Glomming Infamy on the Cusp of Free Love
Eager to glom some infamy, I couldn't wait to be there.
I almost didn’t meet Joe. He wasn’t supposed to be at Ben Farkle’s house that day.
If I hadn't been wearing my Catholic school uniform - gray wool, rolled at the waist and hiked thigh-high - I might have left Ben's house with an accessory - handcuffs.
Maybe it was my glossy black oxfords that saved me – the polished shoes of the police gleamed nearly as bright.
I didn’t fit in at Ben’s. I didn't look like a wannabee hippie, not that day. Becoming an expatriate from upper-middle American values was still an ambitious rebellion cocooned between the pages of my diary. I was months away from frizzy curls or jettisoning supportive undergarments; I was camouflaged in conventional attire, matching the sensibilities of the arresting officers. The 1960 were ending; it was years past of the Beat Generation. The cusp of Free Love hadn’t overflowed into STDs. It was decades before medical marijuana could arrive by FedEx.
Against the backdrop of Vietnam, the culture of drug abuse was evolving. The only good reason – or so Freddy, a draft dodger said - to badly abuse drugs was to obtain a 4-F - a deferment from the draft. Being a "drug addict" or a "head" was distinction of class - and race. Poor urban intravenous drug users were called "drug addicts"; aspiring intelligentsia who rolled their own jays or communed (at least cosmically) with Timothy Leary on LSD -they were elevated to the status of "heads.”
“Heads” protested the war; addicts went to war, most often unwillingly, unable to avoid the draft. Commonality among drug addicts and heads wasn’t far off. The “Rockefeller Drug Laws,” which carried draconian minimum prison sentences, were a few years hence.
The afternoon I met Joe, legislation hadn’t caught up with anyone – not even the police. “No-knock” raids were in the infancy of trending, yet to be mistaken for a home invasion or tragic events that killed someone on either side of the law.
Ben Farkle was a "head,” at least in our collective id; he was really a small-city hooligan who smoked more marijuana than he sold, but his legend had legs. Ben’s apartment was a bastion of defiance and reverie, where reading Allen Ginsberg or Kurt Vonnegut or John Burroughs was exalted. One of them had a nephew growing up in my suburb; he was one of the kids from the public school. He shared word of Ben’s house to a friend - or so we later recalled. Going to the public school was a credential of being an “insider.” At ages sixteen or seventeen, iconic status was attainable, then as now, through the unreliable criteria of peer adulation.
Eager to glom some infamy, I couldn’t wait to be there.
It was disappointing to find out Ben’s house was just a shabby apartment he shared with his mom, ridden of literati, it stank of cat feces, burnt chicken dinners and red Sangria. As for Ben, he turned out to be a twenty-six year old postal worker. I didn’t have long to change my mind about staying. Seconds after I walked into Ben’s front door, there was a ruckus on the fire escape. The backdoor swung open. His third-floor walk-up was transformed into a scene from a police movie.
I had walked into a no-knock drug raid. Joe’s guests weren’t smoking marijuana; they were shoving it into every orifice and flushing it down the toilet. There were police running up the stairs, into the windows and out of the closets. I was terrified, having taken this caper out of my favorite books, well beyond my imaginings.
Somebody had to be an informant, a "narc", I later learned, but it wasn't the obvious one, the one with the Catholic school uniform.
Looking so out-of-place, I got the attention of Joe, the officer leading the charge. He was in his late twenties, handsome and forceful.
Faster than Ben could gobble a nickle-bag of weed, I was sobbing to Joe that I’d be in SO much trouble with my parents, “Can you PLEASE let me go? I had NO idea there were drugs here!”.
I don't know if Joe believed me, but he cut me a break. He had shiny black shoes, too. I was allowed to leave the raid without being arrested. Reading about it in the newspaper, along with the names of the unlucky public school students (who didn’t wear uniforms), I was relieved.
By the mid-1970s, the incident was nearly forgotten. Incurring a debt to Joe hadn’t crossed my mind, but he came back to collect. The Rockefeller Drug Laws had passed. Minimum sentencing prevailed. College students who sold a smidgen of marijuana on campus were bunking next to violent repeat offenders who sold the same. Circumstances no longer mattered.
By then, Joe became chief detective on the narcotics squad – he was doing a "stakeout" of my neighbors across the hall. They were a motley crew of whitebread students who seemed to have too many visitors. No one had quite so many friends, meandering in and out, twenty-four/seven. We didn't know one another, passing in the hallway, occasionally.
Joe said they didn't have many friends, but they had many customers - drug customers. The conversation with Joe didn’t end there. He and his partner wanted to set up their "sting" in my apartment. I was bewildered - and afraid.
Could I say “no”? After all, Joe had done me a favor when he let me walk away from Ben’s raid. Joe didn’t say he could reverse his decision – he just pointed out what he didn't do back when Ben Farkle was arrested. Joe didn't say I'd be in danger, either -that the neighbors might think I was an informant, a "narc". The arrest I walked away from - when I was still a minor - might be revisited, Joe implied. The absurdity of what he implied didn't occur to me - he was a police officer and the fear of what he might do was overwhelming. My life had changed, too. Joe might unravel my life, simply by pulling on a stray thread.
Without invitation, Joe and his partner set up their post in my living room. For about 24 hours, they watched the street and listened to hear the creaky hinges on the door across the hall.
I wanted to leave, visit a friend. Joe insisted I stay, too.
He even asked me if I minded his gun. "Why would I mind?", I asked him.
"Because you're sitting on it.,” he answered. I leaped up and realized he'd shoved his weapon in between the cushions on the sofa. He and his partner laughed at my reaction. I didn't know why and never found out.
A day passed and the neighbors didn't do anything suspicious, or so Joe said.
There was a pounding of feet on the stairwell, the shuffling of feet, and the creaky hinges on the door across the hall -- opening and closing. Without warning, Joe and his partner, guns drawn, opened my door, and went into the hall, kicking down the neighbor’s door, leaving mine wide open.
“UP AGAINST THE WALL! GET YOUR HANDS UP AGAINST THE WALL!” Joe shouted. I hid, unable to predict what might happen next. Joe and his partner slammed my door, after which I could only hear muffled yells, briefly. I heard sirens and saw police cars pulling up to the building. Within minutes, more police emerged from the streets – they hurtled up the stairs, handcuffing the neighbors, none of whom might be guilty.
I didn’t see Joe until the next day; he came to pick up his other gun, the one stashed in the corner between the cushions of my sofa. The neighbors had been arrested but Joe let one of them go. She would be home by nightfall.
No, Joe, I don’t want to have dinner with you.