The summer of ’68. There had been a shortage on for months, and all we had to smoke was this crappy Mexican weed that they cut with sugar for weight, and which was so sticky and gooey that you could scarcely light it, much less smoke it.
Then one day Ace came in and told me, “Hey man, I got a line on some genuine Acapulco Gold! This friend of mine scored ten keys last night, and he just told me on the phone he’ll sell me a pound of it if I come pick it up right now!”
Well that was groovy news, and brightened my day considerably. I marveled at my luck in being the only one in my circle who owned a car, since Ace would not have been so eager to share such a find had he not needed the means to transport it.
The friend, it turned out, lived in a large Victorian era apartment building in Germantown. In accordance with the etiquette of scoring, I waited outside in my VW sedan while Ace went in and made the buy. About half an hour later he came out clutching a package, his big red face beaming with joy. He even jumped and clicked his heels together as he approached the car, making his long, sandy hair fly in all directions.
“Just look!” he cried, as he climbed in and shoved the package towards me. I opened it and beheld the radiant golden brown leaves shining up at me from the Spanish-language newspaper in which they were nestled. A whole pound! It was truly a transfixing sight! I wondered how much Ace would be willing to sell to me. He reached into his shirt pocket for cigarette papers, and I handed him the package so he could twist up some numbers for the journey home.
He lit one up and it smelled great. He passed it to me and it tasted great. Maybe it was my imagination, after the long famine, but I really felt like I was flying from that one toke.
“Better drive, man.” Ace told me. “I feel safer on the move.”
I pulled away from the curb, and we drove leisurely through the balmy Germantown summer, passing the joint back and forth. It was a beautiful day. Little black kids played in an open fire hydrant, squealing with delight over the gush of the water. Lovers made out on the lawn of a funeral parlor. A Little League baseball team was cheering in the park. Everything felt pretty groovy.
We stopped for a traffic light and I was toking deeply on the remains of the joint when I became aware of honking going on behind me. I looked in the rear-view and saw a dark blue Plymouth with only one occupant, an older woman apparently, who was honking her horn like crazy and signaling me with her hand. I thought maybe she was trying to tell me that something was wrong with the car, so I put out the joint, and when the light turned green I pulled over to the curb across the intersection. She followed and stopped behind me, and then got out of her car.
She came up to the window on my side and looked me in the eye. I didn’t like her look. She was sixty or so, nattily attired, with an American flag pin in the lapel of her suit. She had steely blue-gray hair and mean, steely blue eyes.
“You went through the stop sign back on Upsal Street without even pausing!” she shrilled at me. “That’s a dangerous intersection: there are always children playing around there. Thank God you hippies didn’t kill anyone!”
“Sorry, lady.” I said. “I didn’t see it.” Which was true. I guess I was passing the joint at the time and didn’t notice it.
“You tell that to the police!” she demanded. “I’m making a citizen’s arrest. You are both under arrest! You can follow me to the police station.”
“Hey lady, I said I was sorry. Okay? I won’t do it again.”
“Why’m I under arrest?” Ace put in. “He was the one who was driving.”
“You’re under arrest, young man. And your friend too. I have your license number, and you’ll follow me right now if you know what’s good for you.”
“Come on, lady, get serious. Who do you think you’re messing with?” I thought it was time to get tough. I mean, for all she knew we were killers or something – long hair, beards, pierced ears. Ace had tattoos up and down his arms. We looked like hell. I narrowed my eye at her and snarled, “I don’t want no trouble; you just flake off, okay?”
“Your kind don’t impress me.” She pulled an umbrella she’d been carrying out from its sheath and flourished it like a sword. “Are you resisting arrest then? That’s a felony!”
“Come on, man!” Ace whispered to me. “Quit jawing and get the hell out of here.”
I turned the ignition and gunned the accelerator, giving the lady a sneer as I shot away. Since a VW sedan is not match for a Plymouth, I thought it prudent to put some distance between us, and I turned corners at random until I thought we’d safely eluded her.
“You know, Ace,” I observed. “I wonder why this kind of stuff only happens when you’re stoned?”
He replied with a stoned grin, reached into his pocket, and pulled out another joint. He lit it up and we passed it back and forth, cruising leisurely towards home, when I noticed in the rear-view, barreling down on my tail like a Messerschmidt, the dark blue Plymouth with its honking, raving occupant.
“Oh Jesus!” I exclaimed. I jammed on the accelerator but was too slow: she was up to me on my left side, smiling like a death’s head, forcing me to the curb before I could get any momentum. As I screeched on the brakes she sprang from her car yelling, “Help! Police! Help!” and brandishing her umbrella for the attack. I shifted into reverse and backed up, with her beating the hood of my car with her umbrella, then I executed a tight U-turn which almost grazed her, but she didn’t flinch.
“Criminals! Criminals! Police! Police!”
I didn’t look back, but Ace said she’d jumped back into her car and was following.
“I don’t see how we can get away.” I said, rounding a corner. “She’s got the faster car. Ace, you’re going to have to ditch the weed.”
“No way, man. You kidding? This is Gold! She’s just a nut. Hey look! Look there!” He pointed towards an open garage attached to a duplex. “Pull in there fast!”
I turned into the driveway and pulled into the garage. Ace jumped out as I stopped and pulled the garage door down.
“I think we made it!” he said with a grin. “She didn’t see us.”
“I wonder whose garage this is?” I asked. My tummy was still tumbling and my adrenalin pounding.
“Some black, probably. It’s a black neighborhood.”
That made me feel better. We sat down in a corner of the garage next to a door that apparently led inside, and we waited. We couldn’t hear anything happening inside the house. Maybe no one was home. Ace pulled his package out and began rolling some more joints. He lit one and handed it to me.
“Well, my friend,” he observed. “a fruitful and adventurous afternoon.”
The grass was good grass. After a few tokes I began to relax and calm down. We joked about the lady.
“A typical fascist.” Ace said. “Low link on the Great Chain of Being. Complete lack of Dasein.”
“Yes, Dasein. Being there. Don’t you read Heidegger? Like that lady, she just ain’t there, you know what I mean? No Dasein.”
We sat passing the joint back and forth for about fifteen minutes while Ace enlarged on the subject of ontology. When the joint was gone he lit another one. As he passed it to me he must have flipped the match into a pile of gas-soaked rags, because all of a sudden, WOOMPH! – a sheet of flame leaped up the wall next to us. We jumped up and stomped on the rags to put the fire out. Finally we got it under control.
“We’d better get out of here.” Ace suggested. He made for the garage door and opened it, and we both stuck our heads out and gulped fresh air, as smoke poured out around us. Then, suddenly, Ace pulled the garage door shut again.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Eva Braun’s coming down the street in her Plymouth. We’d better wait ‘til she goes by.”
The place was still smoky, so we lay down on the floor where the air was better. There was still no sound from inside the house. Ace picked up his joint where he’d dropped it and lit it up again. He passed it to me.
“What we need more of, especially at times like this,” he observed, “is Dasein.” He went on for a while, and I became aware of the sound of sirens off in the distance.
“You hear sirens?” I asked him.
“Fire sirens. Don’t worry.” he replied. “You can tell fire sirens from police sirens. Fire sirens are the voice of the fireman, which has more Dasein than the voice of the policeman.”
“Ace, they sound to me like they’re coming this way!”
Suddenly the door next to us flew open and a huge black woman with horn-rimmed glasses and a broom in one hand and a pail of water in the other burst into the garage. She caught sight of us; froze in an attitude of total indignation; and shrieked in a booming, gravelly voice, “Bums! Bums! Hippie bums!”
She threw the pail of water in our faces and attacked us with the broom.
“It ain’t no fire! It’s just bums! Hippie bums!”
I made for the car door with my hands over my head to fend off blows from the broom, turned on the ignition, and backed out as Ace went for the garage door. As soon as he opened it a wail of sirens poured in. Ace jumped in as I backed down the drive. The lady was yelling her head off, but we couldn’t hear her over the screams of sirens. I hit the street, turned, and took off, passing a police car and two fire engines coming the other way a block up the street.
“Why does this kind of stuff only happen when you’re stoned?” I asked forlornly, wiping my wet hair and face with my shirttail.
“Because it augments the Dasein. Here, have a hit.” he offered.
“I think I’ve had enough, thanks.” I replied. “Are they after us?”
“Nope. We’re safe. Just relax, you’re all tense.”
I was trying to go as fast as I could without actually speeding, turning corners every time I came to one. When we stopped at a red light I hunched over the steering wheel and closed my eyes for a second.
“Don’t look now,” Ace said. “but guess who’s staring at us from over there across the intersection.”
I looked up and saw a dark blue Plymouth stopped at the light coming the other way. And although I couldn’t hear anything, I saw a face behind the wheel contorted with anger. When the light turned green I shot through the intersection and sped straight away.
“She’s made a U-turn.” Ace reported. “She’s coming after us.”
“Ace, ditch the stuff, man!”
“You’re kidding. You’ve got to be kidding.”
I raced down Johnson St. and reached the turn for the Wissahickon Drive. The traffic light was red, but I didn’t see any traffic coming on the Drive, so I plowed right through and made the left turn. Then I saw a cop. He was on the opposite pavement, waving at me and whistling his whistle. I smiled and shrugged at him, and kept going.
“She ran the light too. She’s about 400 yards back.” Ace reported. “Come on, man, come on! Don’t let her run us off the road again!”
She gained on us fast, and bore down on my tail, so I opened the car door on my side and began swerving back and forth across the two lanes to keep her from passing us. She was honking and zooming right up on my tail as if to ram me, and at one point she did hit us because I felt the bump. She kept trying to get around me on the left, feinting to the right and then zooming back, but I didn’t let her get around me.
“I see a flashing light back there.” Ace said.
“Ace, get rid of the stuff, man! Please! Get rid of it!”
“Don’t panic, there’s time. They might nab her. Just hang a right into the park.”
I saw the park entrance up ahead on the right – a bridge over the creek – and when it was still 200 yards away I let her get around me. She started to bear down on my left again to force me off the road – I could see her smile of impending triumph – but just before the bridge I slammed on my brakes and made a screeching turn over the bridge while she shot on ahead.
“Now what? Burn the bridge?”
“No, man, just head up into the woods. She won’t be able to follow on those bridle trails.”
“Let’s ditch the weed, man!”
“No way, man! This is Gold, man! Just head into the woods. She’s backed up and is turning over the bridge, and some cops are coming up the Drive behind her! Come on! Come on!”
I headed for the woods on a bridle trail. The road got narrower and muddier, and I felt a ray of hope that the Plymouth and cops wouldn’t be able to follow. In fact we did seem to be eluding our pursuers, though we could hear sirens shrieking through the treetops, when the car hit a big slough, bogged down, and stalled.
“Come on, man! Come on!”
I turned the ignition over and over, but the engine wouldn’t start. I opened the door and saw that mud was up to the axles.
“Come on!” Ace shouted, jumping out. “Let’s get out of here! They’ll never find us in the woods!”
“What about my car?”
“What’s more important – your car or your ass? Tell ‘em somebody stole it. Come on!”
We raced through the woods, Ace clutching his package and leaping like a gazelle through the underbrush. We could hear sirens in different directions now: they seemed to be all around us.
“Ace, you’d better ditch the stuff, man! Hide it somewhere – we’ll come back for it.”
“You kidding? We’d never find it again. Could you find where we are again? Don’t worry, they won’t find us. We’ll hang out here ‘til dark. Look there!” He pointed to a thicket. I followed him as he crawled through the shrubs and down into a depression in the middle of the thicket.
“Just look at this!” He gestured around with his hand. “A perfect hiding place! Just relax. Here, don’t worry.” He handed me a joint.
We lit up and he leaned back against a stump and relaxed. We passed the joint back and forth, and I began to relax my tense vigil. Even the scream of the sirens seemed to recede into the distance. The sunlight streamed down through the trees and made beautiful speckled patterns on the variegated forest litter and the clumps of mayapple which shared our burrow. I looked up and saw the sun dazzling though the shimmering veil of leaves. The wind whispered through the trees and blew away the buzz of the sirens.
“I wonder why this kind of junk only happens when you’re stoned?”
“It’s the Dasein, man. It’s the Dasein.”
Then I became aware of movement in the bushes in front of us, and suddenly a head with blue hair and steely blue eyes was facing us.
“Aha! I thought I smelled smoke! Here they are! Police! Police!”
She jumped for us, waving her umbrella, and I felt a blow glance off my back as I scooted up and through the bushes, a hair behind Ace.
“Get rid of the stuff, man!” I yelled at him as we darted out of the thicket and panted up a hill. “Get rid of it!”
“No way, man! She’s just an old lady. Come on, up here!”
We ran up a hill towards a highway embankment. The sirens shrieked behind us. I glanced back and saw the lady, maybe a hundred yards behind us, pointing her umbrella at us and gesticulating madly at a bunch of cops maybe two hundred yards behind her. We raced up the embankment and came out on a wide highway with traffic zipping by in both directions. We could hear sirens in the distance, both ways. Ace stopped running and nonchalantly stuck out a thumb towards oncoming cars, as if to hitchhike. No one stopped. I glanced down and saw the cops starting up the embankment. I grabbed the package from Ace and ran to the bridge over the Wissahickon Creek, tearing at the paper as I went. Ace took off after me, yelling, “Hey, man! Wait, man!”
I reached the bridge and turned the package upside down and shook it. Ace reached me with a look, first angry and then resigned. We looked down from the bridge. The golden leaves were falling down gently in the breeze, barely rippling the water as they joined the leaves of the oaks and tulips on their journey to the sea. I wadded the Spanish language newspaper into a ball and threw it into the creek. It floated for a while, then began to sink. I felt Ace pulling urgently at my sleeve. I turned around, and all I could see was cops.
Well, we had a good lawyer, and he got us a reduction from possession to disturbing the peace, since all they really had on us was some seeds they found on the floor of the car, although I did have to pay a good, stiff fine. But damned if I didn’t get my operator’s license suspended for passing a stop sign.
Bob Makransky’s Astrology Corner © 2001