Why you should care
Because walking slow is a virtue sometimes.
There’s a reason you call a guy named Jake Action, Jake Action. Sitting in the front seat of some kind of Japanese imported station wagon, Jake, with a full medical face mask, was huffing what someone had said was butane from a large, cylindrical and silver gas canister in the back seat.
“Gas?” He offered me the clear mask kitted out with a flexible hose connecting it to the source. I shook my head. Jake was a chemical engineer at Intel who, apart from tanks of gas, specialized in the extra-professional creation of drugs he said would make you smarter, though everything about the whole scene argued against this. Especially the weeklong headache that some had reported having from venturing too close to his experiments.
Early stage nootropics notwithstanding, Jake was kind of a mad scientist, equal parts genius and lunatic. Which means you listened to him well after you should have stopped.
“Listen, you want to go on a date?”
You see, sometime during the evening, John thought it would be funny to break into the police truck.
“Not with me, you madman,” Jake threw the mask in the backseat and tossed a blanket over it. “I know these girls out at Mills. Went out with the one before, but she’s got some friends too.” Mills College was a tony school in Oakland.
“So me and you and the three of them?”
“Yeah. John’s coming, though.” And this is where, if it’d been a movie, they would have cued the clown music. John was a living, breathing Hunter S. Thompson–esque punk rocker of a man. I had often tried to imagine what he would have been had he not been into punk. Like, what other subculture could have ever held his level of lunacy and bright, shining thereness?
“Eugene? Know anybody you hate?” John’s head was shaved and his leather jacket was emblazoned with band logos. He was about 6 feet tall, 160 pounds. A pale, skinny, possibly ginger kid.
“What? Yeah, lots. Why?”
“OK. The next time they go on vacation, you tell me and I’ll cut you in a third.”
I hated a lot of people, but seeing them robbed seemed a little much. If the scuttlebutt was to be believed, John’s father was a Silicon Valley hotshot. But when his parents got divorced, the father dumped the mother and the son into some version of suburban poverty. So John had become a thief.
Pulling through the gates at Mills, we met the girls and shockingly seemed to be making a good enough impression that after too long we decided to load in the car, head for San Francisco and see some music.
Jake paired off with the girl he knew, leaving two sisters. The older sister picked me, the younger sister tolerated John. The show on Broadway in San Francisco at the On Broadway club let out, and all manner of the city’s punk rock die-hards hit the streets. It’d been a good night and as we walked past the famous Mabuhay Club downstairs and past a video arcade, our dates were up ahead and Jake and John followed, with me walking slowly behind them all.
What they didn’t know was that he also had pockets jammed full of stuff he had previously stolen from police cars. That and plastic baggies full of crystal meth.
Glancing around, I noticed two cop cars driving down the center of Broadway, top speed, the wrong way for traffic, lights ablaze, like some ’70s cop movie. I also noticed a few Latino cats on the other side of the street gesticulating wildly in our direction.
“Um, Jake … John … Jake, John…” I was whispering their names. Feverishly. Insistently. Trying not to alarm our dates, but trying to be heard, but the date excitement had them focused solely on the dates and, dare I say, some kind of romance. I stopped in front of the video arcade and watched our dates cross the street at the corner, Jake and John quick behind them, as the cop cars came screeching to a halt up on the curb and clearly angry cops jumped out to deliver an epic, pre-Rodney King beat-down.
I watched from about 40 yards away while the Latino cats were screaming at the cops, “You missed ONE …” and then back to me, forcing me to look them in the eyes and shrug my shoulders and raise my hands in the universal sign of “C’mon … gimme a break.” I could see them considering and then deciding to leave it.
The cops hauled Jake and John away. Our dates were shell-shocked. I got them a ride back to Oakland, and I caught a ride back to Stanford with a friend.
Jake, leading with his business card from Intel, bailed out immediately. John? Well, no.
You see, sometime during the evening, John thought it would be funny to break into the police truck that typically sat curbside at big punk rock shows. He broke in, in full view of cops filtering among and amid the mohawks, and stole some mag lights and his biggest get, a cop hat.
And everyone on the street who wasn’t a punk rocker? Well, they turned him in.
But what they didn’t know was that he also had pockets jammed full of stuff he had previously stolen from police cars. That and plastic baggies full of crystal meth.
Later, when John got out, he described how he knew he was in trouble when they didn’t walk him INTO San Francisco’s North Beach police station but took him straight to the parking garage, where they handcuffed him around a steel beam with a mattress around it and proceeded to try to beat the bad out of him.
They held him for four days, during which he’d been beaten badly enough that he was peeing blood, but once released he was in undeniably high spirits. He had somehow beaten the charges by being beaten so badly that they just let him go.
“Hey, Eugene!” He smiled and joked with me a bit before he asked, “Gimme a ride out to Concord!”
I had a motorcycle and would have been glad to. Faults, and he had many, notwithstanding, you’d do just about anything for John. “OK. For what?”
“I got the address for that cop who beat me,” he said, smiling. “And I got an Uzi. I want to shoot up his house. Don’t worry. I don’t want to kill him or anything.”
You didn’t need to be a jurisprudential genius to see that, in the universe of bad ideas, this, in 1982, could have been one of the worst. I begged off. I had briefly dated one of the women from Mills and had to rush off that night to see her. John eventually moved to Alaska to a job in a cannery.
And Jake? Jake moved to the Midwest after figuring out that Minneapolis at the time had both Prince and the highest percentage of single women to single men. The last time I saw him, he showed up to a show I was playing in Minneapolis, one woman on each arm.
“You want one?” he asked me, smiling broadly. With a little bow, I smiled back at him and the women. “Nah. We’re leaving tonight.”
Toddling off to the bar, Jake laughed. “Your loss.”