At the Sunrise Inn
All of our friends and more would converge at the Sunrise Inn on Saturday nights for Revolution 101 classes that we held for the Augusta College (AC) students. Which consisted of reading materials on the requisite scavenged phone line wooden spool center table (before they started selling the knock-offs at Ikea), all-night music on the turntable, and lectures on the youth revolt, lasting about an hour, or until the pink or green tab set in. Then, the kids were on their own, and the adventures began.
I remember riding my Triumph 650 with Sue and two others on the bike (four?), I think on mushrooms that night, busting into a wedding reception, claiming to be friends of the family and eating and drinking our brains out until discovered. We pulled over on the way back when Sue had a huge epiphany that, my god, there’s four of us on this bike! Bad karma! Sheeeiiittt! And got off and walked home. Goofy things like that.
While the guys were always nervous about getting drafted, I was evidently spared due to my bust in Chattsworth (I had developed back-up plans to go to the Bahamas or Canada if necessarythank you, Chattsworth).
The residents of Monte Sano were somewhat inter-changeable. Raymond would move in, out, back in, and out again. He had this closet with a blue light, where he organized the most amazing little self-sufficiency cubicle, kind of like a space capsule, where he would go when the trip got too heavy. We discouraged Herb from moving in, although we’d would have loved it if Phyllis had moved out of her mom’s house. There was some guy who crashed a few times, was always dressed in a greek toga when he tripped, saying "peace brother", and watching while we cleaned, cooked, constructed or whatever the next day (or when we got around to it). That’s when we arrived at the decision that egalitarian distribution was not too good an idea, no matter who said it (get a job, you bourgeois poser).
When Charlotte moved in to Monte Sano, I came in from a certain kind of mental wilderness. I remember thinking, this was my first (almost-adult) love. First, she had a great body; I’d indulge in that young love like a morphine addict in a pool of minced poppies. Second, she believed in me. Third, she was funny as hell, and we were always laughing. While I was fearful for her safety, she was fearless of her own.
She could be shades of Lauren Bacall or mountain woman. A few years later when we rendezvoused in Portland, she had this red and blue/green-flowered 1940s dress that cut off right below her knees. Once, we were camping in the mountains in Southern California at the beginning of the fall. We had to break into an old summer cabin to escape a freak cold front. While I was out walking the next day, looking for wood for the fireplace, Charlotte was sitting on the stoop of the house when a ranger drove by. She was sharpening an ax. She looked at the ranger like, don’t bother me, I’m sharpening an ax. She told him we were watching the cabin for the Joneses. He kept on driving. She was money.
Charlotte didn’t get along with Frank and some of the boys, although she loved Raymond and the Bryans and a few of her friends who came over. Frank was always coming in with a new theory of life and organizing. Frank would blurt out, you know, Guerdjieff believed, that if we visualize the police, and, you know, neutralize them with a, you know, sufi jiujitsu spiritual trance in the fourth dimension, they will reform themselves, he’d say, giggling his brains out on some pharmaceutical. Oh shut up, Frank, Charlotte would say. Herbie would always drop by with a deal we couldn’t resist (usually a bust); Char would laugh get real, Herb. McNamara was always staring at her breastsfuckin’ A, choice bazongas, my man, he’d proclaim, thinking she didn’t hear him; she’d walk away. And so on. She held her own.
There we were, one glorious Saturday night in January, 1972, my 21st birthday, crankin’ "Who’s Next" to 10 (we won’t get fooled again!), the party’s on, Charlotte by my side, a time of growth and independence, changing the world, and maybe even changing Augusta. All the gang was there. I was feelin’ my oats. 21. On top of the hill, Augusta, on top of the world. Just as I’m about to drift off in brain marsh (a freakish and frightening place, and Lord only knows why I went there; the two minutes of bliss were always overruled by four hours of mental torture); a yell goes up. All of a sudden, someone hollers PIGS!, It’s Kent! and people started bailing out the doors, windows, up the stairs and out through the roof. Buck Kent is raiding. With the whole damned army. Like field mice running from 78 hungry cats finally escaping from the house of an old crazy dead woman, we flee.
So, these were the kinds of run-ins I initially had with Buck. I usually made myself scarce. I don’t remember much about how it went down, but one day Kent planted an ounce on Andy Best, loveable Andy the bass player. He was railroaded through court and sent to prison for a year. Wrong place, wrong time. Now they were starting to piss me off.
Then, some guy from Texas, Dan, I think, showed up, a newcomer. He wasn’t there long. After my legal travails (later on that), he booked it back to Texas. But he and I started planning an investigation that would take another three years to come full circle. He had skills none of my other friends did. Mainly, he could concentrate on something for more than 20 minutes. We were gonna get these mother-fuckers. They were busting our friends. Busting up our concerts. Busting in on pot parties. And, as we found out, they were doing something much worse.
There was an even darker side to what we called "Disgusta". There was a black dude named Schoolboy who sold scag on Broad. Skanky guy, we’d cross the street rather than walk by and get propositioned and hear his jive. Downtown was already depressing enough in the early 70s. It did have the one head shop for 120 miles, though. There was a also a long-hair redneck biker named Bubba Holtzclaw, always waiting for a big load coming in. Rip off artist, and like Schoolboy, dangerous. Him and his low-life friends would try to break up rallies. These assholes not only sold drugs on the street, they had protection.
Turns out the police were supplying the assholes. They were using Schoolboy and others to distribute heroin. Dan and I met a former dealer in hiding one night. He had actually been busted, his stuff confiscated, threatened to never talk about what happened, given a plane ticket, and left town. The dude wouldn’t be a witness. We heard some verifying tales from Allen Markwalter, a young Woody Allen-lookalike with a jewish afro who dealt.
Now we had ‘em. Fuckin’ A! So, we talked to Bill and Pat for hours one day under clouds of bourbon and cigarettes. Bill couldn’t print it—the paper wouldn’t print it. So, we would go to the FBI.
I remember being in an office with Dan, an FBI guy in a suit, sitting behind a desk, smoking a camel. We laid out the story. He seemed very interested. We had traced a system that worked beautifully. The vice squad would move heroin through a network of dealers in Augusta (and probably other towns). But since they didn’t arrest heroin and hard drug dealers, they had to increase the arrests of the soft drugs users. They were too stupid to catch people–no, Buck Kent and Sgt. Durland never, ever scored or sold or copped out of their convertible. So, they had to plant on people. Big time. Innocent kids. We told the FBI stiff there were a lot of kids sitting in prison for nothing. We thought, maybe justice does work in America.
Then, the FBI guy said "very interesting", and actually got animated. He said he (and the Bureau) knew it was happening. He got up and showed us a map of Augusta, which bordered South Carolina. Across the river was an even more depressing ‘burg, North Augusta. He said, the problem, boys, is that these drugs aren’t being trans-shipped across state lines. Too bad. For us to act, there has to be interstate shipment. We were stunned. How do you know? We said? How do you know they don’t sell it across the freakin’ river? How could they not be moving it across the river? Don’t the dealers cross the river? Baldfaced, he shrugged it off. Sorry, boys.
We walked out, stood in the hot Georgia sun. Baffled. I mean, baffled. The son of a bitch verified our conspiracy theories. Fuck. What a cover-up. Why were the FBI afraid to step in to this. What did we not know? So, we went to talk to other people, to try to peel away some of the layers from the smelly, rotten Vidalia onion. Tried again to talk to Bill’s paper. Nothing. The other newspaper. No. The ACLU. Sorry. I was volunteering for the OEO at the time, and one of the activists gave us a tip. Forget it.
Finally we made a mistake. We went to James Beck, the chief of police. The stereotypical short fat mean cop. We sat down in an office not 50 feet away from the Vice Squad. He got fumed, said how dare you make unproven accusations. Was gonna watch us. We left. Oh shit, we thought.
Later, we went to Sheriff Anderson. Now, Anderson was an honest cop, for sure, we thought. He had bad-mouthed the police. He sat there across the desk like he was gonna fall asleep. Next?
Then, for the next 12 months, Buck came after me, big time. Karma, said Sue Week (Oh, Sheeeiittt!, she said). McNamara warned me to not get too close to the fireyou’re getting’ too negatori, man.
Buck had already announced his hard on for me and my ilk. Even before I got to Monte Sano, I had lived in a small apartment with Frank, as I mentioned earlier, where we had plotted the overthrow of the establishment. I came home to the apartment one day, and discovered my belongings on the lawn, Buck and Durland in the narco-mobile in the front, smoking cigarettes. A buddy of mine was in the flat, and explained that, given his long hair and resemblance from behind, Buck had broken in on him. When he asked where Preacher was, my buddy said, Disney World. Buck pulled an ounce of pot out of his pocket, and said, too bad, he had a little present for me. He proceeded to tear up the room, looking for something I owned. Of course, I never owned anything. Nothing. Nonetheless, Buck had the place torn apart, had me evicted for the allegation of drug dealing. Threw all our belongings on the front yard.
I came home to that. I was pissed off, walked into the front yard and yelled at Buck. I walked into the street and yelled at him. He got out, walked over to me with Durland and a couple of suits with him, threw off my glasses, and asked me to fight him "man to man". I laughed. You had to be fucking kidding me, right, for me to believe we could scrap without these baboons cracking my ass, and arresting me on top of it? I ain’t goin’ down that damned dirt road. Stay the fuck away from me, Buck. I yelled to the high heavens at them as they were leaving, howling and growling.
This little incident happened even before we started the investigation. After we started raking the muck, Kent just simply wanted to bury me. I had adopted an alias (common for the long-hairs at the time) of Preacher. While floating around late at night I would carry a bible. When harassed by cops I would whip out the book and start preaching to them. By the time I got into it, the men in blue would let me out of the car, and wish me luck (just get out). I’m not really sure how all this came about. But as the heat got hotter, I needed as many feints and diversions as possible.
I would get so paranoid sometimes about the vice squad and their nefarious contacts that I even called on the rank-and-file police occasionally. Once, I was watching a house owned by a reporter friend of Bill Bryan, another old three-story house with turrets. There was some young lady with me at the time, and we were tripping. I heard sounds in the attic, and we both flipped out. Assassins, I was sure. We called the police, who were on the scene immediately. We put a chair in the hallway, a cop took out his pistol, and, with a flashlight from his car, he tried to open the hatch to the attic, standing on the chair. The cop got scared as he and his buddy heard some shuffling around. See, I said, standing behind a door so the assassin’s rifle couldn’t get a lucky shot at me. He pops open the hatch with the flashlight, we hold our breath in suspense, and then, it happened. Four pounds of white shit fell down on his face and down his clothes. Pigeon shit. Oops!
Getting A Bit Rambunctious
When my Dad would get the most pissed at us kids when I was young, he used to yell out, stop being so goddamned rambunctious! Wow, we thought. That must be an important word.
A guy named Ray moved in for awhile. He was a mental case, did hard drugs and obsessed on early heavy metal. But he had a great rap, and helped to articulate the kinder, gentler Augusta that we envisioned. Pat Bryan really liked himkind of a radical chic attraction thing.
But most of our political vision was not too radical, in hindsight. We laid it out in our Sunrise Manifesto: A community paper. A community radio station. Free music in the park. Worker coops. A coffeehouse. Ecology. Organized communes. And something about taking over the means of production. Wahoo! Most of this not too earthshaking. And yeah, we joined the struggle against the war. Some of us joined the black boycott (Char and I being among the few, with the Reces). And we joined the joyous campaign to overturn the right wing Democratic Party in Georgia in 1972.
I have a picture of Bill Bryan and Rex Larkin on the grounds of some podunk high school in 1972, kicking back on the grass, drinking a beer. It was the 10th district nominating convention of Georgia, held in a rural county under a good old boy government. We had pulled together a coalition of folks from the University at Athens (yes, there were students who had a life beyond the Deltas and Bulldogs), labor from Augusta, a black leadership group from a county south of Augusta where they had won power to bring running water and plumbing to their county, and vets against the war organized by Rex Larkin. Larkin was the coolest of all the radicals in Augusta. I had grown up with his younger brothers—they lived not too far from Phyllis—and they had both turned rad; so, our former high school graduating class now had at least four or five heads hanging out and raising hell.
We pulled together a coalition to send Chisholm, McGovern and McCarthy delegates to the Democratic convention that year instead of Wallace, Lester Maddox, etc. Maddox, the governor before Carter and Sanders, sold "chicken sticks" (with, obviously, a darker meaning) at his chicken restaurant in Underground Atlanta, and used to ride his bicycle backwards at the Georgia Tech football games when I was thereour governor! The party dicks tried to pull all kinds of legal maneuvers to prevent the coalition participants from occupying the hall. But the busses kept on coming.
A sheriff’s deputy walked up to Bill Bryan, who was sitting on the grass, drinking a can of Blue Ribbon. When the cop said get rid of it, he chugged it. He was arrested. The cop turned to Rex, who chugged his. They went to jail; we bailed them out. As the voting proceeded, we camped out on the grass with our picnic packed by Patricia. And mellowed. We won. Change was spontaneous. Change was a blast.
Next, we pulled together a major peaceful demonstration at the park. We had organized a number of great concerts there, some of which were broken up by Buck and his boys. Then, we got a connection to Ed Harris (not the actor, the radical former Vet/writer who was married to Joan Baez). He was traveling around the country, one of the many in those days. He was heavy, man. People showed up from all over, sitting and listening to Harris, who sat next to the ;gazebo.
Our crowd had grown pretty large, surrounding Harris, sitting on the ground. Kent and the boys came by; we ignored them. I had arranged a permit for a picnic that day, and we were snacking away. The sun was out. Sky was blue. It was the Spring of ’72. Still the peak of the antiwar movement. It was demonstration time.
We used the Supreme Court decision by Justice Potter Stewart in Shuttles v Alabama (1969), granting the streets and parks to the public in the U.S. as part of the privileges, immunities, rights and liberties of citizens, as our rallying cry to take back the public spaces (hey Kent, it’s the law!).
Rallies would spring up like crazy. Rallies downtown. Rallies at the recruiting station. Rallies at the park. Rallies at the newspaper. Music in the park now attracted 200-300. It was getting downright rowdy.
Once three of our gang went to the black college to announce one of our events, and to invite the students (as we did at AC). Young black radicals surrounded us, and started "honkeying" us. Well, we were throwing a rock and roll thing in the park, it’s pretty radical, man, do you want to come? They trashed us, said we were playing a game with the white racist pigs while blacks in Augusta were in poverty, were repressed, and were occasionally shot. Yeah, but we have long hairs with guitars! Hey, man, we’re cool. I think we found some small rock of common ground, like the boycott (and hey bro, we like James Brown, too!) and backed our way out of the campus, befluxxed at how the Panther wanna-bees wouldn’t come party for the cause.
Meanwhile, the real Panthers and black militants were now in town. A young Panther recruit I hung with told me about a showdown with police who surrounded a row house that was rumored to be a weapons hide out. The brothers had picked up the raid on a police-band radio, and stationed heavily-armed guards on the rooftops, outnumbering and surrounding the police. When the sergeant called out on a speaker-phone to come out of the house, one of the brothers called out from the rooftop above to look up. The cops would have been massacred. He said, Please get in your cars and leave our neighborhood now. The cops looked up at the roofs and windows surrounding them, asses puckering. They got back in their cars and left. It was getting heavy.
Darlene and Laney found Kent and Durland crawling in the dirt under their house one night, trying to catch them with drugs and AWOL soldiers, I guess. They heard them, surprised them with a bucket of cold water which they poured through a hatch in the floorboard, and, then, shining flashlights, greeted them with a pitch fork and pick ax and said, you assholes are trespassin'; next time you crawl under our house, you’re gonna get your fat asses irrigated! Kent and Durland, wet and covered in dirt and mud and spider webs, had to crawl out from beneath the house with Darlene’s flashlight on them, and they beat a hasty retreat, muttering something about payback. Y’all come back, now. Ballsy women.
Then there was the day I walked in to meet my probation officer, in the army green bowels of the probation office behind the County Courthouse, Vern picked up the phone and called for an officer to take me to jail. I didn’t know what the fuck I had done. Vern said he had heard from the Vice Squad that I was consorting with known bad characters, I had missed my last two meetings, I was slack on work, and my hair was too long and I dressed like a bolshevik. What? Okay, I’ve been slackin’ a bit here or there. But my hair? My jeans? Good Sears bell bottoms, sturdy cotton. No matter. He told the officers to take me to the Richmond County Jail, no passing go. For long hair. Christ almighty. So, I got my first real taste of the Augusta Bed and Breakfast. A real dive. I still refused to cut my hair. Fuck Vern. He let me out on the third day. My Dad, who had gone to school with Vern, probably called and begged Vern to let me out. But he definitely got my attention.
The Move to Central
We were finally evicted from Monte Sano. Charlotte and I moved down the road to a house of our own, close by, on Central Avenue. Raymond and Herb moved to a small cottage even closer to the Sunrise. Frank moved into a creepy loft by himself, on the third floor of an old gothic Victorian house owned by an ancient woman, god only knows what he was reading in that dark place. But at least, we were all still in the same area.
It was spring, turning to summer, 1972. It was a very sweet time for Charlotte and I, like we were really setting up house. We got a cat, fixed up the place, started cooking. We started making plans for LEAVING, going to Oregon some day, as my probation would be completed at the end of the year. It would be two whole years. Time flies when you’re having fun.
The Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) paid me to put together a community newspaper. We were to call it the Sawannos, a native name for the Savannah River that Frank dug up. It was gonna have everything in it we ever wanted to say. The war. Politics. Police corruption. Racial justice. Culture. Rock and roll. The spirit of the river. There were gonna be a lot of contributors. Raymond was gonna do the art. We began doing the layout.
Meanwhile, Buck and the boys, who had never busted a single person in two-three raids at Monte Sano Avenue, seemed to turn their attention elsewhere.
I found a job through Herb or somebody—with a freak from Florida who was up doing cabinet installation. The job was out west on the outskirts, in the boondocks. I enjoyed making money for once, and getting out of town. I had a reason to work —Char and the pad. When he wasn’t too spaced out, we did good work. He had this funky old van, filled to the top with construction tools and crap. He didn’t seem quite trustworthy, but he had the contracts.
On July 17, 1972, Char, the dude and I decided to take a day off and go out to the Savannah and go "river tracking". It was gonna be a great day. The paper was almost ready to go, after interminable delays. We had decided to take Pat MacNamara because he was having some problems with a bad trip that wouldn’t go away. Like for months. He had evidently gone to a rock festival in North Carolina and had taken some bad acid, and never really returned. As a musician, Pat was always high-strung. The strings broke. We packed some gear, and headed for Pat’s mom’s house, where he was living.
Lava Lamps and Water Bongs
As we pulled up to Pat’s house, there were three bubble tops, a police van and a vice car. Oh shit. We pulled into the drive, concerned about Pat. A cop came up and told us that Pat had been walking around the front yard in the buff, singing and rappin’ some shit about how fucked up life was. Could we see him? No, cop said.
Then one of the vice boys walks up, says, hey, it’s the Preacher, makes us get out of our van. The vice cop goes to his car, calls Buck. Buck says search the van. They proceed to search the van. We go, good fuckin grief, we didn’t do anything, we were trying to help Pat. We had a rule, no drugs in vehicles that I rode in. We don’t have nothin! But the dude starts looking kind of squirrelly. Right? I whisper. There’s nothing there, right? We stood and watched for ten, fifteen minutes while these guys dump construction shit all over the lawn. Meanwhile, Pat was in the back of a cop car, continuing to flip out. Trial and tribulation going on here.
Then, a cop pulls out some seeds and some dead plants in pots. Oh, Christ. The dude has hauled these dead plants–probably wild rabbit tobacco–and shriveled seeds all the way from Florida, too lazy to clean his van out. Buck and Durland pulled up in the narc-mobile. Wonderful. They came swaggering over, and Buck said, well, Preacher, what’cha got here, Durland doing a har de har. I looked at it and said, I don’t know Buck, this isn’t my vehicle.
Buck tells the pigs to pack us in a second car, to our protestations, and, before we know it, we were under arrest and headed downtown. We were processed into the "dug out", basement pig sty that the Vice Squad uses for writing up the crims. Durland squeezes his fat ass around a desk into a chair, and proudly showed off, on the shelves around the room, a bunch of lava lamps and water bongs that they have confiscated in raids and drugs busts. He clicked off the lights and turned on the lava lamps. The whole basement lit up, like we were in a psychedelic cave. Wow, I’m impressed, I tell him. Cool lava lamps, Durland. Charlotte started laughing. We were actually scared to death. But our string finally ran out. They transferred us to the Richmond County jail.
We were charged with conspiracy to possess marijuana. Charlotte and the flaky asshole are held for a day or so and are released. I’m held on $10,000 bail. Fuck.
Like Jubilation T Cornpone on Reds
I ended up in a six-bed bunkroom with a guy who’s just gotten out of Reidsville, in southern Georgia near the Florida line, in the Okeefenokee Swamp. He was getting sent back. You remember Reidsville. The place where they filmed the Burt Reynolds movie, The Longest Yard. The con–25 or so-started telling me all these horror stories, sending me bad vibes.
Yep, you’ll love the swamp, he’d say. Why there’s this dog, ya see. Big old mean bastard of a hound. When one of the stripes would escape, the guards would wait a day or two to let the poor sucker get lost in the swamp, ya see. If the farmers didn’t kill the sucker, they’d let the dog go. The dog would get a gold cap for every con that he found.
I’d say, yeah? And he’d continueWell, you should’ve seen that damned dog!! When he’d smile, his teeth would blind ya! Har, har, har!!
Sweet guy. Like Jubilation T. Cornpone on a reds and crank cocktail. He gave me shit for days, threatening to kick my ass, or worse. He was a regular at Reidsville, and started his jail career in the juveys at 13. He was really getting on my case, trying to pick a fight. One day I told him about little green pills that made you have hallucinations that were so bad they would make you rip your own tongue out with your own hands. I threatened to put a little green pill in his coffee when he wasn’t looking. He left me alone.
It was late July. Hot as hell. The Richmond County jail was a horrible fucking dungeon. White guys on one side. Black guys on the other. My girlfriend was terrified, but kept a stiff upper lip, visiting often. My Dad and other friends visited, but they were scared now. I was in for an inderminant time. It felt like an eternity. My struggle in Augusta, for all practical purposes, was over. My struggle for my life was on. They cut my hair, a big thing at the time. Admittedly, though, short hair was a plus in this place.
I remember we would have to put our shirts on when the gospel singers from the Evangelical Tabernacle down on Broad would come sing to us. They would preach, the five or six, one or two geeky adults and the rest kids, and sing music, accompanied by a 15-year old lanky buck-toothed kid who played guitar. Oh my Lord, Walk with Thee! they’d sing, terribly off-key, hoping to pick up converts for those who would ultimately be released.
I read books. Tried to exercise. Tried to watch some TV when we were allowed. Then I pissed off the guards when I started organizing the prisoners. It was only a short-term jail. But everything sucked. I mean, no library, no exercise yard, no nothing. The place stank, the toilets overflowed, the bunks were like concrete. And, oh yeah, one more thing. Keep the fucking flies and roaches out of the food. I developed a demands list of, oh, 10 points or so, and started distributing it. Hardened crims would look at it and say, Yeah, how ’bout that! What he said!
Meanwhile, I ran into a guy I had known from the hill, who had been jailed before me. He told me they were planning an escape attempt. Would I go with them?
I was facing a huge dilemma. If Kent and Durland were successful, I would be facing a loss of my probation time–a year and one-half–and would also be sentenced to a new term if convicted. The time doubled up, so I’d face up to five years in Reidsville. It was a given that rads like me would be severely harassed by the guards and lifers there, or worse. I was, to put it mildly, freaked. I would lie awake in the cell at night imagining the escape route over the walls, through downtown, and down and across the river. Then?
It seemed like days and days and daayyss in the house. It was hot as a dead dog on an August Alabama highway. I wanted to get out and fly away. Reading was my only escape. The guards were always suspicious of books that relatives or friends would drop off, and they were especially perplexed about "Organizing for Prisoners’ Rights" (rejecting) and "Astral DoorwaysHow to Leave Your Body" (holding, for a couple of days, while they pondered it).
Then I was told one day, out of the blue, Come on Croft, you’re going for a ride. I was getting out–to go to Chattsworth to stand on charges I had revoked my probation. Two deputies were to drive me. The day we left, the temp had to be 105 degrees. I sat in the sweaty back seat as we headed for Chattsworth. I rapped with the cops, who weren’t too interested in talking to me. I was elated. OUT, for at least a while. GOD, didn’t life look pretty outside.
Then, about a half-hour after we left, heading northwest for the mountains, the clouds got black, a summer thunder-storm was heading for us. Thrwwaccckkk! It was lightning cracking near the ground, thunder as loud as a 747 slamming into the earth, winds blowing us all over the road, and hail and raindrops the size of mutant toads from Chad. The cops were flipped out. I loved it. I had never felt so free in all my life. I didn’t care if the car were blown off a cliff. I sat back in the back seat and sucked it up. Blow, you mother-fucker, blow.
They laughed when I told them if they wanted to book a motel room for the night, I would stay, right here in the back seat. After a few hours of what must have been a storm of biblical proportions, they deposited me at the Chattsworth County Hall, and high tailed it back to Disgusta.
A Much Nicer Jail
It was much nicer at the Chattsworth jail. First of all, the mountain weather was a relief, cool enough to sleep at night. It only had four or five single bunk rooms, and few people, and through the miniscule window, a great view of the mountains. I gave it 2 and 1/2 stars. It was in the same large county courthouse I had visited a year and half before, in the middle of the town square. When they were kids, in 19 ought something, my Great Aunt Kate and Jentzie helped the masons to build the old courthouse by carrying bricks to them when it was under construction.
The only problem was this occasional Saturday night drunk they would throw in the tank every few days, who was evidently having woman problems. The one or two other guys inside with me would have to shower the guy off because he had tried to light his kerosene-drenched body on fire, "except that the damned pigs stopped me, goddamned them". He’d then pass out.
The jail had a radio someone left behind. I could pick up this radio show from Nashville or Memphis. Country, blue grass, amazing cross-over folk-blues would play day and night. I remember a Moody Blues tune, The Music in Your Eyes. It would come on every couple of hours. I listened and waited for it to come around again.
Meanwhile, I received messages from my friends that the jail-break had failed, that the three white guys, including the guy I knew, were caught, and a black guy from the other side was shot in the head and killed by the guards.
Kate visited. I explained what happened. Said look Aunt Kate, I was a fuck up, and I’m sorry for everything I did to you, and I know it was terrible for you. (Kate never let on that she had been around a lot bigger fuck-ups, having hung on the reservations for 30 years). But this time I’m innocent. I had tried to expose the police for all sorts of bad stuff, and they set me up.
Kate was surprisingly supportive. She didn’t say much to me, but according to my Dad, she talked to the judge, who used to, as a young lawyer, live in the Wright Hotel and rent from Great Granddad Wright. I beg your pardon, she must have sternly said, but if you jail my boy I’ll sit on you. She could and she would.
Then, one day, my Dad shows up. There I was again, apologizing to my Dad. He realized I had been set up. But he had news. I was off on the first plane possible to Florida, where my mom lived, on $10,000 bond.
(or, coming of age in the Deep South in the early 1970s with the likes of Gov. Jimmy Carter, James Brown, Burt Reynolds, Jackie Gleason, the specter of Dick Nixon’s pal Bebe Rebozo, the ghost of General Mad Anthony Wayne, a Kervorkian electro-shock pioneer, and, of course, the Allman Brothers, all on the periphery, as a corrupt Georgia Vice Cop goes after a commune of gonzo, kudzu rebels in redneck country).
I walked into the dark, dull interior of the courthouse in Augusta, Georgia with my buddy Bill Bryan. Bill was a six foot 5 or 6 tall newspaper reporter at the local paper, a good one, and he would hide me out when I got to town. Normally, when the police force, not to mention the stinking political structure of the whole damned town, was out in force like this he would ask me to approach the situation cautiously.
Today, I walked with a swagger. Like, fuck all of ‘ya. And then I saw him in one of the corners, preparing for the courtroom, huddling with a slimy lawyer and that big-assed, sweaty, Sargent Durland, the dumbest fucking vice cop on the planet. Yea, that was him, and he slid a look my way, dressed in an Italian Suit, fancy for Augusta, his perpetual shit-eating smirk subdued. The head of the Vice Squad, Buck Kent. It was 1975.
Buck Kent. For two years in the early 1970s, he would chase me, hound me, try to arrest me, try to plant drugs on me, destroy where I lived, try to get me in a fist fight with three cops looking on ("just you and me"), maybe have me killed if he had the chance. Ultimately, I guess, he defined me. In the end, I paid a price. So did he.
I thought of Buck the other day, an eon later, when my two kids were listening to another fly-by-night pop group on the car radio, with lyrics that said, "And make the real world stop hassling me". As I was chauffeuring them to school, they were both whining again about something, and arguing about a hairbrush, as I was juggling English corrections in one hand, trying to understand a teacher’s comments. One was turning up the hassle song, and the other was mad about something, busy listening to some band called Wet Worm Spooge, or something like that, on her CD-earphone set.
"Oh, you kids today", I said. "If only you knew how difficult life was back in the old days (and stop gagging like that), when, by god, you had to earn the right to screw off."
Yes, I thought of the old days again, so I decided to tell them a little story (albeit a sanitized version) about a different time, my early years, when life was different
It All Starts With.
I guess it all started in a small northern Georgia town in the Appalachians. Chattsworth, Georgia. It’s somewhere east of Dalton and used to be 1-2 hours north of Atlanta. It was the fall of 1970. It was a beautiful fall Sunday morning, the kind of mountain colors that may not exist anymore, red clay and bright red and yellow leaves in the trees. I was 19, taking a walk in the hills, humming a country-funk boogaloo. I met two girls, probably 15 or 16, for 10 minutes. They had convinced me they were going to split for Atlanta, then the Mecca of the Allman Brothers, mescaline-laced Jim Beam and wild-eyed southern "hippie chicks" in Piedmont Park and the infamous Peachtree Street, and they wanted to know if I had any pot for sale. I gave them a quarter ounce baggie of marijuana I had bought in south Florida for my ultimate trek to the West Coast, Mexico and points south.
Over the last year, I had blown four ill-fated quarters at Georgia Tech. There had been a good beginning…I joined the four-square brothers at Sigma Chi, a fairly good frat (and essential in order for any hope for cooked meals for four years at GT). Later, though, I was inducted into a second brotherhood the "engineers on acid" brigade. I think it happened at the Atlanta Pop Festival that summer of 1969, listening to Tommy James and the Shondells sing "Crimson and Clover, Over and Over" (over and over). I was a ramblin’ wreck from Georgia Tech, and not much of an engineer. I failed miserably at calculus, after trying to take a final while tripping, the equations spreading from the paper onto the walls and ceiling.
So, there I was, a year later, walking around in a friendly daze in north Georgia, in my long hair and plaid shirt and jeans, transferring pot to two deputies’ daughters who were there on the dad’s instructions to set me up. I wished them well and walked back to my Great Aunt Kate’s big house– a former hotel in the middle of the small town—, day dreaming of the Andes, and ready to take a little mid-Sunday nap.
Great Aunt Kate Wright Raines was a nurse on native American reservations in the West for thirty some odd years. She was a stern and good woman. She believed in me, though I had offered little to show for it.
Her house was (and is), literally, a national landmark, built in the early 1900s by great granddad Wright as the first hotel in the one-track town. Her home was a three-story red brick building, surrounded by white columns, a white veranda and a broad porch, settled by old rocking chairs. It was a remarkable place, a mix of dark walnut and mahogany antiques, many hand-made by Mr. Wright, and native wallhangings, hand woven rugs, Navajo baskets and art that the kids had given Kate over the years.
The Wright’s family lineage included a member of the Wright Brothers family (my middle name), who somehow hooked up in Tennessee with a descendent of General Mad Anthony Wayne of Revolutionary War fame (a guy who, under Washington, understood only two words: attack, attack). They married into the Holbrooke family; my great-grandmother Wright was a Holbrooke, half-Cherokee, her grandfather having hid out in the Appalachians during the Trail of Tears. My great grandfolks, the Wrights, moved to northern Georgia in 1899-01.
Sixty-nine some odd years later, I was awakened by a knock on the door of a second floor room of the old Wright Hotel where I slept, a deep sleep like no other, dreaming of sweet Colombian mountain women, in my favorite room filled with a deep red carpet, brass bed and old paintings on the wall. I was surprised by Kate’s introduction of the 60-something kindly county sheriff in Chattsworth, who wanted to know what was in a small bag he held. I looked at Kate, who was fear-stricken, and who realized, as I explained to the law officer, that, well, yes, it was illegal. I gave him the other eight or so ounces of the only pound I ever bought. He apologized as he told Kate he had to take me over to the courthouse.
Well, when it was all said and done, I embellished a story for the special investigators who came up from Atlanta to test whether I was there to set up a new drug ring to cover the (until then) virgin northern rings around Atlanta, telling them I bought the pot from a Mr. X, a strange man I met at the Miami airport where I worked that summer. Never saw him again, I promised.
Later, we reconstructed what happened. I had pissed off said deputies when I complained that they had been peeling wheelies outside Kate’s house one Friday night. They had woken me up. I had walked to the sheriff’s headquarters and, stupidly, filed a complaint, asserting that cops should have to follow the same rules as every other citizen.
Between my Great Aunt and my Dad, who called on his former Baptist teacher who also became Governor, Carl Sanders, I was spared hell and damnation. But, I was still punished. Instead of going to jail, or being forced to work on the road gang, something almost worse. I was placed on probation for two years, and forced to return to my home, a place I had been trying to get out of for years. Augusta, Ga.
Back to Augusta
Augusta, Georgia. Home of James Brown, the Masters Golf Tournament, Brenda Lee (Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree), Ft. Gordan, Tobacco Road, a shallow, rocky stretch of the Savannah River, and Clark’s Hill Lake, a reservoir scraped from red clay and mud banks after the Savannah was dammed, and, like many other cities, farmlands and highways in the south, now under continual attack and encroachment from the legions of Confederate kudzu vines. There were a few other people who kept their place of birth quiet. And not much else.
Cliff Roberts, the stiff (and hated) New York investment banker who co-founded the National with Bob Jones, called Augusta "a little tank town", when reflecting on the club and tournament’s later glory, "I never thought it would be possible in a little tank town such as Augusta." Meaning, a "disparaging phrasederived from the water tanks, identical and anonymous, existing only to dispense water for the train’s engines or for its sanitation." (Curt Sampson, The Masters, Golf, Money and Power in Augusta, Georgia, Villard, 1998, 1999).
And, oh, yea. Dr. Cleckley. Cleckley probably epitomized Augusta the best during that time. He lived behind a spooky, gated wooded area in the upscale part of town. He was famous for being the psychiatrist who pioneered electric shock therapy, which had allegedly cured the Eve of the book and movie, "Three Faces of Eve". In reality, Cleckley tried to kill the wrong personality, a fact uncovered after she had transmorphed into, eventually, two dozen or so rogue faces. Cleckley was doing a solid business in Augusta on referrals of wealthy parents to assist their slightly disturbed teen who had had a bummer of a trip or had grown their hair a tad too long. Many would be shocked beyond memory, and if you talked to them at school or wherever, they would acknowledge you like, haven’t I seen you before? Uhhgotta go, I’m late for Latin.
A friend of mine who visited his clinic once said it was full of young freaks, drug addicts and kids who were just a bit confused. Another friend of mine, a young rebel with a great personality, but with rich parents, took a visit. He came out a noodle, and never saw his current "bad" friends again. The words."you might wind up in Cleckley", or, "they’re gonna send you to Cleckley" would strike the fear of god in you. They say he was a pruny old man with coke-bottle glasses and wiry hair, and, supposedly, from what we heard, had a disarmingly warm demeanor. Kind of like a cross between Joyce Brothers and Kervorkian. The "Behavioral Health" Building at University Hospital in Augusta is named the Cleckley Building for the old succubus. Don’t go there.
Not that Augusta was any worse than any other thick neck town in the South in the 1960s and 70s. But it seemed extra snobby, mean and hypocritical, the buckle of the Southern Baptist bible belt, with the requisite Peyton Place underbelly. It was also a racist town that repressed blacks and the counter-culture, as miniscule as it was.
Don’t get me wrong. I had a lot of great times growing up, lots of friends. Augusta had some of the most beautiful girls in the world, southern bellettes, with plenty of charm. With their peddle pushers and culottes when I was growing up in the 60s, they drove me crazy. However, for the last few years living there, I was planning to leave.
Changing Times, Places
My parent’s divorce finally came after Dad knocked up a "groupie" he met while presiding as Grand Boo Ha of the Georgia Elks. My mom would stick us in the car almost every weekend in the summer, for weeks at a time when possible, and holidays, etc., to get the hell out of town and escape to Savannah, my mom’s home.
These were years of mom dating nice guys who didn’t make the cut. One was a fat guy named Mr. Best, the nephew of a wealthy businessman in town, who always brought immense stashes of ice cream and cake for us three kids. We thought, hey, marry this guy.
If Augusta was saddle oxford two-tone shoes and little symbols on golf shirts in the 60s, Savannah was hush puppies, sun-bleached hair, and surfboards. Savannah people were cool, laid back. They had the beach. The Savannah coast and islands were a small piece of low-country heaven and the kids didn’t seem so stuck up.
My grandmother Lillian had a dockhouse on the Little Ogeechee River, on a tiny island, a place reached after driving miles through old oak trees draped with spanish moss, across a causeway, set in salt marsh and miles of brackish rivers, full of blue crab and shrimp, and occasionally dolphin, sand shark and sting ray. Even water moccasin could swim in brackish water, but, thank god, usually didn’t. Grove Point is a small outcropping of trees in the middle of nowhere, where I spent many of my teen years, fishing and swimming in the river.
Savannah’s low-country style set it apart from the rest of the south, sort of a "little easy", with "’geechee" cultural vestiges–french coastal influences from the Arcadian nomads who eventually settled New Orleans–and "gullah" influences from African slave populations who were abandoned on coastal rice plantation islands during the Civil War. Savannah was behind the moss curtain, its’ character glimpsed at by the book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil".
But even as I longed to move away from Augusta, after the tenth grade, my mom finally re-married, and, at sixteen, my sister and I found ourselves in a two-prop plane circling over a reefer-strewn, azure ocean island, landing on a small runway on an island paradise. Mom married a golf pro and we moved to the Bahamas! Wahoo! A big wheel, former head pro at Augusta National…home of the Masters. Gene was also Eisenhower’s golf teacher, and knew everybody in the world.
Freeport, Grand Bahama Island. My new stepdad became the pro at a course on Lucaya Beach, where we would live in a house in the middle of the course. While there, I made the most of it. I mean, it was 1967 in the Bahamas, we were picking up Hendrix on the new album-FM stations from Miami, and listening to calypso at the beach bars, which would serve anyone tall enough to reach the bar. Wholesale reefer was flowing across the island from Jamaica, smoked in big brown paper bag-rolled stogies when rolling papers were scarce. The junkanoo, the annual carnival, seemed to last year round. There were kids from all over the states and the world on the island, including some absolutely wild high school girls from Canada and Britain; and I was truly a young redneck in Paradise. Another story.
Being the serious idiot I was, though, I decided to return to Georgia to finish high school in the states in the 12th grade in order to have a chance at a serious college. Truth was, I had been dumped by my Bahamas sweetheart and would show her.
I spent the 12th grade in Augusta living with my Dad and his second wife, Carol (yea, that Carol). After the Bahamas, the frat and sorority society scene seemed like a different planet. Grass was taboo, except for the occasional trash reefer doobie that would show up to give a kegger party a twisted warp. I would jump on a train to Florida when I could and hop over to Freeport. During one such train trip, one of the black porters who looked the other way when I asked for a beer at the bar told me with heavy eyes that Martin Luther King had been shot and killed.
At the end of 1968, I went off to Atlanta to go to Georgia Tech to become an architect and get the hell out of Augusta. Well, we know how the college thing later turned out. I should have just stayed in the Bahamas.
So, after all said and done, I was headed back to Augusta once again. House arrest for two years, essentially. My probation officer read me rules: if I’m caught with "bad apples", probation revoked; caught with drugs, probation revoked; caught with my hair growing too long
I lived the next year in mortal grief, hating the fact that I had to live with Dad and Carol. Carol was a big-haired, long-nailed…well, hick.
Though she tried hard to camouflage it, opening a dance school, it was not pretty. My Dad worked at the Savannah River Bomb Plant all his life. The bomb plant was a heavily guarded reservation in the boondocks where signs warned drivers to roll up their windows when driving through the steam coming off the streams. Dad would come home after a 5 am to 4 pm day and pass out in his room.
I once had to go with Dad and Carol to visit her family for some summer fun time. They lived a stone’s throw from where Jimmy and Tammy Baker set up the PTL Club, that money-grubbing evangelical psycho sect at the border of South and North Carolina. I thought Augusta and environs was redneck. These people were fuckin’ messianic dirt farmers.
(C) 2002 T.W. Croft
Palm Trees and Pink Stucco Flamingos
I took up residence with my Mom and step-dad, by then in the Ft. Lauderdale area, on a beautiful golf course called The Inverrary. It was the home of Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary Open. As we drove through the beautiful entrance to the Inverrary plantation, waterfalls, palm trees and pink stucco flamingos, I thought, what a change. But my mom was terrified at my situation, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown (literally), and my step-dad on a slow boil.
Gene was a pretty big pro in his day, having made a name for himself at the National in its glory years. He was close to Palmer when he made the runs in the 1960s, which I had watched as a kid. Besides being Ike’s golf teacher, he seemed to know everyone. He used to tell a funny story about Dick Nixon when Nixon wanted to join Ike for a round, but the National crowd hated Tricky Dick. Gene had even more fans due to the fact that he had had a falling out with Cliff Roberts, and had been forced out of the National. Roberts, by the way, mimicking his own father, shot himself in the head on the 15th hole (taking a drop on the other side of the lake, as one sports reporter put it). I went to work on the golf course at Inverrary, a fall-back for every time I needed a job.
The Course was like an oasis. Gleason used to ride around the course in a bar cart, usually with a beautiful blonde babe (not his wife) to chauffeur him and mix his drinks. I met Gleason a couple of timeshe walked up to us at lunch one day at the clubhouse, and when introduced, said "Hooowww do you do?", like he was on. He was always on, evidently. My folks were friends, went on a cruise with him in Mexico one year, where he convinced my mom to puff on a marijuana cigarette. Gave her a headache, she said. My mom also rode in the lead car with Gleason when he was King of the Mardi Gras one year. When Gleason got divorced, him and his wife both stayed in the large compound on the course. It was so large they never saw each other.
I would have to train it to Augusta for court appearances. I would sneak in at night, stay with my Dad or Bill Bryan, go to the preliminary or whatever, and split the next day. It was hairy. Buck and Durland and the pigs had driven all the way to Chattsworth to testify at the hearing where I would have had the door slammed on me for good, probably. The judge had released me the day before they got there. They were steamed, had driven all the way up, and had to drive all the way back for nothing, in 101 degree heat.
In Florida, I got in endless arguments with Gene. When I had left the Bahamas, at 17, things were getting strained. When I had to retreat back to my folks, after all of the screw ups at Georgia Tech, and the crisis I was in in Augusta, in order to hide out, working for the summer on the course, things got a lot worseespecially since I had blown a fairly large contribution by flunking out. When I went back this time, it was like, see I told you so. By this time, I am dead set against most of what Gene stands for. The money, the golf game, the political contacts, including pals like Bebe Rebozo, one of Nixon’s infamous backers, who lived in Miami, Vietnam, and the coming political crisis, provided for an ongoing colorful "dialogue". As dirt was beginning to come out on Rebozo and the rest of the crew, I would argue with Gene as to how the hell could he stand by thesewell, bozos? The six o’clock news became darkly interesting, as any news on Vietnam or McGovern led to huge arguments.
The few times I had time to myself that summer in Ft. Lauderdale were a huge diversion from the general fear and loathing. A couple of buds from Augusta moved down to work construction for the late summer and fall, so I was able to hang with them. Char came down and crashed with them for a few weeks, so we had some time together again. She helped move some of my belongings down from Augusta.
Ft Lauderdale and south Florida were a great respite for me. The times with Charlotte were especially relaxing; we could get into south Florida kitch and music, the beach and plastic pink flamingos, started wearing 40’s clothes, and would almost forget Augusta.
Flamingos, part II
The Republican Convention was in Miami Beach that summer. The left was planning their big camp in Flamingo Park, and the confrontation with the Republican roller-derby. My instinct was to get right into it. But I had a suspicion it might get ugly. After hitching to Miami Beach, and walking for a few blocks, I saw a group of American neo-nazis marching somewhere like little hitlers.
The first day at the convention, the park was afest with 1000s of radicals and freaks, tents, displays and big ugly pictures of Nixon with bloody bombs as eyes, against a backdrop of palm trees, run-down pastel deco hotels, faded white stucco flamingos and the beach. There were political contingents from all over–the yippies and the zippies, the SDS, the rad women, all the alphabet outfits (such as the MTLDTTI’s-the Maoist Taoists Latter Day Trot To-Its, etc.). The VVAW provided camp security, all dressed in army camouflage garb. As usual, the Vets were awesome, disciplined.
There was a march to the Fountainbleu Hotel to start the festivities. I remember the well-orchestrated beginning, the marshals organized all the details, and it was all so exciting! The march stretched for a mile. I was so proud to be there, to be counted. As we marched, fighting the war and repression, the senior citizens in the old apartment buildings along the boulevard were on their balconies waving us on. It all became so clear! AMERICA now supported us! We were going to cream Nixon in the election, he could start packing! McGovern could practice his inauguration!
The march arrived at the hotel, and things got hot. A troupe of street theater people dressed as Vietnamese peasants laid down in front of the hotel entrance, conducting a die-in, and with bloody hands, reached out and stained suit pant legs and panty hose, to the horror of the delegates.
Next the march went to the convention center, where a van was parked in front. Standing behind the fence around the center were hundreds of riot cops in full gear with baseball bat long batons, adopted from Japanese riot squads. These guys were scary, and, after 1968, the R’s weren’t taking any chances. These guys were Gestapo.
As the march gathered around the stage created by three freaks on top of the van, we were treated to the first annual Zippie piss-in. The Zippies were an offshoot of the Yippies, who were conjured up by A. Hoffman, and they were funny, using satire better than anyone. As the crowd and the cameras watched, they poured bottles of yellow liquid on items representing American imperialism. Like Pat Nixon’s hi-heels, copies of Look Magazine and moon rocks. When the local TV news cameras got too close, they got it, too, to the crowd’s delight. "Piss on ABC!"
By the time we got back to the camp, a surprise waited. The nazi group had taken over the main stage, beating up a couple of guards from the women’s contingent. The vets had to cordon off the stage to prevent a massacre. The nazis, 16 or 17 of them, were screaming obscenities to the crowd, and were eager to create a huge disturbance. The New York contingents were especially incensed, having a large Jewish set, a target of considerable vindictiveness by the skinheads. The women’s group wanted revenge. The blacks also wanted their pound of flesh.
A vote was taken. The decision was to bodily remove the stiffs from the stage instead of calling in the police, a possible excuse for all sorts of mischief and mayhem. A gauntlet line was formed by the VVAW from the stage through the crowd, by now a near riot, to the street. The head nazi threatened the vets not to come on the stage, all of them with dukes in the air. Well, it took about four vets, who were as big as gorillas, to clear out the Hitler wannabes from the stage, who were picked up by arms and legs, led through the gauntlet, accompanied by considerable cursing and spitting, and tossed out into the street on their heads. Case closed. Welcome to Flamingo Park! Democracy in action!
I hitched home and returned on the second day. We marched backed to the hotel. I started standing back from the crowd, worried that one arrest would be all it would take. Sure enough, after the group started back the other way, the cops blocked the street in back of the march. There was a stand-off. Fortunately, I was far enough in front of the march this time to have not been cordoned off from an escape route. It was pretty tense. I thought all hell was going to break loose. The marchers had some fairly hefty damned guys in front–the vets were bigger and meaner looking than the cops. After taunts and threats, the cops moved, and the march proceeded back to the park. It was getting dark. I split for the mainland, thinking I had just about run my string out. On the way back, I crossed the street to avoid the nazis marching in goosestep double time. Creepy stuff, and a harbinger of the skin-heads and militia movements to come.
The next day, I didn’t go. The convention broke into chaos, with riot police and helicopters chasing yippies and zippies and hippies and vets and everyone else through the streets and around the hotels with tear gas. The seniors in their old apartments and hotels got gassed, many suffering, but were also extremely pissed. Thank god I stayed away.
Cops and a Close Call
Buck and the boys were so mad they were spitting blood. They knew I had friends in higher places than they expected. Kate had shut ‘em down in Chattsworth, preventing a decision to revoke my probation prior to the actual legal proceeding to determine guilt on the conspiracy charge. They knew my family had obtained a good lawyer. They were waiting for me to make one more mistake.
I almost did. After one of my trips to Augusta to go to court, I was able to finally get away with Char one dark night. We met over in North Augusta, at a basement bar hangout right on the river called the Rathskeller. It was an old favorite, had the greatest jukebox in the world, and outside on the bluff, you could walk down these long stairs to the river. Well, Char and I ran into Markwalter. He says, hey dudes, want to cop some smoke? I said, no, Markwalter, you know I can’t carry. Wanta smoke a doobie? Sure, I said, to Charlotte’s consternation, since she didn’t trust Markwalter, and we followed him outside and about three-forths the way down the stairs, stopped and sat to take a puff, gazing at the slow and almost 100 yards wide, and dark, meandering Savannah, so black that night it sucked light.
We were joking that the cops probably had someone following me from the morning’s legal proceedings, but then thought, nah, it’s Carolina. About that time, some guy with a flashlight comes walking from underneath the bridge that crossed the river to Augusta. Hmmm. Odd. We looked at him with amusement, stoned. All of a sudden, he turns and started running toward us up the stairs with the flashlight pointed to us. Ruunnn! We all turned around and hauled it up the stairs. There were a MILLION stairs, it seemed, and we were running in slow motion. Fuuccckkkkkk! He’s catching up to us!
Char and I ran through the Rathskeller, out the back and into the woods as far as we could, before we knew no one was following. We doubled back and eventually, snuck around the Rath to the road. Markwalter was in the back of the cop car, which was pulling away.
According to Markwalter, the cop caught up with him (he had other substances in his body that made it difficult to move his legs, and was caught). The cop caught him with one joint in his pocket. The one we had smoked had been tossed.
So, Markwalter was sitting in the back seat, handcuffed. The doobie was on the dashboard in the front. The cop was standing by the car, door open, foot straddling the floorboard, beaming, talking over the radio. Yep, I caught the son of bitch Markwaters, by god. Think I had that political prick in Augusta, but him and his girlie friend got away. But we got Markowitz with the goods. Yessir! While the cop was standing there, bragging and chattering away, Markwalter leaned over the car seat and tried to grab the joint in his teeth. He had to turn his head sideways, and slowly maneuver his lips to pin the joint with his tongue and slowly suck it in. Yessir, this little assholes gonna spend some quality time in the big house, by god! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Yep, I caught him!, he kept bragging.
Then, the cop sees Allen and says, Whaaaawww!??! And dives in the front seat at Markwalter, who by now has started eating the roach, and with a backward lunge back into the back seat, evades him at first. The cop has to get out, jump around and open the back door, and jump in, where he grabs Markwalter by the neck and starts strangling him, trying to pull the joint out of his mouth. Spit it out you son of a bitch! Markwalter’s yelling, grrrrmmmmm..get your ggrrucking hand out of mmhhmy FUCKING MOUTH, you fuckin’ oinker!, and, given that he has had practice with this kind of thing, swallows seed, leaf and wrap in seconds flat. The cop winds up empty-handed and has to let him go. Needless to say, I hightail it back to Florida the next AM.
Let’s Make a Deal
I don’t remember too much about how it was set up. My lawyer’s brother was the judge. Between him and his brother somehow, $5,000 gets exchanged, along with a set of golf clubs with a name embroidered on the side, and ten dozen Top-Flight golf balls. Honest. I went to Augusta, stood in front of the judge, pleaded nolo-contendre (after saying my piece), and was a free man. I thought Buck was surely gonna have a hemorrhage. I said goodbye to all my friends, who put together a knapsack of my favorite books to take with me. I was hoping that Raymond, who had inherited the articles for the newspaper, would eventually get it out. Charlotte had gone to stay with her brother and sister-in-law in Milwaukee. I spent my last night at the Bryans; who I would truly miss. I hit the road for the West Coast the next day. My Dad dropped me on the highway. He was relieved to see me leave, both for my safety and his sanity. He said something like, I love you son, but don’t come back anytime soon.
The trip west was both ecstasy and hell. It was late November 1972. McGovern was crushed. The country was going backwards. It was cold on the road. Cold and lonely. I was ripped off in Texas by a guy who had given me a ride, and lost my glasses in a snow bank on the interstate. Hitching through Apple Valley, outside the LA Basin, an older gentleman picked me up in a van. He saw I was in bad shape, having been ripped. He asked me where I was going. West, I said. He said, you are west. North?
As we got to his house in Whittier, the former home of Nixon (shit, I thought, Nixon again), I found out that he was a former activist in the antiwar teach-ins in Southern Cal. He put me up for the night, bought me a new pair of glasses the next day, and allowed me to hole up in his cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains over the winter, and then helped me get a couple of construction jobs. The guy saved me.
I eventually found my own cabin in Crestline, and was in heaven. I made some great friends, hip girls who loved to hang around their house with no clothes on, and hang at the creek the same way (the thing to do). Ah, California! Maybe I wouldn’t go to South America, after all. An old girlfriend from Atlanta, Diane Holyon, a folk-blues singer/guitar player, showed up with her kid, a boy of 7, and started living with me, and playing the folk cafes in the mountains. After the thing with her goes sour, and, as I’m sitting on my friend’s couch one day, her in the buff with her legs on my lap, Holyon walks in, says, hey Tom, guess who’s here? With a wide grin, Holyon leads Charlotte in the door. That day took a lot of explaining. But, my girl was back.
It was late summer of 1973, a full year after the bust. We got back together. She had hitched from Milwaukee, I guess. We hooked up with some friends, went camping in the San Gorgonia Mountains for three weeks with a hellish mule named Magnolia that ate our tent every night. While there, we heard a radio announcement that the U.S. was pulling out of Vietnam. The war was ending. Wow, we thought. It’s over.
Charlotte and I took off to Portland, me working in a freakish ship dismantling yard on the river, working next to a lifer drunk who used to steal mercury from the on-board thermometers, her as a waitress in a ’50s diner, which had the best apple pie in Portland. Her old high school friends, still heads, welcomed us. Eventually, we moved to Humboldt County, the point farthest north on the coast in California with a state college, so I could return to school.
Good Times, Old Friends
We stayed in touch with our friends in Augusta. Before we moved north from the Bernadinos, Char and I visited Sue once in the Mojave desert. She still had big dogs and drugs, crazy and paranoid as ever, and lived in a ramshackle house with old furniture and rusting appliances in the yard, in the middle of fucking no-where.
On that trip, Char and I skulked back to Augusta one last time together, hitching on semis (the greatest ride in the world, the cruise ships of the road, as the truckers would usually let one of us shack up in the small bed behind the front seat…states flew by when you slept). Got to see all our old friends one last time together.
Raymond took off to Florida, hanging in Key West, finally finding his personal truths and sexual preferences, and fishing on gulf coast shrimpers. Frank moved back in with his folks, forswore all of the above, and decided to jump in on the expected real estate development boom between Atlanta and Columbia along I-20 (adopting the seven cardinal rules for getting rich on real estate). Andy became a low-key jazz-rock star.
I saw Phyllis often after Char and I broke up, and she became a life long friend. We hung out off and on for years, before we were both married, hanging with Bill and Pat, going to the mountains and coast when I was back south. One year we went to see Kate in Chattsworth, and Kate, who didn’t approve of pre-marital anything, in her stern way, gives me my former room on the second floor but stuck Phyll on the spooky third floor (supposedly haunted). Phyllis snuck into my bed at 3 in the morning, terrified. Kate couldn’t quite admit it but she liked me. Anyway, Phyllis later married, and her and her husband later helped lead the anti-nuke campaign in South Carolina and Augusta against the Savannah River Plant.
Bill and Pat bought a conch house in Key West, where they would host me and friends when I came east, living the best life there was, late breakfast; beach and boating and snorkeling in the reef for lobster; trips to Hemingway’s old bar down the street; late afternoon siestas after pina coladas; and long political discussions with Pat in her rocking chair under the ceiling fan; listening to palms trees and bougainvillea in the wind. Raymond would pop in occasionally, welcomed. Herbie showed up once, trying to score or sell something, looking like the plague, and he was uninvited to come back. Later, Bill and Pat separated, and both raised young Wright, who lived with Bill in high school.
Larry Jon went on to some fame in the south and is still on the circuit throughout the south today, performing often with Shawn Mullins of Atlanta, who claims he is a protégé of LJ. When I talk to him on the phone, he’ll chuckle in that baritone voice, saying, come on down, and we’ll sit around and tell some lies together.
I saw Margie in the Joaquin Valley once at a War Resisters League conference, and marched out to the farms on behalf of the UFW, where Joan Baez joined the group later for some music and swimming under a grove of trees on the river.
Pat McNamara went off the deep end for a good while but later moved to the country near the Savannah, where he lived in a double wide (care of his mom), on property with a lake to fish in, raising hound dogs, riding cycles, selling worms for bait, occasionally finding God, and marrying a big sweet red-haired Georgia Irish woman with as many freckles as him, who managed pharmacies and took care of him. He would show up un-announced in Northern Cal at my house, we would go have an adventure, and he’d leave, saying the West Coast was now back under my watch (by inference, meaning the East Coast was now under his).
Mac’s back into music today, and he called me one day to invite me 700 miles south to a funk-o-la lake bar he was playing where the patrons could throw leftovers to the ‘gators, and where one ‘gator would stand on its hind legs and growl when bikers revved their engines. I did see him recently, met him in a diner. His wife’s doing great, making enough money for the both of them. They bought a brand-new double-wide out on his property toward the river (which has developed around him into expensive subdivisions), and purchased a prime lot on waterfront property at Clark Hill Lake. He explained that, as the Good Lord put water on three-forths the earth, He always meant for us to fish at least four days out of the week, thank you.
Pat also volunteered, the last time I saw him, that it was he, Patrick McNamara, who actually invented the double-whopper, yep, when was working for the original Burger King after high school in Augusta, and was special hungry, having a bad case of the DTs, and his boss let him make his own burger. The rest, as Pat says, is history.
Char and I had a couple of great years together in Portland and in a small fishing town south of Eureka. Free of police paranoia, for the time (although, I have to admit, until about the mid-80s, I would get a small jump if a bubbletop showed up behind me). She left me for a geeky guy across the street, who had made her pregnant. Charlotte later got married once or twice, raised her kid, hunkered down in Humboldt County, and occasionally saw her mom, who had joined a wacko commune in Oregon. Despite the hurt I went through, I bailed her out of man-trouble later, a couple of times, when I was in legal services. We’ve stayed friends for a long time.
Once while we were hitching through Denver on our way to Oregon, Char and I worked in a funky soul diner owned by a fat black man, Lindy. Louisiana Lindy’s soul food cookin’ was a regular in Denver. I cooked and Charlotte waited, avoiding Lindy’s roaming hands, not too hard considering he had to motivate himself by using his arms to boost himself along the counters. I sent Vern the biggest, ugliest, smelliest pig’s ear sandwich ever concocted for Christmas 1974, piling tomatoes and onions and sour pickles, mayonnaise and mustard, etc., etc., etc., on buns, as an open faced sandwich, with the ears resting on top, and two toothpicks with ribbons neatly spiked at the top. It was wrapped in a box with Christmas wrapping, and shipped third class during the Christmas rush, with a small gift card saying that this was but a small memento of my appreciation for everything you did for me, Vern. Mmmmmmm!
Dad later got a taste of southern one-upsmanship in the affairs department when Carol had an affair with Burt Reynolds. Honest (would I make this up?). Burt was in the Northern Ga. Mountains making Deliverance, and she was at a summer dance camp in Helen, Ga. She announced the affair to Dad when she got back to Augusta, convinced Burt was gonna marry her. When I heard the story from my sister, we yucked it up. I was glad that was over. Dad went on to number three, the one that stuck.
The funniest story I heard about Markwalter was that, while running from the North Augusta cop who he had escaped earlier, he was driving over the North Augusta bridge in his old beater, thinking he was free, crossing state lines. The cop called ahead to the Augusta police, who also wanted him. There was a car waiting on the Augusta side of the bridge. Markwalter turned around, and hauled back toward North Augusta, and, seeing his old friend, turned around again, settling for getting popped in Augusta, where the cops would have fewer charges to wage against him. As he got to the top of the bridge, he ran out of gas. The car had break problems when the engine was off, and it rolled backward into North Augusta, Markwalter dreading it all the way down. Busted.
A few months later, Allen Markwalter was killed, run down by a cop car on the Gordon Highway south of Augusta. The cops claimed Allen was stoned on acid, walking along the highway, and all of a sudden, lunged in front of the cop car, which was traveling at a high rate of speed.
The Final Showdown
And, oh yeah, Buck Kent. I had written a long letter to Governor Jimmy Carter in 1973, detailing the whole nine yards. A while later, I received a handwritten letter from Gov. Carter, dated 3-25-74, on official stationary, which said, "I’ll relay your information to appropriate officials. Thanks, Jimmy."
Bill Bryan broke the story. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) busted wide-open a far-reaching heroin, drug, prostitution and numbers syndicate that stretched from Augusta to Kansas City to New York.
Three-four cops in the narc squad were busted and released from the squad. Several in the DA’s office were busted. The DA, a friend of the family, was indicted and died of a brain hemorrhage, supposedly. It was a huge embarrassing scandal, and Anderson went on to oust the top cop, Beck through a political move.
One of the top businessmen was indicted, but every time he was brought to trial, he would have a coronary, and go back into the hospital. It was Bob Best, the uncle of the guy my mom dated. If he had married my mom, I would have, indirectly, busted my step uncle. It turns out, as my mom told me years later, that Best, Sr. had been the one to pass the bucks to the judge. When I heard all this, I thought, whew, small fucking world.
When I walked into the Richmond County Courthouse on that Spring day in 1975, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t expect what I got. Buck and Durland walked over to me. For the first time, I knew they couldn’t hurt me. But, instead of another stand-off, as Bill and I stood there not knowing what to do, Kent says to me, in a Christian way, Preacher, you know, I owe you a big apology. Now I know what I put you through. I have lost my job. I lost my family. My house. I am going to prison. I will never work in law enforcement again. I’m sorry I harassed you and your friends. It was the wrong thing to do. I’ve found the Lord.
Bill and I were stunned. All I could say was, uhh,..thank you Buck
Then he turns to Durland, and they smile. Hey Durland, he says. Remember that time we were planning that raid on Monte Sano Avenue, and we had the whole place surrounded? Durland laughs, as Kent looks straight at me. Preacher, we had you dead to rights. You had so much drugs in that pad we could see a mushroom cloud from all the way over to Walton Way. Hyaww, Hyaww. And we would’ve busted you, too, except Durland and I saw you and your girlfriend, what’s her name? Charlotte, I said. Yeah, Charlotte, in your bedroom. We could see you through the window, on that mattress on the floor, those wild psychedelic murals and pictures and shit on the wallsYOU AND CHARLOTTE WERE DOING THE DIRTY, and I mean, the reeaallll dirty. You was fuckin’ like blue tic hounds in heat. They both let out a loud h’yaww, h’yaww, h’yaww, which attracted attention in the rest of the hallway. He looks back at me, and, almost affectionately, I didn’t have the heart to stop you, Preacher.
I turned the color of Georgia clay, and looked at Bill, and then looked back at Kent. Then back at Bill, who, like me, was kind of google-eyed. Then back to Buck. Thank you, Buck. That was mighty kind of you. And best of, uh, best of luck, to you Buck. They shook my hand and walked away. He was sentenced that day to one year in prison. The GBI had traced $50,000 of untaxed dollars to a secret bank account.
Durland, though, wasn’t implicated. He would go on to have an illustrious career of about two years as head of the narcs (he got to drive the convertible), until he shot himself in the foot while brandishing his weapon at a bar hangout on Gordon, threatening the denizens (Barney, Andy of Mayberry would demand, give me the bullet, Barney. Givve mee the bullletttt). Anderson was later popped for selling pot. Much later, Schoolboy and Bubba Holtzclaw both bit it. Karma, Sue Weed would say.
During the final court hearing, as I learned years later from Larry Jon, he had sent a lawyer friend down to keep an eye on me. I was set on saying my piece in court. He called Larry Jon on the phone, and said, Larry the fix is in. Doesn’t he know how to hush? He needs to just hush.
The Long and Winding Red Dirt Road
In one way, the thrill of this victory wasn’t quite as sweet. I didn’t hate Buck Kent any more. As Bill and I walked out of the courtroom, getting ready to walk down the wide granite stairs, I could see Augusta in a different light. I gave it to ‘em, brought down the whole goddamned town. They were goin’ down like a smokin’ cosmonaut (as a line in a better recent pop song went). Little had I known it was a fucking syndicate. I was lucky they hadn’t killed me. Real lucky.
All of our friends shared in the justice that day, and for weeks and months and years to come. In many ways, we fought the meanness of this town, the hostility, the repression and violence, and on that day, we came out on top. We beat the mother-fuckers. We didn’t do it with some pre-conceived notion of how to do it, and certainly didn’t know what we were up against.
But, we got off our asses and fought for change, joining millions it seemed around the world, at the same time. The town was cleaned up, if only for a few years (for all I know). The war had ended. The country was opening up to equal rights, women’s rights, protecting the land. The south would actually take some good turns over the years, and made me feel good to be southern again, which I do to this very day. We had changed a part of the south that day. It was, in some ways, the hardest place to break. But, in a way, the easiest. You see, it was always black and white in the south. Good and bad. You knew who your enemies were. I wished it were that way many times later.
And, somehow, a group of people voted least likely to succeed, changed the town for the better, made it a more livable place for everyone. And, later, I grew up and appreciated my family, who, after all, protected me from a major prison term and worse. I had to grovel for years. Thank the Lord they were there.
And when I think back, the main thing that sticks out is how young and stupid I was, and how young and beautiful and goofy we all were.
As for Augusta, Monte Sano and Central Avenue became a nice little Mecca for the alternative crowd for years after, with cafes and antique shops and places to hang out, adjacent to the old barber shops and drug stores. There was a major renovation of the Savannah River area downtown around Broad Street, a beautiful river amphitheater was built to get people down on the river, and live music in public became, gosh, ho-hum. College and public radio and local alternative papers filled cultural gaps. The fights around the Savannah River Plant nuclear facility led to decommissioning. Cynthia McKinney, an activist African-American, became the Congressional rep from Augusta today. And so on. The Sunrise Inn eventually burned to the ground, and was replaced with condos. Most of the hair-brained ideas and demands in our little manifesto came true (except for that proletarian revolution thing).
Oh, there’s still plenty of scaly, cold-blooded amphibians living under rocks in Georgia, and the current holier-than-thou Southern Baptist revival, with its’ meglamaniacal, right-wing born again (and again) pronouncements, is disgusting. The South also suffered a resurgence of hypocritical populists like Newt Gingrich, but some of these super-religious vigilantes have now moved on, and they have sometimes alienated their own flock. And the in-migration from the north to mega-cities like Atlanta has had a double bladed effect–the new south has softened politically, but the sprawl and over-building has been incredibly destructive.
As for me? Lived in the redwoods for ten years, and in ’76 got back into politics, working for the Carter victory, and local progressive candidates. I married, moved to Seattle for five years, before returning to the East Coast. Became the father of two great kids. Following in the footsteps of my father and far-flung family, which had more divorces than marriages, I also divorced. I have been drawn to working with labor, helping communities in economic crisis, working on economic democracy policies and institutions, living a life not quite as gonzo as Augusta, but enjoying the occasional scrap and making a few waves. I’ve settled for living in quiet country or suburban existences, and that’s fine for me.
Anyway…you might ask, Why? Why bother? After all, some people died, and others were severely hurt. Why bother with these thugs? Two answers. One, they pissed me off. Hurt my friends. And, they were wrong. Maybe I did it for all of those kids who didn’t survive those years, and there were many of them. Two, it was the times.
Then again, maybe it was genetic; Kate was the only liberal in my whole family. Maybe a southern streak of independence, combined with ancestral DNA (some of Mad Anthony’s madness? But also, some of that Holbrook Cherokee "retreat like hell" second sense? )
But as Bill and I stood on top of the stairs of the Augusta courthouse, looking out at the glare caused by the heat rising among the buildings on Broad, the old town didn’t seem so bad, now. Bill was proud of me. We looked at each other and burst out laughing. And, you know, we realized we bloody accomplished something. A group of gonzo, kudzu rebels, who spread our gospel like the infamous creeping Godzilla weed that was swallowing the whole south. We believed, we fought, we were right, and by damned, we won. At the same time, we both yelled out, laughing our lungs out, Fuckin’ A! this is as good as it gets! Fuckin’ A!!!
So, kids, when you feel like the whole world’s messing with you, remember what your old man went through. And remember what the kids did a generation before you, in a different time, and a different place. And, maybe, if you feel like it, put on some retro bell-bottoms and a tie-dyed
t-shirt, go to the park and listen to a good ‘ole rock-and-roll concert (or some horrible rap band if you must). And, have fun. Somebody paid a few dues so you could do just that.
© TW Croft, 2002. From the Unauthorized Autobiography of T.W.Croft
Mayberry through Dark, Dark Glasses
But, I digress. The few things I can remember about the first forced year back in Augusta are: I had an anal retentive probation officer named Vern (an old pal of my Dad’s) who cited scripture, and almost had epileptic fits every time he saw me as my hair got longer; I sucked at Augusta College, which I was forced to attend, and was constantly arguing with the profs, who were all as stupid as Gomer Pyle on quaaludes; I held and lost so many stupid jobs (that always seemed to have something to do with a shovel and a ditch), that I lost count.
Then, there was sitting in front of the TV for days on end (let’s see, had I seen that Andy of Mayberry episode?), and eating until premature heart failure the requisite pig-out 8,000 calorie Southern Sunday Suppers (which, have to admit, were damned good). Then, being all screwed up about who and where I was (old drugs did that sometimes). I slept forever, obviously screwed-up. I started taking anti-depressants.
In reality, there was nothing so scary as sitting in front of a shrink for an hour–one picked out by Dad and Carol to go to– to convince me I had better get better. He let me do all the talking. As he was writing on his pad, I was trying to read the writing, upside down, and I was sure he was probably spelling out D-R. C-L-E-C-K-L-E-Y. Yikes!
So, better I got, quick. I wasn’t sure of the answer, or, how, but I needed to get my shit together, and get the hell out of my dad’s house. My answer turned out to be politics. It was the moment. The year before, while I was at Georgia Tech, Augusta had gone through a horrendous riot. Many black people were killed and wounded, and there was a standing joke among the good old boys about blacks and the Savannah River. The war in Vietnam was out of control. The killings at Kent State and a small black college in South Carolina were happening. And, all my friends wanted to raise hell, but also rock and roll without having a hundred cops show up. Time to revolt. Time to party, righteous.
Before completing the slow torture, I left my Dad’s house to find a place on my own. I said tell Vern to put me in jail, if you must, I’m outa here. I was living in communes, bagging school, getting turned on again with strange friends, hitching to Hot’lanta to see the bands, doing pick-up jobs, and getting political.
On one of those days, I met Buck Kent. Lieutenant Buck Kent. Buck was just about the most ridiculous excuse for a vice cop top dick as there ever was. He stood about 5 foot 5 or 6, buzz cut, dressed in green golf slacks, Izod shirt, with alligator shoes and a white alligator belt. Balding, squinty eyes, and always looking for the bad guy. He’d drive up to the guys hanging on the corner in his convertible narc-mobile, with big-assed, sweaty Durland, sweating little boy atom bombs, the sweat drenching his shirts, sitting in the passenger seat. They’d try to make a score or sell something. Oh sure, the hippies laughed. Yea, there’s a fuckin’ single engine Piper coming in later from Jamaica, Kent. Wanta meet us at the grass strip? He’d peel away. You’d smell the guy from a country mile away. Oh shit, it’s Kent, we’d scream.
The House on Monte Sano
It was 1971. I moved into a big southern mansion on Monte Sano Avenue, near an old part of the hill in Augusta, which had become run down. The new rich had abandoned the 100-year old dwellings, moving to the ‘burbs. Not too far from the college, the old mansions, many with white columns and wrap around porches, were perfect for taking over, fixing up, and renovating. A lot of college kids did that. I moved in with my buddies Frank and Raymond. We took over the first floor, and I think a friend eventually moved into one of the apartments on the second floor. A small group of stores and restaurants were down the street at the corner of Monte Sano and Central Avenue, friendly places, where we could walk to pick up cokes in the heat, bought from recycled bottles we scrounged. Many of the houses in the neighborhood were eventually "discovered" by the heads; a network of long-haired redneck communes. We called our place the Sunrise Inn.
Luckily, it was only ten blocks or so away from my grandmother, Jentzie. Jenny Mae was Kate’s little sister, and where Kate was large and stern, Jentzie was slight and sort of bent over, sometimes just as crankie, but she could be sweet. Jentzie played the boogie-woogie on the piano up to her 70s, and she taught my uncle to sing and play, Colquitt actually winning a Ted Mack Amateur hour in the 50s when he was a pre-teen, and later fronting a white soul band called The Pallbearers. Jennie Mae thought she was surely dying for some thirty years before she left the scene; she always had some new ailment, usually a hypochondriac panic. Superstitious as crazy, at the first sign of a cloud, would order you off the phone for fear of lighting hitting the lines. But she loved me and my sister and brother, having taken care of us for many years, and was always good for a breakfast of eggs and bacon at any time of the day.
One of the houses close by was rented by Sue Weed. Sue was a party animal, looked like a cross between Cher and, ., well, Sonny. Have drugs, will trip. She always had big dogs and drugs. Darlene and Laney, who lived down the road, were our spiritual guides. They used to hide out Vietnam Vets against the war. They were damned cool. Darlene was a tall woman, had this real toothy smile, and Laney was a kind of earth mother type, a bit overweight, long caftan dresses, a real sweet girl. Once Darlene got into an argument with an old boyfriend who demanded that she move back with her, that she shouldn’t be living with Laney, and asserted that she needed him, to do "man" things. Darlene laughed, said, need you for what? To open fuckin’ jars? A little hot water, a little tap. Open. You don’t think I can push the little spray thing down on WD40? Shit, I can do WD40! I got WD-40! I don’t need a man!
There was a growing "community" in the neighborhood, with a perimeter of hippie houses around Monte Sano Avenue to provide look-outs in the event of police incursions. Remember a national southern rock/jazz/bluegrass band called the Dregs? (used to be the Dixie Dregs) Steve Morse, the leader, was on the cover of guitar mags for years, later fronting the Deep Purple reunion. The bass player, a great guy named Andy West, would hang out and play frisbee in the front yard and the street with us.
I had met Frank Reed through the grapevine, an army brat. We hit it off, and started brainstorming (a lot of that in those days) immediately on how to pull off the revolution in Augusta. We had lived for a few months in an apartment until being evicted due to a little mix-up with the landlady (more about that later). Frank always listened to the most rad music — the MC5s, Moby Grape, and other bands that gave me a headache.
Frank was a smart guy, a real logic nut who introduced me to Ouspensky and transcendental writers and other radical theorists (all who ultimately convinced me I was pretty stupid). Frank was always coming up with the cardinal rules of the dayP.D. Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum, the three orders of phenomenum; Kant’s twelve categories; the seven principles of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes; Hume’s seven relationships; the seven primary qualities; the seven energy centers, or chakras; the four domains of Yod He Vau He; the Trivium and Quadrivivum of the ancient universityyou get the picture. I was always mixing them up.
I preferred the popular writers and political cut-ups at the time, you know, the Abbie Hoffmans, Tom Haydens, and a few more serious writers like Bertrand Russell or a Herbert Marcuse. But, I really loved southern progressive writers; and I loved history. The Great Speckled Bird was pumping out great broadsides from Atlanta. And a quaint quarterly called Southern Exposure covered southern struggles, southern literature, and displayed great black and white pictorial essays, such as black sharecroppers and blues pickers in Mississippi. Good stuff was in the air, on the radio, in the book stores, in the head shops, and on the campuses.
Raymond was a long hair dreamer, a catfisher-painter who was strange and always buzzin’ on some new high, always finding the next good tunes. He had the longest hair, the baggiest, droopiest bells, an always exasperated look, a cross between confoundment at life’s little surprises, to a mescaline-like grin and rap, where he was just kind of shaking all over with body giggles, when we realized there wasn’t anything we could do about it and it was okay.
There was a ton of music to keep us going, mostly purchased as records, or caught live, as the radio stations were still top-40. The Allman Brothers hailed from Macon, a sister town to Augusta midway over in the state. We could catch them in Atlanta in the park for free, with other southern blues-rockers.
We still had James Brown running around; he owned a couple of radio stations in Augusta at the time (which continually played Say it Loud!) The man was the funk. My mom worked for his radio station when I was in my early teens. It was the basement of the famous old Bon Aire Hotel on Walton Way, a grand, but run down hotel from the turn of the century that had been turned into a senior citizen residence. The grounds of the Bon Aire were surrounded by luscious, huge magnolias. I used to watch Brown’s entourage come through, him in a purple convertible caddy, and learned later he bought that radio station to piss off the locals that still populated part of the hill (which worked).
When I was in the tenth grade, I would go to his concerts at the Bell Auditorium, a venue for the great soul revues of the day (me one of three young whiteys). James Brown served up a smokin’, electric, funkadelic, dressed to the nines, shimmering, glittering soul exestuation. Big Macio keep the band of twenty to twenty-five players and singers strung across the stage in perfect rhythm with two drummers, horn section, dolls providing vocals, and, then, of course, there was The Man, who could traverse the entire 100 foot wide stage on that awesome one leg swagger-dance he would do. Brown was always in trouble later on, jailed for tossing his wife around the house. One of his wives, when stopped by police for speeding tickets, tried to beat the rap by claiming diplomatic immunity. She claimed she was married to the Ambassador of Soul.
And then there was the country. We discovered the country again during those years; often while high, and it was bearable even straight. The beautiful blue ridges, if you could get away. The beach. And around Augusta, all kinds of mysterious places (at least on dope)–the Lake, the Savannah River, a peaceful place always; the old levy and the quarry, two bizarre places on moonlit nights.
So, somehow, I became some kind of political leader, god knows how. Some Capricorn organizational instinct/curse.
Sunday in the Park with the Freaks
There was a beautiful park in town that became a hang-out. Since the hippies had free music in the parks in Atlanta and San Francisco and Miami, etc., then well, we would too. Olmstead Park wrapped around a lake that needed cleaning up. My dad and other kids’ dads used to speed ski on the lake in front of large audiences when we were little. Since then, the park had frayed at the edges, neglected. But huge oak and magnolia trees still bloomed in the spring, sprouting giant magnolia blossoms. Azaleas in bloom. The park centered around a great little white gazebo. Great band-stand we thought. Great place to get togetherand play live music. The problem was, as always, it was against the law. Everything was against the law.
But then, we had Pat McNamara. Pat was a wild, Georgia Irish son of a gun, a willingness to always get in a scrap, a guy with long red flowing hair, a beard and ‘stash which proudly covered his red freckled face, a deep raspy voice which sounded like a cross between Louis Armstrong and the sound a gravel truck makes unloading, which he put to good use in blues-rock bands. He was a hell of a blues-rock keyboardist, and could hammer the hell out of a Hammond. We had been friends in high school, Pat always getting in fights and me trying to avoid em. All the big frat boys had gone off to Athens, or Tech, or Durham, North Carolina, or Gainesville, all happening places, well into their social affiliations and planning careers and marriage. Pat and I were the fuck-offs who wound up stuck in Augusta. We’d see the boys around the holidays, and since they had blown us off the last years we were in school together, we could care less about them. Fuck ‘em.
Pat had his mom’s Riviera with the best sound system (and the only AC of any of our friends) in Eastern Georgiahis sled. Blasting Whipping Post or Memory of Elizabeth Reid from the Allmans Live at Fillmore East, until the 8-track tape wore through, Pat and I would ride the night, looking for something to do, some trouble to get into. We used to hitch to Atlanta or Savannah or south Florida, where we would always have big adventures or hairy near-escapes.
Once, on a hitch to South Florida, while walking through the outskirts of Savannah after having been stuck on Highway 25 in the middle of cotton fields all night, we saw some construction workers just starting work on a power grid structure, across a field, as the sun was coming up. The redneck assholes started whistling at us, due to our long hair, which they had not seen much of in those parts. Pat and I started yelling at them, Pat grabbing the Irish Shillelagh in his pack just in case. We were calling them every name in the repertoire, you redneck, pig-fucking, stupid, greasy, dumb mother-fuckers can kiss our ass! They started crawling down from the tower, and, outnumbering us, were proceeding to come after us to kick our asses. God dammmned!
Just then, an old bomber of a station wagon with wood side trim came barreling hauling down the road in our direction. Pat and I threw our thumbs and arms out wildly, as we were back-peddling down the road, headed south, keeping an eye on the necks, and as the car pulled over, a hippie chick leans her head out the window, and yells, hey, you guys got a hash pipe?
Pat says hell yes, we looked at each other, and jumped into the backseat, realizing we’re been picked up by two of the most beautiful young hippie girls we’ve ever seen, one a blond, the other a redhead, in the flowing hippie dress of the day, baby in the back; and as they sped away (at our urging), passing us a lighter full of hash, we turned around to watch the assholes chasing us, the car leaving them in the dust. Pat and I broke out laughing, and then got really bold, sticking our necks out the windows, shooting them armed birds and laughing at them, go fuck your sister, you redneck half-breeds! Pat yelled at the top of his lungs. Saved again! We had a nice leisurely ride to Daytona Beach, smoking a ton of hash and grass, and we spent the rest of the day at the beach with the girls, who were from New York, getting really high, before continuing our adventure south.
Somehow, hours later, by about two to three AM the next morning, we wound up on Key Biscayne, a bridge away from Miami, where we tried to find a small beach to crash on our bags, stupifiedly stoned and dead beat. Just as the calm water kissed our feet into peaceful slumber, having been up for 40 hours, flashlights jar and disturb us. Police woke us"this is Nixon’s Island, son. Move on." Fuck. Nixon.
On a hitch back across the bridge, a car comes squealing around the corner, screams to a halt, and we were picked up by these three Cubanos. We sat in the back seat as they went speeding around Miami. They pulled into the back of an apartment building, and they all got out and went inside, saying, right back, man. Pat’s nervous, grabs the Irish stick in the dark of the back seat. The dudes come rushing back out to the car with a TV and anonymous small appliances, dump them in the trunk, jump in the car, and speed off. Pat and I look at each other. Oh fuck. Oh fuck. In the back of a car with fucking Cuban thieves. We finally got ‘em to let us out at an all night Krispy Kreme, telling them we had been doing drugs for two days and were starved. Cop joint, luckily, too hot for them to hang around. We hitched a little further when the sun came up, called my mom, and slept for that day into the night. Somehow, we made it back to Georgia in one piece.
And around Augusta, Pat would urge me on to do something big. Like, organize this thing with this park, man, fuck the pigs! Fuck em! Stupid, neanderthal mother fuckers, what right do they have to tell us we can’t peacefully assemble and listen to music. Man, that’s the 1st amendment. This situation is funk-o-la, man. We can win this, bro! Fuckin’ A, Man! And then, he’d get in the sled, and ride off to find more dope.
So, I started organizing. With Frank, Sue, Raymond, Darlene, Laney, some VVAW guys on the lamb, whoever would come around, we’d organize concerts in the park, we’d organize against the war, we’d go down and march with the black folks downtown, we’d raise hell. And every time we’d screw up in getting the right permit (an impossible task).
We put the bands in the gazebo and strung wires from a generator. As the band was just warming up, and all the kids were there, its groovy, its music in the park, it’s happening.and just as a general induced mass peace would set in, oh, shit, it’s Kent!, our old friends from the Vice Squad would show up, with back up, before the second band had a chance of a sound check. Hootch cigs being stuffed out in the grass, eaten, stuffed down girlfriend’s pants. People scattering.
And then Charlotte moved in. Charlotte was a pretty, lost girl from Oregon whose fucked-up family had landed in Augusta; her father had moved to Alabama by then, I think. She showed up at one of our parties at the Inn. We went in a station wagon to some other party one night, and on the way back, we were in the far back seat, both of us totally contaminated, her head leaning on my shoulder. I was in love. There were others, all sweet Georgia peaches, all of them made all the more charming by their neuvo-south politics, but Charlotte was the most beautiful, the most fun, with a great laugh and the most marvelous tits I’d ever laid my eyes on by that point. I was twenty, she was 16 or 17. Charlotte Semar moved in.
And around the time I met Charlotte, Phyllis and Herb showed up. Phyllis was the cutest girl around, younger than Charlotte (who had dropped out), still in high school. I had grown up spending a lot of time with the guys on the block where Phyllis lived. Phyllis was a tom-boy when young, and blossomed later. There was much more to come about her later, a sweetheart over the years.
Herb was Frank’s friend, and was pleasant enough at the beginning. As time went on, he became a walking crank-case. Always crankin’ on speed or whatever, always focused on some scam which was the most important fuckin’ thing in the world at that moment. Herb was the quintessential jive hippie, tight hip disco-ish pants that were always frayed; always blitzin’ on some new drug deal that we all should invest in (only through him). Herbie fuckin’ Hodges. McNamara was always avoiding Herbie, and called him "the plague". (Oh shit, it’s the plague coming down the street. Get me out of this funk-o-la situation, man).
A couple of blocks away, Bill and Pat Bryan lived in a more fashionable section of the hill, in a beautiful old house. Bill, a Vanderbilt man, had real southern pedigree roots, both in terms of journalism and old money; his father had been the first U.S. radio network reporter to enter Berlin, and had been an editor at the Journal-Constitution in Atlanta when it was a beacon for civil rights in the 50s and 60s. We could always go to Bill and Pat’s for a real meal, or a high chat in the living room with Patricia, who would hold forth in her rocking chair with a glass of bourbon.
I loved Pat to death, she was a kick in the pants southern intellectual, a slight woman with an Emma Peel haircut who looked great in khaki shorts and a tee shirt, who would love to get in arguments with me, Bill, whoever. Do tell, she would loudly proclaim when she wanted to make a point of disagreeing. They had a small boy, Wright, who Char and I would sit occasionally, and we would often comb their record collections, which had tons of blues and folk, early Billy Holiday and other classics, but also Bonnie Raitt, J.J. Cale, Jesse Winchester, low-country mojo music. And, Billy let me play his s thirty year-old Gibson, a thing of beauty.
Charlotte and I ran into Larry Jon Wilson one night while hitching with a wounded owl that we found on the road. A singer/song writer who had grown up with my uncle Colquitt, LJ had moved around after military school, getting in trouble, and later hanging with the likes of Willie Nelson and other outlaws, in the mid-60s folk clubs. He had moved back to Augusta and started a recording career, and later went on to Nashville. Larry was another guy who kept an eye on me.
The Reces’ were a couple in their thirtiesa little older than the Bryanswho were radicals in residence a few neighborhoods away, in a nice shady grove suburbanalbeit Unitarian modest split level house. Ellis taught at the black college. Margie was a grand lady, who watched over all us. Their sweet kids, all in junior and high school, all volunteered for the cause. The Reces’ would have constant teach-ins against the war in their house, and were members in good standing in the War Resisters League (the grown-up movement, we thought).