I was downstairs with Ron, working on the "Little Milton" pill
press we had just bought, when the phone rang. Holding the phone to his
side, Ron turned to me and asked if I had any more of the excellent brown
Heroin I had been sharing with him for the past two days.
"It's somebody you'd like to meet." he told me. "If you have some, we'll both go over" his voice trailed off, and he looked at me expectantly. I knew his primary motivation was to get a little more of my dope for himself, but I didn't mind. I had plenty, and I was enjoying Ron's company.
"How much does he want?" I asked.
Ron and I had just come back to Willie's Larkspur home after a quick trip up to an old mill town in Humboldt county, now mostly known for it's home-grown Marijuana. I knew two old engineers/machinists who used to work for the mill, but now made ten times the money making pill machines and things for hippie drug dealers. We had taken them an old "Milton" pill press (the kind used commercially to stamp out vitamin C tablets and similar goodies) and they had reverse engineered it and improved it, and created the "Little Milton" as we called it. We had the first of ten in our basement and we had just tabbed up fifteen grams of LSD tablets, and we were cleaning up the press which had functioned smoothly all night long; popping out those little blue barrels of LSD like a Pez dispenser on Amphetamine. We were feeling good, and if Ron thought I would like to meet this guy, I was ready to take his word for it.
"We'll be right over," Ron told his friend. Then he listened for a moment, shook his head and said: " I wouldn't bring him over if I thought he wasn't cool, you know that. In fact," he continued, "I've never brought anyone by before. You'll like this guy, he's an artist and he plays guitar too."
I didn't know whether it was the art, the guitar part, or whether the guy on the other end just wanted his dope and was tired of arguing, but apparently he said okay, because Ron shook his head again, said "Allright, see ya in a few" and hung up the phone.
"Now, you gotta keep this one under your hat," Ron said as he walked across the room and helped me put the cover over "Little Milton"
"We're goin over to Jerry Garcia's house." He looked at me to see what my reaction was, but I just shrugged and said: "Cool!"
This wouldn't be the first time I had met Jerry. He probably would never remember me - there must be people drifting through his life all the time - but of course for me, each time I ran into him was an event.
I spent good parts of 1965 and '66 and the whole of 1967 in the Haight-Ashbury, so contact with members of the various bands that made The City the center of their operations was not that unusual; the Dead, especially, being around a lot. I remembered one time when I hitchhiked out to a birthday party they threw for Pigpen at their Novato ranch, and spent the afternoon gloriously stoned, swimming in the pool, playing harmonica in one of the living rooms, and on and on throughout the day. It was a great party and although they mostly kept to themselves amidst the throng of party-goers, the Dead were here and there all day long, and I spent a good part of an hour in a room with Pigpen himself, smoking some truly excellent reefer.
The Dead were one of those groups that always seemed to turn up in my life at weird times ( I know this is also true for a lot of other people, that's just the kind of group they are) and one time in particular, I remember: I was driving down Haight Street one day, when I stopped to pick up a long haired hitchhiker, carrying a well worn portfolio. He climbed into the car, and as I handed him the hash joint I had burning, he excitedly started pulling drawings out and handing them to me for inspection.
"Look at these," he said, really excited and proud, " I just finished them. They're gonna be the cover of the next Dead album. It's really great," he told me, "not like anything they've done yet. It's called 'Workingman's Dead' and it's some really heavy songs all about working-class guys"
I looked at the drawings, and they were beautiful. Each one was on a separate sheet of paper, and they were drawn in a very clear but simple series of lines, each member of the Dead was depicted, looking solid, business-like and as though they had just stepped back from the front lines of the battle against the oppressors.
Oh this was cool, this was what I love so much about San Francisco; like the time the Owl ran into an off duty cop as the cop was backing out of a parking space, not paying attention to the traffic, he was so absorbed with the pretty thing sitting next to him, and though it was not even a real fender-bender, the cop wanted to act macho for his girl, so he stormed over to the Owl's window demanding ID and the Owl promptly pulled out a huge chunk of Afghani hash which he waved at the cop as though it was his driver's license, and the poor cop just said "Oh shit, I haven't got time for this." and left as fast as he could. This was definitely full-on San Francisco.
Stanley Moscoso, that is who this hitchhiker turned out to be, and as I drove along, it felt like the car glowed with some kind of holy light. This little man beside me was responsible for some of the greatest Psychedelic art work to come out of that whole era, and here he was just hitchhiking down the street, on his way to show the Dead their new album cover.
The Dead's network of friends and acquaintances is extensive, and over the years I have run into them from Guadalajara to the Kona coast. Every time I have been involved in some way with one of them or someone involved closely with their scene, it has been a great experience, so this night, it seemed quite in keeping with my already buoyant mood that we would be going over to Jerry Garcia's house to get down.
When we got there, Ron rang the bell, and the door was promptly answered by the great one himself. He looked old and tired. He did not look happy to see this zonked out, young, rasta-haired fool with Ron.
I did my best to put him at ease; I did not mention the reason we were there. I told him how much I admired his work, and as we entered his small apartment, I looked around and saw a guitar leaning against an amp, and I asked if I could play it. He said "Sure," and I picked it up, turned it on and picked my way through the few tunes I could actually remember when I was loaded. He went into the back with Ron, and they proceeded to get off. I could hear them clinking around in there and smell the smell of cooking Heroin. A smell that is unique in all this world and to this day has a powerful effect on my stomach. I can smell that smell just by closing my eyes under certain circumstances and imagining the scene. A bent spoon, or a little wad of wet cotton will sometimes bring that smell into my head. I used to have dreams that followed the classic pattern of a wet dream where you wake up just before you are actually going to fuck someone, only to find your underwear sticky - only in these dreams, I am cooking up some dope I have scored, and I can smell the smell of the hot dope, and just before the needle goes into my arm, I slide into wakefulness, feeling uncomfortable, and frustrated.
So, yes, I knew what they were doing in there, but out of respect, I stayed by myself until they were done and came back into the room. Jerry didn't look too good at all. Normally a good hit of dope will put life (that's a macabre joke actually, since Heroin is really a form of living death) back into a doper's face, wake him up, animate him. But Jerry seemed sick, preoccupied, and uncomfortable with my presence. We engaged in small talk for a few moments, I told him my story about picking up Moscoso, then Ron and I left.
I felt kind of shitty on the ride home. Something was different; it's tough when you discover that your gods have feet of clay. I had always thought of people like the Dead as being beyond this petty doper's world I was into, and here was ole Jerry right down on the street with me. It was one more experience with the fact that everyone is human; EVERYONE. Later on, my feelings of disappointment passed, and I just felt sorry for him. I knew from bitter and miserable experience what the junk scene was like. It is truly a Naked Lunch; that frozen moment in time when, as Burroughs so aptly put it, everyone sees what is on the end of their fork. Or in this case, we had all seen what was in our spoon: not even enough dope to get us to the next fix.
Story © 1995 by Jan Marica