[0 tempora! 0 mores! A shorter
version of this innocent story about idiots abroad was written at the
request of an arboreal hairdo dude of a German publisher near the romantic
Neckar River for Ein
Heimatkunde-Buch. However, it is not literally about his beloved Heidelberg
Provincetown or Big Sur or Mexico City for example--or this or that groovy
opening space. Shazam.
Now dig this, if you will, the genesis of what became known as the global
synergized by the revelation that the leaves of trees serve for the healing
of the nations. Amen.
These events might have happened anywhere at that time.
The time of very small groups, covert networks, beards, serious mascara,
of jammin', having a ball,
of pads and shorts and shades,
of the method, baggy sweaters,
of almost Masonic signs of mutual recognition.
The time when there were only half as many people on planet earth.
Prior to the Berlin Wall being built, before the Beatles dissonanced everything:
First everyone wanted to get high / then everyone wanted to sell squares
"The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom."
-William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
Trying to make money dealing cannabis,
I failed. For joyful consolation, I stashed fond memories. Like so many
sublime adventures it began with almost equal parts of singleminded obsession
and a great unknowing. Marijuana was a plant on the make. This was the
shrub that wanted to change our lives. A Circe, a mercy, a controversy
of our century. But this has been my destiny, a paradigm in my life, even
way back then: I am at once blessed and cursed by always being too advanced,
a point man for the zeitgeist forever eagerly undertaking heavenly projects--just
for the hell of it--right before it becomes commercializable.
Few people even knew about grass, even
fewer smoked. In spite of this, only twenty-one, a fat assed fraternity
boy from the American South somehow I managed to get myself from Paris
to Morocco (via Switzerland) on the back of a 500cc BMW motorcycle. With
fear and trembling and much danger, I scored two kilos of really strong
kif in Tangier from a couple of thousand-and-one-nights Arab types.
An official portrait of Sultan Mohammed V wearing a hooded dj'ellabah
hung on the wall. Somewhere a loudspeaker blared out the gripping
pristine voice of Farouz, she of the titanium tonsils, or a muezzin's
wailing call for prayer. We sat on the ground, passed a sebsi, negotiated
over many glasses of sweet mint tea and it cost a total of just eighteen
dollars. A kind of beginner's luck for this student prince. From there
I smuggled my large bundle into Franco's Spain in a small rucksack, hidden
only by a change of underwear and a few volumes of Olympia Press books.
Hitchhiking to Madrid, on to San Sebastian by the Bay of Biscay, (boycotting
Pamplona, for reasons of love and literature), then zapping across the
border into France. All the while living on hardly more than cheap wine,
bread and cheese and melon. Did I really do something so awesomely absurd?
Yes, indeed. It was 1960. And in my generation there was that perennial
gang, the English majors in analysis, the geeks and wimps, who whiningly
went for Rebel Without a Cause and The Catcher in the Rye. But
those of us who really counted though were smitten, besotted by The
Wild One and Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Further! Smile on
the outlaw dreamer's face. Down with the reality principle. Blitzkrieg
the citadel of enlightenment. Crazy man crazy. Go man go. We were the
best minds, Goliards going forth to meet everyone, do everything, in motion.
A wholly holy communion.
Wipe out in Paris. The gigoloesque guy
who promised to buy the entire stuff--saying that was a way to
realize the dream of staying in Europe for longer than only your standard
summertime tour--gaped at me. "Here I am! I did it!" I exclaimed proudly,
grinning, gleaming, maximum suntanned dressed in shreds and patches. Nick
Smart, his real name, was not encouraging. He seemed surprised I had taken
him at his word. Standing in the darkened doorway to his narrow hotel
room at 9 rue Gît-le-Coeur, wearing zilch save a Georgetown University
sweatshirt, now he claimed to be completely broke. Wagging his head, and
other parts, he spoke of having run out of copies of "The Beat Guide"
that he had had breathless Jean Seberg-types selling on the street, caught
a bad case of clap, just paid for an abortion. And more tales of tawdry
glory. Et cetera. Et cetera. "Good luck," he said. "Like, uh man, you're
on your own." Good luck, indeed. The city was quivering with extreme paranoia,
bathed in incipient violence. The Algerian War of Independence had a brace
of nervous gendarmerie, shock-cops, armed with sub-machine guns menacing
all the street corners on the Left Bank. Body parts were found in the
Seine every morning. Each of the governments from the Fourth Republic
was a premature ejaculation, a short count. Someone advised me to go to
Amsterdam. "Be cool and stay in the Youth Hostel on the Kloveniersburgwal.
It's on a canal. Go see a certain spade cat named Frank, he hangs out
in the Phonobar on the Thorbeckeplein. It's close by." This was my first,
very brief glimpse of the watery city that would eventually become my
home. Alas, couldn't find any heads. Another wipe out.
Time to go to ground, find a safe harbor
away from the whirlpools. A poet comrade from university, Larry Fagin,
had given me his home address in Wiesbaden. His father was a civilian
real estate agent for the US Air Force. Still hitching, I crossed yet
another border Rhine/Main bound.
know what is enough until you know what is more than enough."
-William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
"My God!" Larry said when we were finally
alone upstairs in his parent's house. "Where did you get this? I haven't
seen so much reefer in my life." To conceal our giggles, he stacked some
cool jazz sides and rare blues on the portable record player. Turned it
up full volume. We dug the sounds spinning on the turntable while smoking
monster joints. Jumped up and down. Shouted burlesque aphorisms. "Plastic
Man is the long arm of the law." "Lamont Cranston knows we know he knows,
ha ha ha." "A bomb in hand is worth two million dead in the bush." "Ebetts
Field's defunct . . . What do you do with a bald headed angle when tomorrow
is still in the past?" "The girl I call my own, must dig Dizzy and Basie
and play slide trombone." And then? And then? Then we wrote immortal Zen
verses in the condensation on the windowpanes.
As we started to come down a bit, Larry
asked: "Remember Robin Rich from the Java Jungle?" He was referring to
a beatnik coffeehouse in Washington, D.C. where I was introduced to smoking
grass in the late-Fifties. Across the street we greased our chops scarfing
it up at the Texas Chili Parlor for half-a-dollar a bowl. This was on
Pennsylvania Avenue, our turf merely three blocks away from the Great
Golfer and dipso Mamie in the White House.
"I'm hip. Yeah, Robin. Wild," I answered
"Well, he's here in Wiesbaden. In the nut
"Wow. That's a gas. Far out. How did it
happen?" I might have asked. Or maybe I didn't. Larry might have been
on one of his talking jags and just continued.
"He's not really, really crazy.
It's his father, you know. He's an Air Force general. When Robin told
him he didn't want to join up and fight for Uncle Sam, and started quoting
from Dr. Benway in The Naked Lunch, then General Rich had him committed
to a military mental hospital. But he's allowed out in the afternoon.
We'll see him tomorrow."
Walking in the park overlooking the two
rivers, we could hear the haunting and intricate polyphonic chanting as
we approached the shiny onion-shaped domed Russian Orthodox Church picturesquely
perched at the top of the hill. I told Robin that I was out of bread,
but had all this pot. In return for a commission in kind, i.e. thin joints
tightly rolled with my last packet of Zig-Zag papers, he volunteered to
try and off stuff to some spade cats, grunts working as orderlies in the
insane asylum. The unit measure of sale would be a matchbox full, the
price twenty Deutsch Marks--then worth approximately five dollars.
Those were my inaugural sales; the
somewhat flipped out son of a general as subcontractor to colored privates
posted to a loony bin. The GIs were happy to have something to
mellow them out in a foreign country on a bad assignment. Also because
it was a real good count, cleaned without stems or seeds, and it was the
strongest weed they'd ever had.
Each day the three of us would meet. It
was September. We turned on someplace out in the open air caressed by
the slight early autumn mist, the slanting light. Got good and stoned
having contests as to who could keep the smoke inhaled longest. Soon afterward
we lubed our parched throats in a beer hall and ate some part of a pig.
Sometimes huge truncheons of roasted Schweinhacken or trembling
boiled Backen with bristles or lumpy paprika spiced soups covered
in a glacier of fat but chiefly plump grilled sausages garnished with
slices of dark sourdough bread and honeyed mustard. Meanwhile Larry and
I listened in a glazed way to Robin's high manic monomaniacal City of
Interzone sci-fi monologues barked out as if giving order before exchanging
about three or four matchboxes and the money. This basic arrangement went
on for a week. Larry's parents were getting suspicious. Thinking I might
be having a bad influence on their son, they asked him to tell me I had
overstayed my welcome.
"But it's okay," Larry said optimistically.
"Remember that guy at the Java Jungle we called Leo the Greek?"
"I'm hip. Yeah, Leo.
Wild," I answered rather vaguely. Or maybe I didn't.
"Well, his father was a member of Parliament
and leader of a minor political party from Sparta. His real name is Leonidas,
of course, Leonidas Lagakos. After doing his year studying in Dee Cee,
now he's studying in Munich. I'll give you his address: maybe he can help
you out there."
"Exuberance is Beauty-"
-William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and
He did help me. We helped each other. But
the months I wound up spending in Munich are remembered only through a
Very soon I ran out of money again. The
first thing I did was get myself a job as a hilfsarbeiter at a
construction site of Josef Resole, Bauunternehmung of Prinsenstrasse,
performing non-miraculous efforts for the German Wirtschaftswunder.
That gave me a small income and a place to stay for twenty-pfenning
a night in a concrete block worker's dormitory at Aidenbachstraasse 70.
I was placed in a square room on the fourth floor with three sets of metal
double bunk beds arranged against the walls, in the center a table with
chairs and next to each set of beds a pair of narrow wooden lockers. Toilets
and wash basins were at the end of the hallway. On the second floor they
had communal showers. Before the Turks, nearly all of the gastarbeiters
at that time were Italian with a small contingent of various Yugoslavs.
In fact, my dusky visage combined with a shabby appearance made the labor
office and employer think I was Italian too. Only after being hired when
presenting my identification papers did they discover-shock horror-I was
from the States. My assigned roommates in the Arbeiterwohnlager, however,
were five German unskilled laborers in their late thirties, early forties.
Almost certainly they were veterans of the war. Reluctant to exacerbate
the situation, I didn't want to inquire. But my concerns were unassuaged
when each morning at about five-thirty one of them would wake me up to
go to work by vigorously shaking me, and screaming "Raus!!!" then laughing
Even though I had all the grass it wasn't
that easy to sell and I kept it in two big paper bags at the bottom of
my locker which was secured by a large red and silver Abus padlock. Each
evening after work I walked the streets alone high as the sky. Once when
asked what I was smoking, I improvised an explanation. "Dieser ist
Amerikaner Tabak. " "Nein." "Jawohl. Jawohl. Suden Amerikaner Tabak."
That seemed to satisfy. After some weeks of digging holes, scraping
lumber and carrying cement in a wheelbarrow, finally I found a sort of
There was Nicholas Hahn--lanky aristocratic--who
lived on Ainmillerstrasse in the same building as Leo. His mother was
a countess and his father a banker, albeit Jewish. Nicky had been born
in Germany but when less than a year old was taken by his parents to New
York where he went to school and grew up, a refugee, in affluent, chic
surroundings. In exchange for turning him on I began to spend more and
more time at Nicky's place. We had both studied economic theory and shared
an interest in discussing it. One evening in the middle of listening to
a Nixon/Kennedy debate on AFN radio, the telephone rang.
"That," Nicky said in an excited voice.
"That was Arndt von Bohlen und Halbach, the heir to the Krupp munitions
fortune. He's invited us to come to his apartment for a drink. Bring your
marijuana: That will impress him."
I can't remember if the furniture was covered
in red satin and there was a white shaggy rug on the floor, or whether
the upholstery was white satin and the shaggy rug red. At any rate, the
indirect lighting was dimmed and four of us gathered around a glass top
table with a polished chrome frame. A real flaming creatures parlor. The
precursor of a set from Visconti's The Damned. The only other person
present was another man around our age named Messerschmitt.
My heart gave a quick skip of excitement.
"Oh, that's a famous name," I said when we were introduced, having trained
myself as a young boy to spot and recognize the silhouettes of enemy planes.
"Yes," he answered in a droll, matter-of-fact
tone. "My family used to manufacture aircraft." He shrugged. "Now we only
make cockpits on wheels."
Over glasses of imported Scotch whisky
Arndt said he knew about marijuana, having purchased rolled joints expensively
in Acapulco the year before. He was happy to buy a couple of my good count,
good stuff matchboxes. Arndt was a courteous talkative host with a cloying
smooth charm. As the evening wore on though, with drinking and smoking,
he became more and more camp. Nicky and I bade young Messerschmitt auf
wiedersehen, tschuss, adieu, ciao for now and dive-bombed out of the
apartment as Arndt the Krupp was flapping his arms about greedily, his
head thrown back. "When I get my hands on all the money," he shrieked,
"I am going to cover my mother in jewels."
Then there was Kevin Donnelley--small blond
yet wiry and pugnacious--a hard drinking, working class Irish guy from
New England who was studying sculpture, specifically cireperdue bronze
casting, at the Art Academy. It was through him that I met a group of
Americans in Schwabing.
There was Ivan Della--funny, jive, born
suave. Originally from Harlem and a veteran of Ike's invasion of Lebanon
a couple of years before in 1958, he had done his stint as a clerktypist
attached to an Army Airborne unit. Stationed mainly in Germany, Ivan decided
to stay on after discharge taking advantage of the Deutsch Madels fascination
with this brown skinned handsome man. "She stuck her tongue in my pee-hole,"
was his famous line.
There was earnest exchange student named
Ira Schneider who begged me to let him try some marijuana, please pleeeze
give him a taste. I warned him. He took a few hits, then slouched
away in the night holding onto the walls for support, babbling and mumbling,
not to be seen again for over a week, then claiming to have been drugged.
Eventually Ira turned into a well-subsidized earnest video artist.
There were also these two jazz musicians,
a rhythm section. Yorke Hughes, the bass player, was a gentle redneck
from some place in Arkansas. It's so small, he said, that if you ever
want to come visitin' just stand in the middle of the town and holler
my name. Yorke was always lavish with his smoking, his philosophy being:
"If you worry about getting high tomorrow, you never get high today."
He and his friend, the drummer, were regular customers, buyers of five
matchboxes at a time.
And also through Kevin, who remained a
friend for over twenty years, I discovered the in-places. The Schwabinger
Nest, a cafe on Leopoldstrasse, where we headed for when we got the
munchies. Their specialty was a thick creamy berry-topped cheese pie,
the best I ever tasted before or since. Moreover, during the day everyone,
just everyone, passed through. The real night scene though was in the
sidestreets between the Leopoldstrasse and the park. Very late we could
be found hooting at the Nacht Eule--a boozy subterranean juke box
den--huddled around a small wooden table covered with steaming plates
of lovely white potato dumplings, Kartoffelknoden, swimming in
the dark gravy of stewed mystery meat. Earlier in the evening there was
a more up market jazz club with a regular program of live groups. Called
the Tarantel this was where we spun our web, where women could
meet us, and I met some hard-core Afro-American sergeants, military lifers,
who moonlighted as pimps. They bought my stuff for their girls. One incident
perhaps demonstrates best of all how completely unsuited I was to be a
Standing in the shadows outside the Tarantel.
Myself, Kevin and Ivan on one side like partners in a-down-in-the-heels
law firm of Levy, Donnelley & Della. On the other side the buyer,
in sleek civvies, smiling like a Cheshire cat, his sourpussed sidekick
glaring with menaces and three brightly dressed cheerfully chatting prostitutes
wisely ignoring all of us.
"What's the bite?" the main guy signified.
"Twenty for this matchbox, man!" I replied
shakily, trying to be cool, speaking without moving a muscle, looking
him in the eye, a Roth-Handle dangling from my lips.
Without hesitation he reached in his pocket,
pulled out a billfold and peeled off a twentydollar bill, holding it out
"No," I said fatuously in a rare example
of seller Jews down buyer. "Dig. Not twenty dollars. I mean twenty marks."
The tough sergeant smirked, did a small
roll, shuffled. "Say what? Groovy. I hear you," he replied. "Hey now.
That's a fine, fine, super fine deal."
And the days passed in a daze. On the streets
the mounds of fresh, oval-shaped deep purple plums and the clustered heaps
of tiny pale-green sweet grapes disappeared. As did the paper cones filled
with hot, roasted chestnuts. They were replaced by twinkling baroque Christmas
decorations and Volkswagens with roof racks topped with wooden skis. Fabulous
mountain clouds rolling in golden streaked wild blue skies had given way
to a world of utter pewter. The secret ministry of frost hung around in
silent icicles, quietly shining back at the quiet moon. Vanished were
the yellow red brown orange leaves floating on the Isar. The Chinese Tower
in the Englischer Garten looked desolate. Without doubt a ghoulish,
chilly and foggy winter of Expressionist gloom was upon us.
Bavaria was beginning to bug me. I had
put together a little bread. It was time to split. Hit the road. Go where
the weather suited my clothes. Gruss Gott. Later. Taking about two large
hand-fulls of grass as a traveling companion, I crossed more borders--first
heading off toward Greece where I landed a gig with the special effects
department of a film called The 300 Spartans, a cast of thousands
epic Hollywood extravaganza about the Battle of Thermopoylae. And from
there pilgrimages for oracular pronouncements to Delphi, to Jerusalem.
But that is another story.
"He who desires and acts not, breeds
-William Blake, The Marriage
of Heaven and Hell
No busts. No burns. No counterfeit money.
Truly, I was a fortunate traveler, a rider in the storm. Things worked
out fine, could've been doing time. A big advantage of being a dealer
in those bygone days so long ago was that I had no hassles with the law.
They also didn't know what it was. In less than a decade it would have
been easy finding pothead customers, and their groupies, the police. As
well as all the collateral ganz Sorgen one needed. There is some
sort of natural law in action here. This sacrament of exaltation was bound
to become circles of commodification. Everyone knows it's usually the
second tier who prosper, the second tier who comes along and calculatingly
reaps the crop wildly sowed by others. You can tell who are the pioneers,
so it is said on Wall Street. They are the ones lying on the ground with
arrows in their chest. Although it must be noted that the friends of mine
who started being superficially flush as dealers about five years or so
afterward could never quite give up the adrenaline rush from this jerky
business and its fast easy fools money. Most every one of them came to
grief by the early eighties
No regrets. Je ne regrette rien. How
could I refuse the irresistible? All error is in the not done. It was
my salad days. I was a spring chicken. What a salutary series of episodes
trying to be a dealer proved to be. That too much quoted, "There's no
success like failure and failure ain't no success at all" comes in quite
handy. Yet all in all, in a fervor of passionate missionary zeal, I gave
away more free samples of marijuana than I sold. As a quid pro quo
I did get to stay in Europe then for a lucky seven months, seasons
sweet and savory. My wanderings did not differ from ordinary travels for
fun and study except that their itinerary, though apparently haphazard,
rigorously coincided with the initiate's most arcane aspirations and gifts.
Many, many years later I would run into people who would come up to me,
beginning a conversation with: "Maybe you don't remember me. But you were
the first person to turn me on. And that changed my life." Remembrance
of things toked. For some it was heaven, for others it was hell. Having
stayed and tasted the sacrament, transformed, one returns to the world
outside bearing an apocalyptic message. For myself absorbing cannabis
continues to be an aroused union--occasionally even an epithalamium--in
skywriting, this nuptial song or poem writ large in ideogramic smoky breathe.