(Original version as it appeared in ZYZZYVA (1992) and in the 1993-94 Pushcart Prize Anthology.)
I met Carla in 1968 when she was 17, a big, voluptuous teenager with a throaty laugh and a baby. I was 27, the de facto headman of the Free Family commune in Olema. I lost track of her around 1971 when our truck caravan broke up in Boulder. My father had just died and I went East to help my mother. Others scattered to their own needs and purposes, Carla with them.
I ran into her once by chance in San Rafael around 1975. We went back to her room to share a bag of dope and catch up. After that, I lost track of her for 16 years until she called me one day, out of the blue. We met and talked for hours, breathless with the good fortune of having found one another again. This is largely her story, but it is also mine.
It was autumn. I had moved my lady, Sam, and our daughter, Ariel, out of the overcrowded Olema ranch into a small, abandoned outbuilding, a cattle shed we had tarpapered against the winter, insulating the windows with plastic and the rough wood floors with old carpets. I had installed a wood-burning stove and built a loft for sleeping. It was quite lovely lying in bed at night, listening to the dull comforting murmur of the winter rains on the slate roof.
According to Carla, I was away at Black Bear Ranch, another Free Family site deep in the Trinity-Siskiyou wilderness, when she and her gangly, boisterous boyfriend, Jeff, arrived. Jeff had already been living at Olema and had been introduced to Carla through a mutual friend from one of Carla's foster families when the two had traveled south for some r&r. Carla gleaned from others that I was a "significant" person and that she would need my okay to stay. I suppose I was the nominal headman by virtue of having been the first to colonize the place and supplying the overarching vision of Olema's dovetail with the rest of the Free Family. It was commonly agreed by all who lived there that Olema was "free turf"; one could do and be whatever one chose to be there.
Carla remembers that I made her feel at home when I returned and that my old lady, Sam, appeared to her as omnicompetent and everything she might ever want to be. Sam was ten years older than Carla, a tall blonde from Shreveport whose family had once trained her for beauty pageants. She was beautiful and imposing with witchy powers. Emmett Grogan used to call her "the swamp bitch." Like most of us, she was picking her way through the rubble of her own psyche: to Carla, she appeared as a goddess, full formed and worthy of emulation.
Sam taught her to tan the deer hides we retrieved in numbers from the Pt. Reyes garbage dump during hunting season; to make an oatmeal-thick mash from wood ashes and water to slip the hair; to pickle the skins in a sulfuric acid bath or rub them with brains, and break them to softness over a fence post or the back of an ax jammed into a stump. Though the ultimate utility of such skills might have been marginal, they contributed to a sense of independence from the larger culture and supported our intentions to be in continuity with indigenous people who had lived where we were living centuries earlier. Such skills also enabled us to create trade goods and currency from found objects, personal skills, and time. One could create wealth by re-defining it in a game that was not stacked against you.
Carla's deficiencies as an immature mother were absorbed by Phyllis and other members of the community who would grab her baby, Malachi, and take him off with them on their errands and whims for hours at a time. Carla was stupefied and relieved at this display of group concern and generosity, not surprisingly, considering her own memories of home. considering Carla's memory of home. Her parents were both teachers. Her mother was also a fairly talented painter of portraits, the type that grace middle-class homes, implying status and disposable income. Her stepfather was discovered with pornographic photos of some of the girls in his class. Carla remembers him as a "sick son a bitch." One day when Carla was 14. he ripped off her blouse and pinned her to the living room floor. Her mother walked in, regarded them for an instant, then continued to her own room, slamming the door without a word. That was when Carla began running away.
Before long Carla was stitched to the rest of us seamlessly. She participated in creating our group mythology and she inspired others, once serving as the inspiration for one of Lew Welch's best throwaway lines. Lew was a famous Beat poet, a tall,, freckled, sad-eyed Irishman whose characteristic expression was childish wonder and delight. He lived sporadically and stormily with a thick, powerful Slavic woman named Magda. When she tired of his drunken escapades, he would move out of their Marin City pad and in with us. He loved jazz and Magda's two children and was proud of tutoring their musical abilities. He introduced me to Magda's oldest, Huey, when he was ten years old. Lew beamed with delight at me as the child scatted the tricky jazz riffs Lew had taught him. He might well have been proud: Lew's Huey grew up to be his own Huey Lewis and the News.
I was pleased to have Lew at the ranch, because I felt his presence conferred on us a legitimate descent from the Beats. I was extremely proud that Lew had dedicated a poem to me called "Olema Satori."
On the day he honored Carla, Lew was sitting on the floor of the Olema living room holding cradling a gallon jug of Cribari red in his lap. He was deep in his cups. The room was pulsing with music and dense with marijuana smoke. Carla was lost in sinuous dancing, naked from the waist up. Lew watched her with undisguised lust. He turned to me, grinning crookedly, raised one finger, and said, very slowly and very clearly, "The ... worst ... Persian ... voluptuary ... could ... not ... imagine ... our ... most ... ordinary ... day." Having managed this, he pitched over, unconscious.
There was no clue in Lew's joy that day, that not long afterwards he would leave his wallet and a note in Gary Snyder's kitchen and walk into the Sierra foothills with his rifle to commit suicide. If he hid his private griefs in life, he remained consistent in death. To this day, his body has never been found.
About this time, Rick "Doc" Holiday, a small, delicate junkie with black hair, a con-man's politesse and a soft, smokey, voice, showed up with a tall, androgynously beautiful girl who might have been Mick Jagger's sister. This was Daney. Junk-sick as she was when she arrived, she radiated sexual energy and Carla took to her immediately.
Basically, Doc had abandoned her with us to clean up. Daney did her best, and before long she was baking bread, laughing, throwing sparks off her cat's-eyes, and radiating a feral energy that made it apparent that she would not linger in the land of brown rice and black beans. Both girls were ready for a break from the poverty of ranch life when Carla came and asked me for some money to get high.
The reason she asked me was because, that day, I was in charge of the Free Bank, a Digger institution: everyone put their money, food stamps, or personal wealth into a kitty, to be divided up at group meetings according to consensual priorities. What was left after the kids, trucks, and groceries had been covered, could be taken out on an "as needed" basis, and simply recorded in the Free Bankbook.
I tried to talk Carla out of doing drugs, but she and Daney were already gassed up and idling at half throttle. They left together, Carla in her work boots, floor-length skirt, and flannel shirt, baby on her hip, and Daney, looking fabulous and "reeking of sex" as Carla remembers. Daney did not have any money for herself, and Carla overlooked her assertion that she would "get some" when they arrived in Sausalito.
The two girls and the baby hitch-hiked to the Trident Restaurant, a favorite hangout for drug dealers and wannabes. Daney was in her element there gliding into the room like a shark, leaving Carla at the bar while she went "to score some money."
"I couldn't figure out how," Carla said incredulously. "Even when I saw her crawling out from under a tablecloth, some slickster handing her some bread, I still didn't get it!"
The girls left with an archetypical dope dealer in tight leathers, roaring through town in his BMW-with-sound-system-to-blow- out-windows. In his bachelor pad in the Sausalito hills, Carla filled the sunken tub while Daney went into the bedroom and fucked the guy into unconsciousness. After putting him to sleep, she joined Carla for a luxurious soak while they waited for their heroin to be delivered. While lounging in the suds, Daney confessed her occupation to Carla, who, far from being shocked, was impressed.
"Hey, it didn't sound bad to me at all!. Great pads, good cars, easy money and all the dope you want, being delivered!. I couldn't believe it." She lay back in the luxurious hot water, playing with the baby in the shimmering, scented bubble bath, and put that idea on hold for use at a later date.
In April of 1970 we were evicted from Olema. A new cowboy had leased the pastures and didn't want to share them with 30 hippies. We left peacefully, cleaning the house and grounds, down to the last cigarette butt and bottle cap, paying every outstanding bill in town. The citizens of Pt. Reyes and the new lessee understood and appreciated the gesture. While we were definitely freaks to them, they liked us. We had been honest in our business dealings and had certainly supplied ample entertainment and gossip. Tom Quinn, the new lessee's brother, was a local commercial artist. He made an elegant wooden sign with a Coyote footprint painted on it. Under the footprint he wrote "...and company have gone." As we drove out for the last time, I wrote the word "on" after the "gone". Six months later I returned and took the sign itself. I still have it.
The Free Family was preparing a caravan at that time. The idea was to travel to far-flung locales and use our neutrality as newcomers to create meetings, detentes, and political alliances among people who should, but did not, know one another. Things were to commence with a road trip to southern Colorado for a peyote meeting with members of the Red-Rockers and the Triple-A communes in the Huerfano Valley.
I loved the act of preparing my truck for such trips. Each task I accomplished inventoried a useful skill I had assembled since leaving college with a degree in English literature. I had developed a passion for the deductive, problem-solving capacities required to keep one's life in working in a world without the money to hire professionals to solve life's inevitable dilemmas. My engine had been lovingly re-built on my kitchen table; each bolt torqued to specifications and locked against vibrations with Loc-Tite. I had balanced the fly-wheel and clutch pressure-plate together and it idled like a whisper. Metal strapping from the bed of an abandoned truck had been arched over the sideboards of mine and covered with canvas, so that my '49 Chevy deuce-and-a-half-flat-bed resembled an old Conestoga wagon. In honor of the scars and lacerations I incurred during its construction, I named the truck Dr. Knucklefunky.
Nineteen adults and eleven children trundled nine homemade house-trucks over the Sierras and on through the sage and scrub of Nevada. Outside Provo, Utah we camped in a broad flat meadow overlooking a reservoir. it was idyllic: groves of aspens offered pleasant shelter from the wind, the grass was thick and long, the weather balmy. Everyone was having a great time. Everyone but Simon. Simon had joined us from Black Bear. He was a tall and skinny with red pimples all over his body, so painful that he took to walking around naked. He also had a huge boil on his tongue that made speech almost impossible. I smashed up some Oregon grape root to make a blood-purifying tonic for him; it seemed to help, but he decided he needed vitamin C and went to town to steal some oranges. He was brought back by an apologetic sheriff. He had tried to be nice to us, he complained, had not hassled us during our stay, but now we had embarrassed him. Simon kept blubbering protestations which were unintelligible due to the boil festering in his mouth. We told him to shut up and apologized to the sheriff, promising to keep Simon confined to camp.
One day as Simon was wandering around naked, a car nosed along the trail and around a clump of aspen. Simon was either too stupefied from poisoned blood or too arrogantly proud to pay attention and cover himself. The driver floored his car and raced away. As we discovered later, the angry man was the owner of the property and his wife had been sitting next to him.
That night, at around 11, the sheriff, apologetic again, woke us up: the Range Riders were coming to arrest us.
We thanked him for the warning and broke camp by headlights. Only a little trampled grass showed we had been resting there almost a week. We drove down the road a while and pulled in at a diner-bar joined at the hip to a small gas-station. A Saturday-night cowboy frolic was in full swing. While we filled our thermoses and gave the kids hot chocolate, the man parlayed and tried to decide where we would camp. From time to time a cowboy would wander out from the bar, survey us drunkenly, then disappear back into the whining maelstrom of the dance. I was beginning to get nervous.
We got everyone loaded into the trucks, were lined up ready to go, when I noticed that Peter Berg and his truck, The Albigensian Ambulance Service, were not among us. I began searching for him. Cowboys clutching pool cues were beginning to cluster in the doorways, and you could see that serious trouble was brewing.
I spotted Berg's truck at the gas station and ran over. He was nowhere to be seen, so I pounded on the rest-room door. It was flung open and I was greeted by a sight that I was certain would be my next-to-last on earth. Peter was back-lit in the doorway. He was wearing his brown leather trench coat. He was still bald from where his head had been shaved by the Nevada police. His eyes behind his rimless glasses were crazed by stimulants, and in his hand was a large and bloody butcher knife. Behind him, half in and half out of the blood-stained sink, was what I took to be a flayed human baby!
All I could imagine was one of the cowboys peering over my shoulder. I knew, with paralyzing insight, that we would all be lynched, strung up among the winking bar lights, as a warning to others, the way locals in that area killed coyotes and casually hung them from fences along the highway.
It was a jack rabbit that Peter was skinning. He had run over it on the way out and had not wanted to waste a possible addition to a stew. I regained enough voice to convey my urgency to him, and we gathered up the remains and fled, leaving the blood-stained washroom for the locals to ponder.
After four months or so on the road, Carla was "ready for a hot bath and some dope." She and Jeff traded their Chevy for a little red MGB and piled themselves, Malachi, and all their gear into it and drove straight back to Church Street in San Francisco, where they moved in with Little Paula and the Cockettes.
Little Paula was a short, effervescent brunette I had met during my time at the S.F. Mime Troupe. She was one of those girls who substitutes aggressive personality for physical beauty. She wore thick-lensed glasses that made her eyes appear large and manic, independent of the rest of her face. Since leaving the Mime Troupe, Little Paula had become a skilled criminal, working hot credit cards and using extraordinary amounts of drugs. She also owned a gargantuan tomcat who had been trained to crap in the toilet, a feat which kept the house odor-free and was also guaranteed to stun brain-numbed stragglers who stumbled into the bathroom and confronted the cat spread-eagling over the toilet bowl. This was the atmosphere that Carla had been seeking, and it was not long before she had a jones going.
Paula's roommates, the Cockettes, were a male drag-queen review that favored Shirley Temple crinolines and tutus, unshaved legs and beards. One of their spectaculars featured Hibiscus reprising Jeanette McDonald numbers while being pushed on a large flowered swing. They loved to shock straight people by going shopping while sucking popsicles that were shaped like penises.
Like most everyone else in the counter-culture, the Cockettes were anti-war activists, and they invented a unique brand of draft resistance. They would pull their van up to the Oakland Army depot and offer free blow-jobs to young men about to take their physicals. Afterwards, they would offer Polaroid pictures of the event as hard evidence of homosexuality to be presented to the draft officials!
Jeff began to hang around with the Hell's Angels. I don't know whether he was an active prospect for admission or just waiting around hoping to be asked. He was doing B&E's (breaking and entering) and fencing stuff to get by, when Carla became pregnant. They moved out to the suburbs of San Anselmo, where they sold dope for a sweet guy named Kelly, who controlled all the Mexican salt-and-pepper heroin in Marin. He was a stand-up guy; no matter how many times he was ripped off, he took it as dues that came with the territory. His counts were always fair. He would extend credit. He never ground up the nuggets of brown heroin into the material that it was cut with, so it was easy to pick out the active lumps and throw away the lactose. Everyone liked him.
Kelly's old lady, Carol, was hated and feared. A sultry, flashy girl with thick blonde hair, Carol rode rough-shod over Kelly's undying affection for her. Junkies who got into arguments with her would get cut off their supply, and she was famous for leaving people dope-sick and waiting while she shopped for clothes. Kelly adored her and she used that power ruthlessly. She was not a girl who liked men very much. Her mother had been a hooker, and she had eight brothers and sisters each by a different father.
One day, while Carla and Jeff were selling for Kelly, the DEA raided their house and raided badly: one of those B-movie blitzkriegs where furniture is upended, and all the spices are dumped in a huge pile in the middle of the rug. Baby Malachi sat in the middle of the floor with his crayons, coloring diligently while the house was being dismembered around him. Carla was screaming "would you like me to open it for you?" but the cops were oblivious to her ironies. They smashed down doors and shredded pillows, having much too much fun to slow down.
One cop, Jerry, a handsome Kirk Douglas look-alike with shoulder-length hair, was obviously embarrassed by the whole procedure. He sat in a chair covering his face with his hands and repeating over and over, "Guys, you can see they're not scared of us. There's obviously nothing here." Carla noted and appreciated his mannerliness and demeanor; coincidentally, he figured prominently in her life a few years later.
The raid helped Carla decide that a future of imprisonment was becoming increasingly probable. Because she could not even consider "the possibility of life without dope," she entered the methadone program in San Rafael, and moved in with Nichole, an occasional girlfriend of mine who had joined us, much to Sam's displeasure, on the Caravan. Some years later Nichole lived with me, after coming to Pennsylvania at Sam's invitation, and soon displaced her as my lady. Nichole was and still is a great singer and was dating Steven Stills at this time. This would have impressed Carla inordinately, if Nichole had not also taken a shine to Jeff. Sexual generosity, as well as great personal charm, were two of Nichole's endearing qualities however, so no one ever stayed angry with her for long.
Things went fairly well for a-while. Willow was born in that house with Baby Malachi in attendance holding his little red wagon prepared with a pillow and blanket to take his baby sister for a ride. "Malachi was the adult in our relationship," Carla used to say. "He adored his sister. Told me when she was hungry, when she needed her diapers changed. He took her everywhere, God bless him, because I could barely take myself anywhere let alone take care of them." Malachi was three.
With a larger family now, Carla moved out to San Rafael. Jeff was hard at work building trucks with fake compartments for Kelly's drug runs to Mexico. Jeff's fascination with the Angels had continued and he had attached himself to Moose, a gregarious rogue with a quick temper and a steel-trap mind. Moose was everyone's uncle. He had come to Olema often in his huge white Cadillac. His Harley- Davidson was painted white, too, with a large red cross on the gas tank. I always assumed that this was because Moose never traveled without medicines for aid and comfort, particularly high-quality methedrine. He enjoyed "kidnapping" me, as he called it, taking me away for runs of days at a time. On one occasion ,we left so rapidly that he had to stop at Angel Larry's to commandeer a pair of boots for me, solid black Chippewas I still wear.
Moose's real name was Lorenzo and he intimated that the Italian connection implied in his name was the Mafia. He had, according to his own mythology, been imprisoned for life without possibility of parole at 19 for killing three guys with a screwdriver after they'd made the mistake of jumping him outside a waterfront bar. He was awesome when provoked to violence and I considered this story as possibly true. Once, as we were leaving on one of our runs, he asked to look at my scarf. When I took it off and gave it to him, he returned it without looking at it. "If I can get that from you, I can get everything you own." He was full of little epiphanies like that.
Jeff thought he could slide by the Angels' prohibition about needles, and with anyone but Moose he might have, but when Moose discovered needle tracks on Jeff's arm, he beat him so badly that he broke a baseball bat over his body.
Carla and Jeff were best buddies by this point, but living separately. Jeff claimed that he was being paid by the Angels, but whether or not his status had actually been elevated to "prospect" was unclear. He was making many trips north to Oregon, and he would appear on Friday nights to eat and sleep with Carla, play with his kids, and leave her some rent money.
One day, Moose suggested that Jeff prospect in San Rafael in Marin County instead of Oakland, said that it would be closer to home and less of a strain on him. He was put under the charge of a guy named Red, who ran a gas station there.
Soon afterwards, Jeff came to Carla's truly horrified. He couldn't sit still, couldn't concentrate, couldn't focus his attention. He spoke agitatedly, with big gestures, gulping for air. He kept alluding to something, but all he could actually say was, "I'm freaked, Carla. Really, I'm freaked."
She could only determine that Jeff had been wheel- man on an errand with Red and had seen something that scared him beyond measure. He told her that he was going to talk to Red in the morning and that he'd get back to her. He didn't.
The next day,Carla's temporary roommate pulled a robbery that went sour and had to leave town, leaving Carla without one-third of her rent support. By the second Friday, without Jeff's contribution, she was down to two-thirds and nervous, so she went to the garage to see Red. When she asked about Jeff, Red look at her blankly and said, "Jeff who?" She knew then that Jeff was dead. She called Moose, her only ally in the Angels, but he gave a her a song and dance about Jeff just being gone for a few days.
"I knew this was bullshit," she said, "and I freaked." She went to the police and tried to convince them that her husband had been murdered, "but all they saw was some hysterical biker's broad and laughed me off."
They must have laughed all the way to Red as well because the next day an unlit Molotov cocktail crashed through Carla's front window with a note attached to it warning her about not going back to the police.
Carla left the kids asleep in the house to slip around the corner to the market. When she returned, all her furniture was piled in the yard with the kids sitting on it, with her clothes in a big puddle at their feet. Despite the fact that her rent had always been regular and there had never been any trouble, the landlord's only response to her was, "You're outta here."
Carla took what she could and left. Despite the help of friends who took her in and gave her dope - without a phone she could not service her regular customers and buy her own - she slept on the streets, in Goodwill boxes, for weeks. Finally, two of her friends, Mitchell Brothers porn stars who had "done a geographic" from some trouble, took pity on Carla and offered to take care of the kids, until Carla could get her scene back together.
Carla was grateful, but unfortunately, one of the friends, the one Carla knew best, got hurt in an accident shortly afterwards, so she gave the kids to the other girl, Barbara, who promptly moved them to faraway Coos Bay.
Relieved of the children for the moment, Carla was scuffling determinedly now, trying to grubstake a house and a means of supporting her drug habit. Hitchhiking over the Wolf Grade one day, a fat cat in a big Mercedes picked her up and offered her $50 for a blow job. Carla was stunned.
"Fifty fucking dollars", I thought, "now that's something I can do." So she did, and not only loved the money, but the rush. She liked the rush so much that in later years, even after she and her friends had established a solid house and a substantial client list, she confesses that they would sometimes sneak off into the city and "work guys in cars, for the adrenaline."
She rented a sweet little house in San Rafael, and between selling dope and turning tricks, paid for a cozy nursery with fresh paint and sweet pictures. She stuffed it with toys, books, and pictures, clean bedding and clothes, as her wad could cover and her guilt would demand, and prepared to get her kids back.
When she got to Coos Bay, and finally located Barbara, she was horrified. They were living in a filthy teepee. Her children had runny noses and chapped lips, and were covered with mud. Barbara had fallen in love with them and was not about to give them back. She had alerted the town to the threat of Carla's arrival and everywhere Carla went she was tailed by hostile people who had been told God-knows-what-story about her relationship with the kids - maybe the truth.
Carla finally struck a deal with Barbara to let Carla have her own kids for 30 days. If the children didn't want to live with her after that, Barbara could have them back. Carla returned home with Malachi and Willow.
Two days later Barbara appeared at their San Rafael doorstep and moved in.
Carla knew that she had to hide her habit and business dealings from Barbara. To meet her various customers and keep the money rolling in, Carla was forced to make ten and eleven trips to the store, pleading absentmindedness. She would lock herself in the bathroom and take half her normal dose of heroin so that she would not nod out and drop a burning cigarettes into her lap. Finally the wear and tear of inventing excuses and juggling schedules got to be too much, so Carla demanded that Barbara leave and come back at the end of the agreed-upon 30 days. Barbara asked to be allowed to take the kids to visit her own foster mother first. She said she would return with them that night.
It was not until the next morning that Barbara ended Carla's all-night vigil with the chilling news that she had given both children to the police and told them about Carla's prostitution and drug business. Carla became hysterical. Instead of simply going to the police to report that her children had been taken by a crazy babysitter, she made the understandable, but stupid, mistake of going to see a lawyer.
Marvin the Con, as I'll call him, had a penchant for young hookers, and in lieu of money (although Carla estimates that she gave him about twenty grand in cash over the years), he was happy to fuck Carla himself and pimp her to his friends. He gave her a lot of lawyerly advice which, "If I'd of followed, I'd probably have my kids back today," Carla confesses fairly enough, " but he's still a scumbag."
He sent Carla to a social worker named Jane, a kindly, understanding-looking woman that Carla fell in love with and "just trusted! I told her everything," she says. "I came clean: the drugs, the tricks, the selling, everything. Jane went to a judge to have both children made wards of the court.
She met and moved in with Clint, Kelly's muscular delivery man. The next two years became a blur of moves between every cheap hotel, motel, and rooming house in Marin, until November 11,1975, when Carla picked up the Examiner and saw the front-page photo of a large, algae-covered 50-gallon drum, dripping wet and wrapped in chains. and saw the front page photo of a large, algae-covered 50 gallon drum, dripping wet and wrapped with chains, which had just been dredged up from beneath the Richmond Bridge. The caption identified it as her husband's coffin. The police had caught Jeff's "friend," Boneyard, on that bridge with a car-trunk full of cocaine. In searching around for something to deal for his freedom, Boneyard turned over some people - and Jeff's final resting place.
The next night one of Carla's customers told her that the Angels were looking for her. Carla figured that if her customers knew the Angels wanted her, it would not be long before she crossed paths with the boys themselves. So, for the next month, she and Clint slept in a different place every night. It was nerve-wracking never knowing when she made an appointment, whether or not she might find an Angel there waiting her. Clint and Carla drifted that way for months, skimming the nether world of Marin like fallen leaves before the wind.
Malachi and Willow, were by this time in a foster home in San Anselmo. They were thriving with a wholesome, nurturing couple who had a yard, rabbits. Carla's appearances there were becoming more and more traumatic. On her final visit, Malachi had clung to her leg screaming and begging, "Take me with you, take me with you Mommy."
Carla recognized that her life was a shambles; she believed, with good reason, that she could quite possibly be dead very soon. Reluctantly, she signed adoption papers, delivering her children to these good people. "I cried for five straight days," she remembers. Clint and Kelly held her, rocked her, fed her, kept her stoned, and never left her alone for five minutes.
Meanwhile, Kelly, was on his way to jail at this time. Even the brilliant Terry Hallinan, friend of civil liberties, radical causes and underdogs, a man who had often helped the Diggers without charge, could not help Kelly this time. Kelly didn't help much, either. At his trial, when the IRS compounded the charges against him by over-valuing the street-price of his dope and demanding $45 in unpaid taxes for each $20 bag of dope he'd allegedly sold, Kelly became irate, jumped out of his chair, and yelled, "If you can get that kinda fucking money for it, I'll sell it to you!"
Kelly owed Carla and Clint about 80 grand for bail and lawyers they had extended to him during the course of his troubles. As recompense to them, he introduced them to his primary connection in Mexico, so they could take over his business. All he asked -begged for, actually was that they "take care of Carol." This was a lot to ask, because, as I've mentioned earlier, everyone hated Carol. Clint and Carla agreed, nonetheless, so Kelly could go off to prison without worrying.
The night before he went to jail, Kelly rented a big sailboat and catered a haute-cuisine candle-lit dinner with fine tableware and sparkling crystal. He bought matching, hand-made, white doe-skin outfits for himself and Carol, and some fabulous jewelry for her. He had prepared a magnificent romantic farewell, but Carol never showed up. Kelly spent his last night of freedom lying on the bed of the boat weeping. At dawn, he delivered himself to San Quentin Prison.
After Kelly had left, Carol finally appeared. Carla, infuriated at her cruelty to Kelly, beat her bloody. In tears, Carol recounted her side of the story - the details of life with a man rendered impotent by junk. Carla was certainly sympathetic to the idea of sex as a basic need and Carol's tale mollified Carla and Clint just enough to assure her that they would deliver her maintenance-level quantities of dope. She would have to cover her own rent. Even this was difficult` for Carol, because she had grown lazy and dull after years of Kelly's largesse.Carla gave her the phone numbers of some tricks and told her to go to work and see if she liked it.
Not surprisingly, Carol turned out to be a phenomenal hustler. "She got more outta those guys than I could," Carla reports. Carol moved in with a girl named Pam and they started doing "doubles". Then Clint got very hot with the police and had to disappear, so Carla moved in with Carol and Pam. They let a snazzy house on Sunset in Mill Valley with a lovely view of trees and an easy walk to a park.
Life was good. They had plenty of customers and lots of calls for doubles and triples. A cab would come every morning, with orange juice and donuts, to take them to the methadone program. All their neighbors liked them, in spite of guessing what they were up to, because they were sweet girls with sunny dispositions.
In the curious way that opposites often attract, Carla and Carol fell in love. Carla explains, "I mean we were bathing together, sleeping together, fucking together, getting high together, what do you expect? Besides, Carol was great with me, helping me through bad depressions about my kids and really looking after me. Bein' real sweet."
Clint was incensed about this, but Carla was adamant: if he wanted her, he would have to take Carol as well. Clint did move in, but things didn't work out. One day when Carla returned with the groceries, she found Clint and Carol loading weapons on either side of the living room. This was too much and Carla moved out.
She relented a few days later, picked up Clint, and the two of them moved in together and started a "whole new deal." Carla got a job in a pizza spot in Tiburon, and they both broke their rigs. Alcohol was still allowed - and methadone - and she still turned an occasional trick in the evening for some fun-money, but compared to the past, they were almost civilians.
But Clint began killing a fifth of vodka before noon. By evening he'd be blind drunk and dangerous. He was a big, strong guy and gave Carla several serious beatings he would blot out of his mind by the next morning. Carla would present herself at breakfast, black-eyed and puffy: "This is you Clint." Clint would insist that he would never treat her that way; he refused to believe that her condition had anything to do with his behavior.
One day the cops picked her up hitchhiking. They "suggested" she come to the station for a talk. It is a measure of the loyalty that Carla inspires in people that when her favorite trick saw her enter the police car, he risked following her to the police station demanding to know the charges against her and what her bail would be. The cops assured Carla (and the trick) that shewas not under arrest. They told her that they wanted Clint. They had a warrant for his arrest, for a hand-to-hand sale of two ounces of heroin to an undercover cop. They had him cold. Terry Hallinan couldn't help him because of a conflict with Kelly's case; this made Clint crazy as a cutworm. That night, Carla heard him careening down the hallway toward their flat. She decided she'd been beaten enough for one life and hid behind the door. When he stomped into their apartment, calling for her drunkenly, she flattened him with a lamp and fled to her sister's.
Despite their disagreements, Carla didn't want Clint to face his bit in prison without the prospect of conjugal visits, so she married him. The day after their wedding, Clint's trial began. The star witness for the prosecution was the undercover cop that had bought the dope directly from Clint. Carla recognized him as Jerry, the polite, Kirk Douglas look-alike from the destructive DEA raid on her house. She still liked him. "He was just doing his job," she said. "He caught Clint fair and square, nothing personal."
On the witness stand, Jerry kept alluding to his notes. Clint's lawyer rose and told the court that he had petitioned Jerry countless times for these notes and had never received them. Jerry confessed sheepishly that he had recently moved and that during that move the bottom drawer of his file cabinet had become hopelessly jumbled. . . he had used papers from that bottom drawer to start the first fire in his new house. Clint's lawyer looked at Clint, then at Carla. The prosecutor looked at Jerry. Everyone looked at the judge, who looked at everyone else, before he shrugged helplessly and said, "Case dismissed!
Carla and Clint figured that God had favored them and that perhaps they owed him the commitment of turning over a new leaf. Both got jobs and kicked heroin (again) by using a lot of pot (and methadone), and going to bars and drinking themselves into a stupor, "because we thought that's what straight people did!" It all took its toll however, and they split up for good.
Carla met a guy at the methadone clinic: slim, feminine looking fellow with waist-length black hair, a stab-your-mother-street-hustler, named Gino. He had approached her very aggressively at first and she hadn't liked him, but then for several weeks he had been courteous and polite. One day she left the clinic with Gino, and they went to a hotel and "fucked for two weeks." After a sexless life of several years with Clint, Carla thought that the God of flesh had finally answered her prayers.
Gino's stated occupation was rock 'n' roll drummer, but actually he was a con artist. He wasn't above sticking a gun in your ribs, but what he really liked was stings. He was a master at the pigeon drop, the world's oldest switcheroo hustle, but he prided himself on inventing this con: he and a friend would meet sailors coming into port and offer them "...girls, any kind you can imagine." He would put together a party of six to eight guys while his buddy went around the corner to steal a car. On the way to the location he primed the sailors with lurid descriptions of the particular appetites of each girl in his "trap line". They would arrive in front of a hotel and Gino would park, "for a second" in a no parking zone. He and his buddy would collect the girls' fees, towel deposits, bribes for the madame and police - and sometimes for particular costumes or fetishes which he swore excited the girls. Then he and his buddy would enter the hotel and exit through a rear door. The piece de resistance for Gino, was that he had also stolen their liberty by leaving the sailors in a stolen car!
Gino also sold fake drugs. He would let oregano sit in a cookie tin for a couple of weeks until it had lost its scent and then mix it with henna and egg yolks. He would scalp tickets to rock concerts, then sell the dope inside. He also robbed gay drug-dealers, using his feminine looks and guile to get in the door. He called that one "playing the sugar" because it was so sweet. Once, Carla remembers, "he stole a fag dealer's dog and held it for ransom".
One night Carla's friend Steve had appeared at her door bloodied and shaken, having been stabbed by two black girls while he was trying to cop dope in Marin City. When one of these black girls showed up at the program the next morning, Carla jumped her and pounded the living hell out of her. This was a serious violation of program rules, and not even Paula McCoy, our old friend and the most elegant hostess in the hip scene, on the program herself and Carla's counselor, could save her from a suspension for 30 days.
With the insouciance of the young and naive, Carla told everyone to fuck themselves; that she was going to quit methadone rather than have to put up with their bullshit, and quit she did. It is a testament to Carla's will that she stayed clean, and virtually sleepless for three months 90 days, while Gino was still taking his maintenance doses. When she finally broke and walked into the clinic, she weighed 90 pounds and was shaking like a leaf. Dr. Charlie took one look at her, waived the obligatory two week waiting period, and gave her an immediate dose.
A little later, the same hard-luck, stabbed-in- Marin-City Steve showed up bloody and ragged again! He had propositioned the wife of a guy named Danny in front of Danny's friend Worm. To save his own honor, Danny had smashed Steve in the face with a glass ashtray. Gino retaliated for his friend and kicked Danny's ass publicly in front of the bar on Fourth Street in San Rafael the next day. Unfortunately for Gino, Danny was an unhinged - actually a hinge-less - Vietnam vet. After his beating, he returned to Carla's house with a baseball bat and a focused intention to murder Gino. Carla fled out the back door and warned Gino at work. Consequently, Gino was prepared when he encountered Danny later that afternoon and preemptively stabbed him in the chest. Danny lost a lung, but, to his credit, never turned Gino over.
After the stabbing, Gino was too hot in San Rafael, so he fled to New York, leaving Carla a Greyhound bus ticket. She arranged the transfer of her de-tox clinic (and enough methadone to travel with), and joined with Gino at his mother's in Connecticut.
Gino straightened up and got a job in a warehouse. Carla got a job tending bar at a Howard Johnson's. She walked five miles there and back every day, so they could save toward a place of their own. One night God smiled on her again. She found a wallet with $1200 in it, stripped of I.D., in one of her booths at HoJo's. She stashed it in the back and, two weeks later, when no one had claimed it, used the money to bankroll an apartment for her and Gino.
They began a couple of years of holding down several jobs, scrimping to make ends meet, struggling to fend off boredom and despair; a normal working existence. Then, homey normalcy began to pall, and Carla announced her decision to return to California.
Gino did not want to lose her. His dad had worked for a big company, and his mom, moved by Gino's late-blooming domesticity, forged his credit record and denied his arrests on the company's application. . . so Gino was hired to work for a West Coast branch. He applied all his street smarts and inventiveness to his new work, and today is thriving as one of the company's top service reps. . .
Back in California, Carla became fixated on the possibility that if there were an earthquake, the seismic jitterbugging might create a condition where they would be cut off from their methadone. The doctors at the program pooh-poohed this fear, and assured her that all she had to do was turn up at any hospital and demand their dose. Carla's knowledge of the world predicted a different scenario. "I could just see it" she says, "turning up at the trauma ward among the bodies, the wrecked-up and the fucked-up, two junkies looking for a fix. Imagine how long we'd have waited in the back of that bus?"
She and Gino decided that it would be prudent to kick methadone in anticipation of "the big one." They tossed a coin, and Gino won (or lost) the toss and quit first. He began slacking off by a couple of milligrams every couple of weeks until he felt normal at that dosage. He'd "keep the edge off" a while and then diminish it another couple milligrams. He began jogging and getting really fit. Carla maintained them both by selling half her doses and the rest of his, and working.
When her turn came, Carla stayed true to her word and cleaned up, although it took her two full years. She then entered a period of intense isolation. Her mother was dying, and she introduced Carla to The Aquarian Gospel. Carla began reading anything spiritual she could find, even Jehovah's Witness pamphlets she found on busses. She had no idea how she would be able to live without dope and felt that these books might help. One "adjustment problem" was that Carla's newly awakened body remembered sex. She was now constantly aroused, but all of Gino's surplus energy appeared to be dedicated to regaining his physical fitness through exercise. Soon they cashed it in as a couple.
Carla got a job with Marin Towing, a company that hauled away disabled and illegally parked vehicles with snazzy yellow and chrome towtrucks. She felt comfortable there, because the business reminded her of prostitution, especially the litany of services and prices: $25 to unlock; $50 for a straight tow; $75 with dollies.
"It was legal stealing," she laughs. "The cops back it up, even set the rates." A shop owner sets out a little sign that says if you park here your vehicle gets towed. The sign cites some numbers in the public law books, and the towtruck boys are in business, working on straight commission.
She and the boys used to sit on the hills over Sausalito scanning the parking lots with binoculars, looking for illegally parked cars. "Hell we busted Kenny Roger's car, and Todd Rundgren's," Carla recalls. "Todd was so impressed that we towed his car correctly that he hired the towtruck driver as his driver. We worked 17 hours a day and I didn't have time to be junk-sick." Besides the excitement of the work, an added perk was being surrounded with muscular young drivers."I fucked everything in sight," she remembers dreamily.
She stayed with Marin Towing for three years until she was virtually running the office,, augmenting her pay checks by towing race cars on weekends. Finally, the owner couldn't afford to pay her what she needed, and, with regrets and great memories, she was forced to leave her first real oasis in many years.
She applied for a job as a cashier at one of America's great brokerage houses. She loved it. Stockbrokers drank like fish and partied hard. They were as unabashedly materialistic as hookers, played all the angles, and according to Carla, worked their customers "just like Johns." Friday through Sunday, she held her demons at bay by drinking herself into oblivion.
One Friday night, her boss gave her his credit card and told her to reward the girls in the office for a tough week by taking them out to party. Carla piled them into her lovingly restored Pontiac Firebird and took them out for the night, firmly resolved to have just one glass of wine and then go home.
"But I can't have just one", Carla says reflectively. By the time the boss joined them, she was so out of control that he took her car keys and put her in a cab. Carla did not want to wake up at her home in Richmond, 30 minutes away, without her car so she ordered the driver back. She used a hidden key to start her car and headed for home.
She doesn't remember much about the trip except smashing into a Volvo as she headed the wrong way down a one-way street. When she finally recovered perception and memory, she was in the middle of the Chevron oil-refinery complex, having crashed through a set of heavy gates, and wrapping the car around herself like extravagant steel clothing.
The firemen took three hours to extract her from the wreckage. Another hour later, at the police station, her blood alcohol measured .23, over twice the legal limit. Carla called her boss from jail at about four in the morning and told him to leave her there because she needed a vacation. . .
After all those years and escapades, she was in jail for abusing a legal drug.
It was two years ago that Carla joined AA. She's found her children and is working hard to repair what can be salvaged of their tattered relationship. She is still stunning. Her shoulder- length hair is punk-short in front. Her adolescent baby-fat has been burned away, exposing chiseled cheekbones and a slender, aquiline nose. The only trace of her old life I can detect, besides her street-smarts, is the excessive polished way she says "Good evening" when she answers the phone. I inquired about that, suspecting that she might still be using the phone for business. She looked at me for a minute. Her dark eyes were as bright and undiminished at 39, as they were at 17. the eyes of a race- horse locked on a finish line it intends to cross at the highest possible speed. She took a drag of her cigarette. She smiled. "I always thought it would be low-rent to turn tricks after thirty, Coyote, so I stopped."
For press coverage of "Carla's Story," see the Pushcart Prize news articles.