We had fun at the ska show. A band called Easy Big Fella headlined, with a band named the Orlon Sextet opening. Bekka was recognized of course, but ska boys are too cool to ask for autographs, so we simply got a lot of stares all night. The ska girls weren't so shy, approaching Becky Page in groups of two or three to tell her what an awesome person she was. Several of them had the Becky Page eye makeup, which is a rather bold and unusual look for a ska girl. Bekka signed autographs, including on the left breast of one rather well-developed young lady, who said she would be getting it photographed for posterity. She was another one who confessed that Becky Page had helped her admit to herself she was attracted to girls as well as boys. "Me and a friend have been getting together on the low-down," she said. "We're not sure how our boyfriends would react if we told them."
"Invite him to join the two of you," suggested Bekka. "Hell, invite them both. And encourage them to have a little bit of fun with each other, too. You'd be surprised how easy it is to get two boys to fool around together when two girls are encouraging them. You're proof of how fluid sexuality is, why shouldn't they get in on the fun, too?"
"Ooh, kinky. I like that. Yeah, I'll try! Hey, where can I buy a pair of horns like that?"
Bekka laughed and rolled her eyes. "Oh goodness. I could make a fortune selling these. Unfortunately, they came from a special effects shop down in LA, and they were about sixty bucks, not Halloween costume price at all. If you do feel like chasing them down, the name of the shop is Stellar Effects, they're on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Look them up, see if they'll do mail order for you, if you're that interested. You can see what a good job they do, so personally, it's worth the money."
And three months later Stellar Effects had a bustling mail order business going on. Devil horns were being shipped to Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Portland.... And an enterprising ska girl in Seattle opened a "party costumier" shop, selling all sorts of stuff so the nightlife set in the area could look their most outrageous when going out on the weekends.
On Sunday Bekka and I were home, slouched in front of the TV, waiting for Sixty Minutes to start. I always loved Sixty Minutes. It proved that the media of television was capable of in-depth reporting, not just blurbs. They were accurate and balanced. And it showed you could be 145 years old and still have a career in TV, in front of the cameras.
Story one, defense industry kickbacks coming out of the Gulf War. Story two, the predatory tactics of sub-prime mortgage lenders. And this for story three: "It's called Smiley, and is the most sought-after designer drug in the world right now. Users say a single dose will make you understand the world on a level that is unlike anything else. Dealers call it more valuable than gold. And law enforcement calls it a new menace. All this, and a few minutes with Andy Rooney."
Bekka and I looked at each other. Without a word, I got up and put a fresh tape in the recorder, I had a hunch this would be played more than once.
We waited through the other exposés, and I hit REC when the time was right. There was Mike Wallace, sitting at a desk, and intoning, "It is a variant of MDMA, an already popular drug. It is called Smiley Ecstasy, and the world cannot get enough. Its proponents say it could cure the social ills in Western society, it provides a level of understanding and acceptance that everyone should experience. Law enforcement says it can cause a level of frenzy and mass psychosis not witnessed since LSD was introduced to the public in the early 1960s. The buy-in price for a single dose is between $25 and $50, and even higher in Europe. Smiley Ecstasy is a view into a different world, in many ways. We report."
The next shot is of a rave in full-on jam. A woman's voice-over says, "This is a rave, an all-night dance party being thrown in a warehouse in Los Angeles. To dance until daybreak, you need youth, energy.... And drugs. LSD and methamphetamine fueled the early raves. Then came Ecstasy. Now, those with a connection and the money will only take a certain kind of Ecstasy, known as Smiley. It is somewhat rare, but according to the users, it is worth the search, and the money. The users of Smiley won't just be on the dance floor, either."
Cut to a shot of a lounge area. Six club kids are sitting around a table, which is covered in sheets of binder paper. It's obvious they have been working on some kind of graph, or chart. Over the din of techno, a disembodied voice asks, "What are you doing?"
"Trying to solve the world," answers a smiling club kid.
A girl says, "We went back to the Civil War, and have traced behavior in the United States and Europe since then. Okay, like right here...." She points at a piece of paper. ".... This is the Victorian era. Sexual repression was heavy, but you also had people like Havelock and Oscar Wilde and Emerson running around, and porn was very popular...."
She is interrupted by another guy at the table, who says, "This low point right here is the Twenties. Roaring my ass. The Klan had massive political pull in the Midwest, and Prohibition was destroying the working class..."
Another club kid says, "Here, in the Fifties, the CIA started the MK Ultra project, experimenting with LSD. What they didn't count on was that once they let that genie out of the bottle, they couldn't get it back in again. The idea of mind expansion through chemicals was let loose."
The first girl says, "And here, in the early Eighties, is a decisive factor. Two big things happened. First, MDMA was introduced as a psychiatric drug, but people quickly figured out it was much more than that. Also, Becky Page started her career. I feel the two may be connected, somehow."
Another guy at the table says, "Expand on your hypothesis, please."
"It's simple. Both Ecstasy and Becky Page encourage people to connect with each other, physically, intellectually, emotionally. It can't be just coincidence! Becky Page released 'Bewitched' at the same time Smiley hit the street! She made porn, actually erotica, which encouraged the use of the intellect, it wasn't just about physical stimulation. And all her movies since have been even better. And at the same time, Smiley has become more easily available, with more and more people having the experience. I'd bet anything Becky Page uses Smiley, she has to. Her and Smiley are both proponents of love without boundaries, you know?"
Bekka and I began chuckling at this. I reached across the coffee table and grabbed the phone, dialing Angel. He picked up with a four scotch voice, mellow on a Sunday. I said, "Angel, Lenny. Uh, if you're not watching Sixty Minutes right now, you want to be. They're doing a segment on Smiley."
There was a brief pause, then Angel let loose with a string of random profanities, just spewing loose obscene words. I heard a TV click on in the background, and Angel said, "Sixty Minutes, that's CBS, right?"
"Yeah. I think that's channel two in LA."
"What have they said so far?"
"Just some intro stuff, right now they're at a rave interviewing dance floor brats, I guess...."
Angel and I stayed on the phone. Looking at the TV, it showed some guy from LA County Public Health saying, "Los Angeles will see about fifteen or twenty emergency room admissions a month from raves and dance clubs. The majority are simply for dehydration, people will be high and out on the dance floor, and not really pay attention to their physical state. Some will have taken LSD and had their trip go bad on them, their friends will bring them in, explain what the patient is high on, and they're talking or behaving in destructive ways. Sedation with Thorazine does the job. And we'll have a few people with cardiac issues. People forget MDMA is a complex methamphetamine compound, at it's heart it is speed. These people are like Len Bias, young, healthy, and active. Then they take one dose of one drug and learn they have serious cardiac issues. One line of cocaine killed Len Bias, I'm sure one dose of Ecstasy will kill a club-goer, sooner or later."
"Have you seen any trouble from the form of Ecstasy known as Smiley?" asks the interviewer.
"None that can be attributed specifically to the drug. If anything, Smiley may be a bit safer, it seems to have less of a heavy amphetamine effect like regular Ecstasy. Also, it's my understanding that people treat it differently. It is pricey, so people aren't about to take multiple doses at once, they just can't afford to. Also, users seem to believe taking Smiley is an experience which should not be combined with other drugs. Some of the serious club-goers may consume Ecstasy, cocaine, crystal meth, alcohol, and a psychedelic like mushrooms or LSD in one evening. These same people, if they get a hold of Smiley, won't engage in that behavior, they feel it would dilute the experience of being high on Smiley."
"We wanted brand loyalty, and I guess we're fucking getting it," Angel's voice said in my ear.
Now to a psychiatrist at UCLA, who is explaining that MDMA was originally formulated to aid in stopping abnormal bleeding, its creator at Merck uninterested in any psychoactive effects. The compound was investigated by the US Army in the mid-Fifties, and was being made by "underground" chemists as early as 1970, as a replacement for the more common and popular MDA (which was declared a Schedule I drug that year). Its psychiatric use was investigated starting in the Seventies, and the drug was found useful in marathon therapy sessions, particularly with those suffering from heavy PTSD. Under the effects of the drug, patients could discuss their triggers and traumas without getting into a negative or reactive frame of mind, they could remain objective, and actually work through major issues. The shrink said, "This was not a drug being prescribed like Prozac, its use was very tightly controlled. My own observations of MDMA as a psychiatric tool is that it was quite effective. The DEA declared MDMA a Schedule I drug in 1986...."
Next comes a pharmacologist, being asked about what it is that makes Smiley so special. He replies, "First, it is surprisingly well-made. This is not a drug being manufactured in someone's garage, like a lot of other methamphetamine products one would find on the street. All the samples I've seen analyzed, excluding one, were of pharmaceutical quality." And the one exception? "Someone had taken it upon themselves to carve the trademark smiley face into several Vivarin tablets, and thought they would make some money selling a counterfeit.
"Smiley MDMA is quite similar to the compound originally created by Merck chemists, with some variations. It would seem those variations are what make the difference in its effects. What users generally describe is that Smiley seems to do several things besides MDMA's effects of euphoria and stimulation. First, the user has a greater feeling of empathy for the world around them, as though an order to life has appeared that they'd just never noticed before. Users also claim it causes intellectual curiosity. Reportedly, at a techno rave, other patrons will simply enjoy the psychedelic light show being put on. Some users of Smiley will watch the lights themselves, trying to figure out the mechanics of what is happening...."
I laughed into the phone and told Angel, "It's true. When I'm high, there is nothing more fascinating to me than the automatic pin spotters in a bowling alley. Just the idea of someone creating such a complex mechanical operation to aid in what is a pretty damn brainless activity amazes me, and I hope they became millionaires."
Mike Wallace, standing outside a trendy shop on Melrose in Hollywood, is saying, "One of the things that concerns law enforcement is that unlike other recreational drugs, Smiley MDMA seems to only have one source, its uniformity and quality would indicate a sole manufacturer, and a very large one. Rumors fly constantly about where Smiley actually comes from."
Cut to a guy in a jester's hat and really moronic-looking sunglasses saying, "I've heard it's actually made by the Hell's Angels, they got organized and came up with it...."
The dingbat of a girl on his arm says, "No, the government is releasing it for some reason."
Cut to a different rave brat saying, "Smiley? That's a mafia product...."
"Oh shit," Angel and I said in unison.
".... the Italians formulated it to compete with the Dutch Ecstasy labs, and began exporting it over here."
And on to a stooge from the DEA in the usual gradient sunglasses and cardboard suit saying, "We have no doubt its original source was Southern California. That's where it first appeared. Samples collected in the two years since it arrived on the scene indicate almost no variation in its makeup or quality, the compound has remained as uniform as Bayer aspirin. Wherever it is coming from, the manufacturer has both the ability to tightly control quality, and also the resources to produce enough for national distribution, albeit at a high cost to consumers."
I sighed into the phone, "How many people does Boss have on site at any given time these days?"
"About thirty, why?" asked Angel.
"Well.... Loose lips sink ships, you know?"
"That concerns me too, but not too much. A few things we have as insurance. First, the family has assisted Boss in screening his workers from the get-go, doing a bit of investigation into their lives before proposing to them that they have an opportunity to start a lucrative new career. They are all given the same cover story to use, which is they dispose of hazardous chemicals used by the military, a process that can't be done in an eight hour shift. That's why they're gone for a week at a time, and why they're paid so well. To back this up, me, Vinny, and Boss created a corporation, Stetson Hazardous Materials Management. Being a hazmat company explains the warehouse in the desert and the chemical disposal needs we have. Shit, the lab rats get regular pay checks, they even pay taxes. They're the only fucking dope cooks in the world who have filed with the IRS.
"The people at the labs aren't tweakers, or otherwise fuck-ups. They are all of above average intelligence and understand the need to be circumspect. We're paying them well enough they see the wisdom in this, they're not about to shit their own beds. Their salaries are high enough to discourage any asshole who might consider trying to get a pay-off from the DEA, anyone doing that would be getting a crap one-time payoff, they'd be unemployed, and they'd be marked as a snitch. These people understand who the principals in the operation are, they know better than to try and fuck around Cosa Nostra."
I made a noise of understanding and we returned to focusing on our respective TVs. An LA County Sheriff's sergeant is telling the camera, "Here in Redondo Beach, the city agreed to allow the use of the pier and surrounding area for one of those all-day techno music festivals. What a disaster."
"Was there trouble with violence, or crowd control?" asked the interviewer.
"No.... I think there was only one fight all day and night. But the lack of decorum was amazing. The people showing up were dressed in the most insane garb you could imagine, they made George Clinton look restrained...."
I barked out a laugh at this. Angel asked me what was so funny, and I told him I was amused there was a cop in LA who know who George Clinton was.
".... it was obvious that most of the people there were on drugs of some kind. There was a bit of marijuana around, but we made several busts for drug dealing. A couple had LSD, and the rest seemed to have Smiley MDMA, they were selling it for $40 per dose, and had plenty of buyers, given the amount of cash they had on them.
"The concert-goers would walk past Redondo PD and our deputies and stare at us with these huge grins on their faces, like we were the punchline to a joke, somehow. We cited several women for indecent exposure, they felt that body paint would suffice for clothing. People would decide they wanted to go swimming and simply strip naked on the beach and walk into the water, no concern they were in public. I was writing citations to a few of these.... music fans.... and asked them what they were thinking. They started laughing at me. I asked what was so funny, and one girl says, 'Whether clothed or nude, I am still the same person. People can accept me as who I am either way.' Yeah, okay. That's drug talk right there. I will say, people I interacted with were polite, if not a bit spacey. They seemed to think it was just some sort of silly distraction from their day. Even writing citations, I didn't really get attitude, nobody saying '[bleep] you, pig' or anything. I handed one of the nude swimmers their citation and she smiled and said she felt sorry for me, that I couldn't join in on the experience and the fun. I told her, 'I have different ideas of fun than you do.' She reached up and stroked my damn face, and said, 'But experiencing the unknown, and learning from it, is what makes us human. Please don't deny your own humanity.' Then she tried to kiss me! I pushed her away, and she just gave me this sad smile, then skipped off to do who knows what, go dance more or something."
Cut now to Charles Greer, the promoter who had put on the Redondo Beach festival. He looked like he'd been chopping his breakfast on a mirror since age twelve. He smiled and said, "Some techno fans do use drugs to enhance their experience when at a club or rave. But you don't need drugs to dance, or listen to techno...."
"They sure fuckin' help, though," cackled Bekka.
".... or be social. Drugs are used as an accent, not a focus or means to an end."
The interviewer asked, "Are you familiar with the type of MDMA called Smiley?"
Greer smiled wider and said, "Intimately. On the occasions I have taken it, I have found it to be an incredibly rich and fulfilling experience. In a holistic way, using Smiley is quite educational. Far more so than LSD, which alters reality. Smiley intensifies it, you lose your filters between your intellect and the world around you. You will grasp the grace and logic in things."
Holding his arms out wide, Greer said, "Absolutely anything your want."
In my ear, Angel's voice said, "Jesus, Lenny, some of these people are gravy brains. You and Bekka get high every weekend, how come you never became flakes?"
"A few factors," I replied. "First, the mindset in the rave scene is that humans are capable of a greater collective consciousness. It's really similar to the gibberish the Flower Children espoused, only they were taking acid and expecting to find the answers to life. Next, let's face it, Bekka and I are pretty fucking cynical people. You know the sort of shit that's happened to us, we've seen too much ugly shit to have much faith in our own species. Generally, people are stupid fuckin' assholes, and no drug experience or psychobabble from some dance hall brat will change my opinion. And last? We've always kept in the backs of our minds that hey, we're high on drugs. We know better than to believe everything we think, if you get me. And drugs wear off."
I turned my attention back to the TV in time to hear Mike Wallace saying, ".... still unknown long-term risks, if different from regular MDMA. I spoke with Preston Ellison, chief of staff at the Crestview Mental Health Facility in Pasadena."
A guy in his fifties who looked as expressive as a manhole cover is saying, "Long-term, chronic use of MDMA causes extended periods of deep depression, at a crippling level. People who indulge in MDMA daily eventually reach a threshold where they can't get high anymore, no matter how much they ingest. Their brains have been overtaxed in the production of serotonin for so long, there is simply no reserve, and no way for the brain to generate enough to help. MDMA addicts will psychologically collapse, they will enter depressive states so deep they will simply lie there and stare at the wall. They won't even feed themselves unless prompted."
"Are they treatable?" asks Wallace.
"To an extent. For many reasons, they are safest in a psychiatric care facility. They can be administered SSRI medication like Prozac or Paxil. These keep what serotonin they are producing from being absorbed by the body. Ultimately, their brains do recover and begin normal function again. This can take anywhere from three weeks to six months. My own observation is that MDMA addicts who stay clean will never be as happy as they once were, at any point. Remember, in their minds they were in a state of constant bliss for days or weeks at a time. The best comparison I could make would be to compare their experience with the drug like having an orgasm that didn't end. The rest of their lives will seem flat to them."
Back to the big desk, where Leslie Stahl tells us, "Given the seductive power of this drug, its rarity is viewed as a relief to law enforcement and the medical field. One emergency room doctor told us, 'If Smiley was as easily available as marijuana, within six months every shrink in the United States would be working eighty hour weeks.' A spokesman for the DEA says the agency believes Smiley is being manufactured in another country, possibly Brazil, and smuggled into the United States through Mexico. Their investigation is ongoing. When we return, a few minutes with Andy Rooney."
Bekka clicked the STOP button on the remote, and I asked Angel how many copies of the segment he would like, I'd run them off the next day at the studios and send them up via courier.
"Gimme five," he said. "I want to watch it again, I missed the beginning and we were talking over some of it. I know Vinny will want one, Don Ventimiglia should have one...."
"I'll get a copy to Boss. No idea if he watched the show or not, he feels the segments are too short and don't provide enough detail."
Angel chuckled at this. "You're kidding."
"Nope," I replied. "At one point the subject of the show '20/20' came up. His opinion was that 'if that show was any more lightweight, they'd have goddamn Regis and Kathy Lee hostin' the fuckin' thing.' When it comes to media and news, our favorite monstrous Texan is a detail junkie, he wants ever minor chunk of info relayed. He subscribes to two newspapers, the New York Times and the Guardian out of England. You know my contempt for the Union/Tribune down here, Boss says he wouldn't line a rabbit cage with it, for fear of giving the rabbit brain damage. Yeah, Boss likes some high-octane reporting."
Switching back to the subject at hand, Angel said, "Well, our damn dope is getting to be well known. More so than I wanted. And our biggest users are fucking goofballs."
"Well, Smiley's most visible proponents are. But all sorts of people take the stuff. Saying every user of Smiley is a raver would be like saying anyone who smokes weed is a long-haired loser, reeking of patchouli and listening to the Allman Brothers all day. That doesn't describe Angela, and I know she loves her time with the bong."
"Okay, fair enough." Angel gave an embarrassed chuckle. "At one point me and Angela took some, and we got curious about the mechanics of Angela's collection of purse guns. We dismantled every damn one sitting at the kitchen table.... And somehow we managed to put them all back together correctly! Her tiny Berettas have some seriously intricate parts in there, having a feed mechanism in a pistol that small takes some serious design, you know? So I guess that crap about Smiley stimulating intellectual curiosity really is true."
"So are things going to be reorganized, now that it's clear Smiley is getting a rep?" I asked.
Angel laughed at this. "Shit, we just broke ground on the new fucking facility in Clark County. Same blueprint as the Needles facility, only we're building dorms, like a small motel, for the lab rats to live in. There's going to be a second warehouse too, and it really will be a warehouse. We started a second corporation, in Nevada, called Donovan Pharmaceutical Industries. We'll be running a legit business as a cover, supplying drug chemicals to labs and pharmacies. Boss retooled some of the blueprints to give us a bit more work space, he says the new facility will be capable of 120,000 hits per week. We'll supply the Italians and also increase our domestic stock."
"Right on. Well, I wish the DEA luck in tracking down those damn dope cooks in Brazil. So you don't think we'll be in any undue stress?"
"No. We've got law enforcement paid off in San Bernardino County, and if the DEA does get on our trail, we'll be wise to it before they can take any action."
A thought struck me. "Hey Angel, I'm gonna ask a really fuckin' nosy question. At this point I know Boss is worth millions and millions. He mentioned to me once that you're helping him launder his money. I gotta ask.... How?"
A deep chuckle from Angel's end. "Our friend Boss is, on paper and also in practicality, a player in the business of heavy construction equipment. The family laundered enough of his cash for him to start purchasing heavy equipment from Caterpillar. He used that equipment as collateral for loans to buy more equipment, then immediately paid off the loans from his income from the lab. And he keeps turning around and doing it over and over, and no one gives a shit why some equipment dealer can pay off his loans so quick. Apparently outside of Lubbock, Texas, there are these warehouses bigger than aircraft hangars, which are getting stuffed with construction and farm equipment, all mothballed and brand new. That stuff doesn't depreciate like cars, it's not like they have new models every year. When Boss decides to cash out in three or four more years, he just starts selling off all this expensive machinery. Yeah, he's gonna lose a little, but his money will be fucking spotless in the eyes of the law and the IRS. Boss will move to Palau and be extremely comfortable for the rest of his life."
"He may be taking Ellen with him," I noted. "Boss and Ellen are tight, and getting tighter."
"Really? That's wonderful. He deserves a good woman, and she a good man. I wish them years of happiness, I want to dance at their wedding."
Bekka slid over next to me and grabbed the receiver so she could talk into the mouthpiece. She said, "Ellen is a brave woman. From what she's hinted at, Boss's size extends to all parts of his anatomy, if you follow me. She says he's bigger than Roach. My only response to that is, ouch."
There was silence from Angel's end, but I could hear the gears whirring in his head. He finally said, "So Lenny, who is the biggest size queen at Inana right now?"
"Hoo boy. Either Gayla or Jolene, I guess. Both like to work with Roach because they really get off on it, you know?"
"You think Boss would feel like doing a bit of performance? Maybe an outdoor scene, a big-ass burly biker taking liberties with some young woman?"
I considered this. "To be frank, I'd be surprised. Boss is a pretty modest guy. Even after all this time, he still gets pink and turns his head if Bekka walks up in her kimono robe with no underwear. I'm afraid getting him confident enough to perform would require massive amounts of beer. I think he'd get embarrassed just having a fluff girl work on him."
"He could work with Ellen," suggested Bekka. "She could dress up like a full-on biker bitch, we'd shoot with a skeleton crew, and shoot up at the Don's estate. Park Boss's putt up in the trees and shoot the scene on and around the putt. Yeah, we'll start calling Ellen 'Skye Tyler, Harley Harlot.'"
"I'll broach the subject when he's in a mellow mood, no pressure. You know he's never seen any of Bekka's movies?"
"Are you serious?" queried Angel.
"Boss's affection for Bekka is like a big brother looking out for his kid sister. He respects Bekka's choice of careers, but would be embarrassed and offended actually seeing her work."
"He's just a shy young country boy," added Bekka.