scenes from the writing life: clancy sigal, novelist & agent

Hollywood agents, that most despised of human specimens, of which I was one, are as indispensable as the rabies vaccine, which kills as easily as it cures.

 

‘Hidden Talent: The Emergence of Hollywood Agents’ by Tom Kemper

 

A history of the rise of ‘that most despised of human specimens,’ the Hollywood agent.


By Clancy Sigal

 

Hollywood agents, that most despised of human specimens, of which I was one, are as indispensable as the rabies vaccine, which kills as easily as it cures. Although in one form or another agents, as the middlemen brokers of human talent, have existed since the dawn of 19th century mass entertainment, they are a nearly perfect metaphor for a late-blooming capitalist economy. They don’t make anything except spit and hot air. Or, as author Tom Kemper writes, giving it an academic polish, "agents serve in the commercial fabrication of individuality," selling "personality [as] a commodity" including, especially, their own commission-hungry personalities.

 

However loftily the business of agents is described  and Kemper is fond of euphemisms like "embedded field of routine transactional and social relationships" (I think he means schmoozing) we in the movie business cannot function without a go-between as our link to the money. Indeed, as Kemper reminds us in his scholarly history of early Hollywood agentry from the 1920s into the early 1950s, one pioneer agent used to publish a "Sears catalog of stars" that listed his clients in a magazine bluntly titled "Link."

 

Kemper tells us that there was an "agent problem" right from the start. The Motion Picture Academy, itself no paragon of business ethics, accused agents of "racketeering, double-dealing, arrogance, failure to live up to obligations [and] semi-legal trickery" and that was long before CAA, UTA, Endeavor, ICM and West Coast MCA had been invented.

 

Studios and their talent suppliers, the agents, had yet to figure out a true business model of how to live with each other on the backs of the people who actually made the movies: "The skirmishes between studios and agents . . . essentially erupted over stars . . . [that were] a studio’s most visible assets." Agents connived in the most lucrative deals for their clients and themselves, and studio executives, under relentless pressure to maintain a 50-picture-a-year slate for theatrical release, connived right back. Cat and mouse, predator and prey, but which was which?

 

Even a loyal agent as I guiltily know from experience  weighs "negotiations in terms of the relationship with his client and the long-term relationship with studio executives." You walk "a fine line between representing a client’s grievances and alienating the producer." Kemper points out that "these steady relationships formed an almost conspiratorial syndicate between the agency and production executives." I like that "almost."

 

As studios matured, accommodation (and a form of industrial efficiency) came in the form of two temperamentally opposed uber-agents who ushered in the modern era. Kemper builds his book around the files and archives of neurotic, "taciturn and brutish" Myron Selznick, who pushed client Vivien Leigh into the Scarlett role in his older brother David’s "Gone With the Wind"; and the "finely tailored," dapper, graceful-in-his-skin "career engineer" Charles Feldman. The angry, insecure Myron Selznick and the socially adept Feldman pretty much monopolized Hollywood’s high-priced talent, including almost all the stars seen today on Turner Classic Movies.

 

Keep the money in mind. In one year alone, 1949, when a school teacher’s annual salary was $1,400, Feldman, with a few phone calls, earned a $250,000 commission on a single deal.

 

Like many agents at the time, including me, Myron was an alcoholic; unlike most agents, "Charlie" Feldman was legally trained and could read a contract the way Einstein read an algebraic equation (which a lot of studio agreements resembled, then as now).

 

What both men shared, Kemper underscores, was a crucial Southern California family background in the movie business. The Hollywood agency racket was a deeply tribal phenomenon. (My boss, Sam Jaffe, head of his own agency, was the brother-in-law of Paramount mogul B.P. Schulberg, and Jaffe hired relations galore who hired their sons.) For years, New York-centered agencies like the band-booking MCA and stage-and-radio power William Morris failed to gain a foothold in Hollywood because they had no blood connections here. Then, choosing their moment, they rudely bought their way into Hollywood by corporate takeovers that squashed the char- ismatic, personality-driven, "one-stop powerhouse[s]" like Feldman, Selznick (for whom contracts were "a form of trickery") and Leland Hayward.

 

Reading Kemper’s original and deeply researched study, I couldn’t help thinking of Hollywood’s golden oldie days. Then agents tended to be a colorfully mixed (mainly Jewish) bag. My colleagues were war veterans who included a furniture-removal man, a tennis bum, a secret-ops military officer, a former labor agitator, a trust fund baby rich men, poor men, beggar men and thieves with some considerable wild, woolly life experience. Today’s agents go to film, business or law school and come up through the mailroom, guzzle sparkling water instead of gin and work out at the gym. They are healthier, cooler, more handsome, less emotional and less angry and much, much more innocent about life.

 

A glaring omission in Kemper’s book is the absence of any mention of Hollywood’s then-current labor racketeer troubles, violent strikes, criminal conspiracies and the blacklist in which the agents played a key, and unheroic, role. Kemper’s de-politicalization of what was, in fact, a lasting trauma for the entire industry one hopes he will remedy in a forthcoming history of talent agencies in a later period.

 

Sigal is a screenwriter, novelist and a former Hollywood agent whose firm represented, among others, Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, Jack Palance, Joseph Cotten and Peter Lorre.

 

—from the Los Angeles Times, December 24, 1009

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scenes from the writing life: the silent estate of louis zukofsky

"I can perhaps understand your misguided interest in literature . . ."

[Zuk_alone1.jpg] 

Don’t quote me

 

In any alphabet of modern American poets (Ashbery, Bishop, Creeley … ), Louis Zukofsky (1907- 78) conveniently fills twenty-sixth place. He is less well-known than contemporaries such as Langston Hughes and Kenneth Rexroth, or even his friend Lorine Niedecker, who has benefited from "a posthumous boom in her reputation", according to David Lehman’s recent Oxford Book of American Poetry. No boom has sounded in Zukofsky studies, and none will do so in the near future, if the poet’s son has his way. Paul Zukofsky, who administers the author’s estate, has posted a "Copyright Notice" on an independent website devoted to his father’s work:

 

People have been misled into thinking that, in terms of quoting LZ, they may do what they want, and do not have to worry about me. These people are then suddenly faced with the reality of an irascible, recalcitrant MOl, and are confronted with the very real prospect of years of work potentially down the tubes.

 

He wants scholars and critics to know that he is planting "an obvious ‘do not trespass ‘sign where LZ aficionados may see it". He has no desire to cultivate interest in his father’s poetry, the most prominent example of which is the long poem "A", which occupied fifty years of Zukofsky’s life. "I urge you to not work on Zukofsky, and prefer that you do not", Paul writes. "You will be more appreciated working on some author whose copyright holder(s) will actually cherish your work. I do not."

 

Should you insist, you and Paul may "more or less amicably work out the fees that I demand". Otherwise, "remove all quotation; or we can turn the matter over to lawyers". As for those (like us) who believe that the "fair use" clause in copyright law permits reasonable quotation for critical purposes, be warned. "I promise to do my utmost to hamper, hinder, and preferably prevent all quotation."

 

The TLS is one of the few mainstream journals in the English-speaking world to have paid critical heed to Zukofsky, an allegedly "difficult" poet. In the issue of September 7, 2007, Marjorie Perloff reviewed a biography by Mark Scroggins. Needless to say, she quoted all she needed to qualify her well-informed argument. Would Zukofsky have enjoyed the serious attention devoted to his poetry? Probably yes. Does Paul? No.

 

I can perhaps understand your misguided interest in literature … but one line you may not cross, ie, never never ever tell me that your work is to be valued by me because it promotes my father. Doing that will earn my life-long permanent enmity.

 

You wouldn’t want that. You could, alternatively, calm your nerves by reading Zukofsky. We recommend the charming "To My Wash-stand", included in Mr Lehman’s Oxford Book.


—from the Times Literary Supplement, November 13, 2009

scenes from the writing life: robert graves, poetry and mushroom cults

Rent "The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs" book by Marcus Boon by BookSwim Rental Library Club.

 

. . . The other great psychedelic pioneer of the 1950s was a J. P. Morgan vice president and amateur mycologist named R. Gordon Wasson. Wasson and his wife had already written a voluminous work on the history of mushroom lore, Russia, Mushrooms, and History (1957) when, apparently through a conversation with the English poet Robert Graves, he found out about the continuing existence of a cult in Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, that used teonanacatl, the vision-inducing mushrooms that Spanish writers had talked of after the conquest of Mexico. This mushroom cult had been discovered by an Austrianborn physician, Blas Pablo Reko, and picked up on by the Harvard botanist Richard Evans Schultes, who had traveled to Oaxaca in 1938 with Reko to witness the ceremonial use of the mushrooms. Schultes’ interest in the cult was botanical (he claimed that he experienced none of the visionary dimensions of the plants he “discovered”), but Wasson saw the cultural and religious significance of the story and traveled to Oaxaca, where, on August, 15, 1953, he took the mushrooms (which were of three species, the best known being Stropharia cubensis) with the Mazatec shaman Maria Sabina.Wasson published a widely read account of his trip in LIFE magazine in 1957, but was apparently appalled when others who read his account began traveling to Oaxaca. Wasson argued that psychedelic mushrooms provided the key to many of the world’s religious mysteries, including the soma of the Vedas, the Eleusinian rites of Ancient Greece, certain visions related in the Zend Avesta, the holy scripture of Zoroastrianism, and the tree of good and evil in the Bible, but made no comment on contemporary use of the drugs. Forgetting his own LIFE article, he later criticized the vulgarization of contemporary discourse about the drugs, calling the term “psychedelics” “a barbarous formation,”101 and with a group of colleagues proposed a new term, “entheogen,” to describe the drugs—a term that conveniently obscures the nontheogenic nature of most twentieth-century use of the drugs.

 Robert Graves also believed that the psychedelics provided a source for much of the world of classical and preclassical mythology. In a review of Wasson’s work published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1956, he already speculated that the cult of Dionysus held mushroom orgies.102 On January 31, 1960, when he was sixty-four, Graves took mushrooms with Wasson in New York, and wrote an essay about it called “The Poet’s Paradise” (1961), which he read to Oxford students in the early 1960s. Graves described his experience in highly mythical terms, feeling that the mushrooms were taking him back to the world of Gilgamesh and the Babylonian paradise. He experienced worlds of jewels, demons, and erotic fantasy, while Wasson played a tape recording of Mazatec shaman Maria Sabina chanting. Graves was impressed, although he noted caustically, that “what was for thousands of years a sacred and secret element, entrusted only to persons chosen for their good conduct and integrity, will soon be snatched at by jaded sensation-seekers.”103 Such people would be disappointed, however, because instead of drunken oblivion they would experience heightened insight into themselves—which they might find less than recreational. Yet Graves believed that the experience of the mushroom was passive when compared to that of poetic trance: “It seems established that Tlalocan [Aztec word for paradise], for all its sensory marvels, contains no palace of words presided over by the Living Muse, and no small white-washed cell . . . to which a poet may retire and actively write poems in her honour, rather than bask sensuously under her spell.”104 A little later, Graves had an experience of synthetic psilocybin with Wasson, which disappointed everyone involved. Graves wrote that it had been “all wrong, a common vulgar drug, no magic, and followed by a nasty hang-over.”105 In the late 1960s he dismissed marijuana in print as being a low-class type of drug.

 —from Marcus Boon, The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs. Harvard (pp 253-255).

Notes 

101. Wasson, R. Gordon, Stella Kramrisch, Jonathan Ott, and Carl Ruck. 1986. Persephone’s Quest: Entheogens and the Origins of Religion. New Haven: Yale University Press, 30.

102. “Centaur’s Food,” reprinted in Graves, Robert. 1960. Food for Centaurs: Stories, Talks, Critical Studies, Poems. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. A review of Wasson’s “Soma, Mushrooms, and Religion” was published in Difficult Questions, Easy Answers (1973)—in which Graves notes that Wasson does not credit him for developing the idea of Greek soma. The book also contains another essay on the mushroom experience, “The Universal Paradise.”

103. Robert Graves, 1969. On Poetry: Collected Talks and Essays. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 380.

104. Graves, 1969, 382.

105. Graves, Richard. 1995. Robert Graves and the White Goddess, 1940–1985. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 306.

 

 

john cheever: “he’d destroy everything just so he could get a drink, just so he could get blown”

. . . Cheever was forever on at Susan about her weight; he wanted a pretty slip of a daughter, and thought her too greedy. But perhaps Ben had it worse. Cheever would complain in his journal that his elder son was effeminate, and to his face would tell him: "Speak like a man!" and "You laugh like a woman!" There was a time, Ben tells me, when he began to wonder whether he was, in fact, gay, and only acting heterosexual to please his father. Just to cap it all, it was to Ben that his father came out two weeks before his death, in a telephone call to Ben’s then office at Reader’s Digest. "What I wanted to tell you," he said, bluntly, "is that your father has had his cock sucked by quite a few disreputable characters…"

Does this mean that Ben hadn’t, until that moment, realised what Max was to his father? "No, I hadn’t. In fact, I remember Maxflirting with me a little, and I was shocked; I thought Daddy would be horrified if he knew Max was a homosexual. But I think actual knowledge follows intellectual knowledge. My father told me that, but I didn’t really… realise it until some time afterwards. It was upsetting but it wasn’t as upsetting as being screamed at when you’re a little boy for being effeminate. I’ve had to [over the years] reorganise a lot, and to some extent I’m still involved in that process. But this [the biography] is a story I can live with. Daddy has redeeming values. He was so funny."

Has it been hard, being Benjamin Cheever? "Yes and no. I was interested in being a writer, and I didn’t like people telling me that they would have expected something better from John Cheever’s son. That was tough. My first novel got turned down by lots of people, and no one could believe that. I’m sure there are lots of people who feel, with some confidence, that they would be a lot better a writer than me if they had my name. Everybody has a father; everybody has a psychic load. But I’m also lucky. In my attempts to figure him out, I have all these documents, and they’re pretty well written, too. You’re exactly right, though, to think that I had my ups and downs with him, even after he died. Sometimes I’d think: boy, he was a hero! He overcame all these terrible things. But then, other times, I’d think: boy, what a prick! He’d destroy everything just so he could get a drink, just so he could get blown.

—from Rachel Cooke, “The demons that drove John Cheever,” The Observer, October 18, 2009

 

 

 

scenes from the writing life: dinner with balzac and other insane people

 

So the next time you hear a writer on the radio or catch him on the tube or watch him on the monitor or find yourself sitting next to him at dinner, remember he isn’t the author of the books you admire; he’s just someone visiting the world outside his study or office or wherever the hell he writes. Don’t expect him to know the customs of the country, and try to forgive his trespasses when they occur. Speaking of dinner, when the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt told a friend, a Parisian doctor, that he wanted to meet a certifiable lunatic, he was invited to the doctor’s home for supper. A few days later, Humboldt found himself placed at the dinner table between two men. One was polite, somewhat reserved, and didn’t go in for small talk. The other, dressed in ill-matched clothes, chattered away on every subject under the sun, gesticulating wildly, while making horrible faces. When the meal was over, Humboldt turned to his host. "I like your lunatic," he whispered, indicating the talkative man. The host frowned. "But it’s the other one who’s the lunatic. The man you’re pointing to is Monsieur Honoré de Balzac."

—from Arthur Krystal, “When Writers Speak,” The New York Times, September 25, 2009

 

 

 

scenes from the writing life: robert stone on ken kesey, charles manson and the california of the late ’60s

 

 

A Hollywood joke of what might be called the “Manson period”: You’re in Hollywood, you’re walking the streets, you’ve eaten nothing but bananas (what else?) for four days. As you droop at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, a long black limousine pulls up beside you. The door opens: a fat man with short arms emerges. He’s wearing a beret and jodhpurs and there’s a cigarette holder between his lips. He’s definitely in the movies. He’s holding a sandwich and he says, “Hey, kid.”

  

Your attention is arrested. The sandwich is a very tasty-looking California sandwich, full of good things, like avocado and watercress. And you know somehow that it’s not just nourishment, but maybe…a career!

  

“You want this?” asks the Hollywood man. “It’s yours!”

  

You’re so hungry. It’s been days. You couldn’t face another banana even if you had one. You reach out. You reach out joyfully. Just at the moment when you’re about to take it, you notice that, so inconspicuously, on one corner, there’s a virtually infinitesimal but unarguably present teeny dab of shit. Naturally you hesitate. You stay your hand, you consider. Then, greedily, you seize the thing. You’re thinking: “I’ll eat around it.”

 

One day everything changed. One afternoon Janice and I were smoking dope with a couple of actors, a married couple, around our age. They were friends of John Wayne’s and often appeared in his westerns, and they observed that he would not have approved of their smoking gage. 

  

The wife had been to the beach, where she said she had seen two animals fighting. 

  

“What kind of animals?” I asked her, picturing, I suppose, Kodiak bears or elephant seals.

 

“I think…I think,” ventured the stoned lovely, “I think they were winkles.”

 

Everyone watched in leaden-eyed tolerance while I rolled around the fuzzy rug, convulsed. It was the funniest line I had ever heard in my life. Forty minutes later, when I had suppressed my last yak, we went outside to look over BenedictCanyon. It was the kind of Los Angeles summer day that Nathanael West could describe with such exquisitely turned admiration and loathing. Sumptuous, sensual, euphorbia-scented. Hummingbirds sipped nectar.

 

“That’s the house,” the young woman who had seen the animals said.

 

The four of us stood and looked down at an attractive greenswarded property on Cielo Drive in Bel-Air. I had stopped laughing. For quite a while we stood and looked at it. Everyone had to have a look.

 

I was walking into the coffee shop of the Beverly Hills Hotel the next day, and a couple of women who worked in the gift shop were in close converse. One listened open-mouthed and pale. The other, the speaker, said her husband was a deputy and had been to the house. He had seen awful things there and had been unable not to tell her.

 

“He said it looked like a fag murder,” the deputy’s wife said.

 

I filed the line away, never to use it, but her story sort of spoiled my day. I went back to the Chateau to do a joint with Janice.

 

“Where did you get the dope?” she asked. “Did you buy some?”

 

It was Jay Sebring’s dope, and he had given it to me at a party. Jay Sebring, who had named himself after the Florida seaside raceway, was now dead, a victim of the Mansonites. He had been a hairdresser from New Jersey, had reinvented himself in the Hollywood style, a nice man. He was a friend of Abigail Folger, a woman I knew a little. Abigail was born to ride in pursuit of those boars up in the CarmelValley, as beautiful a flower of California as grew. Her wealth came from coffee. She was intelligent and kind and as classy as could be. She spent a lot of time volunteering with children in Watts. Many people say they will never forget what she was like, what her smile was like, until the young nonconformists eviscerated her to write misunderstood Beatles lyrics in blood on the wall of the house on Cielo Drive.

 

It was saturnalia time in Hollywood, a very grim feast of the meaningless. The youngsters disappeared from the boulevard as though the bad father of the feast had eaten them. For some time Manson went uncaught and the police put out false leads. Before his capture, the most extraordinary speculations as to motive and perpetrator went around. The most unsettling involved the number of people who suspected one another of having a hand in the murders. This included famous people who used not to do such things.

 

Then the Manson Family went down, and the theorizing and the interpretation exfoliated. Nixon had done it. Why? To embarrass the antiwar movement. A well-known person offered a theory that naval intelligence had killed the victims, which I personally resented. A droll speculation, that one, because it involved the CNO, old Mormon Admiral Moorer, reviving the Phineas Priesthood and sending forth the assassins, all in the name of victory in Vietnam.

 

Fear appeared in a handful of dust. When the bearded trolls and their consorts were run out of town, fear remained. People hired bodyguards. At one house (I swear) the protection would follow a swimmer doing laps up and down the length of the swimming pool, admittedly a very long one. One movie person claimed she had fired her security when the man asked if he could come inside and play the piano.

 

“I’d just as soon…you know.” Indeed.

 

Something over five years after the John F. Kennedy assassination, and the event had something of the same resounding emptiness. Hollywood is a self-referential place and then as now it was full of rise and fall and blighted hopes, anger, disappointment, dope, and toadying and jealousy. Everything except maybe good sex. Suddenly something happens that makes everything even less sensible and significant than before, the total nothingness at the heart of thingness explodes in front of you. Not everyone’s a philosopher. Never did the lights go on so fast and the glitz come off the columns and the glass balls shatter as in the wake of a couple of murders.

 

Things could not be made to be the same. There was an earthquake, really–a small one, but we felt it at Oblath’s.

 

A number of people who were friends or acquaintances of Kesey passed through town. Kesey’s credo was that nothing human was alien to him, and most folks were close enough. Ken’s friends, a wandering band known as the Hog Farm, had coalesced around a cultural figure who called himself Wavy Gravy. Wavy had once been a cafe poet in New York and had followed the sixties trail to California, where some transcendent experience had provided him with a renewed identity and new name. One of the stories current about him was that he had been cashiered from the comedy troupe the Committee for appearing for a show in a tweed jacket with salami arm patches. The Hog Farmers were fine young people for all I ever knew, but it was bruited about that they spent some time out at the Spahn Movie Ranch with the Mansonites. Me, I was a friend of Kesey’s, too, a friend of a friend of Richard Baba Ram Dass Alpert, who had bum-tripped me back when. Alpert was the ex-colleague of Timothy Leary, who knew everyone and had connections with the Brotherhood of Eternal Life, who were considered heavy. And connections proliferated. Leary’s “archivist” was my NYU and Paris pal Michael, the man who would go on to become the father of a beautiful movie star, although this was naturally unknown at the time. We were smoking Jay Sebring’s dope, and so on and so on.

 

As the summer of 1969 lengthened, there was a whole lot of shaving going on in

Los Angeles. Good-humored tolerance of the neo-bohemian scene was suspended, and whatever it was was not funny. Fear inhibited.

We decided to go back to England. Life was sane, sort of, and relatively predictable. Before setting out for London we went to what might be called a farewell party. Nitrous oxide was currently big on the scene. In the nineteenth century, many will know, it played a role in American scientific and intellectual history. At Harvard, the very place Ram Dass and Leary were experimenting with LSD and turning students on to William James, the author of The Varieties of Religious Experience and brother of Henry, the brother of the master novelist had conducted his own experiment with nitrous oxide, some eighty-odd years earlier. Nitrous oxide was used early as an anesthetic in dentistry, and Harvard students had taken to frolicking with the stuff. So joyous were the cries of delighted insight that Professor James heard echoing through the Yard that the liberal-minded and adventurous scholar thought he might try some.

 

One evening the savant set a tank by his bed, connected to a pipe. As the chimes sounded across the gables, Professor James passed into a profound reverie. Suddenly he came to consciousness, his intellection ablaze with discovery. He had happened, with the aid of this wonderful elixir, on the very meaning–but the very meaning!–of life. Pen and ink were at hand. No sooner had he time to write than a second drowsy numbness passed over him. In the morning he awakened to the merry bells. Leaping from his stern scholar’s bed, he seized the sheet of paper upon which he had inscribed life’s meaning.

 

This is what he had written:

 

          Hoggamous Higgamous, Man is Polygamous
          Higgamous Hoggamous, Woman is Monogamous.

How true! And even the obvious must be reexperienced down the generations. That this wisdom not perish but be found by each age in its time may have been the reason for the sudden very-late-sixties popularity of nitrous oxide.

 

Another joke of the era:

 

“Man, can you fix me with a doctor that writes?”

 

“No, man. But I can put you with a hip dentist.”

 

Anyway, nitrous oxide and its discontents. The party we were attending was indeed a farewell party, since we were bound back to England, now home. But it was, further, a farewell party for the late owner of the nitrous oxide, a graduate student who had delighted in taking his gas while relaxing in a hot bath. While asoak, the luckless man passed out. While he was out, his head slipped beneath the water to rise…never.

 

Farewell, as Poe observes, the very word is like a bell, and Poe and this graduate student I’m certain would have liked each other.

 

There was a lot of gas left over, which was good because there were a lot of us there. Here I steel myself for confession. Few readers will fail to experience outrage at what I now feel bound to disclose. But if there is a God in heaven–William James would have known it.

 

All right, our kids were with us. Everybody’s kids were with them. So we were doing gas with balloons, and you know how kids are with balloons. I mean you had to be there. It was a beautiful day. The kids were having such fun! There was so much gas. And it was hardly as though the late owner of the gas were lying there drowned in a bathtub; he had passed on, and he certainly didn’t require any more gas.

 

And the kids so liked the balloons, and of course they liked the gas too, taking the gas from the balloons. How this happened, what happened next, nobody is sure because everybody was ripped and fighting greedily over the gas, and the children were fighting greedily over the gas too. So to square it, even-steven it, we declared, we the adult authority, come on, kids, just one balloon’s worth to a kid.

 

When, would you believe, this one little tyke made this snarky face right at me and said ha ha or hee hee or some shit, “These aren’t balloons! They’re condoms!” And by the spirit of William James, they were condoms. We’d been getting loaded watching small innocent children sucking gas from condoms.

 

So if the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children had finally caught up with me there, would not the cry have been: Exterminate the brutes!

 

So we left for London.

 

—from Robert Stone’s memoir Prime Green: Remembering the Sixties