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Friday, July 12, 2002


Building a Movement

By Jim Dorenkott



I am sitting in Rick's house smoking what else? We are laughing because Rick's father suspects that his younger brother is smoking grass. Rick's father has taken me aside in all sincerity and maximum alarm and confided to me that he found some marijuana in his dresser. In this moment of uncharacteristic discomfort he promoted me to a level of sanity I haven't yet reached. "Jim, I know you don't smoke this stuff, and I don't know how much you know about it, but I am very concerned about Jack. I don't want him to get hooked on this stuff. So keep an eye on him for me, will you?" The sincerity of the request is pushing me to double over in uproarious laughter. I swallowed hard, suppressing my disbelief, and said, "Don't worry – you can count on me." Fortunately, we had shared a martini and after-dinner drink so any body language slip could be liquor, a little slurring to seal the deal.

Rick's dad has a Rolls-Royce dealership, a very large house, and likes Tanqueray. That is something I couldn't afford even in the Navy where we got booze dirt cheap, especially overseas. I am staying with the family because I have driven Rick's new MGB sports car across country as a favor. He wanted to fly. Why I am not sure. Maybe he didn't want to bring the two kilos of scotch-soaked pot on a plane. Driving a brand new MGB with the license plate SICK wasn't exactly incognito.

On my way to the airport – the three of us Jack, Rick, and me crowed into the front seat, all of us long haired and looking like freaks – we picked up a tail. First I notice him in the rearview mirror, cruising behind a few car lengths behind. We immediately try airing out the car and getting all the roaches under control. If this guy stops me it's curtains because I can't speak; it was real good stuff. So I move the speed to 62 1/2 miles an hour and hold it there. I also can't change lanes because I might mess it up. So I am just hanging in there.

The cop gets impatient and pulls up alongside the driver’s side and his partner peers in. I don't acknowledge their presence and keep going straight ahead. He holds there for about a mile and drops back off and gets off at the exit. Phew, we all go, that was close. Not so quick to be relieved, but back on the freeway again is our curious gendarme. This time he pulls up alongside the passenger side and peers in. We are all very nervous again. He caught us off guard, prematurely celebrating. Then he pulls up ahead of me, a few car lengths, and now I am following him. Then he pulls up and over and gets off. After a few miles it is clear that they aren't behind or in front of us and that we have gone fifteen miles past the airport. It is now possible they will miss their plane. Pothead luck prevails and we get there in time.

The rest of my trip across country was less eventful, and so I am just hanging out with Rick et al, figuring out how to participate in the new movement which is building. It is July 1966, and I have decided to leave the west coast and try the east coast. In Seal Beach most of the heads hanging out want a revolution; they just don't have any idea what it should look like. There is even a kind of superstition about trying to describe it. It's kind of like, "When it comes, it comes." In the meantime the best thing you can do to make it happen is to get stoned and drop acid.

So here we are building a movement in a cloud of smoke. Rick says to me, "Close your eyes and hold out your hands I want to show you something really cool." I am nervous, what kind of crap are you going to put in my hands, and what kind of game are we playing? I am very stoned on DMT and real sensitive. It's OK, he assures me. I wonder. This is the guy after all who agreed to be my guide for my first acid trip. Fifteen minutes after I dropped, a bunch of folks showed up and they dropped and wanted to go to Disneyland. I did not want to go to Disneyland straight, let alone on my first acid trip. The choices were bleak. I either wander the beach of Seal Beach completely alone or go to Disneyland. In Disneyland, at least I would have people I know with me I can relate to. This procedure by the way completely violates Leary's set and setting guidelines. I wanted to experience the Bardos like normal trippers, not Donald Duck.

As we arrived at Disneyland, and I alighted from the car, the whole damn pavement was flash white and I was peaking as we went through the gate. Other than seeing the artificiality and the strained moments of happiness these working-class parents were trying to find for their kids to make up for all the moments of lost connection and overreaction, it was dismal. But I survived, and here I am trusting again. I wince and reach out my hands.

Rick chuckles. I shudder and hear this clanging sound, and instead of some forbidden liquid I feel the cold metal of many pieces in my hands. There are so many they are falling to the floor. As I open my eyes I say, what's this, man? He says matter-of-factly, “Kruggerands, man. That's $5,000.” My hands fly apart, the careful scoop morphing into a funnel, and they clatter to the floor. I hope the blood on my hands will come off someday as the mind reels with images of Africans deep in dangerous gold mines, dying by the thousands at the hands of their brutal overseers. What astounds me is how clear the image is. I am pretty unschooled in politics, I know nothing of Marx, and my only education has been KPFK for a few months. No one in the Navy was concerned about apartheid. There had been some racial gang fights on our aircraft carrier, but they had been about the civil rights struggle back on the homeland.

"I can't take these, man," I exhort him. "People are dying so these are made. You have got to get rid of them." My hands are shaking, and I am double-checking to see if there is any blood on them. He looks at me like I am nuts or joking. I assure him in my mind I am not and further I am revolted by his defense of them. I feel betrayed that he could pour the offshoot of so much pain and misery into my hands, so I could share in the experience. He isn't giving them to me to keep, but to brag and to bring me into complicity. I want no part of it.

Once he realizes that I am not kidding, a coolness begins to separate us. He is now someone I don't know, never knew, and couldn't have done all those things with. I didn't realize how something so remote, so far away and yet so important, could divide a friendship which had survived the Navy and many experiences. I knew it was time to leave. I had to keep going, I was committed to building a movement, and I could see he wouldn't give up his blood money to be a part of it. I didn't want to leave, but I knew I had to muster the strength to reject the comfort of martinis before dinner, after-dinner drinks, and nice digs.