing down long enough to rob me of my final excuse for missing the game entirely, like last year. . .

What? Did my tongue slip there? My fingers? Or did I just get a fine professional hint from my old buddy, Mr. Natural?

Indeed. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. John Mitchell said that -- shortly before he quit his job and left Washington at 90 miles an hour in a chauffeur-driven limousine.

I have never felt close to John Mitchell, but on that rotten morning in Houston I came as close as I ever will; because he was, after all, a pro. . . and so, alas, was I. Or at least I had a fistful of press badges that said I was.

And it was this bedrock sense of professionalism, I think, that quickly solved my problem. . . which, until that moment when I recalled the foul spectre of Mitchell, had seemed to require a frantic decision between either delivering my sermon or writing my lead, in the space of an impossibly short time.

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.

Who said that?

I suspect it was somebody from the Columbia Journalism Review, but I have no proof. . . and it makes no difference anyway. There is a bond, among pros, that needs no definition. Or at least it didn't on that Sunday morning in Houston, for reasons that require no further discussion at this point in time. . . because it suddenly occurred to me that I had already written the lead for this year's Super Bowl game; I wrote it last year in Los Angeles, and a quick rip through my fat manila folder of clips labeled "Football '73" turned it up as if by magic.

I jerked it out of the file, and retyped it on a fresh page slugged: "Super Bowl/Houston '74." The only change necessary was the substitution of "Minnesota Vikings" for "Washington Redskins." Except for that, the lead seemed just as adequate for the game that would begin in about six hours as it was for the one that I missed in Los Angeles in January of '73.

"The precision-jackhammer attack of the Miami Dolphins stomped the balls off the Minnesota Vikings today by stomping and hammering with one precise jack-thrust after another up the middle, mixed with pinpoint-precision passes into the flat and numerous hammer-jack stops around both ends. . ."

The jangling of the telephone caused me to interrupt my work. I jerked it off the hook, saying nothing to whoever was on the other end, and began flashing the hotel operator. When she finally cut in I spoke very calmly. "Look," I said. "I'm a very friendly person and a minister of the gospel, to boot -- but I thought I left instructions down there to put no calls -- NO CALLS, GODDAMNIT! -- through to this room, and especially not now in the middle of this orgy. . . I've been here eight days and nobody's called me yet. Why in hell would they start now?. . . What? Well, I simply can't accept that kind of flimsy reasoning, operator. Do you believe in Hell? Are you ready to speak with Saint Peter?. . . Wait a minute now, calm down. . . I want to be sure you understand one thing before I get back to my business; I have some people here who need help. . . But I want you to know that God is Holy! He will not allow sin in his presence! The Bible says: 'There is none righteous. No, not one. . . For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.' That's from the book of Romans, young lady. . ."

The silence at the other end of the line was beginning to make me nervous. But I could feel the sap rising, so I decided to continue my sermon from the balcony. . . and I suddenly realized that somebody was beating on my door. Jesus god, I thought, it's the manager; they've come for me at last.

But it was a TV reporter from Pittsburgh, raving drunk and demanding to take a shower. I jerked him into the room. "Nevermind the goddamn shower," I said. "Do you realize what I have on my spine?" He stared at me, unable to speak. "A giant leech," I said. "It's been there for eight days, getting fatter and fatter with blood."

He nodded slowly as I led him over to the phone. "I hate leeches," he muttered.

"That's the least of our problems," I said. "Room service won't send any beer up until noon, and all the bars are closed. . . I have this Wild Turkey, but I think it's too heavy for the situation we're in."

"You're right," he said. "I got work to do. The goddamn game's about to start. I need a shower."

"Me too," I said. "But I have some work to do first, so you'll have to make the call."

"Call?" He slumped into a chair in front of the window, staring out at the thick grey mist that had hung on the town for eight days -- except now, as Super Sunday dawned, it was thicker and wetter than ever.

I gave him the phone: "Call the manager," I said. "Tell him you're Howard Cosell and you're visiting up here with a minister in 2003; we're having a private prayer breakfast and we need two fifths of his best red wine, with a box of saltine crackers."

He nodded unhappily. "Hell, I came here for a shower. Who needs the wine?"

"It's important," I said. "You make the call while I go outside and get started."

He shrugged and dialed "0" while I hurried out to the balcony, clearing my throat for an opening run at James 2:19:

"Beware!" I shouted, "for the Devils also believe, and tremble!"

I waited for a moment, but there was no reply from the lobby, 20 floors down -- so I tried Ephesians 6:12, which seemed more appropriate:

"For we wrestle not," I screamed, "against flesh and blood -- but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world -- and, yes -- against spiritual wickedness in high places!"

Still there was no response except the booming echoes of my own voice. . . but the thing on my spine was moving with new vigor now, and I sensed there was not much time. All movement in the lobby had ceased. They were all standing still down there -- maybe 20 or 30 people. . . but were they listening? Could they hear?

I couldn't be sure. The acoustics of these massive lobbies are not predictable. I knew, for instance, that a person sitting in a room on the 11th floor, with the door open, could hear -- with unnerving clarity -- the sound of a cocktail glass shattering on the floor of the lobby. It was also true that almost every word of Gregg Allman's "Multi-Colored Lady" played at top volume on a dual-speaker Sony TC-126 in an open-door room on the 20th floor could be heard in the NFL press room on the hotel mezzanine. . . but it was hard to be sure of the timbre and carrying-power of my own voice in this cavern; it sounded, to me, like the deep screaming of a bull elk in the rut. . . but there was no way to know, for sure, if I was really getting through.

"Discipline!" I bellowed. "Remember Vince Lombardi!" I paused to let that one sink in -- waiting for applause, but none came. "Remember George Metesky!" I shouted. "He had discipline!"

Nobody down in the lobby seemed to catch that one, although I sensed the first stirrings of action on the balconies just below me. It was almost time for the Free Breakfast in the Imperial Ballroom downstairs, and some of the early-rising sportswriters seemed to be up and about. Somewhere behind me a phone was ringing, but I paid no attention. It was time, I felt, to bring it all together. . . my voice was giving out, but despite the occasional dead spots and bursts of high-pitched wavering, I grasped the railing of the balcony and got braced for some flat-out raving:

"Revelations, Twenty-fifteen!" I screamed. "Say Hallelujah! Yes! Say Hallelujah!"

People were definitely responding now. I could hear their voices, full of excitement -- but the acoustics of the place made it impossible to get a good fix on the cries that were bounding back and forth across the lobby. Were they saying "Hallelujah"?

"Four more years!" I shouted. "My friend General Haig has told us that the Forces of Darkness are now in control of the Nation -- and they will rule for four more years!" I paused to sip my drink, then I hit it again: "And Al Davis has told us that whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire!"

I reached around behind me with my free hand, slapping at a spot between my shoulder blades to slow the thing down.

"How many of you will be cast into the lake of fire in the next four years? How many will survive? I have spoken with General Haig, and --"

At this point I was seized by both arms and jerked backwards, spilling my drink and interrupting the climax of my sermon. "You crazy bastard!" a voice screamed. "Look what you've done! The manager just called. Get back in the room and lock the fucking door! He's going to bust us!"

It was the TV man from Pittsburgh, trying to drag me back from my pulpit. I slipped out of his grasp and returned to the balcony. "This is Super Sunday!" I screamed. "I want every one of you worthless bastards down in the lobby in ten minutes so we can praise God and sing the national anthem!"

At this point I noticed the TV man sprinting down the hall toward the elevators, and the sight of him running caused something to snap in my brain. "There he goes!" I shouted. "He's headed for the lobby! Watch out! It's Al Davis. He has a knife!"

I could see people moving on all the balconies now, and also down in the lobby. Then, just before I ducked back in my room, I saw one of the glass-walled elevators starting down, with a single figure inside it. . . he was the most visible man in the building; a trapped and crazy animal descending slowly -- in full view of everybody from the busboys in the ground-floor coffee-shop to Jimmy the Greek on the balcony above me -- to certain captivity by that ugly crowd at the bottom.

I watched for a moment, then hung the DO NOT DISTURB sign on my doorknob and double-locked the door. That elevator, I knew, would be empty when it got to the lobby. There were at least five floors, on the way down, where he could jump out and bang on a friendly door for safe refuge. . . and the crowd in the lobby had not seen him clearly enough, through the tinted-glass wall of the elevator, to recognize him later on.

And there was not much time for vengeance, anyway, on the odd chance that anyone cared.

It had been a dull week, even by sportswriters' standards, and now the day of the Big Game was finally on us. Just one more free breakfast, one more ride, and by nightfall the thing would be over.

The first media-bus was scheduled to leave the hotel for the stadium at 10:30, four hours before kickoff, so I figured that gave me some time to relax and act human. I filled the bathtub with hot water, plugged the tape recorder with both speakers into a socket right next to the tub, and spent the next two hours in a steam-stupor, listening to Rosalie Sorrels and Doug Sahm, chewing idly on a small slice of Mr. Natural, and reading the Cocaine Papers of Sigmund Freud.

Around noon I went downstairs to the Imperial Ballroom to read the morning papers over the limp dregs of NFL's free breakfast, then I stopped at the free bar for a few bloody marys before wandering outside to catch the last bus for the stadium -- the CBS special -- complete with more bloody marys, screwdrivers and a roving wagon-meister who seemed to have everything under control.

On the bus to the stadium I made a few more bets on Miami. At that point I was picking up everything I could get, regardless of the points. It had been a long and jangled night, but the two things that needed to be done before game-time -- my sermon and my lead -- were already done, and the rest of the day looked easy: Just try to keep out of trouble and stay straight enough to collect on all my bets.

 

The consensus among the 1600 or so sportswriters in town favored Miami by almost two to one. . . but there are only a handful of sportswriters in this country with enough sense to pour piss out of their own boots, and by Saturday night there was an obvious drift among the few "smart" ones to Minnesota, with a seven-point cushion. Paul Zimmerman of the New York Post, author of A Thinking Man's Guide to Pro Football and the sportswriting fraternity's scaled-down answer to the Washington Post's political guru David Broder, had organized his traditional pressroom betting pool -- where any sportswriter who felt up to it could put a dollar in the pot and predict the final score (in writing, on the pressroom bulletin board, for all the world to see). . . and whoever came closest would pick up a thousand or so dollars.

Or at least that was the theory. But in reality there were only about 400 writers willing to risk a public prediction on the outcome of a game that -- even to an amateur like me -- was so obvious that I took every bet I could get against the Vikings, regardless of the spread. As late as 10:30 on Sunday morning I was calling bookies on both coasts, doubling and tripling my bets with every point I could get from five to seven. . . and by 2:35 on Sunday afternoon, five minutes after the kickoff, I knew I was home free.

Moments later, when the Dolphins drove the length of the field for another touchdown, I began collecting money. The final outcome was painfully clear less than halfway through the first quarter-- and shortly after that, Sport Magazine editor Dick Schapp reached over my shoulder in the press section and dropped two bills -- a five and a twenty -- in my lap.

I smiled back at him. "Jesus," I said. "Are you giving up already? This game is far from over, my man. Your people are only 21 points down, and we still have a whole half to go."

He shook his head sadly.

"You're not counting on a second-half rally?" I asked, pocketing his money.

He stared at me, saying nothing. . . then he rolled his eyes up toward the soupy mist above the stadium where the Goodyear Blimp was hovering, almost invisible in the fog.

 

When I began this doom-struck story many months ago, the idea was to follow one team all the way to the Super Bowl and, in the process, try to document the alleged -- or at least Nixonian -- similarities between pro football and politics. The problem, at that time, was to decide which team to follow. It had to be one with a good chance of going all the way, and also a team I could get along with over an extended period of time.

That was in early November, and the list of possibilities included about half the League, but, I narrowed it down to the four teams where I already knew some of the players: Los Angeles, Miami, Washington and Oakland. . . and after many days of brooding I chose Oakland.

There were two main factors involved: 1) I had already made a large bet, at 8-1 odds, on Oakland to go all the way -- as opposed to a 4-1 bet on the Redskins and 2-1 against Minnesota. . . and 2) When I checked with Dave Burgin, a former San Francisco Examiner and Washington Star-News sports editor, he said there were only two teams in the whole League flakey enough for me to identify with in any kind of personal or human way: One was Pittsburgh and the other was Oakland.

 

Well. . . it is three months later now, and the question that still haunts me, is, which jail, morgue or asylum would I be in today if I'd happened to pick one of the other teams.

Even now -- almost 2000 miles and two months removed from the Raider headquarters in Oakland -- I still want to reach for an icepick every time I see a football. . . and my only consolation, looking back on that nightmare, is that I might have decided to "cover" the Dallas Cowboys. Just before talking to Burgin, in fact, I read a savage novel called North Dallas Forty, by ex-Cowboy flanker Pete Gent, and it had cranked up my interest in both Dallas and the Cowboys enough so that I was right on the brink of dumping Oakland and heading for Texas. . .

Fortunately, I was shrewd enough to choose Oakland -- a decision that resulted, less than three weeks after I made it, in a series of personal and professional disasters ranging from massive slander and a beating by stadium-cops outside the Raider dressing room, to total banishment from the field, locker room, press box, and for all practical purposes -- because of the dark assumptions that would inevitably be made about any player seen with me in public -- from any bar, restaurant, zoo or shotgun store in the Bay Area frequented by any Raider players.

The reasons for all this are still not entirely clear -- or maybe they are, and I still can't grasp the real meaning of what happened. Perhaps it was merely a case of the chickens coming home to roost, accompanied by three giant condors.

 

 

II

 

The Raiders kicked you out? For what? Drug rumors? [Laughter] Well, it's nice to know they're starting to give writers the same kind of underhanded chickenshit they've been laying on players for ten years. . . Yeah, it varies from team to team: Like, for me, getting traded to Pittsburgh after all that time in Oakland was like finally coming up for air. As a matter of general philosophy, though, the National Football League is the last bastion of fascism in America.

-- Tom Keating, Defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers

 

To reach the Oakland Raiders' practice field you drive from San Francisco across the Bay Bridge and then south on U.S. 17 to Exit 98 at Hegenberger Road at the south end of Alameda Bay. . . turn right at the off-ramp that leads to the Oakland International Airport; glance back at the Edgewater Inn and the squat-white concrete-block building right next to the Edgewater that says "Oakland Raiders" and then swing north again.

About six miles past the Airport entrance, the Oakland Hilton and a speedboat raceway -- the road gets narrow and seems to be heading downhill, through a wet desert of stunted jack-pines (or scrub-oaks, or whatever they call those useless little trees that grow on the edge of swamplands all over the country, near places like Pensacola and Portland). . . but this is Oakland, or at least San Leandro, and when you drive 20 miles out of San Francisco to a lonesome place like this, you want a pretty good reason.

. . . Or at least a decent excuse.

The only people who make this run regularly, in the autumn months between late August and December, are Bay Area sportswriters and people on the payroll of the Oakland Raiders -- players, trainers, coaches, owners, etc. -- and the only reason they make this grim trip day after day is the nervous fact that the Raiders' practice field and daily headquarters is located, for good or ill, out here on this stinking estuary across the bay from San Francisco.

It is a hard place to find unless you know exactly where to look. The only sure giveaway sign, from the highway, is a sudden rise of thin steel scaffolding looming out of the jack-pines about 200 yards west of the road -- and two men in cheap plastic ski jackets on a platform at the top of the tower, aiming big grey movie cameras down at whatever's happening on the other side of that tree-fence.

Turn left just beyond the film-tower, park in a muddy lot full of new Cadillacs and flashy sports cars, and walk up a grassy bank to a one-story concrete-block building that looks like a dog-kennel or a Pepsi-Cola warehouse in St. Louis. . . push through a big metal fire-door & along a naked corridor decorated on both sides with black and grey helmets, sharp-edged footballs, red-white-and-blue NFL stickers. . . and finally around a corner into the weight-room, a maze of fantastically-complicated machinery with signs all around warning "unauthorized persons" to keep their goddamn hands off of everything. One of the weight-machines costs $6500 and is designed to do nothing but stretch knots out of trapezius muscles; another, costing $8800, is a maze of steel cables, weights and ankle-hooks that will -- if used properly -- cure kinks, rips and contusions out of every muscle from the hip to the achilles tendon. There are other machines for problems of the feet, neck and elbows.

I was tempted to get physically involved with every machine in the building -- just to know how it felt to get jerked around by all that fantastic machinery. I was also tempted to speak with the trainers and sample whatever medications they had to offer -- but pro football locker rooms are no longer the wholesale drug dispensaries that they were in the past. National Football League Commissioner "Pete" Rozelle -- along with "President" Nixon and the network TV moguls -- have determined that drugs and pro football won't mix; at least not in public.

On my first visit to the locker room -- and on all other visits, for that matter -- I avoided both the weight machines and the trainers. There was no point, I felt, in compromising the story early on; although if I'd known what kind of shitrain I was heading into I would have sprung every machine in the building and gobbled every pill I could get my hands on.

But I felt a certain obligation, back then, to act in a "professional" manner. . . and, besides, for my first look at the Raider practice field I was accompanied by a friendly little fellow named Al LoCasale, who had told me when I called on the phone that he was "executive assistant" to the Raiders' general manager and would-be owner, Al Davis.

LoCasale led me through the locker room, past the weights and the trainers, and out through another small door that opened onto a long green pasture enclosing two football fields, four goal posts, many blocking sleds and tackling dummies, and about 60 men moving around very actively, gathered in four separate groups on both fields.

I recognized John Madden, the head coach, running the offensive unit through short-pass drills on the field to my right. . . and on the other field, about 50 yards to my left, another coach was running the defensive unit through some kind of drill I couldn't recognize.

Far down at the other end of the field where the defensive unit was working, I could see George Blanda, the Raiders' 46-year-old reserve quarterback and premier place-kicker, working with his own set of handlers and banging one kick after another "through the uprights" -- from the 30 or 35 yard line. Blanda and his small crew were paying no attention to what was happening on the offensive and defensive fields. Their job was to keep George sharp on field goals, and during the two hours I was there, that afternoon, he kicked at least 40 or 50, and I never saw him miss one.

There were two other solitary figures moving around on the field(s) beyond the small enclosure near the locker-room door where LoCasale and several assistants made sure the half-dozen local sportswriters stayed. One was Ray Guy, the rookie punter and number one draft choice from Mississippi, who spent all afternoon kicking one ball after another in tall spiraling arcs above the offensive unit to a brace of ballboys just in front of the sportswriters' huddle. . . and the other was a small wiry man in a tan golf jacket with a greasy duck-tail haircut who paced along the sidelines of both fields with a speedy kind of intensity that I never really noticed until he suddenly appeared very close to me and I heard him ask a sportswriter from the San Francisco Chronicle who I was and what I was doing there. . .

The conversation took place within 10 yards of me, and I heard most of it.

"Who's the big guy over there with the ball in his hand?" asked the man with the DA.

"His name's Thompson," replied Chronical sportswriter Jack Smith. "He's a writer for Rolling Stone."

"The Rolling Stones? Jesus Christ! What's he doing here? Did you bring him?"

"No, he's writing a big article. Rolling Stone is a magazine, Al. It's different from the Rolling Stones; they're a rock music group. . . Thompson's a buddy of George Plimpton's, I think. . . and he's also a friend of Dave Burgin's -- you remember Burgin?"

"Holy shit! Burgin! We ran him out of here with a cattle prod!"

I saw Smith laugh at that point, then he was talking again: "Don't worry, Al. Thompson's okay. He wrote a good book about Las Vegas."

Good god! I thought. That's it. . . If they read that book I'm finished. By this time I'd realized that this strange-looking bugger named "Al," who looked like a pimp or a track-tout, was in fact the infamous Al Davis-- general manager and de facto owner (pending settlement of a nasty lawsuit scheduled for court-action early this year) of the whole Oakland Raider operation.

Davis glanced over his shoulder at me, then spoke back to Smith: "Get the bastard out of here. I don't trust him."

I heard that very clearly -- and if I'd had any sense I'd have abandoned the whole story right then, for reasons of extreme and unnatural prejudice; call the office and say I couldn't handle the bad vibes, then jump the next plane to Colorado. . . I was watching Davis very closely now, and it occurred to me that the fiendish intensity of his speech and mannerisms reminded me very strongly of another Oakland badass I'd spent some time with, several years earlier -- ex-Hell's Angels president Ralph "Sonny" Barger, who had just beaten a multiple-murder rap and then copped out, they said, to some kind of minor charge like "Aggravated Assault with Intent to Commit Murder," or "Possession of Automatic Weapons" (submachine-guns), "Possession of Heroin (four pounds) with Intent to Sell, and Sexual Assault on Two Minors with Intent to Commit Forcible Sodomy". . .

I had read these things in the Chronicle. . . but. . . What the hell? Why compound these libels? Any society that will put Barger in jail and make Al Davis a respectable millionaire at the same time is not a society to be trifled with.

In any case, the story of my strange and officially ugly relationship with Al Davis is too complicated for any long explanations at this point. I spent several days pacing the sidelines of the Raider practice field with him -- prior to the Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Kansas City games -- and the only thing I remember him talking about is "Environmental Determinism." He spoke at considerable length on that subject, as I recall, but there is nothing in my notes to indicate precisely what he said about it.

Shortly after I heard him tell Smith to get rid of me on that first afternoon, I walked over to him and somehow got wound up in a conversation about how he was having trouble buying property in Aspen because "some people out there," thought his money was "dirty" because of his known connections in Las Vegas. "Hell, that's no problem," I told him. "I once ran for sheriff in Aspen; I know the place pretty well, and I can tell you for sure that at least half the money out there is dirtier than any you're likely to come up with."

He stopped and eyed me curiously. "You ran for sheriff?" he said. "In Aspen, Colorado?"

I nodded. "Yeah, but I'd rather not talk about it. We didn't lose by much, but losing in politics is like losing in football, right? One vote, one point --"

He smiled crookedly, then began pacing again. "I don't give a damn about politics," he said as I hurried along the white-lime sideline to keep up with him. "The only things that interest me are economics and foreign affairs."

Jesus christ! I thought. Economics, foreign affairs, environmental determinism -- this bastard is sand-bagging me.

We paced back and forth a while longer, then he suddenly turned on me: "What are you after?" he snapped. "Why are you out here?"

"Well. . ." I said. "It would take me a while to explain it. Why don't we have a beer after practice tomorrow and I'll --"

"Not tomorrow," he said quickly. "I only come out here on Wednesdays and Thursdays. They get nervous when I'm around, so I try to stay away most of the time."

I nodded -- but I didn't really understand what he meant until an hour or so later, when Coach Madden signaled the end of that day's practice and Davis suddenly rushed onto the field and grabbed the quarterback, Ken Stabler, along with a receiver and a defensive back I didn't recognize, and made them run the same pass pattern -- a quick shot from about 15 yards out with the receiver getting the ball precisely at the corner of the goal line and the out-of-bounds line-- at least twelve consecutive times until they had it down exactly the way he wanted it.

That is my last real memory of Al Davis: It was getting dark in Oakland, the rest of the team had already gone into the showers, the coach was inside speaking sagely with a gaggle of local sportswriters, somewhere beyond the field-fence a big jet was cranking up its afterburners on the airport runway. . . and here was the owner of the flakiest team in pro football, running around on a half-dark practice field like a king-hell speed freak with his quarterback and two other key players, insisting that they run the same goddamn play over and over again until they had it right.

That was the only time I ever felt that I really understood Davis. . . We talked on other days, sort of loosely and usually about football, whenever I would show up at the practice field and pace around the sidelines with him. . . and it was somewhere around the third week of my random appearances, as I recall, that he began to act very nervous whenever he saw me.

I never asked why, but it was clear that something had changed, if only back to normal. . . After one of the midweek practices I was sitting with one of the Raider players in the tavern down the road from the fieldhouse and he said: "Jesus, you know I was walking back to the huddle and I looked over and, god damn, I almost flipped when I saw you and Davis standing together on the sideline. I thought, man, the world really is changing when you see a thing like that -- Hunter Thompson and Al Davis -- Christ, you know that's the first time I ever saw anybody with Davis during practice; the bastard's always alone out there, just pacing back and forth like a goddamn beast. . ."

In the meantime, blissfully unaware of what was about to happen, I was trying to learn as much as possible about the real underbelly of pro football by watching a film of the Denver-Dallas game with several Raider players who provided a running commentary on the action -- trying to explain, in language as close as they could cut it for the layman's slow eye, what was happening on the screen and how it might or might not relate to the Denver-Oakland game coming up next Sunday.

The purpose of the film-session was to show me some of the things -- in slow motion and repeated instant replay -- that nobody in the stands or the press box will ever understand. It was done as a personal favor, at a time when neither I nor any of the Oakland players realized that I was about to be banished. If I'd been writing a story on Evel Knievel at the time, I would have asked him to do the same thing -- sit down for an evening with some films of his jumps, and explain each one step-by-step, along with whatever was going through his head at any given moment.

What follows, then, is a random commentary by some pro football players just a few games away from the Super Bowl, watching a film of a game between two teams -- one of which they will have to beat on Sunday, to make the playoffs, and another they might have to beat in the Super Bowl itself. The film we were watching was the Denver-Dallas game on December 2nd. Dallas won, 22-10 -- which hardly matters, because pro football players don't watch game-films to see who won or lost. They watch for patterns, tendencies and individual strengths or weaknesses. . . and in this case they were trying to translate their reactions into language I could get a personal grip on, which accounts for some of the awkward moments.

Under normal circumstances I'd identify all of the voices in this heavily-edited tape transcript -- but for reasons that will soon become obvious if they aren't already, I decided that it would probably be more comfortable for all of us if I lumped all the player voices under one name: "Raider." This takes a bit of an edge off the talk, but it also makes it harder for the NFL security watchdogs to hassle some good people and red-line their names for hanging around with a Dope Fiend.

 

III

 

Do Not Mistake Me For Any Other Reader

 

I have come here to help to save the suffering. You know God works in a mysterious way. If you have faith in God, don't fail to see:

 

MOTHER ROBERTS

Psychic Reader and Advisor

The One & Only Gifted Healer

 

was born with the God-given powers to help humanity and has devoted her life to this work. Tells your friends' and enemies' names without asking a single word. She will tell you what you wish to know regarding health, marriage, love, divorce, courtship, speculations and business transactions of all kinds.

She will tell you of any changes you should or shouldn't make, good or bad. She removes evil influences and bad luck of all kinds. She never fails to reunite the separated, cause speedy and happy marriages. She lifts you out of sorrow and darkness and starts you on the way to success, and happiness. She will give sound and important advice on all affairs of life, whatever they may be. You will find her superior to any other reader you have consulted in the past. A place to bring your friends and feel no embarrassment.

 

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1609 W. ALABAMA PHONE JA 3-2297

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FOR ADDRESS

 

Ah yes, Mother Roberts. . . I found her card on the bus and jammed it into one of my pockets, thinking that maybe I would give her a call on Monday and make an appointment. I had a lot of heavy questions to lay on her like "Why am I here, Mother Roberts? What does it all mean? Have I finally turned pro? Can this really be the end? Down and out in Houston with --

"No, I was just kidding. Mother Roberts, just putting you on -- just working a bit of the test on you, right? Yes, because what I was really leading up to is this extremely central question. . . No, I'm not shy; it's just that I come from way up north where people's lips are frozen about ten months every year, so we don't get used to talking until very late in life. . . what? Old? Well, I think you just put your finger or your wand or whatever, right smack on the head of the nail, Mother Roberts, because the godawful truth of the whole matter is that I've been feeling extremely old this past week, and. . . What? Wait a minute now, goddamnit, I'm still getting up to the main question, which is. . . What? No, I never curse, Mother Roberts; that was a cry of anguish, a silent scream from the soul, because I feel in serious trouble down here in this goddamn town, and. . . Yes, I am a white person, Mother Roberts, and we both know there's not a damn thing I can do about it. Are you prejudiced?. . . No, let's not get into that. Just let me ask you this question, and if you can give me a straight and reasonable answer I promise I won't come out to your place. . . because what I want you to tell me, Mother Roberts -- and I mean this very seriously -- is why have I been in Houston for eight days without anybody offering me some cocaine?. . . Yes, cocaine, that's what I said, and just between you and me I'm damn serious about wanting some. . . What? Drugs? Of course I'm talking about drugs! Your ad said you could answer my questions and lift me out of sorrow and darkness. . . Okay, okay, I'm listening. . . Yeah, yeah. . . But let me tell you something, Mother Roberts: My name is Al Davis and I'm the Editor of Reader's Digest. . . Right, and I can have you busted right now for false advertising. . . Yeah, well I think I might pick up some of my people and come out to see you later on today; we want some explanations for this kind of anti-christ bullshit. This country's in enough trouble, goddamnit, without people like you running around selling drugs like cocaine to people in serious trouble. . ."

 

Mother Roberts hung up on me at that point. Christ only knows what she thought was about to come down on her when dusk fell on Houston. . . Here was the Editor of the Reader's Digest coming out to her house with a goon squad, and all of them apparently stone mad for cocaine and vengeance. . . a terrible situation.

It was not until Monday afternoon that I actually spoke with Mother Roberts on the telephone, but the idea of going over to Galveston and dealing with the whole Super Scene story from some rotten motel on the edge of the seawall had been wandering around in my head almost from the first hour after I checked into my coveted press-room at the Hyatt Regency.

And in dull retrospect now, I wish I had done that. Almost anything would have been better than that useless week I spent in Houston waiting for the Big Game. The only place in town where I felt at home was a sort of sporadically violent strip joint called the Blue Fox, far out in the country on South Main. Nobody I talked to in Houston had ever heard of it, and the only two sportswriters who went out there with me got involved in a wild riot that ended up with all of us getting maced by undercover vice-squad cops who just happened to be in the middle of the action when it erupted.

Ah. . . but that is another story, and we don't have time for it here. Maybe next time. There are two untold sagas that will not fit into this story: One has to do with Big Al's Cactus Room in Oakland, and the other concerns the Blue Fox in Houston.

There is also -- at least in the minds of at least two dozen gullible sportswriters at the Super Bowl -- the ugly story of how I spent three or four days prior to Super Week shooting smack in a $7 a night motel room on the seawall in Galveston.

I remember telling that story one night in the press lounge at the Hyatt Regency, just babbling it off the top of my head out of sheer boredom. . . Then I forgot about it completely until one of the local sportswriters approached me a day or so later and said: "Say man, I hear you spent some time in Galveston last week."

"Galveston?"

"Yeah," he said. "I hear you locked yourself in a motel over there and shot heroin for three days."

I looked around me to see who was listening, then grinned kind of stupidly and said "Shucks, there wasn't much else to do, you know -- why not get loaded in Galveston?"

He shrugged uncontrollably and looked down at his Old Crow and water. I glanced at my watch and turned to leave.

'Time to hit it," I said with a smile. "See you later, when I'm feeling back on my rails."

He nodded glumly as I moved away in the crowd. . . and although I saw him three or four times a day for the rest of that week, he never spoke to me again.

Most sportswriters are so blank on the subject of drugs that you can only talk to them about it at your own risk -- which is easy enough, for me, because I get a boot out of seeing their eyes bulge; but it can be disastrous to a professional football player who makes the casual mistake of assuming that a sportswriter knows what he's talking about when he uses a word like "crank." Any professional athlete who talks to a sportswriter about "drugs" -- even with the best and most constructive intentions -- is taking a very heavy risk. There is a definite element of hysteria about drugs of any kind in pro football today, and a casual remark -- even a meaningless remark -- across the table in a friendly hometown bar can lead, very quickly, to a seat in the witness chair in front of a congressional committee.

Ah. . . drugs; that word again. It was a hard word to avoid in NFL circles last year -- like the "missile gap" in the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election, or "law and order" in 1968.

1973 was a pretty dull press-year for congressmen. The Senate's Watergate Committee had managed, somehow, to pre-empt most of the ink and air-time. . . and one of the few congressmen who managed to lash his own special gig past that barrier was an apparently senile 67-year-old ex-sheriff and football coach from West Virginia named Harley Staggers.

Somewhere in the spastic interim between John Dean and "Bob" Haldeman, Congressman Staggers managed to collar some story-starved sportswriter from the New York Times long enough to announce that his committee -- the House Subcommittee on Investigations -- had stumbled on such a king-hell wasps' nest of evidence in the course of their probe into "the use of drugs by athletes" that the committee was prepared -- or almost prepared, pending further evidence -- to come to grips with their natural human duty and offer up a law, very soon, that would require individual urinalysis tests on all professional athletes and especially pro football players.

These tests would be administered by professional urinalysists -- paid by the federal government, out of tax-monies -- and if any one of these evil bastards passed urine that turned red (or green, or blue, or whatever), they would be. . . ah. . . well. . . the Staggers Committee is still mulling on the question of penalties.

Maybe studying is a better word. Or pondering. . . That's right, they're still pondering it. . . and God's mercy on any muscle-bound degenerate whose piss turns red if Harley ever passes his law. The rumor on Capitol Hill is that Rep. Staggers is even now in the process of arranging for the construction of a model, medium security JOCK/DRUG PENITENTIARY AND REHABILITATION CENTER on the site of an abandoned missile base near Tonopah, Nevada.

 

Meanwhile, the Vice President of the United States has been lashed out of office and disbarred in his home state of Maryland, the President himself is teetering on the brink of a Burglary/Conspiracy indictment that will mean certain impeachment, and the whole structure of our government has become a stagnant mockery of itself and everybody who ever had faith in it.

What all this means to Harley Staggers is hard to say. I am tempted to call him: It is 7:02 in Washington and I suspect he's wide awake, administering the daily beating to his pit-bulls in the backyard garage and waiting for calls from reporters:

"What's up Harley? Who's gonna get it?"

"Well. . . let me say this: We know, for a fact, that the situation is out of control and I mean to put a stop to it or fall down trying. . ."

"A stop to what, Harley?"

"Nevermind that. You know what I mean." (pause) "Let me ask you something: Does a phrase like 'The playing fields of West Virginia' mean anything to you?" (pause) "Wait a minute -- where were you raised? What's wrong with --" (click). . .

Ah, Jesus. . . another bad tangent. Somewhere in the back of my mind I recall signing a contract that said I would never do this kind of thing again; one of the conditions of my turning pro was a clause about swearing off gibberish. . .

But, like Gregg Allman says: "I've wasted so much time. . . feelin guilty. . ."

There is some kind of back-door connection in my head between Super Bowls and the Allman Brothers -- a strange kind of theme-sound that haunts these goddamn stories no matter where I'm finally forced into a corner to write them. The Allman sound, and rain. There was heavy rain, last year, on the balcony of my dim-lit hotel room just down from the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. . . and more rain through the windows of the San Francisco office building where I finally typed out "the story."

And now, almost exactly a year later, my main memory of Super Bowl VIII in Houston is rain and grey mist outside another hotel window, with the same strung-out sound of the Allman Brothers booming out of the same portable speakers that I had, last year, in Los Angeles.

There was not much else worth remembering from either game-- or at least not much that needs writing about, and the clock on the wall reminds me, once again, that a final deadline looms and there is hungry space to fill out there in San Francisco. . . Which means no more thinking about rain and music, but a quick and nasty regression to "professionalism."

Which is what it's all about.

Indeed, I tend, more and more, to forget these things. Or maybe just to ignore them.

But what the hell? Retirement is just around the corner, so why not wander a bit?

 

"You grow up fast in Texas

and you got to lay it down

Or you'll be working for somebody

way cross town."

-- Doug Sahm

 

The floor of the Hyatt Regency men's room was always covered, about three-inches deep, with discarded newspapers -- all apparently complete and unread, except on closer examination you realized that every one of them was missing its sports section. This bathroom was right next to the hotel newsstand and just across the mezzanine from the crowded NFL "press lounge," a big room full of telephones and free booze, where most of the 1600 or so sportswriters assigned to cover The Big Game seemed to spend about 16 hours of each day, during Super Week.

After the first day or so, when it became balefully clear that there was no point in anybody except the local reporters going out on the press-bus each day for the carefully staged "player interviews," that Dolphin tackle Manny Fernandez described as "like going to the dentist every day to have the same tooth filled," the out-of-town writers began using the local types as a sort of involuntary "pool". . . which was more like an old British Navy press gang, in fact, because the locals had no choice. They would go out, each morning, to the Miami and Minnesota team hotels, and dutifully conduct the daily interviews. . . and about two hours later this mass of useless gibberish would appear, word for word, in the early editions of either the Post or the Chronicle.

You could see the front door of the hotel from the balcony of the press lounge, and whenever the newsboy came in with his stack of fresh papers, the national writers would make the long 48-yard walk across to the newsstand and cough up 15 cents each for their copies. Then, on the way back to the press lounge, they would stop for a piss and dump the whole paper -- except for the crucial sports section -- on the floor of the men's room. The place was so deep, all week, in fresh newsprint, that it was sometimes hard to push the door open.

Forty yards away, on comfortable couches surrounding the free bar, the national gents would spend about two hours each day scanning the local sports sections -- along with a never-ending mass of almost psychotically detailed information churned out by the NFL publicity office -- on the dim chance of finding something worth writing about that day.

There never was, of course. But nobody seemed really disturbed about it. The only thing most of the sportswriters in Houston seemed to care about was having something to write about. . . anything at all, boss: a peg, an angle, a quote, even a goddamn rumor.

I remember being shocked at the sloth and moral degeneracy of the Nixon press corps during the 1972 presidential campaign -- but they were like a pack of wolverines on speed compared to the relatively elite sportswriters who showed up in Houston to cover the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, there really was no story. As the week wore on, it became increasingly obvious that we were all "just working here." Nobody knew who to blame for it, and although at least a third of the sportswriters who showed up for that super-expensive shuck knew exactly what was happening, I doubt if more than five or six of them ever actually wrote the cynical and contemptuous appraisals of Super Bowl VIII that dominated about half the conversations around the bar in the press lounge.

Whatever was happening in Houston that week had little or nothing to do with the hundreds of stories that were sent out on the news-wires each day. Most of the stories, in fact, were unabashed rewrites of the dozens of official NFL press releases churned out each day by the League publicity office. Most of the stories about "fantastic parties" given by Chrysler, American Express and Jimmy the Greek were taken from press releases and rewritten by people who had spent the previous evening at least five miles from the scenes described in their stories.

The NFL's official Super Bowl party -- the "incredible Texas Hoe-Down" on Friday night in the Astrodome -- was as wild, glamorous and exciting as an Elks Club picnic on Tuesday in Salina, Kansas. The official NFL press release on the Hoe-Down said it was an unprecedented extravaganza that cost the League more than $100,000 and attracted people like Gene McCarthy and Ethel Kennedy. . . Which might have been true, but I spent about five hours skulking around in that grim concrete barn and the only people I recognized were a dozen or so sportswriters from the press lounge.

Anybody with access to a mimeograph machine and a little imagination could have generated at least a thousand articles on "an orgy of indescribable proportions" at John Connally's house, with Allen Ginsberg as the guest of honor and 13 thoroughbred horses slaughtered by drug-crazed guests with magnesium butcher knives. Most of the press people would have simply picked the story off the big table in the "workroom," rewritten it just enough to make it sound genuine, and sent it off on the Wire without a second thought.

 

The bus-ride to the stadium for the game on Sunday took more than an hour, due to heavy traffic. I had made the same six-mile drive the night before in just under five minutes. . . but that was under very different circumstances; Rice Stadium is on South Main Street, along the same route that led from the Hyatt Regency to the Dolphin headquarters at the Marriott, and also to the Blue Fox.

There was not much to do on the bus except drink, smoke and maintain a keen ear on the babble of conversations behind me for any talk that might signal the presence of some late-blooming Viking fan with money to waste. It is hard to stay calm and casual in a crowd of potential bettors when you feel absolutely certain of winning any bet you can make. At that point, anybody with even a hint of partisan enthusiasm in his voice becomes a possible mark -- a doomed and ignorant creature to be lured, as carefully as possible, into some disastrous last-minute wager that could cost him every dollar he owns.

There is no room for mercy or the milk of human kindness in football betting-- at least not when you're prepared to get up on the edge with every dollar you own. One-on-one betting is a lot more interesting than dealing with bookies, because it involves strong elements of personality and psychic leverage. Betting against the point spread is a relatively mechanical trip, but betting against another individual can be very complex, if you're serious about it -- because you want to know, for starters, whether you're betting against a fool or a wizard, or maybe against somebody who's just playing the fool.

Making a large bet on a bus full of sportswriters on the way to the Super Bowl, for instance, can be a very dangerous thing; because you might be dealing with somebody who was in the same fraternity at Penn State with one of the team doctors, and who learned the night before -- while drinking heavily with his old buddy -- that the quarterback you're basing your bet on has four cracked ribs and can barely raise his passing arm to shoulder level.

Situations like these are not common. Unreported injuries can lead to heavy fines against any team that fails to report one -- especially in a Super Bowl -- but what is a $10,000 fine, compared to the amount of money that kind of crucial knowledge is worth against a big-time bookie?

The other side of that coin is a situation where a shrewd coach turns the League's "report all injuries" rule into a psychological advantage for his own team -- and coincidentally for any bettor who knows what's happening -- by scrupulously reporting an injury to a star player just before a big game, then calling a press conference to explain that the just-reported injury is of such a nature -- a pulled muscle, for instance -- that it might or might not heal entirely by game time.

This was what happened in Houston with the Dolphins' Paul Warfield, widely regarded as "the most dangerous pass receiver in pro football." Warfield is a game-breaker, a man who commands double-coverage at all times because of his antelope running style, twin magnets for hands, and a weird kind of adrenaline instinct that feeds on tension and high pressure. There is no more beautiful sight in football than watching Paul Warfield float out of the backfield on a sort of angle-streak pattern right into the heart of a "perfect" zone defense and take a softly thrown pass on his hip, without even seeming to notice the arrival of the ball, and then float another 60 yards into the end zone, with none of the frustrated defensive backs ever touching him.

There is an eerie kind of certainty about Warfield's style that is far more demoralizing than just another six points on the Scoreboard. About half the time he looks bored and lazy -- but even the best pass defenders in the league know, in some nervous corner of their hearts, that when the deal goes down Warfield is capable of streaking right past them like they didn't exist. . .

Unless he's hurt; playing with some kind of injury that might or might not be serious enough to either slow him down or gimp the fiendish concentration that makes him so dangerous. . . and this was the possibility that Dolphin coach Don Shula raised on Wednesday when he announced that Warfield had pulled a leg muscle in practice that afternoon and might not play on Sunday.

This news caused instant action in gambling circles. Even big-time bookies, whose underground information on these things is usually as good as Pete Rozelle's, took Shula's announcement seriously enough to cut the spread down from seven to six-- a decision worth many millions of betting dollars if the game turned out to be close.

Even the rumor of an injury to Warfield was worth one point (and even two, with some bookies I was never able to locate). . . and if Shula had announced on Saturday that Paul was definitely not going to play, the spread would probably have dropped to four, or even three. . . Because the guaranteed absence of Warfield would have taken a great psychological load off the minds of Minnesota's defensive backs.

Without the ever-present likelihood of a game-breaking "bomb" at any moment, they could focus down much tighter on stopping Miami's brutal running game -- which eventually destroyed them, just as it had destroyed Oakland's nut-cutting defense two weeks earlier, and one of the main reasons why the Vikings failed to stop the Dolphins on the ground was the constant presence of Paul Warfield in his customary wide-receiver's spot.

He played almost the whole game, never showing any sign of injury; and although he caught only one pass, he neutralized two Minnesota defensive backs on every play. . . and two extra tacklers on the line of scrimmage might have made a hell of a difference in that embarrassingly decisive first quarter when Miami twice drove what might as well have been the whole length of the field to score 14 quick points and crack the Vikings' confidence just as harshly as they had cracked the Redskins out in Los Angeles a year earlier.

 

It is hard to say, even now, exactly why I was so certain of an easy Dolphin victory. The only reason I didn't get extremely rich on the game was my inability to overcome the logistical problems of betting heavily, on credit, by means of frantic long-distance phone calls from a hotel room in Houston. None of the people I met in that violent, water-logged town were inclined to introduce me to a reliable bookmaker -- and the people I called on both coasts, several hours before the game on Sunday morning, seemed unnaturally nervous when I asked them to use their own credit to guarantee my bets with their local bookies.

Looking back on it now, after talking with some of these people and cursing them savagely, I see that the problem had something to do with my frenzied speech-pattern that morning. I was still in the grip of whatever fiery syndrome had caused me to deliver that sermon off the balcony a few hours earlier -- and the hint of mad tremor in my voice, despite my attempts to disguise it, was apparently communicated very clearly to all those I spoke with on the long-distance telephone.

How long, O lord, how long? This is the second year in a row that I have gone to the Super Bowl and been absolutely certain -- at least 48 hours before gametime -- of the outcome. It is also the second year in a row that I have failed to capitalize, financially, on this certainty. Last year, betting mainly with wealthy cocaine addicts, I switched all my bets from Washington to Miami on Friday night -- and in the resulting confusion my net winnings were almost entirely canceled by widespread rancor and personal bitterness.

 

This year, in order to side-step that problem, I waited until the last moment to make my bets -- despite the fact that I knew the Vikings were doomed after watching them perform for the press at their star-crossed practice field on Monday afternoon before the game. It was clear, even then, that they were spooked and very uncertain about what they were getting into -- but it was not until I drove about 20 miles around the beltway to the other side of town for a look at the Dolphins that I knew, for sure, how to bet.

There are a lot of factors intrinsic to the nature of the Super Bowl that make it far more predictable than regular season games, or even playoffs -- but they are not the kind of factors that can be sensed or understood at a distance of 2000 or even 20 miles, on the basis of any wisdom or information that filters out from the site through the rose-colored booze-bent media-filter that passes for "world-wide coverage" at these spectacles.

 

There is a progression of understanding vis-a-vis pro football that varies drastically with the factor of distance -- physical, emotional, intellectual and every other way. . . Which is exactly the way it should be, in the eyes of the amazingly small number of people who own and control the game, because it is this finely managed distance factor that accounts for the high-profit mystique that blew the sacred institution of baseball off its "national pastime" pedestal in less than 15 years.

There were other reasons for baseball's precipitous loss of popularity among everybody except old men and middle-aged sportswriters between 1959 and now -- just as there will be a variety of reasons to explain the certain decline of pro football between now and 1984 -- but if sporting historians ever look back on all this and try to explain it, there will be no avoiding the argument that pro football's meteoric success in the 1960's was directly attributable to its early marriage with network TV and a huge, coast-to-coast audience of armchair fans who "grew up" -- in terms of their personal relationships to The Game -- with the idea that pro football was something that happened every Sunday on the tube. The notion of driving eight miles along a crowded freeway and then paying $3 to park the car in order to pay another $10 to watch the game from the vantage point of a damp redwood bench 55 rows above the 19-yard line in a crowd of noisy drunks was entirely repugnant to them.

And they were absolutely right. After ten years of trying it both ways-- and especially after watching this last wretched Super Bowl game from a choice seat in the "press section" very high above the 50-yard line -- I hope to christ I never again succumb to whatever kind of weakness or madness it is that causes a person to endure the incoherent hell that comes with going out to a cold and rainy stadium for three hours on a Sunday afternoon and trying to get involved with whatever seems to be happening down there on that far-below field.

At the Super Bowl I had the benefit of my usual game-day aids: powerful binoculars, a tiny portable radio for the blizzard of audio-details that nobody ever thinks to mention on TV, and a seat on the good left arm of my friend, Mr. Natural. . . But even with all these aids and a seat on the 50-yard line, I would rather have stayed in my hotel room and watched the goddamn thing on TV; or maybe in some howling-drunk bar full of heavy bettors -- the kind of people who like to bet on every play: pass or run, three to one against a first down, twenty to one on a turnover. . .

This is a very fast and active style of betting, because you have to make a decision about every 25 seconds. The only thing more intense is betting yes or no on the next shot in something like a pro basketball game between the Celtics and the Knicks, where you might get five or six shots every 24 seconds. . . or maybe only one, but in any case the betting is almost as exhausting as being out there on the floor.

 

I stayed in Houston for two days after the game, but even with things calmed down I had no luck in finding the people who'd caused me all my trouble. Both Tom Keating and Al LoCasale were rumored to be in the vicinity, but -- according to some of the New York sportswriters who'd seen them -- neither one was eager to either see or be seen with me.

When I finally fled Houston it was a cold Tuesday afternoon with big lakes of standing water on the road to the airport. I almost missed my plane to Denver because of a hassle with Jimmy the Greek about who was going to drive us to the airport and another hassle with the hotel garage-man about who was going to pay for eight days of tending my bogus "Official Super Bowl Car" in the hotel garage. . . and I probably wouldn't have made it at all if I hadn't run into a NFL publicity man who gave me enough speed to jerk me awake and lash the little white Mercury Cougar out along the Dallas freeway to the airport in time to abandon it in the "Departures/Taxis Only" area and hire a man for five dollars to rush my bags and sound equipment up to the Continental Airlines desk just in time to make the flight.

 

Twenty-four hours later I was back in Woody Creek and finally, by sheer accident, making contact with that twisted bastard Keating -- who bent my balance a bit by calmly admitting his role in my Problem and explaining it with one of the highest left-handed compliments anybody ever aimed at me. . .

"I got nothing personal against Thompson," he told another NFL player who happened to be skiing in Aspen at the time: "But let's face it, we've got nothing to gain by talking to him. I've read all his stuff and I know how he is; he's a goddamn lunatic -- and you've got to be careful with a bastard like that, because no matter how hard he tries, he just can't help but tell the truth."

When I heard that I just sort of slumped down on my bar-stool and stared at myself in the mirror. . . wishing, on one level, that Keating's harsh judgment was right. . . but knowing, on another, that the treacherous realities of the worlds I especially work in forced me to abandon that purist stance a long time ago. If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people -- including me -- would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.

 

What was easily the most provocative quote of that whole dreary week came on the Monday after the game from Miami linebacker Doug Swift. He was talking in his usual loose "What? Me worry?" kind of way with two or three sports-writers in the crowded lobby of the Marriott. Buses were leaving for the airport, Dolphin supporters and their wives were checking out, the lobby was full of stranded luggage, and off in one of the corners, Don Shula was talking with another clutch of sportswriters and ridiculing the notion that he would ever get rid of Jim Kiick, despite Kiick's obvious unhappiness at the prospect of riding the bench again next year behind all-pro running back Mercury Morris.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the lobby, Doug Swift was going along with a conversation that had turned, along with Shula's, to money and next year's contracts. Swift listened for a while, then looked up at whoever was talking to him and said:

"You can expect to see a lot of new faces on next year's [Miami] team. A lot of important contracts are coming up for renewal, and you can bet that the guys will be asking for more than management is willing to pay."

Nobody paid much attention to the decidedly unnatural timing of Swift's matter-of-fact prediction about "a lot of new faces next year," but it was not the kind of talk designed to tickle either Shula's or Joe Robbie's rampant humours that morning. Jesus, here was the team's Player Representative -- a star linebacker and one of the sharpest & most politically conscious people in the League -- telling anyone who cared to listen, not even 12 hours after the victory party, that the embryo "Dolphin Dynasty" was already in a very different kind of trouble than anything the Vikings or the Redskins had been able to lay on them in two straight Super Bowls.

 

Swift's comment was all the more ominous because of his nature as the team's spokesman in the NFL Players' Association -- a long-dormant poker club, of sorts, that in recent years has developed genuine muscle. Even in the face of what most of the player reps call a "legalized and unregulated monopoly" with the power of what amounts to "life or death" over their individual fates and financial futures in the tight little world of the National Football League, the Players' Association since 1970 has managed to challenge the owners on a few carefully chosen issues. . . The two most obvious, or at least most frequently mentioned by players, are the Pension Fund (which the owners now contribute to about twice as heavily as they did before the threatened strike in 1970) and the players' unilateral rejection, last year, of the "urinalysis proposal" which the owners and Rozelle were apparently ready and willing to arrange for them, rather than risk any more public fights with Congress about things like TV blackouts and antitrust exemptions.

According to Pittsburgh tackle Tom Keating, an articulate maverick who seems to enjoy a universal affection and respect from almost everybody in the League except the owners and owner-bent coaches, the Players' Association croaked the idea of mass-urinalysis with one quick snarl. "We just told them to fuck it," he says. "The whole concept of mass urine tests is degrading! Jesus, can you imagine what would happen if one of those stadium cops showed up in the press box at half-time with a hundred test tubes and told all the writers to piss in the damn things or turn in their credentials for the rest of the season? I'd like to film that goddamn scene."

I agreed with Keating that mass-urinalysis in the press box at half-time would undoubtedly cause violence and a blizzard of vicious assaults on the NFL in the next mornings' papers. . . but, after thinking about it for a while, the idea struck me as having definite possibilities if applied on a broad enough basis:

Mandatory urine-tests for all congressmen and senators at the end of each session, for instance. Who could predict what kind of screaming hell might erupt if Rep. Harley Staggers was suddenly grabbed by two Pinkerton men in a hallway of the US Capitol and dragged-- in full view of tourists, newsmen and several dozen of his shocked and frightened colleagues -- into a nearby corner and forced to piss in a test tube?

Would Staggers scream for help? Would he struggle in the grip of his captors? Or would he meekly submit, in the interest of National Security?

We will probably never know, because the present Congress does not seem to be in the mood to start passing "Forced Urinalysis" laws -- although the Agnew-style Supreme Court that Nixon has saddled us with would probably look with favor on such a law.

In any case, the threat of mandatory urinalysis for professional athletes will probably be hooted out of Congress as some kind of stupid hillbilly joke if Staggers ever gets serious about it. He is not viewed, in Washington, as a heavy Shaker and Mover.

 

When Doug Swift made that comment about "a lot of new faces on next year's team," he was not thinking in terms of a player-revolt against forced urinalysis. What he had in mind, I think, was the fact that among the Dolphin contracts coming up for renewal this year are those of Larry Csonka, Jake Scott, Paul Warfield, Dick Anderson and Mercury Morris -- all established stars earning between $30,000 and $55,000 a year right now, and all apparently in the mood to double their salaries next time around.

Which might seem a bit pushy, to some people -- until you start comparing average salary figures in the National Football League against salaries in other pro sports. The average NFL salary (according to figures provided by Players' Association general counsel, Ed Garvey) is $28,500, almost five grand less than the $33,000 average for major league baseball players, and about half the average salary (between $50,000 and $55,000) in the National Hockey League. . . But when you start talking about salaries in the National Basketball Association, it's time to kick out the jams: The average NBA salary is $92,500 a year. (The NBA Players' Association claims that the average salary is $100,000.) Against this steep-green background, it's a little easier to see why Larry Csonka wants a raise from his current salary of $55,000 -- to $100,000 or so, a figure that he'd probably scale down pretty calmly if Joe Robbie offered him the average NBA salary of $92,500.

(A quick little sidelight on all these figures has to do with the price TV advertisers paid to push their products during time-outs and penalty-squabbles at the Super Bowl: The figure announced by the NFL and whatever TV network carried the goddamn thing was $200,000 per minute. I missed the telecast, due to factors beyond my control -- which is why I don't know which network sucked up all that gravy, or whether it was Schlitz, Budweiser, Gillette or even King Kong Amyl Nitrites that coughed up $200,000 for every 60 seconds of TV exposure on that grim afternoon.)

But that was just a sidelight. . . and the longer I look at all these figures, my watch, and this goddamn stinking mojo wire that's been beeping steadily out here in the snow for two days, the more I tend to see this whole thing about a pending Labor Management crunch in the NFL as a story with a spine of its own that we should probably leave for later.

The only other thing -- or maybe two things -- that I want to hit, lashing the final pages of this bastard into the mojo, has to do with the sudden and apparently serious formation of the "World Football League" by the same people whose record, so far, has been pretty good when it comes to taking on big-time monopolies. Los Angeles lawyer Gary Davidson is the same man who put both the American Basketball Association and the World Hockey League together-- two extremely presumptuous trips that appear to have worked out very nicely, and which also provided the competition factor that caused the huge salary jumps in both basketball and hockey.

Perhaps the best example of how the competition-factor affects player salaries comes from the ledger-books of the NFL. In 1959, the average salary in pro football was $9500 a year. But in 1960, when the newly formed AFL began its big-money bidding war against pro football's Old Guard, the average NFL salary suddenly jumped to $27,500-- and in the 13 years since then it has crept up another $1000 to the current figure of $28,500.

The explanation for all this -- according to Garvey and all the players I've talked to about it -- is rooted entirely in the owner-arranged merger between the NFL and the AFL in 1966. "Ever since then," says Garvey, "it's been a buyer's market, and that's why the NFL's average salary figure has remained so stagnant, compared to the other sports."

Garvey said he'd just as soon not make any public comment on the possibility of a players' strike next summer -- but there is a lot of private talk about it among individual players, and especially among the player reps and some of the politically oriented hard rockers like Swift, Keating, and Kansas City's Ed Podolak.

The only person talking publicly about a players' strike is Gary Davidson, president of the new World Football League -- who called a press conference in New York on January 22nd to announce that the WFL was not going after the top college players and the 35 or so NFL veterans who played out their options last year -- but, in a sudden reversal of policy that must have sent cold shots of fear through every one of the 26 plush boardrooms in the NFL, Davidson announced that the WFL will also draft "all pro football players, even those under contract," and then begin draining talent out of the NFL by a simple device called "future contracts."

If the Boston Bulls of the WFL, for instance, decided to draft Dolphin quarterback Bob Griese this year and sign him to a future contract for 1975, Griese would play the entire "74 season for Miami, and then -- after getting a certified deposit slip for something like $2 million in gold bullion from his bank in Zurich -- he would have a round of farewell beers with Robbie and Shula before catching the plane for Boston, where he would open the 1976 season as quarterback for the Bulls.

This is only one of several hundred weird scenarios that could start unfolding in the next few months if the WFL franchise-owners have enough real money to take advantage of the NFL players' strike that Gary Davidson says he's waiting for this summer.

Why not? Total madness on the money front: Huge bonuses, brutal money raids on NFL teams like the Dolphins and the Raiders; wild-eyed WFL agents flying around the country in private Lear jets with huge sacks of cash and mind-bending contracts for any player willing to switch. . .

The only sure loser, in the end, will be the poor bastard who buys a season ticket for the Dolphins '76 season and then picks up the Miami Herald the next day to find a red banner headline saying: GRIESE, KJICK, CSONKA, SCOTT, ANDERSON JUMP TO WFL.

Which is sad, but what the hell? None of this tortured bullshit about the future of pro football means anything, anyway. If the Red Chinese invaded tomorrow and banned the game entirely, nobody would really miss it after two or three months. Even now, most of the games are so fucking dull that it's hard to understand how anybody can even watch them on TV unless they have some money hanging on the point spread, instead of the final score.

Pro football in America is over the hump. Ten years ago it was a very hip and private kind of vice to be into. I remember going to my first 49er game in 1965 with 15 beers in a plastic cooler and a Dr. Grabow pipe full of bad hash. The 49ers were still playing in Kezar stadium then, an old grey hulk at the western end of Haight Street in Golden Gate Park. There were never any sellouts, but the 30,000 or so regulars were extremely heavy drinkers, and at least 10,000 of them were out there for no other reason except to get involved in serious violence. . . By halftime the place was a drunken madhouse, and anybody who couldn't get it on anywhere else could always go underneath the stands and try to get into the long trough of a "Men's Room" through the "Out" door; there were always a few mean drunks lurking around to punch anybody who tried that. . . and by the end of the third quarter of any game, regardless of the score, there were always two or three huge brawls that would require the cops to clear out whole sections of the grandstand.

But all that changed when the 49ers moved out to Candlestick Park. The prices doubled and a whole new crowd took the seats. It was the same kind of crowd I saw, last season, in the four games I went to at the Oakland Coliseum: a sort of half-rich mob of nervous doctors, lawyers and bank officers who would sit through the whole game without ever making a sound -- not even when some freak with a head full of acid spilled a whole beer down the neck of their grey-plastic ski jackets. Toward the end of the season, when the Raiders were battling every week for a spot in the playoffs, some of the players got so pissed off at the stuporous nature of their "fans" that they began making public appeals for "cheering" and "noise."

It was a bad joke if you didn't have to live with it-- and as far as I'm concerned I hope to hell I never see the inside of another football stadium. Not even a free seat with free booze in the press box.

That gig is over now, and I blame it on Vince Lombardi.

The success of his Green Bay approach in the '60's restructured the game entirely. Lombardi never really thought about winning; his trip was not losing. . . Which worked, and because it worked the rest of the NFL bought Lombardi's whole style: Avoid Mistakes, Don't Fuck Up, Hang Tough and Take No Chances. . . Because sooner or later the enemy will make a mistake and then you start grinding them down, and if you play the defensive percentage you'll get inside his 30-yard line at least three times in each half, and once you're inside the 30 you want to be sure to get at least three points. . .

Wonderful. Who can argue with a battle-plan like that? And it is worth remembering that Richard Nixon spent many Sundays, during all those long and lonely autumns between 1962 and '68, shuffling around on the field with Vince Lombardi at Green Bay Packer games.

Nixon still speaks of Lombardi as if he might suddenly appear, at any moment, from underneath one of the larger rocks on the White House lawn. . . And Don Shula, despite his fairly obvious distaste for Nixon, has adopted the Lombardi style of football so effectively that the Dolphins are now one of the dullest teams to watch in the history of pro football.

But most of the others are just as dull -- and if you need any proof, find a TV set some weekend that has pro football, basketball and hockey games on three different channels. In terms of pure action and movement, the NFL is a molasses farm compared to the fine sense of crank that comes on when you get locked into watching a team like the Montreal Canadiens or the Boston Celtics.

One of the few sharp memories I still have from that soggy week in Houston is the sight of the trophy that would go to the team that won the Big Game on Sunday. It was appropriately named after Vince Lombardi: "The Lombardi Trophy," a thick silver fist rising out of a block of black granite.

The trophy has all the style and grace of an ice floe in the North Atlantic. There is a silver plaque on one side of the base that says something about Vince Lombardi and the Super Bowl. . . but the most interesting thing about it is a word that is carved, for no apparent or at least no esthetic reason, in the top of the black marble base:

"DISCIPLINE"

That's all it says, and all it needs to say.

The '73 Dolphins, I suspect, will be to pro football what the '64 Yankees were to baseball, the final flower of an era whose time has come and gone. The long and ham-fisted shadow of Vince Lombardi will be on us for many more years. . . But the crank is gone. . .

Should we end the bugger with that?

Why not? Let the sportswriters take it from here. And when things get nervous, there's always that smack-filled $7-a-night motel room down on the seawall in Galveston.

Rolling Stone #128, February 15, 1973

 

 

 

The Temptations of Jean-Claude Killy

 

Gray day in Boston. Piles of dirty snow around the airport. . . My cocktail flight from Denver was right on time, but Jean-Claude Killy was not there to meet me.

Bill Cardoso lurked near the gate, grinning through elegant rimless glasses, commenting on our way to the bar that I looked like a candidate for a serious dope bust. Sheepskin vests are not big in Boston these days.

"But look at these fine wing-tips," I said, pointing down at my shoes.

He chuckled. "All I can see is that goddamn necklace. Being seen with you could jeopardize my career. Do you have anything illegal in that bag?"

"Never," I said. "A man can't travel around on airplanes wearing a Condor Legion neck-piece unless he's totally clean. I'm not even armed. . . This whole situation makes me feel nervous and weird and thirsty." I lifted my sunglasses to look for the bar, but the light was too harsh.

"What about Killy?" he said. "I thought you were supposed to meet him."

"I can't handle it tonight," I said. "I've been chasing all over the country for 10 days on this thing: Chicago, Denver, Aspen, Salt Lake City, Sun Valley, Baltimore. Now Boston and tomorrow New Hampshire. I'm supposed to ride up there with them tonight on the Head Ski bus, but I'm not up to it; all those hired geeks with their rib-ticklers. Let's have a drink, then I'll cancel out on the bus trip."

It seemed like the only decent thing to do. So we drove around to the airport hotel and went inside, where the desk clerk said the Head Ski people were gathered in Room 247. Which was true; they were in there, perhaps 30 in all, standing around a cloth-covered table loaded with beer and diced hotdogs. It looked like a cocktail party for the local Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. These were the Head Ski dealers, presumably from around the New England area. And right in their midst, looking fatigued and wretchedly uncomfortable -- yes, I couldn't quite believe it, but there he was: Jean-Claude Killy, the world's greatest skier, now retired at age 26 with three Olympic gold medals, a fistful of golden contracts, a personal manager and ranking-celebrity status on three continents. . .

Cardoso nudged me, whispering, "Jesus, there's Killy." I hadn't expected to find him here; not in a dim little windowless room in the bowels of a plastic motel. I stopped just inside the door. . . and a dead silence fell on the room. They stared, saying nothing, and Cardoso said later that he thought we were going to be attacked.

I hadn't expected a party. I thought we were looking for a private room, containing either "Bud" Stanner, Head's Marketing Director, or Jack Rose, the PR man. But neither one was there. The only person I recognized was Jean-Claude, so I waded through the silence to where he was standing, near the hotdog table. We shook hands, both of us vibrating discomfort in this strange atmosphere. I was never quite sure about Killy, never knowing if he understood why I was embarrassed for him in those scenes.

A week earlier he'd seemed insulted when I smiled at his pitchman's performance at the Chicago Auto Show, where he and O.J. Simpson had spent two days selling Chevrolets. Killy had seen no humor in his act, and he couldn't understand why I did. Now, standing around in this grim, beer-flavored sales meeting, it occurred to me that maybe he thought I felt uncomfortable because I wasn't wearing a red tie and a Robert Hall blazer with brass buttons like most of the others. Maybe he was embarrassed to be seen with me, a Weird Person of some sort. . . and with Cardoso, wearing granny glasses and a big grin, wandering around the room mumbling, "Jesus, where are we? This must be Nixon headquarters." We didn't stay long. I introduced Cardoso as an editor of the Boston Globe, and that stirred a bit of interest in the dealer-salesmen ranks -- they are wise in the ways of publicity -- but my neckpiece was obviously more than they could handle. Their faces tensed when I reached into the beer tub; nothing had been offered and my thirst was becoming acute. Jean-Claude just stood there in his blazer, smiling nervously. Outside in the hallway, Cardoso erupted with laughter. "What an incredible scene! What was he doing with those bums?"

I shook my head. Killy's hard-sell scenes no longer surprised me, but finding him trapped in a beer and hotdog gig was like wandering into some housing-project kaffeeklatsch and finding Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis making a straight-faced pitch for Folger's instant-brewed.

My head was not straight at that stage of the investigation. Two weeks of guerrilla warfare with Jean-Claude Killy's publicity juggernaut had driven me to the brink of hysteria. What had begun in Chicago as a simple sketch of a French athlete turned American culture-hero had developed, by the time I got to Boston, into a series of maddening skirmishes with an interlocking directorate of public relations people.

I was past the point of needing any more private time with Jean-Claude. We had already done our thing -- a four-hour head-on clash that ended with him yelling: "You and me, we are completely different. We are not the same kind of people! You don't understand! You could never do what I'm doing! You sit there and smile, but you don't know what it is! I am tired. Tired! I don't care anymore -- not on the inside.or the outside! I don't care what I say, what I think, but I have to keep doing it. And two weeks from now I can go back home to rest, and spend all my money."

There was a hint of decency -- perhaps even humor -- about him, but the high-powered realities of the world he lives in now make it hard to deal with him on any terms except those of pure commerce. His handlers rush him from one scheduled appearance to the next; his time and priorities are parceled out according to their dollar/publicity value; everything he says is screened and programmed. He often sounds like a prisoner of war, dutifully repeating his name, rank and serial number. . . and smiling, just as dutifully, fixing his interrogator with that wistful, distracted sort of half-grin that he knows is deadly effective because his handlers have showed him the evidence in a hundred press-clippings. The smile has become a trademark. It combines James Dean, Porfiro Rubirosa and a teen-age bank clerk with a foolproof embezzlement scheme.

Killy projects an innocence and a shy vulnerability that he is working very hard to overcome. He likes the carefree, hell-for-leather image that he earned as the world's best ski racer, but nostalgia is not his bag, and his real interest now is his new commercial scene, the high-rolling world of the Money Game, where nothing is free and amateurs are called Losers. The wistful smile is still there, and Killy is shrewd enough to value it, but it will be a hard thing to retain through three years of Auto Shows, even for $100,000 a year.

 

We began in Chicago, at some awful hour of the morning, when I was roused out of a hotel stupor and hustled around a corner on Michigan Avenue to where Chevrolet's general manager John Z. DeLorean was addressing an audience of 75 "automotive writers" at a breakfast press conference on the mezzanine of the Continental Plaza. The room looked like a bingo parlor in Tulsa -- narrow, full of long formica tables with a makeshift bar at one end serving coffee, Bloody Marys and sweet rolls. It was the morning of the first big weekend of the Chicago Auto Show, and Chevrolet was going whole-hog. Sitting next to DeLorean at the head table were Jean-Claude Killy and O. J. Simpson, the football hero.

Killy's manager was there-- a tall, thick fellow named Mark McCormack, from Cleveland, a specialist in rich athletes and probably the only man alive who knows what Killy is worth. Figures ranging from $100,000 to $500,000 a year are meaningless in the context of today's long-term high finance. A good tax lawyer can work miracles with a six-figure income. . . and with all the fine machinery available to a man who can hire the best money-managers, Killy's finances are so skillfully tangled that he can't understand them himself.

In some cases, a big contract -- say, $500,000 -- is really a 5-year annual salary of $20,000 with a $400,000 interest-free loan, deposited in the star's account, paying anywhere from 5 per cent to 20 per cent annually, depending on how he uses it. He can't touch the principal, but a $400,000 nut will yield $30,000 a year by accident -- and a money-man working for 30 percent can easily triple that figure.

With that kind of property to protect, McCormack has assumed veto-power over anyone assigned to write about it for the public prints. This is compounded in its foulness by the fact that he usually gets away with it. Just prior to my introduction he had vetoed a writer from one of the big-selling men's magazines -- who eventually wrote a very good Killy article anyway but without ever talking to the subject.

"Naturally, you'll be discreet," he told me.

"About what?"

"You know what I mean." He smiled. "Jean-Claude has his private life and I'm sure you won't want to embarrass him or anyone else -- including yourself, I might add -- by violating confidence."

"Well. . . certainly not," I replied, flashing him a fine eyebrow shrug to cover my puzzlement. He seemed pleased, and I glanced over at Killy, who was chatting amiably with DeLorean, saying, "I hope you can ski with me sometime at Val d'Isre."

Was there something depraved in that face? Could the innocent smile mask a twisted mind? What was McCormack hinting at? Nothing in Killy's manner seemed weird or degenerate. He spoke earnestly -- not comfortable with English, but handling it well enough. If anything, he seemed overly polite, very concerned with saying the right thing, like an Ivy League business school grad doing well on his first job interview -- confident, but not quite sure. It was hard to imagine him as a sex freak, hurrying back to his hotel room and calling room service for a cattle prod and two female iguanas.

I shrugged and mixed myself another Bloody Mary. McCormack seemed satisfied that I was giddy and malleable enough for the task at hand, so he switched his attention to a small, wavy-haired fellow named Leonard Roller, a representative of one of Chevrolet's numerous public relations firms.

I drifted over to introduce myself. Jean-Claude laid his famous smile on me and we talked briefly about nothing at all. I took it for granted that he was tired of dealing with writers, reporters, gossip-hustlers and that ilk, so I explained that I was more interested in his new role as salesman-celebrity -- and his reactions to it -- than I was in the standard, question/answer game. He seemed to understand, smiling sympathetically at my complaints about lack of sleep and early-morning press conferences.

Killy is smaller than he looks on television, but larger than most ski racers, who are usually short and beefy, like weight-lifting jockeys and human cannonballs. He is almost 6-feet tall and claims to weigh 175 pounds -- which is easy enough to believe when you meet him head-on, but his profile looks nearly weightless. Viewed from the side, his frame is so flat that he seems like a life-size cardboard cut-out. Then, when he turns to face you again, he looks like a scaled-down Joe Palooka, perfectly built. In swimming trunks he is almost delicate, except for his thighs -- huge chunks of muscle, the thighs of an Olympic sprinter or a pro basketball guard. . . or a man who has spent a lifetime on skis.

Jean-Claude, like Jay Gatsby, has "one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced -- or seemed to face -- the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey." That description of Gatsby by Nick Carraway -- of Scott, by Fitzgerald -- might just as well be of J.-C. Killy, who also fits the rest of it: "Precisely at that point [Gatsby's smile] vanished -- and I was looking at an elegant young roughneck, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. . ."

The point is not to knock Killy's English, which is far better than my French, but to emphasize his careful, finely coached choice of words. "He's an amazing boy," I was told later by Len Roller. "He works at this [selling Chevrolets] just as hard as he used to work at winning races. He attacks it with the same concentration you remember from watching him ski." The assumption that I remembered Killy on skis came naturally to Roller. Jean-Claude is on TV so often, skiing at selected resorts all over the world, that it is nearly impossible to miss seeing him. This is The Exposure that makes him so valuable; every TV appearance adds dollars to his price. People recognize Killy, and they like his image -- a sexy daredevil, booming downhill toward a cushion of naked snowbunnies. This is why Chevrolet pays him a salary far larger than Nixon's to say, over and over again, "For me, zee Camaro is a fine foreign sports car. I own one, you know. I keep it in my garage at Val d'Isre" (Killy's hometown in the French Alps).

Jean-Claude emerged from the 1968 Winter Olympics with an incredible three gold medals and then he retired, ending his "amateur" career like a human skyrocket. There was nothing left to win; after two World Cups (the equivalent of two straight Heisman Trophies in U. S. collegiate football) and an unprecedented sweep of all three Olympic skiing events (the equivalent of a sprinter winning the 100, 220, and 440), Killy's career reads as if his press agent had written the script for it -- a series of spectacular personal victories, climaxed by the first triple-crown triumph in the history of skiing while the whole world watched on TV.

The nervous tedium of forced retirement obviously bothers Killy, but it comes as no surprise to him. He was looking over the hump even before his final triumph in the '68 Olympics. Between training sessions at Grenoble he talked like a character out of some early Hemingway sketch, shrugging blankly at the knowledge that he was coming to the end of the only thing he knew: "Soon skiing will be worn out for me," he said. "For the last 10 years I have prepared myself to become the world champion. My thoughts were only to better my control and my style in order to become the best. Then last year [1967] I became the world champion. I was given a small medal and for two days after that it was hell. I discovered that I was still eating like everybody else, sleeping like everybody else -- that I hadn't become the superman I thought my title would make me. The discovery actually destroyed me for two days. So when people speak to me about the excitement of becoming an Olympic champion this year -- should it happen -- I know it will be the same thing all over again. I know that after the races at Grenoble the best thing for me is to stop."

For Killy, the Olympics were the end of the road. The wave of the future crashed down on him within hours after his disputed Grand Slalom victory over Karl Schranz of Austria. Suddenly they were on him -- a chattering greenback swarm of agents, money-mongers and would-be "personal reps" of every shape and description. Mark McCormack's persistence lent weight to his glittering claim that he could do for Killy what he had already done for Arnold Palmer. Jean-Claude listened, shrugged, then ducked out for a while -- to Paris, the Riviera, back home to Val d'Isre -- and finally, after weeks of half-heartedly dodging the inevitable, signed with McCormack. The only sure thing in the deal was a hell of a lot of money, both sooner and later. Beyond that, Killy had no idea what he was getting into.

 

Now he was showing us how much he'd learned. The Chevvy press breakfast was breaking up and Len Roller suggested that the three of us go downstairs to the dining room. J.-C. nodded brightly and I smiled the calm smile of a man about to be rescued from a Honker's Convention. We drifted downstairs, where Roller found us a corner table in the dining room before excusing himself to make a phone call. The waitress brought menus, but Killy waved her off, saying he wanted only prune juice. I was on the verge of ordering huevos rancheros with a double side of bacon, but in deference to J.-C.'s apparent illness I settled for grapefruit and coffee.

Killy was studying a mimeographed news release that I'd grabbed off a table at the press conference in lieu of notepaper. He nudged me and pointed at something in the lead paragraph. "Isn't this amazing?" he asked. I looked: The used side of my notepaper was headed: NEWS. . . from Chevrolet Motor Division. . . CHICAGO -- Chevrolet began its "spring selling season" as early as January first this year, John Z. DeLorean, general manager, said here today. He told newsmen attending the opening of the Chicago Auto Show that Chevrolet sales are off to the fastest start since its record year of 1965. "We sold 352,000 cars in January and February," DeLorean said. "That's 22 per cent ahead of last year. It gave us 26.9 per cent of the industry, compared to 23 per cent a year ago. . ."

Killy said it again: "Isn't this amazing?" I looked to see if he was smiling but his face was deadly serious and his voice was pure snake oil. I called for more coffee, nodding distractedly at Killy's awkward hustle, and cursing the greedy instinct that had brought me into this thing. . . sleepless and ill-fed, trapped in a strange food-cellar with a French auto salesman.

But I stayed to play the game, gnawing on my grapefruit and soon following Roller out to the street, where we were scooped up by a large nondescript car that must have been a Chevrolet. I asked where we were going and somebody said, "First to the Merchandise Mart, where he'll do a tape for Kup's show, and then to the Auto Show -- at the Stockyards."

That last note hung for a moment, not registering. . . Kup's show was bad enough. I had been on it once, and caused a nasty scene by calling Adlai Stevenson a professional liar when all the other guests were there to publicize some kind of Stevenson Memorial. Now nearly two years later, I saw no point in introducing myself. Kup was taking it easy this time, joking with athletes. Killy was overshadowed by Bart Starr, representing Lincoln-Mercury, and Fran Tarkenton, wearing a Dodge blazer. . . but with Killy in eclipse the Chevrolet team still made the nut with O. J. Simpson, modestly admitting that he probably wouldn't tear the National Football League apart in his first year as a pro. It was a dull, low-level discussion, liberally spotted with promo mentions for the Auto Show.

Jean-Claude's only breakthrough came when Kup, cued by a story in that morning's Tribune, asked what Killy really thought about the whole question of "amateur" athletic status. "Is it safe to assume," Kup asked, "that you were paid for using certain skis in the Olympics?"

"Safe?" Killy asked.

Kup checked his notes for a new question and Killy looked relieved. The hypocrisy inherent in the whole concept of "amateurism" has always annoyed Killy, and now, with the immunity of graduate status, he doesn't mind admitting that he views the whole game as a fraud and a folly. During most of his career on the French ski team he was listed, for publicity reasons, as a Government-employed Customs Inspector. Nobody believed it, not even officials of the Fdration Internationale de Ski (FIS), the governing body for world-class amateur ski competition. The whole idea was absurd. Who, after all, could believe that the reigning world ski champion -- a hero/celebrity whose arrival in any airport from Paris to Tokyo drew crowds and TV cameras -- was actually supporting himself on a salary gleaned from his off-season efforts in some dreary customs shed at Marseilles?

He spoke with a definite humility, as if he felt slightly embarrassed by all the advantages he'd had. Then, about two hours later when our talk had turned to contemporary things -- the high-style realities of his new jet-set life -- he suddenly blurted: "Before, I could only dream about these things. When I was young I had nothing, I was poor. . . Now I can have anything I want!"

Jean-Claude seems to understand, without really resenting it, that he is being weaned away from the frank unvarnished style of his amateur days. One afternoon at Vail, for instance, he listened to a sportscaster telling him what a great run he'd just made, and then, fully aware that he was talking for a live broadcast, Jean-Claude laughed at the commentary and said he'd just made one of the worst runs of his life -- a complete-disaster, doing everything wrong. Now, with the help of his professional advisers, he has learned to be patient and polite -- especially in America, with the press. In France he is more secure, and far more recognizable to the people who knew him before he became a salesman. He was in Paris last spring when Avery Brundage, 82-year-old president of the International Olympic Committee, called on Jean-Claude and several other winners of gold medals at the 1968 Winter Olympics to return them. Brundage, a tunnel-visioned purist of the Old School, was shocked by disclosures that many of the winners -- including Killy -- didn't even know what the word "amateur" meant. For years, said Brundage, these faithless poseurs had been accepting money from "commercial interests" ranging from equipment manufacturers to magazine publishers.

One of these gimmicks made headlines just prior to the start of the Games, if memory serves, and was awkwardly resolved by a quick ruling that none of the winners could either mention or display their skis (or any other equipment) during any TV interview or press exposure. Until then, it had been standard practice for the winner of any major race to make the brand-name on his skis as prominent as possible during all camera sessions. The "no-show" ruling worked a hardship on a lot of skiers at Grenoble, but it failed to satisfy Avery Brundage. His demand that the medals be returned called up memories of Jim Thorpe, who was stripped of everything he won in the 1912 Olympics because he had once been paid to play in a semi-pro baseball game. Thorpe went along with the madness, returning his medals and living the rest of his life with the taint of "disgrace" on his name. Even now, the nasty Olympics scandal is the main feature of Thorpe's biographical sketch in the new Columbia Encyclopedia.

But when a Montreal Star reporter asked Jean-Claude how he felt about turning in his Olympic medals, he replied: "Let Brundage come over here himself and take them from me."

It was a rare public display of "the old Jean-Claude." His American personality has been carefully manicured to avoid such outbursts. Chevrolet doesn't pay him to say what he thinks, but to sell Chevrolets -- and you don't do that by telling self-righteous old men to fuck off. You don't even admit that the French Government paid you to be a skier because things are done that way in France and most other countries, and nobody born after 1900 calls it anything but natural. . . when you sell Chevrolets in America you honor the myths and mentality of the marketplace: You smile like Horatio Alger and give all the credit to Mom and Dad, who never lost faith in you and even mortgaged their ingots when things got tough.

 

Anyone watching our departure from the Kup show must have assumed that J.-C. traveled with five or six bodyguards. I'm still not sure who the others were. Len Roller was always around, and a hostile, burr-haired little bugger from whichever of Chevvy's PR agencies was running the Auto Show, who took me aside early on to warn me that Roller was "only a guest -- I'm running this show." Roller laughed at the slur, saying, "He only thinks he's running it." The others were never introduced; they did things like drive cars and open doors. They were large, unconfident men, very polite in the style of armed gas-station attendants.

We left the Merchandise Mart and zapped off on a freeway to the Auto Show -- and suddenly it registered: The Stockyards Amphitheatre. I was banging along the freeway in that big car, listening to the others trade bull/fuck jokes, trapped in the back seat between Killy and Roller, heading for that rotten slaughterhouse where Mayor Daley had buried the Democratic party.

I had been there before, and I remembered it well. Chicago -- this vicious, stinking zoo, this mean-grinning, Mace-smelling boneyard of a city; an elegant rockpile monument to everything cruel and stupid and corrupt in the human spirit.

 

The public is out in force to view the new models. Jean-Claude makes his pitch for Chevrolet every two hours on the button: 1-3-5-7-9. The even numbered hours are reserved for O. J. Simpson.

Barker: "Tell me, O. J., are you faster than that car over there?"

O. J.: "You mean that groovy Chevrolet? Naw, man, that's the only thing I know that's faster than me. . . ho, ho. . ."

Meanwhile, slumped in a folding chair near the Killy exhibit, smoking a pipe and brooding on the spooks in this place, I am suddenly confronted by three young boys wearing Bass Weejuns and Pendleton shirts, junior-high types, and one of them asks me: "Are you Jean-Claude Killy?"

"That's right," I said.

"What are you doing?" they asked.

Well, you goddamn silly little waterhead, what the hell does it look like I'm doing? But I didn't say that. I gave the question some thought. "Well," I said finally, "I'm just sitting here smoking marijuana." I held up my pipe. "This is what makes me ski so fast." Their eyes swelled up like young grapefruits. They stared at me -- waiting for a laugh, I think -- then backed away. Five minutes later I looked up and found them still watching me, huddled about 20 feet away behind the sky-blue Z-28 Chevvy on its slow-moving turntable. I waved my pipe at them and smiled like Hubert Humphrey. . . but they didn't wave back.

Killy's Auto Show act was a combination interview/autograph thing, with the questions coming from Roller and a silver-blonde model in rubberized stretch pants. The Chevvy people had set up a plywood podium next to the Z-28 -- which they said was a new and special model, but which looked like any other Camaro with a (Head) ski rack on top.

Not far away, on another platform, O. J. Simpson fielded questions from a ripe little black girl, also dressed in tight ski pants. The acts remained segregated except in moments of unexpected crowd pressure, when the black model would occasionally have to interview Killy. The blonde girl was never cast with O. J. -- at least not while I was there. Which hardly matters, except as casual evidence that Chevvy's image-makers still see racial separatism as good business, particularly in Chicago.

On the way in, Roller had rehearsed Jean-Claude on the Q. and A. sequence: "Okay, then I'll say, 'I see an interesting looking car over there, Jean-Claude -- can you tell us something about it?' And then you say. . . what?"

J.-C.: "Oh, yes, that is my car, the new Z-28. It has seat covers made of Austrian ski sweaters. And you notice my special license plate, JCK. . ."

Roller: "That's fine. The important thing is to be spontaneous."

J.-C. (puzzled): "Spuen-tan-EUS?"

Roller (grinning): "Don't worry -- you'll do fine."

And he did. Killy's public pitch is very low-key, a vivid contrast to O. J. Simpson, whose sales technique has all the subtlety of a power-slant on third and one. . . O. J. likes this scene. His booming self-confidence suggests Alfred E. Neuman in blackface or Rap Brown selling watermelons at the Mississippi State Fair. O. J.'s mind is not complicated; he has had God on his side for so long that it never occurs to him that selling Chevrolets is any less holy than making touchdowns. Like Frank Gifford, whose shoes he finally filled in the USC backfield, he understands that football is only the beginning of his TV career. O. J. is a Black Capitalist in the most basic sense of that term; his business sense is so powerful that he is able to view his blackness as a mere sales factor -- a natural intro to the Black Marketplace, where a honky showboat like Killy is doomed from the start.

There are some people in "the trade," in fact, who can't understand why the Chevrolet wizards consider Killy as valuable -- on the image-selling scale -- as a hotdog American folk hero like O. J. Simpson.

"What the hell were they thinking about when they signed that guy for three hundred grand a year?" muttered a ranking "automotive journalist" as he watched Killy's act on Saturday afternoon.

I shook my head and wondered, remembering DeLorean's owlish confidence that morning at the press breakfast. Then I looked at the crowd surrounding Killy. They were white and apparently solvent, their average age around 30 -- the kind of people who could obviously afford to buy skis and make payments on new cars. O. J. Simpson drew bigger crowds, but most of his admirers were around 12 years old. Two-thirds of them were black and many looked like fugitives from the Credit Bureau's garnishee file.

Mark McCormack signed to manage Arnold Palmer a decade ago-- just prior to the Great Golf Boom. His reasons for betting on Killy are just as obvious. Skiing is no longer an esoteric sport for the idle rich, but a fantastically popular new winter status-game for anyone who can afford $500 for equipment. Five years ago the figure would have been three times that, plus another loose $1,000 for a week at Stowe or Sun Valley, but now, with the advent of snow-making machines, even Chattanooga is a "ski-town." The Midwest is dotted with icy "week-night" slalom hills, lit up like the miniature golf courses of the Eisenhower age.

The origins of the ski boom were based entirely on economics and the appeal of the sport itself. . . no freaky hypes or shoestring promotion campaigns. . . the Money Boom of the 1960's produced a sassy middle class with time on its hands, and suddenly there was a mushrooming demand for things like golf clubs, motorboats and skis. In retrospect, the wonder of it is that it took people like McCormack so long to grab a good thing. Or maybe the problem was a lack of ski heroes. Does anyone remember, for instance, who won Gold Medals at the '64 Winter Olympics? It was the prominence of Jean-Claude Killy (as a hot racer in 1966 and as a press hero in '67 and '68) that suddenly gave skiing an image. Jean-Claude emerged from the '68 Olympics as a sort of sauve Joe Namath, a "swinging Frenchman" with the style of a jet-set maverick and the mind of a Paris bartender.

The result was inevitable: a super-priced French import, tailored strictly for the fast-growing U.S. leisure market, the same people who suddenly found themselves able to afford Porsches, Mercedes and Jaguars. . . along with MG's and Volkswagens.

But not Fords or Chevvys. "Detroit iron" didn't make it in that league. . . mainly because there is no room in the brass ranks of the U.S. auto industry for the kind of executive who understands why a man who can afford a Cadillac will buy a Porsche instead. There was simply no status in owning a $10,000 car with no back seat and a hood only five feet long.

So now we have a DeLorean-style blitz for Chevrolet, and it's doing beautifully. Booming Chevvy sales are mainly responsible for GM's spurt to a plus-50 per cent of the whole auto market. The strategy has been simple enough: a heavy focus on speed, sporty styling and the "youth market." This explains Chevvy's taste for such image-makers as Simpson, Glen Campbell and Killy. (Speculation that DeLorean was about to sign Allen Ginsberg proved to be false: General Motors doesn't need poets.)

 

Killy has spent his entire adult life in the finely disciplined cocoon that is part of the price one pays for membership of the French ski team. As a life style, it is every bit as demanding as that of a pro football quarterback. In a sport where the difference between fame and total obscurity is measured in tenths of a second, the discipline of constant, rigid training is all important. Championship skiers, like karate masters, need muscles that most men never develop. The karate parallel extends, beyond muscles, to the necessity for an almost superhuman concentration -- the ability to see and remember every bump and twist on a race course, and then to run it without a single mistake: no mental lapses, no distractions, no wasted effort. The only way to win is to come down that hill with maximum efficiency, like a cannonball down a one-rail track. A skier who thinks too much might make points in conversation, but he seldom wins races.

Killy has been accused, by experts, of "lacking style." He skis, they say, with the graceless desperation of a man about to crash, fighting to keep his balance. Yet it's obvious, even to a rank amateur, that Killy's whole secret is his feverish concentration. He attacks a hill like Sonny Listen used to attack Floyd Patterson -- and with the same kind of awesome results. He wants to beat the hill, not just ski it. He whips through a slalom course like O. J. Simpson through a jammed secondary -- the same impossible moves; sliding, half-falling, then suddenly free and pumping crazily for the finish line to beat that awful clock, the only judge in the world with the power to send him home a loser.

Shortly after I met him, I told Killy he should see some films of O. J. Simpson running with a football. Jean-Claude didn't know the game, he said, but I insisted that wouldn't matter. "It's like watching a drunk run through traffic on a freeway," I said. "You don't have to know the game to appreciate O. J.'s act -- it's a spectacle, a thing to see. . ."

That was before I understood the boundaries of Kilty's curiosity. Like Calvin Coolidge, he seems to feel that "the business of America is business." He comes here to make money, and esthetics be damned. He wasn't interested in anything about O. J. Simpson except the size of his Chevrolet contract -- and only vaguely in that.

Throughout our numerous, distracted conversations, he was puzzled and dimly annoyed with the rambling style of my talk. He seemed to feel that any journalist worthy of his profession would submit 10 very precise questions, write down 10 scripted Killy answers and then leave. No doubt this reflected the thinking of his PR advisers, who favor such concepts as "input," "exposure" and "the Barnum Imperative."

 

My decision to quit the Killy story came suddenly, for no special reason. . . an irrational outburst of red-eyed temper and festering angst with the supplicant's role I'd been playing for two days, dealing with a gang of cheap-jack footmen whose sense of personal importance seemed to depend entirely on the glitter of their hired French property.

Some time later, when I had calmed down enough to consider another attempt at cracking the PR barrier, I talked to Jean-Claude on the telephone. He was in Sun Valley, allowing himself to be photographed for a magazine feature on the "Killy style." I called to explain why I hadn't made the night with him, as planned, from Chicago to Sun Valley. "You've made some funny friends in the past year," I said. "Doesn't it make you nervous to travel around with a bunch of cops?"

He laughed quietly. "That's right," he said. "They are just like cops, aren't they? I don't like it, but what can I do? I am never alone. . . This is my life, you know."

I have a tape of that conversation, and I play it now and then for laughs. It is a weird classic of sorts -- 45 minutes of failed communication, despite heroic efforts on both ends. The over-all effect is that of a career speed-freak jacked up like the Great Hummingbird, trying to talk his way through a cordon of bemused ushers and into a free, front-row seat at a sold-out Bob Dylan concert.

I had made the call, half-grudgingly, after being assured by Millie Wiggins Solheim, the Style Queen of Sun Valley, that she had learned through the Head Ski hierarchy that Jean-Claude was eager for a soul-talk with me. What the hell? I thought Why not? But this time on my terms -- in the midnight style of the Great Hummingbird. The tape is full of laughter and disjointed ravings. Killy first suggested that I meet him again at the Auto Show in Chicago, where he was scheduled for a second weekend of Chevvy gigs on the same 1-3-5-7-9 schedule.

"Never in hell," I replied. "You're paid to hang around with those pigs, but I'm not. They acted like they expected me to sneak up and steal the battery out of that goddamn ugly car you were selling."

He laughed again. "It's true that they pay me for being there. . . but you get paid for writing the article."

"What article?" I said. "As far as I know, you don't exist. You're a life-size dummy made of plastic foam. I can't write much of an article about how I once saw Jean-Claude Killy across a crowded room at the Stockyards Amphitheatre."

There was a pause, another quiet chuckle, then: "Well, maybe you could write about how hard it is to write about me."

Oh ho, I thought. You sneaky bugger -- there's something in your head, after all. It was the only time I ever felt we were on the same wavelength -- and then for only an instant. The conversation deteriorated rapidly after that.

We talked a while longer and I finally said, "Well, to hell with it. You don't need publicity and I sure as hell don't need this kind of fuckaround. . . They should have assigned this story to an ambitious dwarf hooker with gold teeth. . ."

There was a long pause at the other end of the line. Then: "Why don't you call Bud Stanner, the manager from Head Ski. He is here in the Lodge tonight. I think he can arrange something."

Why not? I thought. By the time I got hold of Stanner it was 1 A.M.

I assured him that all I needed was a bit of casual conversation and some time to watch Killy in action.

"I'm not surprised Jean-Claude wouldn't talk to you tonight," he said with a knowing chuckle. "I happen to know he's being. . . ah. . . entertained at the moment."

"That's weird," I said, "I just finished a 45-minute talk with him."

"Oh. . . ?" Stanner pondered my words for a moment, then, like a skilled politician, he ignored them. "It's the damnedest thing you ever saw," he continued cheerfully. "Goddamn broads won't give him any peace. It's embarrassing sometimes, the way they come on him. . ."

"Yeah," I said. "I've heard." Actually, I'd heard it so often that I recognized it now as part of the program. Killy has a very obvious, natural kind of sex appeal -- so obvious that I was getting a little tired of hustlers nudging me to make sure I noticed. McCormack had set the tone at our first encounter, with his odd warning about "discretion." Moments later, replying to somebody who'd asked him if Killy had any plans for a film career, McCormack had grinned and said, "Oh, we're not in any hurry; he's had plenty of offers. And every time he says no, the price goes up."

Killy himself says nothing. Straight interviews bore him anyway, but he usually tries to be civil, even smiling, despite the brain-curdling tedium of answering the same questions over and over again. He will cope with almost any kind of giddy ignorance, but his smile snaps off like a dead lightbulb when he senses a carnal drift in the conversation. If the interviewer persists, or launches a direct question like, "Is there any truth in this rumor about you and Winnie Ruth Judd?", Killy will invariably change the subject with an angry shrug.

His reluctance to talk about women seems genuine, leaving disappointed reporters no choice but to hunker down in misty speculation. "Killy has a reputation as a skiing Romeo," wrote the author of a recent magazine article. "Typically French, though, he remains discreet about his swinging love life, saying little more than, yes, he has a girl friend, a model."

Which was true. He had spent a quiet vacation with her in the Bahamas the week before I met him in Chicago, and at first I got the impression that he was fairly serious about her. . . Then, after listening to his pitchmen for a while, I wasn't sure what I thought. The "discretion" that would have been the despair of any old-style, low-level press agent has become, in the hands of McCormack's cool futurists, a mysterious and half-sinister cover story, using Killy's awkward "no comment" behavior to enhance whatever rumor he refuses to talk about.

Jean-Claude understands that his sex-life has a certain publicity value, but he hasn't learned to like it. At one point I asked him how he felt about that aspect of his image. "What can I say?" he shrugged. "They keep talking about it. I am normal. I like girls. But what I do is really my own business, I think. . ."

(Shortly after that phone talk with him in Sun Valley, I learned that he really was being "entertained" when I called, and I've never quite understood why he spent 45 minutes on the phone in those circumstances. What a terrible scene for a girl. . .)

I tried to be frank with Stanner. Early on, in our talk, he said: "Look, I'll give you all the help I can on this thing, and I think I'm in a position to give you the kind of help you need. Naturally, I'd expect some play for Head Skis in your photo coverage and of course that's my job. . ."

"Fuck the skis," I replied. "I couldn't give a hoot in hell if he skis on metal bowls; all I want to do is talk to the man, in a decent human manner, and find out what he thinks about things."

This was not the kind of thing Stanner wanted to hear, but under the circumstances he handled it pretty well. "O.K." he said, after a brief pause. "I think we understand each other. You're looking for input that's kind of offbeat, right?"

"Input?" I said. He had used the term several times and I thought I'd better clarify it.

"You know what I mean," he snapped, "and I'll try to set it up for you."

I started making plans to go up to Sun Valley anyway but then Stanner disrupted everything by suddenly offering to arrange for me -- instead of Ski Magazine's editor -- to accompany J.-C. on that Eastbound flight. "You'll have a whole day with him," Stanner said, "and if you want to come to Boston next week I'll save you a seat on the company bus for the ride to Waterville Valley in New Hampshire. Jean-Claude will be along, and as far as I'm concerned you can have him all to yourself for the whole trip. It takes about two hours. Hell, maybe you'd rather do that, instead of working your ass off to make that cross-country flight with him. . ."

"No," I said. "I'll do it both ways -- first the flight, then the bus ride; that should give me all the offbeat input I need."

He sighed.

 

Killy was there in Salt Lake, red-eyed and jittery with a Coke and a ham sandwich in the airport cafe. A man from United Airlines was sitting with him, a waitress stopped to ask for his autograph, people who had no idea who he was paused to nod and stare at "the celebrity."

The local TV station had sent out a camera crew, which caused a crowd to gather around the gate where our plane was waiting. "How do these people know when I'm here?" he muttered angrily as we hurried down the corridor toward the mob.

I smiled at him. "Come on," I said, "you know damn well who called them. Do we have to keep playing this game?"

He smiled faintly, then lined it out like a veteran. "You go ahead," he said. "Get our seats on the plane while I talk to these camera people."

Which he did, while I boarded the plane and instantly found myself involved in a game of musical chairs with the couple who were being moved back to the tourist compartment so Jean-Claude and I could have their First Class seats. "I've blocked these two off for you," the man in the blue uniform told me.

The dowdy little stewardess told the victims how sorry she was -- over and over again, while the man howled in the aisle. I hunkered down in the seat and stared straight ahead, wishing him well. Killy arrived, ignoring the ruckus and slumping into his seat with a weary groan. There was no doubt in his mind that the seat was being saved for Jean-Claude Killy. The man in the aisle seemed to recognize that his protest was doomed: his seats had been seized by forces beyond his control. "You sons of bitches!" he yelled, shaking his fist at the crewmen who were pushing him back toward the tourist section. I was hoping he would whack one of them or at least refuse to stay on the plane but he caved in, allowing himself to be hustled off like a noisy beggar.

"What was that about?" Killy asked me.

I told him. "Bad scene, eh?" he said. Then he pulled a car racing magazine out of his briefcase and focused on that. I thought of going back and advising the man that he could get a full refund on his ticket if he kept yelling, but the flight was delayed for at least an hour on the runway and I was afraid to leave my seat for fear it might be grabbed by some late-arriving celebrity.

Within moments, a new hassle developed. I asked the stewardess for a drink and was told that it was against the rules to serve booze until the plane was airborne. Thirty minutes later, still sitting on the runway, I got the same answer. There is something in the corporate manner of United Airlines that reminds me of the California Highway Patrol, the exaggerated politeness of people who would be a hell of a lot happier if all their customers were in jail -- and especially you, sir.

Flying United, to me, is like crossing the Andes in a prison bus. There is no question in my mind that somebody like Pat Nixon personally approves every United stewardess. Nowhere in the Western world is there anything to equal the collection of self-righteous shrews who staff the "friendly skies of United." I do everything possible to avoid that airline, often at considerable cost and personal inconvenience. But I rarely make my own reservations and United seems to be a habit -- like Yellow Cabs -- with secretaries and PR men. And maybe they're right. . .

My constant requests for a drink to ease the delay were rebuked with increasing severity by the same stewardess who had earlier defended my right to preempt a first class seat. Killy tried to ignore the argument but finally abandoned his magazine to view the whole scene with nervous alarm. He lifted his dark glasses to wipe his eyes -- red-veined balls in a face that looked much older than 26. Then a man in a blue blazer confronted us, shoving a little girl ahead of him. "Probably you don't remember me, Jean-Claude," he was saying. "We met about two years ago at a cocktail party in Vail."

Killy nodded, saying nothing. The man shoved an airline ticket envelope at him, grinning self-consciously: "Could you autograph this for my little girl, please? She's all excited about being on the same plane with you."

Killy scrawled an illegible signature on the paper, then stared blankly at the cheap camera the girl was aiming at him. The man backed away, unnerved by Killy's failure to remember him. "Sorry to bother you," he said. "But my little girl, you know. . . since we seem to be delayed here. . . well, thanks very much."

Killy shrugged as the man backed off. He hadn't said a word and I felt a little sorry for the reject, who appeared to be a broker of some kind.

The moppet came back with the camera, wanting a second shot "in case the first one doesn't come out." She took one very quickly, then asked J.-C. to remove his glasses. "No!" he snapped. "The light hurts my eyes." There was a raw, wavering note in his voice, and the child, a shade more perceptive than her father, took her picture and left without apologies.

Now, less than a year later, Killy is making very expensive and elaborate commercials for United Airlines. He was in Aspen recently "secretly" filming a ski race for showing, months later, on national TV. He didn't ring me up. . .

Killy refused both the drink and the meal. He was clearly on edge and I was pleased to find that anger made him talkative. By this time I had disabused myself of the notion that we had any basic rapport; his habit-smiles were for people who asked habit-questions -- fan-magazine bullshit and pulp philosophy: How do you like America? (It is truly wonderful. I would like to see it all in a Camaro.) How did it feel to win three gold medals in the Olympics? (It felt truly wonderful. I plan to have them mounted on the dashboard of my Camaro.)

Somewhere in the middle of the flight, with our conversation lagging badly, I reverted to a Hollywood-style of journalism that Killy instantly picked up on. "Tell me," I said. "What's the best place you know? If you were free to go anyplace in the world right now -- no work, no obligation, just to enjoy yourself -- where would it be?"

His first answer was "home," and after that came Paris and a clutch of French resort areas -- until I had to revise the question and eliminate France altogether.

Finally he settled on Hong Kong. "Why?" I asked. His face relaxed in a broad, mischievous grin. "Because a friend of mine is head of the police there," he said, "and when I go to Hong Kong I can do anything I want."

I laughed, seeing it all on film -- the adventures of a filthy-rich French cowboy, turned loose in Hong Kong with total police protection. With J.-C. Killy as the hellion and maybe Rod Steiger as his cop-friend. A sure winner. . .

Looking back, I think that Hong Kong note was the truest thing Jean-Claude ever said to me. Certainly it was the most definitive -- and it was also the only one of my questions he obviously enjoyed answering.

By the time we got to Chicago I'd decided to spare us both the agony of prolonging the "interview" all the way to Baltimore. "I think I'll get off here," I said as we left the plane. He nodded, too tired to care. Just then we were confronted by a heavy blonde girl with a clipboard. "Mister Killy?" she said. J.-C. nodded. The girl mumbled her name and said she was there to help him make connections to Baltimore. "How was Sun Valley?" she asked. "Was it good skiing?" Killy shook his head, still walking very fast up the corridor. The girl was half trotting beside us. "Well, I hope the other activities were satisfactory," she said with a smile. Her emphasis was so heavy, so abysmally raw, that I glanced over to see if she was drooling.

"Who are you?" she asked suddenly.

"Never mind," I said. "I'm leaving."

 

Now, many months later, my clearest memory of that whole Killy scene is a momentary expression on the face of a man who had nothing to do with it. He was a drummer and lead singer in a local jazz-rock band I heard one night at a New Hampshire ski resort where Killy was making a sales appearance. I was killing time in a dull midnight bistro when this nondescript little bugger kicked off on his own version of a thing called "Proud Mary" -- a heavy blues shot from Creedence Clearwater. He was getting right into it, and somewhere around the third chorus I recognized the weird smile of a man who had found his own rhythm, that rumored echo of a high white sound that most men never hear. I sat there in the dark smoke of that place and watched him climb. . . far up on some private mountain to that point where you look in the mirror and see a bright bold streaker, blowing all the fuses and eating them like popcorn on the way up.

That image had to remind me of Killy, streaking down the hills at Grenoble for the first, second and third of those incredible three gold medals. Jean-Claude had been there -- to that rare high place where only the snow leopards live; and now, 26-years-old with more dollars than he can use or count, there is nothing else to match those peaks he has already beaten. Now it is all downhill for the world's richest ski bum. He was good enough -- and lucky -- for a while, to live in that Win-Lose, Black-White, Do-or-Die world of the international super TV athlete. It was a beautiful show while it lasted, and Killy did his thing better than anyone else has ever done it before.

But now, with nothing else to win, he is down on the killing floor with the rest of us -- sucked into strange and senseless wars on unfamiliar terms; haunted by a sense of loss that no amount of money can ever replace; mocked by the cotton-candy rules of a mean game that still awes him. . . locked into a gilded life-style where winning means keeping his mouth shut and reciting, on cue, from other men's scripts. This is Jean-Claude Killy's new world: He is a handsome middle-class French boy who trained hard and learned to ski so well that now his name is immensely saleable on the marketplace of a crazily inflated culture-economy that eats its heroes like hotdogs and honors them on about the same level.

His TV-hero image probably surprises him more than it does the rest of us. We take whatever heroes come our way, and we're not inclined to haggle. Killy seems to understand this, too. He is taking advantage of a money-scene that never existed before and might never work again -- at least not in his lifetime or ours, and maybe not even next year.

On balance, it seems unfair to dismiss him as a witless greedhead, despite all the evidence. Somewhere behind that wistful programmed smile I suspect there is something akin to what Norman Mailer once called (speaking of James Jones) "an animal sense of who has the power." There is also a brooding contempt for the American system that has made him what he is. Killy doesn't understand this country; he doesn't even like it -- but there is no question in his mind about his own proper role in a scene that is making him rich. He is his manager's creature, and if Mark McCormack wants him to star in a geek film or endorse some kind of skin-grease he's never heard of. . . well, that's the way it is. Jean-Claude is a good soldier; he takes orders well and he learns quickly. He would rise through the ranks in any army.

Killy reacts; thinking is not his gig. So it is hard to honor him for whatever straight instincts he still cultivates in private -- while he mocks them in public, for huge amounts of money. The echo of Gatsby's style recalls the truth that Jimmy Gatz was really just a rich crook and a booze salesman. But Killy is not Gatsby. He is a bright young Frenchman with a completely original act. . . and a pragmatic frame of reference that is better grounded, I suspect, than my own. He is doing pretty well for himself, and nothing in his narrow, high-powered experience can allow him to understand how I can watch his act and say that it looks, to me, like a very hard dollar-- maybe the hardest.

 

A Final Note from the Author

Owl Farm

Please insert this quote at beginning or end of Killy piece. -- Thompson.

"No eunuch flatters his own noise more shamefully nor seeks by more infamous means to stimulate his jaded appetite, in order to gain some favor, than does the eunuch of industry."

-- The quote, as I have it, is attributed to one Billy Lee Burroughs. . . but if memory serves, I think it comes from the writings of K. Marx. In any case, I can trace it down if need be. . .

Scanlan's Monthly, vol 1, no. 1, March 1970

 

 

 

The Ultimate Free Lancer

 

You asked me for an article on whatever I wanted to write about and since you don't pay I figure that gives me carte blanche. I started out tonight on an incoherent bitch about the record business. . . I was looking at the jacket copy on the "Blues Project" album. . . but the "producer's" name was in huge script on the back, and underneath it were four or five other names. . . punks and narks and other ten-percenters who apparently had more leverage than the musicians who made the album, and so managed to get their names on the record jacket.

I was brooding about this -- which I'll write about sometime later -- when I picked up the latest Free Press and read an obituary for a three-year-old kid named "Godot". . . which was nice, but as I read it I was reminded again of Lionel Olay and how the Free Press commemorated his death with a small block of unsold advertising space that had to be used anyway, so why not for Lionel? I'm also reminded that I've asked you twice for a copy of his article on Lenny Bruce (in which Lionel wrote his own obituary), and that you've disregarded both queries. Maybe there's no connection between this and the fact that the Blues Project people were fucked out of any mention except photos on their own album, but I think there is. I see it as two more good examples of the cheap, mean, grinning-hippie capitalism that pervades the whole New Scene. . . a scene which provides the Underground Press Syndicate with most of its copy and income. Frank Zappa's comments on rock joints and light shows (FP 1230) was a welcome piece of heresy in an atmosphere that is already rigid with pre-public senility. The concept of the UPS is too right to argue with, but the reality is something else. As Frank Zappa indicated, if only in a roundabout way, there are a lot of people trying to stay alive and working WITHIN the UPS spectrum, and not on the ten-percent fringes. That's where Time magazine lives. . . way out there on the puzzled, masturbating edge, peering through the keyhole and selling what they see to the wide world of Chamber of Commerce voyeurs who support the public prints.

 

Which brings us back to Lionel, who lived and died as walking proof that all heads exist alone and at their own risk. Maybe I'm wrong; maybe his funeral procession on the Sunset Strip was enough to bring even cops to their knees. . . but since I didn't hear anything about that action, I have to doubt it. I suspect Lionel died pretty much as he lived: as a free lance writer hustler, grass-runner and general free spirit. I'm sure a lot of people knew him better than I did, but I think I knew him pretty well. I first met him in Big Sur in 1960, when we were both broke and grubbing for rent money. After that we did a lot of writing back and forth, but we'd only meet (usually at the Hot Springs in Big Sur) after long months of different action in very different worlds (he was broke somewhere in New England when I was in Peru, and later in Rio I got a letter from him with a Chicago postmark). . . when I got back to New York he wrote from L.A., saying he'd decided to settle there because it was the "only home we had."

I've never been sure if he included me in that definition, but I know he was talking about a lot of people beyond himself and his wife, Beverly. Lionel saw the West Coast of the 1960's as Malcolm Cowley saw New York after World War One -- as "the homeland of the uprooted." He saw his own orbit as something that included Topanga, Big Sur, Tijuana, the Strip and occasional runs up north to the Bay Area. He wrote for Cavalier, and the Free Press and anyone who would send him a check. When the checks didn't come he ran grass to New York and paid his rent with LSD. And when he had something that needed a long run of writing time he would take off in his Porsche or his Plymouth or any one of a dozen other cars that came his way, and cadge a room from Mike Murphy at Hot Springs, or in brother Dennis' house across the canyon. Lionel and Dennis were old friends, but Lionel knew too much -- and insisted on saying it -- to use that friendly leverage as a wedge to the screen-writing business, where Dennis Murphy was making it big. Lionel had already published two novels and he was a far-better plot-maker than most of the Hollywood hacks, but every time he got a shot at the big cop-out money he blew it with a vengeance. Now and then one of the New York editors would give him enough leeway to write what he wanted, and a few of his articles are gems. He did one for Cavalier on the soul of San Francisco that is probably the best thing ever written on that lovely, gutless town. Later he wrote a profile on Lenny Bruce (for the Free Press) that -- if I ran a newspaper -- I'd print every year in boldface type, as an epitaph for free lancers everywhere.

 

Lionel was the ultimate free lancer. In the nearly ten years I knew him, the only steady work he did was as a columnist for the Monterey Herald. . . and even then he wrote on his own terms on his own subjects, and was inevitably fired. Less than a year before he died his willful ignorance of literary politics led him to blow a very rich assignment from Life magazine, which asked him for a profile on Marty Ransahoff, a big name Hollywood producer then fresh from a gold-plated bomb called "The Sandpiper." Lionel went to London with Ransahoff ("the first-cabin all the way," as he wrote me from the S.S. United States) and after two months in the great man's company he went back to Topanga and wrote a piece that resembled nothing so much as Mencken's brutal obituary on William Jennings Bryan. Ransahoff was described as a "pompous toad" -- which was not exactly what Life was looking for. The article naturally bombed, and Lionel was back on the bricks where he'd spent the last half of his forty-odd years. I'm not sure how old he was when he died, but it wasn't much over forty. . . according to Beverly he suffered a mild stroke that sent him to the hospital, and then a serious stroke that finished him.

Word of his death was a shock to me, but not particularly surprising since I'd called him a week or so before and heard from Beverly that he was right on the edge. More than anything else, it came as a harsh confirmation of the ethic that Lionel had always lived but never talked about. . . the dead end loneliness of a man who makes his own rules. Like his Basque anarchist father in Chicago, he died without making much of a dent. I don't even know where he's buried, but what the hell? The important thing is where he lived.

 

Now, what? While the new wave flowered, Lenny Bruce was hounded to death by the cops. For "obscenity." Thirty thousand people (according to Paul Krassner) are serving time in the jails of this vast democracy on marijuana charges, and the world we have to live in is controlled by a stupid thug from Texas. A vicious liar, with the ugliest family in Christendom. . . mean Okies feeling honored by the cheap indulgence of a George Hamilton, a stinking animal ridiculed even in Hollywood. And California, "the most progressive state," elects a governor straight out of a George Grosz painting, a political freak in every sense of the word except California politics. . . Ronnie Reagan, the White Hope of the West.

Jesus, no wonder Lionel had a stroke. What a nightmare it must have been for him to see the honest rebellion that came out of World War Two taken over by a witless phony like Warhol. . . the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Lights, Noise, Love the Bomb! And then to see a bedrock madman like Ginsberg copping out with tolerance poems and the same sort of swill that normally comes from the Vatican. Kerouac hiding out with his "mere" on Long Island or maybe St. Petersburg. . . Kennedy with his head blown off and Nixon back from the dead, running wild in the power vacuum of Lyndon's hopeless bullshit. . . and of course Reagan, the new dean of Berkeley. Progress Marches On, courtesy, as always of General Electric. . . with sporadic assists from Ford, GM, ATT, Lockheed and Hoover's FBI.

And there's the chill of it. Lionel was one of the original anarchist-head-beatnik-free lancers of the 1950's. . . a bruised fore-runner of Leary's would-be "drop-out generation" of the 1960's. The Head Generation. . . a loud, cannibalistic gig where the best are fucked for the worst reasons, and the worst make a pile by feeding off the best. Promoters, hustlers, narks, con men -- all selling the New Scene to Time magazine and the Elks Club. The handlers get rich while the animals either get busted or screwed to the floor with bad contracts. Who's making money off the Blues Project? Is it Verve (a division of MGM), or the five ignorant bastards who thought they were getting a break when Verve said they'd make them a record? And who the fuck is 'Tom Wilson," the "producer" whose name rides so high on the record jacket? By any other name he's a vicious ten-percenter who sold "Army Surplus commodities" in the late 1940's, "Special-Guaranteed Used Cars" in the 1950's, and 29 cent thumb-prints of John Kennedy in the 1960's. . . until he figured out that the really big money was in drop-out revolution. Ride the big wave: Folk-rock, pot symbols, long hair, and $2.50 minimum at the door. Light shows! Tim Leary! Warhol! NOW!

 

The Distant Drummer, vol. I, no. I, November 1967

 

 

 

Collect Telegram from a Mad Dog

 

Not being a poet, and drunk as well,

leaning into the diner and dawn

and hearing a juke box mockery of some better

human sound

I wanted rhetoric

but could only howl the rotten truth

Norman Luboff

should have his nuts ripped off with a plastic fork.

Then howled around like a man with the

final angst,

not knowing what I wanted there

Probably the waitress, bend her double

like a safety pin,

Deposit the mad seed before they

tie off my tubes

or run me down with Dingo dogs

for not voting

at all.

 

Suddenly a man with wild eyes rushed

out from the wooden toilet

Foam on his face and waving a razor

like a flag, shouting

It's Starkweather god damn I Know

that voice

We'll take our vengeance now!

McConn, enroute from L.A. to some

rumored home,

killing the hours till the bars opened

stranded on Point Richmond when they closed

the night before,

thinking finally he had come among friends

or at least one.

 

We rang for Luboff

on the pay phone, but there was

no contact

Some tortured beast of a bad loser has already

croaked him, said McConn

We'll have a drink.

But the Mariners' Tavern was not open

for twenty minutes, so we read

a newspaper

and saw where just about everybody

had been fucked in the face

or some other orifice

or opening, or possibility

for one good reason or another

by the time the Chronicle went to press

before last midnight.

 

We rang for the editor

but the switchboard clamped him off.

Get a lawyer, I said. These swine have gone

far enough.

But the lawyers were all in bed

Finally we found one, limp from an orgy and

too much sleep

Eating cheese blintzes with sour cream and gin

on a redwood balcony with a

fine exposure.

Get your ass up, I said. It's Sunday and

the folks are in church. Now is the time to

lay a writ on them,

Cease and Desist

Specifically Luboff and the big mongers,

the slumfeeders, the perverts

and the pious.

 

The legal man agreed

We had a case and indeed a duty to

Right these Wrongs, as it were

The Price would be four thousand in front and

ten for the nut.

I wrote him a check on the Sawtooth

National Bank,

but he hooted at it

While rubbing a special oil on

his palms

To keep the chancres from itching

beyond endurance

On this Sabbath.

McConn broke his face with a running

Cambodian chop, then we

drank his gin, ate his blintzes

But failed to find anyone

to rape

and went back to the Mariners' Tavern

to drink in the sun.

Later, from jail

I sent a brace of telegrams

to the right people,

explaining my position.

Spider Magazine vol. I, no. 7, October 13, 1965

 

 

 

"Genius 'Round the World Stands Hand in Hand, and

One Shock of Recognition Runs the Whole Circle 'Round"

-- ART LlNKLETTER

 

I live in a quiet place where any sound at night means something is about to happen: You come awake fast -- thinking, what does that mean?

Usually nothing. But sometimes. . . it's hard to adjust to a city gig where the night is full of sounds, all of them comfortably routine. Cars, horns, footsteps. . . no way to relax; so drown it all out with the fine white drone of a cross-eyed TV set. Jam the bugger between channels and doze off nicely. . .

Ignore that nightmare in the bathroom. Just another ugly refugee from the Love Generation, some doom-struck gimp who couldn't handle the pressure. My attorney has never been able to accept the notion -- often espoused by reformed drug abusers and especially popular among those on probation -- that you can get a lot higher without drugs than with them.

And neither have I, for that matter. But I once lived down the hill from Dr. ------ on ------ Road,* a former acid guru who later claimed to have made that long jump from chemical frenzy to preternatural consciousness. One fine afternoon in the first rising curl of what would soon become the Great San Francisco Acid Wave I stopped by the Good Doctor's house with the idea of asking him (since he was even then a known drug authority) what sort of advice he might have for a neighbor with a healthy curiosity about LSD.

 

* Names deleted at insistence of publisher's lawyer.

 

I parked on the road and lumbered up his gravel driveway, pausing enroute to wave pleasantly at his wife, who was working in the garden under the brim of a huge seeding hat. . . a good scene, I thought: The old man is inside brewing up one of his fantastic drug-stews, and here we see his woman out in the garden, pruning carrots, or whatever. . . humming while she works, some tune I failed to recognize.

Humming. Yes. . . but it would be nearly ten years before I would recognize that sound for what it was: Like Ginsberg far gone in the Om ------ was trying to humm me off.

That was no old lady out there in that garden; it was the good doctor himself -- and his humming was a frantic attempt to block me out of his higher consciousness.

I made several attempts to make myself clear: Just a neighbor come to call and ask the doctor's advice about gobbling some LSD in my shack just down the hill from his house. I did, after all, have weapons. And I liked to shoot them -- especially at night, when the great blue flame would leap out, along with all that noise. . . and, yes, the bullets, too. We couldn't ignore that. Big balls of lead/alloy flying around the valley at speeds up to 3700 feet per second. . . But I always fired into the nearest hill or, failing that, into blackness. I meant no harm; I just liked the explosions. And I was careful never to kill more than I could eat.

"Kill?" I realized I could never properly explain that word to this creature toiling here in its garden. Had it ever eaten meat? Could it conjugate the verb "hunt?" Did it understand hunger? Or grasp the awful fact that my income averaged around $32 a week that year?

No. . . no hope of communication in this place. I recognized that -- but not soon enough to keep the drug doctor from humming me all the way down his driveway and into my car and down the mountain road. Forget LSD, I thought. Look what it's done to that poor bastard.

So I stuck with hash and rum for another six months or so, until I moved into San Francisco and found myself one night in a place called "The Fillmore Auditorium." And that was that. One grey lump of sugar and BOOM. In my mind I was right back there in the doctor's garden. Not on the surface, but underneath -- poking up through that finely cultivated earth like some kind of mutant mushroom. A victim of the Drug Explosion. A natural street freak, just eating whatever came by. I recall one night in the Matrix, when a road-person came in with a big pack on his back, shouting: "Anybody want some L. . . S. . . D. . . ? I got all the makin's right here. All I need is a place to cook."

The manager was on him at once, mumbling, "Cool it, cool it, come on back to the office." I never saw him after that night, but before he was taken away, the road-person distributed his samples. Huge white spansules. I went into the men's room to eat mine. But only half at first, I thought. Good thinking, but a hard thing to accomplish under the circumstances. I ate the first half, but spilled the rest on the sleeve of my red Pendleton shirt. . . And then, wondering what to do with it, I saw one of the musicians come in. "What's the trouble," he said.

"Well," I said. "All this white stuff on my sleeve is LSD." He said nothing. Merely grabbed my arm and began sucking on it. A very gross tableau. I wondered what would happen if some Kingston Trio/young stockbroker type might wander in and catch us in the act. Fuck him, I thought. With a bit of luck, it'll ruin his life -- forever thinking that just behind some narrow door in all his favorite bars, men in red Pendleton shirts are getting incredible kicks from things he'll never know. Would he dare to suck a sleeve? Probably not. Play it safe. Pretend you never saw it. . .

Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era -- the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run. . . but no explanations, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . .

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of "history" it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time -- and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights -- or very early mornings -- when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder's jacket. . . booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the tollgate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change). . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. . .

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . .

And that, I think, was the handle -- that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting -- on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark -- that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

 

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, New York, Random House, 1972

 

 

 

Jacket Copy for Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas:

A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream

 

The book began as a 250-word caption for Sports Illustrated. I was down in LA, working on a very tense and depressing investigation of the allegedly accidental killing of a journalist named Ruben Salazar by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept -- and after a week or so on the story I was a ball of nerves & sleepless paranoia (figuring that I might be next). . . and I needed some excuse to get away from the angry vortex of that story & try to make sense of it without people shaking butcher knives in my face all the time.

My main contact on that story was the infamous Chicano lawyer Oscar Acosta -- an old friend, who was under bad pressure at the time, from his super-militant constituents, for even talking to a gringo/gabacho journalist. The pressure was so heavy, in fact, that I found it impossible to talk to Oscar alone. We were always in the midst of a crowd of heavy street-fighters who didn't mind letting me know that they wouldn't need much of an excuse to chop me into hamburger.

This is no way to work on a very volatile & very complex story. So one afternoon I got Oscar in my rented car and drove him over to the Beverly Hills Hotel -- away from his bodyguards, etc. -- and told him I was getting a bit wiggy from the pressure; it was like being on stage all the time, or maybe in the midst of a prison riot. He agreed, but the nature of his position as "leader of the militants" made it impossible for him to be openly friendly with a gabacho.

I understood this. . . and just about then, I remembered that another old friend, now working for Sports Illustrated, had asked me if I felt like going out to Vegas for the weekend, at their expense, and writing a few words about a motorcycle race. This seemed like a good excuse to get out of LA for a few days, and if I took Oscar along it would also give us time to talk and sort out the evil realities of the Salazar Murder story.

So I called Sports Illustrated -- from the patio of the Polo Lounge -- and said I was ready to do the "Vegas thing." They agreed. . . and from here on in there is no point in running down details, because they're all in the book.

More or less. . . and this qualifier is the essence of what, for no particular reason, I've decided to call Gonzo Journalism. It is a style of "reporting" based on William Faulkner's idea that the best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism -- and the best journalists have always known this.

Which is not to say that Fiction is necessarily "more true" than Journalism -- or vice versa -- but that both "fiction" and "journalism" are artificial categories; and that both forms, at their best, are only two different means to the same end. This is getting pretty heavy. . . so I should cut back and explain, at this point, that Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas is a failed experiment in Gonzo Journalism. My idea was to buy a fat notebook and record the whole thing, as it happened, then send in the notebook for publication -- without editing. That way, I felt, the eye & mind of the journalist would be functioning as a camera. The writing would be selective & necessarily interpretive -- but once the image was written, the words would be final; in the same way that a Cartier-Bresson photograph is always (he says) the full-frame negative. No alterations in the darkroom, no cutting or cropping, no spotting. . . no editing.

But this is a hard thing to do, and in the end I found myself imposing an essentially fictional framework on what began as a piece of straight/crazy journalism. True Gonzo reporting needs the talents of a master journalist, the eye of an artist/photographer and the heavy balls of an actor. Because the writer must be a participant in the scene, while he's writing it -- or at least taping it, or even sketching it. Or all three. Probably the closest analogy to the ideal would be a film director/producer who writes his own scripts, does his own camera work and somehow manages to film himself in action, as the protagonist or at least a main character.

The American print media are not ready for this kind of thing, yet. Rolling Stone was probably the only magazine in America where I could get the Vegas book published. I sent Sports Illustrated 2500 words -- instead of the 250 they asked for -- and my manuscript was aggressively rejected. They refused to even pay my minimum expenses. . .

But to hell with all that. I seem to be drifting away from the point -- that Fear & Loathing is not what I thought it would be. I began writing it during a week of hard typewriter nights in a room at the Ramada Inn -- in a place called Arcadia, California -- up the road from Pasadena & right across the street from the Santa Anita racetrack. I was there during the first week of the Spring Racing -- and the rooms all around me were jammed with people I couldn't quite believe.

Heavy track buffs, horse trainers, ranch owners, jockeys & their women. . . I was lost in that swarm, sleeping most of each day and writing all night on the Salazar article. But each night, around dawn, I would knock off the Salazar work and spend an hour or so, cooling out, by letting my head unwind and my fingers run wild on the big black Selectric. . . jotting down notes about the weird trip to Vegas. It had worked out nicely, in terms of the Salazar piece -- plenty of hard straight talk about who was lying and who wasn't, and Oscar had finally relaxed enough to talk to me straight. Flashing across the desert at 110 in a big red convertible with the top down, there is not much danger of being bugged or overheard.

But we stayed in Vegas a bit longer than we'd planned to. Or at least I did. Oscar had to get back for a nine o'clock court appearance on Monday. So he took a plane and I was left alone out there -- just me and a massive hotel bill that I knew I couldn't pay, and the treacherous reality of that scene caused me to spend about 36 straight hours in my room at the Mint Hotel. . . writing feverishly in a notebook about a nasty situation that I thought I might not get away from.

These notes were the genesis of Fear & Loathing. After my escape from Nevada and all through the tense work week that followed (spending all my afternoons on the grim streets of East LA and my nights at the typewriter in that Ramada Inn hideout). . . my only loose & human moments would come around dawn when I could relax and fuck around with this slow-building, stone-crazy Vegas story.

By the time I got back to the Rolling Stone Hq. in San Francisco, the Salazar story was winding out at around 19,000 words, and the strange Vegas "fantasy" was running on its own spaced energy and pushing 5000 words -- with no end in sight and no real reason to continue working on it, except the pure pleasure of unwinding on paper. It was sort of an exercise -- like Bolero and it might have stayed that way -- if Jarin Wenner, the editor of Rolling Stone, hadn't liked the first 20 or so jangled pages enough to take it seriously on its own terms and tentatively schedule it for publication-- which gave me the push I needed to keep working on it.

So now, six months later, the ugly bastard is finished. And I like it -- despite the fact that I failed at what I was trying to do. As true Gonzo Journalism, this doesn't work at all -- and even if it did, I couldn't possibly admit it. Only a goddamn lunatic would write a thing like this and then claim it was true. The week the first section of Fear & Loathing appeared in Rolling Stone I found myself applying for White House press credentials -- a plastic pass that would give me the run of the White House, along with at least theoretical access to the big oval room where Nixon hangs out, pacing back & forth on those fine thick taxpayers' carpets and pondering Sunday's pointspread. (Nixon is a serious pro football freak. He and I are old buddies on this front: We once spent a long night together on the Thruway from Boston to Manchester, disecting the pro & con strategy of the Oakland-Green Bay Super Bowl game. It was the only time I've ever seen the bugger relaxed -- laughing, whacking me on the knee as he recalled Max McGee's one-handed catch for the back-breaking touchdown. I was impressed. It was like talking to Owsley about Acid.)

The trouble with Nixon is that he's a serious politics junkie. He's totally hooked. . . and like any other junkie, he's a bummer to have around: Especially as President.

And so much for all that. . . I have all of 1972 to fuck around with Nixon, so why hassle it here?

Anyway, the main point I want to make about Fear & Loathing is that although it's not what I meant it to be, it's still so complex in its failure that I feel I can take the risk of defending it as a first, gimped effort in a direction that what Tom Wolfe calls "The New Journalism" has been flirting with for almost a decade.

Wolfe's problem is that he's too crusty to participate in his stories. The people he feels comfortable with are dull as stale dogshit, and the people who seem to fascinate him as a writer are so weird that they make him nervous. The only thing new and unusual about Wolfe's journalism is that he's an abnormally good reporter; he has a fine sense of echo and at least a peripheral understanding of what John Keats was talking about when he said that thing about Truth & Beauty. The only reason Wolfe seems "new" is because William Randolph Hearst bent the spine of American journalism very badly when it was just getting started. All Tom Wolfe did -- after he couldn't make it on the Washington Post and couldn't even get hired by the National Observer -- was to figure out that there was really not much percentage in playing the old Colliers' game, and that if he was ever going to make it in "journalism," his only hope was to make it on his own terms: By being good in the classical -- rather than the contemporary -- sense, and by being the kind of journalist that the American print media honor mainly in the breach. Or, failing that, at the funeral. Like Stephen Crane, who couldn't even get a copyboy's job on today's New York Times. The only difference between working for the Times and Time magazine is the difference between being a third-string All-American fullback at Yale instead of Ohio State.

And again, yes, we seem to be rambling -- so perhaps I should close this off.

The only other important thing to be said about Fear & Loathing at this time is that it was fun to write, and that's rare -- for me, at least, because I've always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it's a bit like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs. Old whores don't do much giggling.

Nothing is fun when you have to do it -- over & over, again & again -- or else you'll be evicted, and that gets old. So it's a rare goddamn trip for a locked-in, rent-paying writer to get into a gig that, even in retrospect, was a kinghell, highlife fuckaround from start to finish. . . and then to actually get paid for writing this kind of maniac gibberish seems genuinely weird; like getting paid for kicking Agnew in the balls.

So maybe there's hope. Or maybe I'm going mad. These are not easy things to be sure of, either way. . . and in the meantime we have this failed experiment in Gonzo Journalism, the certain truth of which will never be established. That much is definite. Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas will have to be chalked off as a frenzied experiment, a fine idea that went crazy about halfway through. . . a victim of its own conceptual schizophrenia, caught & finally crippled in that vain, academic limbo between "journalism" & "fiction." And then hoist on its own petard of multiple felonies and enough flat-put crime to put anybody who'd admit to this kind of stinking behavior in the Nevada State Prison until 1984.

So now, in closing, I want to thank everybody who helped me put this happy work of fiction together. Names are not necessary here; they know who they are -- and in this foul era of Nixon, that knowledge and private laughter is probably the best we can hope for. The line between martyrdom and stupidity depends on a certain kind of tension in the body politic -- but that line disappeared, in America, at the trial of the "Chicago 7/8," and there is no point in kidding ourselves, now, about Who Has the Power.

In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile -- and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: Not necessarily to Win, but mainly to keep from Losing Completely. We owe that to ourselves and our crippled self-image as something better than a nation of panicked sheep. . . but we owe it especially to, our children, who will have to live with our loss and all its long-term consequences. I don't want my son asking me, in 1984, why his friends are calling me a "Good German."

Which gets down to a final point about Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. I have called it, only half sarcastically, "a vile epitaph for the Drug Culture of the Sixties," and I think it is. This whole twisted saga is a sort of Atavistic Endeavor, a dream-trip into the past -- however recent -- that was only half successful. I think we both understood, all along, that we were running a hell of a risk by laying a sixties trip on Las Vegas in 1971. . . and that neither one of us would ever pass this way again.

So we pushed it as far as we could, and we survived -- which means something, I guess, but not much beyond a good story and now, having done it, written it, and humping a reluctant salute to that decade that started so high and then went so brutally sour, I don't see much choice but to lash down the screws and get on with what has to be done. Either that or do nothing at all -- fall back on the Good German, Panicked Sheep syndrome, and I don't think I'm ready for that. At least not right now.

Because it was nice to be loose and crazy with a good credit card in a time when it was possible to run totally wild in Las Vegas and then get paid for writing a book about it. . . and it occurs to me that I probably just made it, just under the wire and the deadline. Nobody will dare admit this kind of behavior in print if Nixon wins again in '72.

The Swine are gearing down for a serious workout this time around. Four more years of Nixon means four more years of John Mitchell -- and four more years of Mitchell means another decade or more of bureaucratic fascism that will be so entrenched, by 1976, that nobody will feel up to fighting it. We will feel too old by then, too beaten, and by then even the Myth of the Road will be dead -- if only for lack of exercise. There will not be any wild-eyed, dope-sucking anarchists driving around the country in fireapple red convertibles if Nixon wins again in '72.

There will not even be any convertibles, much less any dope. And all the anarchists will be locked up in rehabilitation pens. The internaional hotel-chain lobby will ram a bill thru congress, setting mandatory death penalties for anyone jumping a hotel bill -- and death by castration & whipping if the deed is done in Vegas. The only legal high will be supervised Chinese acupuncture, in government hospitals at $200 a day -- with Martha Mitchell as Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, operating out of a luxurious penthouse on top of the Walter Reed Army Hospital.

So much, then, for The Road -- and for the last possibilities of running amok in Las Vegas & living to tell the tale. But maybe we won't really miss it. Maybe Law & Order is really the best way to go, after all.

Yeah. . . maybe so, and if that's the way it happens. . . well, at least I'll know I was there, neck deep in the madness, before the deal went down, and I got so high and wild that I felt like a two-ton Manta Ray jumping all the way across the Bay of Bengal.

It was a good way to go, and I recommend it highly -- at least for those who can stand the trip. And for those who can't, or won't, there is not much else to say. Not now, and certainly not by me, or Raoul Duke either. Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas marks the end of an era. . . and now, on this fantastic Indian summer morning in the Rockies, I want to leave this noisy black machine and sit naked on my porch for a while, in the sun.

 

Previously unpublished

 

 

 

A Conversation on Ralph Steadman and His Book,

America, with Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

 

HST: I'm sitting here looking at Ralph's book. It's terrible a really rotten thing to publish. . .

ED.: What's wrong with it?

HST: It's embarrassing. I hate to go into the details. This scatological scene here, with sex organs and things. . .

ED.: You've worked with Ralph Steadman quite a bit, Dr. Thompson. Some of the material in this book came out of assignments and trips you made together. How did you two hook up in the first place?

HST: Ah, let's see. . . I ran into him at the Kentucky Derby in May of 1969. I had been looking around for an artist to go the Derby with me. I called Warren Hinckle, the editor at Scanlan's, and said, "We need somebody with a really peculiar sense of humor, because this is going to be a very twisted story. It'll require somebody with a serious kink in his brain." So Hinckle thought for a while and said, "I know just the person for you. He's never been published over here before. His name is Ralph Steadman, he works for Private Eye in London and we'll get him over there right away." So I went down there thinking that whatever showed up would be pretty hard to cope with.

Ralph was a day late; he checked into the wrong room, at the wrong hotel. . . this was his first visit to this country, by the way, the Kentucky Derby. He's had four basic reasons for coming to this country, which might explain something about the nature of the drawings in this book. His first visit was for the Kentucky Derby in 1969. . . he hadn't been here before that. His second gig -- also for Scanlan's -- was the America's Cup yacht race at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1970. The third was the 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami for Rolling Stone. And the fourth was the Watergate hearings in Washington in the summer of '73. He went to a few other places in conjunction with those trips -- places like Dallas, Disneyland, Santa Fe -- but those were mainly side trips. The assignments that set the psychological tone for his reaction to this country were the Kentucky Derby, the America's Cup, Miami Beach for the Convention and Watergate. That's a pretty heavy series of shocks, I think, for an artist in his late twenties who never wanted to work over here in the first place.

ED.: Why not?

HST: I dont' think he ever even liked the idea of this country, much less the reality.

ED.: That shows. He seems to be horrified by America.

HST: Yeah. That's one of the reasons he's fun to work with -- he has a really fine, raw sense of horror.

ED.: What is it about America that horrifies him?

HST: Everything. The only time I've ever seen him relaxed and peaceful in this country was when he and his wife came out to my place in Colorado for a while. . . But, of course, that's total isolation; Ralph is very sensitive about his privacy.

ED.: How does he behave in public when you've been with him?

HST: He's deceptively mild in public, although every once in a while he'll run amok. He behaved pretty well at the Derby, even though he was drunk the whole time.

ED.: Drunk?

HST: He's constantly drunk, in public --

ED.: Does he draw on the spot?

HST: Well he sketches on the spot, he takes a lot of photographs. He uses a little sort of Minox-type camera. I didn't see him taking that many photos in Miami and Washington. He used to do more of that in the old days. Now he sketches on the spot, but then he goes back to the hotel and has the whole assignment finished that same night.

ED.: So he's very fast?

HST: Yes, it's shocking to work with him. Just about the time I'm starting to sit down and get to work, he's finished. It's depressing. It took me three weeks to write that Kentucky Derby story, but Steadman did his drawings in three days. He's not really a serious boozer, you know, but when he comes over here and gets involved in these horrible scenes, it causes him to drink heavily.

ED.: What happened at America's Cup?

HST: Well we met in New York, flew to Newport, and on the way I. . . uh. . . I had a whole bunch of these little purple pills somebody had given me. I knew it was going to be a beastly goddamn assignment and I had definite plans for keeping it as unhinged as possible. . . kind of off-balance, off-center. I had no intention of getting a serious story out of it. Our idea was to drive this boat we'd chartered right into the race, right into the course. It was a 50-foot sloop -- not a racing boat, but a pretty big sailing yacht. Unfortunately, the weather was so horrible that the bastards only raced one day out of three and the scene was still going on when we had to leave. . . for a very specific reason.

On the way up, I took one of these purple pills, which turned out to be psilocybin I think. They were just about right. I ended up taking two or three a day, for general research purposes. . . Steadman doesn't get at all into drugs usually -- He smokes a little now and then, but he's horrified of anything psychedelic. He had a kind of personal drug crisis up there in Newport. We spent the first two days just waiting for the weather to lift so the boats could go out. It was intolerably dull, and on the third day he said, "You seem to be having a wonderful time in this nightmare. I can't figure it out." And I said, "Well, I rely on my medicine to keep totally twisted. Otherwise, I couldn't stand this bullshit." And he said, "Well, maybe I'll try one." At this point, I was up to about four a day. . . So he tried one -- I think he got it down about six o'clock at night in one of those bars in town, a yachting crowd bar on the pier. And by midnight he was completely berserk. He stayed that way for about ninety-six hours, during which time we had to leave, had to charter a plane and flee because the police were looking for us.

ED.: Why?

HST: Well, at some point the morning after we took that first pill -- or it might have been the next morning, I'm not sure -- Ralph was in an insane condition for three or four straight days -- but at one point I decided that, in order to get things moving a bit, we'd sneak over to the Australian yacht, the challenger Gretel, and paint "Fuck the Pope" on the side in huge letters, as big as we could make them. So that when Gretel boomed out of the harbor in the morning, this brutal graffiti would be painted in such a way that people on board, the crew members, couldn't see it because "Fuck the Pope" would be below the deck on the water line. . . whereas everybody else woutd see it immediately from the press and spectator boats.

But there was no way to get in there, to do the paint job. It was like trying to get into Fort Knox. The boats were guarded so well that the only way to get near them was to come in from the sea. Even that was sort of guarded, because it was all lit up, and no boat of any size or any reason to be out there at night could have made it in by sea.

So we got a dinghy off the boat we were chartering. I hadn't rowed a boat at all for about ten years, and I don't think Ralph had ever rowed one. I ended up rowing. The boat was just about big enough for the two of us to fit in -- a very small dinghy. And we came in kind of around the pilings on the sea-side. We were sneaking from piling to piling. We'd bought these six cans of red spray paint from the hardware store in the town and -- no, I actually bought them in New York, come to think of it. So, I guess I knew what we were going to do. Ralph was going to be the artist and I was just rowing the boat.

Somehow we managed to get right next to the Australian yacht. It looked like a huge, silver knife in the water; just a giant blade, a racing machine -- not good for anything else, absolutely stark and menacing. Particularly when you find yourself down at the water line right next to the hull -- with all the spotlights and guards around it, up above.

We could hear people talking further back, at the entrance to the dock. It never occurred to them that anyone would come in from the sea. I was trying to hold the dinghy against the side without making any noise, while Ralph stood up and painted. And you know those spray-paint cans have a little ball in them, and in order to mix the paint up, you have to shake it -- the little ball bangs around inside, and it hisses just before the paint catches and it starts to work.

It was the goddamn little ball that got us. Because it was so quiet in the harbor -- the sound of that ball bouncing around inside as Ralph shook the can up. . . And then when he started cursing as the hissing got going, this really alarmed whoever was up there, and they began to shout.

Somebody looked over the side and yelled, "What are you guys doing down there?" And I said something like "Nothing, nothing at all," and told Ralph to keep going. And then they began to shout and a Land-Rover came speeding down the length of the dock, lights went on everywhere, all over the damn slip. It was a pretty tough stretch to row across with all these lights on us. But we realized we were going to have to do it -- or get jailed immediately -- so Ralph just hung on and we took off toward the darkness and the open sea in this dinghy with all these people yelling at us -- and Ralph still in a terrible psychological condition. . .

Because this was real fear that came on top of everything else. When the spotlights hit us, I thought they might start shooting. They were almost insanely serious about the security.

We got away by heading out to sea, then doubling back into the darkness of the piling across the harbor. But we knew we had only gotten away temporarily, because by this time they'd seen us. . . We were in a yellow dinghy belonging to a yellow boat, and by dawn there would be no question as to where we'd come from.

We were fucked; there was no doubt about it. Steadman was raving incoherently as we rowed back to our boat; he hates violence of any kind. . . But I figured he'd hate jail even worse, so when we got to our boat I told him to pack his gear while I took a big flare-gun up on deck and fired three huge parachute flares up into the night-- these brutes that cost about ten dollars apiece; they go up about 100 yards, then explode into four falling fireballs. . . the kind of things you're never supposed to use except for serious emergencies at sea. Anyway, I fired three of these while Ralph was packing -- twelve orange fireballs that went off like twelve shotgun blasts and lit up the whole harbor. . . Some of them fell on boats and started fires, people were shouting, leaping out of their bunks and grabbing fire extinguishers. . . There was total chaos in the harbor.

I went below and got my own stuff together, then we hailed a passing motor launch -- it was almost dawn by this time -- and whoever was running that launch agreed to give us a ride into the shore for twenty dollars.

From there we got a cab straight to the airport and chartered a small plane to Boston. Ralph was still in a really fiendish condition. He was barefooted, out of his mind and his only refuge was New York. I called down there and found out that Scanlan's had folded yesterday, but a friend of Steadman's would meet him at the airport. I said, "Now look, you have to meet him, because he's in terrible condition. . . I have to be back in Colorado today in order to file to run for sheriff". . . that was the deadline. So this guy agreed to meet Ralph at La Guardia. He went into a raving frenzy, cursing me, cursing America. . .

ED.: Cursing?

HST: Oh yes. He was very bitter about it -- having lost his shoes, his dignity, his sanity -- all that sort of thing. . . I put him on the plane to New York, then flew off to Colorado. . . and the next time I heard from him was about a month later, when I got a letter saying he'd never come to this country again, and certainly not as long as I was here.

What had happened was -- I found out later -- there was nobody at the airport in New York City. Nobody met him. He had no shoes, no money, he didn't know anything about New York. The Scanlan's office was closed, he couldn't even get in there, nobody answered the phone. He borrowed ten dollars for the cab from a bartender on Forty-fifth Street. . . By this time his mind was coming apart. I talked to one of the people in the hotel that Scanlan's used and they remembered this strange, wild-eyed Britisher pacing around the lobby, kicking the walls with his bare feet and cursing everybody who came near him. Finally, he remembered some editor -- a friend of a friend, I think -- that he had some connection with. By this time his face and head had turned completely purple, his feet were bleeding. It was about twenty-four hours after he arrived that he finally got to this editor's apartment somehow, in a state of shattered nervous hysteria. She sort of nursed him back to health, and I think he had a return ticket -- he never leaves home unless the money and a ticket are all brought to the house and handed to him. He has no faith in expense reimbursement, which I think is very wise.

ED.: Have all his experiences in America been like that?

HST: Well, he fled Miami after two days. He came over to cover the Democratic Convention, but he couldn't handle Miami.

ED.: He also covered the Republican Convention. . .

HST: No, he watched that on television in London. He refused to come back to Miami, for any reason.

ED.: Why?

HST: He couldn't stand Miami Beach. The shock was too great. There's a drawing in the book that explains why. . .

ED.: Why does he submit himself to this kind of rape?

HST: I think he gets a perverse kind of kick out of it. His best drawings come out of situations where he's been most anguished. So I deliberately put him into shocking situations when I work with him. I've always found that that's when he does his best stuff. . . I took him into the Watergate hearings completely drunk. And then we had to sit down at a press table in an aisle where the senators came in and out during the voting breaks. Ralph leaped up during one of the intermissions with a beer in his hand and knocked Sam Ervin off his feet. He almost got my press pass pulled, almost got us thrown out of the hearings permanently. Sometimes he seems unconscious of the things he's doing. People think he doesn't quite know what's going on. The real trouble he generates comes later, when people realize what he's done.

ED.: When they look at his drawings.

HST: Yes. When they realize they were very nice to him, and then they see themselves horribly caricatured. . . He did that to my brother once.

ED.: Your brother?

HST: Yeah, we were down there at the Derby. Davison went to college on a football scholarship as a linebacker -- he encouraged Ralph to do a sketch of him, sitting in a restaurant in Louisville -- and Ralph did it. I thought we were in serious trouble. At that point, I maced the waiter at the restaurant and we had to leave.

ED.: Mace? You maced him?

HST: Yeah, I maced the waiter. He was a surly bastard, and I figured a shot of Mace would be good for him -- and for us, too.

ED.: What provoked you?

HST: It was just an argument we got into with the waiter. I'm not sure how it developed. I maced him right after Ralph had done this drawing of my brother. All of a sudden we had something new to cope with. In fact, we had to leave the restaurant immediately.

ED.: Ralph's kinda like Clark Kent, you know. He has that mild-mannered disguise.

HST: Yes. I wonder what would show on his chest if we could do a drawing of him ripping back the shirt. . . maybe an adder or an iguana or a Gila monster. . .

ED.: Yes. The kind that sits still for hours and then kills you.

HST: With a flip of the tongue. . . yes, I think a Gila monster would be appropriate. A gila monster with a ballpoint pen for a tongue.

ED.: Ralph works in ball-point?

HST: I'm not sure. . . As I recall, he uses chalk and big, bright pencils; and when he's carrying those big pads around with him, it sets him off from almost anybody he's near.

ED.: Do people go up and look at what he's doing?

HST: No, because he works so fast and he concentrates so intensely. It would be like harassing a TV cameraman. There's something about Steadman that warns people not to interfere with him when he's working.

ED.: Why do you like to work with him? Would you rather work with Ralph than a photographer?

HST: Definitely. Photographers generally get in the way of stories. Steadman has a way of becoming part of the story. And I like to see things through his eyes. He gives me a perspective that I wouldn't normally have because he's shocked at things I tend to take for granted. Photographers just run around sucking up anything they can focus on and don't talk much about what they're doing. Photographers don't participate in the story. They all can act, but very few of them think. Steadman thinks more like a writer; I can communicate with him. He comes to grips with a story sort of the same way I do. . . I don't mean that we always agree on what somebody looks like. But we can go to the Watergate hearings, for instance, and he'll be shaken and repulsed by something that happens and once he points it out to me, I'll agree with him.

ED.: What is it about America that you think shocks him most?

HST: I think it's the lack of subtlety and the lack of the traditional British attempt to cover up the warts, or explain them away somehow. In America, we decorate the warts, sell them, cultivate them. . . I'm looking at this drawing he did in Vegas of all those cops standing in the lobby.

ED.: Is it the people who shock him?

HST: Yeah. The extreme types -- cowboys and burr-haired cops, horrible Southern drunkards at the Kentucky Derby and gross degenerates in Miami beach. Of course that's all he's seen on these experiences.

ED.: He's had a one-sided look at things, traveling with you.

HST: That's true. It's been pretty hard for him. . .

ED.: Couldn't be worse.

HST: Only if he'd traveled with Charlie Manson, somebody like that. . . Ralph seems to work much better when he's genuinely offended. And I've learned now I can just kinda chuckle when I see something, and even if it's not worth writing, I'll think, "Ah-hah, this'll really give the bastard a jolt. . ." So I'll make sure he has to confront it.

ED.: He needs to be in jeopardy?

HST: I think that's part of the reason the Vegas book worked so well. That sense of being in jeopardy ran all through it. I think he identified very strongly with it. There's no substitute for that horrified adrenalin rush.

There's a paranoid flash in a lot of his works too. He has a paranoid side to him: "People are lying to me; that cant be true. . . if Thompson says I should turn right here, probably I should turn left. . ." He gets very confused about things like that. But he's fun to work with. I think he deliberately gets himself in situations that I have to get him out of, so I have to worry about him. That thing at the Watergate is a perfect example, although I didn't rescue him then, I knew what was going to happen.

ED.: You didn't rescue him?

HST: Well, I pulled him out after a while -- but not when he jumped up and crashed through a line of marshals around Ervin and knocked him into the TV cameras. It was a narrow aisle between the press table and the TV. . . it was all their machinery really, all the hardware.

ED.: Who would you compare him to in the history of art? What do you think of him, objectively?

HST: George Grosz, I guess. That's who I think of right away. And. . . Hogarth. . . or maybe Pat Oliphant today. . .

ED.: Do you think he's given us an accurate portrait of America?

HST: Well, I'm not sure Hogarth was entirely objective but, yes, there's an element of reality, even in Ralph's most grotesque drawings. He catches things. Using a sort of venomous, satirical approach, he exaggerates the two or three things that horrify him in a scene or situation. . . And you can say that these people didn't look exactly like that, but when you can look at them again it seems pretty damn close. All the cops in the Vegas hotel lobby are wearing the same plaid Bermuda shorts, and they're uglier than any group of mutants you'd see at a bad insane asylum -- you know, for the criminally insane. But I look back on that scene and I know they weren't much different, really. They had on different colored shirts and they weren't all crazy and dangerous-looking -- but he caught the one or two distinguishing characteristics among them: the beady eyes, burr haircuts, weasel teeth, beer bellies. If you exaggerate those four characteristics, you get a pretty grizzly drawing. . .

ED.: He is a realist, then. . .

HST: Oh yes. By way of exaggeration and selective grotesquery. His view of reality is not entirely normal. Ralph sees through the glass very darkly. He doesn't merely render a scene, he interprets it, from his own point of view. For instance, he felt the senators should be on trial at the Watergate hearings. He was convinced that they were totally corrupt. Corruption in its broadest sense seems to be the thing that shocks him and gets him cranked more than anything else. . . congenital corruption. . . on a level far beyond police payoffs or political bribery. . . deeply corrupt people, performing essentially corrupt actions, in the name of law and order.

ED.: Do you plan any further projects together?

HST: The trial of Nixon would be a nice trip for Steadman.

ED.: In the Senate?

HST: Yes. Nixon doesn't have to be in the dock -- according to law -- but it's possible that he might be. . . and I think that would be an ideal story for Ralph. Or maybe a very expensive wedding in the South -- Old, incestuous families, things like that -- or a carnival scene, like a traveling carnival, with sideshows at country fairs. . . and I think he could get off pretty harshly on an L.A. gang rape or a sex orgy on Beekman Place in New York. . . There's a kind of wild theme in his drawings: decadence, corruption, immorality. . . like these horrible people in plastic hats standing outside the Kennedy Memorial in Dallas. Obscenity in its broadest sense is another hallmark of the things that shock him. . . I think he sees all of Dallas and Texas and even all of America as obscene, or at least a mockery of what it should be -- the way it claims to be, from his point of view. He probably thinks it was doomed from the start. He has that King-George-III notion of America.

ED,: Yes, as an Englishman. . . We fucked up from the beginning. We should have stayed with those guys.

HST: Right. A bunch of crude upstarts -- couldn't make it work. Maybe Ralph should spend more time at Shriners conventions. I notice he caught one of those in Dallas. We should lock him in a hotel at the National Shriners Convention in Duluth for a whole week. . . Jesus, that might be a terminal shock. . . or he'd come up with some fantastic drawings. He works best when you put him in a situation where he's bordering on flipping out, but not quite, you know -- where he can still function.

ED.: It's the old edge.

HST: Why not? It's a nice place to work. . . When he's comfortable and not stunned or appalled at what he's seeing, then he doesn't do his best stuff. . . it's not bad, but it doesn't have that. . .

ED.: Doesn't have the bite.

HST: Well, that's probably true, but you can't expect a mind like Ralph's to stay up on the wire all the time; it's too fucking painful, even when you do it in short doses. But Steadman has pretty good sense about that, so I figure he'll keep his edge for a while. . . which is a good thing for me, because there's nobody I'd rather work with.

-- June 1974

America by Ralph Steadman,

San Francisco, Straight Arrow Press, 1974

 

 

 

Strange Rumblings in Aztlan

 

The. . . Murder. . . and Resurrection of Ruben Salazar by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. . . Savage Polarization & the Making of a Martyr. . . Bad News for the Mexican-American. . . Worse News for the Pig. . . And Now the New Chicano. . . Riding a Grim New Wave. . . The Rise of the Batos Locos. . . Brown Power and a Fistful of Reds. . . Rude Politics in the Barrio. . . Which Side Are You On. . . Brother?. . . There Is No More Middleground. . . No Place to Hide on Whittier Boulevard. . . No Refuge from the Helicopters. . . No Hope in the Courts. . . No Peace with the Man. . . No Leverage Anywhere. . . and No Light at the End of This Tunnel. . . Nada. . .

 

Morning comes hard to the Hotel Ashmun; this is not a place where the guests spring eagerly out of bed to greet the fresh new day. But on this particular morning everybody in the place is awake at the crack of dawn: There is a terrible pounding and shrieking in the hallway, near room No. 267. Some junkie has ripped the doorknob off the communal bathroom, and now the others can't get in -- so they are trying to kick the door down. The voice of the manager wavers hysterically above the din: "Come on now, fellas -- do I have to call the sheriff?" The reply comes hard and fast: "You filthy gabacho pig! You call the fuckin sheriff and I'll cut your fuckin throat." And now the sound of wood cracking, more screaming, the sound of running feet outside my door, No. 267.

The door is locked, thank Christ -- but how can you say for sure in a place like the Hotel Ashmun? Especially on a morning like this with a mob of wild junkies locked out of the hall bathroom and maybe knowing that No. 267 is the only room within lunging distance that has a private bath. It is the best in the house, at $5.80 a night, and the lock on the door is brand new. The old one was ripped out about 12 hours earlier, just before I checked in.

The desk clerk had gone to a lot of trouble to get me into this room. His key wouldn't fit the new lock. "Jesus Christ!" he kept muttering. "This key has to fit! This is a brand new Yale lock." He stared balefully at the bright new key in his hand.

"Yeah," I said. "But that key is for a Webster lock."

"By God you're right!" he exclaimed. And he rushed off, leaving us standing there in the hallway with big chunks of ice in our hands. "What's wrong with that guy?" I asked. "He seems out of control -- all this sweating and grappling and jabbering. . ."

Benny Luna laughed. "Man, he's nervous! You think it's normal for him to be lettin four nasty lookin Chicanos into his best room at three in the morning? With all of us carryin chunks of ice and funny-lookin leather bags?" He was staggering around the hall, convulsed with laughter. "Man, this guy is freaked! He doesn't know what's goin on!"

"Three Chicanos," said Oscar. "And one hillbilly."

"You didn't tell him I was a writer, did you?" I asked. I'd noticed Oscar talking to the man, a tall sort of defeated looking Germanic type, but I hadn't paid much attention.

"No, but he recognized me," Oscar replied. "He said, 'You're the lawyer, aren't you?' So I said 'That's right, and I want your best room for this gabacho friend of mine.'" He grinned. "Yeah, he knows something's wrong with this scene, but he doesn't know what. These guys are scared of everything now. Every merchant on Whittier Boulevard is sure he's living on borrowed time, so they go all to pieces at the first sign of anything strange going on. It's been this way ever since Salazar."

The room clerk/manager/keeper/etc, suddenly rounded the hallway corner with the right key, and let us into the room. It was a winner -- a run-down echo of a place I stayed in a few years ago in the slums of Lima, Peru. I can't recall the name of that place, but I remember that all the room keys were attached to big wooden knobs about the size of grapefruits, too big to fit in a pocket. I thought about suggesting this to our man in the Hotel Ashmun, but he didn't wait around for tips or small-talk. He was gone in a flash, leaving us alone to deal with a quart of rum and God only knows what else. . . We put the ice in a basin next to the bed and chopped it up with a huge rigging knife. The only music was a tape cassette of Let It Bleed.

What better music for a hot night on Whittier Boulevard in 1971? This has not been a peaceful street, of late. And in truth it was never peaceful. Whittier is to the vast Chicano barrio in East Los Angeles what the Sunset Strip is to Hollywood. This is where the street action lives: The bars, the hustlers, the drug market, the whores -- and also the riots, the trashings, killings, gassings, the sporadic bloody clashes with the hated, common enemy: The cops, the Pigs, the Man, that blue-crusted army of fearsome gabacho troops from the East L.A. Sheriff's Department.

The Hotel Ashmun is a good place to stay if you want to get next to whatever's happening on Whittier Boulevard. The window of No. 267 is about 15 feet above the sidewalk and just a few blocks west on the Silver Dollar Cafe, a nondescript tavern that is not much different from any of the others nearby. There is a pool table in the rear, a pitcher of beer sells for a dollar, and the faded Chicano barmaid rolls dice with the patrons to keep the jukebox going. Low number pays, and nobody seems to care who selects the music.

We had been in there earlier, when not much was happening. It was my first visit in six months, since early September when the place was still rancid with the stench of CS gas and fresh varnish. But now, six months later, the Silver Dollar had aired out nicely. No blood on the floor, no ominous holes in the ceiling. The only reminder of my other visit was a thing hanging over the cash register that we all noticed immediately. It was a black gas mask, staring blindly out at the room-- and below the gas mask was a stark handprinted sign that said: "In memory of August 29, 1970."

Nothing else, no explanation. But no explanation was necessary -- at least not to anybody likely to be found drinking in the Silver Dollar. The customers are locals: Chicanos and barrio people -- and every one of them is acutely aware of what happened in the Silver Dollar Cafe on August 29, 1970.

That was the day that Ruben Salazar, the prominent "Mexican-American" columnist for the Los Angeles Times and News Director for bilingual KMEX-TV, walked into the place and sat down on a stool near the doorway to order a beer he would never drink. Because just about the time the barmaid was sliding his beer across the bar a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy named Tom Wilson fired a tear gas bomb through the front door and blew half of Ruben Salazar's head off. All the other customers escaped out the back exit to the alley, but Salazar never emerged. He died on the floor in a cloud of CS gas -- and when his body was finally carried out, hours later, his name was already launched into martyrdom. Within 24 hours, the very mention of the name "Ruben Salazar" was enough to provoke tears and fist-shaking tirades not only along Whittier Boulevard but all over East L.A.

Middle-aged housewives who had never thought of themselves as anything but lame-status "Mexican-Americans" just trying to get by in a mean Gringo world they never made suddenly found themselves shouting "Viva La Raza" in public. And their husbands -- quiet Safeway clerks and lawn-care salesmen, the lowest and most expendable cadres in the Great Gabacho economic machine -- were volunteering to testify; yes, to stand up in court, or wherever, and calling themselves Chicanos. The term "Mexican-American" fell massively out of favor with all but the old and conservative -- and the rich. It suddenly came to mean "Uncle Tom." Or, in the argot of East L.A. -- "Tio Taco." The difference between a Mexican-American and a Chicano was the difference between a Negro and a Black.

All this has happened very suddenly. Too suddenly for most people. One of the basic laws of politics is that Action Moves Away from the Center. The middle of the road is only popular when nothing is happening. And nothing serious has been happening politically in East L.A. for longer than most people can remember. Until six months ago the whole place was a colorful tomb, a vast slum full of noise and cheap labor, a rifle shot away from the heart of downtown Los Angeles. The barrio, like Watts, is actually a part of the city core-- while places like Hollywood and Santa Monica are separate entities. The Silver Dollar Cafe is a ten-minute drive from City Hall. The Sunset Strip is a 30-minute sprint on the Hollywood Freeway.

Whittier Boulevard is a hell of a long way from Hollywood, by any measure. There is no psychic connection at all. After a week in the bowels of East L.A. I felt vaguely guilty about walking into the bar in the Beverly Hills Hotel and ordering a drink -- as if I didn't quite belong there, and the waiters all knew it. I had been there before, under different circumstances, and felt totally comfortable. Or almost. There is no way to. . . well, to hell with that. The point is that this time I felt different. I was oriented to a completely different world -- 15 miles away.

 

MARCHA FOR LA JUSTICIA

There are no police community relations in the chicano communities. No, ever since the police riot on August 29th it has become too obvious to ignore the fact that the LAPD, the sheriffs, and the highway patrol have for years been systematically trying to destroy the true spirit of our people. In the past, police have broken up every attempt of our people to get justice, they have beaten young students protesting poor education, raided offices, arrested leaders, called us communistic and gangsters in the press, and everything else on the streets when the press was gone.

Even more insidious than the direct political repression against leaders and demonstrations is the continuous attacks on the everyday life of people in the barrios. Almost every month each barrio has suffered through at least one case of severe brutality or murder and then struggled to defend friends and witnesses who face bum raps. One week it's San Fernando, then Lincoln Heights, East L.A., Venice, the Harbor and Pomona. . . they hit one barrio at a time, trying to break our unity and spirit.

On August 29th, through all of our barrios were demonstrations for peace and justice and the police rioted and attacked. Out of fear, they installed martial law, arresting and abusing hundreds of community people. They killed Gilberto Diaz, Lynn Ward, and Ruben Salazar, the man who could tell our story to the nation and the world.

We must not forget the lesson of August 29th, that the major social and political issue we face is police brutality. Since the 29th police attacks have been worse, either the people control the police, or we are living in a police state.

We must not allow the police to break our unity. We must carry on the spirit of Ruben and Salazar and expose this brutality to the nation and the world. The Chicano Moratorium Committee calls upon you to support our non-violent march for justice throgh the barrios of the greater Los Angeles area.

Caravans will be coming from dozens of cities and around our barrios. We will all meet at the E.L.A. sheriff's sub-station on 3rd Street between Fetterly and Woods. At 11:00 AM January 31, 1971. Join your local caravan. For further information call 268-6745.

-- Handbill from the National Chicano Moratorium Committee

 

My first night in the Hotel Ashmun was not restful. The others had left around five, then there was the junkie eruption at seven. . . followed an hour later by a thundering, low-fidelity outburst of wailing Norteno music from the jukebox in the Boulevard Cafe across the street. . . and then, about nine-thirty, I was jerked up again by a series of loud whistles from the sidewalk right under my window, and a voice calling, "Hunter! Wake-up, man! Let's get moving."

Holy jesus! I thought. Only three people in the world know where I am right now, and they're all asleep. Who else could have tracked me to this place? I bent the metal slats of the Venetian blind apart just enough to look down at the street and see Rudy Sanchez, Oscar's quiet little bodyguard, looking up at my window and waving urgently: "Come on out, man, it's time. Oscar and Benny are up the street at the Sweetheart. That's the bar on the corner where you see all those people in front. We'll wait for you there, OK? You awake?"

"Sure I'm awake," I said. "I've been sitting here waiting for you lazy criminal bastards. Why do Mexicans need so much fucking sleep?"

Rudy smiled and turned away. "We'll be waiting for you, man. We're gonna be drinkin a hell of a lot of bloody marys and you know the rule we have down here."

"Never mind that," I muttered. "I need a shower."

But my room had no shower. And somebody, that night, had managed to string a naked copper wire across the bathtub and plug it into a socket underneath the basin outside the bathroom door. For what reason? Demon Rum, I had no idea. Here I was in the best room in the house, looking for the shower and finding only an electrified bathtub. And no place to righteously shave -- in the best hotel on the strip. Finally I scrubbed my face with a hot towel and went across the street to the Sweetheart Lounge.

Oscar Acosta, the Chicano lawyer, was there; leaning on the bar, talking idly with some of the patrons. Of the four people around him -- all in their late twenties -- two were ex-cons, two were part-time dynamite freaks and known fire-bombers, and three of the four were veteran acid-eaters. Yet none of this surfaced in the conversation. The talk was political, but only in terms of the courtroom. Oscar was dealing with two hyperpolitical trials at the same time.

In one, the trial of the "Biltmore Six," he was defending six young Chicanos who'd been arrested for trying to burn down the Biltmore Hotel one night about a year ago, while Governor Ronald Reagan was delivering a speech there in the ballroom. Their guilt or innocence was immaterial at this point, because the trial had developed into a spectacular attempt to overturn the entire Grand Jury selection system. In the preceeding months, Acosta had subpoenaed every Superior Court Judge in Los Angeles County and cross-examined all 109 of them at length, under oath, on the subject of their "racism." It was a wretched affront to the whole court system, and Acosta was working overtime to make it as wretched as possible. Here were these hundred and nine old men, these judges, compelled to take time out from whatever they were doing and go into another courtroom to take the stand and deny charges of "racism" from an attorney they all loathed.

Oscar's contention, throughout, was that all Grand Juries are racist, since all grand jurors have to be recommended by Superior Court Judges -- who naturally tend to recommend people they know personally or professionally. And that therefore no ratbastard Chicano street crazy, for instance, could possibly be indicted by "a jury of his peers." The implications of a victory in this case were so obvious, so clearly menacing to the court system, that interest in the verdict had filtered all the way down to places like the Boulevard, the Silver Dollar and the Sweetheart. The level of political consciousness is not normally high in these places -- especially on Saturday mornings -- but Acosta's very presence, no matter where he goes or what he seems to be doing, is so grossly political that anybody who wants to talk to him has to figure out some way to deal on a meaningful political level.

"The thing is to never talk down," he says. "We're not trying to win votes out here. Hell, that trip's been done, it's over. The idea now is to make people think. Force them to think. And you can't do that by walking around slapping strangers on the back and buying them beers." Then grinning. "Unless you happen to be babbling drunk or stoned. Which is certainly not my style; I want to make that one thing very clear."

But today the talk was easy, with no ulterior politics. "Say, Oscar," somebody asked. "How do we stand on that Grand Jury thing? What's our chances?"

Acosta shrugged. "We'll win. Maybe not on this level, but well win on appeal."

"That's good, man. I hear you're really workin out on the bastards."

"Yeah, we're fuckin em over. But that one might take another year. Right now we have to think about Corky's trial. It starts Tuesday."

"Corky's in town?" The interest is obvious. Heads turn to listen. Rudy eases back a few feet so he can watch the whole bar, scanning the faces for any that might be too interested. Paranoia is rampant in the barrio: Informers. Narcs. Assassins -- who knows? And Rudolfo "Corky" Gonzales is a definite heavy, prime target for a frame or a set-up. A scholarly, soft-spoken ex-boxer, his Denver-based "Crusade for Justice" is one of the few viable Chicano political organizations in the country. Gonzales is a poet, a street-fighter, a theorist, an organizer, and the most influential "Chicano leader" in the country next to Cesar Chavez.

Whenever Corky Gonzales appears in East L.A. -- if only to stand trial on a misdemeanor weapons bust -- the level of political tension rises noticeably. Gonzales has a very intense following in the barrio. Most of his supporters are young: Students, dropouts, artists, poets, crazies -- the people who respect Cesar Chavez, but who can't really relate to church-going farmworkers.

"This weekend is going to be hell," Oscar had told me the night before. "Whenever Corky's in town, my apartment turns into a fucking zoo. I have to go to a motel to get any sleep. Shit, I can't stay all night arguing radical politics when I have to be in court the next morning. These wild-eyed fuckers show up at all hours; they bring wine, joints, acid, mescaline, guns. . . Jesus, Corky wouldn't dare take that kind of risk. He's already here, but I don't know where he's staying. He's checked into some kind of goddamn Holiday Inn or something, about five miles out on Rosemeade, but he won't tell anybody where it is -- not even me, his lawyer." He smiled, "And that's pretty shrewd, because if I knew where he was I might go over some night all twisted and crazy about calling a general strike at dawn, or some other dangerous bullshit that would freak him."

He nodded, smiling lazily down at his drink. "As a matter of fact, I have been thinking about calling a general strike. The movement is so goddamn splintered right now that almost anything would help. Yeah, maybe I should write Corky a speech along those lines, then call a press conference for tomorrow afternoon in the Silver Dollar." He laughed bitterly and called for another bloody mary.

Acosta has been practicing law in the barrio for three years. I met him a bit earlier than that, in another era which hardly matters here, except that it might be a trifle less than fair to run this story all the way out to the end without saying at least once, for the record, that Oscar is an old friend and occasional antagonist. I first met him, as I recall, in a bar called "The Daisy Duck" in Aspen, when he lumbered up to me and started raving about "ripping the system apart like a pile of cheap hay," or something like that. . . and I remember thinking, "Well, here's another one of those fucked-up, guilt-crazed dropout lawyers from San Francisco -- some dingbat who ate one too many tacos and decided he was really Emiliano Zapata."

Which was OK, I felt, but it was a hard act to handle in Aspen in that high white summer of 1967. That was the era of Sergeant Pepper, the Surrealistic Pillow and the original Buffalo Springfield. It was a good year for everybody -- or for most people, anyway. There were exceptions, as always. Lyndon Johnson was one, and Oscar Acosta was another. For entirely different reasons. That was not a good summer to be either the President of the United States or an angry Mexican lawyer in Aspen.

Oscar didn't hang around long. He washed dishes for a while, did a bit of construction work, bent the County Judge out of shape a few times, then took off for Mexico to "get serious." The next thing I heard, he was working for the public defender's office in L.A. That was sometime around Christmas of 1968, which was not a good year for anybody -- except Richard Nixon and perhaps Oscar Acosta. Because by that time Oscar was beginning to find his own track. He was America's only "Chicano lawyer," he explained in a letter, and he liked it. His clients were all Chicanos and most were "political criminals," he said. And if they were guilty it was only because they were "doing what had to be done."

That's fine, I said. But I couldn't really get into it. I was all for it, you understand, but only on the basis of a personal friendship. Most of my friends are into strange things I don't totally understand -- and with a few shameful exceptions I wish them all well. Who am I, after all, to tell some friend he shouldn't change his name to Oliver High, get rid of his family and join a Satanism cult in Seattle? Or to argue with another friend who wants to buy a single-shot Remington Fireball so he can go out and shoot cops from a safe distance?

Whatever's right, I say. Never fuck with a friend's head by accident. And if their private trips get out of control now and then -- well, you do what has to be done.

Which more or less explains how I suddenly found myself involved in the murder of Ruben Salazar. I was up in Portland, Oregon, at the time, trying to cover the National American Legion Convention and the Sky River Rock Festival at the same time. . . and I came back to my secret room in the Hilton one night to find an "urgent message" to call Mr. Acosta in Los Angeles.

I wondered how he had managed to track me down in Portland. But I knew, somehow, what he was calling about. I had seen the L.A. Times that morning, with the story of Salazar's death, and even at a distance of 2000 miles it gave off a powerful stench. The problem was not just a gimp or a hole in the story; the whole goddamn thing was wrong. It made no sense at all.

The Salazar case had a very special hook in it: Not that he was a Mexican or a Chicano, and not even Acosta's angry insistence that the cops had killed him in cold blood and that nobody was going to do anything about it. These were all proper ingredients for an outrage, but from my own point of view the most ominous aspect of Oscar's story was his charge that the police had deliberately gone out on the streets and killed a reporter who'd been giving them trouble. If this was true, it meant the ante was being upped drastically. When the cops declare open season on journalists, when they feel free to declare any scene of "unlawful protest" a free fire zone, that will be a very ugly day -- and not just for journalists.

 

For thirteen devastated blocks, darkened stores stood gaping, show windows smashed. Traffic signs, spent shotgun shells, chunks of brick and concrete littered the pavement. A pair of sofas, gutted by fire, smouldered at a curbside splashed with blood. In the hot blaze of police flares, three Chicano youths swaggered down the ruined street. "Hey brother," one yelled to a black reporter, "was this better than Watts?"

-- Newsweek, Feb. 15, 71

 

Ruben Salazar is a bonafide martyr now -- not only in East L.A., but in Denver and Santa Fe and San Antonio, throughout the Southwest. The length and breadth of Aztlan -- the "conquered territories" that came under the yoke of Gringo occupation troops more than 100 years ago, when "vendido politicians in Mexico City sold out to the US" in order to call off the invasion that Gringo history books refer to as the "Mexican-American War." (Davy Crockett, Remember the Alamo, etc.)

As a result of this war, the US government was ceded about half of what was then the Mexican nation. This territory was eventually broken up into what is now the states of Texas, New .Mexico, Arizona and the southern half of California. This is Aztlan, more a concept than a real definition. But even as a concept it has galvanized a whole generation of young Chicanos to a style of political action that literally terrifies their Mexican-American parents. Between 1968 and 1970 the "Mexican-American Movement" went through the same drastic changes and heavy trauma that had earlier afflicted the "Negro Civil Rights Movement" in the early Sixties. The split was mainly along generational lines, and the first "young radicals" were overwhelmingly the sons and daughters of middle-class Mexican-Americans who had learned to live with "their problem."

At this stage, the Movement was basically intellectual. The word "Chicano" was forged as a necessary identity for the people of Aztlan -- neither Mexicans nor Americans, but a conquered Indian/Mestizo nation sold out like slaves by its leaders and treated like indentured servants by its conquerers. Not even their language was definable, much less their identity. The language of East L.A. is a speedy sort of cholo mixture of Mexican Spanish and California English. You can sit in the Boulevard Cafe on Whittier on a Saturday morning and hear a young Chicano ex-con explaining to his friends: "This goddamn gabacro parole officer tells me I have to get the sewing machine back. I talked to that goddamn vendido and the vieja tambien, and they tell me don't worry, we won't say nothing that would send you back to the joint. But the gabacho keeps pushin me. What can I do?" And then, suddenly noticing a vagrant gringo nearby, he finishes the whole story in rapid, angry Spanish.

There are a lot of ex-cons in the Movement now, along with a whole new element -- the "Batos Locos." And the only difference, really, is that the ex-cons are old enough to have done time for the same things the batos locos haven't been arrested for, yet. Another difference is that the ex-cons are old enough to frequent the action bars along Whittier, while most of the batos locos are still teenagers. They drink heavily, but not in the Boulevard or the Silver Dollar. On Friday night you will find them sharing quarts of sweet Key Largo in the darkness of some playground in the housing project. And along with the wine, they eat Seconal -- which is massively available in the barrio, and also cheap: a buck or so for a rack of five reds, enough to fuck anybody up. Seconal is one of the few drugs on the market (legal or otherwise) that is flat guaranteed to turn you mean. Especially with wine on the side and a few "whites," bennies, for a chaser. This is the kind of diet that makes a man want to go out and stomp people. . . the only other people I've ever seen heavily into the red/white/wine diet are the Hell's Angels.

The results are about the same. The Angels would get loaded and then snarl around looking for somebody to chain-whip. The batos locos get loaded and start looking for their own kind of action (burning a store, rat-packing a nigger, or stealing some cars for a night of high-speed cruising on the freeways). The action is almost always illegal, usually violent -- but only recently has it become "political."

Perhaps the main Movement/focus in the barrio these days is the politicalization of the batos locos. The term translates literally as "crazy guys," but in harsh political terms it translates as "street crazies," teenage wildmen who have nothing to lose except their hostility and a vast sense of doom and boredom with the world as they know it. "These guys aren't afraid of the pigs," a Chicano activist told me. "Hell, they like a fight with the pigs. They want it. And there's a hell of a lot of 'em, man. Maybe two hundred thousand. If we can organize these guys, man, we can move on anybody."

But the batos locos are not easily organized. For one thing, they're hopelessly ignorant about politics. They hate politicians -- even Chicano politicians. They are also very young, very hostile, and when you get them excited they are likely to do almost anything -- especially when they're full of wine and reds. One of the first overt attempts to bring the batos locos into the new Chicano politics was the mass rally against police brutality last January 31st. The organizers took great care to make sure the thing would be peaceful. The word went out all over the barrio that "this one has to be cool -- no riot, no violence." A truce was arranged with the East L.A. sheriff's department; the cops agreed to "keep a low profile," but they nonetheless sand-bagged and barricaded the sheriff's substation right next to the site of the rally in Belvedere Park.

Writing in The Nation, a Chicago priest named David F. Gomez described the scene as the rally gathered steam: "Despite the tension, a fiesta atmosphere prevailed as Chicanos sat on the scarred grass of the park's soccer field and listened while barrio speakers aired grievances of police brutality and the gringo occupation of Aztlan. Oscar Acosta gave the most rousing talk of the afternoon. 'Ya es tiempo. The time is now! There's only one issue. Not police abuse. We are going to be clubbed over the head for as long as we live because we're Chicanos! The real issue is nuestra tierra, our land. Some people call us rebels and revolutionaries. Don't believe it. Emiliano Zapata was a revolutionary because he fought against other Mexicans. But we are not fighting our own people but gringos! We are not trying to overturn our own government. We don't have a government! Do you think there would be police helicopters patrolling our communities day and night if anybody considered us real citizens with rights!'"

The rally was peaceful -- all the way to the end. But then, when fighting broke out between a handful of Chicanos and jittery cops, nearly a thousand young batos locos reacted by making a frontal assault on the cop headquarters with rocks, bottles, clubs, bricks and everything else they could find. The cops withstood the attack for about an hour, then swarmed out of the place with a stunning show of force that included firing deadly buckshot balls out of 12-gauge shotguns straight into the crowd. The attackers fled through the backstreets to Whittier Boulevard, and trashed the street again. The cops pursued, firing shotguns and pistols at point blank range. After two hours of street warfare, the toll was one dead, 303 serious injuries and a little less than a half million dollars' worth of damage -- including 78 burned and battered police cars.

The entire L.A. power structure was outraged. And the Chicano Moratorium Committee was aghast. The rally's main organizer -- 24-year-old Rosalio Munoz, a former president of the UCLA student body -- was so shocked by the outburst that he reluctantly agreed -- with the sheriff -- that any further mass rallies would be too dangerous. "We will have to find a new way of expressing grievances," said a spokesman for the more moderate Congress of Mexican-American Unity. "From now on the course will be to play a low profile."

But nobody spoke for the batos locos -- except maybe the sheriff. "This violence was not caused by outsiders," he said, "but by members of the Chicano community! They can't say we provoked them this time." This was a definite switch from the standard-brand cop-analysis of "Mexican violence." In the past they had always blamed it on "Communists and Outside Agitators." But now, it seemed, the sheriff was finally catching on. The real enemy was the same people his men had to deal with every goddamn day of the week, in all kinds of routine situations -- on street-corners, in bars, domestic brawls and car accidents. The gente, the street-people, the ones who live there. So in the end, being a sheriff's deputy in East L.A. was not much different from being a point man for the American Division in Vietnam. "Even the kids and old women are VC."

This is the new drift, and everybody in East L.A. who's willing to talk about it uses the term "since Salazar." In the six months since the murder and the unsettling coroner's inquest that followed it up, the Chicano community has been harshly sundered by a completely new kind of polarization, another painful amoeba-trip. But the split this time was not between the young militants and the old Tio Tacos; this time it was between student-type militants and this whole new breed of super-militant street crazies. The argument was no longer whether to fight -- but When, and How, and with What Weapons.

Another awkward aspect of the new split was that it was had been painful, but essentially simple: now it was more no longer a simple matter of "the generation gap" -- more than a conflict of life-styles and attitudes; the division this time was more along economic, or class lines. And this was painfully complex. The original student activist had been militant, but also reasonable -- in their own eyes, if not in the eyes of the law.

But the batos locos never even pretended to be reasonable. They wanted to get it on, and the sooner the better. Anytime, anywhere: Just give us a reason to work out on the pig, and we're ready.

This attitude created definite problems within the movement. The street people had right instincts, said the leadership, but they were not wise. They had no program; only violence and vengeance -- which was wholly understandable, of course, but how could it work? How could the traditionally stable Mexican-American community gain anything, in the long run, by declaring total war on the gabacho power structure and meanwhile purging its own native vendidos?

 

AZTLAN! Love it or leave it.

-- sign at Chicago rally

 

Ruben Salazar was killed in the wake of a Watts-style riot that erupted when hundreds of cops attacked a peaceful rally in Laguna Park, where 5000 or so liberal/student/activist type Chicanos had gathered to protest the drafting of "Aztlan citizens" to fight for the US in Vietnam. The police suddenly appeared in Laguna Park, with no warning, and "dispersed the crowd" with a blanket of tear gas, followed up by a Chicago-style mop-up with billyclubs. The crowd fled in panic and anger, inflaming hundreds of young spectators who ran the few blocks to Whittier Boulevard and began trashing every store in sight. Several buildings were burned to the ground; damage was estimated at somewhere around a million dollars. Three people were killed, 60 injured -- but the central incident of that August 29th, 1970 rally was the killing of Ruben Salazar.

And six months later, when the National Chicano Moratorium Committee felt it was time for another mass rally, they called it to "carry on the spirit of Ruben Salazar."

There is irony in this, because Salazar was nobody's militant. He was a professional journalist with ten years of experience on a variety of assignments for the neo-liberal Los Angeles Times. He was a nationally known reporter, winning prizes for his work in places like Vietnam, Mexico City and the Dominican Republic. Ruben Salazar was a veteran war correspondent, but he had never shed blood under fire. He was good, and he seemed to like the work. So he must have been slightly bored when the Times called him back from the war zones, for a raise and a well-deserved rest covering "local affairs."

He focused on the huge barrio just east of city hall. This was a scene he had never really known, despite his Mexican-American heritage. But he locked into it almost instantly. Within months, he had narrowed his work for the Times down to a once-a-week column for the newspaper, and signed on as News Director for KMEX-TV -- the "Mexican-American station," which he quickly transformed into an energetic, aggressively political voice for the whole Chicano community. His coverage of police activities made the East Los Angeles sheriffs department so unhappy that they soon found themselves in a sort of running private argument with this man Salazar, this Spic who refused to be reasonable. When Salazar got onto a routine story like some worthless kid named Ramirez getting beaten to death in a jail-fight, he was likely to come up with almost anything -- including a series of hard-hitting news commentaries strongly suggesting that the victim had been beaten to death by the jailers. In the summer of 1970 Ruben Salazar was warned three times, by the cops, to "tone down his coverage." And each time he told them to fuck off.

This was not common knowledge in the community until after he was murdered. When he went out to cover the rally that August afternoon he was still a "Mexican-American journalist." But by the time his body was carried out of the Silver Dollar, he was a stone Chicano martyr. Salazar would have smiled at this irony, but he would not have seen much humor in the way the story of his death was handled by the cops and the politicians. Nor would he have been pleased to know that almost immediately after his death his name would become a battle cry, prodding thousands of young Chicanos who had always disdained "protest" into an undeclared war with the hated gringo police.

 

His paper, the L.A. Times, carried the account of its former foreign correspondent's death on its Monday front page: "Mexican-American newsman Ruben Salazar was killed by a bullet-like tear gas shell fired by a sheriff's deputy into a bar during rioting Saturday in East Los Angeles." The details were hazy, but the new, hastily revised police version was clearly constructed to show that Salazar was the victim of a Regrettable Accident which the cops were not aware of until many hours later. Sheriff's deputies had cornered an armed man in a bar, they said, and when he refused to come out -- even after "loud warnings" (with a bull horn) "to evacuate" -- "the tear gas shells were fired and several persons ran out the back door."

At that time, according to the sheriff's nervous mouthpiece, Lt. Norman Hamilton, a woman and two men -- one carrying a 7.65 automatic pistol -- were met by deputies, who questioned them. "I don't know whether the man with the gun was arrested on a weapons violation or not," Hamilton added.

Ruben Salazar was not among those persons who ran out the back door. He was lying on the floor, inside, with a huge hole in his head. But the police didn't know this, Lieutenant Hamilton explained, because, "they didn't enter the bar until approximately 8 PM, when rumors began circulating that Salazar was missing," and "an unidentified man across the street from the bar" told a deputy, "I think there's an injured man in there." "At this point," said Hamilton, "deputies knocked down the door and found the body." Two and a half hours later at 10:40 PM, the sheriff's office admitted that "the body" was Ruben Salazar.

"Hamilton could not explain," said the Times, "why two accounts of the incident given to the Times by avowed eyewitnesses differed from the sheriff's accounts."

For about 24 hours Hamilton clung grimly to his original story -- a composite, he said, of firsthand police accounts. According to this version, Ruben Salazar had been "killed by errant gunfire. . . during the height of a sweep of more than 7000 people in (Laguna) Park when police ordered everyone to disperse." Local TV and radio newscasts offered sporadic variations on this theme -- citing reports "still under investigation" that Salazar had been shot accidentally by careless street-snipers. It was tragic, of course, but tragedies like this are inevitable when crowds of innocent people allow themselves to be manipulated by a handful of violent, cop-hating anarchists.

By late Sunday, however, the sheriff's story had collapsed completely -- in the face of sworn testimony from four men who were standing within ten feet of Ruben Salazar when he died in the Silver Dollar Cafe at 4045 Whittier Boulevard, at least a mile from Laguna Park. But the real shocker came when these men testified that Salazar had been killed -- not by snipers or errant gunfire -- but by a cop with a deadly tear gas bazooka.

Acosta had no trouble explaining the discrepancy. "They're lying," he said. 'They murdered Salazar and now they're trying to cover it up. The sheriff already panicked. All he can say is, 'No comment.' He's ordered every cop in the county to say nothing to anybody -- especially the press. They've turned the East L.A. sheriff's station into a fortress. Armed guards all around it." He laughed. "Shit, the place looks like a prison -- but with all the cops inside!"

Sheriff Peter J. Pitchess refused to talk to me when I called. The rude aftermath of the Salazar killing had apparently unhinged him completely. On Monday he called off a scheduled press conference and instead issued a statement, saying, "There are just too many conflicting stories, some from our own officers, as to what happened. The sheriff wants an opportunity to digest them before meeting with newsmen."

 

Indeed. Sheriff Pitchess was not alone in his inability to digest the garbled swill that his office was doling out. The official version of the Salazar killing was so crude and illogical -- even after revisions -- that not even the sheriff seemed surprised when it began to fall apart even before Chicano partisans had a chance to attack it. Which they would, of course. The sheriff had already got wind of what was coming: many eyewitnesses, sworn statements, first-hand accounts -- all of them hostile.

The history of Chicano complaints against cops in East L.A. is not a happy one. "The cops never lose," Acosta told me, "and they won't lose this one either. They just murdered the only guy in the community they were really afraid of, and I guarantee you no cop will ever stand trial for it. Not even for manslaughter."

I could accept that. But it was difficult, even for me, to believe that the cops had killed him deliberately. I knew they were capable of it, but I was not quite ready to believe they had actually done it. . . because once I believed that, I also had to accept the idea that they are prepared to kill anybody who seemed to be annoying them. Even me.

As for Acosta's charge of murder, I knew him well enough to understand how he could make that charge publicly. . . I also knew him well enough to he sure he wouldn't try to hang that kind of monstrous bullshit on me. So our phone talk naturally disturbed me. . . and I fell to brooding about it, hung on my own dark suspicions that Oscar had told me the truth.

On the plane to L.A. I tried to make some kind of a case -- either pro or con -- from my bundle of notes and news-clips relating to Salazar's death. By that time at least six reportedly reliable witnesses had made sworn statements that differed drastically, on several crucial points, with the original police version -- which nobody believed anyway. There was something very disturbing about the sheriff's account of that accident; it wasn't even a good lie.

Within hours after the Times hit the streets with the news that Ruben Salazar had in fact been killed by cops -- rather than street-snipers -- the sheriff unleashed a furious assault on "known dissidents" who had flocked into East Los Angeles that weekend, he said, to provoke a disastrous riot in the Mexican-American community. He praised his deputies for the skillful zeal they displayed in restoring order to the area within two and a half hours, "thus averting a major holocaust of much greater proportions."

Pitchess did not identify any "known dissidents," but he insisted that they had committed "hundreds of provocative acts." For some reason the sheriff failed to mention that his deputies had already jailed one of the most prominent Chicano militants in the nation. "Corky" Gonzales had been arrested during Saturday's riot on a variety of charges that the police never really explained. Gonzales, fleeing the combat zone on a flatbed truck with 28 others, was arrested first for a traffic violation, then on a concealed weapons charge and finally for "suspicion of robbery" when police found $300 in his pocket. Police Inspector John Kinsling said it was a "routine" booking. "Any time we stop a traffic case and find that there is a weapon in the car and that its occupants have a sizeable amount of money," he said, "we always book them for suspicion of robbery."

Gonzales ridiculed the charge, saying, "Anytime a Mexican is found with more than $100 he's charged with a felony." The police had originally claimed he was carrying a loaded pistol and more than 1000 rounds of ammunition, along with many spent cartridges -- but by Wednesday all felony charges had been dropped. As for "robbery," Gonzales said, "Only a lunatic or a fool could believe that 29 people would rob a place and then jump on a flatbed truck to make their getaway." He had climbed aboard the truck with his two children, he said, to get them away from the cops who were gassing the rally, to which he'd been invited as one of the main speakers. The $300, he said, was expense money for himself and his children -- for meals in L.A. and three round-trip bus tickets from Denver to L.A.

 

That was the extent of Corky Gonzales' involvement in the Salazar incident, and at a glance it seems hardly worth mentioning -- except for a rumor on the Los Angeles lawyers' grapevine that the robbery charge was only a ruse, a necessary holding action, to set Gonzales up for a "Chicano Seven" conspiracy bust -- charging that he came from Denver to Los Angeles with the intention of causing a riot.

Both Sheriff Pitchess and Los Angeles Police Chief Edward Davis were quick to seize on this theory. It was the perfect tool for this problem: not only would it frighten the local Chicanos and hamstring nationally-known militants like Gonzales, but it could also be used to create a sort of "red menace" smokescreen to obscure the nasty realities of the Ruben Salazar killing.

The sheriff fired the first salvo, which earned him a giant banner headline in Tuesday's L.A. Times and a heavy pro-police editorial in Wednesday's Herald-Examiner. Meanwhile, Chief Davis launched a second blast from his listening post in Portland, where he had gone to vent his wisdom at the American Legion convention. Davis blamed all the violence, that Saturday, on a "hard core group of subversives who infiltrated the anti-war rally and turned it into a mob," which soon ran wild in a frenzy of burning and looting. 'Ten months ago," he explained, "the Communist Party in California said it was giving up on the blacks to concentrate on the Mexican-Americans."

Nowhere in the Herald editorial -- and nowhere in either statement by the sheriff and the police chief -- was there any mention of the name Ruben Salazar. The Herald, in fact, had been trying to ignore the Salazar story from the very beginning. Even in Sunday's first story on the riot -- long before any "complications" developed -- the classic Hearst mentality was evident in the paper's full-page headline: "East Los Angeles Peace Rally Explodes in Bloody Violence. . . Man Shot to Death; Buildings Looted, Burned." Salazar's name appeared briefly, in a statement by a spokesman for the L.A. County sheriff's department -- a calm and confident assertion that the "veteran reporter" had been shot in Laguna Park, by persons unknown, in the midst of a bloody clash between police and militants. So much for Ruben Salazar.

And so much for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner -- a genuinely rotten newspaper that claims the largest circulation of any afternoon daily in America. As one of the few remaining Hearst organs, it serves a perverted purpose in its role as a monument to everything cheap, corrupt and vicious in the realm of journalistic possibility. It is hard to understand, in fact, how the shriveled Hearst management can still find enough gimps, bigots and deranged Papists to staff a rotten paper like the Herald. But they manage, somehow. . . and they also manage to sell a lot of advertising in the monster. Which means the thing is actually being read, and perhaps taken seriously, by hundreds of thousands of people in America's second largest city. At the top of Wednesday's editorial page -- right next to the Red Menace warning -- was a large cartoon titled "At the Bottom of it All." It showed a flaming Molotov cocktail crashing through a window, and on the bottom (bottom, get it?) of the bottle is a hammer and sickle emblem. The editorial itself was a faithful echo of the Davis-Pitchess charges: "Many of the dissidents came here from other cities and states to join agitators in Los Angeles to set off a major riot, which was planned in advance. . . That the holocaust did not erupt into greater proportions is due to the bravery and tactics of the sheriff's deputies. . . Those arrested should be "prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Precautions must be doubled to prevent a recurrence of such criminal irresponsibility." The continued existence of the Hearst Examiner explains a lot about the mentality of Los Angeles -- and also, perhaps, about the murder of Ruben Salazar.

So the only way to go was to reconstruct the whole thing on the basis of available eyewitness testimony. The police refused to say anything at all -- especially to the press. The sheriff was saving "the truth" for the official coroner's inquest.

 

Meanwhile, evidence was building up that Ruben Salazar had been murdered -- either deliberately or for no reason at all. The most damaging anti-cop testimony thus far had come from Guillermo Restrepo, a 28-year-old reporter and newscaster for KMEX-TV, who was covering the "riot" with Salazar that afternoon, and who had gone with him into the Silver Dollar Cafe "to take a leak and drink a quick beer before we went back to the station to put the story together." Restrepo's testimony was solid enough on its own to cast a filthy shadow on the original police version, but when he produced two more eyewitnesses who told exactly the same story, the sheriff abandoned all hope and sent his scriptwriters back to the sty.

Guillermo Restrepo is well known in East L.A. -- a familiar figure to every Chicano who owns a TV set, Restrepo is the out-front public face of KMEX-TV news. . . and Ruben Salazar, until August 19, 1970, was the man behind the news -- the editor.

They worked well together, and on that Saturday when the Chicano "peace rally" turned into a Watts-style street riot, both Salazar and Restrepo decided that it might be wise if Restrepo -- a native Colombian -- brought two of his friends (also Colombians) to help out as spotters and de facto bodyguards.

Their names were Gustavo Garcia, age 30, and Hector Fabio Franco, also 30. Both men appear in a photograph (taken seconds before Salazar was killed) of a sheriff's deputy pointing a shotgun at the front door of the Silver Dollar Cafe. Garcia is the man right in front of the gun. When the picture was taken he had just asked the cop what was going on, and the cop had just told him to get back inside the bar if he didn't want to be shot.

The sheriff's office was not aware of this photo until three days after it was taken -- along with a dozen others -- by two more eyewitnesses, who also happened to be editors of La Raza, a militant Chicano newspaper that calls itself "the voice of the East L.A. barrio." (Actually, it is one of several: The Brown Berets publish a monthly tabloid called La Causa. The National La Raza Law Students' Association has its own monthly -- Justicia O! The Socialist Workers Party covers the barrio with The Militant and the East L.A. Welfare Rights Organization has its own tabloid -- La Causa de los Pobres. There is also Con Safos -- a quarterly review of Chicano Art and Literature.)

The photographs were taken by Raul Ruiz, a 28-year-old teacher of Latin American studies at San Fernando Valley State College. Ruiz was on assignment for La Raza that day when the rally turned into a street war with police. He and Joe Razo -- a 33-year-old law student with an M.A. in psychology -- were following the action along Whittier Boulevard when they noticed a task force of sheriff's deputies preparing to assault the Silver Dollar Cafe.

Their accounts of what happened there -- along with Ruiz's photos -- were published in La Raza three days after the sheriff's office said Salazar had been killed a mile away in Laguna Park, by snipers and/or "errant gunfire."

The La Raza spread was a bombshell. The photos weren't much individually, but together -- along with Ruiz/Razo's testimony -- they showed that the cops were still lying when they came up with their second (revised) version of the Salazar killing.

It also verified the Restrepo-Garcia-Franco testimony, which had already shot down the original police version by establishing, beyond any doubt, that Ruben Salazar had been killed, by a deputy sheriff, in the Silver Dollar Cafe. They were certain of that, but no more. They were puzzled, they said, when the cops appeared with guns and began threatening them. But they decided to leave anyway -- by the back door, since the cops wouldn't let anybody out of the front -- and that was when the shooting started, less than 30 seconds after Garcia was photographed in front of that shotgun barrel on the sidewalk.

The weakness in the Restrepo-Garcia-Franco testimony was so obvious that not even the cops could miss it. They knew nothing beyond what had happened inside the Silver Dollar at the time of Salazar's death. There was no way they could have known what was happening outside, or why the cops started shooting.

The explanation came almost instantly from the sheriffs office -- once again from Lt. Hamilton. The police had received an "anonymous report," he said, that "a man with a gun" was inside the Silver Dollar Cafe. This was the extent of their "probable cause," their reason for doing what they did. These actions, according to Hamilton, consisted of "sending several deputies" to deal with the problem. . . and they did so by stationing themselves in front of the Silver Dollar and issuing "a loud warning" with a bullhorn calling all those inside to come outside with their hands above their heads.

There was no response, Hamilton said, so a deputy then fired two tear gas projectiles into the bar through the front door. At this point two men and a woman fled out the back and one of the men was relieved by waiting deputies of a 7.65 caliber pistol. He was not arrested -- not even detained -- and at that point a deputy fired two more tear gas projectiles through the front door of the place.

Again there was no response, and after a 15-minute wait one of the braver deputies crept up and skillfully slammed the front door -- without entering, Hamilton added. The only person who actually entered the bar, according to the police version, was the owner, Pete Hernandez, who showed up about half an hour after the shooting and asked if he could go inside and get his rifle.

Why not? said the cops, so Hernandez went in the back door and got his rifle out of the rear storeroom -- about 50 feet away from where Ruben Salazar's body lay in a fog of rancid CS gas.

Then, for the next two hours, some two dozen sheriffs deputies cordoned off the street in front of the Silver Dollar's front door. This naturally attracted a crowd of curious Chicanos, not all of them friendly -- and one, an 18-year-old girl, was shot in the leg with the same kind of tear gas bazooka that had blown Ruben Salazar's head apart.

 

This is a fascinating tale. . . and perhaps the most interesting thing about it is that it makes no sense at all, not even to a person willing to accept it as the absolute truth. But who could possibly believe it? Here, in the middle of a terrible riot in a hostile ghetto with a Chicano population of more than a million, the Los Angeles sheriff's department had put every available man on the streets in a vain attempt to control the mass looting and arson by angry mobs. . . but somehow, with the riots still running in high gear, at least a dozen deputies from the elite Special Enforcement Bureau (read TAC Squad) are instantly available in response to an "anonymous report" that "a man with a gun" is holed up, for some reason, in an otherwise quiet cafe more than ten blocks away from the vortex of the actual rioting.

They swoop down on the place and confront several men trying to leave. They threaten to kill these men -- but make no attempt to either arrest or search them -- and force them all back inside. Then they use a bullhorn to warn everybody inside to come out with their hands up. And then, almost instantly after giving the warning, they fire -- through the open front door of the place and from a distance of no more than 10 feet -- two highpowered tear gas projectiles designed "for use against barricaded criminals" and capable of piercing a one-inch pine board at 300 feet.

Then, when a man carrying an automatic pistol tries to flee out the back door, they take his gun and tell him to get lost. Finally, after firing two more gas bombs through the front door, they seal the place up -- without ever entering it -- and stand around outside for the next two hours, blocking a main boulevard and attracting a large crowd. After two hours of this madness, they "hear a rumor" -- again from an anonymous source -- that there might be an injured man inside the bar they sealed off two hours ago. So they "break down the door" and find the body of an eminent journalist -- "the only Chicano in East L.A.," according to Acosta, "that the cops were really afraid of."

Incredible as it seems, the sheriff decided to stick with this story -- despite a growing body of eyewitness accounts that contradict the police version of "probable cause." The police say they went to the Silver Dollar Cafe to arrest that "man with a gun." But eight days after the killing they were still trying to locate the source of this fatal tip.

 

Two weeks later at the coroner's inquest, the sheriff's key witness on this critical point mysteriously appeared. He was a 50-year-old man named Manuel Lopez who claimed all credit for the tip with his tale of having seen two armed men -- one with a revolver and one carrying a rifle in the port arms position -- go into the Silver Dollar shortly before Salazar was killed. Lopez quickly "motioned to" the sheriff's officers stationed nearby, he said, and they responded by parking a patrol car directly across the six-lane boulevard from the Silver Dollar's front door. Then using a loud bullhorn, the deputies gave two distinct warnings for everybody in the bar to "throw out their weapons and come out with their hands over their heads."

Then, after a five- or ten-minute wait, Lopez said, three rounds of tear gas were fired at the bar, with one projectile glancing off the front doorway and two whooshing through a black curtain that was hanging a couple of feet back from the open doorway. It was too dark to see what was happening inside the bar, Lopez added.

By his own admission at the inquest, Lopez' behavior on the afternoon of Saturday, August 29th, was somewhat singular. When the riot broke out and mobs began looting and burning, Mr. Lopez took off his shirt, donned a fluorescent red hunting vest and stationed himself in the middle of Whittier Boulevard as a volunteer cop. He played the role with such zeal and fanatic energy that by nightfall he found himself famous. At the height of the violence he was seen dragging a bus bench into the middle of the boulevard in order to block all traffic and divert it off to side streets. He was also seen herding bystanders away from a burning furniture store. . . and later, when the riot-action seemed over, he was observed directing a group of sheriff's deputies toward the Silver Dollar Cafe.

Indeed, there was no arguing with his claim two weeks later that he had been right in the middle of things. His testimony at the inquest sounded perfectly logical and so finely informed that it was hard to understand how such a prominent extroverted witness could possibly have escaped being quoted -- or at least mentioned-- by the dozens of newsmen, investigators and assorted tipsters with access to the Salazar story. Lopez' name had not even been mentioned by the sheriff's office, which could have saved itself a lot of unnecessary public grief by even hinting that they had a witness as valuable as Manuel Lopez. They had not been reluctant to display their other two "friendly" witnesses -- neither of whom had seen any "men with guns," but they both backed the Lopez version of the actual shooting sequence. Or at least they backed it until the cops produced Lopez. Then the other two witnesses refused to testify at the coroner's inquest and one of them admitted that his real name was David Ross Ricci, although the police introduced him originally as "Rick Ward."

 

The Salazar inquest rumbled on for 16 days, attracting large crowds and live TV coverage from start to finish. (In a rare demonstration of non-profit unity, all seven local TV stations formed a combine of sorts, assigning the coverage on a rotating basis, so that each day's proceedings appeared on a different channel.) The L.A. Times coverage -- by Paul Houston and Dave Smith -- was so complete and often so rife with personal intensity that the collected Smith/Houston file reads like a finely-detailed non-fiction novel. Read separately, the articles are merely good journalism. But as a document, arranged chronologically, the file is more than the sum of its parts. The main theme seems to emerge almost reluctantly, as both reporters are driven to the obvious conclusion that the sheriff, along with his deputies and all his official allies, have been lying all along. This is never actually stated, but the evidence is overwhelming.

A coroner's inquest is not a trial. Its purpose is to determine the circumstances surrounding a person's death -- not who might have killed him, or why. If the circumstances indicate foul play, the next step is up to the D.A. In California a coroner's jury can reach only two possible verdicts: That the death was "accidental," or that it was "at the hands of another." And in the Salazar case, the sheriff and his allies needed a verdict of "accidental." Anything else would leave the case open -- not only to the possibility of a murder or manslaughter trial for the deputy, Tom Wilson, who finally admitted firing the death weapon; but also to the threat of a million dollar negligence lawsuit against the County by Salazar's widow

The verdict finally hinged on whether or not the jury could believe Wilson's testimony that he fired into the Silver Dollar -- at the ceiling -- in order to ricochet a tear gas shell into the rear of the bar and force the armed stranger inside to come out the front door. But somehow Ruben Salazar had managed to get his head in the way of that carefully aimed shell. Wilson had never been able to figure out, he said, what went wrong.

Nor could he figure out how Raul Ruiz had managed to "doctor" those photographs that made it look like he and at least one other deputy were aiming their weapons straight into the Sivler Dollar, pointing them directly at people's heads. Ruiz had no trouble explaining it. His testimony at the inquest was no different than the story he had told me just a few days after the murder. And when the inquest was over there was nothing in the 2025 pages of testimony -- from 61 witnesses and 204 exhibits -- to cast any serious doubt on the "Chicano Eyewitness Report" that Ruiz wrote for La Raza when the sheriff was still maintaining that Salazar had been killed by "errant gunfire" during the violence at Laguna Park.

The inquest ended with a split verdict. Smith's lead paragraph in the October 6th Times read like an obituary: "Monday the inquest into the death of newsman Ruben Salazar ended. The 16-day inquiry, by far the longest and costliest such affair in county history, concluded with a verdict that confuses many, satisfies few and means little. The coroner's jury came up with two verdicts: death was 'at the hands of another person' (four jurors) and death was by 'accident' (three jurors). Thus, inquests might appear to be a waste of time."

A week later, District Attorney Evelle Younger-- a staunch Law & Order man-- announced that he had reviewed the case and decided that "no criminal charge is justified," despite the unsettling fact that two of the three jurors who had voted for the "death by accident" verdict were now saying they had made a mistake.

But by that time nobody really gave a damn. The Chicano community had lost faith in the inquest about midway through the second day, and all the rest of the testimony only reinforced their anger at what most considered an evil whitewash. When the D.A. announced that no charges would be filed against Wilson, several of the more moderate Chicano spokesmen called for a federal investigation. The militants called for an uprising. And the cops said nothing at all.

There was one crucial question, however, that the inquest settled beyond any reasonable doubt. Ruben Salazar couldn't possibly have been the victim of a conscious, high-level cop conspiracy to get rid of him by staging an "accidental death." The incredible tale of half-mad stupidity and dangerous incompetence on every level of the law enforcement establishment was perhaps the most valuable thing to come out of the inquest. Nobody who heard that testimony could believe that the Los Angeles County sheriffs department is capable of pulling off a delicate job like killing a newsman on purpose. Their handling of the Salazar case -- from the day of his death all the way to the end of the inquest -- raised serious doubts about the wisdom of allowing cops to walk around loose on the street. A geek who can't hit a 20 foot wide ceiling is not what you need, these days, to pull off a nice clean first-degree murder.

But premeditation is only necessary to a charge of first degree murder. The Salazar killing was a second-degree job. In the terms of Section 187 of the California Penal Code and in the political context of East Los Angeles in 1970, Ruben Salazar was killed "unlawfully" and "with malice aforethought." These are treacherous concepts, and no doubt there are courts in this country where it might be argued successfully that a cop has a "lawful" right to fire a deadly tear gas bazooka point-blank into a crowd of innocent people on the basis of some unfounded suspicion that one of them might be armed. It might also be argued that this kind of crazed and murderous assault can be accomplished without "malice aforethought."

Maybe so. Maybe Ruben Salazar's death can be legally dismissed as a "police accident," or as the result of "official negligence." Most middle-class, white-dominated juries would probably accept the idea. Why, after all, would a clean-cut young police officer deliberately kill an innocent bystander? Not even Ruben Salazar -- ten seconds before his death -- could believe that he was about to have his head blown off by a cop for no reason at all. When Gustavo Garcia warned him that the cops outside were about to shoot, Salazar said, "That's impossible; we're not doing anything." Then he stood up and caught a tear gas bomb in his left temple.

The malignant reality of Ruben Salazar's death is that he was murdered by angry cops for no reason at all -- and that the L.A. sheriff's department was and still is prepared to defend that murder on grounds that it was entirely justified. Salazar was killed, they say, because he happened to be in a bar where police thought there was also a "man with a gun." They gave him a chance, they say, by means of a bullhorn warning. . . and when he didn't come out with his hands up, they had no choice but to fire a tear gas bazooka into the bar. . . and his head got in the way. Tough luck. But what was he doing in that place, anyway? Lounging around a noisy Chicano bar in the middle of a communist riot?

What the cops are saying is that Salazar got what he deserved -- for a lot of reasons, but mainly because he happened to be in their way when they had to do their duty. His death was unfortunate, but if they had to do it all over again they wouldn't change a note.

This is the point they want to make. It is a local variation on the standard Mitchell-Agnew theme: Don't fuck around, boy -- and if you want to hang around with people who do, don't be surprised when the bill comes due -- whistling in through the curtains of some darkened barroom on a sunny afternoon when the cops decide to make an example of somebody.

The night before I left town I stopped by Acosta's place with Guillermo Restrepo. I had been there earlier, but the air was extremely heavy. As always, on stories like this, some of the troops were getting nervous about The Stranger Hanging Around. I was standing in the kitchen watching Frank put some tacos together and wondering when he was going to start waving the butcher knife in my face and yelling about the time I Maced him on my porch in Colorado (that had been six months earlier, at the end of a very long night during which we had all consumed a large quantity of cactus products; and when he started waving a hatchet around I'd figured Mace was the only answer. . . which turned him to jelly for about 45 minutes, and when he finally came around he said, "If I ever see you in East Los Angeles, man, you're gonna wish you never heard the word 'Mace,' because I'm gonna carve it all over your fuckin body.")

So I was not entirely at ease watching Frank chop hamburger on a meat block in the middle of East L.A. He hadn't mentioned the Mace, not yet, but I knew we would get to it sooner or later. . . and I'm sure we would have, except that suddenly out in the living room some geek was screaming: "What the hell is this goddamn gabacho pig writer doing here? Are we fuckin crazy to be letting him hear all this shit? Jesus, he's heard enough to put every one of us away for five years!"

Longer than that, I thought. And at that point I stopped worrying about Frank. A firestorm was brewing in the main room -- between me and the door -- so I decided it was about time to drift around the corner and meet Restrepo at the Carioca. Frank gave me a big smile as I left.

 

A man police say preyed on elderly women was charged Tuesday with one count of murder and 12 of robbery. Frazier DeWayne Brown, 44, a 6-foot, 2-inch, 230-pound former Los Angeles county sheriff's deputy, was arraigned in the same Hall of Justice courtroom where he once worked as a bailiff. Police had long been seeking a man who befriended elderly women at bus stops and later attacked and robbed them. Evidence against Brown included possessions taken from victims of strong-arm robberies and found in his home.

L. A. Times 3/31/71

 

Several hours later we came back. Guillermo wanted to talk to Oscar about putting pressure on the KMEX-TV management to keep him (Restrepo) on the air. "They want to get rid of me," he explained. "They started the pressure the day after Ruben was killed -- the next fuckin day!"

We were sitting on the floor in the living room. Outside, overhead, the police helicopter was looping around in the sky above Whittier Boulevard, sweeping the neighborhood with a giant searchlight beam that revealed nothing -- and served no purpose except to drive the Chicanos below into a seething rage. "Those sons of bitches!" Acosta muttered. "Look at that goddamn thing!" We had all gone out in the yard to stare up at the monster. There was no way to ignore it. The noise was bad enough, but the probing searchlight was such an obvious, outrageous harassment that it was hard to understand how even a cop could explain it away as anything but deliberate mockery and provocation.

"Now tell me," said Acosta. "Why are they doing a thing like this? Why? You think they don't know what effect it has on us?"

"They know," said Restrepo. He lit a cigarette as we went back inside. "Listen," he said, "I get about fifteen telephone calls every day from people who want to tell me stories about what the police have done to them -- terrible stories. I've been hearing them for a year and a half, every goddamn day -- and the funny thing is, I never used to believe these people. Not completely. I didn't think they were lying, just exaggerating." He paused, glancing around the room, but nobody spoke. Restrepo is not entirely trusted in these quarters; he is part of the establishment -- like his friend, Ruben Salazar, who bridged that gap the hard way.

"But ever since Ruben," Restrepo continued, "I believe these stories. They're true! I realize that, now -- but what can I do?" He shrugged, nervously aware that he was talking to people who had made that discovery a long time ago. "Just the other night," he said, "I got a call from a man who said the cops killed his cousin in the yail. He was a homosexual, a young Chicano, nobody political -- and the police report said he hung himself in his cell. Suicide. So I checked it out. And, man, it made me sick. This guy's body was all bruises, black and blue marks all over him -- and right across his forehead he had 16 fresh stitches.

"The police report said he tried to escape so they had to dominate him. They got him sewed up at the hospital, but when they took him to yail, the warden or yailer or whatever they call the bastard wouldn't accept him, because he was bleeding so bad. So they took him back to the hospital and got a doctor to sign some paper saying he was OK to be put in the yail. But they had to carry him. And the next day they took a picture of him hanging from the end of the top bunk with his own shirt tied around his neck.

"You believe that? Not me. But you tell me -- what can I do? Where do I look for the truth? Who can I ask? The sheriff? Goddamn, I can't go on the air with a story about how the cops killed a guy in the yail unless I know something for proof! Jesus Christ, we all know. But just to know is not enough. You understand that? You see why I never made that story on TV?"

Acosta nodded. As a lawyer, he understood perfectly that evidence is necessary -- on the air and in print, as well as in the courtroom. But Frank was not convinced. He was sipping from a quart of sweet Key Largo wine, and in fact he didn't even know who Restrepo was. "Sorry, man," he'd said earlier. "But I don't watch the news on TV."

Acosta winced. He watches and reads everything. But most of the people around him think The News -- on the TV or radio or newspapers or wherever -- is just another rotten gabacho trick. Just another bad shuck, like the others. "The news," to them, is pure propaganda -- paid for by the advertisers. "Who pays the bill for that bullshit?" they ask. "Who's behind it?"

 

Who indeed? Both sides seemed convinced that the "real enemy" is a vicious conspiracy of some kind. The Anglo power structure keeps telling itself that "the Mexican problem" is really the work of a small organization of well-trained Communist agitators, working 25 hours a day to transform East L.A. into a wasteland of constant violence -- mobs of drug-crazed Chicanos prowling the streets at all times, terrorizing the merchants, hurling firebombs into banks, looting stores, sacking offices and massing now and then, armed with Chinese sten pistols, for all-out assaults on the local sheriff's fortress.

A year ago this grim vision would have been a bad joke, the crude ravings of some paranoid hysterical Bircher. But things are different now; the mood of the barrio is changing so fast that not even the most militant of the young Chicano activists claim to know what's really happening. The only thing everybody agrees on is that the mood is getting ugly, the level of tension is still escalating. The direction of the drift is obvious. Even Gov. Reagan is worried about it. He recently named Danny Villanueva, one-time kicking specialist for the Los Angeles Rams and now general manager of KMEX-TV, as the Governor's personal ambassador to the whole Chicano community. But, as usual, Regan's solution is part of the problem. Villanueva is overwhelmingly despised by the very people Reagan says he's "trying to reach." He is the classic vendido. "Let's face it," says a Chicano journalist not usually identified with the militants, "Danny is a goddamn pig. Ruben Salazar told me that. You know KMEX used to be a good news station for Chicanos. Ruben was the one who did that, and Danny was afraid to interfere. But within 24 hours after Ruben was murdered, Villanueva started tearing up the news department. He wouldn't even let Restrepo show films of the cops gassing people in Laguna Park, the day after Ruben died! Now he's trying to get rid of Restrepo, cut the balls off the news and turn KMEX-TV back into a safe Tio Taco station. Shit! And he's getting away with it."

The total castration of KMEX-TV would be a crippling blow to the Movement. A major media voice can be an invaluable mobilizing tool, particularly in the vast urban sprawl of Los Angeles. All it takes is a sympathetic news director with enough leverage and personal integrity to deal with the news on his own terms. The man who hired Ruben Salazar, former station director Joe Rank, considered him valuable enough to out-bid the blue-chip Los Angeles Times for the services of one of that paper's ranking stars -- so nobody argued when Salazar demanded absolute independence for his KMEX news operation. But with Salazar dead, the station's Anglo ownership moved swiftly to regain control of the leaderless news operation.

Guillermo Restrepo, Salazar's heir apparent, suddenly discovered that he had no leverage at all. He was muscled into a straight newscaster's role. He was no longer free to investigate any story that he felt was important. . . If the Chicano Moratorium Committee called a press conference to explain why they were organizing a mass rally against "police brutality," for instance, Restrepo had to get permission to cover it. And Chicano activists soon learned that a two-minute news feature on KMEX was crucial to the success of a mass rally, because TV was the only way to reach a mass Chicano audience in a hurry. And no other TV station in L.A. was interested in any kind of Chicano news except riots.

"Losing Ruben was a goddamn disaster for the Movement," Acosta said recently. "He wasn't really with us, but at least he was interested. Hell, the truth is I never really liked the guy. But he was the only journalist in L.A. with real influence who would come to a press conference in the barrio. That's the truth. Hell, the only way we can get those bastards to listen to us is by renting a fancy hotel lounge over there in West Hollywood or some bullshit place like that -- where they can feel comfortable -- and hold our press conference there, with free coffee and snacks for the press. But even then, about half the shitheads won't come unless we serve free booze, too. Shit! Do you know what that costs?"

This was the tone of our conversation that night when Guillermo and I went over to Oscar's pad for a beer and some talk about politics. The place was unnaturally quiet. No music, no grass, no bad-mouth bato loco types hunkered down on the pallets in the front room. It was the first time I'd seen the place when it didn't look like a staging area for some kind of hellish confrontation that might erupt at any moment.

But tonight it was deadly quiet. The only interruption was a sudden pounding on the door and voices shouting: "Hey, man, open up. I got some brothers with me!" Rudy hurried to the door and peered out through the tiny eyewindow. Then he stepped back and shook his head emphatically. "It's some guys from the project," he told Oscar. "I know them but they're all fucked up."

"God damn it," Acosta muttered. "That's the last thine I need tonight. Get rid of them. Tell them I have to be in court tomorrow. Jesus! I have to get some sleep!"

Rudy and Frank went outside to deal with the brothers. Oscar and Guillermo went back to politics -- while I listened, sensing a down hill drift on all fronts. Nothing was going right. The jury was still out on Corky's case, but Acosta was not optimistic. He was also expecting a decision on his Grand Jury challenge in the "Biltmore Six" case. "We'll probably lose that one, too," he said. "The bastards think they have us on the run now; they think we're demoralized -- so they'll keep the pressure on, keep pushing." He shrugged. "And maybe they're right. Shit. I'm tired of arguing with them. How long do they expect me to keep coming down to their goddamn courthouse and begging for justice? I'm tired of that shit. We're all tired." He shook his head slowly then ripped the poptop out of a Budweiser that Rudy brought in from the kitchen. "This legal bullshit ain't makin' it," he went on. "The way it looks now, I think we're just about finished with that game. You know at the noon recess today I had to keep a bunch of these goddamn batos locos from stomping the D.A. Christ! That would fuck me for good. They'll send me to the goddamn pen for hiring thugs to assault the prosecutor!" He shook his head again. "Frankly, I think the whole thing is out of control. God only knows where it's heading, but I know it's going to be heavy, I think maybe the real shit is about to come down."

There was no need to ask what he meant by "heavy shit." The barrio is already plagued by sporadic fire-bombings, explosions, shootings and minor violence of all kinds. But the cops see nothing "political" in these incidents. Just before I left town I talked on the phone with a lieutenant at the East L.A. sheriff's office. He was anxious to assure me that the area was totally pacified. "You have to remember," he said, "that this has always been a high-crime area. We have a lot of trouble with teen-age gangs, and it's getting worse. Now they're all running around with .22 rifles and handguns, looking for fights with each other. I guess you could say they're sort of like the Blackstone Rangers in Chicago, except that our gangs are younger."

"But they're not into politics like the black gangs in Chicago?" I asked.

"Are you kidding?" he replied. "The only political thing the Blackstone Rangers ever did was con somebody out of a federal grant for a lot of money."

I asked him about some of the stories I'd heard about bombings, etc. But he quickly dismissed them as rumors. Then, during the next half hour of random talking about things that had happened in the past few weeks, he mentioned one dynamiting and a building burned down at East Los Angeles College, and also the firebombing of a local vendido politician's real estate office. "But they hit the wrong guy," the Lt. said with a chuckle. "They bombed another realtor who happened to have the same name as the guy they were after."

"Que malo," I mumbled, lapsing into my own dialect. "But aside from all that, you people don't see real trouble brewing? What about these rallies that keep turning into riots?"

"It's always the same bunch of troublemakers," he explained. "They take a crowd that's gathered for other reasons, and then they subvert it."

"But that last rally was called to protest police brutality," I said. "And then it turned into a riot. I saw the films -- 50 or 60 police cars lined up bumper to bumper on Whittier Boulevard, deputies firing shotguns into the crowd. . ."

"That was necessary," he replied. "That mob was out of control. They attacked us."

"I know," I said.

"And let me tell you something else," he went on. "That rally wasn't really about 'police brutality.' The guy who organized it, Rosalio Munoz, told me he was just using that slogan to get people out to the park."

"Well, you know how they are," I said. Then I asked him if he could give me the names of any Chicano leaders I should talk to if I decided to write an article about the scene in East L.A.

"Well, there's Congressman Roybal," he said. "And that real estate man I told you about. . ."

"The one who got fire-bombed?"

"Oh, no," he replied. "The other guy -- the one they intended to fire-bomb."

"OK," I said. "I'll write those names down. And I guess if I decide to look around the barrio you guys could help me out, right? Is it safe to walk around out there, with all these gangs running around shooting at each other?"

"No problem," he said. "We'll even let you ride around in a radio car with some of the officers."

I said that would be fine. What better way, after all, to get the inside story? Just spend a few days touring the barrio in a cop car. Particularly right now, with everything calm and peaceful.

"We see no evidence of any political tension," the Lt. had told me. "We have a great deal of community support." He chuckled. "And we also have a very active intelligence bureau."

"That's good," I said. "Well, I have to hang up now, or I'll miss my plane."

"Oh, then you've decided to do the story? When will you be in town?"

"I've been here for two weeks," I said. "My plane leaves in ten minutes."

"But I thought you said you were calling from San Francisco," he said.

"I did," I said. "But I was lying." (click)

 

It was definitely time to leave. The last loose end in the Salazar case had been knotted up that morning when the jury came back with a "guilty" verdict for Corky Gonzales. He was sentenced to "40 days and 40 nights" in the L.A. County jail for possession of a loaded revolver on the day of Salazar's death. "We'll appeal," said Acosta, "but for political purposes this case is finished. Nobody's worried about Corky surviving 40 days in jail. We wanted to confront the gabacho court system with a man the whole Chicano community knew was technically innocent, then let them draw their own conclusions about the verdict.

"Hell, we never denied that somebody had a loaded pistol in that truck. But it wasn't Corky. He wouldn't dare carry a goddamn gun around with him. He's a leader. He doesn't have to carry a gun for the same goddamn reason Nixon doesn't."

Acosta had not stressed that point in the courtroom, for fear of alarming the jury and inflaming the gringo press. Not to mention the cops. Why give them the same kind of flimsy excuse to shoot at Gonzales that they already used to justify shooting Ruben Salazar?

Corky merely shrugged at the verdict. At 42, he has spent half his life gouging Justice out of The Man, and now he views the Anglo court system with the quiet sort of fatalistic humor that Acosta hasn't learned yet. But Oscar is getting there fast. The week of April Fools Day, 1971, was a colossal bummer for him; a series of bad jolts and setbacks that seemed to confirm all his worst suspicions.

Two days after Corky's conviction, Superior Court Judge Arthur Alarcon -- a prominent Mexican-American jurist -- rejected Acosta's carefully-constructed motion to quash the "Biltmore Six" indictments because of "subconscious, institutional racism" in the Grand Jury system. This effort had taken almost a year of hard work, much of it done by Chicano law students who reacted to the verdict with a bitterness matching Acosta's.

 

Then, later that same week, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted to use public funds to pay all legal expenses for several policemen recently indicted "for accidentally" killing two Mexican nationals -- a case known in East L.A, as "the murder of the Sanchez brothers." It was a case of mistaken identity, the cops explained. They had somehow been given the wrong address of an apartment where they thought "two Mexican fugitives" were holed up, so they hammered on the door and shouted a warning to "come out of there with your hands over your head or we'll come in shooting." Nobody came out, so the cops went in shooting to kill.

But how could they have known that they'd attacked the wrong apartment? And how could they have known that neither one of the Sanchez brothers understood English? Even Mayor Sam Yorty and Police Chief Ed Davis admitted that the killings had been very unfortunate. But when the Federal D.A. brought charges against the cops, both Yorty and Davis were publicly outraged. They both called press conferences and went on the air to denounce the indictments -- in language that strangely echoed the American Legion outcry when Lt. Galley was charged with murdering women and children in My Lai.

The Yorty/Davis tirades were so gross that a District Court judge finally issued a "gag order" to keep them quiet until the case comes to trial. But they had already said enough to whip the whole barrio into a rage at the idea that Chicano tax dollars might be used to defend some "mad dog cops" who frankly admitted killing two Mexican nationals. It sounded like a replay of the Salazar bullshit: same style, same excuse, same result -- but this time with different names, and blood on a different floor. "They'll put me in jail if I won't pay taxes," said a young Chicano watching a soccer game at a local playground, "then take my tax money and use it defend some killer pig. Hell, what if they had come to my address by mistake? I'd be dead as hell right now."

There was a lot of talk in the barrio about "drawing some pig blood for a change" if the Supervisors actually voted to use tax funds to defend the accused cops. A few people actually called City Hall and mumbled anonymous threats in the name of the "Chicano Liberation Front." But the Supervisors hung tough. They voted on Thursday, and by noon the news was out: The city would pick up the tab.

 

At 5:15 PM on Thursday afternoon the Los Angeles City Hall was rocked by a dynamite blast. A bomb had been planted in one of the downstairs restrooms. Nobody was hurt, and the damage was officially described as "minor." About $5000 worth, they said -- small potatoes, compared to the bomb that blew a wall out of the District Attorney's office last fall after Salazar died.

When I called the sheriff's office to ask about the explosion they said they couldn't talk about it. City Hall was out of their jurisdiction. But they were more than willing to talk when I asked if it was true that the bomb had been the work of the Chicano Liberation Front.

"Where'd you hear that?"

"From the City News Service."

"Yeah, it's true," he said. "Some woman called up and said it was done in memory of the Sanchez brothers, by the Chicano Liberation Front. We've heard about those guys. What do you know about them?"

"Nothing," I said. "That's why I called the sheriff. I thought your intelligence network might know something."

"Sure they do," he said quickly. "But all that information is confidential."

 

Rolling Stone, #81, April 29, 1971

 

 

 

Freak Power in the Rockies

 

A Memoir and Rambling Discussion (with Rude Slogans) of Freak Power in the Rockies. . . on the Weird Mechanics of Running a Takeover Bid on a Small Town. . . and a Vulgar Argument for Seizing Political Power and Using It like a Gun Ripped Away from a Cop. . . with Jangled Comments on the Uncertain Role of the Head and the Awful Stupor Factor. . . and Other Disorganized Notes on "How to Punish the Fatbacks," How to Make Sure that Today's Pig Is Tomorrow's Offal. . . and Why This Crazed New World Can Only Be Dealt with by. . . A New Posse!

 

-- or--

 

"Just how weird can you stand it, brother -- before your love will crack?"

-- Mike Lydon in Ramparts, March, 1970

 

Two hours before the polls closed we realized that we had no headquarters -- no hole or Great Hall where the faithful could gather for the awful election-night deathwatch. Or to celebrate the Great Victory that suddenly seemed very possible.

We had run the whole campaign from a long oaken table in the Jerome Tavern on Main Street, working flat out in public so anyone could see or even join if they felt ready. . . but now, in these final hours, we wanted a bit of privacy; some clean, well-lighted place, as it were, to hunker down and wait. . .

We also needed vast quantities of ice and rum -- and a satchel of brain-rattling drugs for those who wanted to finish the campaign on the highest possible note, regardless of the outcome. But the main thing we needed, with dusk coming down and the polls due to close at 7 PM, was an office with several phone lines, for a blizzard of last-minute calls to those who hadn't yet voted. We'd collected the voting lists just before 5:00 -- from our poll-watcher teams who'd been checking them off since dawn -- and it was obvious, from a very quick count, that the critical Freak Power vote had turned out in force.

Joe Edwards, a 29-year-old head, lawyer and bike-racer from Texas, looked like he might, in the waning hours of Election Day in November 1969, be the next mayor of Aspen, Colorado.

The retiring mayor, Dr. Robert "Buggsy" Barnard, had been broadcasting vicious radio warnings for the previous 48 hours, raving about long prison terms for vote-fraud and threatening violent harassment by "phalanxes of poll-watchers" for any strange or freaky-looking scum who might dare to show up at the polls. We checked the laws and found that Barnard's radio warnings were a violation of the "voter intimidation" statutes, so I called the District Attorney and tried to have the mayor arrested at once. . . but the D.A. said, "Leave me out of it; police your own elections."

Which we did, with finely-organized teams of poll-watchers: two inside each polling place at all times, with six more just outside in vans or trucks full of beef, coffee, propaganda, check lists and bound Xerox copies of all Colorado voting laws.

The idea was to keep massive assistance available, at all times, to our point men inside the official voting places. And the reasoning behind this rather heavy public act -- which jolted a lot of people who wouldn't have voted for Edwards anyway -- was our concern that the mayor and his cops would create some kind of ugly scene, early on, and rattle the underground grapevine with fear-rumors that would scare off a lot of our voters. Most of our people were fearful of any kind of legal hassle at the polls, regardless of their rights. So it seemed important that we should make it very clear, from the start, that we knew the laws and we weren't going to tolerate any harrassment of our people. None.

Each poll-watcher on the dawn shift was given a portable tape-recorder with a microphone that he was instructed to stick in the face of any opposition poll-watcher who asked anything beyond the legally-allowable questions regarding Name, Age and Residence. Nothing else could be asked, under penalty of an obscure election law relating to "frivolous challenge," a little brother to the far more serious charge of "voter intimidation."

And since the only person who had actually threatened to intimidate voters was the mayor, we decided to force the confrontation as soon as possible in Ward I, where Buggsy had announced that he would personally stand the first poll-watching shift for the opposition. If the buggers wanted a confrontation, we decided to give it to them.

The polling place in Ward I was a lodge called the Cresthaus, owned by an old and infamous Swiss/Nazi who calls himself Guido Meyer. Martin Bormann went to Brazil, but Guido came to Aspen -- arriving here several years after the Great War. . . and ever since then he has spent most of his energy (including two complete terms as City Magistrate) getting even with this country by milking the tourists and having young (or poor) people arrested.

So Guido was watching eagerly when the Mayor arrived in his parking lot at ten minutes to 7, creeping his Porsche through a gauntlet of silent Edwards people. We had mustered a half-dozen of the scurviest looking legal voters we could find -- and when the Mayor arrived at the polls these freaks were waiting to vote. Behind them, lounging around a coffee-dispenser in an old VW van, were at least a dozen others, most of them large and bearded, and several so eager for violence that they had spent the whole night making chain-whips and loading up on speed to stay crazy.

Buggsy looked horrified. It was the first time in his long drug experience that he had ever laid eyes on a group of non-passive, super-aggressive Heads. What had got into them? Why were their eyes so wild? And why were they yelling: "You're fucked, Buggsy. . . We're going to croak you. . . Your whole act is doomed. . . We're going to beat your ass like a gong."

Who were they? All strangers? Some gang of ugly bikers or speed-freaks from San Francisco? Yes. . . of course. . . that bastard Edwards had brought in a bunch of ringers. But then he looked again. . . and recognized, at the head of the group, his ex-drinkalong bar-buddy Brad Reed, the potter and known gun freak, 6'4" and 220, grinning down through his beard and black hair-flag. . . saying nothing, just smiling. . . Great God, he knew the others, too. . . there was Don Davidson, the accountant, smooth shaven and quite normal-looking in a sleek maroon ski parka, but not smiling at all. . . and who were those girls, those ripe blond bodies whose names he knew from chance meetings in friendlier times? What were they doing out here at dawn, in the midst of this menacing mob?

What indeed? He scurried inside to meet Guido, but instead ran into Tom Benton, the hairy artist and known Radical. . . Benton was grinning like a crocodile and waving a small black microphone, saying: "Welcome, Buggsy. You're late. The voters are waiting outside. . . Yes, did you see them out there? Were they friendly? And if you wonder what I'm doing here, I'm Joe Edwards' poll-watcher. . . and the reason I have this little black machine here is that I want to tape every word you say when you start committing felonies by harassing our voters. . ."

The Mayor lost his first confrontation almost instantly. One of the first obvious Edwards-voters of the day was a blond kid who looked about 17. Buggsy began to jabber at him and Benton moved in with the microphone, ready to intervene. . . but before Benton could utter a word the kid began snarling at the Mayor, yelling: "Go fuck yourself, Buggsy! You figure out how old I am. I know the goddam law! I don't have to show you proof of anything! You're a dying man, Buggsy! Get out of my way. I'm ready to vote!"

The Mayor's next bad encounter was with a very heavy young girl with no front teeth, wearing a baggy grey T-shirt and no bra. Somebody had brought her to the polls, but when she got there she was crying -- actually shaking with fear -- and she refused to go inside. We weren't allowed within 100 feet of the door, but we got word to Benton and he came out to escort the girl in. She voted, despite Buggsy's protests, and when she came outside again she was grinning like she'd just clinched Edwards' victory all by herself.

After that, we stopped worrying about the Mayor. No goons had shown up with blackjacks, no cops were in evidence, and Benton had established full control of his turf around the ballot box. Elsewhere, in Wards 2 and 3, the freak-vote was not so heavy and things were going smoothly. In Ward 2, in fact, our official poll-watcher (a drug person with a beard about two feet long) had caused a panic by challenging dozens of straight voters. The city attorney called Edwards and complained that some ugly lunatic in Ward 2 was refusing to let a 75-year-old woman cast her ballot until she produced a birth certificate. We were forced to replace the man; his zeal was inspiring, but we feared he might spark a backlash.

This had been a problem all along. We had tried to mobilize a huge underground vote, without frightening the burghers into a counterattack. But it didn't work -- primarily because most of our best people were also hairy, and very obvious. Our opening shot -- the midnight registration campaign -- had been ramrodded by bearded heads: Mike Solheim and Pierre Landry, who worked the streets and bars for head voters like wild junkies, in the face of near-total apathy.

 

Aspen is full of freaks, heads, fun-hogs and weird night-people of every description. . . but most of them would prefer jail or the bastinado to the horror of actually registering to vote. Unlike the main bulk of burghers and businessmen, the dropout has to make an effort to use his long-dormant vote. There is not much to it, no risk and no more than ten minutes of small talk and time -- but to the average dropout the idea of registering to vote is a very heavy thing. The psychic implications, "copping back into the system," etc., are fierce. . . and we learned, in Aspen, that there is no point even trying to convince people to take that step unless you can give them a very good reason. Like a very unusual candidate. . . or a fireball pitch of some kind.

The central problem that we grappled with last fall is the gap that separates the Head Culture from activist politics. Somewhere in the nightmare of failure that gripped America between 1965 and 1970, the old Berkeley-born notion of beating The System by fighting it gave way to a sort of numb conviction that it made more sense in the long run to Flee, or even to simply hide, than to fight the bastards on anything even vaguely resembling their own terms.

Our ten-day registration campaign had focused almost entirely on Head/Dropout culture; they wanted no part of activist politics and it had been a hellish effort to convince them to register at all. Many had lived in Aspen for five or six years, and they weren't at all concerned with being convicted of vote-fraud -- they simply didn't want to be hassled. Most of us are living here because we like the idea of being able to walk out our front doors and smile at what we see. On my own front porch I have a palm tree growing in a blue toilet bowl. . . and on occasion I like to wander outside, stark naked, and fire my .44 magnum at various gongs I've mounted on the nearby hillside. I like to load up on mescaline and turn my amplifier up to 110 decibels for a taste of "White Rabbit" while the sun comes up on the snow-peaks along the Continental Divide.

Which is not entirely the point. The world is full of places where a man can run wild on drugs and loud music and firepower -- but not for long. I lived a block above Haight Street for two years but by the end of '66 the whole neighborhood had become a cop-magnet and a bad sideshow. Between the narcs and the psychedelic hustlers, there was not much room to live.

What happened in the Haight echoed earlier scenes in North Beach and the Village. . . and it proved, once again, the basic futility of seizing turf you can't control. The pattern never varies; a low-rent area suddenly blooms new and loose and human -- and then fashionable, which attracts the press and the cops at about the same time. Cop problems attract more publicity, which then attracts fad-salesmen and hustlers -- which means money, and that attracts junkies and jack-rollers. Their bad action causes publicity and -- for some perverse reason -- an influx of bored, upward mobile types who dig the menace of "white ghetto" life and whose expense-account tastes drive local rents and street prices out of reach of the original settlers. . . who are forced, once again, to move on.

One of the most hopeful developments of the failed Haight/Ashbury scene was the exodus to rural communes. Most of the communes failed -- for reasons that everybody can see now, in retrospect (like that scene in Easy Rider where all those poor freaks were trying to grow their crops in dry sand) -- but the few that succeeded, like the Hog Farm in New Mexico, kept a whole generation of heads believing that the future lay somewhere outside the cities.

In Aspen, hundreds of Haight-Ashbury refugees tried to settle in the wake of that ill-fated "Summer of Love" in 1967. The summer was a wild and incredible dope orgy here, but when winter came the crest of that wave broke and drifted on the shoals of local problems such as jobs, housing and deep snow on the roads to shacks that, a few months earlier, had been easily accessible. Many of the West Coast refugees moved on, but several hundred stayed; they hired on as carpenters, waiters, bartenders, dish-washers. . . and a year later they were part of the permanent population. By mid-'69 they occupied most of Aspen's so-called "low-cost housing" -- first the tiny mid-town apartments, then out-lying shacks, and finally the trailer courts.

So most of the freaks felt that voting wasn't worth the kind of bullshit that went with it, and the mayor's illegal threats only reinforced their notion that politics in America was something to be avoided. Getting busted for grass was one thing, because the "crime" was worth the risk. . . but they saw no sense in going to court for a "political technicality," even if they weren't guilty.

(This sense of "reality" is a hallmark of the Drug Culture, which values the Instant Reward -- a pleasant four-hour high -- over anything involving a time lag between the Effort and the End. On this scale of values, politics is too difficult, too "complex" and too "abstract" to justify any risk or initial action. It is the flip side of the "Good German" syndrome.)

The idea of asking young heads to "go clean" never occurred to us. They could go dirty, or even naked, for all we cared. . . all we asked them to do was first register and then vote. A year earlier these same people had seen no difference between Nixon and Humphrey. They were against the war in Vietnam, but the McCarthy crusade had never reached them. At the grass-roots of the Dropout-Culture, the idea of going Clean for Gene was a bad joke. Both Dick Gregory and George Wallace drew unnaturally large chunks of the vote in Aspen. Robert Kennedy would probably have carried the town, if he hadn't been killed, but he wouldn't have won by much. The town is essentially Republican: GOP registrations outnumber Democrats by more than two to one. . . but the combined total of both major parties just about equals the number of registered Independents, most of whom pride themselves on being totally unpredictable. They are a jangled mix of Left/Crazies and Birchers; cheap bigots, dope dealers, nazi ski instructors and spaced off "psychedelic farmers" with no politics at all beyond self-preservation.

 

At the end of that frenzied ten-day hustle (since we kept no count, no lists or records) we had no way of knowing how many half-stirred dropouts had actually registered, or how many of those would vote. So it was a bit of a shock all around when, toward the end of that election day, our poll-watchers' tallies showed that Joe Edwards had already cashed more than 300 of the 486 new registrations that had just gone into the books.

The race was going to be very close. The voting lists showed roughtly 100 pro-Edwards voters who hadn't showed up at the polls, and we figured that 100 phone calls might raise at least 25 of these laggards. At that point it looked like 25 might make the nut, particularly in a sharply-divided three-way mayor's race in a town with only 1623 registered voters.

So we needed those phones. But where? Nobody knew. . . until a girl who'd been working on the phone network suddenly came up with a key to a spacious two-room office in the old Elks Club building. She had once worked there, for a local businessman and ex-hipster named Craig, who had gone to Chicago on business.

We seized Craig's office at once, ignoring the howls and curses of the mob in the Elks bar -- where the out-going mayor's troops were already gathering to celebrate the victory of his hand-picked successor. (Legally, there was nothing they could do to keep us out of the place, although later that night they voted to have Craig evicted. . . and he is now running for the State Legislature on a Crush the Elks platform.) By six o'clock we had the new headquarters working nicely. The phone calls were extremely brief and direct: "Get off your ass, you bastard! We need you! Get out and vote!"

About six people worked the lists and the phones. Others went off to hustle the various shacks, lodges, hovels and communes where we knew there were voters but no phones. The place filled up rapidly, as the word went out that we finally had a headquarters. Soon the whole second-floor of the Elks Club was full of bearded freaks yelling frantically at each other; strange-looking people rushing up and down the stairs with lists, notebooks, radios, and cases of Budweiser. . .

Somebody stuck a purple spansule in my hand, saying, "Goddamn, you look tired! What you need is a hit of this excellent mescaline." I nodded absently and stuck the thing in one of the 22 pockets in my red campaign parka. Save this drug for later, I thought. No point getting crazy until the polls close. . . keep checking these stinking lists, squeeze every last vote out of them. . . keep calling, pushing, shouting at the bastards, threaten them. . .

There was something weird in the room, some kind of electric madness that I'd never noticed before. I stood against a wall with a beer in my hand and watched the machinery working. And after a while I realized what the difference was. For the first time in the campaign, these people really believed we were going to win -- or at least that we had a good chance. And now, with less than an hour to go, they were working like a gang of coal-miners sent down to rescue the survivors of a cave-in. At that point -- with my own role ended -- I was probably the most pessimistic person in the room; the others seemed entirely convinced that Joe Edwards would be the next Mayor of Aspen. . . that our wild-eyed experiment with Freak Power was about to carry the day and establish a nationwide precedent.

 

We were in for a very long night -- waiting for the ballots to be counted by hand -- but even before the polls closed we knew we had changed the whole structure of Aspen's politics. The Old Guard was doomed, the liberals were terrorized and the Underground had emerged, with terrible suddenness, on a very serious power trip. Throughout the campaign I'd been promising, on the streets and in the bars, that if Edwards won this Mayor's race I would run for Sheriff next year (November, 1970). . . but it never occurred to me that I would actually have to run; no more than I'd ever seriously believed we could mount a "takeover bid" in Aspen.

But now it was happening. Even Edwards, a skeptic from the start, had said on election eve that he thought we were going to "win big." When he said it we were in his office, sorting out Xerox copies of the Colorado election laws for our poll-watching teams, and I recall being stunned at his optimism.

"Never in hell," I said. "If we win at all it's going to be damn close -- like 25 votes." But his comment had jangled me badly. God damn! I thought. Maybe we will win. . . and what then?

 

Finally, at around 6:30, I felt so useless and self-conscious just hanging around the action that I said what the hell, and left. I felt like Dagwood Bumstead pacing back and forth in some comic-strip version of a maternity-ward waiting room. Fuck this, I thought. I'd been awake and moving around like a cannonball for the last 50 hours, and now -- with nothing else to confront -- I felt the adrenalin sinking. Go home, I thought, eat this mescaline and put on the earphones, get away from the public agony. . .

At the bottom of the long wooden stairway from Craig's office to the street I paused for a quick look into the Elks Club bar. It was crowded and loud and happy. . . a bar full of winners, like always. They had never backed a loser. They were the backbone of Aspen: shop-owners, cowboys, firemen, cops, construction workers. . . and their leader was the most popular mayor in the town's history, a two-term winner now backing his own hand-picked successor, a half-bright young lawyer. I flashed the Elks a big smile and a quick V-fingered "victory" sign. Nobody smiled. . . but it was hard to know if they realized that their man was already croaked; in a sudden three-way race he had bombed early, when the local Contractors' Association and all their real estate allies had made the painful decision to abandon Gates, their natural gut-choice, and devote all their weight and leverage to stopping the "hippie candidate," Joe Edwards. By the weekend before election day it was no longer a three-way campaign. . . and by Monday the only question left was how many mean-spirited, Right-bent shitheads could be mustered to vote against Joe Edwards.

The other alternative was a 55-year-old lady shopkeeper backed by author Leon Uris and the local Republican majority. . . Eve Homeyer, a longtime functionary in the Colorado GOP, had spent thousands of dollars on a super-chintzy campaign to re-create herself in the boneless image of Mamie Eisenhower. She hated stray dogs and motorcycles made her ears ring. Progress was nice and Development was good for the local economy. Aspen should be made safe for the annual big-spending visits of the Atlanta Ski Club and the Texas Cavaliers -- which meant building a four-lane highway through the middle of town and more blockhouse condominiums to humor more tourists.

She played Nixon to Gates' Agnew. If the sight of naked hippies made her sick, she wasn't quite ready to cut their heads off. She was old and cranky, but not quite as mean as Gates' vigilante backers who wanted a mayor who would give them free rein to go out and beat the living shit out of anybody who didn't look like natural material for the Elks' and Eagles' membership drives. And where Gates wanted to turn Aspen into a Rocky Mountain version of Atlantic City. . . Eve Homeyer only wanted to make it a sort of St. Petersburg with a Disneyland overlay. "She agreed halfway, with everything Lennie Oates stood for. . . but she wanted it made damn clear that she viewed Joe Edwards' candidacy as pure demented lunacy -- a form of surly madness so wrong and rotten that only the Wretched and the Scum of the Earth could give it a moment's thought.

We had already beaten Oates, but I was too tired to hassle the Elks right then, and in some strange way I felt sorry for them. They were about to be stomped very badly by a candidate who agreed with them more than they knew. The people who had reason to fear the Edwards campaign were the sub-dividers, ski-pimps and city-based land-developers who had come like a plague of poison roaches to buy and sell the whole valley out from under the people who still valued it as a good place to live, not just a good investment.

Our program, basically, was to drive the real estate goons completely out of the valley: to prevent the State Highway Department from bringing a four-lane highway into the town and in fact to ban all auto traffic from every downtown street. Turn them all into grassy malls where everybody, even freaks, could do whatever's right. The cops would become trash collectors and maintenance men for a fleet of municipal bicycles, for anybody to use. No more huge, space-killing apartment buildings to block the view, from any downtown street, of anybody who might want to look up and see the mountains. No more land-rapes, no more busts for "flute-playing" or "blocking the sidewalk". . . fuck the tourists, dead-end the highway, zone the greedheads out of existence, and in general create a town where people could live like human beings, instead of slaves to some bogus sense of Progress that is driving us all mad.

Joe Edwards' platform was against the developers, not the old-timers and ranchers -- and it was hard to see, from their arguments, how they could disagree in substance with anything we said. . . unless what they were really worried about was the very good chance that a win by Edwards would put an end to their options of selling out to the highest bidder. With Edwards, they said, would come horrors like Zoning and Ecology, which would cramp their fine Western style, the buy low, sell high ethic. . . free enterprise, as it were, and the few people who bothered to argue with them soon found that their nostalgic talk about "the good old days" and "the tradition of this peaceful valley" was only an awkward cover for their fears about "socialist-thinking newcomers."

Whatever else the Edwards campaign may or may not have accomplished, we had croaked that stupid sentimental garbage about the "land-loving old-timers."

I left the Elks Club building and stopped on Ayman St. for a moment to look up at the tall hills around the town. There was already snow on Smuggler, to the north. . . and on Bell, behind Little Nell, the ski trails were dim white tracks. . . steel toll-roads, waiting for Christmas and the blizzard of fat-wallet skiers who keep Aspen rich: Eight dollars a day to ski on those hills, $150 for a pair of good skis, $120 for the Right boots, $65 for a Meggi sweater, $75 for a goose-down parka. . . and $200 more for poles, gloves, goggles, hat, socks, and another $70 for a pair of ski pants. . .

Indeed. The ski industry is a big business. And "apres-ski" is bigger: $90 a day for an apartment in the Aspen Alps, $25 apiece for a good meal & wine in the Paragon. . . and don't forget the Bates Floaters (official apres-ski boot of the US Olympic team -- the worst kind of flimsy shit imaginable for $30 a pair).

It adds up to something like an average figure of $500 a week for the typical midwest dingbat who buys both his gear and his style out of Playboy. Then you multiply $100 a day by the many skier days logged in 1969-70 by the Aspen Ski Corp, and what you get is a staggering winter gross for a Rocky Mountain village with a real population of just over 2000.

Which is only half the story: The other half is an annual 30-35 percent growth/profit jump on all money fronts. . . and what you see here (or saw, prior to Nixon's economic adjustments) is/was a king-hell gold-mine with no end in sight. For the past ten years Aspen has been the showpiece/money-hub of a gold rush that has made millionaires. In the wake of World War II, they flocked in from Austria and Switzerland (never from Germany, they said) to staff the embryo nerve/resort centers of a sport that would soon be bigger than golf or bowling. . . and now, with skiing firmly established in America, the original German hustlers are wealthy burghers. They own restaurants, hotels, ski slopes and especially vast chunks of real estate in places like Aspen.

 

After a savage, fire-sucking campaign we lost by only six (6) votes, out of 1200. Actually we lost by one (1) vote, but five of our absentee ballots didn't get here in time -- primarily because they were mailed (to places like Mexico and Nepal and Guatemala) five days before the election.

We came very close to winning control of the town, and that was the crucial difference between our action in Aspen and, say, Norman Mailer's campaign in New York -- which was clearly doomed from the start. At the time of Edwards' campaign we were not conscious of any precedent. . . and even now, in calm retrospect, the only similar effort that comes to mind is Bob Scheer's 1966 ran for a US Congress seat in Berkeley/Oakland -- when he challenged liberal Jeffrey Cohelan and lost by something like two per cent of the vote. Other than that, most radical attempts to get into electoral politics have been colorful, fore-doomed efforts in the style of the Mailer-Breslin gig.

This same essential difference is already evident in 1970, with the sudden rash of assaults on various sheriffs' fiefs. Stew Albert got 65,000 votes in Berkeley, running on a neo-hippie platform, but there was never any question of his winning. Another notable exception was David Pierce, a 30-year-old lawyer who was actually elected mayor of Richmond, California (pop. 100,000 plus) in 1964. Pierce mustered a huge black ghetto vote-- mainly on the basis of his lifestyle and his promise to "bust Standard Oil." He served, and in fact ran, the city for three years -- but in 1967 he suddenly abandoned everything to move to a monastery in Nepal. He is now in Turkey, en route to Aspen and then California, where he plans to run for Governor.

Another was Oscar Acosta, a Brown Power candidate for Sheriff of Los Angeles County, who pulled 110,000 votes out of something like two million.

Meanwhile in Lawrence, Kansas, George Kimball (defense minister for the local White Panther party) has already won the Democratic primary -- running unopposed -- but he expects to lose the general election by at least ten to one.

On the strength of the Edwards showing, I had decided to surpass my pledge and run for sheriff, and when both Kimball and Acosta visited Aspen recently, they were amazed to find that I actually expect to win my race. A preliminary canvass shows me running well ahead of the Democratic incumbent, and only slightly behind the Republican challenger.

The root point is that Aspen's political situation is so volatile -- as a result of the Joe Edwards campaign -- that any Freak Power candidate is now a possible winner.

In my case for instance, I will have to work very hard -- and spew out some really heinous ideas during my campaign -- to get less than 30 percent of the vote in a three-way race. And an underground candidate who really wanted to win could assume, from the start, a working nut of about 40 percent of the electorate -- with his chances of victory riding almost entirely on his Backlash Potential; or how much active fear and loathing his candidacy might provoke among the burghers who have controlled local candidates for so long.

The possibility of victory can be a heavy millstone around the neck of any political candidate who might prefer, in his heart, to spend his main energies on a series of terrifying, whiplash assaults on everything the voters hold dear. There are harsh echoes of the Magic Christian in this technique: The candidate first creates an impossible psychic maze, then he drags the voters into it and flails them constantly with gibberish and rude shocks. This was Mailer's technique, and it got him 55,000 votes in a city of 10 million people -- but in truth it is more a form of vengeance than electoral politics. Which is not to say that it can't be effective, in Aspen or anywhere else, but as a political strategy it is tainted by a series of disastrous defeats.

In any event, the Magic Christian concept is one side of the "new politics" coin. It doesn't work, but it's fun. . . unlike that coin's other face that emerged in the presidential campaign of Gene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy in 1968. In both cases, we saw establishment candidates claiming conversion to some newer and younger state of mind (or political reality) that would make them more in tune with a newer, younger and weirder electorate that had previously called them both useless.

And it worked. Both conversions were hugely successful, for a while. . . and if the tactic itself seemed cynical, it is still hard to know, in either case, whether the tactic was father to the conversion, or vice-versa. Which hardly matters, for now. We are talking about political-action formats: if the Magic Christian concept is one, then the Kennedy/McCarthy format has to qualify as another. . . particularly as the national Democratic Party is already working desperately to make it work again in 1972, when the Demos' only hope of unseating Nixon will again be some shrewd establishment candidate on the brink of menopause who will suddenly start dropping acid in late '71 and then hit the rock-festival trail in the summer of '72. He will doff his shirt at every opportunity and his wife will burn her bra. . . and millions of the young will vote for him, against Nixon.

Or will they? There is still another format, and this is the one we stumbled on in Aspen. Why not challenge the establishment with a candidate they've never heard of? Who has never been primed or prepped or greased for public office? And whose lifestyle is already so weird that the idea of "conversion" would never occur to him?

In other words, why not run an honest freak and turn him loose, on their turf, to show up all the "normal" candidates for the worthless losers they are and always have been? Why defer to the bastards? Why assume they're intelligent? Why believe they won't crack and fold in a crunch? (When the Japs went into Olympic volleyball they ran a blitz on everybody using strange but maddeningly legal techniques like the "Jap roll," the "dink spike" and the "lightning belly pass" that reduced their taller opponents to screaming jelly.)

This is the essence of what some people call "the Aspen technique" in politics: neither opting out of the system, nor working within it. . . but calling its bluff, by using its strength to turn its back on itself. . . and by always assuming that the people in power are not smart. By the end of the Edwards campaign, I was convinced, despite my lifelong bias to the contrary, that the Law was actually on our side. Not the cops, or the judges or the politicians -- but the actual Law, itself, as printed in the dull and musty lawbooks that we constantly had to consult because we had no other choice.

 

But in November of '69 we had no time for this kind of theory-talk or thinking. I remember a list of books I wanted to get and read, in order to learn something about politics, but I barely had time to sleep, much less to do any reading. As the de facto campaign manager, I felt like a man who had started some kind of bloody gang-fight by accident. . . and as the Edwards campaign grew crazier and more vicious, my only real concern was to save my own ass by warding off a disaster. I didn't know Edwards at all, but by mid-October I felt personally responsible for his future -- and his prospects, at that point, were not good. Bill Dunaway, the "liberal" publisher of the Aspen Times, told me on the morning of election that I had "singlehandedly destroyed Joe Edwards' legal career in Aspen" by "forcing him into politics."

This was the liberal myth -- that some drug-addled egomaniac writer from Woody Creek had run amok on horse-tranquilizers, and then laid his bad trip on the local Head population. . . who were normally quite peaceful and harmless, as long as they had enough drugs. But now, for some goddamn reason, they had gone completely wild -- and they were dragging poor Edwards down with them.

Right. . . poor Edwards: He was recently divorced and living with his girlfriend in a local garret, half-starving for income in a town full of lame dilettante lawyers, and his name was completely unknown except as "that bastard who sued the city" a year earlier, on behalf of two longhairs who claimed the cops were discriminating against them. Which was true, and the lawsuit had a terrible effect on the local police. The Chief (now a candidate for sheriff) had quit or been fired in a rage, leaving his patrolmen on probation to a federal judge in Denver -- who put the suit in limbo, while warning the Aspen cops that he would bust the city severely at the first sign of "discriminatory law enforcement" against hippies.

This lawsuit had severe repercussions in Aspen: The mayor was shackled, the City Council lost its will to live, the City Magistrate, Guido Meyer, was fired instantly -- even before the Police Chief -- and the local cops suddenly stopped busting longhairs for the things like "blocking the sidewalk," which carried a 90-day jail sentence that summer, along with a $200 fine.

That bullshit stopped at once, and it has stayed stopped -- thanks entirely to Edwards' lawsuit; the local liberals called an ACLU meeting, and let it go at that. So only a waterhead could have been surprised when, a year later, a handful of us in search of a mayor candidate decided to call on Joe Edwards. Why not? It made perfect sense -- except to the liberals, who were not quite comfortable with a Freak Power candidate. They didn't mind Edwards, they said, and they even agreed with his platform -- which we had carefully carved to their tastes -- but there was something very ominous, they felt, about the "rabble" support he was getting: Not the kind of people one really wanted to sip vichyssoise with -- wild heads, bikers and anarchists who didn't know Stevenson and hated Hubert Humphrey. Who were these people? What did they want?

What indeed? The local businessmen's bund was not puzzled. Joe Edwards, to them, was the leader of a Communist drug plot to destroy their way of life, sell LSD to their children and Spanish Fly to their wives. Never mind that many of their children were already selling LSD to each other, and that most of their wives couldn't get humped on a bad night in Juarez. . . that was all beside the point. The point was that a gang of freaks was about to take over the town.

And why not? We had never denied it. Not even in the platform -- which was public, and quite mild. But somewhere around the middle of the Edwards campaign even the liberals got a whiff of what his platform really meant. They could see a storm gathering behind it, that our carefully reasoned words were only an opening wedge for drastic action. They knew, from long experience, that a word like "ecology" can mean almost anything -- and to most of them it meant spending one day a year with a neighborhood clean-up crew, picking up beer cans and sending them back to Coors for a refund that would be sent, of course, to their favorite charity.

But "ecology," to us, meant something else entirely: We had in mind a deluge of brutally restrictive actions that would permanently cripple not only the obvious landrapers but also that quiet cabal of tweedy liberal speculators who insist on dealing in private, so as not to foul up the image. . . Like Armand Bartos, the New York "art patron" and jet-set fashion-pacer often hummed in Women's Wear Daily. . . who is also the owner/builder and oft-cursed landlord of Aspen's biggest and ugliest trailer court. The place is called "Gerbazdale," and some of the tenants insist that Bartos raises their rents.every time he decides to buy another Pop Art Original.

"I'm tired of financing that asshole's art collection," said one. "He's one of the most blatant goddam slumlords in the Western World. He milks us out here, then gives our rent money to shitheads like Warhol."

Bartos is in the same league with Wilton "Wink" Jaffee Jr. -- a New York stockbroker recently suspended for unethical manipulation of the market. Jaffee has taken great pains to cultivate his image, in Aspen, as that of an arty-progressive Eastern aesthete. But when the SEC zapped him, he responded by quickly leasing a chunk of his vast ranch -- between Aspen and Woods Creek -- to a high-powered gravel-crushing operation from Grand Junction, which immediately began grinding up the earth and selling it, by the ton, to the State Highway Department. And now, after destroying the earth and fouling the Roaring Fork River, the swine are demanding a zoning variance so they can build an asphalt plant. . . on the elegant Aspen estate that Wink Jaffee no doubt describes quite often to his progressive friends on Wall Street.

These, and others like them, are the kind of shysters and horsey hypocrites who pass for "liberals" in Aspen. So we were not surprised when many of them made a point of withdrawing their support about halfway through Edwards' campaign. At first they had liked our words and our fiery underdog stance (fighting the good fight in another hopeless cause, etc.), but when Edwards began looking like a winner, our liberal allies panicked.

 

By noon on election day, the only real question was How Many Liberals had Hung On. A few had come over, as it were, but those few were not enough to form the other half of the nervous power base we had counted on from the start. The original idea had been to lash together a one-shot coalition and demoralize the local money/politics establishment by winning a major election before the enemy knew what was happening. Aspen's liberals are a permanent minority who have never won anything, despite their constant struggles. . . and Aspen's fabled "underground" is a far larger minority that has never even tried to win anything.

So power was our first priority. The platform -- or at least our public version of it -- was too intentionally vague to be anything but a flexible, secondary tool for wooing the liberals and holding our coalition. On the other hand, not even the handful of people in the powernexus of Joe Edwards' campaign could guarantee that he would start sodding the streets and flaying the sheriff just as soon as he got elected. He was, after all, a lawyer -- an evil tirade, at best -- and I think we all knew, although nobody ever said it, that we really had no idea what the bastard might do if he got elected. For all we knew he could turn into a vicious monster and have us all jailed for sedition.

None of us even knew Joe Edwards. For weeks we had joked about our "ghost candidate" who emerged from time to time to insist that he was the helpless creature of some mysterious Political Machine that had caused his phone to ring one Saturday at midnight, and told him he was running for Mayor.

Which was more or less true. I had called him in a frenzy, full of booze and resentment at a rumor that a gaggle of local powermongers had already met and decided who Aspen's next mayor would be -- a giddy old lady would run unopposed behind some kind of lunatic obscenity they called a "united front," or "progressive solidarity" -- endorsed by Leon Uris, who is Aspen's leading stag movie fan, and who writes books, like Exodus, to pay his bills. I was sitting in Peggy Clifford's living room when I heard about it, and, as I recall, we both agreed that the fuckers had gone too far this time.

Someone suggested Ross Griffin, a retired ski-bum and lifelong mountain beatnik who was going half-straight at the time and talking about running for the City Council. . . but a dozen or so trial-balloon calls convinced us that Ross wasn't quite weird enough to galvanize the street vote, which we felt would be absolutely necessary. (As it turned out, we were wrong: Griffin ran for the Council and won by a huge margin in a ward full of Heads.)

But at the time it seemed necessary to come up with a candidate whose Strange Tastes and Para-Legal Behavior were absolutely beyond question. . . a man whose candidacy would torture the outer limits of political gall, whose name would strike fear and shock in the heart of every burgher, and whose massive unsuitability for the job would cause even the most apolitical drug-child in the town's most degenerate commune to shout, "Yes! I must vote for that man!"

Joe Edwards didn't quite fill that bill. He was a bit too straight for the acid-people, and a little too strange for the liberals-- but he was the only candidate even marginally acceptable on both ends of our un-tried coalition spectrum. And 24 hours after our first jangled phone talk about "running for Mayor," he said, "Fuck it, why not?"

The next day was Sunday and The Battle of Algiers was playing at the Wheeler Opera House. We agreed to meet afterwards, on the street, but the hookup was difficult, because I didn't know what he looked like. So we ended up milling around for a while, casting sidelong glances at each other, and I remember thinking, Jesus, could that be him over there? That scurvy-looking geek with the shifty eyes? Shit, he'll never win anything. . .

Finally after awkward introductions, we walked down to the old Jerome Hotel and ordered some beers sent out to the lobby, where we could talk privately. Our campaign juggernaut, that night, consisted of me, Jim Salter, and Mike Solheim -- but we all assured Edwards that we were only the tip of the iceberg that was going to float him straight into the sea-lanes of big-time power politics. In fact, I sensed that both Solheim and Salter were embarrassed to find themselves there -- assuring some total stranger that all he had to do was say the word and we would make him Mayor of Aspen.

None of us had even a beginner's knowledge of how to run a political campaign. Salter writes screenplays (Downhill Racer) and books (A Sport and a Pastime). Solheim used to own an elegant bar called Leadville, in Ketchum, Idaho, and his Aspen gig is housepainting. For my part, I had lived about ten miles out of town for two years, doing everything possible to avoid Aspen's feverish reality. My lifestyle, I felt, was not entirely suited for doing battle with any small-town political establishment. They had left me alone, not hassled my friends (with two unavoidable exceptions -- both lawyers), and consistently ignored all rumors of madness and violence in my area. In return, I had consciously avoided writing about Aspen. . . and in my very limited congress with the local authorities I was treated like some kind of half-mad cross between a hermit and a wolverine, a thing best left alone as long as possible.

So the '69 campaign was perhaps a longer step for me than it was for Joe Edwards. He had already tasted political conflict and he seemed to dig it. But my own involvement amounted to the willful shattering of what had been, until then, a very comfortable truce. . . and looking back I'm still not sure what launched me. Probably it was Chicago -- that brainraping week in August of '68. I went to the Democratic Convention as a journalist, and returned a raving beast.

For me, that week in Chicago was far worse than the worst bad acid trip I'd even heard rumors about. It permanently altered my brain chemistry, and my first new idea -- when I finally calmed down -- was an absolute conviction there was no possibility for any personal truce, for me, in a nation that could hatch and be proud of a malignant monster like Chicago. Suddenly, it seemed imperative to get a grip on those who had somehow slipped into power and caused the thing to happen.

But who were they? Was Mayor Daley a cause, or a symptom? Lyndon Johnson was finished, Hubert Humphrey was doomed, McCarthy was broken, Kennedy was dead, and that left only Nixon, that pompous, plastic little fart who would soon be our President. I went to Washington for his Inauguration, hoping for a terrible shitrain that would pound the White House to splinters. But it didn't happen; no shitrain, no justice. . . and Nixon was finally in charge.

So in truth it was probably a sense of impending doom, of horror at politics in general, that goaded me into my role in the Edwards campaign. The reasons came later, and even now they seem hazy. Some people call politics fun, and maybe it is when you're winning. But even then it's a mean kind of fun, and more like the rising edge of a speed trip than anything peaceful or pleasant. Real happiness, in politics, is a wide-open hammer shot on some poor bastard who knows he's been trapped, but can't flee.

The Edwards campaign was more an uprising than a movement. We had nothing to lose: we were like a bunch of wild-eyed amateur mechanics rolling a homemade racing car onto the track at Indianapolis and watching it overtake a brace of big Offenhausers at the 450 pole. There were two distinct phases in the month-long Edwards campaign. For the first two weeks we made a lot of radical noise and embarrassed our friends and discovered that most of the people we had counted on were absolutely useless.

So nobody was ready for the second phase, when the thing began coming together like a conquered jigsaw puzzle. Our evening strategy meetings in the Jerome Bar were suddenly crowded with people demanding a piece of the action. We were inundated with $5 and $10 contributions from people whom none of us knew. From Bob Krueger's tiny darkroom and Bill Noonan's angry efforts to collect enough money to pay for a full-page ad in Dunaway's liberal Times, we suddenly inherited all the facilities of the "Center of the Eye" Photography School and an unlimited credit-line (after Dunaway fled to the Bahamas) from Steve Herron at the Times-owned radio station, then the only one in town. (Several months after the election a 24-hour FM station began broadcasting -- with daytime Muzak balanced off against a late-night freak-rock gig as heavy as anything in S.F. or L.A.). With no local television, the radio was our equivalent of a high-powered TV campaign. And it provoked the same kind of surly reaction that has been shrugged off, on both coasts, by US Senate candidates such as Ottinger (N.Y.) and Tunney (Calif.).

That comparison is purely technical. The radio spots we ran in Aspen would have terrified political eunuchs like Tunney and Ottinger. Our theme song was Herbie Mann's "Battle Hymn of the Republic," which we ran over and over again -- as a doleful background to very heavy raps and evil mockery of the retrograde opposition. They bitched and groaned, accusing us in their ignorance of "using Madison Avenue techniques," while in truth it was pure Lenny Bruce. But they didn't know Lenny; their humor was still Bob Hope, with a tangent taste for Don Rickles here and there among the handful of swingers who didn't mind admitting that they dug the stag movies, on weekends, at Leon Uris' home on Red Mountain.

We enjoyed skewering those bastards. Our radio wizard, an ex-nightclub comic, Phil Clark, made several spots that caused people to foam at the mouth and chase their tails in impotent rage. There was a thread of high, wild humor in the Edwards campaign, and that was what kept us all sane. There was a definite satisfaction in knowing that, even if we lost, whoever beat us would never get rid of the scars. It was necessary, we felt, to thoroughly terrify our opponents, so that even in hollow victory, they would learn to fear every sunrise until the next election.

 

This worked out nicely -- or at least effectively, and by the spring of 1970 it was clear on all fronts, that Aspen's traditional power structure was no longer in command of the town. The new City Council quickly broke down to a permanent 3-4 split, with Ned Vare as the spokesman for one side and a Bircher-style dentist named Comcowich taking care of the other. This left Eve Homeyer, who had campaigned with the idea that the mayor was "only a figurehead," in the nasty position of having to cast a tie-breaking vote on every controversial issue. The first few were minor, and she voted her Agnew-style convictions in each case. . . but the public reaction was ugly, and after a while the Council lapsed into a kind of nervous stalemate, with neither side anxious to bring anything to a vote. The realities of a small-town politics are so close to the bone that there is no way to avoid getting cursed in the streets, by somebody, for any vote you cast. An alderman in Chicago can insulate himself almost completely from the people he votes against, but there is no escape in a place the size of Aspen.

The same kind of tension began popping up on the other fronts: The local high school principal tried to fire a young teacher for voicing a left-wing political bias in the classroom, but her students went on strike and not only forced the teacher's reinstatement but very nearly got the principal fired. Shortly after that, Ned Vare and a local lawyer named Shellman savaged the State Highway Department so badly that all plans to bring the four-lane highway through town were completely de-funded. This drove the County Commissioners into a filthy funk; the Highway had been their pet project, but suddenly it was screwed, doomed. . . by the same gang of bastards who had caused all the trouble last fall.

The Aspen Medical Center was filled with cries of rage and anguish. Comcowich the twisted dentist rushed out of his office in that building and punched a young freak off his bicycle, screeching: "You dirty little motherfucker we're going to run you all out of town!" Then he fled back inside, to his office across the hall from that of the good Dr. Barnard (Buggsy) and his like-minded cohort Dr. J. Sterling Baxter.

For five years these two had controlled Aspen's affairs with a swagger that mixed sports cars and speed with mistresses and teeny-boppers and a cavalier disdain for the amenities of the medical profession. Buggsy handled the municipal action, while Baxter ran the County, and for five fairly placid years the Aspen Medical Center was Aspen's Tammany Hall. Buggsy dug his Mayor's act immensely. From time to time he would run amok and abuse his power disgracefully, but in general he handled it well. His friends were many and varied -- ranging from dope dealers and outlaw bikers to District Judge and horse-traders. . . even me, and in fact it never crossed my mind that Buggsy would be anything but a tremendous help when we kicked off the Edwards campaign. It seemed entirely logical that an old freak would want to pass the torch to a young freak. . .

Instead, he refused to go gracefully, and rather than helping Edwards he tried to destroy him. At one point Barnard actually tried to get back into the race himself, and when that didn't work he shoved in a last-minute dummy. This was poor Gates, who went down -- along with Buggsy -- to an ignominious defeat. We beat them stupid, and Barnard couldn't believe it. Shortly after the polls closed, he went down to City Hall and stared balefully at the blackboard when the clerk started posting the returns. The first figures stunned him visibly, they said, and by ten o'clock he was raving incoherently about "fraud" and "recounts" and "those dirty bastards who turned on me."

One of his friends who was there recalls it as a very heavy scene. . . although Dylan Thomas might have dug it, for the Mayor is said to have raged horribly against the dying of the light.

And so much for what might have been a very sad story. . . except that Buggsy went home that night and began laying feverish plans to become Mayor of Aspen again. His new power base is a thing called the "Taxpayers' League," a sort of reverse-elite corps of the booziest Elks and Eagles, whose only real point of agreement is that every animal in this world that has walked on two legs for less than 50 years is evil, queer and dangerous. The Taxpayers' League is really a classic example of what anthropologists call an "atavistic endeavor." On the scale of political development, they are still flirting with Senator Bilbo's dangerously progressive proposal to send all the niggers back to Africa on a fleet of iron barges.

This is Buggsy's new constituency. They are not all vicious drunks, and not all mental defectives either. Some are genuinely confused and frightened at what seems to be the End of the World as they know it. And this is sad, too. . . but the saddest thing of all is that, in the context of this article, the Taxpayers' League is not irrelevant. In the past six months this group has emerged as the most consistently effective voting bloc in the valley. They have beaten the liberals handily in every recent encounter (none crucial) that came down, in the end, to a matter of who had the muscle.

Who indeed? The liberals simply can't get it up. . . and since the end of the Edwards campaign we have deliberately avoided any effort to mobilize the Freak Power bloc. The political attention span of the average dropout is too short, we felt, to blow it on anything minor. Nearly everyone who worked on the Edwards gig last year was convinced that he would have won easily if the election had been held on November 14th instead of November 4th. . . or if we'd started whipping our act together even a week earlier.

Maybe so, but I doubt it. That idea assumes that we had control of the thing -- but we didn't. The campaign was out of control from beginning to end and the fact that it peaked on election day was a perfect accident, a piece of luck that we couldn't have planned. By the time the polls opened we had fired just about every shot we had. There was nothing left to do, on election day, except deal with Buggsy's threats -- and that was done before noon. Beyond that, I don't recall that we did much -- until just before the polls closed -- except drive around town at high speed and drink vast amounts of beer.

There is no point even hoping for that kind of luck again this year. We began organizing in mid-August -- six weeks earlier than last time -- and unless we can pace the thing perfectly we might find ourselves limp and burned out two weeks before the election. I have a nightmare vision of our whole act coming to a massive orgiastic climax on October 25th: Two thousand costumed freaks doing the schottische, in perfect unison, in front of the County Courthouse. . . sweating, weeping, chanting. . . "Vote NOW! Vote NOW." Demanding the ballot at once, completely stoned on politics, too high and strung out to even recognize their candidate, Ned Vare, when he appears on the courthouse steps and shouts for them all to back off: "Go back to your homes! You can't vote for ten more days!" The mob responds with a terrible roar, then surges forward. . . Vare disappears. . .

I turn to flee, but the Sheriff is there with a huge rubber sack that he quickly flips over my head and places me under arrest for felony conspiracy. The elections are canceled and J. Sterling Baxter places the town under martial law, with himself in total command. . .

Baxter is both the symbol and the reality of the Old/Ugly/Corrupt political machine that we hope to crack in November. He will be working from a formidable power base: A coalition of Buggsy's "Taxpayers" and Comcowich's right-wing suburbanites -- along with heavy institutional support from both banks, the Contractors' Association and the all-powerful Aspen Ski Corporation. He will also have the financing and organizing resources of the local GOP, which outnumbers the Democrats more than two to one in registrations.

The Democrats, with an eye on the probability of another Edwards-style uprising on the Left, are running a political transvestite, a middle-aged realtor whom they will try to promote as a "sensible alternative" to the menacing "extremes" posed by Baxter and Ned Vare. The incumbent Sheriff is also a Democrat.

Vare is running as an Independent and his campaign symbol, he says, will be "a tree." For the Sheriff's campaign, my symbol will be either a horribly-deformed cyclops owl, or a double-thumbed fist, clutching a peyote button, which is also the symbol of our general strategy and organizing cabal, the Meat Possum Athletic Club. At the moment I am registered as an Independent, but there is still the possibility -- pending the outcome of current negotiations for campaign financing -- that I may file for office as a Communist. It will make no difference which label I adopt; the die is already cast in my race -- and the only remaining question is how many Freaks, heads, criminals, anarchists, beatniks, poachers, Wobblies, bikers and Persons of Weird Persuasion will come out of their holes and vote for me. The alternatives are depressingly obvious: my opponents are hopeless bums who would be more at home on the Mississippi State Highway Patrol. . . and, if elected, I promise to recommend them both for the kinds of jobs they deserve.

Ned Vare's race is both more complex and far more important than mine. He is going after the dragon. Jay Baxter is the most powerful political figure in the county. He is the County Commissioner; the other two are echoes. If Vare can beat Baxter that will snap the spine of the local/ money/politics establishment. . . and if Freak Power can do that in Aspen, it can also do it in other places. But if it can't be done here, one of the few places in America where we can work off a proven power base -- then it is hard to imagine it working in any other place with fewer natural advantages. Last fall we came within six votes, and it will probably be close again this time. Memories of the Edwards campaign will guarantee a heavy turnout, with a dangerous backlash factor that could wipe us out completely unless the Head population can get itself together and actually vote. Last year perhaps the Heads voted; this year we will need them all. The ramifications of this election go far beyond any local issues or candidates. It is an experiment with a totally new kind of political muscle. . . and the results, either way, will definitely be worth pondering.

 

Tentative Platform

Thompson for Sheriff

Aspen, Colorado, 1970

 

1) Sod the streets at once. Rip up all city streets with jack-hammers and use the junk asphalt (after melting) to create a huge parking and auto-storage lot on the outskirts of town -- preferably somewhere out of sight, like between the new sewage plant and McBride's new shopping center. All refuse and other garbage could be centralized in this area -- in memory of Mrs. Walter Paepke, who sold the land for development. The only automobiles allowed into town would be limited to a network of "delivery-alleys," as shown in the very detailed plan drawn by architect/planner Fritz Benedict in 1969. All public movement would be by foot and a fleet of bicycles, maintained by the city police force.

2) Change the name "Aspen," by public referendum, to "Fat City." This would prevent greedheads, land-rapers and other human jackals from capitalizing on the name "Aspen." Thus, Snowmass-at-Aspen -- recently sold to Kaiser/Aetna of Oakland -- would become "Snowmass-at-Fat City." Aspen Wildcat -- whose main backers include The First National City Bank of New York and the First Boston Capital Corp. -- would have to be called "Fat City Wildcat." All road-signs and roadmaps would have to be changed from Aspen to "Fat City." The local Post Office and Chamber of Commerce would have to honor the new name. "Aspen," Colo, would no longer exist -- and the psychic alterations of this change would be massive in the world of commerce: Fat City Ski Fashions, the Fat City Slalom Cup, Fat City Music Festival, Fat City Institute for Humanistic Studies. . . etc. And the main advantage here is that changing the name of the town would have no major effect on the town itself, or on those people who came here because it's a good place to live. What effect the name-change might have on those who came here to buy low, sell high and then move on is fairly obvious. . . and eminently desirable. These swine should be fucked, broken and driven across the land.

3) Drug Sales must be controlled. My first act as Sheriff will be to install, on the courthouse lawn, a bastinado platform and a set of stocks -- in order to punish dishonest dope dealers in a proper public fashion. Each year these dealers cheat millions of people out of millions of dollars. As a breed, they rank with subdividers and used car salesmen and the Sheriffs Dept. will gladly hear complaints against dealers at any hour of the day or night, with immunity from prosecution guaranteed to the complaining party -- provided the complaint is valid. (It should be noted, on this point in the platform, that any Sheriff of any County in Colorado is legally responsible for enforcing all State Laws regarding drugs -- even those few he might personally disagree with. The statutes provide for malfeasance penalties up to $100 in each instance, in cases of willful nonenforcement. . . but it should also be noted that the statutes provide for many other penalties, in many other strange and unlikely circumstances, and as Sheriff I shall make myself aware of all of them, without exception. So any vengeful, ill-advised dingbat who might presume to bring malfeasance charges against my office should be quite sure of his/her facts. . .) And in the meantime, it will be the general philosophy of the Sheriff's office that no drug worth taking should be sold for money. Nonprofit sales will be viewed as borderline cases, and judged on their merits. But all sales for money-profit will be punished severely. This approach, we feel, will establish a unique and very human ambiance in the Aspen (or Fat City) drug culture -- which is already so much a part of our local reality that only a falangist lunatic would talk about trying to "eliminate it." The only realistic approach is to make life in this town very ugly for all profiteers -- in drugs and all other fields.

4) Hunting and fishing should be forbidden to all nonresidents, with the exception of those who can obtain the signed endorsement of a resident -- who will then be legally responsible for any violation or abuse committed by the nonresident he has "signed for." Fines will be heavy and the general policy will be Merciless Prosecution of All Offenders. But -- as in the case of the proposed city name-change -- this "Local Endorsement" plan should have no effect on anyone except greedy, dangerous kill-freaks who are a menace wherever they go. This new plan would have no effect on residents -- except those who chose to endorse visiting "sportsmen." By this approach -- making hundreds or even thousands of individuals personally responsible for protecting the animals, fish and birds who live here -- we would create a sort of de facto game preserve, without the harsh restrictions that will necessarily be forced on us if these blood-thirsty geeks keep swarming in here each autumn to shoot everything they see.

5) The Sheriff and his Deputies should never be armed in public. Every urban riot, shoot-out and blood-bath (involving guns) in recent memory has been set off by some trigger-happy cop in a fear frenzy. And no cop in Aspen has had to use a gun for so many years that I feel safe in offering a $12 cash award to anybody who can recall such an incident in writing. (Box K-33, Aspen). Under normal circumstances a pistol-grip Mace-bomb, such as the MK-V made by Gen. Ordnance, is more than enough to quickly wilt any violence-problem that is likely to emerge in Aspen. And anything the MK-V can't handle would require reinforcements anyway. . . in which case the response would be geared at all times to Massive Retaliation: a brutal attack with guns, bombs, pepper-foggers, wolverines and all other weapons deemed necessary to restore the civic peace. The whole notion of disarming the police is to lower the level of violence -- while guaranteeing, at the same time, a terrible punishment to anyone stupid enough to attempt violence on an unarmed cop.

6) It will be the policy of the Sheriff's office savagely to harass all those engaged in any form of land-rape. This will be done by acting, with utmost dispatch, on any and all righteous complaints. My first act in office -- after setting up the machinery for punishing dope-dealers -- will be to establish a Research Bureau to provide facts on which any citizen can file a Writ of Seizure, a Writ of Stoppage, a Writ of Fear, of Horror. . . yes. . . even a Writ of Assumption. . . against any greedhead who has managed to get around our antiquated laws and set up a tar-vat, scum-drain or gravel-pit. These writs will be pursued with overweening zeal. . . and always within the letter of the law. Selah.

 

Rolling Stone #67, October 1, 1970

 

 

 

Memo from the Sports Desk:

The So-Called "Jesus Freak" Scare

 

A recent emergency survey of our field-sources indicates a firestorm of lunacy brewing on the neo-religious front. Failure to prepare for this madness could tax our resources severely -- perhaps to the breaking point. During the next few months we will almost certainly be inundated, even swamped, by a nightmare-blizzard of schlock, gibberish, swill & pseudo-religious bullshit of every type and description. We can expect no relief until after Christmas. This problem will manifest itself in many treacherous forms -- and we will have to deal with them all. To wit:

1) The mailroom will be paralyzed by wave after wave of pamphlets, records, warnings and half-mad screeds from Persons and/or Commercial Organizations attempting to cash in on this grisly shuck. So we have already made arrangements to establish an alternative mailroom, to handle our serious business.

2) We expect the main elevators to be jammed up, day and night, by a never-ending swarm of crazies attempting to drag huge wooden crosses and other over-sized gimcracks into the building. To circumvent this, we are even now in the process of installing a powerful glass/cube electric lift on the exterior of the building for employee/business & general editorial use. The ingress/egress door will be cut in the east wall, behind Dave Felton's cubicle. The ground-floor door will be disguised as a huge packing crate in the parking lot. An armed guard will be on duty at all times.

3) We expect the phone lines to be tied up almost constantly by hired and/or rabid Jesus Freaks attempting to get things like 'Today's Prayer Message," etc., into our editorial columns. Our policy will be not to reject these things: No, we will accept them. They will all be switched to a special automated phone-extension in the basement of the building. Yail Bloor, the eminent theologist, has prepared a series of recorded replies for calls of this nature. Any callers who resist automation can leave their names & numbers, so Inspector Bloor can return their calls and deal with them personally between the hours of 2 and 6 AM.

These are only a few of the specific horrors that we will have to come to grips with between now and September. There will, of course, be others -- less tangible and far more sensitive -- such as Subversion of Key Personnel. As always, there will be a few brainless scumbags going under -- succumbing, as it were -- to the lure of this latest cult. We expect this, and when these organizational blow-holes appear, they will be plugged with extreme speed & savagery.

It is the view of the Sports Desk that a generation of failed dingbats and closet-junkies should under no circumstances be allowed to foul our lines of communication at a time when anybody with access to a thinking/nationwide audience has an almost desperate obligation to speak coherently. This is not the year for a mass reversion to atavistic bullshit -- and particularly not in the pages of Rolling Stone.

 

We expect the pressure to mount in geometric progressions from now until December, & then to peak around Christmas. Meanwhile, it is well to remember the words of Dr. Heem, one of the few modern-day wizards who has never been wrong. Dr. Heem was cursed by Eisenhower, mocked by Kennedy, jeered by Tim Leary and threatened by Eldridge Cleaver. But he is still on the stump. . . still hustling.

"The future of Christianity is far too fragile," he said recently, "to be left in the hands of the Christians -- especially pros."

The Sports Desk feels very strongly about this. Further warnings will issue, as special problems arise. Which they will. We are absolutely certain of this, if nothing else. What we are faced with today is the same old Rising Tide that's been coming for the past five years or more. . . the same old evil, menacing, frog-eyed trip of a whole generation run amok from too many failures.

Which is fine. It was long overdue. And once again in the words of Dr. Heem, "Sometimes the old walls are so cockeyed that you can't even fit a new window." But the trouble with the Jesus Freak outburst is that it is less, a window than a gigantic Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, the Rape of the Congo and the Conquest of the Incas, the Mayans, and the Aztecs. Entire civilizations have been done in by vengeful monsters claiming a special relationship with "God."

What we are dealing with now is nothing less than another Empire on the brink of collapse -- more than likely of its own bad weight & twisted priorities. This process is already well underway. Everything Nixon stands for is doomed, now or later.

But it will sure as hell be later if the best alternative we can mount is a generation of loonies who've given up on everything except a revival of the same old primitive bullshit that caused all our troubles from the start. What a horror to think that all the fine, high action of the Sixties would somehow come down -- ten years later -- to a gross & mindless echo of Billy Sunday.

This is why the Sports Desk insists that these waterheads must be kept out of the building at all costs. We have serious business to deal with, and these fuckers will only be in the way.

Sincerely,

Raoul Duke

 

Rolling Stone, #90, September 2, 1971

 

 

 

Memoirs of a Wretched Weekend

in Washington

 

One of my clearest memories of that wretched weekend is the sight of Jerry Rubin standing forlornly on the steps of a marble building near the Capitol, watching a gang fight at the base of a flagpole. The "counter-inaugural" parade had just ended and some of the marchers had decided to finish the show by raping the American flag. Other marchers protested, and soon the two factions were slugging it out.

The flag slipped down the pole a few feet, then went back up as a group of anti-war patriots formed a sort of human anchor on the main pulley-rope. These defenders of the flag were part of the Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), organizers of the "counter-inaugural". . . the liberal, pacifist collegiate wing of the protest. The attackers, screaming "Tear the damn thing down," were a wild and disorganized hellbroth of young streetfighters, ranging from local SDS militants to a motorcycle gang called the "Huns." There were blacks on both sides of the argument, but most of the fist-action involved young whites.

As I backed away from the brawl, two dogs began fighting behind me and a march leader shouting "Peace!" into his bullhorn was attacked by a freak wearing a Prussian helmet. The anti-war parade had turned savagely on itself.

Rubin, a Yippie organizer and veteran of every major protest since the first Berkeley uprising in 1964, was staring at the chaos around the flag-pole. "Awful," he muttered: "This whole thing is depressing. . . no life, no direction. . . this may be the last demonstration."

His words echoed a notion I'd just scribbled in my notebook: "No more singing, no more speeches, farewell to all that. . ." I understood what Rubin meant; our paths had crossed constantly in the past four years, from the Bay Area to Chicago. . . always on different levels of involvement, he as a central figure and I as a journalist. . . but now, in 1969, it was obvious to both of us that the scene had changed drastically.

Violence and confrontation are the themes now. The whole concept of "peaceful protest" died in Chicago, at the Democratic Convention. Nobody invited Joan Baez to Washington; nobody sang "We Shall Overcome." There were other, newer slogans here, like "Kill the Pigs!" "---- the War," and "Two-Four-Six-Eight. . . Organize to Smash the State!"

Vicious dissidence is the style. Nobody goes limp. They throw rocks at the cops, then run. . . and two minutes later they pop up somewhere else and throw more rocks. We have come a long way from Berkeley and the Free peech Movement. There is a new meanness on both sides. . . and no more humor.

For Rubin, the change is bitterly personal. As a result of the police riot in Chicago, he is now free on $25,000 bail, charged with solicitation to commit mob action, a felony carrying a possible five-year prison sentence. In the good old days, three months in jail was considered harsh punishment for a protest leader. Now, in the Nixon era, people like Rubin are candidates for the bastinado.

As for me. . . well, the change is not yet physical. With press credentials, I usually manage to avoid arrest. . . although I suspect that, too, will change in the new era. A press badge or even a notebook is coming to be a liability in the increasingly polarized atmosphere of these civil conflicts. Neutrality is obsolete. The question now, even for a journalist, is "Which side are you on?" In Chicago I was clubbed by police: In Washington I was menanced by demonstrators.

The Inauguration weekend was a king-hell bummer in almost every way. The sight of Nixon taking the oath, the doomed and vicious tone of the protest, constant rain, rivers of mud, an army of rich swineherds jamming the hotel bars, old ladies with blue hair clogging the restaurants. . . a horror-show, for sure. Very late one night, listening to the radio in my room I heard a song by The Byrds, with a refrain that went: "Nobody knows. . . what trouble they're in; Nobody thinks. . . it might happen again." It echoed in my head all weekend, like a theme song for a bad movie. . . the Nixon movie.

My first idea was to load up on LSD and cover the Inauguration that way, but the possibilities were ominous: a scene that bad could only be compounded to the realm of mega-horrors by something as powerful as acid. No. . . it had to be done straight, or at least with a few joints in calm moments. . . like fast-stepping across the Mall, bearing down on the Smithsonian Institution with a frenzied crowd chanting obscenities about Spiro Agnew. . . mounted police shouting "Back! Back!". . . and the man next to me, an accredited New York journalist, hands me a weird cigarette, saying, "Why not? It's all over anyway. . ."

Indeed. He was right. From my point of view -- and presumably from his -- it was all over. Richard Nixon had finally become President. All around us these 18 and 19 year old loonies were throwing firecrackers and garbage at the mounted police. From inside the Smithsonian, Agnew's people were looking out, crowded against the doorway glass, watching the mob as it menaced late-arriving guests. A cop lost his temper and rushed into the crowd to seize an agitator. . . and that was the last we saw of him for about three minutes. When he emerged, after a dozen others had rushed in to save him, he looked like some ragged hippie. . . the mob had stripped him of everything except his pants, one boot, and part of his coat. His hat was gone, his gun and gunbelt, all his badges and police decorations. . . he was a beaten man and his name was Lennox. I know this because I was standing beside the big plainclothes police boss who was shouting, "Get Lennox in the van!"

Lennox was not in full control of himself; he was screaming around like a guinea hen just worked over by a pack of wild dogs. The supervisor bore down on him, raging at the spectacle of a chewed-up cop running around in full view of the press and the mob. . . adding insult to injury. They put Lennox in the van and we never saw him again.

How could this happen? With Spiro Agnew and his guests looking out from the elegant museum on the eve of his inauguration as Vice-President of the U.S., a mob of dissident "pacifists" mauls a cop assigned to protect the party. This man Lennox had read too many old newspapers, too many reports about "cowardly, non-violent demonstrators." So he rushed in to grab one of them -- to enforce The Law -- and they nearly did him in. A man standing next to the action said: "They took turns kicking him in the head. They tore everything off of him -- thirty more seconds and they'd have stripped him completely naked."

Rotten behavior, no doubt about it. Several hours later, riding in a cab in another part of Washington, I told the black cabbie what had happened. "Beautiful, beautiful," he said. "I used to be on The Force and I was ready to go back. . . but not now; hell, I don't want to be a public enemy."

 

I went to the Inauguration for several reasons, but mainly to be sure it wasn't a TV trick. It seemed impossible that it could actually happen: President Nixon. Enroute to Washington, crossing the Rockies in a big jet with a drink in my hand I wrote in my notebook: "One year later, flying east again to cover Nixon. . . last time it was to New York and then on the Yellowbird Special to Manchester, New Hampshire. . . to Nixon headquarters at the Holiday Inn, greeted by speechwriter Pat Buchanan who didn't approve of my garb. . . Mistah Nixon, he doan like ski jackets, boy -- and Where's yore tie? Buchanan, a rude suspicious geek, Liberty Lobby type. . . but now he's in Washington, and so is "The Boss."

All the staffers called him "the boss." His speeches and campaign appearances were called "drills." I'm not sure what they called me, but it must have been ugly. Here is an excerpt from the article I wrote after following him around New Hampshire for ten days:

 

Richard Nixon has never been one of my favorite people. He was. . . a man with no soul, no inner convictions. . . The "old Nixon" didn't make it. Neither did earlier models of the "new Nixon." So now we have "Nixon Mark IV," and as a journalist I suppose it's only fair to say that this latest model might be different and maybe even better in some ways. But as a customer, I wouldn't touch it -- except with a long cattle prod.

 

At the Baltimore airport I ran into Bob Gover, arriving from New Orleans with a new wife and a big movie camera. Gover is a writer (One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding, among others), but he's into a film gig now, making a movie of the impending revolution that he thinks will be out in the open before 1970. Not everyone involved in "The Movement" is that optimistic; the timetable varies from six months to four years, but there is near-unanimous agreement that some kind of shattering upheaval will occur before 1972. . . not just riots, or closing down universities, but a violent revolution.

This ominous prospect has already cracked the fragile solidarity of the "new left." Until now, the war in Vietnam has been a sort of umbrella-issue, providing a semblance of unity to a mixed bag of anti-war groups with little else in common. The "counter-inaugural" in Washington showed, very clearly, that this alliance is breaking down.

Indeed, the whole scene is polarizing. Wtih Nixon and John Mitchell on the Right, drumming for Law and Order. . . and with the Blacks and the Student Left gearing down for Revolution. . . the Center is almost up for grabs. The only centrist-style heavyweight these days is Senator Ted Kennedy, who seems to be playing the same kind of Build and Consolidate game that Richard Nixon perfected in 1966.

Kennedy began to haunt Nixon even before he was sworn in. On Saturday, two days before the Inauguration, Teddy dominated local newscasts by unveiling a bust of his murdered brother, Robert, in the courtyard of the Justice Department. Then, two days after the Inaugural, Teddy was the star of a big-name fund raising rally at the Washington Hilton. The idea was to pay off Robert's campaign debts, but a local newspaper columnist said it "looked like the kickoff of Teddy's campaign." The senator, ever-cautious, was quoted in the Washington Post as saying he hadn't picked a Vice President yet, for 1972. Nixon's reaction to this boffo was not reported in the press. The only public comment came from Raoul Duke, a visiting dignitary, who said: "Well. . . nobody laughed when Banquo's ghost came to the party. . . and remember the Baltimore Colts."

 

In any case, the battle is joined. . . Revolution versus the Wave of the Past. Rumors persist that Mr. Nixon remains confident -- for reasons not apparent to anyone under 50, except cops, evangelists and members of the Liberty Lobby. The rest of us will have to start reading fiction again, or maybe build boats. The demands of this growing polarization -- this banshee screaming "Which side are you on?" -- are going to make the Johnson years seem like a Peace Festival. Anybody who thinks Nixon wrote that soothing inaugural speech should remember the name, Ray Price. He is Nixon's Bill Moyers, and -- like Moyers -- a good man to watch for signs of a sinking ship. Price is Nixon's house liberal, and when he quits we can look for that era of bloody chaos and streetfighting. . . and perhaps even that Revolution the wild turks on the New Left are waiting for. President Nixon has moved into a vacuum that neither he nor his creatures understand. They are setting up, right now, in the calm eye of a hurricane. . . and if they think the winds have died, they are in for a bad shock.

And so are the rest of us, for we are all in that eye -- even the young militants of the New Left, who are now more disorganized than even the liberal Democrats, who at least have a figurehead. The Washington protest was a bust, despite the claims of the organizers. . . and for reasons beyond mud and rain. Jerry Rubin was right: it was probably "the last demonstration" -- or at least the last one in that older, gentler and once-hopeful context.

 

On Monday night, around dusk, I went back to the big circus tent that had been the scene, just 20 hours earlier, of MOBE's Counter-Inaugural Ball. On Sunday night the tent had been a mob scene, with thousands of laughing young dissidents smoking grass and bouncing balloons around in the flashing glare of strobe-lights and rock-music. Phil Ochs was there and Paul Krassner. . . and Judy Collins sent a telegram saying she couldn't make it but "keep up the fight.". . . the crowd dug it all, and passed the hat for a lot of dollars to pay for the tent rental. A casual observer might have thought it was a victory party.

Then, after Nixon's parade, I went back to the tent to see what was happening. . . and it was gone, or at least going. A six-man crew from the Norfolk Tent Co. had taken down everything but the poles and cables. Thick rolls of blue and white canvas lay around in the mud, waiting to be put on a truck and taken back to the warehouse.

As the tent disappeared, piece by piece, young girls with long hair and boys carrying rucksacks drifted by and stopped to watch. They had come back, like me, half-expecting to find something happening. We stood there for a while, next to the Washington Monument. . . nobody talking, not even the tent-company crew. . . and then we drifted off in different directions. It was cold, and getting colder. I zipped up my ski jacket and walked fast across the Mall. To my left, at the base of the monument, a group of hippies was passing a joint around. . . and off to the right a mile or so away, I could see the bright dome of the Capitol. . . Mr. Nixon's Capitol.

Suddenly I felt cold, and vaguely defeated. More than eight years ago, in San Francisco, I had stayed up all night to watch the election returns. . . and when Nixon went down I felt like a winner.

Now, on this Monday night in 1969, President Nixon was being honored with no less than six Inaugural Balls. I brooded on this for a while, then decided I would go over to the Hilton, later on, and punch somebody. Almost anybody would do. . . but hopefully I could find a police chief from Nashville or some other mean geek. In the meantime, there was nothing to do but go back to the hotel and watch the news on TV. . . maybe something funny, like film clips of the bastinado.

 

The (Boston) Globe, February 23, 1969

 

PART 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presenting: The Richard Nixon Doll

(Overhauled 1968 Model)

 

No interview with Richard Nixon will end until he refers to himself, at least once, as a "political man." His opponents, by implication, are mere "politicians." Especially the man Nixon plans to defeat this November. . . for the Presidency of the United States. Selah.

The major polls and surveys in the country suggest that Nixon may be right, despite the outraged howls of all those voters who insist that a choice between Nixon and Johnson is no choice at all. Sen. Eugene McCarthy has called it "a choice between obscenity and vulgarity." Yet McCarthy is the political heir of Adlai Stevenson, who said that "People get the kind of government they deserve." If this is true, then 1968 is probably the year in which the great American chicken will come home to roost. . . either for good or for ill.

So it was with a sense of morbid curiosity that I went to New England not long ago to check on "the real Richard Nixon." Not necessarily the "new Nixon," or even the newest model of the old "new Nixon," who is known to the press corps that follows him as "Nixon Mark IV." My assignment was to find the man behind all these masks, or maybe to find that there was no mask at all -- that Richard Milhous Nixon, at age 55, was neither more nor less than what he appeared to be -- a plastic man in a plastic bag, surrounded by hired wizards so cautious as to seem almost plastic themselves. . . These political handlers were chosen this time for their coolness and skill for only one job: to see that Richard Nixon is the next President of the United States.

One of the handlers, Henry Hyde, presumably felt I was a threat to the Nixon camp. He called Pageant to check me out. This was after he got into my room somehow -- while I was away, eating breakfast -- and read my typewritten notes. The Nixon people, who wore baggy, dark-colored suits and plenty of greasy kid stuff (they looked like models at an Elks Club style show), seemed to feel I was disrespectful because I was dressed like a ski bum. Pageant reassured Mr. Hyde as to the purity of my mission and intentions in spite of my appearance.

Richard Nixon has never been one of my favorite people, anyway. For years I've regarded his very existence as a monument to all the rancid genes and broken chromosomes that corrupt the possibilities of the American Dream; he was a foul caricature of himself, a man with no soul, no inner convictions, with the integrity of a hyena and the style of a poison toad. The Nixon I remembered was absolutely humorless; I couldn't imagine him laughing at anything except maybe a paraplegic who wanted to vote Democratic but couldn't quite reach the lever on the voting machine.

After 1960, though, I no longer took him seriously. Two years later he blew his bid for the governorship of California and made it overwhelmingly clear that he no longer took himself seriously -- at least not as a politician. He made a national ass of himself by blaming his defeats on the "biased press." He called a press conference and snarled into the microphone: "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore, because, gentlemen, this is my final press conference."

There is no avoiding the fact that Richard Nixon would not be running for President in 1968 if John Kennedy hadn't been assassinated five years earlier. . . and if the GOP hadn't nominated Barry Goldwater in 1964. . . which guaranteed the election of Lyndon Johnson, who has since done nearly everything wrong and botched the job so that now even Nixon looks good beside him.

The situation is so obvious that Nixon, "the political man," can't resist it. And who can blame him for taking his luck where he finds it? He's back on the "fast track" that he likes to talk about, with the Presidency to gain and nothing at all to lose. He's obviously enjoying this campaign. It's a bonus, a free shot, his last chance to stand eyeball to eyeball again with the high rollers.

Richard Nixon has been in politics all his life; for 21 years he has rolled about as high as a politician can in this country, and his luck has been pretty good. His instincts are those of a professional gambler who wins more often than he loses; his "skill" is nine parts experience to one part natural talent, and his concept of politics is entirely mechanical.

Nixon is a political technician, and he has hired technicians to help him win this time. As a campaign team, they are formidable. They have old pros, young turks, crippled opponents, and a candidate who once came within an eyelash of beating the late John F. Kennedy.

The "new Nixon" is above anger, and he rarely has time for casual conversation. His staffers explain to the grumbling press that "Mr. Nixon is busy writing tonight's speech." He is grappling in private, as it were, with the subtle contradictions of the Asian mind. (He slipped once in public during a late February trip to Wisconsin. "This country cannot tolerate a long war," he said. "The Asians have no respect for human lives. They don't care about body counts." The implied racial slur was a departure from his carefully conceived campaign oratory.)

At one point I asked Ray Price, one of Nixon's chief braintrusters, why the candidate was having such difficulty finding words to echo Dean Rusk's views on Vietnam. Nixon's speeches for the past four nights had been straight out of the Johnson-Rusk handbook on the "domino theory."

Price looked hurt. "Well," he said slowly, "I really wish you'd done your homework on this. Mr. Nixon has gone to a lot of trouble to clarify his views on Vietnam, and I'm only sorry that -- well. . ." He shook his head sadly, as if he couldn't bring himself to chastise me any further on the hallowed premises of a Howard Johnson's motel.

We went to his room, where he dug up a reprint on an article from the October 1967 issue of Foreign Affairs. The title was "Asia After Vietnam," and the author was Richard M. Nixon. I was hoping for something more current, but Price was suddenly called off on other business. So I took the article to the bar and went through it several times without finding anything to clear my head. It was thoughtful, articulate, and entirely consistent with the thinking of John Foster Dulles.

I was disappointed with Price -- for the same reason I'd been disappointed all week with Nixon. In various ways they both assumed that I -- and all the other reporters -- would fail to understand that Nixon was not only being evasive with regard to Vietnam that week but that he was doing it deliberately and for good reason. George Romney's campaign was obviously on its last legs; New Hampshire was sewed up for Nixon, and the best way to maintain that lead was to stay visible and say nothing more controversial than "God Bless America." Romney tried desperately to provoke an argument, but Nixon ignored every challenge.

Nixon did confess that he had a way to end the war, but he wouldn't tell how. Patriotically he explained why: "No one with this responsibility who is seeking office should give away any of his bargaining positions in advance." (Nixon's wife, Pat, has confidence in his ability to cope with Vietnam. "Dick would never have let Vietnam drag on like this," she says.)

Both Romney and McCarthy had their Manchester headquarters at the Wayfarer, an elegant, woodsy motel with a comfortable bar and the best dining room in the area. Nixon's Holiday Inn command post was on the other side of town, a grim-looking concrete structure. I asked one of Nixon's advisers why they had chosen such a dreary place. "Well," he replied with a smile, "our only other choice was the Wayfarer -- but we left that for Romney when we found out that it's owned by one of the most prominent political operators in the state -- a Democrat, of course." He chuckled. "Yeah, poor George really stepped into that one."

Nixon's pros had won another point; there was nothing newsworthy about it, but those who mattered in the state political hierarchy understood, and they were the people Nixon needed to win New Hampshire. Small victories like this add up to delegates. Even before the votes were counted in New Hampshire, GOP strategists said Nixon had already gathered more than 600 of the 667 votes he would need to win the nomination.

There is no denying his fine understanding of the American political process. I went to New Hampshire expecting to find a braying ass, and I came away convinced that Richard Nixon has one of the best minds in politics. He understands problems very quickly; you can almost hear his brain working when he's faced with a difficult question. He concentrates so visibly that it looks like he's posing, and his answer, when it flows, will nearly always be right, for the situation -- because Nixon's mind is programmed, from long experience, to cope with difficult situations. The fact that he often distorts the question -- and then either answers it dishonestly or uses it to change the subject -- is usually lost in the rhetoric. "I'm really better at dialogue," he says, "The question-and-answer format is good for me. I like it on TV. The set speech is one of those things like the Rotary Club luncheon. I can do it, but if I had my druthers, I'd make it all Q and A." The "old Nixon" would argue in public; the "new Nixon" won't. He has learned this lesson well, even if painfully.

The "new Nixon" is a very careful man when it comes to publicity; he smiles constantly for the cameras, talks always in friendly platitudes, and turns the other cheek to any sign of hostility. His press relations are "just fine," he says, and if anyone mentions that "final press conference" he held in 1962, Nixon just smiles and changes the subject. He is making a conscious effort to avoid antagonizing reporters this time, but he is still very leery of them. Nixon takes all his meals in his room, which he never leaves except to rush off to one of his "drills" -- the term he and his staffers use to mean any speech or public appearance. His staffers sometimes join reporters in the bar, but never Nixon. He neither drinks nor smokes, they say, and bars make him nervous. Humphrey Bogart would have taken a dim view of Nixon. It was Bogart who said, "You can't trust a man who doesn't drink." And it was Raoul Duke who said, "I'd never buy a used car from Nixon unless he was drunk."

People who talk like that are not the sort that Nixon likes to have around, especially when he's engaged in something else and can't keep an eye on them. Perhaps this explains why his staffers got so upset when I tried to attend a taping session one afternoon at a TV station in Manchester. Nixon was scheduled to make some television commercials, featuring himself and a group of citizens in a question-and-answer session. The press had not been invited; I wanted to watch Nixon, however, in a relaxed and informal setting.

My request to sit in on the tape session was flatly denied. "This is a commercial taping," said Henry Hyde. "Would Procter & Gamble let you into their studios? Or Ford?" Hyde was a gear and sprocket salesman in Chicago before he became Nixon's press aide, so I wasn't surprised at his weird analogy. I merely shrugged and took a cab that afternoon down to the TV station -- half expecting to be thrown out the moment I showed up. This didn't happen, perhaps because a CBS camera crew was already there and muttering darkly about Nixon's refusal to see them. They left shortly after I arrived, but I hung around to see what would happen.

The atmosphere was very sinister. Nixon was off in another room, as usual, rehearsing with his cast. They spent an hour getting all the questions right. Meanwhile Hyde and other staffers took turns watching me. None of them knew who the "citizens" who were to appear on the program were, or who had chosen them. "They're just people who want to ask him questions," said Hyde.

Whoever they were, they were shrouded in great secrecy -- despite the fact that their faces would soon be appearing on local TV screens with monotonous regularity. At one point I was making notes near the studio door when it suddenly flew open and two of Nixon's staffers came at me in a very menacing way. "What are you writing?" snapped one.

"Notes," I said.

"Well, write them on the other side of the room," said the other. "Don't stand around this door."

So I went to the other side of the room and made some more notes about the strange, paranoid behavior that had puzzled me for the past few days. And then I went back to the Holiday Inn and waited for the next "drill."

Nixon's speeches that week are hardly worth mentioning -- except as indisputable proof that the "old Nixon" is still with us. On Vietnam he echoes Johnson: on domestic issues he talks like Ronald Regan. He is a champion of "free enterprise" at home and "peace with honor" abroad. People with short memories say he sounds in speeches like a "milder version of Goldwater," or a "Johnson without a drawl." But those who recall the 1960 campaign know exactly whom he sounds like: Richard Milhous Nixon.

And why shouldn't he? Nixon's political philosophy was formed and tested by the time he became Vice-President of the United States at age 40. It served him well enough for the next eight years, and in 1960 nearly half the voters in the country wanted him to be the next President. This is not the background of a man who would find any serious reason, at age 55, to change his political philosophy.

He has said it himself: "All this talk about 'the new Nixon.' Maybe it's there, but perhaps many people didn't know the old one." He understandably dislikes the implications of the term: The necessity for a "new Nixon" means there must have been something wrong with the old one, and he strongly disputes that notion.

There is probably some truth in what he says, if only to the extent that he will now talk candidly with individual reporters -- especially those from influential papers and magazines. Some of them have discovered to their amazement, that the "private Nixon" is not the monster they'd always assumed him to be. In private he can be friendly and surprisingly frank, even about himself. This was never the case with the "old Nixon."

So there is no way of knowing if the "private Nixon" was always so different from the public version. We have only his word, and -- well, he is, after all, a politician running for office, and a very shrewd man. After several days of watching his performance in New Hampshire I suspected that he'd taken a hint from Ronald Reagan and hired a public relations firm to give him a new image. Henry Hyde denied this emphatically, "That's not his style," he said. "Mr. Nixon runs his own campaigns. You'd find that out pretty quick if you worked for him."

"That's a good idea," I said. "How about it?"

"What?" he asked humorlessly.

"A job. I could write him a speech that would change his image in twenty-four hours."

Henry didn't think much of the idea. Humor is scarce in the Nixon camp. The staffers tell jokes now and then, but they're not very funny. Only Charley McWhorter, the resident political expert, seems to have a sense of the absurd.

Oddly enough, Nixon himself shows traces of humor. Not often in public, despite his awkward attempts to joke about how bad he looks on television and that sort of thing. ("I understand the skiing is great here," he told one audience. "I've never skied, but" -- he touched his nose -- "I have a personal feeling about it.") Every now and then he will smile spontaneously at something, and it's not the same smile that he beams at photographers.

At one point I had a long conversation with him about pro football. I'd heard he was a fan, and earlier that night in a speech at a Chamber of Commerce banquet he'd said that he'd bet on Oakland in the Super Bowl. I was curious, and since Ray Price had arranged for me to ride back to Manchester in Nixon's car, I took the opportunity to ask him about it. Actually, I suspected that he didn't know football from pig-hustling and that he mentioned it from time to time only because his wizards had told him it would make him seem like a regular guy.

But I was wrong. Nixon knows pro football. He'd taken Oakland and six points in the Super Bowl, he said, because Vince Lombardi had told him up in Green Bay that the AFL was much stronger than the sportswriters claimed. Nixon cited Oakland's sustained drive in the second half as evidence of their superiority over the Kansas City team that had challenged the Packers in 1967 and had totally collapsed in the second half. "Oakland didn't fold up," he said. "That second-half drive had Lombardi worried."

I remembered it, and mentioned the scoring play -- a sideline pass to an unknown receiver named Bill Miller.

Nixon hesitated for a moment, then smiled broadly and slapped me on the leg. "That's right," he said. "Yes, the Miami boy." I couldn't believe it; he not only knew Miller, but he knew what college he'd played for. It wasn't his factual knowledge of football that stunned me; it was his genuine interest in the game. "You know," he said, "the worst thing about campaigning, for me, is that it ruins my whole football season. I'm a sports buff, you know. If I had another career, I'd be a sportscaster -- or a sportswriter."

I smiled and lit a cigarette. The scene was so unreal that I felt like laughing out loud -- to find myself zipping along a New England freeway in a big yellow car, being chauffeured around by a detective while I relaxed in the back seat and talked about football with my old buddy Dick Nixon, the man who came within 100,000 votes of causing me to flee the country in 1960. I was on the verge of mentioning this to him, but just then we came to the airport and drove out on the runway, where his chartered Lear Jet was waiting to zap him off to the wild blue yonder of Miami for a "think session" with his staff. (There he rises early and works a 20-hour day. He skimps on food -- breakfast is juice, cereal, and milk; lunch is a sandwich, and dinner might be roast beef or steak, which he often doesn't finish -- and keeps his weight at a constant 175 pounds. He swims some, suns a lot, yet rarely seems to stop working. "I'll say this -- he has enough stamina to be President," says William P. Rogers, an old friend. "He has the most stamina of any man I have ever known.")

We talked for a while beside the plane, but by that time I'd thought better of saying anything rude or startling. It had been exceptionally decent of him to give me a ride and an hour of his time, so I controlled the almost irresistible urge to gig him on his embryonic sense of humor.

It was almost midnight when the sleek little plane boomed down the runway and lifted off toward Florida. I went back to the Holiday Inn and drank for a while with Nick Ruwe, the chief advance man for New Hampshire.

"I almost had a heart attack tonight when I looked over and saw you poking around that jet engine with a cigarette in your mouth," Ruwe said. He shook his head in disbelief. "My God, what a nightmare!"

"Sorry," I said. "I didn't realize I was smoking."

But I remembered leaning on the wing of the plane, an arm's length away from the fully loaded fuel tank. Somebody should have mentioned the cigarette, I thought, and the fact that nobody did makes me wonder now if Nixon's human machinery is really as foolproof as it seems to be. Or perhaps they all noticed I was smoking and -- like Ruwe -- said nothing at all.

Or perhaps that's beside the point. Senator McCarthy's success in New Hampshire can hardly be attributed to the hard-nosed professionalism of his staff. . . and in his broader context the Nixon campaign seems flawed. There is a cynicism at the core of it, the confident assumption that success in politics depends more on shrewd technique than on the quality of the product. The "old Nixon" didn't make it. Neither did earlier models of the "new Nixon." So now we have "Nixon Mark IV," and as a journalist I suppose it's only fair to say that this latest model might be different and maybe even better in some ways. But as a customer, I wouldn't touch it -- except with a long cattle prod.

Granted, the "new Nixon" is more relaxed, wiser, more mellow. But I recognize the man who told a student audience at the University of New Hampshire that one of his biggest problems in politics has always been "that I'm not a good actor, I can't be phony about it, I still refuse to wear makeup. . ." Three weeks later this same man, after winning the New Hampshire primary, laughingly attributed his victory to the new makeup he'd been wearing. He thought he was being funny -- at least on one level -- but on another level he was telling the absolute truth.

 

Pageant, July 1968

 

 

 

 

 

Author's Note

 

Dawn is coming up in San Francisco now: 6:09 A.M. I can hear the rumble of early morning buses under my window at the Seal Rock Inn. . . out here at the far end of Geary Street: this is the end of the line, for buses and everything else, the western edge of America. From my desk I can see the dark jagged hump of "Seal Rock" looming out of the ocean in the grey morning light. About two hundred seals have been barking out there most of the night. Staying in this place with the windows open is like living next to a dog pound. Last night we had a huge paranoid poodle up here in the room, and the dumb bastard went totally out of control when the seals started barking -- racing around the room like a chicken hearing a pack of wolves outside the window, howling & whining, leaping up on the bed & scattering my book-galley pages all over the floor, knocking the phone off the hook, upsetting the gin bottles, trashing my carefully organized stacks of campaign photographs. . . off to the right of this typewriter, on the floor between the beds. I can see an 8x10 print of Frank Mankiewicz yelling into a telephone at the Democratic Convention in Miami; but that one will never be used, because the goddamn hound put five big claw-holes in the middle of Frank's chest.

That dog will not enter this room again. He came in with the book-editor, who went away about six hours ago with thirteen finished chapters -- the bloody product of fifty-five consecutive hours of sleepless, foodless, high-speed editing. But there was no other way to get the thing done. I am not an easy person to work with, in terms of deadlines. When I arrived in San Francisco to put this book together, they had a work-hole set up for me downtown at the Rolling Stone office. . . but I have a powerful aversion to working in offices, and when I didn't show up for three or four days they decided to do the only logical thing: move the office out here to the Seal Rock Inn.

One afternoon about three days ago they showed up at my door, with no warning, and loaded about forty pounds of supplies into the room: two cases of Mexican beer, four quarts of gin, a dozen grapefruits, and enough speed to alter the outcome of six Super Bowls. There was also a big Selectric typewriter, two reams of paper, a face-cord of oak firewood and three tape recorders -- in case the situation got so desperate that I might finally have to resort to verbal composition.

We came to this point sometime around the thirty-third hour, when I developed an insoluble Writer's Block and began dictating big chunks of the book straight into the microphone -- pacing around the room at the end of an eighteen-foot cord and saying anything that came into my head. When we reached the end of a tape the editor would jerk it out of the machine and drop it into a satchel. . . and every twelve hours or so a messenger would stop by to pick up the tape satchel and take it downtown to the office, where unknown persons transcribed it onto manuscript paper and sent it straight to the printer in Reno.

There is a comfortable kind of consistency in this kind of finish, because that's the way all the rest of the book was written. From December '71 to January '73 -- in airport bars, all-nite coffee shops and dreary hotel rooms all over the country -- there is hardly a paragraph in this jangled saga that wasn't produced in a last-minute, teeth-grinding frenzy. There was never enough time. Every deadline was a crisis. All around me were experienced professional journalists meeting deadlines far more frequent than mine, but I was never able to learn from their example. Reporters like Bill Greider from the Washington Port and Jim Naughton of the New York Times, for instance, had to file long, detailed, and relatively complex stories every day -- while my own deadline fell every two weeks -- but neither one of them ever seemed in a hurry about getting their work done, and from time to time they would try to console me about the terrible pressure I always seemed to be laboring under.

Any $100-an-hour psychiatrist could probably explain this problem to me in thirteen or fourteen sessions, but I don't have time for that. No doubt it has something to do with a deep-seated personality defect, or maybe a kink in whatever blood vessel leads into the pineal gland. . . On the other hand, it might easily be something as simple & basically perverse as whatever instinct it is that causes a jackrabbit to wait until the last possible second to dart across the road in front of a speeding car.

People who claim to know jackrabbits will tell you they are primarily motivated by Fear, Stupidity, and Craziness. But I have spent enough time in jackrabbit country to know that most of them lead pretty dull lives; they are bored with their daily routines: eat, fuck, sleep, hop around a bush now & then. . . No wonder some of them drift over the line into cheap thrills once in a while; there has to be a powerful adrenalin rush in crouching by the side of a road, waiting for the next set of headlights to come along, then streaking out of the bushes with split-second timing and making it across to the other side just inches in front of the speeding front wheels.

Why not? Anything that gets the adrenalin moving like a 440 volt blast in a copper bathtub is good for the reflexes and keeps the veins free of cholesterol. . . but too many adrenalin rushes in any given time-span have the same bad effect on the nervous system as too many electro-shock treatments are said to have on the brain: after a while you start burning out the circuits.

When a jackrabbit gets addicted to road-running, it is only a matter of time before he gets smashed -- and when a journalist turns into a politics junkie he will sooner or later start raving and babbling in print about things that only a person who has Been There can possibly understand.

Some of the scenes in this book will not make much sense to anybody except the people who were involved in them. Politics has its own language, which is often so complex that it borders on being a code, and the main trick in political journalism is learning how to translate -- to make sense of the partisan bullshit that even your friends will lay on you -- without crippling your access to the kind of information that allows you to keep functioning. Covering a presidential campaign is not a hell of a lot different from getting a long-term assignment to cover a newly elected District Attorney who made a campaign promise to "crack down on Organized Crime." In both cases, you find unexpected friends on both sides, and in order to protect them -- and to keep them as sources of private information -- you wind up knowing a lot of things you can't print, or which you can only say without even hinting at where they came from.

This was one of the traditional barriers I tried to ignore when I moved to Washington and began covering the '72 presidential campaign. As far as I was concerned, there was no such thing as "off the record." The most consistent and ultimately damaging failure of political journalism in America has its roots in the clubby/cocktail personal relationships that inevitably develop between politicians and journalists -- in Washington or anywhere else where they meet on a day-to-day basis. When professional antagonists become after-hours drinking buddies, they are not likely to turn each other in. . . especially not for "minor infractions" of rules that neither side takes seriously; and on the rare occasions when Minor infractions suddenly become Major, there is panic on both ends.

A classic example of this syndrome was the disastrous "Eagleton Affair." Half of the political journalists in St. Louis and at least a dozen in the Washington press corps knew Eagleton was a serious boozer with a history of mental breakdowns -- but none of them had ever written about it, and the few who were known to have mentioned it privately clammed up 1000 percent when McGovern's harried staffers began making inquiries on that fateful Thursday afternoon in Miami. Any Washington political reporter who blows a Senator's chance for the vice-presidency might as well start looking for another beat to cover -- because his name will be instant Mud on Capitol Hill.

When I went to Washington I was determined to avoid this kind of trap. Unlike most other correspondents, I could afford to burn all my bridges behind me -- because I was only there for a year, and the last thing I cared about was establishing long-term connections on Capitol Hill. I went there for two reasons: (1) to learn as much as possible about the mechanics and realities of a presidential campaign, and (2) to write about it the same way I'd write about anything else -- as close to the bone as I could get, and to hell with the consequences.

It was a fine idea, and on balance I think it worked out pretty well -- but in retrospect I see two serious problems in that kind of merciless, ball-busting approach. The most obvious and least serious of these was the fact that even the few people I considered my friends in Washington treated me like a walking bomb; some were reluctant to even drink with me, for fear that their tongues might get loose and utter words that would almost certainly turn up on the newsstands two weeks later. The other, more complex, problem had to do with my natural out-front bias in favor of the McGovern candidacy -- which was not a problem at first, when George was such a hopeless underdog that his staffers saw no harm in talking frankly with any journalist who seemed friendly and interested -- but when he miraculously emerged as the front-runner I found myself in a very uncomfortable position. Some of the friends I'd made earlier, during the months when the idea of McGovern winning the Democratic nomination seemed almost as weird as the appearance of a full-time Rolling Stone correspondent on the campaign trail, were no longer just a handful of hopeless idealists I'd been hanging around with for entirely personal reasons, but key people in a fast-rising movement that suddenly seemed capable not only of winning the party nomination but driving Nixon out of the White House.

McGovern's success in the primaries had a lasting effect on my relationship with the people who were running his campaign -- especially those who had come to know me well enough to sense that my contempt for the time-honored double standard in political journalism -- might not be entirely compatible with the increasingly pragmatic style of politics that George was getting into. And their apprehension increased measurably as it became obvious that dope fiends, anarchists, and Big-Beat dropouts were not the only people who read the political coverage in Rolling Stone. Not long after McGovern's breakthrough victory in the Wisconsin primary, arch-establishment mouthpiece Stewart Alsop went out of his way to quote some of my more venomous comments on Muskie and Humphrey in his Newsweek column, thus raising me to the level of at least neo-respectability at about the same time McGovern began to look like a winner.

Things were never the same after that. A cloud of hellish intensity had come down on the McGovern campaign by the time it rolled into California. Mandates came down from the top, warning staffers to beware of the press. The only exceptions were reporters who were known to have a decent respect for things said "in confidence," and I didn't fit that description.

And so much for all that. The point I meant to make here -- before we wandered off on that tangent about jackrabbits -- is that everything in this book except the footnotes was written under savage deadline pressure in the traveling vortex of a campaign so confusing and unpredictable that not even the participants claimed to know what was happening.

I had never covered a presidential campaign before I got into this one, but I quickly got so hooked on it that I began betting on the outcome of each primary -- and, by combining aggressive ignorance with a natural instinct to mock the convential wisdom, I managed to win all but two of the fifty or sixty bets I made between February and November. My first loss came in New Hampshire, where I felt guilty for taking advantage of one of McGovern's staffers who wanted to bet that George would get more than 35 percent of the vote; and I lost when he wound up with 37.5 percent. But from that point on, I won steadily -- until November 7, when I made the invariably fatal mistake of betting my emotions instead of my instinct.

The final result was embarrassing, but what the hell? I blew that one, along with a lot of other people who should have known better, and since I haven't changed anything else in this mass of first-draft screeds that I wrote during the campaign, I can't find any excuse for changing my final prediction. Any re-writing now would cheat the basic concept of the book, which -- in addition to the publisher's desperate idea that it might sell enough copies to cover the fantastic expense bills I ran up in the course of those twelve frantic months -- was to lash the whole thing together and essentially record the reality of an incredibly volatile presidential campaign while it was happening: from an eye in the eye of the hurricane, as it were, and there is no way to do that without rejecting the luxury of hindsight.

So this is more a jangled campaign diary than a record or reasoned analysis of the '72 presidential campaign. Whatever I wrote in the midnight hours on rented typewriters in all those cluttered hotel rooms along the campaign trail -- from the Wayfarer Inn outside Manchester to the Neil House in Columbus to the Wilshire Hyatt House in L.A. and the Fontainebleau in Miami -- is no different now than it was back in March and May and July when I was cranking it out of the typewriter one page at a time and feeding it into the plastic maw of that goddamn Mojo Wire to some hash-addled freak of an editor at the Rolling Stone news-desk in San Francisco.

What I would like to preserve here is a kind of high-speed cinematic reel-record of what the campaign was like at the time, not what the whole thing boiled down to or how it fits into history. There will be no shortage of books covering that end. The last count I got was just before Christmas in '72, when ex-McGovern speech writer Sandy Berger said at least nineteen people who'd been involved in the campaign were writing books about it -- so we'll eventually get the whole story, for good or ill.

Meanwhile, my room at the Seal Rock Inn is filling up with people who seem on the verge of hysteria at the sight of me still sitting here wasting time on a rambling introduction, with the final chapter still unwritten and the presses scheduled to start rolling in twenty-four hours. . . but unless somebody shows up pretty soon with extremely powerful speed, there might not be any Final Chapter. About four fingers of king-hell Crank would do the trick, but I am not optimistic. There is a definite scarcity of genuine, high-voltage Crank on the market these days -- and according to recent statements by official spokesmen for the Justice Department in Washington, that's solid evidence of progress in Our War Against Dangerous Drugs.

Well. . . thank Jesus for that. I was beginning to think we were never going to put the arm on that crowd. But the people in Washington say we're finally making progress. And if anybody should know, it's them. So maybe this country's about to get back on the Right Track.

 

-- HST

Sunday, January 28, 1973

San Francisco, Seal Rock Inn

 

Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail,

San Francisco, Straight Arrow Books, 1973

 

 

 

June, 1972:

The McGovern Juggernaut Rolls On

 

The press room was crowded -- two dozen or so ranking media wizards, all wearing little egg-shaped ID tags from the Secret Service: Leo Sauvage/La Figaro, Jack Perkins/NBC, R. W. Apple/N.Y. Times. . . the McGovern campaign went big-time, for real, in California. No more of that part-time, secondary coverage. McGovern was suddenly the front-runner, perhaps the next President, and virtually every room in the hotel was filled with either staff or media people. . . twelve new typewriters in the press suite, ten phones, four color TV sets, a well-stocked free bar, even a goddamn Mojo Wire.*

 

* aka Xerox Telecopier. We have many inquiries about this. "Mojo Wire" was the name originally given the machine by its inventor, Raoul Duke. But he signed away the patent, in the throes of a drug frenzy, to Xerox board chairman Max Palevsky, who claimed the invention for himself and renamed it the "Xerox Telecopier." Patent royalties now total $100 million annually, but Duke receives none of it. At Palevsky's insistence he remains on the Rolling Stone payroll, earning $50 each week, but his "sports column" is rarely printed and he is formally barred by court order, along with a Writ of Permanent Constraint, from Palevsky's house & grounds.

 

The gossip in the press room was heavier than usual that night: Gary Hart was about to be fired as McGovern's campaign manager; Fred Dutton would replace him. . . Humphrey's sister had just been arrested in San Diego on a warrant connected with Hubert's campaign debts. . . Muskie was offering to support McGovern if George would agree to take over $800,000 of his (Muskie's) campaign debt. . . But Crouse was nowhere in sight. I stood around for a while, trying to piece together a few grisly unsubstantiated rumors about "heavy pols preparing to take over the whole McGovern campaign". . . Several people had chunks of the story, but nobody had a real key; so I left to go back down to my room to think for a while.

That was when I ran into Mankiewicz, picking a handful of thumbtacked messages off the bulletin board outside the doors.

"I have a very weird story for you," I said.

He eyed me cautiously. "What is it?"

"Come over here," I said motioning him to follow me down the corridor to a quiet place. . . Then I told him what I had heard about Humphrey's midnight air-courier to Vegas. He stared down at the carpet, not seeming particularly interested -- but when I finished he looked up and said, "Where'd you hear that?"

I shrugged, sensing definite interest now. "Well, I was talking to some people at a place called The Losers, and --"

"With Kirby?" he snapped.

"No," I said. "I went over there looking for him, but he wasn't around." Which was true. Earlier that day Kirby Jones, McGovern's press secretary, had told me he planned to stop by The Losers Club later on, because Warren Beatty had recommended it highly. . . but when I stopped by around midnight there was no sign of him.

Mankiewicz was not satisfied. "Who was there?" he asked. "Some of our people? Who was it?"

"Nobody you'd know," I said. "But what about this Humphrey story? What can you tell me about it?"

"Nothing," he said, glancing over his shoulder at a burst of yelling from the press room. Then: "When's your next issue coming out?"

"Thursday."

"Before the election?"

"Yeah, and so far I don't have anything worth a shit to write about -- but this thing sounds interesting."

He nodded, staring down at the floor again, then shook his head. "Listen," he said. "You could cause a lot of trouble for us by printing a thing like that. They'd know where it came from, and they'd jerk our man right out."

"What man?"

He stared at me, smiling faintly.

 

At this point the story becomes very slippery, with many loose ends and dark shadows -- but the nut was very simple: I had blundered almost completely by accident on a flat-out byzantine spook story. There was nothing timely or particularly newsworthy about it, but when your deadline is every two weeks you don't tend to worry about things like scoops and newsbreaks. If Mankiewicz had broken down and admitted to me that night that he was actually a Red Chinese agent and that McGovern had no pulse, I wouldn't have known how to handle it -- and the tension of trying to keep that kind of heinous news to myself for the next four days until Rolling Stone went to press would almost certainly have caused me to lock myself in my hotel room with eight quarts of Wild Turkey and all the Ibogaine I could get my hands on.

So this strange tale about Humphrey & Vegas was not especially newsworthy, by my standards. Its only real value, in fact, was the rare flash of contrast it provided to the insane tedium of the surface campaign. Important or not, this was something very different: midnight flights to Vegas, mob money funneled in from casinos to pay for Hubert's TV spots; spies, runners, counterspies; cryptic phone calls from airport phone booths. . . Indeed; the dark underbelly of big-time politics. A useless story, no doubt, but it sure beat the hell out of getting back on that goddamn press bus and being hauled out to some shopping center in Gardena and watching McGovern shake hands for two hours with lumpy housewives.

 

Unfortunately, all I really knew about what I called U-13 story was the general outline and just enough key points to convince Mankiewicz that I might be irresponsible enough to go ahead and try to write the thing anyway. All I knew -- or thought I knew -- at that point was that somebody very close to the top of the Humphrey campaign had made secret arrangements for a night flight to Vegas in order to pick up a large bundle of money from unidentified persons presumed to be sinister, and that this money would be used by Humphrey's managers to finance another one of Hubert's eleventh-hour fast-finish blitzkriegs.

Even then, a week before the vote, he was thought to be running ten points and maybe more behind McGovern -- and since the average daily media expenditure for each candidate in the California primary was roughly $30,000 a day, Humphrey would need at least twice that amount to pay for the orgy of exposure he would need to overcome a ten-point lead. No less than a quick $500,000.

The people in Vegas were apparently willing to spring for it, because the plane was already chartered and ready to go when McGovern's headquarters got word of the flight from their executive-level spy in the Humphrey campaign. His identity remains a mystery -- in the public prints, at least -- but the handful of people aware of him say he performed invaluable services for many months.

His function in the U-13 gig was merely to call McGovern headquarters and tell them about the Vegas plane. At this point, my second- or third-hand source was not sure what happened next. According to the story, two McGovern operatives were instantly dispatched to keep around-the-clock watch on the plane for the next seventy-two hours, and somebody from McGovern headquarters called Humphrey and warned him that they knew what he was up to.

In any case, the plane never took off and there was no evidence in the last week of the campaign to suggest that Hubert got a last-minute influx of money, from Vegas or anywhere else.

This is as much of the U-13 story as I could piece together without help from somebody who knew the details -- and Mankiewicz finally agreed, insisting the whole time that he knew nothing about the story except that he didn't want to see it in print before election day, that if I wanted to hold off until the next issue he would put me in touch with somebody who would tell me the whole story for good or ill.

"Call Miles Rubin," he said, "and tell him I told you to ask him about this. He'll fill you in."

That was fine, I said. I was in no special hurry for the story, anyway. So I let it ride for a few days, missing my deadline for that issue. . . and on Wednesday I began trying to get hold of Miles Rubin, one of McGovern's top managers for California. All I knew about Rubin before I called was that several days earlier he had thrown Washington Post correspondent David Broder out of his office for asking too many questions - less than twenty-four hours before Broder appeared on Rubin's TV screen as one of the three interrogators on the first Humphrey/McGovern debate.

My own experience with Rubin turned out to be just about par for the course. I finally got through to him by telephone on Friday, and explained that Mankiewicz had told me to call him and find out the details of the U-13 story. I started to say we could meet for a beer or two sometime later that afternoon and he could --

"Are you kidding?" he cut in. "That's one story you're never going to hear."

"What?"

"There's no point even talking about it," he said flatly. Then he launched into a three-minute spiel about the fantastic honesty and integrity that characterized the McGovern campaign from top to bottom, and why was it that people like me didn't spend more time writing about The Truth and The Decency and The Integrity, instead of picking around the edge for minor things that weren't important anyway?

"Jesus Christ!" I muttered. Why argue? Getting anything but pompous bullshit and gibberish out of Rubin would be like trying to steal meat from a hammerhead shark.

"Thanks," I said, and hung up.

 

That night I found Mankiewicz in the press room and told him what had happened.

He couldn't understand it, he said. But he would talk to Miles tomorrow and straighten it out.

I was not optimistic; and by that time I was beginning to agree that the U-13 story was not worth the effort. The Big Story in California, after all, was that McGovern was on the brink of locking up a first-ballot nomination in Miami -- and that Hubert Humphrey was about to get stomped so badly at the polls that he might have to be carried out of the state in a rubber sack.

The next time I saw Mankiewicz was on the night before the election and he seemed very tense, very strong into the gjla monster trip. . . and when I started to ask him about Rubin he began ridiculing the story in a VERY LOUD VOICE, so I figured it was time to forget it.

Several days later I learned the reason for Frank's bad nerves that night. McGovern's fat lead over Humphrey, which had hovered between 14 and 20 percentage points for more than a week, had gone into a sudden and apparently uncontrollable dive in the final days of the campaign. By election eve it had shrunk to five points, and perhaps even less.

 

The shrinkage crisis was a closely guarded secret among McGovern's top command. Any leak to the press could have led to disastrous headlines on Tuesday morning: Election Day. . . MCGOVERN FALTERS; HUMPHREY CLOSING GAP. . . a headline like that in either the Los Angeles Times or the San Francisco Chronicle might have thrown the election to Humphrey by generating a last minute Sympathy/Underdog turnout and whipping Hubert's field workers into a frenzied "get out the vote" effort.

But the grim word never leaked, and by noon on Tuesday an almost visible wave of relief rolled through the McGovern camp. The dike would hold, they felt, at roughly five percent.

The coolest man in the whole McGovern entourage on Tuesday was George McGovern himself -- who had spent all day Monday on airplanes, racing from one critical situation to another. On Monday morning he flew down to San Diego for a major rally; then to New Mexico for another final-hour rally on the eve of the New Mexico primary (which he won the next day -- along with New Jersey and South Dakota). . . and finally on Monday night to Houston for a brief, unscheduled appearance at the National Governors' Conference, which was rumored to be brewing up a "stop McGovern" movement.

After defusing the crisis in Houston he got a few hours' sleep before racing back to Los Angeles to deal with another emergency: His 22-year-old daughter was having a premature baby and first reports from the hospital hinted at serious complications.

 

But by noon the crisis had passed, and somewhere sometime around one he arrived with his praetorian guard of eight Secret Service agents at Max Palevksy's house in Bel Air, where he immediately changed into swimming trunks and dove into the pool. The day was grey and cool, no hint of sun, and none of the other guests seemed to feel like swimming.

For a variety of tangled reasons -- primarily because my wife was one of the guests in the house that weekend -- I was there when McGovern arrived. So we talked for a while, mainly about the possibility of either Muskie or Humphrey dropping out of the race and joining forces with George if the price was right. . . and it occurred to me afterward that it was the first time he'd ever seen me without a beer can in my hand or babbling like a loon about Freak Power, election bets, or some other twisted subject. . . but he was kind enough not to mention this.

It was a very relaxed afternoon. The only tense moment occurred when I noticed a sort of narrow-looking man with a distinctly predatory appearance standing off by himself and glowering down at the white telephone as if he planned to jerk it out by the root if it didn't ring within ten seconds and tell him everything he wanted to know.

"Who the hell is that?" I asked, pointing across the pool at him.

"That's Miles Rubin," somebody replied.

"Jesus," I said. "I should have guessed."

Moments later my curiosity got the better of me and I walked over to Rubin and introduced myself. "I understand they're going to put you in charge of press relations after Miami," I said as we shook hands.

He said something I didn't understand, then hurried away. For a moment I was tempted to call him back and ask if I could feel his pulse. But the moment passed and I jumped into the pool, instead.*

 

* Later in the campaign, when Rubin and I became reasonably good friends, he told me that the true story of the "U-13" was essentially the same as the version I'd pieced together in California. The only thing I didn't know, he said, was that Humphrey eventually got the money anyway. For some reason, the story as I originally wrote it was almost universally dismissed as "just another one of Thompson's Mankiewicz fables."

 

The rest of the day disintegrated into chaos, drunkenness, and the kind of hysterical fatigue that comes from spending too much time racing from one place to another and being shoved around in crowds. McGovern won the Democratic primary by exactly five percent -- 45 to 40 -- and Nixon came from behind in the GOP race to nip Ashbrook by 87 to 13.

 

She was gonna be an actress and I was gonna learn to fly

She took off to find the footlights and I took off to find the sky

-- Taxi by Harry Chapin

 

George McGovern's queer idea that he could get himself elected President on the Democratic ticket by dancing a muted whipsong on the corpse of the Democratic Party is suddenly beginning to look very sane, and very possible. For the last five or six days in California, McGovern's campaign was covered from dawn to midnight by fifteen or twenty camera crews, seventy-five to a hundred still photographers, and anywhere from fifty to two hundred linear/writing press types.

The media crowd descended on McGovern like a swarm of wild bees, and there was not one of them who doubted that he/she was covering The Winner. The sense of impending victory around the pool at the Wilshire Hyatt House was as sharp and all-pervasive as the gloom and desperation in Hubert Humphrey's national staff headquarters about ten miles west at the far more chick and fashionable Beverly Hilton.

In the McGovern press suite the big-time reporters were playing stud poker -- six or eight of them, hunkered down in their shirt-sleeves and loose ties around a long white-cloth-covered table with a pile of dollar bills in the middle and the bar about three feet behind Tom Wicker's chair at the far end. At the other end of the room, to Wicker's left, there were three more long white tables, with four identical big typewriters on each one and a pile of white legal-size paper stacked neatly beside each typewriter. At the other end of the room, to Wicker's right, was a comfortable couch and a giant floor-model 24-inch Motorola color TV set. . . the screen was so large that Dick Cavett's head looked almost as big as Wicker's, but the sound was turned off and nobody at the poker table was watching the TV set anyway. Mort Sahl was dominating the screen with a seemingly endless, borderline-hysteria monologue about a bunch of politicians he didn't have much use for -- (Muskie, Humphrey, McGovern) -- and two others (Shirley Chisholm and former New Orleans DA Jim Garrison) that he liked.

I knew this, because I had just come up the outside stairway from my room one floor below to get some typing paper, and I'd been watching the Cavett show on my own 21-inch Motorola color TV.

I paused at the door for a moment, then edged around to the poker table towards the nearest stack of paper. "Ah, decadence, decadence. . ." I muttered. "Sooner or later it was bound to come to this."

Kirby Jones looked up and grinned. "What are you bitching about this time, Hunter? Why are you always bitching?"

"Never mind that," I said. "You owe me $20 & I want it now."

"What?" he looked shocked. "Twenty dollars for what?"

I nodded solemnly. "I knew you'd try to welsh. Don't tell me you don't remember that bet."

"What bet?"

"The one we made on the train in Nebraska," I said. "You said Wallace wouldn't get more than 300 delegates. . . But he already has 317, and I want that $20."

He shook his head. "Who says he has that many? You've been reading the New York Times again." He chuckled and glanced at Wicker, who was dealing. "Let's wait until the convention, Hunter, things might be different then."

"You pig," I muttered, easing toward the door with my paper. "I've been hearing a lot about how the McGovern campaign is finally turning dishonest, but I didn't believe it until now."

He laughed and turned his attention back to the game. "All bets are payable in Miami, Hunter. That's when we'll count the marbles."

I shook my head sadly and left the room. Jesus, I thought, these bastards are getting out of hand. Here we were still a week away from D-day in California, and the McGovern press suite was already beginning to look like some kind of Jefferson-Jackson Day stag dinner. I glanced back at the crowd around the table and realized that not one of them had been in New Hampshire. This was a totally different crowd, for good or ill. Looking back on the first few weeks of the New Hampshire campaign, it seemed so different from what was happening in California that it was hard to adjust to the idea that it was still the same campaign. The difference between a sleek front-runner's act in Los Angeles and the spartan, almost skeletal machinery of an underdog operation in Manchester was almost more than the mind could deal with all at once.*

 

* California was the first primary where the McGovern campaign was obviously well-financed. In Wisconsin, where McGovern's money men had told him privately that they would withdraw their support if he didn't finish first or a very close second, the press had to pay fifty cents a beer in the hospitality suite.

 

Four months ago on a frozen grey afternoon in New Hampshire the McGovern "press bus" rolled into the empty parking lot of a motel on the outskirts of Portsmouth. It was 3:30 or so, and we had an hour or so to kill before the Senator would arrive by air from Washington and lead us downtown for a hand-shaking gig at the Booth fishworks.

The bar was closed, but one of McGovern's advance men had arranged a sort of beer/booze and sandwich meat smorgasbord for the press in a lounge just off the lobby. . . so all six of us climbed out of the bus, which was actually an old three-seater airport limousine, and I went inside to kill time.

Of the six passengers in the "press bus," three were local McGovern volunteers. The other three were Ham Davis from the Providence Journal, Tim Crouse from the Rolling Stone Boston Bureau, and me. Two more media/press people were already inside: Don Bruckner from the Los Angeles Times, and Michelle Clark from CBS.*

 

* The New Hampshire primary was Michelle's first assignment in national politics. "I don't have the vaguest idea what I'm doing," she told me. "I think they're just letting me get my feet wet." Three months later, when McGovern miraculously emerged as the front-runner, Michelle was still covering him. By that time her star was rising almost as fast as McGovern's. At the Democratic Convention in Miami, Walter Cronkite announced on the air that she had just been officially named "correspondent." On December 8, 1972, Michelle Clark died in a plane crash at Midway Airport in Chicago -- the same plane crash that killed the wife of Watergate defendant Howard Hunt.

 

There was also Dick Dougherty, who has just quit his job as chief of the L.A. Times New York bureau to become George McGovern's press secretary, speechwriter, main fixer, advance man, and all-purpose traveling wizard. Dougherty and Bruckner were sitting off by themselves at a corner table when the rest of us straggled into the lounge and filled our plates at the smorgasbord table: olives, carrots, celery stalks, salami, deviled eggs. . . but when I asked for beer, the middle-aged waitress who was also the desk clerk said beer "wasn't included" in "the arrangements," and that if I wanted any I would have to pay cash for it.

"That's fine," I said. "Bring me three Budweisers."

She nodded. "With three glasses?"

"No. One glass."

She hesitated, then wrote the order down and lumbered off toward wherever she kept the beer. I carried my plate over to an empty table and sat down to eat and read the local paper. . . but there was no salt and pepper on the table, so I went back up to the smorgasbord to look for it & bumped into somebody in a tan garbardine suit who was quietly loading his plate with carrots & salami.

"Sorry." I said.

"Pardon me," he replied.

I shrugged and went back to my table with the salt and pepper. The only noise in the room was coming from the L.A. Times corner. Everybody else was either reading or eating, or both. The only person in the room not sitting down was the man in the tan suit at the smorgasbord table. He was still fumbling with the food, keeping his back to the room. . .

There was something familiar about him. Nothing special -- but enough to make me glance up again from my newspaper; a subliminal recognition-flash of some kind, or maybe just the idle journalistic curiosity that gets to be a habit after a while when you find yourself drifting around in the nervous murk of some story with no apparent meaning or spine to it. I had come up to New Hampshire to write a long thing on the McGovern campaign -- but after twelve hours in Manchester I hadn't seen much to indicate that it actually existed, and I was beginning to wonder what the fuck I was going to write about for that issue.

 

There was no sign of communcation in the room. The press people, as usual, were going out of their way to ignore each other's existence. Ham Davis was brooding over the New York Times, Crouse was re-arranging the contents of his knapsack, Michelle Clark was staring at her fingernails, Bruckner and Dougherty were trading Sam Yorty jokes. . . and the man in the tan suit was still shuffling back and forth at the smorgasbord table -- totally absorbed in it, studying the carrots. . .

Jesus Christ! I thought. The Candidate! That crouching figure up there at the food table is George McGovern.

But where was his entourage? And why hadn't anybody else noticed him? Was he actually alone?

No, that was impossible. I had never seen a presidential candidate moving around in public without at least ten speedy "aides" surrounding him at all times. So I watched him for a while, expecting to see his aides flocking in from the lobby at any moment. . . but it slowly dawned on me that The Candidate was by himself: there were no aides, no entourage, and nobody else in the room had even noticed his arrival.

This made me very nervous. McGovern was obviously waiting for somebody to greet him, keeping his back to the room, not even looking around -- so there was no way for him to know that nobody in the room even knew he was there.

Finally I got up and walked across to the food table, watching McGovern out of the corner of one eye while I picked up some olives, fetched another beer out of the ice bucket. . . and finally reached over to tap The Candidate on the arm and introduce myself.

"Hello, Senator. We met a few weeks ago at Tom Braden's house in Washington."

He smiled and reached out to shake hands. "Of course, of course," he said. "What are you doing up here?"

"Not much, so far," I said. "We've been waiting for you."

He nodded, still poking around with the cold cuts. I felt very uneasy. Our last encounter had been somewhat jangled. He had just come back from New Hampshire, very tired and depressed, and when he arrived at Braden's house we had already finished dinner and I was getting heavily into drink. My memory of that evening is somewhat dim, but even in dimness I recall beating my gums at top speed for about two hours about how he was doing everything wrong and how helpless it was for him to think he could even accomplish anything with that goddamn albatross of a Democratic Party on his neck, and that if he had any real sense he would make drastic alterations in the whole style & tone of his campaign and remodel it along the lines of the Aspen Freak Power Uprising, specifically, along the lines of my own extremely weird and nerve-rattling campaign for Sheriff of Pitkin County, Colorado.

McGovern had listened politely, but two weeks later in New Hampshire there was no evidence to suggest that he had taken my advice very seriously. He was sitll plodding along in the passive/underdog role, still driving back & forth across the state in his lonely one-car motorcade to talk with small groups of people in rural living rooms. Nothing heavy, nothing wild or electric. All he was offering, he said, was a rare and admittedly lonsghot opportunity to vote for an honest and intelligent presidential candidate.

A very strange option, in any year -- but in mid-February of 1972 there were no visible signs, in New Hampshire, that the citizenry was about to rise up and drive the swine out of the temple. Beyond that, it was absolutely clear -- according to the Wizards, Gurus, and Gentlemen Journalists in Washington -- that Big Ed Muskie, the Man from Maine, had the Democratic nomination so deep in the bag that it was hardly worth arguing about.

Nobody argued with the things McGovern said. He was right, of course -- but nobody took him very seriously, either. . .

 

7:45 a.m. . . The sun is fighting through the smog now, a hot grey glow on the street below my window. Friday morning business-worker traffic is beginning to clog Wilshire Boulevard and the Glendale Federal Savings parking lot across the street is filling up with cars. Slump-shouldered girls are scurrying into the big Title Insurance & Trust Company and Crocker National Bank buildings, rushing to punch in on the time clock before 8:00.

I can look down from my window and see the two McGovern press buses loading. Kirby Jones, the press secretary, is standing by the door of the No. 1 bus and herding two groggy CBS cameramen aboard like some kind of latter-day Noah getting goats aboard the ark. Kirby is responsible for keeping the McGovern press/media crowd happy -- or at least happy enough to make sure they have the time and facilities to report whatever McGovern, Mankiewicz, and the other Main Boys want to see and read on tonight's TV news and in tomorrow's newspapers. Like any other good press secretary, Kirby doesn't mind admitting -- off the record -- that his love of Pure Truth is often tempered by circumstances. His job is to convince the press that everything The Candidate says is even now being carved on stone tablets.

The Truth is whatever George says; this is all ye know and all ye need to know. If McGovern says today that the most important issue in the California primary is abolition of the sodomy statues, Kirby will do everything in his power to convince everybody on the press bus that the sodomy statues must be abolished. . . and if George decides tomorrow that his pro-sodomy gig isn't making it with the voters, Kirby will get behind a quick press release to the effect that "new evidence from previously obscure sources" has convinced the Senator that what he really meant to say was that sodomy itself should be abolished.

 

This kind of fancy footwork was executed a lot easier back there in the early primaries than it is now. Since Wisconsin, McGovern's words have been watched very carefully. Both his mushrooming media entourage and his dwindling number of opponents have pounced on anything even vaguely controversial or potentially damaging in his speeches, press conferences, position papers, or even idle comments.

McGovern is very sensitive about this sort of thing, and for excellent reason. In three of the last four big primaries (Ohio, Nebraska & California) he has spent an alarmingly big chunk of his campaign time denying that behind his calm and decent facade he is really a sort of Trojan Horse candidate -- coming on in public as a bucolic Jeffersonian Democrat while secretly plotting to seize the reins of power and turn them over at midnight on Inauguration Day to a Red-bent hellbroth of radicals, Dopers, Traitors, Sex Fiends, Anarchists, Winos, and "extremists" of every description.

The assault began in Ohio, when the Senator from Boeing (Henry Jackson, D-Wash.) began telling everybody his advance man could round up to listen to him that McGovern was not only a Marijuana Sympathizer, but also a Fellow Traveler. . . Not exactly a dope-sucker and a card-carrying Red, but almost.

In Nebraska it was Humphrey, and although he dropped the Fellow Traveler slur, he added Amnesty and Abortion to the Marijuana charge and caused McGovern considerable grief. By election day the situation was so grim in traditionally conservative, Catholic Omaha that it looked like McGovern might actually lose the Nebraska primary, one of the kingpins in his Coverall strategy. Several hours after the polls closed the mood in the Omaha Hilton Situation Room was extremely glum. The first returns showed Humphrey well ahead, and just before I was thrown out I heard Bill Dougherty -- Lt. Gov. of South Dakota and one of McGovern's close friends and personal advisors -- saying: "We're gonna get zinged tonight, folks."

 

It was almost midnight before the out-state returns began offsetting Hubert's big lead in Omaha, and by 2:00 a.m. on Wednesday it was clear that McGovern would win -- although the final 6 percent margin was about half of what had been expected ten days earlier, before Humphrey's local allies had fouled the air with alarums about Amnesty, Abortion, and Marijuana.

Sometime around 11:30 I was readmitted to the Situation Room -- because they wanted to use my portable radio to get the final results -- and I remember seeing Gene Pokorny slumped in a chair with his shoes off and a look of great relief on his face. Pokorny, the architect of McGovern's breakthrough victory in Wisconsin, was also the campaign manager of Nebraska, his home state, and a loss there would have badly affected his future. Earlier that day in the hotel coffee shop I'd heard him asking Gary Hart which state he would be assigned to after Nebraska.

"Well, Gene," Hart replied with a thin smile. "That depends on what happens tonight, doesn't it?" Pokorny stared at him, but said nothing. Like almost all the other key people on the staff, he was eager to move on to California.

"Yeah," Hart continued. "We were planning on sending you out to California from here, but recently I've been thinking more and more about that slot we have open in the Butte, Montana office."

Again, Pokorny said nothing. . . but two weeks later, with Nebraska safely in the bag, he turned up in Fresno and hammered out another McGovern victory in the critically important Central Valley. And that slot in Butte is still open. . .

 

Which is getting a bit off the point here. Indeed. We are drifting badly -- from motorcycles to Mankiewicz to Omaha, Butte, Fresno. . . where will it end?

The point, I think, was that in both the Ohio and Nebraska primaries, back to back, McGovern was confronted for the first time with the politics of the rabbit-punch and the groin shot, and in both states he found himself dangerously vulnerable to this kind of thing. Dirty politics confused him. He was not ready for it -- and especially not from his fine old friend and neighbor, Hubert Humphrey. Toward the end of the Nebraska campaign he was spending most of his public time explaining that he was Not for abortion on demand. Not for legalized Marijuana, Not for unconditional amnesty. . . and his staff was becoming more and more concerned that their man had been put completely on the defensive.

This is one of the oldest and most effective tricks in politics. Every hack in the business has used it in times of trouble, and it has even been elevated to the level of political mythology in a story about one of Lyndon Johnson's early campaigns in Texas. The race was close and Johnson was getting worried. Finally he told his campaign manager to start a massive rumor campaign about his opponent's life-long habit of enjoying carnal knowledge of his own barnyard sows.

"Christ, we can't get away with calling him a pig-fucker," the campaign manager protested. "Nobody's going to believe a thing like that."

"I know," Johnson replied. "But let's make the sonofabitch deny it."

McGovern has not learned to cope with this tactic yet. Humphrey used it again in California, with different issues, and once again George found himself working overtime to deny wild, baseless charges that he was: (1) Planning to scuttle both the Navy and the Air Force, along with the whole Aerospace industry, and (2) He was a sworn foe of all Jews, and if he ever got to the White House he would immediately cut off all military aid to Israel and sit on his hands while Russian-equipped Arab legions drove the Jews into the sea.

McGovern scoffed at these charges, dismissing them as "ridiculous lies," and repeatedly explained his position on both issues -- but when they counted the votes on election night it was obvious that both the Jews and the Aerospace workers in Southern California had taken Humphrey's bait. All that saved McGovern in California was a long-overdue success among black voters, strong support from chicanos, and a massive pro-McGovern Youth Vote.

This is a very healthy power base, if he can keep it together -- but it is not enough to beat Nixon in November unless McGovern can figure out some way to articulate his tax and welfare positions a hell of a lot more effectively than he did in California. Even Hubert Humphrey managed to get McGovern tangled up in his own economic proposals from time to time during their TV debates in California -- despite the fact that toward the end of that campaign Humphrey's senile condition was so obvious that even I began feeling sorry for him.

Indeed. Sorry. Senile. Sick. Tangled. . . That's exactly how I'm beginning to feel. All those words and many others, but my brain is too numb to spit them out of the memory bank at this time. No person in my condition has any business talking about Hubert Humphrey's behavior. My brain has slowed down to the point of almost helpless stupor. I no longer even have the energy to grind my own teeth.

So this article is not going to end the way I thought it would. . . and looking back at the lead I see that it didn't even start that way either. As for the middle, I can barely remember it. There was something about making a deal with Mankiewicz and then Seizing Power in American Samoa, but I don't feel ready right now. Maybe later. . .

Way out on the far left corner of this desk I see a note that says "Call Mankiewicz -- Miami Hotel rooms."

That's right. He was holding three rooms for us at the convention. Probably I should call him right away and firm that up. . . or maybe not.

But what the hell? These things can wait. Before my arms go numb there were one or two points I wanted to make. This is certainly no time for any heavy speculation or long-range analysis -- on any subject at all, but especially not on anything as volatile and complex as the immediate future of George McGovern vis--vis the Democratic Party.

Yet it is hard to avoid the idea that McGovern has put the Party through some very drastic changes in the last few months. The Good Ole Boys are not pleased with him. But they can't get a grip on him either -- and now, less than three weeks before the convention, he is so close to a first-ballot victory that the old hacks and ward-heelers who thought they had total control of the Party less than six months ago find themselves skulking around like old winos in the side alleys of presidential politics -- first stripped of their power to select and control delegations, then rejected as delegates themselves when Big Ed took his overcrowded bandwagon over the high side on the first lap. . . and now, incredible as it still seems to most of them, they will not even be allowed into the Party convention next month.

 

One of the first people I plan to speak with when I get to Miami is Larry O'Brien: shake both of his hands and extend powerful congratulations to him for the job he has done on the Party. In January of 1968 the Democratic Party was so fat and confident that it looked like they might keep control of the White House, the Congress, and in fact the whole U.S. Government almost indefinitely. Now, four and a half years later, it is a useless bankrupt hulk. Even if McGovern wins the Democratic nomination, the Party machinery won't be of much use to him, except as a vehicle.

"Traditional Politics with a Vengeance" is Gary Hart's phrase -- a nutshell concept that pretty well describes the theory behind McGovern's amazingly effective organization.

"The Politics of Vengeance" is a very different thing -- an essentially psychotic concept that Hart would probably not go out of his way to endorse.

Vehicle. . . vehicle. . . vehicle -- a very strange looking word, if you stare at it for eight or nine minutes. . . "Skulking" is another interesting-looking word.

And so much for that.

The morning news says Wilbur Mills is running for President again. He has scorned all invitations to accept the Number Two spot with anyone else -- especially George McGovern. A very depressing bulletin. But Mills must know what he's doing. His name is said to be magic in certain areas. If the Party rejects McGovern, I hope they give it to Mills. That would just about make the nut.

Another depressing news item -- out of Miami Beach this time -- says an unnatural number of ravens have been seen in the city recently. Tourists have complained of being kept awake all night by "horrible croaking sounds" outside their hotel windows. "At first there were only a few," one local businessman explained. "But more and more keep coming. They're building big nests in the trees along Collins Avenue. They're killing the trees and their droppings smell like dead flesh."

Many residents say they can no longer leave their windows open at night, because of the croaking. "I've always loved birds," said another resident. "But these goddamn ravens are something else!"

 

 

 

Later in June

 

Mass Burial for Political Bosses in New York. . . McGovern over the Hump. . . The Death by Beating of a Six-Foot Blue-Black Serpent. . . What Next for the Good Ole Boys?. . . Anatomy of a Fixer. . . Treachery Looms in Miami. . .

 

It is now clear that this once small devoted band has become a great surging multitude all across this country -- and it will not be denied.

-- George McGovern, on the night of the New York primary

 

The day after the New York primary I woke up in a suite on the twenty-fourth floor of Delmonico's Hotel on Park Avenue with a hellish wind tearing both rooms apart and rain coming in through all the open windows. . . and I thought: Yes, wonderful, only a lunatic would get out of bed on a day like this; call room service for grapefruit and coffee, along with a New York Times for brain food, and one of those portable brickdome fireplaces full of oil-soaked sawdust logs that they can roll right into the suite and fire up at the foot of the bed.

Indeed. Get some heat in the room, but keep the windows open -- for the sounds of the wind and the rain and the far-off honking of all those taxi horns down on Park Avenue.

Then fill a hot bath and get something like Memphis Underground on the tape machine. Relax, relax. Enjoy this fine rainy day, and send the bill to Random House. The budget boys won't like it, but to hell with them. Random House still owes me a lot of money from that time when the night watchman beat my snake to death on the white marble steps leading up to the main reception desk.

I had left it overnight in the editor's office, sealed up in a cardboard box with a sacrificial mouse. . . but the mouse understood what was happening, and terror gave him strength to gnaw a hole straight through the side of the box and escape into the bowels of the building.

The snake followed, of course-- through the same hole-- and somewhere around dawn, when the night watchman went out to check the main door, he was confronted with a six-foot blue-black serpent slithering rapidly up the stairs, flicking its tongue at him and hissing a warning that he was sure -- according to his own account of the incident -- was the last sound he would ever hear.

The snake was a harmless Blue Indigo that I'd just brought back from a reptile farm in Florida. . . but the watchman had no way of knowing; he had never seen a snake. Most natives of Manhattan Island are terrified of all animals except cockroaches and poodles. . . so when this poor ignorant bastard of a watchman suddenly found himself menaced by a hissing, six-foot serpent coming fast up the stairs at him from the general direction of Cardinal Spellman's quarters just across the courtyard. . . he said the sight of it made him almost crazy with fear, and at first he was totally paralyzed.

Then, as the snake kept on coming, some primal instinct shocked the man out of his trance and gave him the strength to attack the thing with the first weapon he could get his hands on -- which he first described as a "steel broom handle," but which further investigation revealed to have been a metal tube jerked out of a nearby vacuum cleaner.

The battle apparently lasted some twenty minutes: a terrible clanging and screaming in the empty marble entranceway, and finally the watchman prevailed. Both the serpent and the vacuum tube were beaten beyond recognition, and later that morning a copy editor found the watchman slumped on a stool in the basement next to the xerox machine, still gripping the mangled tube and unable to say what was wrong with him except that something horrible had tried to get him, but he finally managed to kill it.

The man has since retired, they say. Cardinal Spellman died and Random House moved to a new building. But the psychic scars remain, a dim memory of corporate guilt that is rarely mentioned except in times of stress or in arguments over money. Every time I start feeling a bit uneasy about running up huge bills on the Random House tab, I think about that snake -- and then I call room service again.

 

State Vote Aids McGovern:

Senator's Slates Win By Large Margin

in the Suburbs

 

That was the Times's big headline on Wednesday morning. The "3 A's candidate" (Acid, Abortion, Amnesty) had definitely improved his position by carrying the suburbs. The bulk of the political coverage on page one had to do with local races -- "Ryan, Badillo, Rangel Win: Coller is in Close Battle". . . "Delegates Named". . . "Bingham Defeats Scheuer; Rooney Apparent Winner."

Down at the bottom of the page was a block of wire-photos from the National Mayors' Conference in New Orleans -- also on Tuesday -- and the choice shot from down there showed a smiling Hubert Humphrey sitting next to Mayor Daley of Chicago with the Mayor of Miami Beach leaning into the scene with one of his arms around Daley and the other around Hubert.

The caption said, "Ex-Mayor Is Hit With Mayors". The details, Page 28, said Humphrey had definitely emerged as the star of the Mayors' conference. The two losers were shown in smaller photos underneath the Daley/Humphrey thing. Muskie "received polite applause," the caption said, and the camera had apparently caught him somewhere near the beginning of a delayed Ibogaine rush: his eyes are clouding over, his jaw has gone slack, his hair appears to be combed back in a DA.

The caption under the McGovern photo says, "He, too, received moderate response." But McGovern at least looked human, while the other four looked like they had just been trucked over on short notice from some third-rate wax museum in the French Quarter. The only genuinely ugly face of the five is that of Mayor Daley: He looks like a potato with mange -- it is the face of a man who would see nothing wrong with telling his son to go out and round up a gang of thugs with bullhorns and kick the shit out of anybody stupid enough to challenge the Mayor of Chicago's right to name the next Democratic candidate for President of the United States.

I stared at the front page for a long time: there was something wrong with it, but I couldn't quite fix on the problem until. . . yes. . . I realized that the whole front page of the June 21st New York Times could just as easily have been dated March 8th, the day after the New Hampshire primary.

"Pacification" was failing again in Vietnam; Defense Secretary Melvin Laird was demanding more bombers; ITT was beating another illegal stock-sales rap. . . but the most striking similarity was in the overall impression of what was happening in the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Apparently nothing had changed. Muskie looked just as sick and confused as he had on that cold Wednesday morning in Manchester four months ago. McGovern looked like the same tough but hopeless underdog -- and there was nothing in the face of either Daley or Humphrey to indicate that either one of those corrupt and vicious old screws had any doubt at all about what was going to happen in Miami in July. They appeared to be very pleased with whatever the Mayor of Miami Beach was saying to them. . .

An extremely depressing front page, at first glance -- almost rancid with a sense of dej v. There was even a Kennedy story: Will he or Won't he?

This was the most interesting story on the page, if only because of the timing. Teddy had been out of the campaign news for a few months, but now -- according to the Times's R.W. Apple Jr. -- he was about to make his move:

 

"City Councilman Matthew J. Troy Jr. will announce today that he is supporting Senator Edward M. Kennedy for the Democratic vice-presidential nomination, informed sources said last night Mr. Troy, a long-time political ally of the Kennedy family, was one of the earliest supporters of Senator George McGovern for the Presidency. As such, he would be unlikely to propose a running mate for the South Dakotan unless both men had indicated their approval."

 

Unlikely.

Right. The logic was hard to deny. A McGovern/Kennedy ticket was probably the only sure winner available to the Democrats this year, but beyond that it might solve all of Kennedy's problems with one stroke. It would give him at east four and probably eight years in the spotlight; an unnaturally powerful and popular vice-president with all the advantages of the office and very few of the risks. If McGovern ran wild and called for the abolition of Free Enterprise, for instance, Kennedy could back off and shake his head sadly. . . but if McGovern did everything right and won a second term as the most revered and successful President in the nation's history, Teddy would be right there beside him -- the other half of the team; so clearly the heir apparent that he would hardly have to bother about campaigning in public in 1980.

 

Don't worry, boys, we'll weather this storm of approval and come out as hated as ever.

-- Saul Alinsky to his staff shortly before his death, June 1972

 

The primaries are finally over now: twenty-three of the goddamn things -- and the deal is about to go down. New York was the last big spectacle before Miami Beach, and this time McGovern's people really kicked out the jams. They stomped every hack, ward-heeler, and "old-line party boss" from Buffalo to Brooklyn. The Democratic Party in New York State was left in a frightened shambles.

Not even the state party leader, Joe Crangle, survived the McGovern blitz. He tried to pass for "uncommitted" -- hoping to go down to Miami with at least a small remnant of the big-time bargaining power he'd planned on when he originally backed Muskie -- but McGovern's merciless young street-fighters chopped Crangle down with the others. He will watch the convention on TV, along with Brooklyn Party boss Meade Esposito and once-powerful Bronx leader Patrick Cunningham.

Former New York Governor Averell Harriman also wound up on the list of ex-heavies who will not attend the convention. He too was an early Muskie supporter. The last time I saw Averell he was addressing a small crowd in the West Palm Beach railroad station -- framed in a halo of spotlights on the caboose platform of Big Ed's "Sunshine Special". . . and the Man from Maine was standing tall beside him, smiling broadly, looking every inch the winner that all those half-bright party bosses had assured him he was definitely going to be.

It was just about dusk when Harriman began speaking, as I recall, and Muskie might have looked a little less pleased if he'd had any way of knowing that -- ten blocks away, while Ave was still talking -- a human threshing machine named Peter Sheridan was eagerly hitting the bricks after two weeks in the Palm Beach jail on a vagrancy rap.

Unknown to either Big Ed or Peter, their paths were soon destined to cross. Twelve hours later, Sheridan -- the infamous wandering Boohoo for the Neo-American church -- would board the "Sunshine Special" for the last leg of the trip into Miami.

That encounter is already legend. I am not especially proud of my role in it -- mainly because the nightmare developed entirely by accident -- but if I could go back and try it all over again I wouldn't change a note.

At the time I felt a bit guilty about it: having been, however innocently, responsible for putting the Demo front-runner on a collision course with a gin-crazed acid freak -- but that was before I realized what kind of a beast I was dealing with.

It was not until his campaign collapsed and his ex-staffers felt free to talk that I learned that working for Big Ed was something like being locked in a rolling boxcar with a vicious 200-pound water rat. Some of his top staff people considered him dangerously unstable. He had several identities, they said, and there was no way to be sure on any given day if they would have to deal with Abe Lincoln, Hamlet, Captain Queeg, or Bobo the Simpleminded. . .

Many strange Muskie stories, but this is not the time for them. Perhaps after the convention, when the pressure lets off a bit -- although not even that is certain, now: Things are getting weird.

The only "Muskie story" that interests me right now is the one about how he managed to con those poor bastards into making him the de facto party leader and also the bosses' choice to carry the party colors against Nixon in November. I want to know that story, and if anybody who reads this can fill me in on the details, by all means call at once c/o Rolling Stone, San Francisco.

The Muskie nightmare is beginning to look more and more like a major political watershed for the Democratic Party. When Big Ed went down he took about half of the national power structure with him. In one state after another -- each time he lost a primary -- Muskie crippled and humiliated the local Democratic power-mongers: Governors, Mayors, Senators, Congressmen. . . Big Ed was supposed to be their ticket to Miami, where they planned to do business as usual once again, and keep the party at least livable, if not entirely healthy. All Muskie had to do, they said, was keep his mouth shut and act like Abe Lincoln.

The bosses would do the rest. As for that hare-brained bastard McGovern, he could take those reformist ideas he'd been working on, and jam them straight up his ass. A convention packed wall to wall with Muskie delegates -- the rancid cream of the party, as it were -- would make short work of McGovern's Boy Scout bullshit.

That was four months ago, before Muskie began crashing around the country in a stupid rage and destroying everything he touched. First it was booze, then Reds, and finally over the brink into Ibogaine. . . and it was right about that time that most of the Good Ole Boys decided to take another long look at Hubert Humphrey. He wasn't much; they all agreed on that -- but by May he was all they had left.

Not much, for sure. Any political party that can't cough up anything better than a treacherous brain-damaged old vulture like Hubert Humphrey deserves every beating it gets. They don't hardly make 'em like Hubert any more -- but just to be on the safe side, he should be castrated anyway.

Castrated? Jesus! Is nothing sacred? Four years ago Hubert Humphrey ran for President of the United States on the Democratic ticket -- and he almost won.

It was a very narrow escape. I voted for Dick Gregory in '68, and if somehow Humphrey manages to slither onto the ticket again this year I will vote for Richard Nixon.

But Humphrey will not be on the ticket this year -- at least not on the Democratic ticket. He may end up running with Nixon, but the odds are against him there, too. Not even Nixon could stoop to Hubert's level.

So what will Humphrey do with himself this year? Is there no room at the top for a totally dishonest person? A United States Senator? A loyal Party Man?

Well. . . as much as I hate to get away from objective journalism, even briefly, there is no other way to explain what that treacherous bastard appears to be cranking himself up for this time around, except by slipping momentarily into the realm of speculation.

But first, a few realities: (1) George McGovern is so close to a first-ballot nomination in Miami that everybody except Hubert Humphrey, Gene McCarthy, Shirley Chisholm, and Ed Muskie seems ready to accept it as a foregone conclusion. . . (2) The national Democratic Party is no longer controlled by the Old Guard, Boss-style hacks like George Meany and Mayor Daley -- or even by the Old Guard liberal-manque types like Larry O'Brien, who thought they had things firmly under control as recently as six months ago. . . (3) McGovern has made it painfully clear that he wants more than just the nomination; he has every intention of tearing the Democratic Party completely apart and rebuilding it according to his own blueprint. . . (4) If McGovern beats Nixon in November he will be in a position to do anything he wants either to or with the party structure. . . (5) But if McGovern loses in November, control of the Democratic Party will instantly revert to the Ole Boys, and McGovern himself will be labeled "another Goldwater" and stripped of any power in the party.

The pattern is already there, from 1964, when the Nixon/Mitchell brain-trust -- already laying plans for 1968 -- sat back and let the GOP machinery fall into the hands of the Birchers and the right-wing crazies for a few months. . . and when Goldwater got stomped, the Nixon/Mitchell crowd moved in and took over the party with no argument from anybody. . . and four years later Nixon moved into the White House.

There have already been a few rumblings and muted threats along these lines from the Daley-Meany faction. Daley has privately threatened to dump Illinois to Nixon in November if McGovern persists in challenging Daley's eighty-five-man slave delegation to the convention in Miami. . . and Meany is prone to muttering out loud from time to time that maybe Organized Labor would be better off in the long run by enduring another four years under Nixon, rather than running the risk of whatever radical madness he fears McGovern might bring down on him.

The only other person who has said anything about taking a dive for Nixon in November is Hubert Humphrey, who has already threatened in public -- at the party's Credentials Committee hearings in Washington last week -- to let his friend Joe Alioto, the Mayor of San Francisco, throw the whole state of California to Nixon unless the party gives Hubert 151 California delegates -- on the basis of his losing show of strength in that state's winner-take-all primary.

Hubert understood all along that California was all or nothing. He continually referred to it as "The Big One," and "The Super Bowl of the Primaries". . . but he changed his mind when he lost. One of the finest flashes of TV journalism in many months appeared on the CBS evening news the same day Humphrey formally filed his claim to almost half the California delegation. It was a Walter Cronkite interview with Hubert in California, a week or so prior to election day. Cronkite asked him if he had any objections to the winner-take-all aspect of the California primary, and Humphrey replied that he thought it was absolutely wonderful.

"So even if you lose out here -- if you lose all 271 delegates -- you wouldn't challenge the winner-take-all rule?" Cronkite asked.

"Oh, my goodness, no," Hubert said. "That would make me sort of a spoilsport, wouldn't it?"

On the face of it, McGovern seems to have everything under control now. Less than twenty-four hours after the New York results were final, chief delegate-meister Rick Stearns announced that George was over the hump. The New York blitz was the clincher, pushing him over the 1350 mark and mashing all but the flimsiest chance that anybody would continue to talk seriously about a "Stop McGovern" movement in Miami. The Humphrey/Muskie axis had been desperately trying to put something together with aging diehards like Wilbur Mills, George Meany, and Mayor Daley -- hoping to stop McGovern just short of 1400 -- but on the weekend after the New York sweep George picked up another fifty or so from the last of the non-primary state caucuses and by Sunday, June 25th, he was only a hundred votes away from the 1509 that would zip it all up on the first ballot.

At that time the number of officially "uncomittted" delegates was still hovering around 450, but there had already been some small-scale defections to McGovern, and the others were getting nervous. The whole purpose of getting yourself elected as an Uncommitted delegate is to be able to arrive at the Convention with bargaining power. Ideology has nothing to do with it.

If you're a lawyer from St. Louis, for instance, and you manage to get yourself elected as an Uncommitted delegate for Missouri, you will hustle down to Miami and start scouting around for somebody to make a deal with. . . which won't take long, because every candidate still in the running for anything at all will have dozens of his own personal fixers roaming around the hotel bars and buttonholing Uncommitted delegates to find out what they want.

If your price is a lifetime appointment as a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court, your only hope is to deal with a candidate who is so close to that magic 1509 figure that he can no longer function in public because of uncontrollable drooling. If he is stuck around 1400 you will probably not have much luck getting that bench appointment. . . but if he's already up to 1499 he won't hesitate to offer you the first opening on the U.S. Supreme Court. . . and if you catch him peaked at 1505 or so, you can squeeze him for almost anything you want.

The game will get heavy sometimes. You don't want to go around putting the squeeze on people unless you're absolutely clean. No skeletons in the closet: no secret vices. . . because if your vote is important and your price is high, the Fixer-Man will have already checked you out by the time he offers to buy you a drink. If you bribed a traffic-court clerk two years ago to bury a drunk driving charge, the Fixer might suddenly confront you with a photostat of the citation you thought had been burned.

When that happens, you're fucked. Your price just went down to zero, and you are no longer an Uncommitted delegate.

There are several other versions of the Reverse-Squeeze: the fake hit-and-run; glassine bags found in your hotel room by a maid; grabbed off the street by phony cops for statutory rape of a teenage girl you never saw before. . .

Every once in a while you might hit on something with real style, like this one: On Monday afternoon, the first day of the convention, you -- the ambitious young lawyer from St. Louis with no skeletons in the closet and no secret vices worth worrying about -- are spending the afternoon by the pool at the Playboy Plaza, soaking up sun and gin/tonics when you hear somebody calling your name. You look up and see a smiling, rotund chap about thirty-five years old coming at you, ready to shake hands.

"Hi there, Virgil," he says. "My name's J. D. Squane. I work for Senator Bilbo and we'd sure like to count on your vote. How about it?"

You smile, but say nothing -- waiting for Squane to continue. He will want to know your price.

But Squane is staring out to sea, squinting at something on the horizon. . . then he suddenly turns back to you and starts talking very fast about how he always wanted to be a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi, but politics got in the way. . . "And now, goddamnit, we must get these last few votes. . ."

You smile again, itching to get serious. But Squane suddenly yells at somebody across the pool, then turns back to you and says: "Jesus, Virgil, I'm really sorry about that, but I have to run. That guy over there is delivering my new Jensen Interceptor." He grins and extends his hand again. Then: "Say, maybe we can talk later on, eh? What room are you in?"

"1909."

He nods. "How about seven, for dinner? Are you free?"

"Sure."

"Wonderful," he replies. "We can take my new Jensen for a run up to Palm Beach. . . It's one of my favorite towns."

"Mine too," you say. "I've heard a lot about it."

He nods. "I spent some time there last February. . . but we had a bad act, dropped about twenty-five grand."

Jesus! Jensen Interceptor; twenty-five grand. . . Squane is definitely big-time.

"See you at seven," he says, moving away. ""

The knock comes at 7:02 -- but instead of Squane it's a beautiful silver-haired young girl who says J. D. sent her to pick you up. "He's having a business dinner with the Senator and he'll join us later at the Crab House."

"Wonderful, wonderful -- shall we have a drink?"

She nods. "Sure, but not here. We'll drive over to North Miami and pick up my girlfriend. . . but let's smoke this before we go."

"Jesus! That looks like a cigar!"

"It is!" she laughs. "And it'll make us both crazy."

 

Many hours later, 4:30 a.m. Soaking wet, falling into the lobby, begging for help: No wallet, no money, no ID. Blood on both hands and one shoe missing, dragged up to the room by two bellboys. . .

Breakfast at noon the next day, half sick in the coffee shop -- waiting for a Western Union money order from the wife in St. Louis. Very spotty memories from last night.

"Hi there, Virgil."

J. D. Squane, still grinning. "Where were you last night, Virgil?" I came by right on the dot, but you weren't in."

"I got mugged -- by your girlfriend."

"Oh? Too bad. I wanted to nail down that ugly little vote of yours."

"Ugly? Wait a minute. . . That girl you sent; we went someplace to meet you."

"Bullshit! You double-crossed me, Virgil! If we weren't on the same team I might be tempted to lean on you."

Rising anger now, painful throbbing in the head. "Fuck you, Squane! I'm on nobody's team! If you want my vote you know damn well how to get it -- and that goddamn dope-addict girlfriend of yours didn't help any."

Squane smiles heavily. "Tell me, Virgil -- what was it you wanted for the vote of yours? A seat on the federal bench?"

"You're goddamn fuckin'-A right! You got me in bad trouble last night, J. D. When I got back there my wallet was gone and there was blood on my hands.

"I know. You beat the shit out of her."

"What?"

"Look at these photographs, Virgil. It's some of the most disgusting stuff I've ever seen."

"Photographs?"

Squane hands them across the table.

"Oh my god!"

"Yeah, that's what I said, Virgil."

"No! This can't be me! I never saw that girl! Christ, she's only a child!"

"That's why the pictures are so disgusting, Virgil. You're lucky we didn't take them straight to the cops and have you locked up." Pounding the table with his fist. "That's rape, Virgil! That's sodomy! With a child!"

"No!"

"Yes, Virgil -- and now you're going to pay for it."

"How? What are you talking about?"

Squane smiling again. "Votes, my friend. Yours and five others. Six votes for six negatives. Are you ready?"

Tears of rage in the eyes now. "You evil sonofabitch! You're blackmailing me!"

"Ridiculous, Virgil. Ridiculous. I'm talking about coalition politics."

"I don't even know six delegates. Not personally, anyway. And besides, they all want something."

Squane shakes his head. "Don't tell me about it, Virgil. I'd rather not hear. Just bring me six names off this list by noon tomorrow. If they all vote right, you'll never hear another word about what happened last night."

"What if I can't?"

Squane smiles, then shakes his head sadly. "Your life will take a turn for the worse, Virgil."

Ah, bad craziness. . . a scene like that could run on forever. Sick dialogue comes easy after five months on the campaign trail. A sense of humor is not considered mandatory for those who want to get heavy into presidential politics. Junkies don't laugh much; their gig is too serious -- and the politics junkie is not much different on that score than a smack junkie.

The High is very real in both worlds, for those who are into it -- but anybody who has ever tried to live with a smack junkie will tell you it can't be done without coming to grips with the spike and shooting up, yourself.

Politics is no different. There is a fantastic adrenaline high that comes with total involvement in almost any kind of fast-moving political campaign -- especially when you're running against big odds and starting to feel like a winner.

As far as I know, I am the only journalist covering the '72 presidential campaign who has done any time on the other side of that gap -- both as a candidate and a backroom pol, on the local level -- and despite all the obvious differences between running on the Freak Power ticket for Sheriff of Aspen and running as a well-behaved Democrat for President of the United States, the roots are surprisingly similar. . . and whatever real differences exist are hardly worth talking about, compared to the massive, unbridgeable gap between the cranked-up reality of living day after day in the vortex of a rolling campaign -- and the friendish ratbastard tedium of covering that same campaign as a journalist, from the outside looking in.

For the same reason that nobody who has never come to grips with the spike can ever understand how far away it really is across that gap to the place where the smack junkie lives. . . there is no way for even the best and most talented journalist to know what is really going on inside a political campaign unless he has been there himself.

Very few of the press people assigned to the McGovern campaign, for instance, have anything more than a surface understanding of what is really going on in the vortex. . . or if they do, they don't mention it, in print or on the air: And after spending half a year following this goddamn zoo around the country and watching the machinery at work I'd be willing to bet pretty heavily that not even the most privileged ranking insiders among the campaign press corps are telling much less than they know.

 

Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail,

San Francisco, Straight Arrow Books, 1973

 

 

 

September

 

Fat City Blues. . . Fear and Loathing on the White House Press Plane. . . Bad Angst at McGovern Headquarters. . . Nixon Tightens the Screws. . . "Many Appeared to Be in the Terminal Stages of Campaign Bloat". . .

 

Hear me, people: We have now to deal with another race -- small and feeble when our fathers first met them, but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possession is a disease with them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule.

-- Chief Sitting Bull, speaking at the Powder River Conference in 1877

 

If George McGovern had a speech writer half as eloquent as Sitting Bull, he would be home free today -- instead of twenty-two points behind and racing around the country with both feet in his mouth. The Powder River Conference ended ninety-five years ago, but the old Chief's baleful analysis of the White Man's rape of the American continent was just as accurate then as it would be today if he came back from the dead and said it for the microphones on prime-time TV. The ugly fallout from the American Dream has been coming down on us at a pretty consistent rate since Sitting Bull's time -- and the only real difference now, with Election Day '72 only a few weeks away, is that we seem to be on the verge of ratifying the fallout and forgetting the Dream itself.

Sitting Bull made no distinction between Democrats and Republicans -- which was probably just as well, in 1877 or any other year -- but it's also true that Sitting Bull never knew the degradation of traveling on Richard Nixon's press plane; he never had the bilious pleasure of dealing with Ron Ziegler, and he never met John Mitchell, Nixon's king fixer.

If the old Sioux Chief had ever done these things, I think -- despite his angry contempt for the White Man and everything he stands for -- he'd be working overtime for George McGovern today.

 

These past two weeks have been relatively calm ones for me. Immediately after the Republican Convention in Miami, I dragged myself back to the Rockies and tried to forget about politics for a while -- just lie naked on the porch in the cool afternoon sun and watch the aspen trees turning gold on the hills around my house; mix up a huge cannister of gin and grapefruit juice, watch the horses nuzzling each other in the pasture across the road, big logs in the fireplace at night; Herbie Mann, John Prine, and Jesse Colin Young booming out of the speakers. . . zip off every once in a while for a fast run into town along a back road above the river: to the health-center gym for some volleyball, then over to Benton's gallery to get caught up on whatever treacheries the local greedheads rammed through while I was gone, watch the late TV news and curse McGovern for poking another hole in his own boat, then stop by the Jerome on the way out of town for a midnight beer with Solheim.

After two weeks on that peaceful human schedule, the last thing I wanted to think about was the grim, inescapable spectre of two more frenzied months on the campaign trail. Especially when it meant coming back here to Washington, to start laying the groundwork for a long and painful autopsy job on the McGovern campaign. What went wrong? Why had it failed? Who was to blame? And, finally, what next?

That was on project. The other was to somehow pass through the fine eye of the White House security camel and go out on the campaign trail with Richard Nixon, to watch him waltz in -- if only to get the drift of his thinking, to watch the moves, his eyes. It is a nervous thing to consider: Not just four more years of Nixon, but Nixon's last four years in politics -- completely unshackled, for the first time in his life, from any need to worry about who might or might not vote for him the next time around.

If he wins in November, he will finally be free to do whatever he wants. . . or maybe "wants" is too strong a word for right now. It conjures up images of Papa Doc, Batista, Somoza; jails full of bewildered "political prisoners" and the constant cold-sweat fear of jackboots suddenly kicking your door off its hinges at four A.M.

There is no point in kidding ourselves about what Richard Nixon really wants for America. When he stands at his White House window and looks out on an anti-war demonstration, he doesn't see "dissenters," he sees criminals. Dangerous parasites, preparing to strike at the heart of the Great American System that put him where he is today.

 

There may not be much difference between Democrats and Republicans; I have made that argument myself -- with considerable venom, as I recall -- over the past ten months. . . But only a blind geek or a waterhead could miss the difference between McGovern and Richard Nixon. Granted, they are both white men, and both are politicians -- but the similarity ends right there, and from that point on the difference is so vast that anybody who can't see it deserves whatever happens to them if Nixon gets re-elected due to apathy, stupidity, and laziness on the part of potential McGovern voters.

The tragedy of this campaign is that McGovern and his staff wizards have not been able to dramatize what is really at stake on November 7th. We are not looking at just another dim rerun of the '68 Nixon/Humphrey trip, or the LBJ/Goldwater fiasco in '64. Those were both useless drills. I voted for Dick Gregory in '68, and for "No" in '64. . . but this one is different, and since McGovern is so goddamn maddeningly inept with the kind of words he needs to make people understand what he's up to, it will save a lot of time here -- and strain on my own weary head -- to remember Bobby Kennedy's ultimate characterization of Richard Nixon, in a speech at Vanderbilt University in the spring of 1968, not long before he was murdered.

"Richard Nixon," he said, "represents the dark side of the American spirit."

I don't remember what else he said that day. I guess I could look it up in the New York Times speech morgue, but why bother? That one line says it all.

The mood at McGovern's grim headquarters building at 1910 K Street, NW, in Washington is oddly schizoid these days: a jangled mix of defiance and despair -- tempered, now and then, by quick flashes of a lingering conviction that George can still win.

McGovern's young staffers, after all, have never lost an election they expected to win, at the outset -- and they definitely expected to win this one. They are accustomed to being far behind in the public opinion polls. McGovern has almost always been the underdog, and -- except for California -- he has usually been able to close the gap with a last-minute stretch run.

Even in the primaries he lost -- New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania -- he did well enough to embarrass the pollsters, humiliate the pols, and crank up his staff morale another few notches.

 

But that boundless blind faith is beginning to fade now. The Curse of Eagleton is beginning to make itself felt in the ranks. And not even Frank Mankiewicz, the Wizard of Chevy Chase, can properly explain why McGovern is now being sneered at from coast to coast as "just another politician." Mankiewicz is still the main drivewheel in this hamstrung campaign; he has been the central intelligence from the very beginning -- which was fine all around, while it worked, but there is not a hell of a lot of evidence to suggest that it's working real well these days, and it is hard to avoid the idea that Frank is just as responsible for whatever is happening now as he was six months ago, when McGovern came wheeling out of New Hampshire like the Abominable Snowman on a speed trip.

If George gets stomped in November, it will not be because of anything Richard Nixon did to him. The blame will trace straight back to his brain-trust, to whoever had his ear tight enough to convince him that all that bullshit about "new politics" was fine for the primaries, but it would never work again against Nixon -- so he would have to abandon his original power base, after Miami, and swiftly move to consolidate the one he'd just shattered: the Meany/Daley/Humphrey/Muskie axis, the senile remnants of the Democratic Party's once-powerful "Roosevelt coalition."

McGovern agreed. He went to Texas and praised LBJ; he revised his economic program to make it more palatable on Wall Street; he went to Chicago and endorsed the whole Daley/Democratic ticket, including State's Attorney Ed Hanrahan, who is still under indictment on felony/conspiracy (Obstruction of Justice) charges for his role in a police raid on local Black Panther headquarters three years ago that resulted in the murder of Fred Hampton.

In the speedy weeks between March and July, the atmosphere in McGovern's cramped headquarters building on Capitol Hill was so high that you could get bent by just hanging around and watching the human machinery at work.

The headquarters building itself was not much bigger than McGovern's personal command post in the Senate Office Building, five blocks away. It was one big room about the size of an Olympic swimming pool -- with a grocery store on one side, a liquor store on the other, and a tree-shaded sidewalk out front. The last time I was there, about two weeks before the California primary, I drove my blue Volvo up on the sidewalk and parked right in front of the door. Crouse went inside to find Mankiewicz while I picked up some Ballantine ale.

"Is this a charge?" the booze-clerk asked.

"Right," I said. "Charge it to George McGovern."

He nodded, and began to write it down.

"Hey, wait a minute!" I said. "I was just kidding. Here -- here's the cash."

He shrugged and accepted the three bills. . . and when I got to Frank's office and told him what had happened, he didn't seem surprised. "Yeah, our credit's pretty good," he said, "in a lot of places where we never even asked for it."

 

That was back in May, when the tide was still rising. But things are different now, and the credit is not so easy. The new K Street headquarters is an eight-story tomb once occupied by the "Muskie for President" juggernaut. Big Ed abandoned it when he dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination, and it stood empty for a month or so after that -- but when McGovern croaked Humphrey in California and became the nominee-apparent, his wizards decided to get a new and larger headquarters.

The Muskie building was an obvious choice -- if only because it was available very cheap, and already wired for the fantastic maze of phone lines necessary for a presidential campaign headquarters. The Man from Maine and his army of big-time backers had already taken care of that aspect; they had plenty of phone lines, along with all those endorsements.

Not everybody on the McGovern staff was happy with the idea of moving out of the original headquarters. The decision was made in California, several days before the primary, and I remember arguing with Gary Hart about it. He insisted the move was necessary, for space reasons. . . and even in retrospect my argument for keeping the original headquarters seems irrational. It was a matter of karma, I said, psychic continuity. And besides, I had spent some time in the Muskie building on the night of the New Hampshire primary, when the atmosphere of the place was strongly reminiscent of Death Row at Sing Sing. So my memories of that building were not pleasant -- but my reasons, as usual, had a noticeably mystic flavor to them. And Gary, as usual, was thinking in terms of hard lawyer's logic and political pragmatism.

 

So the McGovern headquarters was moved, after Miami, from the original base between the liquor store and the grocery store on Capitol Hill to the Muskie tomb on K Street, in the fashionable downtown area. It was a central location, they said with a big parking lot next door. It also had two elevators and sixteen bathrooms.

The original headquarters had only one bathroom, with a cardboard arrow on the door that could be moved, like a one-armed clock, to three different positions: men, women or empty.

There was also a refrigerator. It was small, but somehow there were always a few cans of beer in it, even for visiting journalists. Nobody was in charge of stocking it, but nobody drank the last beer without replacing it, either. . . (or maybe it was all a shuck from the start; maybe they had a huge stash outside the back door, but they only kept two or three cans in the refrigerator, so that anybody who drank one would feel so guilty that he/she would bring six to replace it, the next time they came around. . . but I doubt it; not even that devious Arab bastard Rick Stearns would plot things that carefully).

 

But what the hell? All that is history now, and after roaming around the new McGovern headquarters building for a week or so, the only refrigerator I found was up in finance director Henry Kimmelman's office on the sixth floor. I went up here with Pat Caddell one afternoon last week to watch the Cronkite/Chancellor TV news (every afternoon at 6:30, all activity in the building is suspended for an hour while the staff people gather around TV sets to watch "the daily bummer," as some of them call it) and Kimmelman has the only accessible color set in the building, so his office is usually crowded for the news hour.

But his set is fucked, unfortunately. One of the color tubes is blown, so everything that appears on the screen has a wet purple tint to it. When McGovern comes on, rapping out lines from a speech that somebody watching one of the headquarters' TV sets just wrote for him a few hours earlier, his face appears on the set in Kimmelman's office as if he were speaking up from the bottom of a swimming pool full of cheap purple dye.

It is not a reassuring thing to see, and most of the staffers prefer to watch the news on the black & white sets downstairs in the political section. . .

 

What? We seem to be off the track here. I was talking about my first encounter with the refrigerator in Henry Kimmelman's office -- when I was looking for beer, and found none. The only thing in the icebox was a canned martini that tasted like brake fluid.

One canned martini. No beer. A purple TV screen. Both elevators jammed in the basement; fifteen empty bathrooms. Seventy-five cents an hour to park in the lot next door. Chaos and madness in the telephone switchboard. Fear in the back rooms, confusion up front, and a spooky vacuum on top -- the eighth floor -- where Larry O'Brian is supposed to be holding the gig together. . . what is he doing up there? Nobody knows. They never see him.

"Larry travels a lot," one of the speech writers told me. "He's Number One, you know -- and when you're Number One you don't have to try so hard, right?"

 

The McGovern campaign appears to be fucked at this time. A spectacular Come From Behind win is still possible -- on paper and given the right circumstances -- but the underlying realities of the campaign itself would seem to preclude this. A cohesive, determined campaign with the same kind of multi-level morale that characterized the McGovern effort in the months preceding the Wisconsin primary might be a good bet to close a twenty-point gap on Nixon in the last month of this grim presidential campaign.

As usual, Nixon has peaked too early -- and now he is locked into what is essentially a Holding Action. Which would be disastrous in a close race, but -- even by Pat Caddell's partisan estimate -- Nixon could blow twenty points off his lead in the next six weeks and still win. (Caddell's figures seem in general agreement with those of the most recent Gallup Poll, ten days ago, which showed that Nixon could blow thirty points off his lead and still win.)

My own rude estimate is that McGovern will steadily close the gap between now and November 7th, but not enough. If I had to make book right now, I would try to get McGovern with seven or eight points, but I'd probably go with five or six, if necessary. In other words, my guess at the moment is that McGovern will lose by a popular vote margin of 5.5 percent -- and probably far worse in the electoral college.*

 

* I was somewhat off on this prediction. The final margin was almost 23%. At this point in the campaign I was no longer functioning with my usual ruthless objectivity. Back in May and June, when my head was still clear, I won vast amounts of money with a consistency that baffled the experts. David Broder still owes me $500 as a result of his ill-advised bet on Hubert Humphrey in the California primary. But he still refuses to pay on the grounds that I lost the 500 back to him as a result of a forfeited foot-race between Jim Naughton and Jack Germond in Miami Beach.

 

The tragedy of this is that McGovern appeared to have a sure lock on the White House when the sun came up on Miami Beach on the morning of Thursday, July 13th. Since then he has crippled himself with a series of almost unbelievable blunders -- Eagleton, Salinger, O'Brien, etc. -- that have understandably convinced huge chunks of the electorate, including at least half of his own hard-core supporters, that The Candidate is a gibbering dingbat. His behavior since Miami has made a piecemeal mockery of everything he seemed to stand for during the primaries.

Possibly I'm wrong on all this. It is still conceivable -- to me at least -- that McGovern might actually win. In which case I won't have to worry about my P.O. Box at the Woody Creek general store getting jammed up with dinner invitations from the White House. But what the hell? Mr. Nixon never invited me, and neither did Kennedy or LBJ.

I survived those years of shame, and I'm not especially worried about enduring four more. I have a feeling that my time is getting short, anyway, and I can think of a hell of a lot of things I'd rather find in my mailbox than an invitation to dinner in the Servants' Quarters.

Let those treacherous bastards eat by themselves. They deserve each other.

Ah, Jesus! The situation is out of hand again. The sun is up, the deal is down, and that evil bastard Mankiewicz just jerked the kingpin out of my finely crafted saga for this issue. My brain has gone numb from this madness. After squatting for thirteen days in this scum-crusted room on the top floor of the Washington Hilton -- writing feverishly, night after night, on the home-stretch realities of this goddamn wretched campaign -- I am beginning to wonder what in the name of Twisted Jesus ever possessed me to come here in the first place. What kind of madness lured me back to this stinking swamp of a town?

Am I turning into a politics junkie? It is not a happy thought -- particularly when I see what it's done to all the others. After two weeks in Woody Creek, getting back on the press plane was like going back to the cancer ward. Some of the best people in the press corps looked so physically ravaged that it was painful to even see them, much less stand around and make small talk.

Many appeared to be in the terminal stages of Campaign Bloat, a gruesome kind of false-fat condition that is said to be connected somehow with failing adrenal glands. The swelling begins within twenty-four hours of that moment when the victim first begins to suspect that the campaign is essentially meaningless. At that point, the body's entire adrenaline supply is sucked back into the gizzard, and nothing either candidate says, does, or generates will cause it to rise again. . . and without adrenaline, the flesh begins to swell; the eyes fill with blood and grow smaller in the face, the jowls puff out from the cheekbones, the neck-flesh droops, and the belly swells up like a frog's throat. . . The brain fills with noxious waste fluids, the tongue is rubbed raw on the molars, and the basic perception antennae begin dying like hairs in a bonfire.

I would like to think -- or at least claim to think, out of charity if nothing else -- that Campaign Bloat is at the root of this hellish angst that boils up to obscure my vision every time I try to write anything serious about presidential politics.

But I don't think that's it. The real reason, I suspect, is the problem of coming to grips with the idea that Richard Nixon will almost certainly be re-elected for another four years as President of the United States. If the current polls are reliable -- and even if they aren't, the sheer size of the margin makes the numbers themselves unimportant -- Nixon will be re-elected by a huge majority of Americans who feel he is not only more honest and more trustworthy than George McGovern, but also more likely to end the war in Vietnam.

The polls also indicate that Nixon will get a comfortable majority of the Youth Vote. And that he might carry all fifty states.

Well. . . maybe so. This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it -- that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.

The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes and all his imprecise talk about "new politics" and "honesty in government," is one of the few men who've run for President of the United States in this century who really understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon.

McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose, as a matter of policy and a perfect expression of everything he stands for.

Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?

 

Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail,

San Francisco, Straight Arrow Books, 1973

 

 

 

October

 

Ask Not for Whom the Bell Tolls. . .

 

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I would rather not write anything about the 1972 presidential campaign at this time. On Tuesday, November 7th, I will get out of bed long enough to go down to the polling place and vote for George McGovern. Afterwards, I will drive back to the house, lock the front door, get back in bed, and watch television as long as necessary. It will probably be a while before The Angst lifts -- but whenever it happens I will get out of bed again and start writing the mean, cold-blooded bummer that I was not quite ready for today. Until then, I think Tom Benton's "re-elect the President" poster says everything that needs to be said right now about this malignant election. In any other year I might be tempted to embellish the Death's Head with a few angry flashes of my own. But not in 1972. At least not in the sullen numbness of these final hours before the deal goes down -- because words are no longer important at this stage of the campaign; all the best ones were said a long time ago, and all the right ideas were bouncing around in public long before Labor Day.

That is the one grim truth of this election most likely to come back and haunt us: The options were clearly defined, and all the major candidates except Nixon were publicly grilled, by experts who demanded to know exactly where they stood on every issue from Gun Control and Abortion to the Ad Valorem Tax. By mid-September both candidates had staked out their own separate turf and if not everybody could tell you what each candidate stood for specifically, almost everyone likely to vote in November understood that Richard Nixon and George McGovern were two very different men: not only in the context of politics, but also in their personalities, temperaments, guiding principles, and even their basic lifestyles. . .

There is almost a Yin/Yang clarity in the difference between the two men, a contrast so stark that it would be hard to find any two better models in the national politics arena for the legendary duality -- the congenital Split Personality and polarized instincts -- that almost everybody except Americans has long since taken for granted as the key to our National Character. This was not what Richard Nixon had in mind when he said, last August, that the 1972 presidential election would offer voters "the clearest choice of this century," but on a level he will never understand he was probably right. . . and it is Nixon himself who represents that dark, venal, and incurably violent side of the American character almost every other country in the world has learned to fear and despise. Our Barbie doll President, with his Barbie doll wife and his boxful of Barbie doll children is also America's answer to the monstrous Mr. Hyde. He speaks for the Werewolf in us; the bully, the predatory shyster who turns into something unspeakable, full of claws and bleeding string-warts, on nights when the moon comes too close. . .

At the stroke of midnight in Washington, a drooling red-eyed beast with the legs of a man and a head of a giant hyena crawls out of its bedroom window in the South Wing of the White House and leaps fifty feet down to the lawn. . . pauses briefly to strangle the Chow watchdog, then races off into the darkness. . . towards the Watergate, snarling with lust, loping through the alleys behind Pennyslvania Avenue, and trying desperately to remember which one of those four hundred identical balconies is the one outside Martha Mitchell's apartment. . .

Ah. . . nightmares, nightmares. But I was only kidding. The President of the United States would never act that weird. At least not during football season. But how would the voters react if they knew the President of the United States was presiding over "a complex, far-reaching and sinister operation on the part of White House aides and the Nixon campaign organization. . . involving sabotage, forgery, theft of confidential files, surveillance of Democratic candidates and their families and persistent efforts to lay the basis for possible blackmail and intimidation."

That ugly description of Nixon's staff operations comes from a New York Times editorial on Thursday, October 12th. But neither Nixon nor anyone else felt it would have much effect on his steady two-to-one lead over McGovern in all the national polls. Four days later the Times/Yankelovich poll showed Nixon ahead by an incredible twenty points (57 percent to 37 percent, with 16 percent undecided) over the man Bobby Kennedy described as "the most decent man in the Senate."

"Ominous" is not quite the right word for a situation where one of the most consistently unpopular politicians in American history suddenly skryockets to Folk Hero status while his closest advisors are being caught almost daily in nazi-style gigs that would have embarrassed Martin Bormann. How long will it be before "demented extremists" in Germany or maybe Japan, start calling us A Nation of Pigs? How would Nixon react? "No comment"? And how would the popularity polls react if he just came right out and admitted it?

 

Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail,

San Francisco, Straight Arrow Books, 1973

 

 

 

Epitaph

 

Four More Years. . . Nixon Uber Alles. . . Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl. . .

 

President Nixon will be sworn into office for a second term today, emboldened by his sweeping electoral triumph of last November and a Vietnam peace settlement apparently within his grasp. . . In the most expensive inauguration in American history -- the cost is officially estimated at more than $4 million -- Mr. Nixon will once again take the oath on a temporary stand outside the east front of the Capitol, then ride in a parade expected to draw 200,000 people to Pennsylvania Avenue and its environs, and millions more to their television sets. . . It will be the President's first statement to the American people since his television appearance on November 6, election eve. Since then the peace talks have collapsed, massive bombing of North Vietnam has been instituted and then called off, and the talks have resumed without extended public comment from Mr. Nixon . . .

-- San Francisco Chronicle, January 20, 1973

 

When the Great Scorer comes to write

against your name -- he marks --

Not that you won or lost --

But how you played the game.

 

-- Grantland Rice: who was known -- prior to his death in the late fifties -- as "The Dean of American Sportswriters," and one of Richard Nixon's favorite authors.

 

They came together on a hot afternoon in Los Angeles, howling and clawing at each other like wild beasts in heat. Under a brown California sky, the fierceness of their struggle brought tears to the eyes of 90,000 God-fearing fans.

They were twenty-two men who were somehow more than men.

They were giants, idols, titans. . .

Behemoths.

They stood for everything Good and True and Right in the American Spirit.

Because they had guts.

And they yearned for the Ultimate Glory, the Great Prize, the Final Fruits of a long and vicious campaign.

Victory in the Super Bowl: $15,000 each.

They were hungry for it. They were thirsty. For twenty long weeks, from August through December, they had struggled to reach this Pinnacle. . . and when dawn lit the beaches of Southern California on that fateful Sunday morning in January, they were ready.

To seize the Final Fruit.

They could almost taste it. The smell was stronger than a ton of rotten mangoes. Their nerves burned like open sores on a dog's neck. White knuckles. Wild eyes. Strange fluid welled up in their throats, with a taste far sharper than bile.

Behemoths.

Those who went early said the pre-game tension was almost unbearable. By noon, many fans were weeping openly, for no apparent reason. Others wrung their hands or gnawed on the necks of pop bottles, trying to stay calm. Many fist-fights were reported in the public urinals. Nervous ushers roamed up and down the aisles, confiscating alcoholic beverages and occasionally grappling with drunkards. Gangs of Seconal-crazed teenagers prowled through the parking lot outside the stadium, beating the mortal shit out of luckless stragglers. . .

 

What? No. . . Grantland Rice would never have written weird stuff like that: His prose was spare & lean; his descriptions came straight from th