I was in Berkeley the night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in LA by Sirhan Sirhan using a .22 caliber Iver-Johnson handgun on the sixth of June, 1968, at 12:15 in the early, early a.m. I know this because on June the fifth of the same year My Friend the Bear and My Friend the Blue-Blood and I each drank a bottle of Romilar and went to the late show of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at a cathedral of cinema on University Ave just below Shattuck. Romilar, which turned the world into a gooey human Gumby cartoon floating past you in serene slo-mo, made the doors of my perception tingle with delight during the action-packed, snail-paced, three-way shootout involving El Bueno, El Malo, y El Feo, the poster children for da pasta invasion, as My Friend the Film Critic likes to call the glorious glut of continental westerns shot in Spain-subbing-for-the-Southwest that poured out of Italy in the 60s like red sauce by the bucket at the Macaroni Grill.
As we tottered out, we found Shattuck filled with The Young and the Damned,1 beating their idealistic breasts, tearing at the roots of their mop tops. The ur-flashmob oozed by, a singular hydra-headed molecule, with words like gun, death, the end infecting my ears from all parts of the crowd — spoken, screamed, moaned, in a variety of pitches, sometimes repetitively, sometimes in a cascade, with no conceivable cadence, like a postmodern free jazz opera. I felt like I was watching a real-life rebus, like the world had become a vérité episode of Concentration. And I really, really, really wanted to win. So I put my dextromethorphaned2 mind to work. An eternity later, with the precision of a Swiss clockmaker, I managed to put the symbols, the syllables, and the squeals together to form a coherent thought—the mob molecule was mourning the death of yet another Kennedy, one who, at the time, seemed the last, best hope for ending the madness in the ’Nam — which led me to what seemed a brilliant insight, which I then blurted to my equally addled pals — The whole fucking country is one giant spaghetti western! — after which I ululated the immortal initial notes of Morricone’s theme and began laughing. Then we fell in with, and became part of, the mob.
I had come by this epiphany honestly.
After landing at SFO I had hitched to a shitball shack on the other side of the tracks in East Berkeley among a tribe of biker junkies, where my friend Mr. Natural from Da Bronx had a squat.
Day and night an endless stream of skag heads did their junkie strut, in and out, copping, popping, nodding, splitting, returning when they had enough cash to do it all over again. Wrangler, the smack-lord of Heroin House, dealt the shit from his nest — a ratty, red La-Z-Boy parked in front of his prize possession, a gigantic Magnavox console with doors (doors!) within which was housed a twenty-three-inch color TV that was always on.
One Sunday morning while we were watching the brunch game of the doubleheader3 — the Niners were on the east coast — in walked a matty-haired hulk in black leather, sporting a ZZ Top beard and a fucking gun, accompanied by two fuckwads in biker mufti and shades. They looked like agents from the Hells Angels branch of the Secret Service. They gave baleful as they stood stone-still behind gun-waving douche:
You can’t be burnin’ your brothers, Wrangler.
Shit won’t happen again, Petey.
I can’t just do nothin’, y’understand. It’s a respect thing.
I got you covered.
He lifted his leg and said, Just don’t shoot the TV.
Petey walked close enough so that he was sure not to miss and, as Mr. Natural and I watched in fearful fascination, bang, he shot Wrangler in the meaty part of the calf, through and through.. After the smoke cleared and Wrangler had tightly wrapped an ace bandage around his leg, Petey and his pinhead praetorians pulled up chairs and watched the rest of the game.
When the game was over, Wrangler got his leg to the emergency room and I got my ass out of that place and went looking for more suitable digs.
1 The soap opera alt-title of Buñuel’s Los Olvidados.
2 From the Erowid & Wikipedia: The Block Drug Company of Jersey City, New Jersey, introduced
Romilar in the late 1950s to replace codeine-based cough syrups, which those in search of illicit highs had begun to abuse. Romilar turned out to be useful for the same purposes thanks to its key ingredient, dextromethorphan. The synthetic cough suppressant is chemically analogous to morphine, but rather than prompting opiate-like effects, it acts as a powerful dissociative hallucinogen when consumed in quantities of six to eight ounces, doses [far] exceeding label-specified maximums. Its mechanism of action is via multiple effects, including actions as a nonselective serotonin reuptake inhibitor and a sigma-1 receptor agonist. DXM and its major metabolite, dextrorphan, also acts as an NMDA receptor antagonist at high doses, which produces effects similar to, yet distinct from, the dissociative states created by other dissociative anaesthetics such as ketamine and phencyclidine.
3 Perhaps the best thing about being on the left coast, particularly for a football fan like me, was that the three-hour time difference between the real world and lotus land meant you could start watching the games during brunch time and didn’t have to kill the morning in some other way.