Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Writers Guild Office Boy 1970 (iii)

The hashish that I smoked with Mary on our Saturday night trip to the Fillmore East had been obtained from John on Staten Island.

John was a white working-class guy who had grown up in poverty in Bedford-Stuyvesant, before eventually enrolling in Staten Island Community College and, subsequently, in the experimental upper-division CUNY school on Staten Island, Richmond College, in the late 1960s. By the time I met John in the Fall of 1968, when I enrolled at Richmond College for my senior year of college, John was into both underground anti-war journalism and psychedelic drugs.

John was both a good writer and a good editor. He had been one of the official student newspaper editors at Staten Island Community College. And in the Fall of 1968, he was one of the editors and founders of the anti-war student underground newspaper at Richmond College. But by the Spring of 1969, John seemed to be more into smoking pot and hashish, using psychedelic drugs and dealing pot, hash and psychedelic drugs on Staten Island than into underground journalism anymore.

In the Spring of 1969, John had a Volkswagen car, was usually high on pot, hashish or some psychedelic drug all the time, and had no difficulty driving around Staten Island, onto the ferry and into Manhattan while high on marijuana or hashish. He was into a hippie-love trip in the Spring of 1969. And, if you stopped by his pad in Staten Island to hang out for awhile, John was always very generous about sharing a joint with you, while you both listened to records and got into deep philosophical, metaphysical and political discussions.

After I moved from Staten Island in late May 1969, I didn’t see much of John on a day-to-day basis. But about every three or four months, I would usually spend an evening taking the ferry into Staten Island and see which people there from Richmond College that I might bump into while down there. And I would sometimes also spontaneously stop by at John’s pad and, if he were at home, we’d spend a few hours turning on together and I’d sometimes also buy some grass or hashish or mescaline from John.

So in the Fall of 1970 when I wanted to get some hashish and tabs of mescaline, I paid John a visit on Staten Island. When I got to his apartment, John wasn’t home. But his roommate at the time, a good-natured African-American guy who had graduated CUNY with a BA in engineering was at home, and we had an interesting chat about what kind of job market was then being offered to college graduates who had majored in engineering in 1970, while we waited for John to get home from work.

John’s roommate felt that his firm employed many more engineers than they actually needed for the Defense Department work they had contracted to do, because it enabled his firm to bill its clients more. And he felt that engineers like himself were just being paid to warm seats and not to do any actual work at his engineering firm. So he was already looking for some other engineering firm to work for that would provide him with a more challenging and interesting paying job.

After I had talked for a short-time with John’s roommate, John arrived home from his job at the local mental hospital on Staten Island. He was as friendly as ever and seemed high on something.
But after we smoked some hashish together and talked for awhile, John casually mentioned that now, in the Fall of 1970, he was using the needle and into heroin on a fairly regular basis, because he felt that nothing else could match the pleasurable sensation it gave him. But he wasn’t a junkie and was able to perform both his assigned work at the mental hospital and deal grass, hash, mescaline and acid as efficiently as he had been able to do before he started using the needle.

John also mentioned that some of our fellow working-class freak students at Richmond College from the Spring of 1969 had also gotten into heroin and died of overdoses, died from injecting some bad smack or become junkies. But John seemed confident that there was little danger that he would either end up OD-ing or becoming a junkie.

Like me, John assumed that in the 1970s pot, hashish, and psychedelic drugs would be legalized in a few years, heroin would be distributed,as required, to junkies at local hospitals and there would likely be a Revolution in the United States. But while he waited for the legalization of soft drugs and the Revolution to happen, John seemed to figure it made little sense to think in terms of doing anything else when not at work other than using the needle or getting high on psychedelic drugs for the next few years.

Shortly after I paid John for the hashish and tabs of mescaline he sold me, and still high from the hashish we had smoked, I left his apartment and started walking back towards the Ferry Terminal. But this proved to be the last time I ever spoke with John and I have no idea whether or not he survived through the late 1970s, the early 1980s, the 1990s or the early 21st century. I recall that there was some rumor during the late 1970s that John had either died of an overdose of heroin or been killed in some drug deal-related incident.

Yet this could have just been a rumor based on John deciding to move to a different part of the United States without having to let anyone on Staten Island know where he was going to live, for a variety of personal or business reasons. For all I know, John of Staten Island may have ended up just becoming a professional in the 1980s who married and raised kids. Although if he had been able to enter the upper-middle-class in the 1980s, he would probably have been the type of middle-class person who got into cocaine heavily during that decade.