This story is, as are most of mine, about a single incident which, however contrary it might seem, began in Austin in 1968 and in some ways has yet to end. Within its boundaries lie brotherly love, close calls, and if not folly, rank stupidity. The characters include Paul N., whom I introduced in University Quarters and who also appears again in Tricky Trippin’ and Invisible Men, the R. Crumb wannabe also in Tricky Trippin’, a street-dealin’ needle freak whose name I never knew, an ectopically pregnant 16-year-old, the private secretary of former Texas Governor W. Lee O’Daniel, and several friends of mine, including my closest.
My first home in Austin was at 408 E. 29th Street and it belonged to one-time Private Secretary to famed former Governor W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, __________ Frankl, whom I met only when he came by one day to retrieve a cache of O’Daniel’s files he had hidden beneath the stairs and to inform me and the other three tenants of the sale of both his property and another two doors down to probably the most notorious landlord in the city, who was well-known for acquiring rental properties and summarily evicting every tenant so he could immediately raise the rent substantially.
Since I was living on a $2,500/yr. student loan, at $40.00/mo. I couldn’t afford to let my apartment go, especially in mid-semester. So, I started calling around for solutions and discovered that the place was a University of Texas approved off-campus residence and that the new owner could be hit with a substantial penalty, including the loss of University approval, for any effort to go against a student without cause. But I had to prove to the Office of Student Housing that evil was about to be done in order for them to act. So, I got my hands on a telephone answering machine which could also record conversations and, posing as a potential renter, gave him a call.
When I asked if he had anything available near to the campus, he said, “Not at the moment. But I’ll have something as soon as I can get a few of them filthy longhairs out.” and that I should call back in about a week if I was still looking. Of course, after I put the information before the Housing Office, they called him on my anonymous behalf and reminded him who could be treated how when it came to students and I didn’t have to call him back. But everybody involved, including me, Paul N., and the R. Crumb wannabe who happened to be a tenant in the second property had to find someplace to move to when our leases ran out at the end of May.
Meanwhile, back at the 40 acres ranch, I had to attend to my full 18 credit hour scholastic workload, which included an intensive course in Portuguese which would satisfy the undergraduate Anthropology foreign language requirement and which also presented a then once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Brasil, where our instructor had spent two years as a member of the Peace Corps. What each who wanted to go needed, he said, was just one thing – round-trip airfare to Belém, the gateway to the Amazon. Once there, each would be met and taken in for a month at no cost by one or another of the owners of fazendas whom he had become close to during his time in Northeastern Brasil.
All told, the airfare, associated fees, and costs came to about $600.00 which I didn’t have and I asked my folks if they might be able to provide it, but they could not. A few weeks later, however, when the deadline for going to Brasil had come and gone, they sent money to me so that I might join them on a tour of Europe, but Europe was of no interest to me whatsoever and I simply pocketed the cash. Then, on learning I was somewhat flush, Paul approached me with an opportunity to buy high-grade Michoacán bud at $15.00/kilo. delivered, but I balked. I mean, in a state where possession of a single seed was an automatic 10 years to Life, what the fuck was I gonna do with 88 lbs. of the stuff whatever the quality.
Still, we had to move on by the end of May and Paul and I got lucky, or so I thought, when we found a spacious three-bedroom upper level unit which was also University-approved going for a little over $150.00/mo. By bringing in the wannabe, we wound up paying only $10.00 or so more a month. What we didn’t realize, however, was that the wannabe – a guy who would go on three-day speed runs to knock out his cartoonery and then hit the phenobarbital to get some rest – hadn’t a single brain cell. And no, not all druggies in the toony world are witless as well.
Shortly after moving in, Paul went on a week-long business trip to California and within 48 hours of his leaving, the freakin’ wannabe decided to offer shelter to a runaway 16-year-old girl known to all of us and who was confronting an ectopic pregnancy. Even worse, he invited probably Austin’s most well-known and most closely-watched street dealer, who had an affinity for anything that could be hypodermically ingested, to come over whenever he wished, which turned out to be several times daily. With a troubled dangerously pregnant live-in minor in place and a highly visible needle freak coming and going as he pleased, I wasn’t about to stay.
However stupid everything else I did at the time, booking it turned out to have been even more well-advised than I thought because the needle freak got himself busted dealing speed on the University Drag – Guadalupe Street – and in the hope of less harsh punishment gave up Paul’s and my new Austin address as his own and a place where bigger fish could be caught. In the event, the 16-year-old and the R. Crumb wannabe got popped at the same time and a search of the premises turned up a kilo of weed and $3,000. 00 in cash stashed in Paul’s room which was padlocked, making it clear that it was his and only his.
But contraband and cash in need of explanation weren’t the only prizes. The Man also got the joint lessees’ names and from that point on my fate was possibly sealed, as Paul’s definitely was. Thing is, Paul took it more deeply in the ass than the other two because he was connected and had been warned just before the move that he had 30 days to get out of retail trafficking, which means that, but for what he had in his room, we both could have just pulled up stakes and moved on without a worry in the world, but ultimately he was set up and busted at a motel in San Antonio and I was later taken in Arlington Texas in a vastly different scenario.
As he related the story to me when we once got together after he was released, Paul had checked into a room along with a notorious friend of his whom we all knew as “Speed” and then gone to the 7-11 to buy some cokes and returned to find the room occupied not just by Speed, but by an underage girl and several federal officers in plain clothes who just happened to have found a couple of lids as well. We didn’t get into the issue of how it came to be a federal bust, but it was fortunate in one respect – Rather than 10 years to Life doing hard time on a state charge, he spent most of his sentence of from 30 days to 4 years at the medium security Federal Reformatory in El Reno, Oklahoma and a portion at Texas’ maximum security unit in Huntsville Texas.
For my part, and for God doesn’t even know what reason, I decided to use whatever was left of the $600.00 to get myself, my consignment of 100 tabs of Windowpane (for which I owed Paul the wholesale cost of $0.25/ea.), and an ounce of gold to Berkeley, but I had neither a car nor enough cash left for a round-trip by air and had to something I’d done before – Take a private transport contract and get someone’s car from Texas to wherever else it was wanted. In exchange for a small refundable performance fee and by going out-of-pocket for only the cost of fuel, food, lodging, and possibly small repairs, I could get anywhere I might wish on the cheap. And in this case it was by delivering a repo from Austin to a bank in San Diego for which I paid a $50.00 fee which not only was refunded by the bank on my arrival, but covered the cost of a short-hop flight to SFO.
After three days and two nights checking out the scene in Oakland, I caught a flight from SFO to DAL with 90 tabs and the lid in my pockets and on arrival took a cab to my friends John S. and David R.’s garden apartment on Abrams Street in Arlington, where I called my folks to see if they could pick me up and they said they couldn’t because my sister had the family car and wouldn’t be able to come until the next day, July 9 1969. Then I got word that she couldn’t come that day, but could on the next day.
But it never happened.
My friend John S. had come into possession of a case or two of 5 mg Dexedrine tablets, which he stored in his refrigerator, and was both using and, none too discreetly, selling it to fellow students at UT Arlington which drew unwanted attention – One of his customers was not, in fact. a student but a narc. Not a narcotics agent, mind you, but a narc. Someone who had himself been busted and had bought his way out of trouble by agreeing to inform and who was operating under the name John Love, which should have been a red flag for my friend because damn near every narc in Texas was named John Love.
Early in the afternoon of July 9 1969, the guy, whose name – John Love – I didn’t hear until it was too late, came to the apartment offering to sell a bread bag full of smoke which, on inspection, proved to have been run through a blender, which I thought odd but not odd enough to get me outta there based on the fact that blendered plants of any kind couldn’t be flushed. No one took him up on the purchase, but when he asked if he could leave it for a while so that we could think it over, my friend David R. offered to weigh it so that when he (Love) returned he would no it was all there. But we said we didn’t want him to leave it with us.
And that’s when I got completely stupid.
I had stashed my Purple Haze in a two-pound can of coffee and before he left I asked him if he wanted to buy and he asked to see it. After taking a quick look, Love said he wasn’t interested, but that a friend of his might be and I put baggie back in the can and the can back in the pantry.
I never saw the guy again, but I did get the chance to meet a couple of his friends.
I don’t know what time it was, but John S. had gone to his night job in Ft. Worth and David R. was sound asleep in the bedroom and while John P. and I were sitting on the sofa in the living room with me reading Nicholas von Hoffman’s We Are The People Our Parents Warned Us Against when someone knocked on the door and John got up to see who it was.
In less than thirty seconds from John turning the doorknob, the following happened. A plainclothes officer with service weapon out body-slammed John up against the wall opposite the door and threw a search warrant on the floor between me and John. A second plainclothes officer came toward me with a double-barreled shotgun pointed at my head tellin’ me if I moved I was dead. And the two other plainclothes officers with service weapons at the ready went into the bedroom, awakened David R. and cleared the adjacent bathroom.
Since they knew both the apartment layout and how many people they might encounter, it was a textbook take-down with one man coming in low to take out of the equation whoever opened the door, the second man coming in high with shotgun at the ready in case the room had to be cleared by fire, and two men heading in to clear other rooms. But with arrogance borne of what they thought was absolute knowledge of where to find what they were after, they went off script and gave me a chance to protect not just myself but all of us.
The mistake shotgun guy made was to go into tunnel vision to lock eyes with me and to see nothing else, including both the pipe full of weed on the coffee table in front of me and my movement in covering it with the book, which they didn’t touch during their search. And the mistake they all made was being so cocksure about what was in the apartment, they tossed only the kitchen and bedroom, but didn’t touch the cut-off Levis I had changed out of and left in the middle of the floor with my lid in one of the pockets.
Two counts of paraphernalia and product worth 10 years to Life went unnoticed.
In quotes below is the text of notes memorializing a telephone conversation between the narc and a federal investigator who was in March 1970 determining my suitability for seasonal part-time employment by the Austin office of the IRS as a tax examiner wherein the letter X marks the redaction of the narc’s actual name.
“INVESTIGATOR’S NOTE: All attempts to contact X were not productive. X was contacted at the Tarrant County Court House, via telephone. He was then about to be called as a witness on another drug case and could not give any additional time. He did take sufficient time to state that information received would have indicated at the time that Nichols, along with several other young men, was apparently operating out of the apartment at 1020 West Abrams Street, Arlington. Texas. The informant indicated that these young men were pushing Speed and LSD on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington. X stated that Nichols and the rest of the young men were very un-cooperative and troublesome at the time of the arrest. He felt that there was no doubt in his own mind or that of the arresting officers, that these four men were responsible for pushing Speed and LSD on the campus of UTA. The quantity of dexadrine and LSD in possession would tie in with the fact that they were suppliers or pushers, rather than users. He stated that he had no reason to believe that Nichols was using the stuff himself; however there was no actual evidence of this. The charge brought against these individuals was possession of dangerous drugs. X stated he believed one of the four men, not Nichols, pleaded guilty to the charge and paid a $100 fine so that the charges against the other three involved would be dropped.”
With the exception of comments about there being four of us, including Robert H. who had come to the apartment during the search, the location, the substances, and the charges, X made but one completely truthful remark.
Sometime before my trial date, my closest friend did enter a plea of guilty and further advised his attorney that if called as a witness in any proceedings against any of the rest of us, he would take ownership of all found substances and as a result the cases against us were Nolle Prossed by the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office on January 26 1970.