FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS -- A SAVAGE JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE AMERICAN DREAM
by Hunter S. Thompson, © 1971 by Hunter S. Thompson
Chapter 6: Getting Down to Business ... Opening Day at the Drug Convention
"On behalf of the prosecuting attorneys of this county, I welcome you."
We sat in the rear fringe of a crowd of about 1500 in the main ballroom of the Dunes Hotel, far up in front of the room, barely visible from the rear, the executive director of the National District Attorneys' Association -- a middle-aged, well-groomed, successful GOP businessman type named Patrick Healy -- was opening their Third National Institute on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. His remarks reached us by way of a big, low- fidelity speaker mounted on a steel pole in our corner. Perhaps a dozen others were spotted around the room, all facing the rear and looming over the crowd ... so that no matter where you sat or even tried to hide, you were always looking down the muzzle of a big speaker.
This produced an odd effect. People in each section of the ballroom tended to stare at the nearest voice-box, instead of watching the distant figure of whoever was actually talking far up front, on the podium. This 1935 style of speaker placement totally depersonalized the room. There was something ominous and authoritarian about it. Whoever set up that sound system was probably some kind of Sheriff's auxiliary technician on leave from a drive-in theater in Muskogee, Oklahoma, where the management couldn't afford individual car speakers and relied on ten huge horns, mounted on telephone poles in the parking area.
A year or so earlier I had been to the Sky River Rock Festival in rural Washington, where a dozen stone-broke freaks from the Seattle Liberation Front had assembled a sound system that carried every small note of an acoustic guitar -- even a cough or the sound of a boot dropping on the stage -- to half-deaf acid victims huddled under bushes a half mile away.
But the best technicians available to the National DAs' convention in Vegas apparently couldn't handle it. Their sound system looked like something Ulysses S. Grant might have triggered up to address his troops during the Seige of Vicksburg. The voices from up front crackled with a fuzzy, high-pitched urgency, and the delay was just enough to keep the words disconcertingly out of phase with the speaker's gestures.
"We must come to terms with the Drug Culture in this country! ... country ... country ..." These echoes drifted back to the rear in confused waves. "The reefer butt is called a 'roach' because it resembles a cockroach ... cockroach ... cockroach ..."
"What the fuck are these people talking about?" my attorney whispered. "You'd have to be crazy on acid to think a joint looked like a goddamn cockroach!"
I shrugged. It was clear that we'd stumbled into a prehistoric gathering. The voice of a "drug expert" named Bloomquist crackled out of the nearby speakers: "... about these flashbacks, the patient never knows; he thinks it's all over and he gets himself straightened out for six months ... and then, darn it, the whole trip comes back on him."
Gosh darn that fiendish LSD! Dr. E. R. Bloomquist, MD, was the keynote speaker, one of the big stars of the conference. He is the author of a paperback book titled Marijuana, which -- according to the cover -- "tells it like it is." (He is also the inventor of the roach/cockroach theory ...)
According to the book jacket, he is an "Associate Clinical Professor of Surgery (Anesthesiology) at the University of Southern California School of Medicine" ... and also "a well known authority on the abuse of dangerous drugs." Dr. Bloomquist "has appeared on national network television panels, has served as a consultant for government agencies, was a member of the Committee on Narcotics Addiction and Alcoholism of the Council on Mental Health of the American Medical Association." His wisdom is massively reprinted and distributed, says the publisher. He is clearly one of the heavies on that circuit of second-rate academic hustlers who get paid anywhere from $500 to $1000 a hit for lecturing to cop-crowds.
Dr. Bloomquist's book is a compendium of state bullshit. On page 49 he explains, the "four states of being" in the cannabis society: "Cool, Groovy, Hip & Square" -- in that descending order. "The square is seldom if ever cool," says Bloomquist. "He is 'not with it,' that is, he doesn't know 'what's happening.' But if he manages to figure it out, he moves up a notch to 'hip.' And if he can bring himself to approve of what's happening, he becomes 'groovy.' And after that, with much luck and perseverence, he can rise to the rank of 'cool.'"
Bloomquist writes like somebody who once bearded Tim Leary in a campus cocktail lounge and paid for all the drinks. And it was probably somebody like Leary who told him, with a straight face, that sunglasses are known in the drug culture as "tea shades."
This is the kind of dangerous gibberish that used to be posted, in the form of mimeographed bulletins, in Police Department locker rooms.
Indeed: KNOW YOUR DOPE FIEND. YOUR LIFE MAY DEPEND ON IT! You will not be able to see his eyes because of Tea-Shades, but his knuckles will be white from inner tension and his pants will be crusted with semen from constantly jacking off when he can't find a rape victim. He will stagger and babble when questioned. He will not respect your badge. The Dope Fiend fears nothing. He will attack, for no reason, with every weapon at his command -- including yours. BEWARE. Any officer apprehending a suspected marijuana addict should use all necessary force immediately. One stitch in time (on him) will usually save nine on you. Good luck.
Indeed. Luck is always important, especially in Las Vegas ... and ours was getting worse. It was clear at a glance that this Drug Conference was not what we'd planned on. It was far too open, too mixed. About a third of the crowd looked like they'd just stopped by, for the show, en route to a Frazier-Ali rematch at the Vegas Convention Center across town. Or maybe a benefit bout, for Old Smack Dealers, between Liston and Marshal Ky.
The room fairly bristled with beards, mustaches and super-Mod dress. The DAs' conference had obviously drawn a goodly contingent of undercover narcs and other twilight types. An assistant DA from Chicago wore a light-tan sleeveless knit suit: His lady was the star of the Dunes casino; she flashed through the place like Grace Slick at a Finch College class reunion. They were a classic couple; stone swingers.
Just because you're a cop, these days, doesn't mean you can't be With It. And this conference attracted some real peacocks. But my own costume -- $40 FBI wingtips and a Pat Boone madras sportcoat -- was just about right for the mass-median; because for every urban-hipster, there were about twenty crude-looking red necks who could have passed for assistant football coaches at Mississippi State.
These were the people who made my attorney nervous. Like most Californians, he was shocked to actually see these people from The Outback. Here was the cop-cream from Middle America ... and, Jesus, they looked and talked like a gang of drunken pig farmers!
I tried to console him. "They're actually nice people," I said, "once you get to know them."
He smiled: "Know them? Are you kidding? Man, I know these people in my goddamn blood!"
"Don't mention that word around here," I said. "You'll get them excited."
He nodded. "You're right. I saw these bastards in Easy Rider, but I didn't believe they were real. Not like this. Not hundreds of them!"
My attorney was wearing a double-breasted blue pinstripe suit, a far more stylish outfit than my own ... but it made him exceedingly nervous. Because to be stylishly dressed in this crowd meant that you were probably an undercover cop, and my attorney makes his living with people who are very sensitive in that area. "This is a fucking nightmare!" he kept muttering. "Here I am infiltrating a goddamn Pig conference, but sure as hell there's some dope-dealing bomb freak in this town who's going to recognize me and put the word out that I'm out here partying with a thousand cops!"
We all wore name tags. They came with the $100 "registration fee." Mine said I was a "private investigator" from L.A. -- which was true, in a sense; and my attorney's name-tag identified him as an expert in "Criminal Drug Analysis." Which was also true, in a sense.
But nobody seemed to care who was what, or why. Security was too loose for that kind of gritty paranoia. But we were also a bit tense because we'd given the registrar a bad check for our dual registration fee. It was a check from one of my attorney's pimp/drug underworld clients that he assumed, from long experience, was absolutely worthless.