… Usually an event at Timothy Learys’ was a circus out of the hippie past, with characters like Wavy Gravy mingling with punk rockers, and studio execs and actors trolling for parts more intently than for any sex or drugs. Once, my ex-wife Renee and I arrived for an intimate dinner for eight. During dessert, Timothy casually asked if any of us had “done crack.” Conversation came to a screeching halt. Sophisticated as this group might have been, crack meant underclass addicts and violent neighborhoods dangerous to white people like us. After a dramatic pause, Timothy smiled and allowed that he had. At a crack house in East Hollywood. He said it was “not what you expected” and “amazingly enlightening.” He wanted to do it again — right then! Did any of us want to join him?
More silence ensued, followed by nervous coughs. Timothy looked disappointed (this may have been feigned). Then he fixed his gaze on me, saying, “Why don’t you come, Roger? Moses Wine would, wouldn’t he?”
I sat up straight. Did he expect me to know karate because my character did? I had been challenged before to live up to my adventurous detective hero, but normally it didn’t involve a potential mugging in a latter-day opium den. Nevertheless, just to make up for wussing out on those Harvard LSD experiments, and after a sideways glance at Renee, who, wisely, had already demurred on the feeble grounds that she was “too tired,” I assured her I’d be back early and said yes to Timothy. Within minutes, he, Barbara, and I were en route from Brentwood to East Hollywood — a thirty-minute trek even at midnight with little traffic. I was designated driver, a job I was pleased to have, mainly so that I could be in as much control as possible of our moment of exit.
The crack house was a decaying, six-story stucco affair in the badlands between Yucca Street and the Hollywood Freeway — in those days, junkie and hooker central. Timothy rang the bell. A rangy black kid in a t-shirt opened the door almost immediately. (He had been phoned.) He looked about eighteen and held a baby in his arms. Other babies cried out in the background from other parts of the house, which reeked of a variety of odors ranging from frying hamburger to something suspiciously like vomit.
“Hey, Timothy, my man!” He gave Leary the Eighties equivalent of a high-five. I remember wondering for a second if he had any idea he was greeting the man who coined “Tune in, turn on, drop out!” I’m almost certain he didn’t, and I doubt that he would have cared if he had. What he saw in front of him was just what he wanted — a tall white-haired middle-class geezer with cash.
We clomped up the stairs behind the young man, past those screaming babies and some mothers and grandmothers, to a room full of cushions on the fifth floor. A price of one hundred dollars apiece for a round of crack seemed to have been negotiated — by whom and at what I rate I didn’t know or care to ask. The young man and his buddies, ever the conscientious service provider, had determined that Timothy and Barbara were a couple and that I was alone. I might need “company.” I was asked if I wanted it, but declined.
Then we reclined on the cushions to wait. In short order, the crack pipes arrived and we toked up. Though I did this fairly gingerly, I was taking off for Alpha Centauri within a megasecond. I don’t know if I would agree with Timothy that it was “amazingly enlightening,” but it was sure one hell of a high.
And extraordinarily brief. It took you up to the ceiling, or I should say the stratosphere, and then back down to Earth in about two and a half minutes, at least it did for me. Then you were ready to do it all over again — a kind of rat-in-a-maze process, with us rats reaching for the lever again and again. I could see right away how so many people had become addicted. I could almost have been one of them myself, but I seem to have a genetic failsafe mechanism against over-indulgence in drugs or alcohol. My body always rebels before the second joint or the second (well, third) martini. In this case, the atmosphere also was turning me off. The sad desperation of that world — the crying children and their teenage, undoubtedly unwed, mothers. Not exactly conducive to flights of consciousness expansion. Or to the validation of any social values I felt then or now. Ten minutes after arriving, I was ready to leave.
Timothy felt differently. Before I had a chance to object, he and Barbara ordered a second round of pipes. Just then, a woman appeared. She was white, Southern, I gathered from her accent, and attractive in the blowsy manner of a Tennessee Williams character. She was also quite stoned — and looked to have been that way for some time. An addict.
She plunked herself down next to me, as if instructed to do so. Apparently the boys hadn’t believed me when I said I wasn’t interested in company. I tried to make this clear to the woman, but she, deliberately or not, disregarded what I was saying and began to rub my crotch, asking me to buy her a round and implying favors afterwards, which to me meant betraying my wife for a venereal disease. I desperately wanted to get out of there.
Timothy, already into his second crack pipe, began to regale us with tales of G. Gordon Liddy. Those were the days when Leary made most of his living through road show college campus debates with the former undercover operative and Watergate burglar — Liddy taking the “conservative” side and Leary the “liberal.” I had always deprecated Liddy as a crypto-fascist idiot, but Timothy defended him, saying that his Hollywood friends just didn’t understand him — that he was a lot smarter than we all thought he was. We were just prejudiced against a conservative, he said. I figured Timothy was just defending his meal ticket. In retrospect, Leary was quite correct. Liddy, a former editor of the Fordham Law Review, wrote the best-selling Will, and wound up with his own radio talk show in 170 markets. I don’t know the guy, but his show is one of the more interesting of its type for the intelligence and wide-ranging background of its host.
But that night Timothy seemed particularly fed up with Hollywood, saying that his producer pals were all phonies because they never followed through on their myriad promises to hire him as an advisor on their movies and television shows. All they wanted was to say was that they knew Timothy Leary.
I could see that this hurt Timothy’s feelings (he was naïve in some ways), but the Blanche DuBois beside me was suddenly deeply impressed. Unlike the owners of the establishment, she obviously knew exactly who Timothy was and what he represented. She struggled up on her stilettos, wobbled over, and plopped down next to him, whispering in his ear — loudly enough for all to hear — a menu including oral sex and other more exotic fare. I knew immediately that I had an ally in my desire to depart. “Let’s go,” I said to Barbara. She was on her feet in an instant, reaching down to help Timothy up.
Unfortunately, leaving wasn’t going to be easy. The woman turned belligerent. She insisted we drive her home because she had lost her client. Which one of us that was supposed to be, I wasn’t sure. Our hosts backed her up. I ended up dropping her off at her apartment in North Hollywood, after a pit stop so she could pee behind the bushes of a public park. Then I drove Timothy and Barbara back to Brentwood and returned to my house in Malibu. By that time it was nearly dawn and I had some “splainin” to do — “splainin” that I don’t think Renee ever fully believed.