by Nicholas Heller, September 1, 2010
It is not uncommon for those of us who have lived for over half a century to nostalgicize a Mom’s-apple-pie-in-the-sky America of the late Fifties and early Sixties that was kinder and gentler than it is today. Which just goes to show the truly corrosive effect of time on memory, or perhaps it’s just a cleansing of the psyche of an entire generation of children who spent a significant portion of their formative years crouched beneath their student desks with their heads between their knees, repeatedly reminded of the fact that the thousands of nuclear missiles pointed at those heads were controlled by a fat, balding, blubber-lipped, spittle-spewing Commie troll named Nikita who displayed the unsavory habit of driving home points of debate with the heel of his shoe.
The Pill was just beginning its insidious corruption of the stultifying institution of Puritanical monogamy when JFK beat Tricky Dick in the upset of the century. But we in our naivete were yet to realize that the F. stood for Filanderer, not Fitzgerald, that Dick was indeed truly tricky, and that Dr. Hoffman’s magical lysergic elixir could forever change one’s mind.
And so it was in this world of youthful innocence at an age just approaching double digits that I found myself exploring my neighbor’s backyard one bright, sunny morning in Southeast Portland when I discovered a foot in a brown-paper bag.
Being no stranger to novelty pranks, after numerous nearly successful attempts to induce cardiac arrest in my Great Aunt Helen through the use of plastic puddles of puke, rubber dog turds, and even bloody, severed solid-latex fingers, I was not overly surprised at finding this extremity in extremis and was only slightly disconcerted by its oddly pristine condition. The appendage appeared to have been cleanly cloven just above the ankle, but where was the fake blood?
I verified its rubber constitution with a poke of a finger, reclosed the sack, and went running in search of Aunt Helen with an impish sparkle in my eye.
Aunt Helen was still sleeping, but my mother was awake. “Hey, Mom! Look what I found!”
Her response was everything I could have hoped for, but my laughter soon ceased as her screaming did not. The foot proved to be more abominable than novel, and was decidedly not rubber.
* * *
Richard Marquette was an early predecessor of a more notorious horde of serial-killers and tree-jumpers indigenous to Oregon and Washington, but he never got the airplay of the 1-5 Bandit or the Green River killer, possibly because the media of 1960 still possessed a modicum of dignity and restraint that had yet to die at the hands of Lee Harvey Oswald. The fact that Marquette dismembered young women and spread their body parts about town was an activity that few people wished to contemplate, but nevertheless, that gruesome trail of dread crumbs soon led authorities to the door of the Big Bad Wolf, who was captured, convicted, and sentence to life in the Oregon State Penitentiary.
It is difficult to assess the psychological trauma I may have suffered as discovering a fruit of Marquette’s vile labors, but I seriously doubt that it had much to do with my subsequent life as an outlaw. For I completely forgot the rubber foot when only a few weeks later I received my first chemistry set. I initiated an immediate investigation of the Big Bang theory and promptly blew up my bedroom. The chemistry set was returned to me a few months later after my father had completed the construction of a “lab” in the backyard, where I lived for the next nine years.
It was not long after my revelation in 1966 that LSD was something more than an amphibious landing craft that my experiments moved from pyrotechnic to the pharmaceutic. Thus began the nascent career of this renegade alchemist, and before it was over, I had manufactured and abused nearly every recreational drug known to man… and The Man.
In the Spring of 1975, a good six or seven year run of psychedelic adventures came to a screeching halt when I arrived at The Walls of OSP with a fresh 5-year bid. I had been viewing the pen from a distance over the years as I drove past on Interstate 5 or on State Street in Salem, and I always knew though never verbalizing the fact aloud, that I would one day end up there. Bouncing in and out of various county jails for years had fairly prepared me for the inevitable. So I suffered little anxiety when the Green Hornet pulled up at the front entrance under Guntower Ten and I disembarked with five others on a single,, long chain. In fact, I was sort of looking forward to seeing some of my old pals who had gone inside before me.
Looking back at that moment after more than three decades, it is difficult to imagine ever having been so young, but in all honesty I must admit that at the age of twenty-three, there wasn’t yet a feather on me. I should therefore come as little surprise that after stumbling up the steps into the Control Center, the first question I was asked was, “How old are you, boy?”
“I’ll ne twenty-four in June,” I replied as Hoghead Harris, a Rocky Butte turnkey was just starting to uncuff me.
“Ah fuck, Harris,” said the OSP hack, “leave the cuffs on him. He’s gotta go over to the kid’s joint.”
“Fuck that!” I protested. “I wanna stay here!”
“Well, we don’t take nobody under twenty-six, so you goin’ to OCI. Put him back on the bus.”
“Bullshit!” I shouted. “I know plenty behind the Walls who ain’t twenty-six!”
“Yeah, well they prob’ly killed someone. You here on a straight dope case so you goin’ ‘cross town.”
“Fuck you, asshole!” I’ll be back!”
“Yeah, sure kid.”
* * *
I had been smuggling drugs into my first dope-dealing partner Billy at the Oregon State Correctional Institution for nearly four years, so I knew the place well. But Billy had gotten out and I wasn’t trying to stay. After they dressed me out in my Prison Blues and put me in a cell in the fishtank, I took my freshly issued toothbrush, sharpened it to a point with my brand new razor blade, and tied it into my fist with moistened strip of towel.
When they racked my cell door for lunch, I emerged into the main corridor with my right hand concealed in the pocket of my denim coat, my shoulders hunched forward, a determined aspect to my step, and a look of murder in my eyes. I made it about fifty feet.
“Hey, inmate, shakedown…”
“I’m gonna kill ‘im!” I screamed at the top of my lungs as I pulled the plastic poker from my pocket and picked up my face.
Three hacks jumped on me at the same time, cuffed me up and dragged me cursing into the LT’s office. “Who ya gonna kill?”
“Yeah, nunya fuckin’ business!”
“All right, shit for brains, maybe 30 days in the bucket will change you’re attitude.”
“I don’t give a fuck! He owes me 25-grand and I’ll get him when I get out!”
“Maybe we oughta send ya back to OSP, see how ya like that!”
“Oh, man, don’t do that!”
So they did. I bet NASA hated to see them go…
* * *
The same hack was working control when they brought me back to OSP an hour later. “What the fuck?” he asked.
“Man, he went ape-shit with a Polident shank. He’s all yours.”
I must have had a big, shit-eatin’ grin on my face because all the hack said, was “Jeezus Fucking Christ! All right, smart-ass, come on.”
Walking down the corridor toward R&D, the hack suddenly stopped me, saying, “Stay against the wall!” We both watched in silence and another hack escorted a con in dress-outs carrying a paper bag in both hands. As the pair drew abreast of us, the con looked over at me and our eyes locked with a blue-sparked psychi connection that sent a charge up my back. I suddenly knew without doubt that this was evil incarnate, that I was looking into the eyes of a monster, and I experienced a nearly overwhelming urge to wrap my hands around his throat and end his life.
My fists clenched and I took an involuntary step toward him before the hack pinned me against the wall with an elbow and a hand, and the con shied away a faltering step as he disappeared through a door.
“Who the fuck was that?” I asked with the first breath I could manage.
“That was Richard Marquette,” the hack said. “Those idiots upstairs actually paroled him.”
* * *
Well, those same idiots upstairs paroled me a year later, and while I went back out to making drugs, Richard Marquette went back to cutting up women. I never saw Marquette again; I heard over the years that he ended in the BOP, but I’ve never run into him. I’ve always wondered, though, how both our lives might have been different if I’d actually been able to get my fingers around his throat on that rainy afternoon such a long, long time ago…